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New law allowing assisted suicide comes into effect in Austria

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By Johannes Pleschberger
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A general view shows parliamentarians attending a session of the National Council at the alternative quarter at the Hofburg in Vienna on April 21, 2021.
A general view shows parliamentarians attending a session of the National Council at the alternative quarter at the Hofburg in Vienna on April 21, 2021.   -   Copyright  ROLAND SCHLAGER / AFP

A new law allowing people who are terminally ill or have a permanent, debilitating condition, to end their own lives has come into effect in Austria after parliament approved the law in December.

From Saturday, adults who are terminally ill can opt to make provisions for an assisted death, following a constitutional court ruling on the issue in December last year.

The practice will be tightly regulated, with the prerequisite for assisted suicide being that the person willing to die must be of age and seriously ill in the long term.

Two different doctors will then confirm if the prerequisite is met, including whether the person willing to die is capable of making such a decision at all.

The lethal drug will be available in pharmacies in Austria. To prevent abuse, the names of pharmacies that sell these drugs will only be disclosed to lawyers and notaries who receive these notifications, and will not be advertised publicly.

Almost all parties have voted in favour of the so-called "death decree law", except for the opposition far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), whose representatives said the law has not been made clear and asked what would happen with the lethal drug if it is not or only partially used.

The Catholic Church, dominant in Austria, is strongly opposed to the move. The chairman of the Bishops Conference called the legal approval of assisted suicide "the most serious event of the past year".

The church has also announced that it would ban the new legal practice in its own hospitals.

The new law was prompted by a decision of the Constitutional Court which claimed that the previous ban on assisted suicide was unconstitutional.

Justice minister Alma Zadić, a member of the Greens, stated earlier that measures would be taken to offer alternatives to suicide in addition to the regulation.

Following the decision, the government consulted with experts on how to best prevent abuse and reduce the desire for early termination of life.

The Austrian government will give more money to hospices and palliative care as they ruled that the level of care conditions a person finds at the end of their life should not be influenced by personal circumstances or income levels.

Assisted suicide is legal in neighbouring Switzerland and has been decriminalised in several European countries, including Spain, Belgium, and the Netherlands.