Assisted Suicide

Austrian assisted suicide law for people with disabilities began on January 1

By Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

I reported a few weeks ago that the Austrian parliament had legalized assisted suicide for people with disabilities.

The media have now published many articles about the Austrian assisted suicide law that went into effect on January 1.

For example, an article by Bob Cronin for reported that assisted suicide was now available to Austrians with a terminal illness or permanent, debilitating condition. Permanent debilitating condition means people with disabilities or chronic conditions.

I warned that legalizing assisted suicide for people with disabilities who are not terminally ill will quickly enable the expansion of the law. The term “permanent debilitating conditions” will soon expand to include many conditions.

Cronin’s article describes the process that doctors must follow to approve death—“safeguards.” 

  • Documentation: Applicants must show a diagnosis and confirmation that they’re capable of making their own decisions. Those with mental health problems are excluded, as are minors.
  • Doctors’ approval: Two doctors have to assess each case, with one of them being a specialist in palliative medicine.
  • A waiting period: Once two doctors approve, nothing can happen for 12 weeks, theoretically so patients can consider their decision and draw up a will. The wait, which is two weeks for those with a terminal illness, also is designed to ensure the health issue isn’t temporary.
  • Notifications: After the waiting period, the patient is to inform a lawyer or notary, then receive access to lethal drugs from a pharmacy.

The only “safeguard” in Austria law is the 12-week waiting period for people who are not terminally ill and a two-week waiting period for those who are terminally ill.

My concern is that the Austrian law, which was supposedly designed with “tight” restrictions, will in fact become wide open quickly since the law permits assisting the suicide of people with disabilities who are not terminally ill. In other words, the term permanent debilitating condition can be applied to many conditions.

Austrians living with suicidal ideation will die by assisted suicide. 

Editor’s note. This appeared on Mr. Schadenberg’s blog and is reposted with permission.

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