M.arco Cappato is facing a major political success: there will soon be a referendum in Italy to legalize active euthanasia. The 50-year-old Milanese has been campaigning for the right to assisted suicide for many years. The 50-year-old former MEP of the left radical party was surprised by the rapid progress of the latest campaign by the “Associazione Luca Coscioni”, of which Cappato is co-founder and treasurer: within a few weeks, more than half a million signatures were collected and thus the legally required one Threshold for the announcement of a referendum is exceeded. In order to give the initiative further political weight, we are aiming for 750,000 to one million signatures by the end of September.
The organization is named after Cappato’s friend and party comrade Luca Coscioni, who died in 2006 at the age of only 38 from an incurable degenerative disease of the motor nervous system. Coscioni died in his home, completely paralyzed and unable to speak, of acute respiratory failure.
Nothing has changed in politics so far
Cappato and other activists of the organization have been trying for around a decade and a half to promote the debate and the political process on active euthanasia with targeted actions. They have achieved important milestones in front of the interested public and also in front of the courts. But so far nothing has changed in politics. That could change with the referendum.
The case of Fabiano Antoniani, better known by his stage name DJ Fabo, has recently received special attention. Antoniani was paralyzed from the neck down after a traffic accident in June 2014, and he had also lost his eyesight. After several unsuccessful therapies, he repeatedly expressed his wish to die, most recently in a video appeal to President Sergio Mattarella that he recorded together with his fiancée.
In February 2017, Cappato traveled with DJ Fabo to a hospice run by the Swiss euthanasia organization Dignitas, where the then 39-year-old Antoniani died after taking a drug cocktail. After his return to Italy, Cappato filed a voluntary report to initiate the due criminal process. In September 2019, the Constitutional Court ruled unanimously that the offense of “inciting or aiding and abetting suicide”, which is punishable by imprisonment of five to twelve years in accordance with Article 580 of the Criminal Code, is not punishable under certain conditions.
For example, when, as in the case of DJ Fabos, a person has “formed their will to die autonomously and freely” because the physical and mental pain as a result of an incurable disease was “no longer bearable”. With Cappato’s acquittal, the judges asked politicians to reform the outdated Article 580 and the related Article 579 on “killing on demand” within two years. However, as expected, the legal reform that had been called for did not come about.
Catholic bishops are concerned
Cappato’s initiative for a referendum on Articles 579 and 580 of the Criminal Code also progressed so quickly because it was apparently mainly young people who had made use of the new option of “electronic” signatures over the Internet. But the traditional way of collecting signatures on paper lists in city centers and especially in beach resorts was also successful. According to the latest polls, a good 60 percent of Italians are in favor of legalizing assisted suicide and killing on demand for the terminally ill. The “Associazione Luca Coscioni” has determined that currently around 800 terminally ill people in Italy and their relatives would make use of the option of active euthanasia should the legal situation change.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference expressed “very concerned” about the initiative after a meeting held online last week. “Anyone who is in a state of extreme suffering should be helped to cope with the pain, fear and despair,” it said in a statement. The bishops warn, however, that under no circumstances should “life be destroyed”. A “decision to die” means the victory of an “individualistic, nihilistic” idea of the individual.
Pontifical Academy “concerned”
The president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, was also dismayed that the majority of society felt that a “vitalistic conception of life” was taking hold. Everything that does not correspond to a certain ideal of health, youthfulness and well-being is pushed to the edge. On the other hand, it must be the task of the church to tirelessly remind people that weakness and frailty are an “elementary part” of human nature.
The referendum is likely to be held in 2022. Should the Italians vote for the abolition of the law, the coalition would have to initiate a new one on assisted suicide. The heterogeneous alliance of the non-party head of government Mario Draghi, to which right and left parties belong, will find it difficult to find a compromise on this fundamental issue.