08 February 2023, The Tablet

Constitutional court rejects Portuguese euthanasia bill

The judges criticised the lack of clarity in the definition of the suffering which would give a patient recourse to euthanasia.

Constitutional court rejects Portuguese euthanasia bill

The Portuguese constitutional court in Lisbon.

The Portuguese constitutional court has rejected a bill aimed at legalising euthanasia.

This is the fourth time politicians have tried and failed to get such a law approved, and the second time it fails at the level of the constitutional court.

On this occasion the judges took issue with the phrase “physical, psychological and social” with regards to the different types of suffering which could allow a patient to have recourse to euthanasia.

The judges criticised the lack of clarity of the phrase, as it leaves doubts as to whether or not the list is cumulative – this is, whether a candidate would have to suffer from all three different kinds of suffering to be eligible, or only one.

In response, proponents of euthanasia said it was an issue of semantics that can be quickly addressed.

However, the constitutional court examines specific clauses, as per suggestion of the president, who is himself a specialist in constitutional law. There is therefore no guarantee that, if asked, the judges would not find other aspects of the bill troubling or incompatible with the constitution.

The euthanasia issue has been an important part of the Portuguese political debate since 2016 when a group of public figures published an open letter calling for its legalisation.

The first time the issue went to a vote it was rejected by parliament. The second time, it was approved, but then rejected by the constitutional court.

On the third attempts it was vetoed by the president and now, the fourth time, it was rejected again by the court.

Every time the law was approved in parliament it was against the recommendation of all the relevant guilds, and the National Ethics Committee.

The Church has been critical of attempts to legalise euthanasia in Portugal, pointing out in particular the fact that a vast majority of patients do not have access to palliative care.

Other religious confessions have joined the Catholic Church in signing statements that decry attempts to legalise assisted suicide or euthanasia, including the evangelical, Jewish, and Muslim communities.

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