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Italy moves closer to a referendum on legalising euthanasia

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By AFP
Peititons need to be signed by 500,000 people in Italy for a referendum to be held on the issue.
Peititons need to be signed by 500,000 people in Italy for a referendum to be held on the issue.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, Pool
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Italy could hold a referendum on legalising euthanasia next year, campaigners have said.

A petition to reverse the law banning assisted suicide has collected more than 750,000 signatures, enough to hold a public vote.

Petitions need to be signed by half a million people to force an Italian referendum on the issue.

In 2019, Italy's constitutional court introduced an exception for "patients kept alive by treatment [...] and suffering from an irreversible pathology, source of physical and psychological suffering that they consider intolerable".

Patients must be "fully capable of making free and conscious decisions", judges added.

But people suffering from incurable diseases who do not fall into this category have no legal right to assisted suicide.

Currently, Italian law punishes assisted suicide with a sentence ranging from 5 to 12 years in prison.

A referendum will, if passed, allow "medical assistance involuntary death" for "sick people who need external help to end their own suffering", campaigners say.

Among the signatories to the petition is journalist and writer Roberto Saviano, a mafia specialist and author of the landmark investigation into the Neapolitan Camorra, "Gomorra".

"I signed because today, without a law to regulate it, euthanasia is not a right accessible to all," Saviano said in a statement by the Luca Coscioni Association.

"I signed for the free choice of those who do not have the possibility to go to countries where euthanasia is legal."

Meanwhile, the president of the small Christian party Popolo della Famiglia (People of the Family) said the petition was "a marketing campaign [for] the culture of death".

The Vatican has consistently condemned the idea of legalising euthanasia, calling it "an intrinsically evil act".