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Italy physician cleared in right-to-die case

[JURIST] Italian patient's rights group Associazione Lucacoscioni [advocacy website, in Italian] said Tuesday that prosecutors have cleared [press release, in Italian] anesthesiologist Dr. Mario Riccio, the physician being investigated [JURIST report] for assisting in the December death [IHT report] of paralyzed right-to-die advocate Piergiorgio Welby [Wikipedia profile]. Shortly after Welby's death, several conservative Italian lawmakers had called for Riccio's arrest, characterizing him as a murderer. The conservative lawmakers were also incensed at the support of Welby from Italy's Radical Party [party website], who championed Welby's right to die, making it an issue of national debate. Three months before his death at the age of 60, Welby, a writer and political activist, made a high profile video appeal to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano [BBC profile], pleading to be allowed to die. Welby suffered the effects of muscular dystrophy for the past 40 years, and for the past nine years he had been kept alive by a respirator, which Riccio removed after administering sedatives. Riccio regarded Welby's case not as one of euthanasia, but instead as one of Welby refusing life sustaining treatment, highlighting a legal grey area.

Italian law gives people a constitutional right to refuse medical treatment, which was recognized [BBC report] in the weeks before Welby's death by a Rome judge, but the constitution [text, in English] contradicts the Italian medical code, which requires doctors to keep patients alive. The judge said no Italian law can require a doctor to take affirmative measures to end a patient's life, and had urged legislators to remedy the contradiction in the constitution and the medical code, but even after Tuesday's clearing of Riccio, the gap in the law remains. AP has more.

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