Portuguese American Journal

Court: Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide overruled – Portugal

Portugal’s Constitutional Court has rejected on Monday a law voted overwhelming by Parliament last month, allowing euthanasia and medically assisted suicide for terminally ill patients. The judges rejected the law in a 7-5 ruling.

Following the Court rule, the law was swiftly vetoed today by the President of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, and returned to Parliament. The ruling Socialist Party has already stated that it will reword the legislation and pass it again.

In a statement, the Constitutional Court had deliberated that “the law is imprecise in identifying the circumstances under which those procedures can occur.” The court stated the law must be “clear, precise, clearly envisioned and controllable.” The law lacks the “indispensable rigor,” the judges deliberate.

The law was strongly supported by the governing Socialist Party (PS) who voted in favor, along with the other left-leaning smaller liberal, political factions. It combines five right-to-die bills passed on February 2020. 

Re-elected President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, a conservative practicing Catholic, had submitted the law to the Constitutional Court last month to be evaluated on the grounds that it contained “excessively undefined concepts.” The law requires the president’s approval to enter into force.

President Rebelo de Sousa had indicated that he would oppose the measure on the basis of the law infringing Portugal’s constitution, which states “human life is inviolable.” In 2018, Portuguese lawmakers had reject a bill to legalize euthanasia and doctor assisted suicide for terminal patients.

If approved, euthanasia would be applied under strict rules, when freely and repeatedly decided by an informed adult, “in a situation of intolerable suffering, with extremely serious and permanent harm … or incurable and fatal disease.”

Accordingly, individuals over 18 years old would be allowed to request assisted suicide, if they are terminally ill and suffering from “lasting” and “unbearable” pain, except when mentally not fit to make such a decision. Under these conditions, patients seeking to terminate their lives will administer the drugs themselves, under medical supervision.

The process will only be open to national citizens and legal residents in order to prevent people from travelling to Portugal to get medical help to end their life. A poll last year revealed that about 60% of the Portuguese population supports euthanasia legalization.

If legalized, Portugal will become the eight country in the EU to allow terminally ill patients to seek a medically assisted suicide. Several other European Union countries have allowed euthanasia, namely Germany, Austria, Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Luxembourg and Switzerland. Countries such as Ireland, Scotland, and the United Kingdom may follow.

Euthanasia has been legalized in New Zealand, Western Australia, and Canada. In the United States, although still illegal in most states, euthanasia is legal in California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Colorado, Vermont, Maine, Montana, New Jersey, including the District of Columbia. States currently seeking euthanasia legalization include New York, Connecticut, New Mexico, Maryland, and Massachusetts.



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