Law allowing physician-assisted suicide comes into force in Austria

In Austria, the law allowing physician-assisted suicide comes into effect. From 1 January, adults with a terminal illness or a persistent, debilitating illness will be able to opt for assisted death.

Parliament approved the new law in December, following the constitutional court’s decision on the matter.

The practice will be strictly regulated and each case will be evaluated by two doctors, one of whom is a palliative medicine specialist.

Officials say the government has allocated additional funds for palliative care so that no one chooses to die when other options are available.

Assisted suicide means giving someone the opportunity to take their own life and includes knowingly helping.

Euthanasia, on the other hand, is the deliberate act of ending a person’s life in order to end their suffering. For example, a doctor giving injections containing toxic chemicals.

Assisted suicide, which is legal in Switzerland, has also been decriminalized in several European countries, including Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Active suicide aid will remain illegal in Austria and the new rules will exclude minors or those with mental health problems.

Adults who want to end their lives will need to prove their diagnosis and the ability to make their own decisions.

After getting approval from two doctors, patients will wait 12 weeks to consider their decision, or two weeks if they are terminally ill.

If they still agree after this waiting period, they will be able to buy lethal drugs from the pharmacy by notifying the lawyer or notary public.

In order to prevent abuse of the application, the names of pharmacies selling these drugs will only be disclosed to lawyers and notaries who receive these notifications, and will not be made public.

So far, under Austrian law, anyone who incites or aids someone to kill themselves faces up to five years in prison.

The absolute ban on assisted death was lifted last year by a federal court, which it said “violates the right to self-determination”.

Before the new rules were approved by parliament this year, some opponents argued that too many barriers were placed in the way of those who wanted assisted death.

Others argued that too few restrictions were imposed, saying that the psychiatric assessment was not sufficient to assess patients’ decision-making abilities.