September 28, 2022

Austria legalises assisted suicide

As of New Year’s Day assisted suicide became legal in Austria. A ruling from the Supreme Court had declared that the former ban was unconstitutional because it violated the right to self-determination. So a new law needed to be passed to ensure that the practice is regulated.

As described by Deutsche Welle, the new law is fairly conventional. A patient must be over 18 and chronically or terminally ill. Each case is to be assessed by two doctors, one of whom would have to be an expert in palliative medicine.

There is a mandatory 12-week cooling-down period. However, if a patient is “terminal”, the period can be telescoped to two weeks.

The individual would then draw up their “death will” (advance directives) with a notary or a patient advocate before being able to obtain a lethal drug from a pharmacist.

However, there is one significant difference, which was picked up by the Australian Care Alliance:

The “death will” can specify persons who are authorised to assist the person end the person’s life by ingesting the prescribed lethal poison – including by actively administering it, apparently even if the person loses decision-making capacity.

This makes Austria the first jurisdiction to legalise euthanasia by lay persons (non-health practitioners), including family members, of a person who is unable to self-administer the lethal poison or who has lost decision-making capacity.

Austria’s governing conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) joined with Greens,  opposition Social Democrats and the liberal Neos party. Only the right-wing Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) opposed it. .

Assisted suicide and/or euthanasia are spreading in Europe. The countries where one or the other or both is currently legal are: Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Spain. In Germany it has been legalized by court ruling but there is no law. In Portugal, a law has passed, but the President has so far refused to sign it.