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Austria to make assisted suicide legal from next year

Austria's government on Saturday set out its plans for legalising assisted suicide from 2022 in response to a court ruling, which found that the current ban violated fundamental rights.

The federal chancellery in Vienna, Austria
The picture shows the federal chancellery in Vienna as Austrian MPs are expected to approve the proposals on assisted suicide before the end of the year. picture alliance / Kerstin Joensson/AP/dpa | Kerstin Joensson

In December 2020, the constitutional court ordered the government to lift the existing ban on assisted dying, which is punishable by up to five years in prison.

According to a summary of the proposed legislation from the justice ministry, adults who are terminally ill or suffer from a permanent and debilitating condition will be able to access help with ending their own lives.

Two doctors will have to assess each case, one of whom will have to be qualified in palliative medicine.

Among their duties will be to determine whether the patient is capable of coming to the decision independently.

In addition, at least 12 weeks will have to pass before access is granted to make sure euthanasia is not being sought due to a temporary crisis.

This period will be shortened to two weeks for patients in the “terminal phase” of an illness.

The proposals will now be subject to scrutiny by experts before coming to parliament, where MPs are expected to approve them before the end of the year.

If no new regulation were to be in place by the end of 2021, the existing ban on assisted dying would simply lapse, leaving the practice unregulated.

The Bishop of Innsbruck Hermann Glettler said that the proposals were a “sensitive and responsible” way of trying to conform with the constitutional court’s ruling and welcomed the fact that they also include plans to boost funding for palliative care.

However, he said further safeguards should be added to the process patients will have to go through.

Elsewhere in Europe, euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and – since June 2021 – in Spain. However, traditionally Catholic states such as Ireland and Poland are holding out against liberalisation.

Switzerland allows assisted suicide, while Norway and Sweden permit passive euthanasia under a strict set of circumstances.

READ ALSO: Italian euthanasia petition big enough to force referendum

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AUSTRIAN CITIZENSHIP

Could presidential criticism lead to Austrian citizenship rule changes?

Federal President Alexander Van der Bellen has hit out at Austria's naturalisation process, saying "the hurdles are too high". But how hard is it to get Austrian citizenship - and will the criticism lead to change?

Could presidential criticism lead to Austrian citizenship rule changes?

Austria’s federal president Alexander Van der Bellen, who is eyeing a second term in office in the autumn elections, has said that the hurdles for citizenship are too high in the alpine country.

“Citizenship is a valuable asset. I think the hurdles for obtaining it are too high.”, he said in an interview with the newspaper Kleine Zeitung.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How does Austria’s presidential election work?

Van der Bellen mentioned a case with a German citizen who has lived in Austria for 20 years and cannot obtain dual citizenship: “He can vote neither here nor there. And that is the European Union?”

Austria does not allow for dual citizenship of naturalised citizens except in very few cases (including naturalisation of those who are descendants of Holocaust victims).

This is one of the many hurdles to citizenship in the country.

What makes Austrian citizenship so difficult to get?

Citizenship through naturalisation, meaning you are not the son or daughter of an Austrian citizen, is particularly hard to get.

First of all, the majority of applicants will need to give up any other citizenships they hold. So, a British citizen taking Austrian nationality through marriage or residence time will have to give up their British passport.

READ ALSO: Which European countries have the toughest rules for gaining citizenship?

Besides severing that connection to a home country where people might still have many ties, this can lead to difficulties in matters of inheritance and property ownership, for example.

The naturalisation process is also long and expensive in Austria. In Vienna, the application costs €130. If successful, the new Austrian citizen can expect to pay from € 1,100 to € 1,500 just for the award – that doesn’t include costs with documentation, translation, and issuance of documents such as an Austrian passport.

The length of the process varies, but it can take more than a year for citizenship to be awarded.

The requirements will also be different depending on how long the person is legally an Austrian resident and what is their connection to the country.

READ ALSO: Reader question: Will my children get an Austrian passport if born in Austria?

For example, after 30 years of residence in Austria, you need to prove you are not a danger to the country and that you can support yourself.

You also need to prove German skills and pass a citizenship test.

The minimum amount of time of legal residency after which you can require citizenship is six years for people who fall into specific categories, such as legal and uninterrupted residence in Austria and possession of the citizenship of an EEA state, birth in Austria or German at a B2 level.

Will Austria change its citizenship rules?

It is improbable that there will be any significant changes soon. Despite Van der Bellen’s statements, citizenship laws are not within the federal president’s competence and mostly depend on legislative changes.

The party leading the ruling coalition, ÖVP, is against any changes, claiming that making the process easier would “depreciate” Austrian citizenship.

READ ALSO: ​​Why has naturalisation in Austria doubled in 2022 – and who are the new citizens?

Austria has recently seen a jump in naturalisation numbers, but that can largely be viewed as a one-off phenomenon after changes in the process for descendants of Nazi victims.

While junior partner Greens have been in favour of easing some rules, little is expected to happen with the ÖVP in power. The next parliamentary elections are set for 2024, though. If the SPÖ continues climbing in the polls, an SPÖ-Green coalition could push forward different rules.

Also, if the Red-Green-Yellow ruling coalition in Germany does succeed in easing naturalisation rules in the neighbouring country, Austria could see further pressure for domestic changes.

But that remains to be seen, mainly depending on the 2024 election results.

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