The Constitutional Court (TC) of Portugal on Monday, January 30, 2023, invalidated the law decriminalizing euthanasia that was approved by the Portuguese Parliament in December. The Portuguese bishops have expressed their satisfaction with the judgment, which however seems to leave the door open for a law that maintains the essence of the rejected law.
The deputies will have to draft a new text to resolve the doubts the court raised regarding the lack of definition for the phrase “suffering of great intensity,” which the president of the TC, João Caupers, described as “intolerable.”
“The court understood that the legislator, even after efforts to clarify some of the concepts used in the previous version, chose to go further, modifying essential aspects,” Caupers said in his judgment, adopted at by narrow majority of 7 votes for and 6 against.
The law defines serious suffering as “physical, psychological, and spiritual” suffering, which, according to the judges, does not define whether it is “cumulative” or “alternative” suffering. The judges asked whether or not it would be necessary to feel all three types of suffering or if only one type of suffering is enough to be considered serious.
Question of Form
Despite the rejection of the TC, the socialist deputy Isabel Moreira, promoter of the text, was relieved that it was a question of form and not of substance. “Apparently, the doubts of the TC rest on a single word [the conjunction ‘and’]. The judges want us to clarify whether the concepts “physical, psychological, and spiritual” are cumulative, which is already absolutely explicit for us. But if it means correcting a word, we will do it, ”she said.
The Socialist deputy was pleased that the Court had ruled out other fundamental doubts raised by the President of the Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who had previously vetoed the bill, without going through the TC. Among these doubts was the concept of “fatal disease,” which the parties replaced with “serious and incurable disease.”
The magistrates did not express any doubts about this and, therefore, the “MEPs understand that the concept is clearly defined.” This is the second time the TC has struck down a euthanasia law for lack of specificity in its terms.
Satisfaction in the Episcopacy
The secretary of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference (CEP) welcomed this decision. “The decision of the TC is in line with the position of the CEP, which has always affirmed the unconstitutionality of any legislative initiative that endangers life, namely the decriminalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide,” said Fr. Manuel Barbosa at the Ecclesia agency.
The CEP spoke out against the law with a note in which the bishops consider that the approval of this legislation breaks “the fundamental ethical principle which results in the prohibition of intentional death.”
“By breaking down this barrier, they hope that progress will be made to expand the situations in which assisted dying can be requested, with real social impact,” the note adds.
The Portuguese bishops lamented that induced death is presented as “an answer and a solution for people suffering from illnesses, whether terminal or not, or due to serious disabilities.”
In a statement, the Portuguese Federation for Life (FPV) said that it “welcomes with great joy the decision of the TC. In the six years since death on demand was introduced in Parliament, professional associations, the National Life Sciences Ethics Council, and broad sectors of civil society have spoken out against it.”
“Death on demand was rejected once in Parliament, was vetoed by the President of the Republic, and was rejected twice by the TC. Today, it is clear that there is no good law on euthanasia,” reads the note, made public last night.
The FPV “hopes that, out of respect for democracy, after the obvious rejection of the legalization of death on demand, its supporters will respect society and the organs of sovereignty.”