Portuguese lawmakers approve third euthanasia attempt

LISBON, Portugal — Portugal’s parliament voted for the third time in just over a year on Thursday to allow euthanasia, though like the two previous attempts, the country’s Constitutional Court or president can support legislators so that they do not become law.

Lawmakers have approved four bills that would allow euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide in Portugal. A bill introduced by the ruling centre-left Socialist Party passed by 128 votes to 88, with five abstentions. The other three bills, from small center-left parties, carried by almost identical margins.

A few dozen people staged a silent protest outside the parliament building in the capital, Lisbon, during the debate and votes.

Bills require the approval of the head of state to become law. President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa could choose to block the legislation again or send it once again to the Constitutional Court for scrutiny. The rejection of the previous two bills was largely due to unclear wording.

Euthanasia is when a doctor directly administers lethal drugs to a patient. Physician-assisted suicide occurs when patients self-administer the deadly drug, under medical supervision.

Isabel Moreira, a socialist lawmaker who has championed the legislation, said the law “is an invitation to understand others: when in doubt, show tolerance.”

Paulo Rios of the main opposition Social Democratic Party opposed the bill, asking, “Are we not forgetting other responses to serious and incurable diseases?”

Portugal’s top court blocked a bill in March 2021, saying its wording was “imprecise”. In November, the president vetoed a second bill assented to by parliament.

He said further clarification was needed on whether the proposed law would only apply to incurable diseases or whether it could be extended to life-threatening or serious illnesses.

But none of the four new bills address Rebelo de Sousa’s specific concerns. Instead, they attempt to simplify the circumstances in which euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are justified by referring to “a situation of intolerable suffering, with a permanent injury of extreme gravity or a serious and incurable disease”.

This omission is unlikely to please the President.

The four bills then go to committee, where they will probably be merged into one, before being voted on again and sent to the head of state. This process could take months.

Center-left parties in the predominantly Catholic country have backed euthanasia bills, as they did with laws allowing abortion in 2007 and same-sex marriages in 2010.

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