Portuguese lawmakers will vote Tuesday on whether to move forward with legislation to allow euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide, adding to the nation’s progressive trends evidenced by the country legalizing abortion in 2007 and same-sex marriage eight years ago.
Four separate, but relatively similar bills all in favor of euthanasia - termination of life by a doctor at the request of a patient - are being placed before the parliament tomorrow for a first round of debate by the governing center-left Socialist Party, the radical Left Bloc, the Green Party, and the People, Animals, Nature party, respectively.
Currently, doctor-assisted deaths are punishable by up to three years in prison.
Pundits say the vote is likely to be close and that some Socialist legislators will vote against their party's own bill. The Popular Party and the Portuguese Communist Party say they’ll vote against all four proposals, with the Communist party saying it is still a bit “premature” to talk about euthanasia, preferring to see more investment in palliative (end-of-life) care.
The Socialist bill says that patients who are "in a situation of extreme suffering, with an untreatable injury or a fatal and incurable disease" can apply for a doctor-assisted suicide. Two doctors, at least one of them who is required to be an expert in the patient’s illness, and a psychiatrist must approve the patient’s request to die.
According to the bill, a Verification and Evaluation Committee will make the final decision for or against the procedure. The process can be postponed under certain circumstances such as if the patient loses consciousness, and a doctor can deny the euthanasia request. The entire process is audited by the state General-Inspectorate for Health.
If the bill eventually passes Portugal could join Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, Switzerland, and some U.S. states by offering safe, legal, medically assisted suicide.
The push to legalize euthanasia became more public in 2016 when right-to-die activists collected more than 8,000 signatures forcing a parliamentary debate last year.
The petition read that euthanasia would be "a concrete expression of an individual's rights to autonomy, to religious freedom and freedom of conscience, which are rights enshrined in the Constitution." It added: "It is of the utmost importance to end pointless and useless suffering, imposed by the convictions of others."
The Portuguese Federation for Life responded by getting an anti-euthanasia petition signed by 14,000 signatures a few months later. Federation leaders told lawmakers that society and the state have a duty to protect human life.
The Portuguese Episcopal Conference of the predominantly conservative, Catholic country has distributed 1.5 million pamphlets against legalizing assisted suicide arguing it would be "a backward step" for society. "Life cannot be regarded as an object for personal use," the pamphlet says. The relatively progressive Pope Francis hasn’t made any public comments about the Portugal debate.
All bills stipulate that patients must either be Portuguese citizens or legal residents in order to make a suicide request.
Depending on how the 230 legislators vote tomorrow the bills could move on to a special committee for minor revisions, then voted on by the full house at a later date.