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Italians Debating Euthanasia

Pro-euthanasia campaigners in Italy are using the case of a terminally ill man to stress the need for new legislation on the matter. Support for the Italian man who has asked to be allowed to die has increased in recent weeks. Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome.

Solidarity vigils for a terminally ill man who has asked for his life support machine to be switched off were held throughout Italy.

About 200 people, including Piergiorgio Welby's sister, turned out for a candlelit rally outside Rome's City Hall. Supporters also turned out in London and Brussels.

Two months ago 60-year-old Welby appealed to the Italian president for euthanasia to be legalized so that he could make use of it.

Welby, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, is confined to his bed. He is fed through a tube and speaks though a computer that reads his eye movements.

His request for euthanasia has sparked a fierce debate in Italy on the issue. Italy is a strongly Catholic country and the church here has a strong moral and political influence.

This woman was one of the many who turned out to show her solidarity with Welby.

He is not going back and we strongly support him. We hope that he will be able to obtain what he desires as soon as possible.

Welby had sought a court order to have his respirator removed. But a judge on Saturday rejected the request, saying the matter fell outside of his jurisdiction.

The judge said politicians need to address a legal vacuum in Italian law and provide answers to the loneliness and despair of terminally ill patients.

In Europe, two countries have already addressed the complicated issue of euthanasia. The Netherlands became the first country to legalize the practice in 2001, and Belgium legalized it under strict conditions in 2002.