Portugal's conservative President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has referred the recently passed law on the decriminalization of euthanasia to the Constitutional Court to consider whether the new version of the law complies with legal requirements in 2021.
The decision was announced in a note published on the President's website, in which it asks the Constitutional Court for a “preemptive review” of the law, approved by Parliament on December 9, 2022.
“Legal certainty and security are essential in the central area of rights, freedoms, and guarantees,” declared the Head of State, who recalled that the Constitutional Court had already demanded several changes to an earlier version of the law, passed in 2021.
This version has been “substantially modified” by Parliament in its new version. Mr. Rebelo de Sousa therefore wants the Court to confirm that the new law complies with the requirements.
The president, a practicing Catholic, also pointed out that the document is “undefined” in some concepts and that the legislative assemblies of the autonomous regions of Madeira and the Azores have not been heard. This new version is the third one passed by the Portuguese Parliament, after two previous attempts failed due to various presidential interventions.
A first version of the law, approved in January 2021, had been sent by the president to the Constitutional Court. The latter rejected it on the grounds that it used “imprecise” concepts, while noting that medically assisted death, in itself, is not unconstitutional, thus opening the door to a new parliamentary procedure.
The House reapproved the law in November, with corrections and a new article to define certain terms, such as “medically assisted death,” “serious incurable illness,” “definitive injury of extreme gravity,” or “suffering.”
Rebelo de Sousa then applied a presidential veto because there were “contradictions” in the application situations and sent it back to Parliament. The House managed to get it through in December after a long process that suffered several postponements.
The text approved in December defines medically assisted death as death which “occurs by a person's own decision,” “in the exercise of his fundamental right to self-determination,” and when it is “carried out or assisted by a health care professional.”
It will apply exclusively to adults, presenting “suffering of great intensity, permanent injuries of extreme gravity, or a serious and incurable disease.” It also establishes a minimum period of two months between the start of the process and the medically assisted death, and provides for compulsory psychological support for the patient.
After its approval, civil society organizations, mainly Catholic, asked the Constitutional Court and the Portuguese President to declare the law unconstitutional.
Nine organizations, including the Portuguese Catholic University Caritas and the St. John of God Institute, have signed a document using the article of the Constitution which states that “human life is inviolable.”