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Divided Portuguese parliament to vote on euthanasia

Portugal’s parliament was set to vote Tuesday on the divisive issue of euthanasia, with the result of the bill’s first reading in the balance in the predominantly Catholic country.

The text, proposed by the ruling centre-left, seeks to set “special conditions” under which euthanasia would be allowed.

In all, four separate propositions were under consideration, one each from the governing Socialist Party, the radical Left Bloc, the Green Party, and the People-Animals-Nature party.

All are in favour of euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide.

However Lisbon Cardinal Dom Manuel Clemente, head of the Catholic church in Portugal, has called on all members of parliament to vote against the legalisation of euthanasia.

The Socialist bill, which has the biggest chance of becoming law, covers patients in a situation of extreme suffering or with a fatal injury or incurable disease.

At the moment euthanasia is not legal in Portugal, though an ethical council has approved the halting of medical treatment in certain cases.

If one of the proposals is adopted later Tuesday it will go on to be considered by a special parliamentary committee before returning to parliament for a definitive vote. President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa could however then veto the legislation.

“It’s too early to speak of a presidential veto,” Socialist deputy Pedro Delgado Alves told AFP, confirming that the result of Tuesday’s vote remained “difficult to predict”.

The head of state, a practising Catholic, has refused to take a public stance on the euthanasia issue, but the Expresso weekly reported Saturday that he is prepared to use his veto if euthanasia is depenalised by only a small parliamentary majority.

Since 2015 there has been a leftist majority in the Portuguese parliament, but the Communist party has already announced that it will reject all four proposals, as has the conservative CDS-PP party.

The result of the vote is also uncertain as some Socialist MPs may abstain or even vote against the move, even though Prime Minister Antonio Costa said at the weekend that he was in favour of legalising euthanasia.

Opposition leader Rui Rio, of the Social Democratic Party, has also backed a law change, while giving his party’s deputies the freedom to vote with their consciences.

Earlier this month the lower house of parliament in neighbouring Spain voted in favour of examining a bill on legalising euthanasia.

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