The subject was among subjects discussed at a gathering of the Portuguese Episcopal Conference, which took place in Fátima, Portugal's most important site of religious pilgrimage, from Monday to Thursday this week. In comments on the issue of euthanasia, Church officials called for a "serene and humanising" discussion.

"What the church actively wants is for us to reflect better on this matter and be capable, as an organised society, to give a capable response to this problem," said Manuel Clemente, the cardinal patriarch of Lisbon, at a news conference.

According to Clemente, who ranks top in the Catholic hierarchy in Portugal, "we are very far of making effective the palliative possibilities that are within our reach if we want really to use them."

While recognising that the problem is "complex and serious [and] affects some people in view of illness and pain”, the Lisbon cardinal argued that euthanasia should be avoided at "all cost, because we haven't even properly developed a much more complete and capable response for this issue, which is that of palliative care."

Why, he argued, move forward on euthanasia before ensuring that as much as possible has been done in setting up proper palliative care?

He also warned of a "slippery slope" if euthanasia is allowed - in other words, a tendency to see death as the easy way out - saying that this had happened "in some countries".

Other topics discussed at the meeting in Fátima included migration and refugees, with the Conference issuing a pastoral note calling for them to be welcomed, protected and integrated, and also a reflection on the legislative and educational repercussions of sex changes.