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Portugal’s high court rejects euthanasia law

Not even 2 months ago, Portugal’s Parliament voted to legalise euthanasia and assisted suicide. This week, on 15 March, the Constitutional overturned the law because it was “imprecise”. The decision left the door open to euthanasia provided that the legislation was better drafted.

Last month, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa asked the court to evaluate the law – a step which he can take under Portugal’s constitution. On Monday, a split court rejected the bill. The vote was 7 to 5.

Lack of ‘necessary rigour’

The judges agreed that the bill lacked “the necessary rigour”. They ruled that the bill was imprecise in identifying the circumstances under which assisted suicide procedures can occur and defining “extreme suffering”. The rules on when euthanasia can be granted must be “clear, precise, clearly envisioned and controllable,” the judges added.

Right to life not an obstacle in itself

The Article 24 (1) of the Portuguese constitution declares the inviolability of human life. Nonetheless, the judges said, this “does not constitutes an insurmountable obstacle”. “The right to life cannot be transfigured into a duty to live under any circumstances,” said the president of the court, João Pedro Caupers.

A press release explained: “The conception of a person in a democratic society, which is secular and plural from the ethical, moral and philosophical points of view, is the one that the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic embraces. This gives legitimacy to the tension between a duty to protect life and a respect for personal autonomy and in extreme situations of suffering it can be resolved by means of political-legislative options … such as the anticipation of medically assisted death at the request of the person himself.”

What’s next?

The decision left the door open to euthanasia provided that the legislation was better drafted. The governing Socialist Party will probably redraft and resubmit the bill.

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