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Portugal’s parliament votes to legalize euthanasia, again

by editor

LISBON — Portugal’s parliament voted Friday to legalize euthanasia for the second time this year, approving a revised bill that aims to fix objections raised by the Constitutional Court.

Lawmakers voted 138 to 84 with five abstentions to back the amended proposal, which clarifies circumstances under which doctors can assist patients with “grave, incurable and irreversible” conditions who want to end their lives.

Constitutional judges blocked the original bill in March as too vague.

If the law passes, Portugal would join a small group of countries where euthanasia is legal, including Spain (which adopted a similar law in June), Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Canada. A law legalizing euthanasia in New Zealand is due to come into force Sunday, following approval in a referendum last year.

Switzerland allows assisted suicide and some U.S. states allow forms of medically assisted death.

“There should be no further obstacles to the full adoption of the law,” José Manuel Pureza, a lawmaker with the Left Bloc told a parliamentary debate Thursday. “It’s about tolerance and against all unnecessary and unwanted suffering, respecting the constitution and respecting democracy.”

However, the bill faces a number of legal hurdles.

President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa could impose a veto, forcing a further parliamentary review, or send the bill back to the Constitutional Court for further evaluation.

Opposition lawmakers could also request a judicial review, claiming the bill was hastily pushed up the parliamentary agenda to ensure its approval before a snap general election due on January 30.

“Isn’t it unwise, including for reputation of parliament, that we are legislating on this issue in a last-minute frenzy?” asked Adão Silva, of the center-right Social Democratic Party (PSD), who abstained in the vote. “This debate on euthanasia should not be rushed through.”

Supporters of legalization have been anxious to vote through the bill in this parliament, where there was a clear majority in favor of legalization.

They fear the parliamentary arithmetic could tilt the other way after an upcoming early election, called after the minority Socialist government led by Prime Minister António Costa suffered a defeat last week on a key budget vote.

Although pushed by the Socialist Party (PS) and the radical Left Bloc, the issue cut across the left-right divide.

The Portuguese Communist Party (PCP) is firmly against decriminalizing euthanasia, while the pro-business Liberal Initiative party voted in favor.

The two largest parties gave their lawmakers a free vote: Seven Socialists voted against the bill and PSD leader Rui Rio voted in favor, going against the vast majority of his party.

A poll last year showed almost 60 percent of Portuguese people support decriminalization.

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