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Medical board to investigate doctor who disconnected respirator of Italian right-to-die activist

Medical board to investigate doctor who disconnected respirator of Italian right-to-die activist

An Italian medical board said Thursday it has opened an investigation into the doctor who disconnected the respirator of a paralyzed man, granting his wish to be allowed to die.
The Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano also weighed in on the issue Thursday, condemning in a front page editorial what it said was the "erroneous belief" that one of the fundamental duties of doctors is to help their patients die, "forgetting how the Hippocratic oath ... commits a doctor to fight always and only for life, and not to operate for death."
A disciplinary commission will decide whether to bring a case against Dr. Mario Riccio, who last week assisted in the death of writer Piergiorgio Welby, a 60-year-old with muscular dystrophy who was at the center of a right-to-die campaign in this predominantly Roman Catholic country.
Sanctions against Riccio could go from a warning to expulsion, a measure that would bar him from the medical profession, said officials at the board of physicians in the northern Italian city of Cremona, where the anesthesiologist is based.
Board President Mario Bianchi questioned Riccio until late Wednesday before announcing he would put the case to the board's disciplinary commission.
"I agree with the decision. If I were him I would have done the same thing," Riccio told The Associated Press by telephone, saying that the high-profile character of the case justified an investigation.
Riccio and Welby's family have described the decision to pull the plug as a suspension of therapy, saying it conformed to a patient's constitutional right to refuse treatment. Anti-euthanasia campaigners and some conservative politicians have described Welby's death as murder.
Euthanasia is illegal in Italy, and the Vatican, which wields influence over the country's political and social life, staunchly opposes the practice. Welby was mourned Sunday at a lay funeral in Rome after Church officials denied him a religious ceremony.
"The pity that we must feel for Piergiorgio Welby and his pain must be accompanied by pity that it is right to feel for many other patients who are physically and psychically fragile," L'Osservatore Romano said in its editorial; patients "who have a right to expect from the health system and from us words of life and not death ... of hope and not of necrophiliac despair."
Rome prosecutors have begun investigating the causes of Welby's death and have briefly questioned Riccio as a witness, but so far no one has been accused or named as a suspect in the case.
Meanwhile, Premier Romano Prodi said Italy does not need new legislation, despite widespread calls for lawmakers to look into right-to-die issues.
"I think human pain should be respected and not exploited," Prodi told reporters at a year-end news conference. "I don't think it's a legislative problem; it is one of sensitivity and of custom."
Before Riccio contacted him and volunteered to pull the plug, Welby had sought a court order to force his doctors to disconnect the respirator.
A Rome judge recognized Welby's right to refuse treatment _ but ruled there is no law that could force a doctor to take measures that would lead to a patient's death, even at the patient's request.
In her ruling, the judge urged legislators to address the contradiction, saying the decision to disconnect a respirator "is left to the complete discretion of any doctor to whom the request is made."


Updated : 2020-12-02 21:45 GMT+08:00