A Poet Gets His Final Wish

Piergiorgio Welby, the Italian poet who suffered from muscular dystrophy for 40 years, had his final wish granted when Dr. Mario Riccio, an anesthesiologist, sedated Mr. Welby and removed the artificial life support that had been keeping him alive for the last three months.

“The case of Piergiorgio Welby is not a case of euthanasia,” Dr Riccio stated. “It’s a case of refusing treatment.” According to the doctor, such cases happen every day—quietly, without the public attention that Welby’s case had received.

The New York Times (December 22, 2006) reported that Italian law “does not allow anyone to assist in a death, even by consent. Two recent legal decisions on Mr. Welby’s case questioned the legality of a doctor detaching life support, while upholding Mr. Welby’s right to decline treatment.”

Emma Bonino, a leader in the Radical Party, of which Mr. Welby was a member, said: “Piergiorgio Welby did not invent a phenomenon. He gave a voice to a reality — voice, body, suffering — to a reality that exists, and to which it is more simple, if more cruel, to close one’s eyes.”

While I think that it’s morally wrong to willfully take the life of another human being, I don’t pretend to be able to speak for the individual patient who finds himself in that dilemma. As the Galician quadriplegic Ramón Sampedro wrote in Cartas desde el infierno (Letters from Hell): “I don’t speak for all quadriplegics. I speak for myself — Ramón Sampedro.”

As I wrote in my review of Mar Adentro (The Sea Inside): “The sea that rages deep within the soul touches upon that universal profound question of what constitutes a human life. For Ramón Sampedro the answer becomes clear. But for many viewers the answer will remain elusively hidden in the heart. Perhaps none of us can know it truly before his or her time.”

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