Italian court blocks referendum on assisted suicide

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Catholic bishops in Italy have welcomed an intervention by the country's constitutional court that prevents a referendum being held on physician-assisted suicide.

Holding a referendum was backed by 1.2 million Italians who signed a petition submitted to the court last October requesting a vote on the issue. 

It would have asked Italians whether they supported decriminalising the practice in Italy.

On Tuesday, the constitutional court said that changing the law would mean that "the constitutionally necessary minimum protection of human life, in general, and with particular reference to weak and vulnerable persons, would not be preserved". 

The decision was welcomed by the Catholic bishops' conference who said that the court's pronouncement recognizes the need to "never marginalize the commitment of society, as a whole, to offer the support necessary to overcome or alleviate the situation of suffering or distress". 

Earlier this month, Pope Francis condemned the "unacceptable drifts towards killing" and said that euthanasia and assisted suicide were "neither human nor Christian".

The Pope argued that society should instead be committed to providing palliative care that enables "every person who is preparing to live the last stretch of their life [to] do so in the most human way possible". 

"We must accompany people towards death, but not promote death or facilitate any form of suicide," he said in a general audience on 9 February.