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Italy judge orders investigation into right-to-die case

[JURIST] Italian Judge Renato La Viola ordered an investigation into the actions of Dr. Mario Riccio, the anaesthetist turned off life support for Piergiorgio Welby [advocacy website profile, in Italian], a man who suffered from muscular dystrophy and sought the right to die by euthanasia, according to statements Riccio made to Reuters Monday. Italian prosecutors declined to initiate proceedings against Riccio after completing their own probe into Welby's death [JURIST report], determining that Riccio acted legally [JURIST report] since the Italian constitution [text] affords citizens the right to refuse medical treatment. Euthanasia is illegal in Italy and La Viola will interrogate Riccio in the next 40 days on whether his actions constituted valid refusal of treatment or euthanasia. La Viola has called Riccio a suspect in a consensual murder. If indicted, Riccio could face six to fifteen years' imprisonment.

Former Italian President Francesco Cossiga publicly urged prosecutors to consider Riccio a murder suspect and the Roman Catholic Church has condemned Riccio's actions; however, patients' rights groups, such as Associazione Lucacoscioni [advocacy website, in Italian], stand behind Riccio's actions. Italy's constitutional right to refuse medical treatment, which was recognized [BBC report] in the weeks before Welby's death by a Rome judge, 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 urged legislators to remedy the contradiction in the constitution and the medical code. Reuters has more.

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