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When Killing Your Mother Is An Extreme Act Of Love

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.

When Killing Your Mother Is An Extreme Act Of Love

Can't interrupting suffering and making the pain stop also be an action inspired by ethical principles?

Luigi Mancone


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

National Cancer Institute

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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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Sinking The Moskva, Inside Ukraine's Biggest Strike On The Russian Black Sea Fleet

As Ukraine steps up its attacks on the Black Sea fleet and other targets in Crimea, here's the inside story of Russia's devastating naval defeat in April, 2022.

photo of a crane, a shipyard and smoke in the distance

Smoke billows from the fire-hit southern site of the Sevastopol Shipyard on Wednesday after reports of a Ukrainian strike.

Viktoria Sukonnikova/TASS via ZUMA
Roman Romaniuk

Updated September 15, 2023 at 2:30 p.m.

KYIV — On April 13, 2022 the Russian military suffered its worst naval defeat in modern times when the flagship of Moscow’s fleet, the cruiser Moskva based in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, was sunk.

Based on dozens of interviews with Ukrainian military officials and viewing never-before-seen photos of the incident, Kyiv-based news service Ukrainian Pravda has conducted its own exclusive investigation to reconstruct how Ukraine successfully carried out the attack.

Russia still actively avoids any public references to the Moskva, and there are relatives of dead sailors who still have not received any information about the fate of their loved ones. The Russian Defense Ministry has offered no details about the causes of the sinking, claiming that the ship suffered "surfacing failure," after a fire. Moscow has made allusion to bad weather and claimed that all crew members had been rescued.

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