Portuguese parliament legalizes euthanasia, but battle remains
Portugal is one of only a handful of countries where euthanasia has been legalized. /CFP
Portugal is one of only a handful of countries where euthanasia has been legalized. /CFP

Portugal is one of only a handful of countries where euthanasia has been legalized. /CFP

After a long battle, Portugal has passed a law legalizing euthanasia for people in great suffering and with incurable diseases, joining just a handful of countries around the world.

The issue has divided the deeply Catholic country and witnessed strong opposition from conservative President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, a devout churchgoer.

Under its provisions, people aged over 18 will be allowed to request assistance in dying if they are terminally ill and in intolerable suffering. It will only cover those suffering "lasting" and "unbearable" pain unless they are deemed not to be mentally fit to make such a decision.

The law will only be applicable for nationals and legal residents, and will not extend to foreigners coming into the country to seek assisted suicide.

The euthanasia bill was approved by parliament four times in the last three years but sent back every time for a constitutional review due to opposition from the president.

The definitive version of the law was adopted with support from the governing Socialists, who hold an absolute majority in the chamber.

"We are confirming a law that has already been approved several times by a huge majority," said Socialist MP Isabel Moreira, a fervent advocate of legalizing euthanasia.

The president now has a week to promulgate the new law. It could come into force by the autumn, Portuguese media said.


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De Sousa had vetoed earlier bills due to "excessively undefined concepts" and later said the language used to describe terminal conditions continued to be contradictory and needed to be clarified.

The new version of the law now provides that euthanasia is only authorised in cases where "medically assisted suicide is impossible due to a physical disability of the patient."

The debate over medically assisted dying is far from over in Portugal.

"The adoption of this law has been relatively fast compared with other big countries," said Paulo Santos, a member of the pro-euthanasia group Right To Die With Dignity.

He warned a large number of doctors could raise moral objections to carrying out euthanasia, as they had done over abortions in 2007.

For their part, critics of medically assisted dying regret that the issue has not been put to a referendum and hope opposition deputies will once again ask the constitutional court to look into the bill.

Euthanasia and assisted suicide are only allowed in a handful of countries, including the Benelux nations and Portugal's neighbor, Spain.

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