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Last Updated: Friday, 22 December 2006, 22:19 GMT
Church denies funeral for Italian
Piergiorgio Welby in hospital - file photo
Piergiorgio Welby was paralysed and spoke using a computer

Italy's Roman Catholic Church has denied the right to a religious funeral to a terminally ill man whose fight to die sparked a fierce euthanasia debate.

Piergiorgio Welby died in Rome on Wednesday when a doctor turned off his life support machine at his request.

Church officials said they could not grant the request of the Welby family for a funeral in his local parish.

They said Mr Welby had gone against Catholic teaching by expressing a desire to end his life.

"Welby had repeatedly and publicly affirmed his desire to end his own life, which is against Catholic doctrine," a Church statement said.

Landmark case

Mr Welby, 60, was paralysed by muscular dystrophy and his condition had worsened in recent weeks.

His plea for euthanasia - illegal in mainly Roman Catholic Italy - sparked a landmark court case and fierce debate.

But Father Marco Fibbi, a spokesman for the Rome vicar's office, said that the decision not to allow a religious funeral would send a clear signal to Catholic believers that Mr Welby's actions were not acceptable.

The doctor who turned off the life support machine has denied that his act constitutes illegal euthanasia.

Dr Mario Riccio said he had fulfilled the patient's legal right to refuse treatment.

A judge had ruled that Mr Welby had the constitutional right to have his life support machine switched off but doctors would be legally obliged to resuscitate him.

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




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