Amid protests, Portugal lawmakers vote to allow euthanasia

LISBON — Portugal’s Parliament voted Thursday in favor of allowing euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill people.

The landmark vote left Portugal poised to become one of the few countries in the world permitting the procedures. However, the country’s president could still attempt to block the legislation.

The Catholic church in Portugal has led opposition to the procedures, which currently are illegal and carry prison sentences of up to three years. Church leaders have urged lawmakers in vain to hold a referendum on the issue.


In a similar debate two years ago, lawmakers rejected euthanasia by five votes.

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The 230-seat Republican Assembly, Portugal’s Parliament, approved five right-to-die bills, each by a comfortable margin. Left-of-center parties introduced the bills, which had no substantial differences.

Before lawmakers voted, hundreds of people outside Parliament building protested the measures. One banner said, “Euthanasia doesn’t end suffering, it ends life.” Some protesters chanted “Sim a vida!” (“Yes to life!”), and others held up crucifixes and religious effigies.

Inside the Parliament building, underlining the historical weight of the moment, each lawmaker was called, in alphabetical order, to state their vote on each bill, instead of voting electronically. Such a lengthy method is usually used only for landmark votes, such as a declaration of war or impeachment.

President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who is known to be reluctant about euthanasia, could veto the new law, but Parliament can override his veto by voting a second time for approval. The Portuguese president doesn’t have executive powers.


The head of state also could ask the Constitutional Court to review the legislation; Portugal’s Constitution states that human life is ‘‘sacrosanct,’’ though abortion has been legal in the country since 2007.