After a laborious legislative process, the Portuguese Parliament must approve on Friday the final version of a law decriminalizing euthanasia, which will rank Portugal among the few countries allowing a person suffering from an incurable disease to end to his sufferings.
After the vote in Parliament and the publication of the implementing decrees, the law could come into force in the fall, according to estimates quoted by the local press.
A parliamentary majority led by the ruling Socialist Party has already come out four times in favor of the decriminalization of assisted death over the past three years, but the text then came up against the reservations of the Constitutional Court and the President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, a conservative and devout Catholic.
In order to overcome the last veto of the Head of State, and force him to promulgate the law within eight days, the leader of the Socialist deputies has already announced their intention to vote again on the same text a second time.
“We are finally coming to the end of a long struggle,” rejoiced Socialist MP Isabel Moreira, one of the main voices in favor of the decriminalization of euthanasia, to AFP.
The text of the law has been reformulated several times in order to take into account the remarks of the president, who opposed two vetoes, and after having also been challenged twice by the Constitutional Court due in particular to "inaccuracies".
The new version of the law now provides that euthanasia is only authorized in cases where "medically assisted suicide is impossible due to a physical incapacity of the patient".
"A whim of the deputies"
To justify his latest veto, Mr. Rebelo de Sousa had asked the deputies to specify who was authorized to "certify" this impossibility.
But the deputies this time refused to modify the text. If the law is confirmed by Parliament, "it's not a tragedy" conceded Mr. Rebelo de Sousa, considering that it raised "no constitutional problem".
Both for the defenders and for the opponents of this law, the vote of the Parliament will not put an end to the public debate on this divisive subject in a country with a strong Catholic tradition.
"The adoption of this law was relatively quick compared to other major countries," said Paulo Santos, a member of the movement for "the right to die with dignity".
But "the fight does not stop there" because, according to him, many doctors risk invoking a conscientious objection not to practice euthanasia, as some do in relation to abortion, legalized in 2007 by referendum.
"It is to be expected that euthanasia will provoke even more resistance"
For their part, the opponents of the decriminalization of euthanasia regret that the question was not the subject of a referendum and hope that the Constitutional Court will be seized again by opposition deputies.
“It is a whim of the deputies who did not want to listen to anyone,” argued José Seabra Duque, member of the Portuguese Federation for Life.
Euthanasia and assisted suicide are now authorized in a handful of European countries, such as Benelux, the first to have authorized it, or neighboring Spain.
Editorial staff with AFP