Euthanasia is a step closer to being legalised in Portugal, following elections that took place on October 6, which strengthened the three political parties favouring the measure.
The Socialist Party, the Left Bloc and PAN, an animal rights party, all increased their presence in parliament, at the expense of the Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats and the Portuguese Communist Party. The communist votes were crucial to defeating a previous version of the bill voted on last May.
The left bloc announced on the very first day of the new parliament that it would be proposing a law to make euthanasia legal. Both pro- and anti-euthanasia advocates are certain that the law will pass, given the composition of the current parliament.
Pro-life groups wasted little time reacting. The annual March for Life had opposition to euthanasia as its main focus this year, with several thousand people participating in Lisbon and a few other cities around the country. Knowing they face parliamentary defeat, organisers have vowed to collect enough signatures to try and force a referendum on the issue as a last attempt to stop it becoming law. This will be an uphill battle, however, since even in the likely event that 60,000 signatures are collected, forcing a discussion in Parliament about a referendum, lawmakers are likely to simply throw out the proposal.
Regardless of the success of the referendum initiative, there is still a possibility that a euthanasia law would be considered unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court.
Only days after the Left Bloc presented its draft law, the World Medical Association again declared its opposition to any form of euthanasia and assisted suicide. On October 28, at a meeting sponsored by the Vatican, a group of inter-religious leaders signed a document saying that euthanasia is always immoral.
Asked what he thought about the draft law in parliament, the Patriarch of Lisbon Cardinal D Manuel Clemente said that “life is a whole, and either you defend it fully, or each life is threatened”. The cardinal lauded civil movements for taking the lead in this fight, which is for “believers and non-believers alike”, adding that “it is not enough to defend life from conception to natural death. We need to guarantee that everybody has what they need to live out their life with dignity”.