The Portuguese Parliament voted to legalise euthanasia for the fifth time in four years.
The first time the draft law was discussed in Parliament it was rejected, the second time it was approved and then rejected by the Constitutional Court. The third and fourth times, under consecutive Governments, it was approved but then vetoed by the President.
Following this fifth vote the bill will go to President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, whose opposition to the measure is widely known. He can sign it into law, send it to the Constitutional Court again, or veto it. If he chooses the latter, he will be expected to ratify it if Parliament approves it a second time, although some experts argue that he could invoke conscientious objection and simply refuse to do so, shelving it indefinitely. This has never been done before.
The Portuguese Association of Catholic Jurists says that Rebelo de Sousa can, and should, send the bill to the Constitutional Court. Proponents of Euthanasia claim they have ironed out the flaws which caused the Court to void a previous version of the bill, but the President could raise objections about other aspects that were not scrutinised last time.
The bill before Parliament was approved by a majority of MPs despite objections by every relevant professional health guild and the national ethics committee.
The nter-religious health taskforce, which brings together health experts from Portugal’s main faith communities, has decried the approval of euthanasia by Parliament, saying that MPs are telling patients with severe or life-threatening conditions that death is the way out, “while at the same time creating the conditions for a throw-away culture in relation to the most fragile”.
Portuguse Cardinal José Tolentino Mendonça, who heads the Vatican’s Dicastery for Culture and Education, said that this was a “civilisational defeat that saddens and worries not only believers, but many non-believers”.
The possibility of euthanasia, he continues, “presents an erroneous vision of what societies can contribute to the life of a human being who should be supported from beginning to end”.
Speaking to Portuguese Catholic media group Renascença, he added that “to choose euthanasia, or to offer it as a solution for one’s life, is without doubt a diminishment of hope”.