Portugal is set to become the fourth EU country to legalize euthanasia. A text voted by Parliament provides for it for adults in “a situation of extreme suffering, presenting irreversible lesions” or suffering from an incurable disease.
On January 29, 2021, the Portuguese Parliament adopted by a large majority a law authorizing “medically assisted death”, which will make this overwhelmingly Catholic country the fourth in the European Union – after Belgium, the Netherlands and the Luxembourg – to authorize euthanasia when it comes into force.
This law, which combines different proposals, provides that only Portuguese adults, residing in the country and finding themselves “in a situation of extreme suffering, presenting irreversible lesions” or suffering from “an incurable disease”, may resort to suicide. assisted.
The patient’s request at the end of life must be validated by several doctors, as well as a psychiatrist when there are doubts about the person’s ability to make a “free and informed” choice. When the time comes, the patient’s doctor will have to make sure of his will to end his life one last time, in the presence of witnesses.
Assisted death may be practiced in establishments of the national health service or any other place “chosen by the patient”, as long as he has “adequate clinical and comfort conditions”, specifies the law.
Legalization without surprise
The text was approved with 136 votes in favor, 78 against and 4 abstentions, thanks to a majority of votes from the Socialist Party which had given freedom to vote to its deputies, some elected members of the Social Democratic Party (center right), among whom Rui Rio, the leader of the right-wing opposition, the Left Bloc (far left) or the animalist party PAN.
The outcome of this final vote, without an audience in the galleries of Parliament because of the health restrictions in force due to Covid-19, seemed certain to the extent that several texts favorable to euthanasia had already been adopted in February 2020 by a majority of deputies.
Socialist deputy Isabel Moreira, a specialist in constitutional law who participated in the final drafting of the law, welcomed the intense debate which led to the adoption of a text which respects “the free choice and autonomy of everyone”.
After this adoption by Parliament, the text will be sent to conservative President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who can then promulgate the law, submit it to the Constitutional Court for analysis or veto it – which could however be annulled by a second vote of deputies. Reelected on January 24 for a second term, the head of state has so far avoided taking an open position on the subject.
The Catholic Church outraged
In a press release from the Episcopal Conference, the Catholic Church immediately expressed its “indignation” at a law which, according to her, represents “an unprecedented setback”.
It is about actively provoking someone’s death. Now the role of the state is to take care, not to kill
In October 2020, the Portuguese Parliament rejected a draft referendum on euthanasia, following a petition launched by the Federation for Life, which had collected nearly 100,000 signatures. “It’s about actively provoking someone’s death. But the role of the State is to take care, not to kill, ”argued José Maria Seabra Duque, one of the leaders of this Catholic-inspired organization.
“Doctors are not agents of death!” also proclaimed the Association of Portuguese Catholic Doctors, which called on the Head of State to veto Portugal so that Portugal does not join “the unworthy and minority group” of countries which have already approved euthanasia. In the European Union, these are Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
Neighboring Spain also took a step in this direction last December, but the government bill is due to be submitted to the Senate by the end of March.