Austria’s Catholic Bishops: Draft Assisted Suicide Law ‘Unacceptable’

In their statement on Thursday, Austria’s bishops said that the constitutional court’s decision had “painfully called into question” the “broad social consensus that human life is to be protected until its natural end.”

Austria is a central European country with a population of almost nine million people, around 57% of whom are baptized Catholics.
Austria is a central European country with a population of almost nine million people, around 57% of whom are baptized Catholics. (photo: Unsplash)

VIENNA, Austria — Austria’s Catholic bishops said on Thursday that a draft law on assisted suicide “contains shortcomings that are unacceptable.”

In a statement issued at the end of their plenary meeting in Vienna on Nov. 11, the bishops lamented the omission of a 12-week waiting period for people seeking assisted suicide.

CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported that the bishops are taking part in a review of the draft law but without endorsing assisted suicide.  

Austria’s constitutional court ruled in December 2020 that the country’s criminal code was unconstitutional because its ban on assisted suicide violated the right to self-determination. It ordered the government to lift the ban in 2021.

At the time of the ruling, bishops’ conference president Archbishop Franz Lackner said that the judgment marked a fundamental “cultural breach.”

Austria is a central European country with a population of almost nine million people, around 57% of whom are baptized Catholics.

In September 2020, the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation reaffirmed the Church’s perennial teaching on the sinfulness of euthanasia and assisted suicide. 

Since then, supporters of the practices have made gains in several European countries. 

In their statement on Thursday, Austria’s bishops said that the constitutional court’s decision had “painfully called into question” the “broad social consensus that human life is to be protected until its natural end.”

They underlined that they remained committed to “the comprehensive protection of life.”

The bishops welcomed some aspects of the draft law, submitted by the federal government last month.

The Church leaders noted that the draft banned advertising and profiteering in relation to the practice. 

“Equally necessary is the draft’s provision for structured counseling and education of the suicidal person, in which all palliative medical alternatives to suicide must be presented,” it said.

But they underline that the law should make it clearer that private organizations are free to “neither to offer nor condone assisted suicide in their homes.”

The bishops noted that in a detailed statement on the draft law in June they called for a constitutional ban on voluntary euthanasia, known in Austria as “Tötung auf Verlangen” (“killing on request.”)

“So far, there has been support for this among all the relevant political and social forces, including the medical profession,” they said.

The bishops lamented what they called “a dangerous shift in values” signaled by the use of the phrase “dying with dignity” by assisted suicide advocates. 

“This manipulative speech not only ignores the fact that every suicide remains a human tragedy,” they said. 

“It also does an injustice to all those who have so far made it possible to die with dignity through reliable and attentive care and who will continue to do so in the future, whether in the family environment, in hospitals, in hospice facilities, or in the many nursing and residential homes in our country.” 

The bishops concluded their message by welcoming the expansion of hospice and palliative care in Austria.

“There must be a legal entitlement to them and the necessary funding must be ensured in a timely manner,” they said.

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