Italian Catholic doctors: Assisted suicide is not a dignified death

Hannah Brockhaus

   By Hannah Brockhaus for CNA

Rome, Italy, Jan 19, 2022 / 18:10 pm (CNA).

As the Italian parliament debates whether to pass a bill to decriminalize assisted suicide, an association of Catholic doctors has emphasized that a dignified death “cannot take shortcuts.”

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“A dignified death is to be ensured to all: this is an essential principle of care and this action, which has an objective value, cannot take shortcuts compared to practices of support and accompaniment of the sick in the last stages of his life,” Filippo M. Boscia, president of the Association of Italian Catholic Doctors, wrote in a Jan. 18 statement.

“We firmly believe that assisted suicide and euthanasia cannot be included among the professional and deontological duties of physicians,” he said.

The statement from Catholic physicians comes as lawmakers prepare to vote in February on a bill to decriminalize assisted suicide in Italy. Debate on the legislation started in mid-December in the Chamber of Deputies.

Both assisted suicide and euthanasia are illegal in Italy, where the criminal law says, “anyone who causes the death of a man, with his consent, is punished with imprisonment from six to fifteen years.”

Last week, 57 associations, mostly based in Italy, jointly signed their own statement criticizing an article in a Jesuit journal supporting the bill.

The article, which argued that the bill could be an “embankment in the face of a possible more serious damage,” was published in La Civiltà Cattolica, which is produced by the Jesuits in Rome and approved before publication by the Vatican Secretariat of State.

In the AMCI statement, Boscia referenced a “heated debate” on end-of-life and other ethical and legislative problems, but emphasized that “physicians cannot be assigned the task of causing or provoking death.”

“In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, the doctor will always have the duty to obey his professional conscience,” he said.

There has been a public push to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia in Italy in recent years, with several high-profile challenges to the law. In 2021, a petition to hold a referendum on the subject received over 1.2 million signatures. It was submitted to Italy’s supreme court in October and awaits a decision.

The Association of Italian Catholic Doctors warned in its statement that the decriminalization of actions related to euthanasia in the Italian legal system could undermine democracy and “alter the principles of solidarity and justice” reserved for society’s weakest.

“We insist that the state should never deny forms of assistance and protection to the chronically ill, the elderly, the disabled, the mentally ill, etc.,” it said.

“Those who practice the difficult art of medicine cannot choose between letting people live or letting people die…” it continued. “And in this, the doctor has no alternative: the only option he can exercise is, always and in any case, for life and in favor of life, because his conscience requires it and his profession obliges him to do so.”

AMCI president Boscia added that “all Catholic doctors represent the absolute incompatibility between medical action and killing…”

He said that the association’s doctors want to reiterate the urgent need to have better access to palliative care and pain management for the terminally ill.

“Catholic doctors believe that the whole issue of the end of life with all its human, personal and family, ethical and legal, political and legislative aspects,” he stated, “certainly represents at the present time an opportunity for dialogue, confrontation, improvement of care towards eubiosia (the opposite of euthanasia), that is, good life…”