This topic has been under debate in Portuguese society since 2018. So here are 12 questions and answers about medically assisted death to clarify the issue.
What is euthanasia?
Assisted death is the act that leads to the death of a patient by his will, through the act of a health professional (euthanasia) or through assisted suicide.
Although with different legal solutions, in several countries where assisted death is practiced, the patient’s intolerable suffering and the degree of awareness to make this decision are essential conditions for the practice.
Is assisted death is a crime in Portugal?
In Portugal, assisted death is not classified as a crime with that name, but can be punished by three articles of the Criminal Code: privileged homicide (article 133), homicide at victim’s request (article 134) and crime of suicide incitement (article 135).
Penalties range from one to five years for privileged homicide, up to three years for homicide at the victim’s request and two to eight years for the crime of suicide incitement.
What is assisted suicide?
Assisted suicide is different from euthanasia, since it is the patient himself, taking the lethal drugs, to end his life, with collaboration, usually a health professional, who helps him to end his life. It is also foreseen in the projects under discussion in parliament.
In which countries can euthanasia be practiced?
Euthanasia is not a crime in four European countries, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland.
In Spain in February, the parliament started the process to legislate on medically assisted death.
In the United States, there are five states where this practice is regulated: Oregon, Vermont, California, Washington and Montana. In Canada euthanasia is also possible since 2006.
Can doctors claim the conscientious objection?
Yes, all projects give this hypothesis.
What followed the approval of the law in general?
After approval in general, there was a period of auditions and it was up to Socialist Isabel Moreira to make a proposal for a common text, delivered in September to the working group created for the purpose, based on the five projects.
What is the proposal for the replacement text?
The replacement text on medically assisted death introduces a mandatory psychiatric opinion into the process and stops euthanasia if the patient is unconscious.
The text determines the conditions under which euthanasia can be requested, without being legally punishable.
According to the suggestion of Isabel Moreira Euthanasia is considered “not punishable in the anticipation of death by decision of the person, in a situation of extreme suffering, with definitive injury or incurable and fatal disease, when practiced or helped by health professionals.
The parties designs had some differences, although they converged on the idea that the patient had to suffer from a “definitive injury”.
BE and IL also added the condition of “lasting and unbearable suffering”, while the Greens (Green Party) add that suffering must be “intolerable and atrocious”. The PAN party also added the condition of being “in great suffering with no hope of cure”.
How many opinions must be there?
In the replacement text, it is proposed that the process be followed and guided by doctors, with at least two opinions or a third one, from a psychiatric, if the guiding doctor has doubts about the person’s capacity or if the patient has a psychic disorder.
PAN proposed that Euthanasia only happen with four favourable reports, three in the case of PS.
In the replacement text, a Verification and Evaluation Committee is also provided, which gives an opinion when all medical opinions are positive.
Under what conditions can the patient ask to interrupt the process?
Is guaranteed the decision of the patient in any stage of the clinical procedure for anticipating death is strictly personal and can’t be delegated.
The text also said the process for medically assisted death is interrupted if the person who asked for it is unconscious. The BE was the only one to admit the hypothesis that the person would continue, but only if the patient, before that, has said this will expressed in Testament.
Are there are cases of Portuguese who choose euthanasia abroad?
Yes. There are no official figures, but partial numbers. For example, Jornal de Notícias reported that in ten years, from 2009 to 2019, seven Portuguese people died in Switzerland, supported by Dignitas, a non-profit association that “helps people to die with dignity”. There are over 20 people residing in Portugal registered in the association.
In 2019, according to JN, Dignitas helped 256 people of various nationalities to end their life.
In September, RTP made a report of a Portuguese citizen, Luís Marques, 63 years old, paraplegic for 55, who chose to travel to Switzerland to the Dignitas association to help him die by assisted suicide, which was legally denied him in Portugal. He was the eighth Portuguese who did it.
Have parties registered euthanasia in their 2019 election programs?
Not all. BE, PAN an IL, did. The PSD didn’t put medically assisted death in the program as it appeared in the legislatures, although it passed a motion in favour of euthanasia at a party congress in 2016.
What position has de Portuguese Catholic Church taken?
The Church is against Euthanasia, but agrees with the referendum.
In the previous debate, in 2018, it was against consultation with the argument that life is not endorsable. On 11 February, the secretary of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference, Manuel Barbosa said: “a referendum can, in the current circumstances, be a useful way to defend life as a whole, since the beginning until its natural end”.