Austria’s Constitutional Court recently ruled that the country’s ban on assisted suicide is unconstitutional, opening the door for legalized euthanasia in the country. With the ruling, Austria joins a growing list of European countries that are pushing to repeal previously held restrictions against assisted suicide, including Ireland, Germany, and Scotland.
According to Jurist, the law in question was Section 78 of the Criminal Code of Austria, which states, “whoever induces another person to kill himself or helps him to do so, shall be punished with imprisonment for a period of six months to five years.” The court ruled that the phrase “or helps him to do so” is unconstitutional since it infringes on an individual’s right to self-determination. While the act of assisting suicide is no longer a criminal offense, the second half of the statement, “induces another person to kill himself,” remains.
The Catholic News Agency reports that Austria’s Catholic bishops have been vocal about their opposition to the repeal of the ban.
“Up until now, every person in Austria could assume that their life was considered to be unconditionally valuable — up to their natural death. With its decision, the supreme court removed an essential basis for this consensus,” wrote Archbishop Franz Lackner after the court’s December ruling.
On June 1, which marked the Austrian Church’s Day for Life, the bishops put out a five-page statement that urged the courts to reconsider. “Dying is a part of life, but not killing. Assisted suicide must therefore never be understood as a medical service or otherwise a service of a healthcare profession,” they said.
The bishops also reportedly urged lawmakers to put safeguards in place should the country continue with the plan to legalize assisted suicide. Such safeguards might include expanding suicide prevention efforts, ensuring that there is no pressure from third parties, and enacting conscience protections for medical professionals. Unfortunately, as has been repeatedly demonstrated, it is only a matter of time before advocates push for further erosion of the laws surrounding euthanasia and assisted suicide. Belgium is just one example that shows how such safeguards often fail to protect the most vulnerable citizens.
The repeal of the assisted suicide prohibition is currently slated to take effect on December 31, 2021.
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