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Last Updated: Saturday, 16 December 2006, 17:09 GMT
Italy court snubs euthanasia plea
Piergiorgio Welby in hospital - file photo
Piergiorgio Welby is paralysed and speaks through a computer
An Italian judge has rejected a request by a terminally ill man to have doctors switch off his life support machine.

The judge said the case fell outside of his jurisdiction, saying politicians needed to address a "gap" in the law.

The landmark case of Piergiorgio Welby, 60, has sparked fierce debate in Italy, a mainly Roman Catholic country where euthanasia is illegal.

Mr Welby is confined to bed, is fed through a tube and speaks through a computer that reads his eye movements.

He appealed to President Giorgio Napolitano in October for euthanasia to be legalised so that he could then request it.

But Judge Antonio Salvio concluded in a 15-page ruling that Mr Welby's right to have his respirator removed was not "concretely safeguarded" by Italian law.

The issue needs to be addressed by politicians and possibly by legislation, the court said.

The ruling conceded that Mr Welby was among patients suffering "loneliness and despair" because of his condition.

Political divide

Mr Welby's case has been backed by pro-euthanasia campaigners in Italy's parliament.

Marco Capatto of Italy's Radical Party, a coalition partner in Prime Minister Romano Prodi's government, said his group would continue to campaign on Mr Welby's behalf.

"We're determined to support his plea to stop the torture he is suffering," the Reuters news agency reported him as saying.

But conservatives backed the decision.

Rocco Buttiglione, a devout Catholic and part of the centre-right opposition, told Reuters: "No-one can order to kill."

Prime Minister Romano Prodi's centre-left government is divided over the issue. His coalition includes Catholics as well as socialists, who have come out strongly in favour of Mr Welby's right to refuse treatment.

Euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide have been legalised in the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, but remain illegal in much of the rest of the world.

Euthanasia fears fuel MPs' debate
13 Dec 04 |  UK Politics
NZ euthanasia campaigner freed
13 Dec 04 |  Asia-Pacific


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