Portugal parliament votes to legalise euthanasia

Lisbon (AFP) –


Portugal's parliament on Friday passed a law allowing medically assisted dying, putting the Catholic-majority country on course to become the fourth in Europe to legalise euthanasia.

Before coming into force the bill must first be signed into law by President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, a staunch Catholic and conservative who was re-elected only last weekend.

However, the president -- who has yet to make public his position on the issue -- could either use his veto against the legislation, or refer it to the country's constitutional court for further study.

The bill was adopted in parliament by 136 votes to 78 with four abstentions.

Lawmakers had approved proposals aimed at changing the law in February, setting up the vote despite a campaign by the Church for a national referendum on the issue.

- 'Right to choose' -

The bill legalises access to assisted suicide for adult patients in a situation of "extreme suffering and irreversible damage".

Doctors and psychiatrists must validate the decision if the patient's ability to make a "free and informed" choice is in doubt.

Euthanasia is legal in three European countries -- Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg -- while others allow terminally ill people to refuse life-maintaining treatment or to have help to die.

"People deserve the right to be able to choose," retired oncologist Jorge Espirito Santo, who has campaigned for years to make euthanasia legal in Portugal, said before the vote.

He said he was expecting a "historic day".

The Catholic Church, which predominates in Portugal, campaigned against the bill both among its own faithful and those of other denominations.

"The Church's position has not changed," a spokesman for the Portuguese Episcopal Conference, Father Manuel Barbosa, told AFP ahead of the vote.

"Of course we hope that this law will not be approved."

In December, the parliament in neighbouring Spain voted by a wide margin to approve a bill that will allow euthanasia under strict conditions, despite fierce opposition from the Catholic church and conservative parties.