Euthanasia Vote Looms In Catholic-Majority Portugal

Joshua Gill | Religion Reporter

Catholic-majority Portugal’s lawmakers will vote Tuesday on the prospect of legalizing euthanasia, following a liberalization trend that began in 2007 with legalizing abortion.

Four parties in Portugal’s government — the governing Socialist Party, the Green Party, the People, Animals, Nature Party and the Left Bloc — each put forward separate bills proposing the legalization of euthanasia, according to The Associated Press. The push to legalize medically assisted suicide follows a pattern of recent cultural changes that a series of progressive-oriented governments set in motion in 2007 with the legalization of abortion on-demand in 2007 and then same-sex marriage in 2010.

Right-to-die proponents pushed euthanasia into Portugal’s political spotlight when their 2016 petition to have the issue put to a parliamentary debate garnered more than 8,000 signatures. The Portuguese Federation for Life retorted with a petition of their own that said protecting life is a duty of the government and of society. It garnered 14,000 signatures.

The Portuguese Episcopal Conference has also voiced staunch opposition to the four proposed bills and has distributed pamphlets leading up to the parliamentary debate arguing against euthanasia as an affront to the dignity of human life.

“Life cannot be regarded as an object for personal use,” their pamphlets read, according to The AP.

The push to legalize euthanasia not only follows a trend of cultural changes within Portugal, but also follows an international trend of traditionally Catholic countries shirking the influence of the church, most recently exemplified by Ireland’s abortion referendum. (RELATED: Ireland Votes To Legalize Abortion In What PM Calls A ‘Quiet Revolution’)

Each bill would legalize euthanasia under specific circumstances, such as an incurable illness or untreatable fatal wound in the case of the Socialist Party bill. All of the bills stipulate, however, that euthanasia would only be made legal in Portugal to actual Portuguese citizens and residents in order to prevent foreigners from traveling to Portugal to end their lives.

Currently, assisting in or inciting euthanasia is illegal in Portugal and punishable by up to three years of imprisonment.

If any of the bills pass the post-debate vote, they will be sent to a parliamentary committee for further editing and refinement before they are sent back to parliament for a final vote. If Portugal legalizes euthanasia, it will join a growing list of countries that permit the practice including Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Colombia.

A growing number of states and jurisdictions both in and outside of the U.S. have also begun legalizing not only euthanasia, but also medically assisted suicide, in which a patient requests suicide and then self-administers doctor-provided drugs to end their own life. The most recent states and jurisdictions to legalize such practices were Hawaii, which legalized physician-assisted suicide in April, as well as Washington, D.C. and the Australian state of Victoria, which both legalized physician-assisted suicide in 2017.

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