Portugal Parliament voted overwhelming, on Friday, 136-78 with four abstentions, in favor of euthanasia, allowing doctors to medically assist patients to commit suicide through lethal drugs.
Although President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, with 20 days to deliberate, has the power to approve, veto or send the law to the Constitutional Court for review, Parliament can override the president’s veto.
President Rebelo de Sousa, a conservative practicing Catholic, has indicated he may oppose the measure on the basis of the law infringing Portugal’s constitution, which states “human life is inviolable.”
Most legislators from the governing Socialist Party (PS) voted in favor, along with the other left-leaning smaller liberal, political factions. The law combines five right-to-die bills passed on February 2020.
If approved, euthanasia will 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 will 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.
Twelve national institutions have asked President Rebelo de Sousa to oppose the law. The institutions have state that the approval would be against the professional opinion of the health sector, the National Council of Ethics of the Sciences of Live and “from thousands of citizens and various civil society entities.”
The Catholic Church, with other denominations, have also called on the president to oppose the bill, with the support of Portuguese Catholic Doctors’ Association stating that “doctors are not the agents of death!”
A poll last year revealed that about 60% of the Portuguese population supports euthanasia legalization. Abortion has been legal in Portugal since 2007, and same-sex marriage laws were approved in 2010.
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.