Austria’s government on Saturday presented its proposals for legalising assisted suicide, in response to a Constitutional Court ruling that the current ban violates basic rights.
In December 2020, the Court had ordered the government to lift the ban, which comes with a penalty of up to five years in prison. It has until the end of this year to do so.
According to a summary of the new legislation proposed by the Justice Ministry, adults who are terminally ill or suffer from a permanent, debilitating illness, can be assisted to end their days.
Each case will need to be assessed by two doctors, one of whom must be qualified in palliative medicine. They will determine, among other things, whether the patient is able to make an independent decision.
Moreover, a period of at least 12 weeks must elapse before access to assisted suicide can be granted, to ensure that the request did not stem from a temporary crisis. That period can be reduced to two weeks for terminally ill patients.
The proposals will now be examined by a panel of experts before being presented in Parliament, where they will need to be approved by the end of this year. Starting next year, they would then be able to buy a lethal drug from a pharmacy or authorise someone to do it for them.
If no new legislation on assisted suicide is in place by then, the current ban will automatically lapse, leaving the practice unregulated.
The Bishop of Innsbruck, Hermann Glettler, described the proposals as a “sensitive and responsible” way to comply with the Constitutional Court ruling. He welcomed the fact that they also included increased financing for palliative care.
However, he said additional guarantees needed to be built into the process patients need to follow.
Euthanasia has been legal in Belgium since 2002, when it became the second country in the world, after The Netherlands, to legalise it in certain situations. On average, about 1,500 people opt to be euthanised in Belgium each year.