The Portuguese parliament has voted overwhelmingly in favour of legalising euthanasia. Five different laws were approved last week, meaning that a committee will now have to streamline them into a single proposal, to be voted on again by Parliament.
Following that, the law will go to President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, a Catholic. He can veto it or send the bill to the Constitutional Court, but sources close to the president are doubtful he will do so.
The president has expressed his opposition to euthanasia and assisted suicide, but says he will decide what to do about the law only when he receives a final version. Earlier, however, he told Catholic media group Renascença that he would not veto it on the basis of his personal convictions, and observers suspect that a majority in the Constitutional Court would approve the law.
Rebelo de Sousa could justify a veto on the grounds that Parliament ignored opinions it solicited from expert organisations, including the Doctors’ Guild and the Nurses’ Guild, and held the vote before the National Ethics Commission was able to hand in its own report. However, even if the president does veto the legislation, should Parliament then return the bill unchanged he is obliged to sign it into law.
Political expert Eunice Lourenço, a journalist with Renascença, has warned not to expect him to act as a “King Baudouin” of the Belgians, who famously stepped down for a few hours so as not to have to sign the country’s abortion bill.
A popular initiative has gathered more than 40,000 of the 60,000 signatures required to force a parliamentary debate on a possible referendum, but the chances of the latter taking place are almost nil.
Following the vote Lisbon’s Patriarch, Dom Manuel Clemente, said that “What matters is that we look at life in its proper light, from conception to natural death.
“This is our fight, our conviction, and regardless of what laws are approved, the cause remains.”