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NEWS STORY: Italian Waldensians support assisted suicide, euthanasia

c. 1998 Religion News Service ROME _ Italy’s small Waldensian Protestant Church has adopted a statement supporting euthanasia and assisted suicide, while urging discussion on the issue with an eye toward legislative approval of the practices, which are strongly condemned by the the Roman Catholic Church. The controversial move came during the joint weeklong annual […]

c. 1998 Religion News Service

ROME _ Italy’s small Waldensian Protestant Church has adopted a statement supporting euthanasia and assisted suicide, while urging discussion on the issue with an eye toward legislative approval of the practices, which are strongly condemned by the the Roman Catholic Church.

The controversial move came during the joint weeklong annual synod of the Waldensians and Methodists, held at the Waldensian headquarters near Turin. The synod ended Friday (Aug. 28).”Every human being is responsible for his own life and can decide if it is still worthy to be lived,”the document said.

A doctor, it said,”has the duty to use all his knowledge and skill to maintain a patient’s life, but on the other hand, he cannot elude the imperative of avoiding the useless suffering of a patient who does not have any prospect of recovery.” However, the document also noted”in the ethical and pastoral realms, the questions and doubts posed by euthanasia and assisted suicide are enormous. The choice of accompanying a critically ill person toward the interruption of his existence can come only in the context of a deep relationship with his state of pain and suffering.” Noting that a limited form of assisted suicide has been permitted under Dutch law since 1994 and more recently in Oregon under state law, the document said”without a doubt the moment has come in Italy to stimulate the discussion and initiate moves toward legislation.” The Waldensians are a small Protestant minority, most of whom live in mountain valleys near Turin. The church began as a reform movement in 12th-century France by Peter Waldo, who preached voluntary poverty and a simple lifestyle as the appropriate way to follow Jesus.

Following persecution from the Roman Catholic Church, the Waldensians essentially became an extension of the Reformed churches. In Italy, they joined with the Methodists in 1975. Joint membership amounts to about 30,000 throughout Italy.

However, their voice has a wider resonance than their numbers would warrant since the Waldensians are Italy’s oldest Protestant minority and for centuries were its only Protestant grouping.

Both Waldensians and Jews were granted full civil rights in Italy in 1848.

The synod’s stand on euthanasia put the Waldensians squarely in opposition to Catholic policy and raised a chorus of protests.”Euthanasia violates the law of God,”said Cardinal Giovanni Saldarini, bishop of Turin.

He noted that in a 1995 encyclical, Pope John Paul II termed euthanasia”deliberate murder, morally unacceptable to a human being.” Leading Waldensian pastor Giorgio Bouchard, however, said his church’s stand on the issue could open the way”to a discussion of these delicate problems more on the basis of mercy than of moral rigidity.”

IR END GRUBER