Is Dr Welby's Case in Italy Really About Euthanasia?

| 1 Comment

From Daily Telegraph

AN Italian court has overnight rejected a request by a paralysed, terminally ill man who wants doctors to take him off life support in a case that has split the predominantly Catholic country, where euthanasia is illegal.Italian court rejects euthanasia appeal The pale, listless face of Piergiorgio Welby, 60, who suffers from advanced muscular dystrophy and is confined to bed but is lucid, has become one of the most recognised in Italy. Speaking via a computer that interprets his eye movements, Mr Welby has appeared on news programmes and written to Italy's president asking to be taken off the respirator that keeps him alive so he can "find peace for my tortured and shattered body". But in a 15-page verdict underscoring the legal complexity of the case, a Rome judge said that while Mr Welby had a right to have the respirator removed, that right was not "concretely safeguarded" by Italian law.

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1 Comment

I'm usually open to turning off a respirator as well, though I share your wholly justified concerns about the use that right-to-die activists would make of this case had it gone the other way.

Underscoring that is one note of question that needs to be raised about this case itself, based on a news report. (This was the MSM story that Wesley Smith linked from his blog.) In that news story it was stated that this man wanted not only for his respirator to be turned off but to be "given pain medication until he died" afterwards. My response is, "What's that all about?"

Most of us who are willing to support having respirators turned off picture it something like this: The machine is turned off, the person takes a few gasps, and then he stops breathing and it's all over. Not even _time_ for pain medications. Or perhaps alternatively, the person's breathing becomes gradually shallower over a very short period of time--say, a few hours to a day at most--and then the person stops breathing and dies naturally.

Right?

So where do the "pain medications until he dies" come in?

I asked this on WSJ's blog thread, and the only suggestion Wesley had is that sometimes one is in discomfort after being weaned off a respirator. But usually being "weaned off" suggests that you're going to be able to do without it and live for a longer period of time.

That line in the news article, coupled with the fact that the same article mentioned a feeding tube, makes me a little suspicious. Were they really asking _only_ to turn off the respirator? What was envisaged if he had turned out to be able to breathe on his own and had lived for days thereafter? In short, were they planning to remove his feeding tube or at least stop feeding and hydrating him? Is _that_ what the "pain medications until he dies" were about? And would those pain medications in the dosage envisaged have further seriously shortened his life by suppressing breathing?

So I think I would need to know more about the whole thing before endorsing what Welby wanted.

Meanwhile, I think prolifers should be pretty relieved for several reasons by the Italian court's decision.




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