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Portugal considers radical euthanasia bill

A new version of the legislation is more specific—and more deadly

Demonstrators protest against euthansia in Lisbon, Portugal Associated Press/Photo by Armando Franca, file

Portugal considers radical euthanasia bill

Portugal is a majority-Catholic country with stronger abortion laws than the United States, but lawmakers there are pushing a pro-death agenda when it comes to the end of life.

The country’s Parliament this month approved a new bill to allow euthanasia and assisted suicide in the country not just for people with terminal illnesses but also for some who have severe disabilities—even if they do not have a prognosis of death.

Other states and countries that have adopted legal euthanasia started off with more incremental steps. The five Australian states that legalized the practice since 2017 limited it to patients with terminal illnesses and whom doctors expect to die within the next six to 12 months. Canada’s original “medical assistance in dying” law only allowed patients with “reasonably foreseeable” deaths to end their lives early. But a new bill passed earlier this year removed that requirement, leading disability rights activists to worry that it could cause people with disabilities to feel pressured to end their lives early. Portugal’s bill leaps down that slippery slope.

The attempt to legalize euthanasia in Portugal has been a drawn-out process. Lawmakers approved an earlier bill for discussion at the beginning of 2020, but the pandemic and resulting lockdowns stalled those talks. Parliament passed that version of the bill in January 2021. But President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa objected that the bill was “excessively imprecise” and raised some constitutional issues: The Portuguese Constitution says human life is “sacrosanct.”

The Constitutional Court agreed with the president’s concerns, pointing out portions of the legislation that imprecisely defined when an assisted death became legal. As pro-life activist Antonio Pinheiro Torres noted at the time in an email to his supporters, “The law is terrible. … There is no danger of a future ‘slippery slope’ … the law is already the written consecration of one.”

The court said it was the lawmakers’ job to protect against this slippery slope by making sure the situations where euthanasia is allowed are “clear, predictable and controllable from the moment that practice is established normatively.”

One portion of the bill that the court found problematic was listing “a definitive injury of extreme seriousness in accordance with scientific consensus” as a factor in whether euthanasia is legal for a patient. That description, they said, lacked “rigor.”

The new version allows assisted suicide in cases of  “serious injury, definitive and amply disabling, which makes a person dependent on others or on technology to undertake elementary tasks of daily life,” adding that there must be “very high certainty or probability that such limitations endure over time without the possibility of cure or significant improvement.”

Torres said he did not think the new version sufficiently protects vulnerable patients from legalized killing. He said the new law is worse than the first one and still includes legal concepts that “allow too many interpretations and consequences.”

“In fact, the message that would be transmitted by this law is ‘sorry, the Portuguese government is not capable of helping you at your end of life or if you are experiencing a terrible suffering, and so the best we may give you is … to be killed by the National Health Service,’” he said.

The president can again either sign, veto, or send the bill to the Constitutional Court. “We do not know what the president is going to do,” Torres said, “but expect a veto will be pronounced.”

Leah Savas

Leah reports on pro-life topics for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Digital. She is a World Journalism Institute and Hillsdale College graduate. Leah resides in Grand Rapids, Mich., with her husband, Stephen.



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There have been examples for decades of doctors and nurses thinking what they were doing was in the patient's best interest by killing the patient whether they wanted to be killed or not. Being given that great responsibility and power comes with great benefit and danger. We should never get to the point of wondering if have a doctor that is thinking about killing us, if we happen to get the wrong weekend when that doctor covering for a weekend in the hospital wants to kill not save.
The value of each and every life was the point of Jesus dying for all of us, the point of caring for the disadvantaged (the poor, the orphans, the widows). That type of love is tough at times, but God loves everyone, and that is manifest in bringing Christ to the world to hold onto no matter how difficult (the end of) life becomes. Hospice is not the only way to show that love, but that is one way.