Amid protests, Portugal lawmakers weigh allowing euthanasia

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LISBON, Portugal (AP) – Protesters gathered Thursday outside Portugal’sparliament where lawmakers were due to debate proposals that would allow euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide for terminally ill people.

Groups opposed to the procedures waved banners and chanted “Sim a vida!” (“Yes to life!”) in bright sunshine outside the parliament building in Lisbon. One banner said, “Euthanasia doesn’t end suffering, it ends life.”

Lawmakers were expected to vote by a clear majority later Thursday in favor of legalizing doctor-assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Approval of one of the five bills under consideration would leave Portugal poised to become one of the few countries in the world permitting euthanasia. But the country’s president is known to be reluctant.

President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa 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.

Euthanasia – when a doctor directly administers fatal drugs to a patient – is legal in Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Switzerland. In some U.S. states, medically-assisted suicide – where patients administer the lethal drug themselves, under medical supervision – is permitted.

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. Many parishes held vigils against euthanasia on Wednesday evening.

Demonstrators protest outside the Portuguese parliament in Lisbon, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. Protesters gathered Thursday outside Portugal’s where lawmakers were due to debate proposals that would allow euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide. Groups which oppose the procedures waved banners and chanted “Sim a vida!” (“Yes to life!”) in bright sunshine outside the parliament building in Lisbon. One banner said, “Euthanasia doesn’t end suffering, it ends life.” (AP Photo/Armando Franca)
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