Helping someone to end their own life is technically illegal in Italy but the Constitutional Court ruled in 2019 that it was not always a crime to help someone in “intolerable” suffering who is capable of making their own decision.
“Mario”, a truck driver from Marche in central Italy, has been receiving 24-hour care since an accident fractured his spine and left him completely immobilised 10 years ago.
He has long campaigned for permission to take life-ending drugs, writing to newspaper La Stampa in August: “I want to use what little strength I have left to achieve a dignified death.”
After assessing a report by doctors, a regional ethics committee has now given him the green light, according to the Luca Coscioni Association campaign group that helped him.
“It is terrible that it has taken this long, but finally, for the first time in Italy, an ethics committee has confirmed the existence of conditions for assisted suicide for a sick person,” said association secretary Filomena Gallo.
Anyone helping another person to take their own life can be jailed for between five and 12 years under Italian law.
But Italy’s Constitutional Court made an exception for those facing an incurable illness causing “intolerable” physical or psychological suffering, where they are kept alive by life support treatments but remain capable of making “free and informed decisions”.
The practicalities of Mario’s situation must still be worked out but he said he felt “lighter” following the decision, according to the campaign group.
“All the tension built up over the years has gone,” added an association statement quoting Mario.
In 2019, the court called on parliament to clarify the law, but this has not yet happened, with the Luca Coscioni Association condemning the “paralysis” of lawmakers.
A petition has been lodged with the Italian authorities calling for a referendum on the issue, with a vote expected next year.
However, there is strong opposition in a country where the Catholic Church still holds sway.