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Austria Prepares to Regulate Assisted Suicide

On December 11, 2020, barely a year ago, the Constitutional Court – Austria’s highest court – gave the government one year to legalize the practice of assisted suicide in the country.

The Catholic hierarchy was then moved by the emergence of a cold and cynical society, in which increasing pressure was to be placed on the most vulnerable.

But the promise has been kept: on October 23, the Austrian government actually presented a text aimed at regulating the practice of assisted suicide in the country.

The bill provides for legalizing euthanasia for any patient with a chronic or terminal illness. By chronic disease, the text refers to a “serious and permanent disease with persistent symptoms.”

From such a perspective, a disabled or injured person who is not yet at the end of life would therefore be eligible for assisted suicide, as soon as he considers that he “cannot avoid his state of suffering.”

The opinion of two experts from the medical profession – one of whom must be a specialist in palliative medicine – is also required, in order to assess the patient’s capacity for discernment, and to explain the consequences of his disease as well as available care options.

Finally, a waiting period of twelve weeks is set – reduced to two in the event of death in the short term – between the patient’s request and the authorization to obtain, from a pharmacist, the delivery of the lethal product which would allow him to end his life, and which must be used within one year of its acquisition.

It should be noted that the government is already seeking to pave the way: indeed, the bill tries to avoid as much as possible the cooperation of doctors in carrying out the act of euthanasia which would take place in a private setting, possibly with the help of a third party, but not necessarily someone who is a caregiver.

In addition, any advertising and any economic advantage in favor of assisted suicide is strictly prohibited.

Nevertheless, pro-life organizations are not waiting for the text to be discussed in parliament to react: for example, the Austrian palliative care society, the Austrian psychiatric society, several associations of disabled people, as well as the society for the prevention of suicide have not fail to point out the inconsistency of the bill with existing suicide prevention policies.

Not to mention the fact that the conditions for access to euthanasia are sufficiently subjective to have to develop in an ever broader sense, as has been proven a posteriori with equivalent legislation adopted in other countries, such as the Netherlands.

The question is whether the deterioration of the social climate, following the recent confinement of the population decreed for several weeks, will weigh in the balance in favor of the right to life.

The Austrian government has just handed in its copy: assisted suicide could have a legal framework beginning in early 2022, if parliament votes in favor of it. The pro-life associations are standing up and denouncing a lax legislation whose perverse effects on society will not fail to be felt.


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