Diocese of Rome Refuses Catholic Funeral for Catholic Right-to-Die Activist

Wed Jan 3, 2007 - 12:15 pm EST

ROME, January 3, 2007 ( - The Rome diocese has declined to allow a Catholic funeral for Piergiorgio Welby, the Italian activist who died on December 21 after his doctor disconnected his respirator.

The Rome diocese explained that during his life, Welby had “placed himself at odds with Church doctrine” by his outspoken advocacy of assisted suicide. Having been a leading advocate of the “right to die,” Welby—who suffered from muscular dystrophy—became the center of a heated public debate on that issue when he asked his doctors to remove the respirator that was keeping him alive.

An Italian court had ruled that doctors could not take any action that would result in Welby’s death. But Dr. Mario Riccio, after honoring his patient’s request by disconnecting the respirator, insisted that it was “not a cause of euthanasia; it was about refusing treatment.”

The circumstances of Welby’s death roused efforts to reconsider the Italian law governing treatment of patients who are terminally ill. Bishop Elio Sgreccia, the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, observed that the facts of the Welby case were difficult to discern, especially in light of the surrounding polemics. And Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, the president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care, observed that extraordinary medical treatment could become “therapeutic cruelty” when it merely prolongs the suffering of a dying patient.

In denying a Catholic funeral for Welby, the Rome diocese made it clear that the ruling was not a reaction to the man’s death but a result of his earlier high-profile involvement in public campaigns for legalized euthanasia.

Bishop Rino Fisichella, a Rome auxiliary and chaplain to the Italian parliament, announced that he would pray for Welby, “that God may accompany him in mercy after Welby suffered so much and for so long.” However the bishop left no doubt about his own reaction to the death, saying that he would “also ask our Lord to forgive those who killed Welby.”

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