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Portugal close to becoming 4th European country with euthanasia law

On February 20, five bills about euthanasia are approved by the Portugese Parliament. 

The content of the bills

Euthanasia becomes possible in the case of of unbearable or prolonged suffering or in cases of an incurable disease. Euthanasia only occurs on the initiative of competent patients; a medical diagnosis is required and approval by a medical committee. Euthanasia for minors and mentally ill persons is prohibited. Two doctors and a psychiatrist must sign the patient’s request to die. Doctors also have the right not to use euthanasia on moral grounds. Only those who live in Portugal will be able to invoke the new euthanasia law.

The 5 bills

  1. Bill 195 (the Liberal initiative): Regulates the anticipation of the end of life, in a dignified, conscious and medically assisted manner
  2. Bill 4 (the Left Bloc): Defines and regulates the conditions under which the anticipation of death, by decision of the person with definitive injury or incurable and fatal disease and who is in long-lasting and unbearable suffering, is not punishable.
  3. Bill 67 (Nature(PAN)): Regulates access to medically assisted death
  4. Bill 168 (the Green Party): Defines the regime and conditions under which medically assisted death is not punishable
  5. Bill 104 (the Socialist Party): Processes the 50th amendment to the Penal Code, regulating the special conditions for the practice of non-punishable euthanasia

The five bills have little difference. All proposals leave out minors and incapable people. The texts differ only on technical issues such as the number of doctors who have to assess the patient’s decision; the name of the committee of technicians accompanying the applications; the number of times the request is made by the patient; the obligation of a psychiatrist; the number of people who may be present and the place where death can happen.

A week before there was a debate about the bills. Watch the full debate here: SIC Notícias | Despenalização da eutanásia em Portugal: o debate (sicnoticias.pt)

Reactions to the law 
Portugal is divided about the law. A recent poll shows that only about fifty percent of the population is in favor of a euthanasia scheme. Among the opponents are, in particular, the Catholic Church and other religious groups. A quarter of the Portuguese have no opinion about it. Doctors organizations also do not yet know what to do with the introduction of the law. “Anyone who is about to perform euthanasia will act contrary to the ethical code of doctors,” the Orden de Médicos writes in a letter. A number of organizations are hoping to stop the new law by enforcing a referendum, although they do not yet have enough votes to force such a referendum.

What’s next?
The five different proposals have been submitted so far, all of them reaching a majority. The five texts will now be merged into one bill. The final text will be ready in 2 or 3 months. Only then it will be presented to the president of the republic: Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. He can sign in or block it. In this late situation a second votation in the parliament demands promulgation. The president is catholic and personally against aid in dying. But he promised to proceed with impartiality. The president can also send the bill to the constitutional court. The court can say that the law is unconstitutional and block it. The Portuguese constitution prescribes that human life is ‘sacred’, although the country already legalized abortion in 2007 following a referendum.

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