Terminally ill have right to refuse treatment: Cardinal Martini

Former Milan Cardinal Carlo Martini has weighed in on the Italian euthanasia debate in favour of a right to refuse treatment following the case of a man who was denied a Church funeral because he had asked to be removed from a life-saving respirator.

Commenting on Sunday on the case of muscular dystrophy victim, Piergiorgio Welby, whose doctor unplugged his respirator in December, Cardinal Martini said that terminally ill patients should be given the right to refuse treatments and that the doctors who assist them should be protected by law, the Guardian reports.

Although the Vatican has agreed that protracted treatments for the terminally ill can be ended by doctors if no cure is possible, the Vicariate of Rome denied Mr Welby's family permission to hold a Catholic funeral, saying his "desire to end his life, expressed frequently and publicly, is contrary to Catholic doctrine".

In an article published on Sunday in the Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore, Cardinal Martini, 79, said there were likely to be more cases like Mr Welby's and the church "should pay closer attention to the issues".

Cardinal Martini, who has Parkinson's disease, called for Italy to follow France's example and introduce legislation allowing patients to request the ending of treatments.

He said he opposed active euthanasia, where a patient requests a fatal injection, but also opposed "unreasonably obstinate" treatments that keep the terminally ill alive.

"Avoiding drawn-out therapy need not mean looking for death, but accepting that you cannot stop it," he said.

An Italian court decided in December that Mr Welby had the right to refuse therapy, but he could not exercise it because there was no law explicitly permitting it.

The doctor who unplugged his respirator, Marco Riccio, is under investigation by Italian medical authorities.

Welby himself had earlier written an open letter to the Italian president in which he quoted Pope Benedict as saying that "to the claim often put forward that it is necessary to resort to euthanasia in order to eliminate suffering, we must corroborate the inviolable dignity of human life, from conception to its natural end".

"But what is 'natural' in a reanimation room? What is natural in a hole in the belly and a pump that fills it with fats and proteins? What is natural about a hole in the windpipe and a pump that blows air into the lungs?" Welby asked in his letter.

"What is natural about a body kept biologically functional with the help of artificial respirators, artificial feed, artificial hydration, artificial intestinal emptying, of death artificially postponed? I believe that it is possible to play with words for reasons of power or faith, but I do not believe that it is possible to 'play' with the life and pain of someone else for the same reasons."

Seoul Archdiocese gives out first "Mystery of Life" awards

Meanwhile, UCA News reports that Seoul archdiocese's Committee for Life presented its first "Mystery of Life" awards this month to five individuals and an institution for their pro-life stance and work in treating serious diseases while adhering to the Church's bioethical guidelines. The committee plans to give the awards annually.

"Nowadays, the dignity of human life is ignored in the name of economic profits," award recipient Augustine Oh Tae-hwan told the agency.

"This award will awaken people to a social trend that is devaluing human life," said Oh, who is director of the Age-related and Brain Diseases Research Centre of Seoul's Kyunghee University.

Another award recipient, Heinz Wassle, director of the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt, Germany, echoed Oh's views. In particular, Wassle said the awards are a signal to the Korean government to stop supporting embryonic stem-cell research.

Other awardees included Bishop Elio Sgreccia, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life and the Catholic Institute of Bioethics of the Catholic University of Korea which were both cited for their study and work on bioethics.

Cardinal urges Vatican to think again on right to die (Guardian, 23/1/07)
Seoul Archdiocese Gives Out Its First 'Mystery Of Life' Awards (UCA News, 23/1/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini (Wikipedia)
Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini (Catholic-Pages)
Piergiorgio Welby (Wikipedia)
Open letter to the President of the Republic, Giorgio Napolitano (Piergiorgio Zelby, 21/9/06)

Euthanasia book ban ineffective: Qld priest (CathNews, 16/1/07)
Life Office hails ban on suicide messaging (CathNews, 13/1/06)
Vatican bioethicist says patient's tube 'direct euthanasia' (CathNews, 14/3/05)
Bishop-elect Fisher to debate Australia's 'Dr Death' (CathNews, 8/8/03)

24 Jan 2007

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