Italy allows 'living wills' despite church opposition

ROME • Catholic Italy has adopted a law which will allow patients to refuse life-prolonging treatment despite opposition from the church, which warned it was a dangerous step towards assisted suicide.

The Senate on Thursday gave the green light to "living wills", which determine the medical treatment given to people suffering from a terminal illness or a life-threatening injury - and enshrine their right to refuse care.

The powerful Italian Bishops' Conference slammed the law as "protecting doctors by relieving them of any responsibility, protecting the public health service... but apparently doing little to protect those suffering".

The legislation, which includes a provision to ensure doctors can be conscientious objectors, was backed by both the ruling centre-left Democratic Party as well as the anti-establishment Five Star Movement.

It will allow patients to refuse not only medicine but food and water as well.

Pope Francis has said that while euthanasia is wrong, doctors must not provide excessive treatment in a futile bid to resist death.

Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni described the law, expected to be the last this government will push through before a general election in March, as "a step forward for human dignity".

"Living wills" are legal documents that specify the type of medical care an individual wants in the event he or she is unable to communicate. They already exist in other large European countries including Britain and Spain.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 16, 2017, with the headline 'Italy allows 'living wills' despite church opposition'. Print Edition | Subscribe