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February 2020: Decriminalisation of euthanasia bills passed in the Portuguese parliament

As expected, in this new legislature (2019-2023) the Portuguese parliament started again discussing the decriminalization of euthanasia. This time, five bills to decriminalise medically assisted dying were brought up for debate by the Socialist Party (PS), the Liberal Initiative (new centre-right party), the Left Block (BE), the People-Animals-Nature party (PAN), and the Ecologist Party the Greens (PEV) - these last three left-wing.

All bills had very specific and very similar rules, namely regarding the fact that euthanasia is only possible when it concerns a definitive injury or incurable and fatal disease, and when it takes into account the degree of conscience and the intolerable suffering of the individual. They involve as well the decriminalization of those who practice euthanasia, and the guarantee of conscientious objection for doctors and nurses. The nuances concern issues such as the number of times the individual has to formalize the request, the constitution of the committee that evaluates the request, or the time the committee has to deliver its opinion.

The bills will now be debated at the Committee on Constitutional Affairs, Rights, Freedoms and Guarantees, and the political parties must negotiate to reach a “common text”. Once this common text will have been voted and approved, the proposal will go to the Presidency of the Portuguese Republic, which may promulgate it, veto it, or send it to the Constitutional Court in order to evaluate its constitutionality. Traditionally, when the law is passed in previous instances, the President approves.

Simultaneously, the discussion remains open in society, namely regarding the possibility of a referendum: on the verge of the approval of these bills – and contrary to what happened in May 2018 –, the Catholic Church expressed in a statement, and for the first time, its support for the holding of a referendum, as an initiative against the decriminalization of euthanasia. It also issued simultaneously an appeal to health professionals to avoid giving in to acts such as euthanasia, assisted suicide or the suppression of life.

Moreover, religious minorities – with greater visibility for the Evangelical Alliance – and civil society groups have come together to collect signatures requesting a referendum. An initiative that counts, among others, representatives of the Catholic Church.

D 27 March 2020    AHelena Vilaça AMaria João Oliveira

CNRS Unistra Dres Gsrl

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