ROME – After a brief hiatus for summer break, the Italian parliament is back at it and is set to address two controversial legislative proposals later this month, including a potential referendum on euthanasia and a disputed anti-homotransphobia bill.
Both the euthanasia referendum and the Senate vote on the so-called “Ddl Zan” built momentum over the summer, but next steps for each were halted for the summer holiday.
Now, with recent senate elections over, Parliament is returning to issues shelved over the summer, with discussion on a potential euthanasia referendum scheduled for Oct. 25 in Italy’s Lower House, and continued Senate debate on the Ddl Zan slated for Oct. 27.
The proposal for a referendum on euthanasia was launched Aug. 18 by several different organizations, and is being led by the Luca Coscioni Association – founded in 2002 to defend “civil liberties and human rights.”
According to current Italian law, it is legal to request “medically assisted suicide,” meaning the indirect help from a doctor to die under specific conditions: That the patient asking for it is fully cognizant and aware of what the procedure involves, and that they are willing; that they have an irreversible pathology which causes severe mental or physical suffering; and that they are only able to survive with the help of life-sustaining treatments.
Euthanasia itself – the direct killing of a patient by a doctor – is still considered a crime in Italian law, which has been a source of constant debate in Italy for decades.
At the beginning of July, the referendum campaign began with the goal of obtaining the required 500,000 signatures by Sept. 20. That number was surpassed well before the deadline, and as of Oct. 8, the campaign had gathered 1.2 million signatures, of which nearly 400,000 were done online.
The ultimate goal of the referendum is to partially repeal the provision of Italy’s criminal code that prevents the introduction of legal euthanasia in the country, meaning that if a referendum were approved, active euthanasia would be permitted according to criteria established by the law of informed consent and living wills, and would be contingent on certain requirements.
For example, it would still be a crime to euthanize someone who is incapable of understanding what is being agreed to, who is unwilling, or whose consent has been extorted with the use of violence or threats, or for children under 18.
Discussion on whether the possibility of a referendum is valid has been postponed twice, meaning the Oct. 25 date – on which House members are also slated to vote on some 400 amendments to the proposed changes to the criminal code – is the House’s third attempt to weigh the issue, and it could be bumped again if other more urgent matters come up.
Opponents of the referendum have been outspoken. Among the most vocal has been the Italian Catholic Pro Vita & Famiglia organization, led by layman Antonio Brandi.
In an Oct. 20 statement, Brandi called the proposal for legalizing euthanasia “deceptive and misleading,” saying the double postponement of discussion on the referendum “is proof that such an ambiguous proposal must be thrown away immediately.”
He asked lawmakers to reject the proposal, calling it an “incitement to suicide” and arguing that should the new version of that provision in the criminal code be passed, “it would be easier to access assisted suicide than palliative care.”
“A human society needs exactly the opposite,” Brandi said, which means helping those who suffer “and not eliminating them.”
Named after Alessandro Zan, the openly gay Italian politician who presented it, the “Ddl Zan” bill seeks to impose legal penalties for discrimination based on sexual orientation and to incorporate gender theory into school curricula.
Despite wide controversy and intense debate, the bill was approved by the lower chamber of the Italian parliament in November last year and is now before the Italian Senate.
Over the summer Italian lawmakers voted 136-124 that the bill was not unconstitutional and would therefore proceed to the next stage in the approval process.
However, the bill was hit with a staggering 1,000 proposed amendments during a senate discussion in July, and just 19 out of 35 planned speakers were able to address the senate hall, meaning there are still a lot of voices to be heard before voting can begin on each of the proposed amendments.
The Senate is set to take up discussion again Oct. 27, with leftist politicians advocating for its ratification and rightwing lawmakers pushing to either get the whole bill tossed out, or to be entirely redrafted.
During an Oct. 19 Senate session, Italian lawmaker Monica Cirinnà of the Italy’s Democratic Party – know for authoring a 2016 bill allowing for civil unions in Italy and who has advocated in favor of the Ddl Zan – said that “now it’s time to decide,” arguing that “there is a strong demand for equality and justice” in Italy.
However, the bill has also met with fierce resistance from those who argue that the bill in its current form violates Italy’s guarantee of religious freedom, including the Vatican.
In June the Vatican made an unprecedented move against the Ddl Zan by sending a nota verbale, meaning a formal diplomatic communication, to the Italian government voicing its objection to the bill and invoking its status as a sovereign entity.
It is the first time known to the public that the Holy See, which in the nota verbale invoked the 1929 Lateran Pacts, which established Vatican City State as a sovereign entity and which governs relations between Italy and the Holy See, to oppose a piece of proposed legislation.
In their complaint, the Holy See argued that the current version of the bill is overly generic and could criminalize any articulation of Church teaching on marriage and the family, thus violating Italian constitutional guarantees of religious freedom.
Opponents of the bill, including Massimo Gandolfini, president of the Family Day initiative, which promotes the traditional Church vision of the family as built on marriage between a man and a woman, called the return of the Ddl Zan to the Senate Hall “a divisive and useless act.”
Those pushing for the bill to pass are “deaf” to the legitimate concerns of all those who have voiced opposition, including the Italian bishops, certain feminist groups, pro-family movements, and jurists and legal experts who find the text of the bill to be flawed.
“In a moment of unprecedented economic and health crisis, a majority part wants to keep Parliament busy talking about a law that introduces a vague and dangerous concept of gender identity into the legal system,” Gandolfini said, insisting that the Ddl Zan will not only impose gender “indoctrination” in schools, including Catholic schools, but it would also institute “opinion crimes” and effectively “put a gag on associations and individuals.”
Gandolfini asked parliamentarians to reconsider their support of the bill, and urged citizens to be vocal in their opposition, saying he and the Family Day organization “will fight, giving a voice to millions of citizens who want to defend freedom of education and thought.”
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen