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Portugal’s top court rejects law decriminalising euthanasia

Portugal’s constitutional court on Monday rejected a law decriminalising euthanasia that had been approved by parliament in January.

The bill, which would have legalised access to assisted suicide for adult patients in a situation of “extreme suffering and irreversible damage”, now goes back to parliament for possible amendment.

The country’s highest judicial body said the situations considered for medically assisted suicide had not been framed “with the necessary rigour”.

The court did not however consider the right to life to be “an insurmountable obstacle” which would necessarily prevent parliament from legalising euthanasia.

The assisted suicide bill was adopted in parliament in January by 136 votes to 78 with four abstentions.

It passed thanks largely to a majority of votes from the ruling Socialist Party, which allowed its MPs in the Catholic-majority country to vote freely.

Under the bill, several doctors would have to green-light the euthanasia procedure, and if there were any doubts about the patient’s ability to make a free and informed choice a psychiatrist would be called in.

The Portuguese Catholic Doctors’ Association had called on President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa to veto the legislation. “Doctors are not the agents of death!” the association said in a statement.

The staunchly Catholic head of state called on the court to rule on its constitutionality, arguing that the bill included “excessively indeterminate concepts”.

Following the court’s ruling Monday, the text will now return to parliament which can amend it and send it back to the constitutional court.

The court did rule that “the right to live cannot be transformed into a duty to live under any circumstances”.

So far three European countries — Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands — allow euthanasia, while others allow terminally ill people to refuse life-maintaining treatment.