On Monday, the Constitutional Court in Portugal rejected a law to introduce euthanasia for the second time, sending the legislation back to Parliament. According to a statement released to the press, the Court said the legislation was not consistent with other legislation because it failed to properly define “suffering of great intensity” that might be grounds for a “medically assisted death”.
Members of the Parliament will have to redraft the proposals and submit them for approval to the President of the Republic, who himself had previously referred the proposals to the Constitutional Court.
One of the parliamentarians in favor of introducing assisted suicide into the country, Isabel Moreira, claimed that the issue was only a “semantic problem”.
“Excessively undefined concepts”
The Constitutional Court rejected a previous version of the Bill in March 2021. In a 7-5 ruling, the judges ruled the legislation contained “excessively undefined concepts”. The judges declared that the rules on when euthanasia can take place must be “clear, precise, clearly envisioned and controllable”. However, the euthanasia legislation lacked “the necessary rigour” and failed to meet these requirements.
In November 2021, President Rebelo de Sousa vetoed euthanasia legislation that the Parliament had passed on the same grounds as the Constitutional Court. He said “The bill, in one clause, says permission for anticipated death requires a ‘fatal disease’ … but widens it elsewhere to ‘incurable disease’ even if this is not fatal, and only ‘serious disease’ in another clause”.
Portugal will join a small handful of other countries if it chooses to remove protections for some of the most vulnerable in its society.
Nearly one in five cite loneliness as a reason to want to die.
Data from other countries reveals that many of those who resort to assisted suicide want to end their lives for non-medical reasons. According to the latest report on Medical Assistance in Dying from Health Canada, 17.3% of people also cited “isolation or loneliness” as a reason for wanting to die. In 35.7% of cases, patients believed that they were a “burden on family, friends or caregivers”.
Statistics from the state of Oregon, which made assisted suicide legal in 1997, show that most end-of-life concerns are not medical. The Oregon Health Authority report for 2021 says that 54.2% of patients were concerned with being a “burden on family, friends/caregivers”. 92% of patients were concerned with being “[l]ess able to engage in activities making life enjoyable”. 93.3% were concerned with “losing autonomy” and 68.1% were concerned with “loss of dignity”. Of the total who have died since 1997, 27.5% have listed “inadequate pain control, or concern about it” as one of their end-of-life concerns.
In 2021, 10,064 lives were ended in Canada by assisted suicide or euthanasia, an increase of over 32% from the previous year, accounting for 3.3% of all deaths in Canada.
Right To Life UK spokesperson Catherine Robinson, said “The Constitutional Court in Portugal is right to continue rejecting this legislation. It is very easy for proponents of euthanasia to dismiss concerns about legislation as ‘semantic problems’, but it is important that any law is as precise as possible. Otherwise, the law expands as it is interpreted in an increasingly loose manner. In the Netherlands and Belgium, euthanasia is permitted for children under various circumstances and similar moves are being made in Canada.”
She concluded, “However, the experience of these countries shows that euthanasia and assisted suicide are often not a solution to a medical problem, but rather the treatment of a social, psychological or familial problem”.