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How do Austria’s new plans on assisted suicide compare to others in Europe?

As Austria sets out its plan for legalising assisting suicide from 2022 in response to a court ruling, we look at how this compares to other countries' legislation on euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Hands touching
According to Austria's plans, two doctors will have to assess each assisted dying case, one of whom will have to be qualified in palliative medicine. Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

According to a summary of the proposed legislation from the Austrian 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.

READ ALSO: Austria sets out plans for legalising assisted suicide

Where is it fully legal in Europe?
The Netherlands legalised active and direct euthanasia in 2002.

Lethal doses of drugs are authorised if patients make the request while lucid.

They must also be experiencing unbearable suffering from a condition diagnosed as incurable by at least two doctors.

Last year, the country’s highest court ruled that doctors would be able to conduct assisted suicides on patients with severe dementia without fear of prosecution, even if the patient no longer expressed an explicit death wish.

The Netherlands also moved towards making euthanasia legal for terminally ill children aged between one and 12.

EXPLAINED: How foreigners can access assisted suicide in Switzerland

Belgium lifted restrictions on euthanasia in 2002 for patients facing constant, unbearable and untreatable physical or psychological suffering.

They must be aged 18 or over and request termination of life in a voluntary, reasoned and repeated manner, free from coercion.

In 2014, Belgium became the first country to authorise children to request euthanasia if they suffer a terminal disease and understand the consequences of the act.

In Luxembourg a text legalising euthanasia in certain terminal cases was approved in 2009. It excludes minors.

In Spain, the Spanish parliament voted through a law allowing euthanasia under strict conditions on Thursday March 8th, so terminally ill or gravely injured patients could end their own suffering.

The law came into effect in June 2021, making it the fourth European country to decriminalise euthanasia.

Swiss exception
Switzerland is one of the rare countries that allows assisted suicide with patients administering a lethal dose of medication themselves.

READ MORE: What you need to know about assisted suicide in Switzerland

It does not allow active, direct euthanasia by a third party but tolerates the provision of substances to relieve suffering, even if death is a possible consequence.

Australian scientist David Goodall (C) leaves in a wheelchair after a press conference on May 9th, 2018, on the eve of his assisted suicide in Basel. He was barred from seeking help to end his life in Australia, so he was forced to travel to Switzerland. Photo: SEBASTIEN BOZON/AFP

Decriminalisation attempt blocked in Portugal
In March, Portugal’s top court rejected a law decriminalising euthanasia that had been approved by parliament in January saying it was too imprecise.

The bill, which would have legalised access to assisted suicide for adult patients in a situation of “extreme suffering and irreversible damage”, now goes back to parliament for a possible amendment.

Italian compromise
Italy’s Constitutional Court ruled in 2019 it was not always a crime to help someone in “intolerable suffering” commit suicide. Parliament is set to debate a change in the law banning the practice.

The halting of medical procedures that maintain life, called passive euthanasia, is also tolerated.

In August 2021, more than 750,000 people in Italy signed a petition calling for the legalisation of euthanasia, exceeding by far the half-a-million threshold needed to force a referendum on the issue.

A vote could be held as early as next year on the campaign, which calls for changes to the country’s laws on assisted dying.

Centenarian Helene Wuillemin, seen here at her flat in Laxou, eastern France, went on hunger strike after her applications for euthanasia in Switzerland and Belgium were rejected. Photo :JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN/AFP

‘Right to die’
In France, a 2005 law legalised passive euthanasia as a “right to die”. A 2016 law allows doctors to couple this with “deep and continuous sedation” for terminally ill patients, while keeping euthanasia and assisted suicide illegal.

In April 2021, a bill to legalise euthanasia could not be voted on as planned due to the number of amendments submitted.

Sweden authorised passive euthanasia in 2010 and Ireland also recognises the “right to die”.

Britain has allowed medical personnel to halt life-preserving treatment in certain cases since 2002. Prosecution of those who have helped a close relative die, after clearly expressing the desire to end their lives, has receded since 2010.

In Germany, passive euthanasia is permitted if requested by the patient. In January 2021, the country’s parliament proposed new legislation that would allow assisted suicide for terminally ill adults once they have received counselling.

Refusing treatment
Denmark has allowed people to file written refusal of excessive treatment in dire situations since 1992, with the document held in a centralised register.

In Norway, passive euthanasia is permitted if requested by the patient or by a relative, if the patient is unconscious.

In Hungary, people with incurable diseases can refuse treatment.

It is also legal to end treatment for terminally ill people in Lithuania and Latvia.

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POLITICS

Reader question: Can I vote in Austria’s presidential elections?

On October 9th, Austria will vote to elect a new president, but who can vote in these national elections?

Reader question: Can I vote in Austria's presidential elections?

Austria’s presidential election will take place on October 9th, with seven candidates vying to take over at the Hofburg – the official workplace of the country’s president.

According to opinion polls, the favourite to win is the current president Alexander Van der Bellen, who is running for reelection.

READ ALSO: Austrian presidential elections: Who are the seven candidates?

A presidential candidate must be an Austrian citizen, be eligible to vote in the National Assembly and be at least 35 years old on election day.

Members of ruling dynasties or families that reigned in the past are not eligible to run in the presidential election. This is to avoid a return to monarchy in Austria via the role of the Federal President.

Who can vote in these elections?

The only people allowed to vote in Austrian federal elections are Austrian citizens aged 16 or above.

That means foreigners – even those born and raised in Austria, are not entitled to choose a new president. Unless, of course, they take up Austrian citizenship (usually giving up their original citizenship).

Since Austria has a large proportion of foreigners in the population, many people will not be able to vote in these elections.

READ ALSO: ‘I pay taxes in Austria’: Anger as foreigners barred from Vienna council vote

In fact, some 18 percent of residents (or 1.4 million people) in Austria over the age of 16 do not have the right to vote because they are not citizens, with the highest concentration of ineligible people in Vienna, Innsbruck and Salzburg.

In comparison, 20 years ago, Austria had just 580,000 people without the right to vote.

Statistics Austria data evaluated by the APA shows that around 30 percent of the voting-age population in Vienna, Innsbruck and Salzburg are not entitled to vote. In Linz and Graz, it is about 25 percent.

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

However, there are some smaller communities in Austria where the number of people without the right to vote is even higher.

In Jungholz in Tyrol, 66 percent of the population are not eligible, followed by 51 percent in Mittelberg in Vorarlberg. Kittsee in Burgenland and Wolfsthal in Lower Austria also have high proportions of Slovakian residents who cannot vote.

Austrian citizenship

Currently, in Austria, if someone wants to take up citizenship via naturalisation, they must undergo an extensive and expensive process and fulfil specific criteria.

Generally, there needs to be at least ten years of lawful and uninterrupted residence in Austria. But there are exceptions for those with citizenship of an EU or EEA country, those born in Austria, or married to an Austrian, for example.

READ ALSO: Could Austria change the rules around citizenship?

The main hurdles, however, include having to give up any other citizenships, as Austria doesn’t allow for dual citizenship in naturalisation cases with few exceptions, and the payment of a high fee, which depends on the municipality, but could reach thousands of euros.

And though the topic of easing the requirements has come up several times in Austria, the country doesn’t seem any closer to changing its citizenship laws.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Where in Europe can non-EU foreigners vote in local elections?

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