The Pontifical Academy for Life – the flagship Vatican institute for the “defence and promotion of the value of human life and the dignity of the person”, as per its statutes – has rescinded the appointment of a Portuguese doctor who wants a referendum on euthanasia in the country.

Driving the news

The Pontifical Academy for Life made public on Tuesday its decision to revoke the appointment of Rui Nunes, who was nominated to the body just five months ago.

“Taking into account the publication of several Portuguese media articles as well as a more in-depth evaluation of the Professor’s scientific work on the subject of the end of life, the Academy arrived, in full agreement with Prof. Rui Nunes, to the revocation of the appointment through a letter that the President of this Academy signed and sent to the Portuguese professor”, said the Pontifical Academy for Life in a press release.

“We are, nonetheless, certain that there will be more opportunities for us to work together on relevant bioethical themes that will come in the future, even with different anthropological and theological views and backgrounds”, continued the communiqué of the Vatican body.

The intrigue

What was it precisely that forced the Vatican’s hand on the nomination?

The about-face comes just days after the Portuguese Association of Bioethics, headed up by Nunes, called on the country’s political parties to include a euthanasia referendum in their programs. The only way, said the Association, to guarantee a “serious, deep and rigorous debate” on the subject.

The Catholic Church – with its firm opposition to euthanasia – was instrumental in toppling in May an assisted suicide bill then before the country’s Parliament.

For the record

In a statement released shortly after the Vatican communiqué, Nunes explained that he and the Pontifical Academy for Life had come to the mutual understanding that a “more informal collaboration would be more profitable”.

Such an arrangement, Nunes added, would allow him ” all freedom and independence” in his research into the “burning issues of contemporary bioethics”, such as advance healthcare directives, the implementation of policies of gender equality or the application of “the most modern assisted reproduction technology”.

Why it matters

The Vatican decision comes just days after the death of Vincent Lambert, the comatose 42-year-old at the centre of a polemical right-to-die case in France. Despite appeals from the highest levels – Pope Francis included – the Church’s opposition to his death proved ineffective.

Nunes’ dismissal also comes nearly three years after Pope’s restructuring of the Pontifical Academy for Life. In approving new statutes for the Academy, Francis removed the obligation incumbent on members to defend human life strictly in accordance with Catholic doctrine, but kept the duty to “promote and defend the principles regarding the value of life and the dignity of the human person interpreted in conformity with the Magisterium of the Church”.

Francis also admitted non-Catholics for the first time into the Academy. As the case of Nunes shows, however, the new Academy is still searching for its identity.

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