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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 December 2006, 13:43 GMT
Hundreds attend Italian's funeral
Hundreds gather in a Rome square, Sunday, Dec. 24, 2006 for the lay funeral of a paralyzed Italian man
The funeral was held in front of the Italian's parish church
Hundreds of people have attended a lay funeral for an Italian man whose death sparked a euthanasia row and a Church refusal to grant a religious service.

Piergiorgio Welby, 60, died in Rome on Wednesday when a doctor turned off his life support machine at his request.

His funeral was held in a square in front of his local parish church.

Church officials rejected the family's request for a funeral there, saying Mr Welby had gone against Catholic teaching by expressing a desire to die.

The funeral was attended by members of non-Catholic denominations and supporters of the small Radical Party, which has campaigned for Mr Welby's right to die.

They applauded when Mr Welby's coffin was taken onto a platform, while loudspeakers played a recording of Vivaldi's Four Seasons.

Landmark case

Many Catholic parishioners who had attended mass in the church stayed on for the funeral in the square.

Piergiorgio Welby in hospital - file photo
The Church insists Piergiorgio Welby committed suicide
Some told reporters the priest ought to be ashamed of himself for refusing to officiate.

Mr Welby was suffering from muscular dystrophy. His breathing tube had had kept him alive for nine years, and his condition had worsened in recent weeks.

In a Christmas Eve address at the Vatican, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the sanctity of live.

"The birth of Christ helps us to understand how much value human life has, the life of every human being, from its first instant to its natural sunset," he said.

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

The doctor who turned off the life support machine has denied that his act constitutes euthanasia - illegal in mainly Catholic Italy.

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.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Piergiorgio Welby's open-air funeral



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