Stillborn children are people, to whom the dignity of life and death should be acknowledged. On the day of St. Orestes the martyr, Tuesday, November 10, the regional Council of the Italian Marche Region has unanimously approved an amendment to the Regulation of funeral and cemetery activities, in order to recognize the right of burial to stillborn fetuses. It will oblige the regional health Registry and the hospitals to inform the parents of children who had died before being born, to whom will be acknowledged the right to write the name they would have wanted to give their child on the tombstone.
“Bury these children does not mean only to honor them as human beings, but it would also be a great act of civilization, an act of immeasurable human and civil value,” said the regional councilor Luca Marconi, who is also the head of the Popular Marche-UDC party, the national director of the association of Catholic Renewal of the Spirit, and promoter of the amendment of the Regulation regional, undertaking the request submitted by the Pope John XXIII Community, founded by don Benzi, together with FederVita Marche and the ecclesiastic Office of PastoralHealth Care.
“It is an achievement,” Enrico Masini says, the chairman of the help service for difficult maternity and Life of the Pope John XXIII Community, one of the main promoters of this legislative initiative in the Marche Region. “In just one year, unanimous consensus was found on a common position, beyond any ideological conflict, on such a thorny issue as prenatal life. If a pregnancy is interrupted, for whatever reasons – Masini continues -, it is always a moment of suffering. We all agree on that one point. Parents are free to choose whether to bury the remains of their stillborn child or not. It is a right of freedom”.
The need of a local legislation reform was born as a result of the case of a mother who was a guest in the House Family of Pope John XXIII Community. Her son had been born during the 20th week of pregnancy and died, after his first breaths, on April 8, 1999. Don Benzi celebrated the funeral. Burial was initially denied to the woman. With the help of the volunteers from the Community, with Masini himself in the front line, the authorization was finally obtained. On the tomb there is the name the child would have been given during baptism: Matthew.
Already in 1988, the then Italian minister of health, Carlo Donat Cattin decides the burial of aborted foetuses and embryos, because their “disposal as waste is against the principles of common ethical standards”. The Decree n. 285/90 of the mortuary Police determines an obligation to bury aborted foetuses from the XX week on, whereas before the XIX week of gestation it is optional. Although provided by Italian law, this right is not respected in practice by the majority of local health care facilities, and is ignored by the citizens. Aborted foetuses are mostly eliminated as waste, destined to incinerators or used as fuel. In the absence of a request for burial, after twenty-four hours, they become “property” of the health care company. “In hospitals, there is much obstruction”, Masini relates. “Our Community provides assistance to couples who experience difficulties”.
Besides, the new regulation in the Marche Region reflects European indications. In 2014 the Court of Strasbourg had condemned a Croatian health care facility for having ‘disposed a foetus as hospital waste without its parents’ consent. The most “evolved, in terms of health regulatory, Italian Region is Lombardy, which regulates explicitly the right to burial of stillborn children since 2007. It has been law in the Campania Region since 2012.
“Finally a public institution acknowledges that even prenatal mourning is mourning. Therefore, an opportunity must be given to express it with these acts of piety, which are general and on which agree both secular and religious positions” Masini says. Faith and law, left and right wings, converge thus in a rule that seems to be a passkey to other legislative reforms.
If to conceived human beings is acknowledged the right to burial, even before the ninetieth day after fertilization, and along with it, the dignity and the rights of a person, how can this important legal conquest not be a slap in the face of the alleged right to abortion? Even to the stillborn, in short, should be acknowledged legal personality and, therefore, full ownership of civil rights, such as the right to health, physical and psychological integrity, personal identity, security and, first of all, the right to life. Voluntary interruption of pregnancy is in conflict with this law. “Indeed, these considerations are plausible,” Masini says. “This regulation means that something worthy of note has happened”. In the Encyclical “Evangelium Vitae,” John Paul II wrote: “A human being must be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception. Therefore, from the same moment the rights of a person must be acknowledged to him, among which the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life”.