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The New York Times - December 22, 2006 by Ian Fisher Piergiorgio Welby, who had eloquently begged Italy’s leaders to let him end his life legally, died late Wednesday after a doctor sedated him and removed the respirator that had kept him alive for nine years. But Mr. Welby, 60, an advocate of euthanasia who had muscular dystrophy for 40 years, died without the legal clarity he had hoped to achieve. His decision to be removed from the respirator seemed to be a final challenge, which was quickly taken up in this Roman Catholic country with a deep institutional opposition to euthanasia. Hours after his death was announced Thursday, conservative lawmakers demanded the arrest of the doctor. Luca Volonté, leader of the Christian Democratic Party, a small group with strong ties to the Vatican, said the death “cannot go unpunished, if only because it was committed in such a violent, scandalous and exploitative way.” He and others have accused the Radical Party of turning Mr. Welby’s request to die into a political campaign on behalf of euthanasia and other choices for the sick to end their lives. Such a campaign was clearly the intent of Mr. Welby, who had strong ties to the party. Its leaders were present at his death and oversaw its announcement here, nearly three months after he asked, in an impassioned letter to Italy’s president, Giorgio Napolitano, for greater rights for the terminally ill to end their lives. Despite the calls for his arrest, the doctor, Mario Riccio, an anesthesiologist, said he was “serene” that he would not be prosecuted. “The case of Piergiorgio Welby is not a case of euthanasia,” he told reporters here. “It’s a case of refusing treatment.” “It’s not an exception that treatment is suspended,” he said. “It happens every day,” he said, if quietly, without the public attention of the Welby case. In the weeks before he died, Mr. Welby sought a judicial ruling that would clarify Italy’s contradictory laws regarding unwanted medical treatment and allow him to die as he wished. Direct forms of euthanasia, like doctor-assisted suicide, are illegal in Italy. But Italian law allows patients, other than those with psychiatric problems and infectious diseases, to decline treatment. Experts say the law does not allow anyone to assist in a death, even by consent. Two recent legal decisions on Mr. Welby’s case questioned the legality of a doctor detaching life support, while upholding Mr. Welby’s right to decline treatment. Some legal experts said that Mr. Welby had the chance to appeal the rulings, but that he decided to die amid the legal ambiguity. Several weeks ago, he said his medical treatment was an increasing “torture.” Mr. Welby, a poet who wrote thousands of blog entries on the rights of the terminally ill until a recent decline in his health, died at his home here at 11:30 p.m., Dr. Riccio said. The doctor said that about 40 minutes before, he injected Mr. Welby with sedatives, and then, at an unspecified time before his death, stopped the respirator. The cause of death, he said, was cardio-respiratory failure. Mr. Welby died surrounded by his wife, Mina, who had cared for him for years, other relatives and members of the Radical Party who had kept his case on the front pages of newspapers for months. At a news conference, his sister Carla said she was not interested in politics, yet challenged Italy’s leaders to “change very quickly” regarding cases like her brother’s. “I will say only that maybe no one understands what a weight it has been for us these 89 days,” since Mr. Welby appealed to Italy’s president, she said, “and how determined my brother was in what he was asking.” Emma Bonino, a Radical Party leader and minister in the center-left government of Prime Minister Romano Prodi, issued a more direct political appeal for stronger laws allowing the sick to die. She criticized what she called the inaction of Italy’s politicians on the issue. “Piergiorgio Welby did not invent a phenomenon,” Ms. Bonino said. “He gave a voice to a reality — voice, body, suffering — to a reality that exists, and to which it is more simple, if more cruel, to close one’s eyes.” Many political analysts say it is unlikely that Italy will join Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland in Europe in legalizing more direct forms of euthanasia. In the United States, Oregon allows doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medicine when terminally ill patients request it. The Roman Catholic Church, which opposes euthanasia, holds much influence among politicians and provides much medical care around Italy. Mr. Welby’s case has prompted a debate in Parliament over living wills, which would allow Italians to specify what medical treatment they would accept.

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