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Portugal lawmakers vote to allow euthanasia for terminally ill

Portugal’s parliament voted in favor of allowing euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill people Thursday.

The landmark vote mean it the country poised to become one of the few countries in the world permitting the procedures. However, Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa could still attempt to block it.

The Republican Assembly, Portugal’s parliament, approved five right-to-die bills, each by a comfortable margin. Left-of-center parties introduced the bills, which had no substantial differences.

Before lawmakers voted, hundreds of people outside parliament building protested the measures. One banner said: “Euthanasia doesn’t end suffering, it ends life.”

Some protesters held up crucifixes and religious effigies.

President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa could veto the new law, but parliament can override his veto by voting a second time for approval. The Portuguese president doesn’t have executive powers.

The head of state also could ask the Constitutional Court to review the legislation as Portugal’s Constitution states that human life is “sacrosanct,” though abortion has been legal in the country since 2007.

Euthanasia — when a doctor directly administers fatal drugs to a patient — is legal in Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland. In some U.S. states, medically-assisted suicide — where patients administer the lethal drug themselves, under medical supervision — is permitted.

The Catholic church in Portugal has led opposition to the procedures, which currently are illegal and carry prison sentences of up to three years. Church leaders have urged lawmakers in vain to hold a referendum on the issue.

If the bills become law, two doctors, at least one of them a specialist in the relevant illness, and a psychiatrist would need to sign off on the patient’s request to die. The case would then go to a Verification and Evaluation Committee, which could approve or turn down the procedure.

The process would be postponed if it is legally challenged, or if the patient loses consciousness, and health practitioners can refuse to perform the procedure on moral grounds. Oversight is provided by the General-Inspectorate for Health.

To discourage people from traveling to Portugal to end their life, the bills all stipulate that patients must either be Portuguese citizens or legal residents.