President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa stated his intention to sign into law, on Saturday, a bill decriminalizing euthanasia.
The bill, which allows for medically assisted death, was approved by an absolute majority of deputies in Parliament last Friday.
This marks the fourth version of the decree to decriminalize medically assisted death, with all previous versions being vetoed by President Rebelo de Sousa, a practicing Catholic.
After being introduced as a bill more than two years ago, euthanasia has now been officially decriminalized in Portugal. President Rebelo de Sousa has previously vetoed the bill four times before agreeing to sign it into law.
The first bill was rejected by the President in February 2021, followed by a veto of the second decree in November of the same year. Both submissions to the Constitutional Court resulted in vetoes for unconstitutionality. In April of this year, before the fourth decree, the President vetoed it again but acknowledged only “a problem of precision” in two specific points, dismissing doubts of constitutionality.
In accordance with Article 136.º, nº 2 of the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic, the President emphasized that he would sign the bill into law as required. The article states that the President’s veto can be overturned by an absolute majority of deputies in office, which amounts to 116 out of 230.
According to the bill, which amends the Portuguese Penal Code, medically assisted death will be considered non-punishable when it occurs by the decision of a mentally competent adult who is experiencing intense suffering due to a severe and incurable disease or a definitive and extremely severe injury. The decision must be free, enlightened, and reiterated, and healthcare professionals must conduct or assist the process.
Once signed into law by the President, the text will be published in the Diário da República, the government’s official newspaper, but it will only become effective after being regulated by the Government within 90 working days.
The leader of the major conservative opposition party, Luis Montenegro of the PSD, has announced the party’s intention to request a further inspection of the law, which could prompt further review by the Constitutional Court.
However, the maximum number of vetoes allowed by the Portuguese Constitution has already been reached. Despite the conservative president’s desire to overturn the bill, and the statement by the leader of the major opposition party, the composition of the Parliament is now in favor of legalizing assisted suicide in Portugal.
On Saturday of last week, Pope Francis took issue with the new legislation by saying “Today when we celebrate the memory of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary to the little shepherds of Fatima, I am very sad, because in the country where Our Lady appeared, a law to kill has been enacted.”
Opinion polls have indicated public support for the law, which now makes Portugal the eighth European Union country to permit medically assisted end-of-life procedures as a right for terminally ill patients.
Other EU 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.