ROME, March 17, 2011 ( – The Italian Chamber of Deputies has begun to debate a new bill that would prohibit the starvation and dehydration of patients, even if they have completed a “living will” authorizing it, according to the French bioethics website Genethique and Italian media sources.

According to the bill, nutrition and hydration are not medical therapies, but rather “vital support” for patients. Genethique reports that food and fluids can only be withdrawn under the terms of the bill if they are no longer “effective or adapted to the conditions of life of the patient” – a situation that can arise in the last hours of life.

The bill is opposed by Italian leftists, who argue that the general public is supportive of euthanasia. In a recent poll 66% said they favored euthanasia, and 77% supported living wills, although the public’s opinion on starving and dehydrating patients to death is unclear.

Opponents of the bill held a sit-in and threatened a hunger strike on the day that discussion began in the Chamber.

The Association of Catholic Physicians has endorsed the bill, agreeing that food and fluids constitute “vital support.” “When they are interrupted they become a direct cause of death, substituting themselves for the illness,” said the association, according to Genethique. After a vote by the nation’s Senate, a final vote is expected in April.

Related links:

Italy: Nutrition and hydration in end-of-life law (in French)


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