Lawmakers in Portugal have defied the objections of the Catholic Church by approving a Bill decriminalising euthanasia and assisted suicide and the fate of which now depends on the country’s president.
The law allows those “in a situation of suffering of great intensity, with a permanent injury of extreme seriousness or a serious and incurable illness” to be euthanised by a healthcare professional or to engage in assisted suicide. The request made by the patient must be “repeated, serious, made freely and informed”.
The Bill received the support of the Socialist Party of prime minister António Costa, which has a parliamentary majority. The liberals and the Leftist Bloc also supported it, along with environmentalist and pro-animal rights lawmakers. The Communist Party, the far-right Chega and most deputies of the centre-right Social Democrat Party (PSD) voted against it.
‘If the dead could speak’
“This is a law which… would have been approved a long time ago if the dead could speak,” said Isabel Moreira, of the Socialist Party.
The conservative president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, twice vetoed earlier versions of the Bill during the previous legislature. He must now decide whether to approve this Bill, block it or send it back to the Constitutional Court for revision, which would delay its passage further. Mr Rebelo de Sousa said he hoped to take a decision around Christmas.
The initiative has faced stiff resistance, particularly from the Catholic Church. In a statement issued earlier this week, the Portuguese Episcopal Conference said: “The response of an adult and informed society to suffering, pain and desperation is not to abandon those who suffer and those who accompany them, but to comfort, care for and love them in order to restore hope and bring dignity to human life until its natural end.”
In the political arena, the Chega party called the Bill “infamous”. Just hours before Friday’s vote, the centre-right CDS-People’s Party, which lost its parliamentary representation in a general election earlier this year, appealed for the president to block the law following its anticipated approval.
Meanwhile, the PSD had unsuccessfully called for a referendum on the issue, similar to the one held in 2007 which led to the relaxation of abortion laws.
Polls suggest the Portuguese people are evenly divided on the issue.
The euthanasia law’s approval looked almost certain after a parliamentary committee approved the final text on Wednesday, establishing a two-month period for the process to take place from start to finish. It also makes psychological counselling obligatory throughout.
Only a small number of countries have made euthanasia legal, among them the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium in the EU. Euthanasia and assisted suicide are illegal in Ireland.