By Magali Prunaj
This article, resume of a university debate organised by some students’ associations, was published by Magali Prunaj in 2012 on Synergy Magazine. We propose it again, with some corrections, because in 10 years Italian situation has not changed completely.
Since a long time, in Italy, we’ve been debating debate with doctors, lawyers and civil society about this delicate topic: euthanasia, yea or nay?
The starting point is, of course, the case of Eluana Englaro, a young woman who was allowed an end to her life after 20 years of deep coma. Eluana was caught in a devasting accident and went in an irreversible coma. She previously had expressed to her parents her belief that a vegetative life isn’t proper life, and she asserted that she would never want to struggle in such conditions. She told them so after she visited a comatose friend in hospital. She had witnessed some very aggressive therapy her friend was being administered. She considered it as forcing people into a life that already had ended a long time ago.
In Italy we don’t have a law allowing euthanasia; instead, our legal system condemns strongly any such behavior. Killing someone, because their illness is irreversible or for any other reason, is always “contra legem”: it is always illegal.
Still, one day a Court allowed to stop the artificial feeding of Eluana. However, no public hospital agreed to put the procedure into practice.
Euthanasia allows putting an end to a life that has been compromised by a serious illness, making a good quality of life unattainable.
Historically, this term was introduced by the English philosopher Francis Bacon in 1605 with his essay “Of the Proficiency and Advancement of Learning”. He invited doctors not to abandon patients with incurable diseases, and to help them instead, in order for them not to suffer. He wrote about the concept of “good death” which meant that the doctor would have to help the patient die painlessly.
The modern concept of euthanasia was founded in 19th century, when the term took the meaning of a non-reprehensible practice of mercy killing. Also, we don’t have to forget the concept of moral righteousness of administering death born with Hippocrates and his Oath.
Whatever you might want to call it, euthanasia still remains an assisted suicide; as ugly word that unfortunately carries the whole sense of all debates on it.
In Italy, currently, we cannot decide, we cannot choose to end our life, we cannot write in detail what we want to be done in case of deep or irreversible coma, or if we suffer of a serious disease.
Another “famous” example is about a person who had no strength to fight anymore. Piergiorgio Welby was affected by muscular dystrophy and asked the State to be allowed to die. The doctor who helped Welby to die has been charged with murder, and eventually found not guilty. And it is the same case of Marco Cappato who took DJ Fabo to a clinic in Switzerland.
Neither the judiciary nor the legislative, though, have been able to give a definitive answer to the question: is euthanasia a help in ending someone’s suffering, or is just murder, or suicide?
Recently, the italian Constitutional Court rejected a request of Referendum by the Radical Party to write a law regulating euthanasia.
At the same time, last month the Italian Chamber of Deputies, one of the two Houses of Parliament, approved a text about medically assisted suicide. Now, the last word belongs to the other House of Parliament, the Senate.
The law provides for a patient, who has been declared to be suffering from an incurable condition or to be affected by an irreversible disease, and who has refused a palliative care program, to seek medical help in ending his life. The request will be forward by the attending physician and evaluated by a clinical committee.
But the problem is not resolved: medically assisted suicide is not euthanasia and it is not facing to everyone.
Anyway the ethical matter is not resolved. Is euthanasia really a way for the patient to die painlessly, or is just an act of suicide, as the Catholic Church claims?
The line between helping someone to end their own suffering and killing them is very thin. Doctors ask jurisprudence to spare them from a such difficult subject; lawyers and judges, without specific laws, at the moment, have to decide when the border between caring for the patient and murdering him is trespassed, and when it is not.
And what about public opinion? In these situations, the media act as loudspeakers on the public and they contribute to spark people’s curiosity. The media can help to divulgate the issue, and have it debated even at the topmost social levels. So, thanks to the media and their divulgation – although sometimes a little bit exhausting for the public - it will be possible to conduct a careful analysis of the situation in Italy or in Europe.
So, we discover that in many European countries euthanasia is not considered as murder, but it is allowed within some legal limits and regulation.
Hopefully Italy has decided to follow the example of other European countries or, at least, it's trying to do so.