Reportage. Fabio Antoniani, better known as DJ Fabo, went public with his fight for the right to die on his own terms. In the end, he had to leave home to end “this hell of sorrow.”

Italian’s death in Switzerland sparks debate over assisted suicide

The announcement came from Switzerland shortly after 11:40 a.m. Tuesday. “DJ Fabo has died,” said Marco Cappato, an activist with the Luca Coscioni Association, who on Sunday had traveled with the well-known disc jockey Fabio Antoniani. “He left us under the rules of a country that is not his own.”

In Forch, about 10 kilometers from Zurich, Antoniani committed assisted suicide after being left blind and quadriplegic from a 2014 car crash. His suicide ended a life he considered torture. Cappato knew that when he returns to Italy he could be charged with helping Antoniani commit suicide.

Cappato risks up to 12 years in prison for his campaign to legalize euthanasia, a battle he has vowed to fight for hundreds of patients who want a dignified death — beginning with Coscioni, his organization’s namesake, up to DJ Fabo. “I take responsibility for what I’ve done, I acknowledge it publicly,” he told Radio Radicale. “I think there are constitutional principles of freedom that are salient in this case, and also in the law, but we’ll see. We’ll see how I return to Italy.”

A few hours before he died, Antoniani, who turned 40 in February, entrusted a final message to social media: “I have finally arrived in Switzerland, and I have arrived, unfortunately, by my own strength and not with the help of my state.” It was agony for that tortured body to undergo a five-hour journey from Milan loaded in a car along with his wheelchair, without the comfort of the people he holds dear in order to avoid the risk of incriminating them upon their return to Italy. “I wanted to thank a person who will lift me from this hell of sorrow. This person is Marco Cappato, and I thank him to death. Thank you so much, Marco.”

“We have to thank [Antoniani] because he chose to make his story public, even though it risked preventing his success” at going through with the assisted suicide, Cappato said. The Swiss authorities arrived to record the death and to ensure, through videos recorded by the clinics, that everything was carried out with respect to Swiss law.

After the journey from Milan, Antoniani met with doctors and psychologists of Dignitas, a Swiss organization that has been providing support for terminally ill residents who want to use assisted suicide. Then he had one last challenge: to be able to insert through his mouth (the only part of his body he was still able to move slightly) the device through with the lethal dose of sodium barbital was administered.

“He was also afraid of not succeeding,” Cappato said. “He was calm, but at the beginning of the procedures, still sure he wanted to go ahead, he was anxious because he was afraid of not being able to bite the button that would introduce the lethal drug. He was worried because his blindness didn’t allow him to see where exactly the button was placed. Then, once he’d realized from rehearsing that he would succeed, he returned to being more peaceful.”

“DJ Fabo wanted to proceed immediately,” Cappato said. “He wanted to do it immediately without hesitation.” He even joked with his friends, family and his fiancee who arrived Tuesday morning, “suggesting that they put their seat belts on when they get in the car.”

If he was unable to push the button, Antoniani — who even pleaded in a video to Italian President Sergio Mattarella for help — could not die because euthanasia is still prohibited in Switzerland.

“In these cases, we have to be a little inventive and devise technical tricks to make sure everything happens according to national laws,” Sabina Cervoni, of the organization Exit, which supports Dignitas, told il manifesto. “Namely, that the person introduces on their own, without the help of third parties, the lethal substance.”

The news stirred a hornet’s nest of controversy on the right and among the most extremist Catholics, who have even opposed the enactment of basic laws, such as the living will.

The one exception was the far-right Northern League’s Luca Zaia, who “with sorrow and respect for a heartbreaking choice” called Antoniani’s death “further demonstration that Parliament must pass as soon as possible a well-written law on living will. We cannot helplessly and powerlessly watch those who cannot see a path of hope, but on the contrary hope to die.”

The governor of Veneto also sent an appeal to members of Parliament: “Draw up legislation quickly. Initiate the debate on existing bills without further delay to give dignity to those suffering. And there are so many.”

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