The fifth time should be the good one. After four attempts in three years, the Assembly of the Portuguese Republic was preparing to vote, on Friday afternoon May 12, the final version of a law opening the right to a “medically assisted death” for patients suffering from an incurable disease. And it is hard to see what, this time, could oppose Portugal becoming the 5th European country to authorize euthanasia, after the Netherlands in 2001, Belgium in 2002, Luxembourg in 2009 and finally Spain since June 2021.
The President’s right of suspensive veto
The result of the vote seems certain since Prime Minister António Costa’s Socialist Party has already voted four times in favor of this project and it has an absolute majority in Parliament, not to mention the backing of the elected members of the bloc of the radical left.
“And it is not possible that President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa opposes it because if the text is voted as it is, he will be forced to promulgate it within eight days. What he has already announced that he will do, ”explains historian Yves Léonard, specialist in Portugal.
The Portuguese Constitution in fact allows the Head of State to assert a right of veto suspending the entry into force of a law. What President Rebelo de Sousa, a devout Catholic, has already used twice on this issue, the last in April, asking deputies for clarifications on a text adopted a month earlier and planning to authorize euthanasia when “the physician-assisted suicide is impossible due to the patient’s physical incapacity”.
For the conservative president, the formulation deserved to specify who would be authorized to attest to this impossibility “so that there is no doubt about the application” of the law. But the deputies decided to ignore this request and vote for the same text as it stands, which renders the presidential veto obsolete.
The Constitutional Court as a last resort
For opponents of the decriminalization of euthanasia, the last resort therefore remains the Constitutional Court, which could be seized by the opposition. This ranges from the centre-right Social Democratic Party (PSD), from which the Head of State comes, to the radical right-wing populist party “Chega” (which can be translated as “That’s enough”), which has made a remarkable entry into Parliament during the snap elections of January 2022.
The highest Portuguese court has also twice rejected a law authorizing euthanasia, first in March 2021 and then in January 2023, arguing “inaccuracies” in the drafting of the text which, each time, been put back on the job by Parliament until the last version put to the vote this Friday, May 12.
A divided Portuguese society
Will she once again decide to reject the text? Its defenders want to believe not. “We are coming to the end of a long struggle,” rejoiced Socialist MP Isabel Moreira, one of the main voices in favor of euthanasia.
The long legislative process that began in 2018 could therefore be concluded in the fall with the publication of the decrees implementing the law. But will the public debate on this subject be closed?
“In this country of 10 million inhabitants where 80% of the population declares itself Catholic and where the Church continues to play an important role, resistance is still strong, agrees Yves Léonard. But this is tempered by the fact that Portuguese society has been secularized for thirty years and that the real issues that divide it are social – purchasing power, the housing problem – more than societal. »