Portugal’s high court ruled Monday a law allowing “medically assisted death” passed by parliament in January is unconstitutional.
The court’s based its decision not so much on the substance of the law as on its wording, underscoring the “excessively indeterminate nature of the concept of intolerable suffering” and of the concept of “terminal injuries of extreme gravity.”
“The conditions under which the anticipation of medically assisted death is allowed must be clear, precise, predictable, and verifiable,” the court found in its verdict.
At the same time, the Portuguese constitution declares that human life is “inviolable” and Judge Pedro Machete told a news conference the euthanasia law was unconstitutional because some of the clauses jeopardized the principle of “inviolability of life.”
On January 29, the Portuguese Parliament approved the law by a vote of 136 in favor, 78 opposed, and 4 abstentions. At that point, the President of Portugal, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, had the option of promulgating the law, vetoing it, or sending it to the Constitutional Court for an assessment of its validity.
De Sousa opted to submit the legislation to the court for a “preliminary opinion,” highlighting what he believed to be its legal flaws, in particular its use of “excessively vague concepts,” an appraisal echoed in the court’s ruling.
The decision was met with approval by the nation’s bishops, who welcomed the finding as a protection of the dignity of human life.
“The Portuguese Bishops’ Conference welcomes the sentence of the Constitutional Court, which declares unconstitutional the law of the Assembly of the Republic which approves euthanasia and assisted suicide,” the bishops said in a statement.
The bishops reaffirmed “the position taken by the Church throughout this process, always reiterating that human life is inviolable” and that “any legalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide is always contrary to the dignity of the human person and the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic.”
Upon receiving the court’s finding, President de Sousa vetoed the law and sent it back to Parliament.
Last week, de Sousa traveled to Rome where he met with Pope Francis in a private audience in the Vatican on Friday.
According to a Vatican statement, the two leaders spoke of “the management of the current health crisis, the defense of life, and peaceful social co-existence.”
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