On Wednesday, Italy's top court ruled that assisted suicide — currently punishable by up to 12 years in prison — is not always a crime.
According to the decision, the procedure is not punishable if a patient has an irreversible condition "causing physical and psychological suffering that he or she considers intolerable." Additionally, the patient's request must be cleared by a local ethics committee.
On Thursday, Bp. Stefano Russo, secretary-general of the Italian bishops' conference, warned that the ruling "creates the preconditions for a culture of death in which society loses the light of reason." Russo also slammed the lack of parliamentary input into the decision.
The ruling closes a case that has captivated Italy for years.
In 2017, euthanasia activist Marco Cappato, a member of Italy's Radical Party, accompanied Italian deejay Fabiano Antoniani to a Swiss euthanasia facility, where the famed musician, known as "D.J. Fabo," killed himself.
Antoniani, blind and quadriplegic after a 2014 car accident, had for years petitioned the Italian government for euthanasia, arguing that he was suffering from constant "physical and mental pain."
Cappato celebrated the ruling, tweeting: "Those who are in Fabo's condition have the right to be helped. 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."
Bishop Russo's statement on behalf of the Italian Episcopal Conference follows recent condemnation of euthanasia and assisted suicide by Pope Francis.
Speaking to a gathering of the National Federation of the Orders of Doctors and Dental Surgeons at the Vatican last week, the Pope denounced assisted suicide as false compassion and warned doctors against "providing assistance to suicide or directly causing death by euthanasia."
"These are hasty ways of dealing with choices that are not, as they might seem, an expression of the person's freedom, when they include the discarding of the patient discard [sic] as a possibility, or false compassion in the face of the request to be helped to anticipate death," said Francis.
Reiterating Church teaching, the pontiff said that there is "no right to dispose arbitrarily of one's life, so no doctor can become an executive guardian of a non-existent right."
He noted that the practice of medicine is a "service to human life, and as such it involves an essential and indispensable reference to the person in his spiritual and material integrity."
Medicine, he added, is "service to man, to the whole man, every man."
Like their bishops, faithful Italian Catholics are concerned the court decision will send their country down assisted suicide's slippery slope.
Their fears are stoked by a steady stream of stories emerging from countries where the procedure is legal.
Dutch lawmakers voted to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide in 2001, making the Netherlands the first country in the modern age to permit the practices.
Since then, the number of cases has risen steadily. Today, nearly 5% of all registered deaths in the Netherlands occur through euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Though Dutch law initially established narrow guidelines for the practice, these have gradually expanded, such that patients — including minors — can request euthanasia for mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
Over the past two decades, a raft of abuses have also been registered. Last month, for example, a Dutch court cleared a doctor accused of killing an elderly woman against her will, ruling she complied with the euthanasia law in spite of the fact that she ordered the patient's family to hold her down because she was resisting lethal injection.
Canada, where lawmakers voted to legalize assisted suicide in June 2016, is also sliding quickly down euthanasia's slippery slope.
This week, Nova Scotia's public health service ruled that a Catholic hospital must provide an assisted suicide assessment to any patient requesting one.
Earlier this month, the Quebec Superior Court struck down limitations on assisted suicide, ruling patients who are not terminally ill may kill themselves with the help of a physician.
Last October, doctors at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children unveiled plans to administer "medically assisted death" to minors — "including scenarios where the parents would not be informed until after the child dies."