Portugal decriminalizes euthanasia

Portugal decriminalizes euthanasia

The Portuguese Parliament voted the final version of a law decriminalizing euthanasia on Friday May 12, after an arduous legislative process. Portugal will now be on the list of the few countries that will allow a person with a terminal illness to put an end to their suffering. The law was passed thanks in particular to the Socialists, who had an absolute majority: 129 deputies voted in favor and 81 against, out of the 230 members of the Assembly.

Also read: Parliament legalizes euthanasia in Portugal

“We are confirming a law that has been voted on several times by very large majorities,” welcomed Socialist MEP Isabel Moreira, one of the main proponents of decriminalizing euthanasia. According to estimates by the local press, once the implementing regulations have been published, the law could come into force in the autumn.

A parliamentary majority led by the ruling Socialist Party has voted to decriminalize euthanasia four times in the past three years. But the text then met with reservations from the Constitutional Court and President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, a conservative and staunch Catholic.

To overcome the last veto by the head of state, who now has eight days to promulgate the law, the Socialists had decided to vote for the same text a second time. The text of the law has been reworded several times to take account of remarks made by the President, who twice vetoed it and after being challenged twice by the Constitutional Court, in particular for “inaccuracies”.

The new version of the law now stipulates that euthanasia is only permissible if “medical suicide is not possible due to the patient’s physical incapacity”. To defend his last veto, Mr. Rebelo de Sousa had asked MEPs to indicate who was authorized to “certify” this impossibility. But this time the parliamentarians refused to change the text.

The issues raised by the head of state “could be clarified in the legislative decrees,” explained Catarina Martins, leader of the Left Bloc (BE, far left). If the law is approved by Parliament, “it will not be a tragedy”, admitted Mr. Rebelo de Sousa, saying that it “raises no constitutional problems”.

Also read: Article reserved for our subscribers End of life: what religions say about suicide (supported or not)

“The fight isn’t over yet”

For both supporters and critics of this law, the parliamentary vote will not end public debate on this contentious issue in a country with a strong Catholic tradition. “The passage of this law came relatively quickly compared to other large countries,” said Paulo Santos, a member of the movement for the right to die with dignity.

But “the fight doesn’t stop there” because, he notes, many doctors are risking citing conscientious objections not to practice euthanasia, as some are doing with abortion, which was legalized by referendum in 2007 . “It can be expected that euthanasia will generate even more resistance,” he told Agence France-Presse.

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For their part, opponents of the decriminalization of euthanasia regret that the issue was not the subject of a referendum and hope that the constitutional court will again be appealed to by opposition parliamentarians. “It’s a whim of the deputies who didn’t want to listen to anyone,” argued José Seabra Duque, a member of the Portuguese Federation for Life.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are now legal in a few European countries, such as the Benelux countries, which were the first to legalize them, and neighboring Spain.

Also read: Article reserved for our euthanasia subscribers: “The Belgian experience shows that the law is not enough”

The world with AFP