The Portuguese General Assembly (Parliament) voted down four government legislative proposals to legalize euthanasia in Portugal yesterday (May 29). The similar measures had been proposed by the four parties comprising the ruling leftist coalition headed by the Socialist Party. The Socialist Party proposed law was defeated with 115 votes against, 110 in favor and four abstentions. There were roughly similar outcomes for the other three proposals.
The head of the Portuguese Catholic Doctors Association, Pedro Afonso, congratulated parliamentarians and declared the vote to be a “victory for medicine and for life.” At the same time he criticized the proposals as “a subterfuge by those claiming to eliminate suffering who instead eliminate the sufferer.” Another opponent from the medical profession repeated a well-known fact that approximately 80% of gravely ill Portuguese people have no access to palliative care and the government should focus on this rather than assisting death. The head of the “Stop Eutanásia” movement, Sofia Guedes, called the results a victory for “humanity, justice and solidarity.”
The disappointed supporters of medically assisted death expressed their dismay in some rather curious language. A Socialist Party Deputy, Maria Antonia Almeida Santos considered legalizing assisted suicide as “indispensable and unavoidable.” Another Deputy, André Silva of the PAN Party (People Animals Nature), stated that legalizing euthanasia was nothing other than “an act of pure kindness.” He went on to say that “Decriminalizing medically assisted suicide is to defend and fulfill a fundamental human right, to recognize the last individual liberty as well as being assisted in one’s most difficult moment of life.”
Although euthanasia has been legal in only four European countries (Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands and Switzerland), Canada, Colombia and in one form or another in a few states in the United States, the issue is being considered in other countries as well. Moreover, there are proponents who are starting to refer to this practice as yet another “human right.” This term undoubtedly will complement “reproductive rights”— a euphemistic term that is employed in reference to the termination of life at its origin. Of course there is no such “right to die” but it is just a matter of time before the term gains viability, most likely at the United Nations where rights language proliferates, but not in the spirit of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights which commemorates its 70th anniversary this year in December.
While different terminology is employed to express the “non-God taking away of human life” perhaps the most heinous is “death with dignity” as this term usurps true human dignity which can only be associated with the fullness of life itself. Just as abortion proponents did not give up until they accomplished what they wanted, so too the assisted suicide adherents are geared up for a long fight.
One of the Socialist Party euthanasia promoters, undaunted, promised to try again but another such measure would have to wait until after the next parliamentary elections due in 2019. She recalled that the introduction of abortion in Portugal also took two attempts before legalization passed. Even a strongly Christian country such as Portugal has not heard the end of this end of life struggle.
Vincenzina Santoro is an international economist. She represents the American Family Association of New York at the United Nations.