The Portuguese President recently applied his veto on 19th April 2023 against the 4th version of the text of the law on “medical assistance in dying” by euthanasia and assisted suicide, which was put to the vote on 31st March 2023.
The new text was intended to address the objections expressed by the constitutional court which in its decision on 30th January 2023 had considered that there was a serious lack of definition concerning the exact field of application of the law. Various interpretations could be made regarding the adopted criteria of suffering – physical, psychological and spiritual – associated by use of the conjunction “and”.
A modified text was therefore submitted to a vote on 31st March 2023: Article 2 provides different definitions of the criteria adopted in order to qualify for “medical assistance in dying”: suffering “resulting from a serious and incurable disease or an extremely severe injury “which is highly invalidating, and which is “of great intensity, persistent, continuous or permanent and considered by the sufferer as unbearable.” The text was also modified concerning the boundaries for qualifying for euthanasia: its practice must be subordinate to assisted suicide as the prime intention. Indeed, article 3 provides that resorting to euthanasia is only authorised if medical assistance in dying is impossible due to the physical incapacity of the patient”.
These provisions introduced by amendments were little discussed and represent a new process in relation to foreign legislations. That is the reason claimed by President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa to apply his veto which prevented the law from being passed. In view of the extreme sensitivity of these practices which concern life and death, it challenges the lack of precision of the procedures for certifying the patient’s inability to “commit suicide”. The role of doctors in the various situations (euthanasia or assisted suicide) must also be clearly determined, which remains a point of contention.
For the veto to be lifted, the parliament will have to vote again on the text a second time under the same terms. Some members of parliament may however be confused if the law is not more explicit on the points raised by the President. Since the vote on the first law, which was pushed through in 2020, during the full sanitary crisis, voices are being raised to denounce the indecency of legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide in Portugal where palliative care is so seriously under-developed: 70% of Portuguese patients who could usefully benefit from palliative care, do not have access to it.