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Portuguese parliament rejects euthanasia bill

Portugal’s parliament has rejected a bill seeking to legalise voluntary euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide after a tight vote in the Catholic-majority country.

A text proposed by the governing Socialist Party, which sought to set “special conditions” under which euthanasia would be permitted — such as for patients in extreme suffering or with an incurable disease — was defeated on Tuesday by 115 votes against, 110 votes for and four abstentions.

Other proposals by the radical Left Bloc, the Green Party, and the People-Animals-Nature party were also rejected.

Before the vote Lisbon Cardinal Dom Manuel Clemente, head of the Catholic Church in Portugal, had urged deputies to vote down the bill.

Even if one of the proposals had passed, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa could have potentially vetoed the legislation.

The head of state, a practising Catholic, had refused to take a public stance on the euthanasia issue, but Portuguese media reported he was prepared to use his veto if the euthanasia bill passed by only a handful of votes.

Although euthanasia is not legal in Portugal, an ethics council has approved the withholding of life support or medical treatment in some cases.

“This vote has expressed the will of parliament… but it has also shown there is a wide debate within Portuguese society,” said Left Bloc leader Catarina Martins after the result.

Earlier this month the lower house of parliament in neighbouring Spain, also predominantly Catholic, voted to examine a bill on legalising euthanasia.

Voluntary euthanasia was first legalised in Belgium and the Netherlands in 2002.