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Paralyzed Man Who Requested Euthanasia Dies In Italy

A paralyzed man at the center of a right-to-die debate in this predominently Roman Catholic country has died after being taken off a respirator. For VOA, Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome.

For three months, 60-year-old Piergiorgio Welby had been asking for his life support machine to be switched off. But euthanasia in Italy is illegal and just recently, he had lost a legal battle to have his respirator switched off.

Welby suffered from muscular dystrophy and in recent months his conditions had worsened. He was confined to bed, fed through a tube and communicated through a computer that read his eye movements.

Last night he again communicated his desire to be allowed to die and this time his appeal did not fall on deaf ears. Fulfilling Welby's wish, an Italian doctor sedated him and disconnected the life support system that had kept him alive for the past nine years.

At a press conference held in Rome this morning, Marco Cappato, a leftist member of the European Parliament and secretary of the pro-euthanasia Luca Coscioni association gave details of his death.

He said, about half an hour before midnight, Piergiorgio Welby left us. He said for the past 88 days, since he wrote an open letter to the Italian head of state asking to be allowed to die, he had fought against the torture, which every day he suffered and he had also fought to pursue all the legal paths to be granted the right to die.

Cappato added that Welby got what he had been asking for for 88 days, in full respect of his rights, the law and the constitution.

Anaesthetist Mario Riccio, who disconnected the life support machine was also at Thursday's press conference. He said "Welby's case is not one of euthanasia. It is about refusing treatment." The 47-year-old doctor said he believed he had not broken the law. He said he was willing to answer magistrate's questions about Welby's death.

During the past few months Welby had become the rallying cry for campaigners for the right to die, in predominantly Catholic Italy. A debate on the subject has divided the country.

Euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide have been legalized only in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium and the U.S. state of Oregon, but remain illegal in much of the rest of the world.