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An Italian doctor at the center of a national debate over euthanasia said on Monday he was being investigated for “consensual murder” by a Rome judge for switching off the life support of a
terminally-ill patient.

Anaesthetist Mario Riccio divided Roman Catholic Italy in December when he removed the respirator of a paralyzed muscular dystrophy patient who had asked to die. The 60-year-old patient, Piergiorgio Welby, had described his life as “torture”.

Prosecutors had asked Judge Renato La Viola to shelve the case against Riccio last month, saying the doctor had acted within Welby’s constitutional rights by refusing treatment.

But La Viola disagreed. He said Riccio is a suspect in a “consensual murder”, described in Italy’s penal code as when someone is killed with their consent. It carries a sentence of between six and 15 years in prison.

“The judge ruled that this case can’t be closed,” Riccio said. “And now I’m accused, I’m being investigated for consensual homicide.”

Riccio said the judge will question him within the next 40 days. He said he hopes to explain how, in his view, allowing a paralyzed patient to refuse treatment was not euthanasia, which is illegal in Italy.

Only Switzerland, the Netherlands, Belgium and the U.S. state of Oregon permit assisted suicide for the terminally ill.

Riccio’s critics, including former Italian President Francesco Cossiga, had formally demanded magistrates consider him a murder suspect.

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