Italian Doctor Innocent of Murder in Euthanasia Case

An Italian doctor who switched off the life support of a terminally ill patient who wanted to die was cleared of charges of "consensual murder" on Monday.

A Rome court found that the 60-year-old muscular dystrophy patient, Piergiorgio Welby, had the right to refuse artificial respiration and therefore anaesthetist Mario Riccio had no case to answer.

"Today it has been confirmed what I already knew -- that a patient can refuse treatment, even lifesaving treatment," Riccio said as he left the courtroom.

The Welby case divided Italian society even before his death in December 2006 after the paralysed man was pictured on television appealing for his life to be ended.

The Catholic Church, which opposes euthanasia, refused Welby a religious burial but his supporters hailed him as a hero and are pushing the government for a change in the law to at least allow patients to make a 'living will' that can express their wish to stop therapy.

"I am happy, it's what I expected," said Welby's widow, Mina. "Now I hope that parliament can do something in the name of my husband."

Only Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium and the U.S. state of Oregon permit assisted suicide for the terminally ill.

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