December 20, 2006

A[nother] Poet on Right to Die

Hunter S. Thompson and Timothy Leary and, well, now that I think about it lots of writers and figures whose lives represented a "stand on independence" with regard to death and experience have long found ways to build death into a narrative long before it occurs. In a memo from Rome in the New York Times, Italian Poet
Piergiorgio Welby is still full of words, hard and touching ones, that may be changing the way Italy thinks about euthanasia and other choices for the sick to end their own lives.

A vigil in Milan on Saturday supported Mr. Welby’s bid to have life support disconnected. “I love life, Mr. President,” Mr. Welby, 60, who has battled muscular dystrophy for 40 years, wrote to Italy’s president, Giorgio Napolitano, in September. “Life is the woman who loves you, the wind through your hair, the sun on your face, an evening stroll with a friend. “Life is also a woman who leaves you, a rainy day, a friend who deceives you. I am neither melancholic nor manic-depressive. I find the idea of dying horrible. But what is left to me is no longer a life.” Now Mr. Welby’s long drama appears to be nearing its final act. Last weekend, an Italian court denied legal permission for a doctor to sedate him and remove him from his respirator. Fully lucid but losing his capacity to speak and eat, he is deciding whether to appeal or to perform an act of civil disobedience that will kill him.

He is doing so in a very public way. Until a recent steep decline in his condition, he used a little stick to rapidly peck out blog entries with one hand. His book, “Let Me Die,” was just released. Near daily front-page stories chronicle the political, ethical and, with the Catholic Church a vital force here, religious issues his case presents.

“Dear Welby: Wait Before Taking Yourself Off” the respirator, read a front-page headline on Tuesday in La Repubblica, written by a top Italian surgeon, Dr. Ignazio Marino, who is also a senator for the Democrats of the Left. He had visited Mr. Welby the day before.

What has given the case a particular political twist is that Mr. Welby, attached to a respirator for nine years, has long been a spokesman for euthanasia and is a central part of the Radical Party’s effort to have it legalized. In fact, members of the Radical Party have offered to personally remove his respirator if asked — and may do so any day now in a frontal challenge to Italian law.

But the Catholic Church and many of this traditionally minded nation’s politicians on the left and the right not only oppose euthanasia generally but are also not entirely sure what to do about Mr. Welby’s case. He says he is not seeking to commit suicide but to remove himself from medical treatment he does not want.

“It is an unbearable torture,” he wrote two weeks ago.

[hat tip Sheila Otto]

Labels: , , ,

View blog reactions

| More