In certain cases, helping a suffering person with assisted suicide is not criminal, Italy's top court said. The ruling means parliament has been asked to debate the issue, taking into account the court's ruling.
Italy's Constitutional Court on Wednesday ruled that helping someone in "intolerable suffering" commit suicide was not always a crime.
Anyone who "facilitates the suicidal intention... of a patient kept alive by life-support treatments and suffering from an irreversible pathology" should not be punished under certain conditions, the court ruled.
The patient's condition must be "causing physical and psychological suffering that he or she considers intolerable," the court said.
Issue now on parliament's agenda
The case centered on Marco Cappato, a member of Italy's Radical Party, who drove a paralyzed and blind man to a euthanasia clinic in Switzerland. Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland.
A Milan court trying Cappato had asked the Constitutional Court for an opinion on the case. Helping someone with assisted suicide is currently punishable by between five and 12 years in prison, but the high court ruling means Cappato is likely to be acquitted.
Cappato, who belongs to a pro-euthanasia group, praised the ruling in a tweet as a victory for those in need of life-ending help.
"From today we are all more free, even those who disagree. It is a victory of civil disobedience, while the (political) parties turned their heads away," he wrote.
Italy's powerful Catholic Church has strongly opposed softening laws on assisted suicide.
Parliament is now expected to debate the issue, taking into account the court's ruling.
More than 800 Italians would like to die through assisted suicide, according to Italy's Coscioni Association.
If you are suffering from serious emotional strain or suicidal thoughts, do not hesitate to seek professional help. You can find information on where to find such help, no matter where you live in the world, at this website: https://www.befrienders.org/