Doctor risks jail with mercy killing of paralysed man
Published 22/12/2006 | 10:43
The drama of a man who is paralysed by muscular dystrophy and has been pleading for months to be allowed to die came to a sudden conclusion when an anaesthetist disconnected his respirator, and he died.
The case of Piergiorgio Welby, 60, has galvanised Italy since he wrote to the President, Giorgio Napolitano, asking that the artificial continuation of his life be ended.
Last weekend, a court in Rome rejected his request to have the respirator removed. Yesterday morning, a picture of Mr Welby in his bed at home was on the front of La Repubblica, with the headline "The life of Welby is not at an end".But as Italians digested the latest turn of the story, news came that he was dead.
An anaesthetist, Mario Riccio, had travelled to his home in Rome, administered sedatives intravenously, then removed the respirator that had kept him alive. As the life Mr Welby had called "an unbearable torture" ended, he reportedly said "thank you" three times to friends and supporters in the room. He died at 11.30pm on Wednesday.
The case has caused a storm of controversy in a country where the Catholic church is still strenuously opposed to euthanasia, even though it is believed many doctors quietly end treatment when suffering of patients is extreme and recovery is out of the question.
Luca Volonte, a Christian Democrat MP, called for the "arrest the man responsible for this homicide". But Dr Riccio said: "In Italian hospitals, therapies are suspended all the time, and this does not lead to intervention by magistrates or problems of conscience.
"Welby's case was not one of euthanasia but of refusing treatment," he added.