Austria to allow assisted suicide

After the Benelux and Spain, the deeply Catholic Austria is preparing to become the fifth country in the European Union to allow assisted suicide. Friday, November 19, the green-conservative government was to present to Parliament a bill providing for the introduction “A right to end one’s life freely and independently and to be helped, if necessary, by a third person” for “People with an incurable disease causing death” or those suffering “A serious and lasting illness with persistent symptoms that affect them permanently throughout their daily lives”.

The text, which is due to enter into force in early 2022, is the direct consequence of a decision by the Austrian Constitutional Court. In December 2020, it had censored an article of the penal code which provided for punishing with up to five years in prison any person who “Provides assistance” suicide by believing that it was contrary to “Principle of free will”. In recent years, several Austrians had in particular been punished for having transported sick relatives to Switzerland, a country where assisted suicide is offered by associations to citizens from states where it is still prohibited, such as France and Austria.

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It was also with the support of the Swiss association Dignitas that four Austrians – including a man convicted of having provided his seriously ill wife with a weapon – had referred to the Constitutional Court in 2019. In their censorship, the judges gave the Austrian government until the end of 2021 to regulate assisted suicide. The text presented to Parliament on Friday provides for several safeguards to avoid total liberalization in the 1is January 2022. Defended by the Minister of Justice, environmentalist Alma Zadic, it is the result of a compromise with the conservatives of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), very close to the Catholic Church, and who had always been in the past opposed to the legalization of euthanasia.

Safeguards provided for by law

In particular, the bill provides for an examination and a counseling session by two doctors, at least one of whom specializes in palliative care. Three external people will then have to certify the “Free and autonomous choice” of the patient. A cooling-off period of twelve weeks, shortened to two weeks in the event of ” last phase “, is then mandatory. The advance directives of end of life valid for one year must finally be validated before a notary, before being able to withdraw in pharmacy the lethal preparation. The patient is therefore free to choose the place and the circumstances of the absorption of the preparation.

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Austria to allow assisted suicide

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