Nick Pisa, Guardian (Manchester), February 7, 2009
A move by the Italian government to force doctors to alert police if they treat an illegal immigrant provoked outrage yesterday.
Doctors associations said the move would turn them into spies, while church leaders urged medical staff to defy the orderA proposal by the Italian government for doctors to alert police if they suspect they are treating illegal immigrants has sparked huge controversy.
Many doctors also pointed out that such a measure would also increase the risk of spreading infectious diseases such as TB and malaria because people would be scared to come in for treatment.
The proposal came from the xenophobic and anti immigration Northern League party, who hold a sizeable minority of seats in PM Silvio Berlusconi’s centre right coalition ruling government.
The government insists the measure is needed to help crack down on illegal immigration, which has risen steadily in recent years and has been linked to high-profile crimes.
The proposal has already been passed by the Senate. the Italian Upper House and must now go in front of the Lower House which has a sizeable majority and will pass it easily.
The Northern League hailed the vote as ‘a victory for our militants,’ with Northern League senate whip Federico Briolo dismissing shouts of ‘xenophobia’ from the opposition benches.
He told them: ‘You can call us xenophobic all you like, it only wins us more votes.’
Amadeo Bianco, president of the Italian Order of Doctors, said: ‘This proposal goes completely against our ethics and it also goes against the basic principle of health care for all.
“Illegal immigrants will not go to official health centres for treatment, perhaps preferring illegal medical treatment creating an underground system which is very dangerous.
‘This measure runs the real risk of promoting the spread of diseases such as TB and malaria because illegal immigrants who are affected will not come forward and be treated because they are scared.’
Domenico Segalini, a secretary for migration with the Italian Catholic Bishops Conference, said: ‘The Church’s view is that help should always be offered to people in danger and we would urge doctors not to report anyone who comes to them.
‘We would urge Catholic doctors to declare themselves conscientious objectors.’
The largest opposition party, the Democratic Party (PD), led the criticism in parliament, with Senate whip Anna Finocchiaro who said the measure would ‘spread fear among people who will no longer go to hospital to give birth or seek treatment for their children, or will hide diseases even if they are contagious.
‘You have crossed the line from law-making to persecution.
‘Italy’s only black MP, Congo-born Jean-Leonard Touadi, also in the PD, called the measure ‘a return to fascist-era snooping” and said many illegals would choose death over expulsion.
He added: ‘I therefore ask my colleagues in the majority–where are the Christian values whose flag they have wrapped themselves in?
‘Where is the right to life, bandied around so much at the moment,’ he said, referring to a landmark right-to-die ruling the government and the Catholic Church is fighting against.