By Catarina Demony

LISBON (Reuters) – Portugal’s parliament voted on Friday to legalise euthanasia, with the country set to become the seventh in the world to allow terminally ill patients to seek assistance from a doctor to end their life.

People aged over 18 will be allowed to request assistance in dying if they are terminally ill and suffering from “lasting” and “unbearable” pain – unless they are deemed not to be mentally fit to make such a decision.

The process will only be open to national citizens and legal residents in order to prevent people from travelling to Portugal to get medical help to end their life.

The law is now in the hands of President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, a conservative, for a final stamp of approval. He previously said he would respect parliament’s vote.

Some have criticised the timing of the vote, with opposition party PSD saying due to the coronavirus pandemic raging across Portugal there was “great anxiety, great fear among people that has to do with issues of life and death”.

In a letter to parliament, two groups managing the majority of Portugal’s care homes, which were hit hard by the pandemic, said “the approval of euthanasia represents a disrespect for all these people”.

But parliamentary leader of the People-Animals-Nature party, Ines Real, said: “It is dishonest to invoke an extremely difficult moment in the country…to confuse deaths related to COVID-19 with the legislative process that aims to allow euthanasia to those suffering”.

Portugal, a Catholic-majority country which spent a large part of the 20th century until the 1974 Carnation revolution ruled by a fascist regime, has since made strides in liberal reforms upholding human rights. It legalised abortions in 2007 and allowed same-sex marriage in 2010.

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