Communists and Catholics unite to defeat a euthanasia bill

“Communists save Portugal from euthanasia” is not a headline one would expect to read, but it neatly sums up what happened in Lisbon last week, as Parliament rejected draft laws which would have legalised the practice.

The euthanasia debate began in February 2016, with a petition signed by several influential members of Portuguese society and spearheaded by José Manuel Pureza, a self-described Catholic who is a leading member of the radical Left Bloc.

Portugal is currently governed by the Socialist party, but the Socialists do not have a majority in parliament so they depend on the support of the Communist party and the Left Bloc. The latter, formed in 1999 by a number of small left-wing parties, presents itself as the young and hip face of the Left, leading Communists and the Socialists to bend over backwards to look trendy in an effort to stem the haemorrhage of young voters.

So when the Left Bloc presented a draft law, the Socialists immediately presented one of their own, and most observers expected the Communists to back them or at best abstain.

The Communist Party tends to be more conservative on moral issues. Its voters are not young urbanites, but mostly elderly rural folk suspicious of progressive causes. But would the party dare to break ranks with the Left? It kept the country in suspense, but just a week before the vote the Communist Party announced that all 16 of its MPs would be voting against the bill. The Socialist law was rejected by a five-vote margin.

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