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Austria: Court calls for legalisation of assisted dying

February 2021

The Constitutional Court in Vienna. (Source: Haeferl/Wikimedia Commons)
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Austria has become the latest country where lawmakers have called for assisted suicide to become legal.

In December, the Vienna Constitutional Court ruled that the country was violating fundamental rights in keeping assisted suicide illegal and ordered the government to lift the ban in 2021.

The decision came as a result of a class action brought by several people, including two terminally ill people and a doctor, who had demanded a ruling in their favour.

Despite Austria being largely Catholic, Austrian press reported the court president Christoph Grabenwarter as stating, ‘The decision consciously to take one’s own life must be respected by the legislator.’

He also told reporters the choice of the individual should be ‘made freely, without any outside influence’.

According to Austria’s English news channel The Local, assisted dying is punishable by up to five years in prison in the country.

The current coalition government has previously urged that legislation banning assisted suicide should be kept in place, citing ‘potential abuses’ if it were legalised.

Assisted dying is now permitted for terminally ill and incurably suffering people in Canada, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. Proposals are going through the Dáil in the Republic of Ireland.

It is also permitted specifically for terminally ill people in Colombia, 10 US jurisdictions, and the Australian state of Victoria, and will soon become legal in Western Australia and New Zealand.

Organisations such as Humanists UK hailed the Austrian court’s decisions, welcoming it as a ‘victory for reason, compassion and empathy’.

However, campaigners against relaxing the law on assisted suicide have urged extreme caution, warning about the huge potential for wide-scale abuse against sufferers.

A white paper from advocacy organisation ADF International, called The Legalisation of Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide: An Inevitable Slippery Slope, has made the case for the prohibition of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

The paper claims, ‘Rather than requiring the legalisation of these troubling practices, international law robustly protects the right to life particularly for the most vulnerable.

‘The threat posed by a number of legislative proposals across Europe is highlighted through the example of those countries which have already gone down this road.’

It adds, ‘An investigation into the developments in Belgium, Canada, and the Netherlands shows that where euthanasia and assisted suicide are legalised, the number of people euthanised and the number of qualifying conditions increase with no logical stopping point.’

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