Portugal’s parliament voted on Friday to legalise euthanasia, setting the country up to become the seventh in the world to allow terminally ill patients to seek assistance from a doctor to end their life.
“With this vote, parliament added dignity to our democracy,” Left Bloc lawmaker Jose Manuel Pureza said, calling the approval by 136-78 votes with four abstentions a “democratic answer to fundamentalism and fear”.
The law legalises the practice in certain cases and under strict rules.
People aged over 18 will be allowed to request assistance in dying if they are terminally ill and suffering from “lasting” and “unbearable” pain – unless they are deemed not to be mentally fit to make such a decision.
The process will only be open to national citizens and legal residents in order to prevent people from travelling to Portugal to get medical help to end their life.
The law will be in the hands of President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, a conservative, from next week for a final stamp of approval. Rebelo de Sousa, who has previously said he will respect parliament’s vote, will have 20 days to consider it..
Some have criticised the timing of the vote, with opposition party PSD saying that due to the coronavirus pandemic raging across Portugal there was “great anxiety, great fear among people that has to do with issues of life and death”.
In a letter to parliament, two groups managing care homes, which were hit hard by the pandemic, said approving euthanasia meant “disrespect for all these people”.
But Ines Real, a lawmaker from the People-Animals-Nature party, said it was “dishonest” to invoke the pandemic and to “confuse deaths related to COVID-19 with the legislative process that aims to allow euthanasia to those suffering”.
Portugal, a Catholic-majority country which spent a large part of the 20th century until the 1974 Carnation revolution ruled by a fascist regime, has since made strides in liberal reforms upholding human rights. It legalised abortions in 2007 and allowed same-sex marriage in 2010.