August 7, 2022

Euthanasia takes a backward step in Portugal and Colombia

The president of Portugal has refused to sign a bill legalising euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide. Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa criticised its wording as imprecise.

This is the second time this year that Rebelo de Sousa, a former law professor, has rejected a euthanasia bill. He sent the first version to Portugal’s Constitutional  Court for an assessment in February.

While the original bill specified a “fatal disease” as a pre-requisite for “assisted dying”, the new version uses the words “incurable” or “serious”.

However, no longer requiring patients to be terminally ill means, he says, “a considerable change of weighing the values of life and free self-determination in the context of Portuguese society.”

This effectively shelves the euthanasia bill until a new parliament and government are chosen early next year.

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The bewildering status of euthanasia in Colombia remains bewildering after a vote in the country’s House of Representatives. A bill  sponsored by euthanasia campaigner Congressman Juan Fernando Reyes Kuri failed again last month, with 65 votes in favour and 78 against.

What makes Colombia’s battle over euthanasia different is that the Constitutional Court ruled that it was legal as long ago as 1997. However, it directed the national legislature to draft a law permitting it. In the ensuring 24 years, there is still no law. Up until now, Colombia’s lawmakers have been resolutely against euthanasia.

Expressing the sentiments of many, Congressman Buenaventura León declared in the debate before the vote: “The practice of euthanasia constitutes a serious offense against the dignity of the person and encourages the corrosion of fundamental values in a social order. It would be very dangerous for the most fragile. The Law is made to protect life.”

Inaction in the legislative branch has not stopped the Constitutional Court from making its 1997 ruling even more radical. In 2018, it ruled that children as young as six may request euthanasia.  In July, it ruled that non-terminal patients are eligible for euthanasia “provided that the patient is in intense physical or psychological suffering, resulting from bodily injury or serious and incurable illness.”

Because there is no law, euthanasia is regulated by the health ministry. But this provides very little legal certainty for doctors and few are willing to take their chances.

International helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org. In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 800-273-8255 or chat for support. You can also text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis text line counsellor. In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org or jo@samaritans.ie. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14.