Note of the Pontifical Academy for Life regarding the case of assisted suicide of an Italian citizen
Vatican City, November 23, 2021. - The subject of end-of-life decisions is delicate and controversial.
The news of the green light given to the assisted suicide of Mario following the opinion of the Local Ethics Committee calls for some considerations.
Since we do not have detailed medical information on the patient’s clinical situation, we must confine ourselves to some general observations.
First of all, the suffering caused by a pathology as disabling as late-stage tetraplegia is certainly understandable: we cannot in any way minimize the severity of Mario’s condition. However, the question remains whether the most appropriate response to such a situation is to encourage a person to commit suicide. The legitimization of assisted suicide in principle, or even of consensual homicide, does not raise any question or create any contradiction in a civil community that considers the failure to provide assistance a serious crime, even in the most desperate cases, and that is ready to fight against death penalty, even in the case of horrible crimes? What happened to the doctors' oath to care for the suffering? Can giving death to someone else become normal?
We must ask ourselves how to be truly responsible for the lives of all. The most convincing way seems to us to take care of others according to the logic of palliative care, which also envisages the possibility of stopping all treatments that are considered disproportionate by the patient, within the relationship with the healthcare team.
This case also raises a question about the role of Local Ethics Committees. It cannot be excluded that the difficulty of the answer was also determined by the difficulty of clarifying their role. In fact, the term used is not the usual one (so far we have used the terms Committees for Clinical Trials and Committees for Clinical Ethics). Moreover, the Sentence n. 242/2019 of the Constitutional Court demands a task that does not correspond to what is provided for both types so far known: it is about a binding judgment of compliance of the specific clinical situation with the four conditions established by the Sentence of the Constitutional Court. In other words, that is a task that could be carried out more appropriately by a technical (medico-legal) committee that verifies the existence of the prescribed conditions. An ethics committee might be involved more properly in a consultation prior to the patient's decision.
Vatican City, November 23, 2021