Authorities say the practice is tightly regulated. Assisted suicide will be limited to terminally ill adults or those with a permanent debilitating condition.
Under the law, underaged children and people suffering from mental health issues cannot access this option, Vatican News said. Those seeking suicide will have to consult with two doctors about their case.
Depending on their condition, patients must wait between two and 12 weeks to reflect on their decision before they are allowed to access lethal drugs from a pharmacy.
Under the new law, which passed in December, it will still be illegal to assist someone else’s suicide actively. The legislation came into force on New Year’s Day despite fierce opposition from Austria’s Catholic Bishops.
In his November prayer intention, Pope Francis prayed for people suffering from depression, a major affliction that can lead to suicide.
The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has caused the death of millions of people. It has also tried the mental and emotional resilience of countless people and has affected their psychological equilibrium. Sometimes, this has created situations of real anguish and despair. With this reality in view, the Holy Father asks that we “be close to those who are exhausted, to those who are desperate, without hope. Often, we should simply listen in silence.”
The president of the Austrian Bishops’ Conference expressed concern that applicants for assisted suicide are only assessed by two doctors and not by an additional clinical psychologist or psychiatrist.
Archbishop Lackner warned that this makes assisted suicide a trivial medical prescription as it is virtually not prosecutable, despite such requirements by the Constitutional Court.
He noted that assisted suicide had become standard practice in countries where euthanasia was legalized.
Austria is now among several European countries that have legalized forms of assisted dying, including Belgium and the Netherlands, France, Spain, and Switzerland.
Further away, Canada also expanded its law on the practice under certain circumstances. And in the United States, several states have “death with dignity statutes” that permit doctor-assisted deaths for terminally ill patients.