Bishops of Austria Condemn Euthanasia "...the legalization of assisted suicide is part of a creeping cultural break..."

At their Plenary Assembly the Bishops of Austria released the following critique of assisted suicide laws that are being considered. 

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In all countries that have made assisted suicide exempt from punishment, the same worrying development can be seen: within a very short time, the exceptional case becomes a socially accepted normality and impunity becomes an enforceable right to claim. To prevent this from happening in Austria as far as possible, the Austrian Bishops' Conference participates in the current legal assessment without endorsing the assisted suicide.


The broad social consensus that human life should be protected to its natural end was painfully disputed by the decision of the Constitutional Court of December 2020. This means that effective and necessary protection for vulnerable groups of people has ceased to exist, which is important because human life is increasingly only measured in terms of attractiveness, usefulness and profit for society. The Austrian bishops therefore do all they can for the comprehensive protection of life.


The present draft of a "Death Disposal Act" shows the effort to protect suicide assistants, who have been exempt from punishment by the Constitutional Court, from error, haste and abuse. This can be seen, for example, in the attempt to restrict the group of people who may make use of assisted suicide, or in the prohibition of advertising and profiteering. The structured counseling and education of the suicide-willing as provided in the draft is also necessary, in which all palliative medical alternatives to suicide must be shown. However, the prohibition of discrimination must be formulated even more clearly than before in the future law, which guarantees private sponsoring organizations the freedom to neither offer nor tolerate suicide assistance in their homes.


However, the draft law contains shortcomings that are unacceptable: For example, it was neglected to stipulate the mandatory reflection period of twelve weeks and the subsequent establishment of a death decree. The draft law thus disregards the requirements of the Constitutional Court. This has demanded that in order for the assisted suicide to be exempt from punishment, the persistence of the suicide desire and the actual decision-making ability of the suicide must be ascertained. The present draft law does not guarantee both as long as the establishment of a death decree - the term "suicide declaration" would be better - is not legally binding.


In the detailed statement of the Bishops' Conference on the draft law, other points are also named which are intended to put a stop to an impending dynamic that is hostile to life. In particular, the bishops advocate a constitutional ban on "killing on demand". So far, there has been a broad consensus among all relevant political and social forces, including the medical profession.


From the point of view of the Austrian Bishops' Conference, the legalization of assisted suicide is part of a creeping cultural break that has committed itself to the illusion of a total "feasibility" of life. Every form of deficiency, impairment, experience of sadness and illness is rated as an intolerable failure. According to this logic, dying has now become technically and legally "correctly" feasible. Unfortunately, this access to life, which is guided by a one-sidedly understood autonomy, is also accompanied by a dangerous de-solidarization in our society. How can we counter this development? We certainly need more mindfulness for one another and the willingness to provide diverse "assistance in life". It is a standing order!


A dangerous shift in values ​​in our linguistic usage is particularly worrying when the current discourse speaks of "dying in dignity", which is apparently only possible through suicide without any alternative. This manipulative speech not only fails to recognize the fact that every suicide remains a human tragedy. It also does all those injustice who have made dignified dying possible through reliable and attentive support and will continue to do so in the future - be it in the family environment, in hospitals, in the hospice facilities or in the many nursing homes and residential homes in our country. In this context, the bishops welcome the urgently needed expansion of hospice and palliative care in Austria.