Why this story matters:
On December 14, the Italian Senate gave the green light to the law on the advance healthcare directive, also known as living will -- a long-awaited step forward on the path to humanizing the experience of dying.
A living will is a document through which a person specifies what actions should be taken for their health if they can no longer decide for themselves due to an illness or incapacity. In it, a person can also authorize someone to make decisions on behalf of her/him.
The new law introduces three important innovations. First of all, whatever is declared in the living will in terms of the anticipated treatment is binding to the doctors. Secondly, it defines what artificial feeding and hydration are thus making them renounceable for the patient, under Article 32 of the Constitution, which states that "nobody can be forced to undergo a specific health treatment".
Finally, the new law permits doctors to resort to continuous deep sedation as part of pain therapy and "in the case of suffering that is refractory to treatment" -- of course provided that the patient consented.
To come into force, the new legislation only needs the signature of the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, who, however, has the right to request the Parliament to submit the law to a second vote.
And this is precisely the hope of a large portion of the Catholic world that opposes the law, expressed in an open letter to the president. The document, signed among others by the Pastoral Office of the Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI) and the Italian Catholic Medical Association, emphasized that the law conflicts with some provisions of the Italian Constitution.
Yet, above all, it points to the problems that could arise in the Catholic health structures affiliated with the National Health Service -- that is to say private structures the expenses of which are borne by the State.
Granting patients more freedom to decide about their death is against the values nurtured by those institutions, and hence, according to the signatories, they might lose accreditation and subsidies.
Therefore, to them, the legislation interferes with Article 7 of the Constitution that describes relations between the state and the Church.
Even if Mattarella signs the law, it's sure that part of the Catholic world is going to fight it. We know that because of the difficulties we have in the application of the abortion law. The path to the law on euthanasia and assisted suicide is still long and uphill.
Details from the story:
- On December 14, the Italian Senate approved the law on the living will.
- Now, it only requires the signature of the President of the Republic to come into force. However, he can still send the text back to the MPs requesting a new resolution.
- Several Catholic organizations operating in the health sector have written to the President urging him to do so.