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December 21st, 2006

Man who sparked euthanasia debate dies

It isn’t quite New York personal injury law, but sufficiently interesting to deserve note: An Italian patient that wanted to die by being pulled off his respirator. Since we see “right to die” issues all the time where medicine meets the law, I wanted to share this one:

ROME – A paralyzed man at the center of a right-to-die debate in this overwhelmingly Roman Catholic nation died after he was taken off his respirator, days after an Italian court issued a contentious ruling in the case.

Piergiorgio Welby, 60, died late Wednesday, said Dr. Mario Riccio, the physician who removed the respirator. Riccio said Thursday that Welby had a constitutionally guaranteed right to refuse treatment.

“This must not be mistaken for euthanasia. It is a suspension of therapies,” said Riccio, who volunteered to remove the respirator and was not involved in Welby’s medical care. “Refusing treatment is a right.”

On Saturday, a Rome judge recognized Welby’s right to refuse treatment but ruled that doctors were not obligated to take measures that would result in the patient’s death — even at the patient’s request.

U.S. law generally permits patients to ask that medical treatment be withheld or withdrawn, even if it raises their risk of dying. Voters in Oregon went further and approved the first physician-assisted suicide law in the U.S. in 1994, but it is now under legal challenge.

In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country to legalize voluntary euthanasia — where patients are killed at their request to ease suffering, even in cases where they might survive without treatment. Belgium legalized it under strict conditions in 2002.

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