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President of Portugal vetoes euthanasia Bill

The President of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, has vetoed a bill that would legalise euthanasia, arguing that the bill is possibly too radical.

On 5 November, lawmakers in Portugal voted 138-84 to introduce euthanasia into the country but the President said the law was too imprecise and vetoed the legislation, returning it to Parliament.

On Monday 29 November, President Rebelo de Sousa said: “The bill, in one clause, says permission for anticipated death requires a ‘fatal disease’ … but widens it elsewhere to ‘incurable disease’ even if this is not fatal, and only ‘serious disease’ in another clause”.

He also asked if the law “represents a vision that is more radical and drastic than the dominant view in Portuguese society?”

Supporters of the Bill are concerned because even though lawmakers can overturn a presidential veto, the election at the end of January makes it uncertain whether they will have a majority to vote euthanasia through again, especially given that the minority Socialist Government, led by Prime Minister António Costa, suffered a defeat last month on a key budget vote.

The President has intervened on euthanasia before

This marks the second time the Portuguese President has intervened to prevent euthanasia legislation from passing. The Bill was initially approved in the Portuguese Parliament in January this year and permitted people over the age of 18 to request euthanasia if they were terminally ill and suffering from “lasting” and “unbearable” pain. The law did not apply to those who were deemed to be mentally unfit to make such a decision.

The law required the approval of the President to enter into force. The President asked the Constitutional Court to review the legislation and, on Monday 15 March, the judges at the Court rejected the legislation as unconstitutional.

In a 7:5 ruling, the judges effectively agreed with President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa’s assessment that the legislation contained “excessively undefined concepts”. The judges declared that the rules on when euthanasia can take place must be “clear, precise, clearly envisioned and controllable”. The euthanasia legislation lacked “the necessary rigour” and failed to meet these requirements.

Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said: “The President points out a key ambiguity in the law. ‘Fatal disease’ is not the same thing as ‘incurable disease’ which is not the same as ‘serious disease’. Type 2 diabetes is an ‘incurable disease’, but almost no one argues that it should be grounds for euthanasia. The flu is a potentially ‘serious disease’, but neither is it ‘incurable’ nor (generally) ‘fatal’, and no one argues for it to be grounds for euthanasia”.

“Perhaps the law is sloppily written, in which case, it could be revised and then assessed. If left as it is, it will likely see a future expansion wherein more people can legitimately request to be euthanised. This is exactly what has happened in other jurisdictions, such as the Netherlands and Canada, which have legalised euthanasia. Initially the law has applied to a select few before it is eventually expanded to other people who are not terminally ill”.

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