News of the acquittal in Italy of a man who confessed to killing his 92-year-old disabled mother comes just as the country is discussing the reversal of a law that bans assisted suicide. For La Stampa, Luigi Mancone argues that legislators cannot leave assisted suicide in a grey zone.
The story of Giovanni Ghiotti — a 53-year-old from the province of Asti, in northern Italy, who confessed to having killed his 92-year-old disabled mother in order to avoid her further suffering — is not easy to hear. Ghiotti was later acquitted by a court in Asti.
It is a story that does not seem to belong to modern, secular, capitalist society, in which the value of human life can gradually lose its meaning, and the quality and dignity of existence seem to be measured according to health criteria of efficiency and productivity.
When that happens the categories of life and death tend to be somewhat trivialized, and some view euthanasia as just a shortcut to avoid that all too human destiny of one's body and spirit decaying.
Sleeping pills and a pillow
But is this the case with Ghiotti, who gave his mother an excessive amount of sleeping pills and then pressed the pillow — "lightly", according to the medical examiner — on her face? No. Here the setting and the temperament seem to be of a different nature.
Love is giving birth
Ghiotti lives in Piovà Massaia, located in the rolling hills of Monferrato, some 40 kilometers from Turin, and has 588 inhabitants. His gesture seems rather to belong 1,000 kilometers further south, to an ancient practice in Sardinia, which Michela Murgia recounts in her book Accabadora. These women, the accabadora — the word comes from the Spanish "acabar", meaning "to put an end to" — used to end the lives of those who were terminally ill and suffering.
I am also thinking of the last scene of Michael Haneke's poignant film, Amour, in which the elderly Jean-Louis Trintignant suffocates his wife, Emmanuelle Riva, for the same reason as Ghiotti.
The words of Ghiotti's defense attorney Marco Dapino come to mind. He said his client had committed "an extreme act of love." Interviewed by La Stampa, the bishop of Pinerolo, Derio Olivero, used sensitive and prudent words, but rejected that definition. He said that "love is giving birth. To truly love a person is to bring out all the good possible from that person and from the relationship."
Despite repeated reminders of the Constitutional Court, euthanasia is not regulated
The complexity of life and death
But can't interrupting suffering and making the pain stop also be an action inspired by ethical principles? Isn't this a way of expressing — in a desperate way — an intensely emotional relationship?
Those who are hostile to euthanasia for moral reasons should take into consideration how the painful complexity of life and death can lead to situations that have no way out, where law, tradition and values must give way to the inconceivable. They must also recognize that, at that point, mercy is the only option.
All the more so when, as in the case of Ghiotti, the act of euthanasia is done with "pure" intentions and motivated by their conscience, the person chooses to confess.
The need for clear euthanasia legislation
Despite repeated reminders of the Constitutional Court, the area is not regulated. As a result, we move in a gray area that risks accentuating the discrimination between those who, having the resources of experience and knowledge, find solutions and those who, instead, can only throw themselves, literally, out of the window.
But the persistence of a gray area also has the effect of entrusting to judges decisions that require simple and clear rules, defined circumstances and precise limits.
This is the legislator's task, but, even when faced with Ghiotti's terrible act of love, the vast majority of the political class runs away from it. They do not understand that there, in the suffering of the 92-year-old disabled woman and in the restless conscience of her son, lies the heart of politics.
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