Bishops in Portugal have criticised legislation that would allow euthanasia and assisted suicide and said their “sadness and indignation” were compounded “by a form of death being legalised during the great aggravation of a deadly pandemic, when we are all striving to save the greatest number of lives.”
If signed by President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, the legislation would make Portugal Europe’s fifth nation – after the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium and Switzerland – to allow euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide.
The legislation, merging five right-to-die bills, would enable mentally fit people over 18 to request assistance in dying if faced with “intolerable suffering, with extremely serious and permanent harm … or incurable and fatal disease.”
“It is absurd to ignore the lessons taught by this pandemic about the precious value of human life, which our general community and health professionals are trying superhumanly to save,” the bishops said following the recent parliamentary vote to authorise “medically assisted death” for sick citizens after they consult with medical experts.
Portugal’s interreligious working group said legislators succumbed to “moral nihilism and ethical relativism.”
“The Portuguese are stunned by the tsunami of people killed and infected by the pandemic, by the anguish of families and despair of so many,” said the group, which includes Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, Mormon, Adventist, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist leaders. “Yet with sublime indifference, a relative majority of deputies in the assembly of the republic are now offering them a law to die or kill by.”
Archbishop Jorge Ferreira da Costa Ortiga of Braga accused lawmakers of “legislating in haste” after rejecting a proposed euthanasia referendum in October. He said he hoped de Sousa would “offer a glimmer of hope” by opposing the law.
Meanwhile, Cardinal Manuel Clemente of Lisbon said legislators had not considered medical expertise and other “necessary elements,” adding that he hoped enforcement could be blocked by appeals to Article 24 of Portugal’s 1976 constitution, which states “human life is inviolable.”
Both homilies were reported by the country’s Catholic Ecclesia news agency.
In its statement, the bishops’ conference said the Catholic Church would “never give up fighting to alleviate physical, psychological or existential pain.”
“Nor will we ever accept that life marked by illness and suffering ceases to deserve protection and becomes a burden for the person, those around them, health services or society as a whole,” the bishops added.
“Now more than ever, we should reinforce our aim of accompanying the sick with care and love in all stages of their earthly life, and especially in their final stage.”
Portugal’s Association of Catholic Doctors said the parliamentary vote marked a “sorry day” for the country. It urged de Sousa to prevent the country joining “an unworthy minority group of states that approve euthanasia.”
“Doctors are not agents of death, and euthanasia is not, in our view, a medical act,” the association said. “This is not the time to legislate death, but to fight for life and create conditions to treat the sick.”
Picture: Demonstrators protest euthanasia in front of the parliament in Lisbon, Portugal, on 29th May 2018. (CNS photo/Rafael Marchante, Reuters).