Lawmakers in Portugal debated five pieces of legislation Thursday to decriminalize euthanasia and assisted suicide, and doctors in the country are joining with the Catholic Church in opposing the potential change.
Each of the bills, which are not substantially different, were approved by the unicameral parliament Feb. 20.
“The most dignified option against euthanasia is in palliative care as a commitment to proximity, respect and care for human life until its natural end,” the Portugese bishops' conference said Feb. 11, urging support for a referendum on the topic rather than a legislative change.
The Portuguese Doctors' Association says the legislation violates key principles of the medical profession, MailOnline reports.
“Doctors learn to treat patients and save lives. They are not prepared to take part in procedures leading to death,” PDA president Miguel Guimaraes said after meeting with Portugese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who has expressed reluctance to signing the legislation.
Euthanasia and assisted suicide are currently legal in Belgium, Luxembourg, Colombia, Canada, the Netherlands, and the Australian state of Victoria, while Switzerland and some U.S. states allow assisted suicide.
The Socialist Party, one of the left-of-center parties leading the charge to push the legislation in Portugal, also led proposals to permit same-sex marriages and abortion in Portugal, the AP reports.
Hundreds of protestors gathered Thursday outside the parliament building in Lisbon to oppose the changes.
The bill would apply to patients over 18 who are “in a situation of extreme suffering, with an untreatable injury or a fatal and incurable disease.” According to the AP, two doctors, at least one of them a specialist in the relevant illness, and a psychiatrist would need to sign off on the patient’s request to die. The case would then go to a Verification and Evaluation Committee, which could approve or turn down the procedure.
The bills also stipulate that those seeking euthanasia or assisted suicide must be Portuguese citizens or legal residents.
Pope Francis speaks out frequently against the practice of euthanasia; in September 2019 he called it “a utilitarian view of the person, who becomes useless or can be equated to a cost, if from the medical point of view, he has no hope of improvement or can no longer avoid pain.”
This is not the first time Portugal has considered decriminalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide.
After heated debate, the Portuguese Parliament voted during May 2018 to reject multiple proposed laws that would legalize euthanasia in the country, drawing praise from local bishops.
Pro-life groups had been protesting the euthanasia bills in the weeks leading up to the vote in the nation’s capital of Lisbon, where they held signs saying, “We demand palliative care for ALL,” and “Euthanasia is a recipe for elder abuse.”