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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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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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