Piergiorgio Welby

Piergiorgio Welby , born onIn Rome and died onIn the same city, is an Italian painter , poet and political activist whose fight for three months to assert his “right to die” has led to a debate on euthanasia in his country.

He publicly stated in 2006 that he refuses to follow the medical treatment that keeps him alive. His case aroused considerable controversy, seeing in particular the confrontation of liberal politicians and the Catholic Church. Three months later, an anesthesiologist agreed to disconnect the devices that kept him alive. Religious funerals are refused at Welby by the Church 1 , 2 , while the prosecution is abandoned against the one who has put an end to his life.


The disease

Since the early 1960s, Welby has suffered from muscular dystrophy , a disease that is evolving to the point where, in July 1997, he can no longer breathe without the support of an artificial respirator , Or speak without a speech synthesis device .

The years of combat

He devoted the last years of his life to his struggle, joining first the Italian Radical Party and then the Luca Coscioni Association, a militant group in favor of euthanasia close to the Radical Party, who appointed him Vice-President in 2006.

Using the Internet to communicate, Welby opened a blog in 2003.

But in April 2006, the deterioration of his condition prevents him from using the finger he uses for the mouse of his computer. He then decides to make public his request to die, hoping to provoke a national debate on euthanasia.

On 22 September 2006, Welby sent a video letter to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano : “Dear President, let me die” 3 . The call is broadcast on national television and available for download on the Internet. Napolitano replied that he feels deeply touched by his situation, and invites Italian politicians to open a parliamentary debate on various ethical issues 4 . Members of the Radical Party showing their support by hunger strikes and its founder, Marco Pannella says he is ready to unplug Welby himself to express an act of civil disobedience 5 . Most Catholic politicians adhere to the position of the Catholic Church , opposing both euthanasia and excessively aggressive medical treatment. The Health Minister, Livia Turco , intervened to request the rather improved the palliative care 6 .

After three months of polemics, Mario Riccio, an anesthesiologist, contacts the Radical Party to inform him that he is ready to disconnect the devices allowing Welby to remain alive, seeing no legal obstacles to this act. Riccio went to Rome, and after having verified the will of Welby, acceded to his request. The procedure begins at 11 am on the morning of December 20 and ends at 11:40 am, at which time Welby is officially declared dead.

After death

Italian politicians are very divided. Members of the Radical Party express both their sorrow and their relief that their sufferings are finally over. Conservative politicians criticize the physician and the political manipulation of Welby’s case. Some call for the arrest of the “Welby murderers”.

Despite the pressure of public opinion, the medical ethics committee and Justice declare that the act of Dr. Riccio is legitimate 7 , 8 . The Catholic Church refuses religious funerals, officially declaring that “Welby had publicly and repeatedly expressed his desire to end his life, which is contrary to Catholic doctrine” 9 . Civil funerals are then celebrated in a public square in Rome 10


  1. ↑ ( it ) ” Piergiorgio Welby: the biografia [ archive ] , Associazione Luca Coscioni (accessed 24 January 2007 )
  2. ↑ José Davin, Michel Salamolard, When will this council: Manifesto for a renewal of the Church , fidelity, ( Online presentation  [ archive ] ) , p.  97
  3. ↑ ( it ) « Caro Presidente, lasciatemi morire » , Corriere della Sera , ( Read online  [ archive ] )
  4. ↑ ( en ) « Risposta del Presidente della Repubblica, Giorgio Napolitano, alla lettera aperta di Piergiorgio Welby.  ”  [ Archive ] , Associazione Luca Coscioni (accessed 26 January 2007)
  5. ↑ ( it ) ” Eutanasia the provocazione di Pannella:” Pronto staccare Welby has spina “ ” , La Repubblica , ( Read online  [ archive ] )
  6. ↑ ( it ) « Bertinotti: Giusto the invito di Napolitano » , Corriere della Sera , ( Read online  [ archive ] )
  7. ↑ AC, « Italy:« A doctor who practiced a relaxed euthanasia » »  [ archive ] , on lci.tf1.fr (accessed 7 January 2011 )
  8. ↑ ( it ) « Welby, prosciolto il medico Riccio Aveva il dovere di assecondare il malato » , La Repubblica , ( Read online  [ archive ] )
  9. ↑ ( en ) ” Church denies funeral for Italian [ archive ] , BBC News, (Accessed 27 January 2007 )
  10. ↑ ( en ) ” Hundreds awaits Italian’s funeral [ archive ] , BBC News, (Accessed 27 January 2007 )
  • ( In ) This article is partially or entirely from the article in English entitled ” Piergiorgio Welby ” ( see the list of authors ) .