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Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, president of the Pontifical Academy for LifeVatican News

(Euthanasia Prevention Coalition) — In the past I have stayed out of Church politics, but this situation requires a response.

I am very concerned with the recent comments by Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, President of the Pontifical Academy for Life, relating to the 2019 Italian assisted suicide Constitutional Court decision and the proposed Italian assisted suicide legislation.

In September 2019, the Italian Constitutional Court opened the door to assisted suicide in the assisted suicide case of Fabiano Antoniani, known as DJ Fabo, a music producer and motocross driver who became disabled in a 2014 traffic accident. In February 2017, Marco Cappato, a leader with the Luca Coscioni [assisted suicide] Association brought Antoniani to Switzerland, where he died at an assisted suicide clinic.

The 2019 Italian Constitutional Court decision appeared to limit assisted suicide to people being kept alive on life-support but further reading indicated that the decision was much wider. An article published in the Guardian on September 25, 2019 stated, “The court said that a patient’s condition must be ‘causing physical and psychological suffering that he or she considers intolerable.'” The language “causing physical and psychological suffering that he or she considers intolerable” is based on subjective criteria and allows assisted suicide to a wide group of people. I have commented on the language of the decision and expressed concern that the decision devalued the lives of people with disabilities.

Further to that, in November 2021 an ethics committee in the central Italian region of Marche Italy approved the first assisted suicide death: a man with quadriplegia known as Mario. Again, I stated that I was particularly concerned that the Italian assisted suicide court decisions all concern people with disabilities.

On April 19, 2023; Archbishop Paglia, in speaking at the Perugia Journalist Festival on the theme: The Last Journey (towards the end of Life) stated:

[It] cannot be excluded that in our society a legal mediation is feasible which allows assisted suicide in the conditions specified by the Constitutional Court’s Judgment 242/2019: the person must be ‘kept alive by life support treatments and affected from an irreversible pathology, a source of physical or psychological suffering that she deems intolerable, but fully capable of making free and informed decisions.’ The bill approved by the Chamber of Deputies (but not by the Senate) basically went along this line. Personally I would not practice assisted suicide, but I understand that legal mediation can constitute the greatest common good that is concretely possible in the conditions in which we find ourselves.

Paglia explained, in his intervention, that the Catholic Church opposes assisted suicide but the language of the court decision and the assisted suicide bill, that has already passed in the Chamber of Deputies, but not by the Italian Senate, might work as a legal answer.

READ: Abp. Paglia defends assisted suicide as ‘greatest common good possible’ for dying people

In response to Paglia, I ask the questions “What is assisted suicide?” and “Can there ever be a law permitting assisted suicide that is considered morally permissible? ”

The answer to these questions lies in the fundamental issue of what assisted suicide is.

Assisted suicide is an act whereby one or more persons, usually medical practitioners, directly assist in the death of another person by intentionally providing the means to cause death. In other words, where assisted suicide is legal, the medical practitioner is directly involved in causing the death of another person. It is not accidental, and it is not based on a “double effect.”

Assisted suicide is not acceptable under any circumstance because of the commandment Thou shall not kill. Based on the act, assisted suicide can never be considered morally permissible.

On April 24, the Vatican published a clarification concerning the comments by Archbishop Paglia. According to Vatican News the clarification states:

In his address last week, Archbishop Paglia explained that it is important that assisted suicide remain a crime in Italian law, which the Constitutional Court sentence recognizes. However, because the Court has asked Parliament to legislate concerning the issue, the Archbishop gave his opinion that a ‘legislative initiative’ along the lines proposed by the Senate – maintaining medically-assisted suicide as a crime while de-penalizing it in certain circumstances – might be a possible solution to the legal question.

The statement from the PAV insists that any legal compromise would in no way involve a change in the moral stance towards assisted suicide.

The clarification misses the point. Archbishop Paglia created confusion when he suggested that the 2019 Italian Constitutional Court decision and the Chamber of Deputies legislation may be an acceptable legal solution. These comments suggest that some assisted suicide deaths may be acceptable.

READ: Pontifical Academy for Life tries to clarify Abp. Paglia’s troubling assisted suicide comments

Archbishop Paglia does make several excellent remarks in his intervention. He spoke about the interdependence of the human person, the cultural pressure that may be felt by a dying person, the expansion of euthanasia in other jurisdictions, the abuse of euthanasia, and the need for people to be with others as they are dying.

Nonetheless, the confusion Archbishop Paglia has sown is greater than the good that he expressed. I am also concerned because the 2019 Italian Constitutional court decision and the language of the Chamber of Deputies bill infer that assisting the suicide of a disabled person can be acceptable. The 2019 court decision was based on the assisted suicide death of a disabled man and the language of the decision is discriminatory towards people with disabilities.

Further to that, the legislation states that assisted suicide can be approved when the person’s condition is “causing physical and psychological suffering that he or she considers intolerable.” These are subjective criteria that are based on a person’s claim that their suffering is intolerable. No one can confirm or deny such a claim.

Paglia acknowledged that the law would allow assisted suicide for people with physical or psychological suffering, but he doesn’t seem to recognize that in all jurisdictions that have legalized assisted suicide based on physical or psychological suffering this subjective criteria has led to the massive expansions of law.

Based on his comments and the weak clarification attempt, I and those who agree to attach their name to this statement, call on Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia to resign as the President of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

Assisted suicide is the direct and intentional assisting in a suicide death. It is fundamental that the Pontifical Academy for Life effectively expresses its opposition to killing people.

To add your name to this statement, email Alex Schadenberg at: [email protected]  with your full name, address, and position.

READ: Portugal’s president vetoes fourth attempt to push assisted suicide bill through Parliament

Reprinted with permission from the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.