By Catarina Demony
LISBON (Reuters) – The decriminalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide is a step closer to becoming a reality in Portugal after lawmakers approved a set of bills on Thursday, a move applauded by many but opposed by religious groups and conservatives.
One by one, lawmakers in the 230-seat parliament were called to cast their votes on five proposals made by five political parties, including the ruling Socialists, to legalize the practices in certain cases and under strict rules.
All five proposals were approved, with the Socialists receiving 127 votes in favor and the Left Bloc’s bill getting the green light from 124 lawmakers.
“It is a historic day. It is a big day for democracy,” said Left Bloc’s leader, Catarina Martins, soon after the proposals were approved.
Thursday’s win came two years after parliament rejected a bill to legalize voluntary euthanasia for terminal patients in the Catholic-majority country by a narrow margin.
Outside parliament, hundreds of Portuguese, old and young, protested against the bills.
“I think life is an inviolable asset, human life has an inviolable value, consecrated by our Portuguese constitution – thank God,” 21-year-old protester Francisco Guimaraes told Reuters.
“We must care for life until it comes to its natural end.”
Euthanasia involves a physician taking an active role in ending a patient’s life whereas in assisted suicide, the doctor provides a lethal substance for the patient to self-administer.
Both practices are allowed in Switzerland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium.
Even though the bills were approved, the legislative process may take time and encounter a few bumps along the road.
The bill will now be discussed in detail in parliament’s constitutional affairs committee that can amend it. After the bill is discussed and tweaked, it will be subject to a final vote.
Portugal’s right-wing CDS-PP party and the Catholic Church want to call a referendum on the issue.
Under Portuguese law, referendums can be requested by parliamentary groups, the government or groups of citizens. The request is evaluated by a court but the final stamp of approval is given by the country’s president.
President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, a conservative himself, could also veto the euthanasia bill and send it back to parliament.
The five proposals are fairly similar, with all parties agreeing that only those over 18 who do not suffer from a mental illness can request the practice if they are terminally ill, suffering from “unbearable” pain and “without a hope for cure”.
Those against the legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide have repeatedly argued Portugal should instead prioritize health care provided to the terminally ill.
Speaking in parliament, Socialist lawmaker Isabel Moreira described those against euthanasia and assisted suicide as “radical”.
Portugal, 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 legalized abortions in 2007 and allowed same-sex marriage in 2010.
(Reporting by Catarina Demony, Editing by Andrei Khalip, Christina Fincher and Nick Macfie)