On Thursday, Austria’s parliament passed a law allowing assisted suicide for people with very serious or incurable diseases, joining a wave of other EU countries moving towards legalizing assisted suicide.
Austria’s new law is a reaction to a year-old ruling of the Austrian Constitutional Court, according to which the current definition of the country’s criminal code on assisted suicide is unconstitutional and violates fundamental rights.
The law also comes at a time when Austria implemented COVID-19 lockdowns and became the first country in the world to issue a general vaccine mandate, with the justification that these measures would save lives. Although not a majority of COVID-19 victims, extremely elderly people and those with serious illnesses — the same demographics most likely to be eligible for assisted suicide — are also the most likely to die from COVID-19.
The Austrian Constitutional Court has ordered the government to change the current legislation, which stipulates a maximum of five years in prison for assisted suicide. According to the approved amendment, adults have the right to assistance in ending their lives if they are terminally ill or suffer from a permanent and debilitating illness.
Austria’s move comes shortly after neighboring Switzerland legalized “suicide pods” and other countries make moves towards normalizing suicide.
Each case must be evaluated by two physicians, one of whom is qualified in palliative medicine. Above all, these doctors should assess whether the patient is able to make an independent decision.
At least 12 weeks must elapse before assisted suicide is allowed to ensure that the request was not merely the result of the patient’s temporary mental crisis. In patients with end-stage disease, this period is reduced to two weeks.
The government has also allocated funds to further develop palliative care to ensure “no one chooses the path of death when there are other possibilities,” said Austrian Justice Minister Alma Zadic, APA news agency reported.
If no new regulations were in place by the end of December, the current ban on assisted suicide would lapse and the practice would remain unregulated.