Friday, January 13, 2023

Portugal's President believes that the euthanasia bill is unconstitutional

Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

President de Souza
Portugal's President, Marcelo Rebelo de Souza, has sent the euthanasia bill that was passed in Portugal's parliament on December 9 to be examined by Portugal's Constitional Court. This is the third euthanasia bill passed Portugal's parliament with the previous two bills being reviewed by the Constitutional court or rejected by President de Souza.

The European Institute of Bioethics reported on January 12 that (google translated):
Once again, the text adopted by the Portuguese Parliament concerning the decriminalization of euthanasia is submitted to the control of the Constitutional Court by President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. The latter doubts the constitutionality of the text voted last December and wants to ensure that it complies with the requirements formulated by the Court in 2021.

Alison Roberts reported for BBC News on December 9, 2022 that Portugal's parliament passed a bill that would legalize euthanasia. Roberts reported:

Once the president receives the final text, he can sign it into law, send it to the Constitutional Court within eight days, or exercise his veto within 20 days. A veto can, however, be overturned by a majority of members of parliament.

The European Institute of Bioethics reported that there are concerns with the text of the bill (google translated):

In the new text adopted at the end of 2022 by the parliament, the “intolerable” character of the suffering is no longer required in the patient; henceforth, only “great intensity” suffering would suffice. This condition is not, moreover, required in the case of “permanent damage of extreme gravity”. In addition, the term “fatal disease” is removed in favor of “serious and incurable diseases”, thus positioning the act of euthanasia as a means of causing death and not of accelerating it.

More broadly, the Portuguese law in itself raises serious ethical concerns, because it entails, in the words of Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, a "considerable change from the point of view of the balance between the value of life and the right to self-determination", authorizing euthanasia even when the patient is not at the end of life.

On January 29, 2021, Portugal's parliament passed the first euthanasia bill. On February 19, President de Sousa referred the bill to Portugal's Constitutional court for evaluation. President de Sousa stated that the bill was: 

"excessively imprecise," potentially creating a situation of "legal uncertainty."
On March 15, the Portuguese American Journal reported that the Constitutional court rejected the bill and stated:
“the law is imprecise in identifying the circumstances under which those procedures can occur.” The court stated the law must be “clear, precise, clearly envisioned and controllable.” The law lacks the “indispensable rigor."
On November 30, 2021, President de Sousa vetoed the second euthanasia bill because of contradictions in the language of the bill. The Associated Press reported:
This time, the president is returning the reworded law to the national assembly, according to a statement posted on the Portuguese presidency’s website late on Monday, arguing that further clarification is needed in “what appear to be contradictions” regarding the causes that justify resorting to death with medical assistance.

Whereas the original bill required “fatal disease” as a pre-requisite, the president’s argument followed, the renewed version mentions “incurable” or “serious” disease in some of its formulation. No longer considering that patients need to be terminally ill means, in De Sousa’s opinion, “a considerable change of weighing the values ​​of life and free self-determination in the context of Portuguese society.”

The Associated Press reported in June 2022 that the new euthanasia bills did not fulfill President de Sousa's concerns. According to the article:

...none of the four new bills addresses Rebelo de Sousa’s specific concerns. Instead, they attempt to simplify circumstances where euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are justified by referring to “a situation of intolerable suffering, with a definitive injury of extreme seriousness or a serious and incurable disease.”

We hope that Portugal's Constitutional court once again rejects the bill.

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