Vienna, Austria, Jun 2, 2021 / 08:00 am (CNA).
Austria’s Catholic bishops urged the authorities on Tuesday to offer people “assistance to live,” rather than assistance to suicide.
The bishops issued a statement June 1 in the wake of a ruling by the country’s top court that assisted suicide should no longer be a criminal offense.
“Dying is a part of life, but not killing. Assisted suicide must therefore never be understood as a medical service or otherwise a service of a healthcare profession,” the bishops wrote in the five-page message marking the Austrian Church’s Day for Life.
The constitutional court argued in its Dec. 11 judgment that the country’s criminal code is unconstitutional because its ban on assisted suicide violates the right to self-determination. It ordered the government to lift the ban in 2021.
Assisted suicide is currently punishable by up to five years in prison.
At the time of the ruling, Archbishop Franz Lackner, the president of Austria’s Catholic bishops’ conference, said that the judgment marked a fundamental “cultural breach.”
CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported that the bishops urged legislators on Tuesday to take a number of steps to safeguard citizens, including expanding suicide prevention efforts, limiting the possibility of pressure from third parties, and guaranteeing conscientious objection.
“The limits of self-determination become apparent in life crises, in the event of a serious experience of suffering or in the face of a death that is becoming tangible,” the bishops wrote.
“It is an illusion to believe that we can determine ourselves completely and independently at any moment. As the constitutional court also admits, experience teaches us different things: We need each other! Man is a social being, always dependent and receptive to the expectations and valuations of the people around him.”
Austria is a country of almost nine million people bordered by the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and Germany.
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.
Also in February, Catholic leaders and human rights advocates expressed concern over a bill seeking to legalize physician-assisted suicide in Ireland.
In the same month, Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court ruled that a provision in the German Criminal Code criminalizing commercial assisted suicide is unconstitutional.
In March, Spain’s legislature passed a law legalizing euthanasia and assisted suicide, making Spain the fourth country in Europe to legalize the practice, after the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg.
Meanwhile, a peer in the House of Lords, the U.K. parliament’s second chamber, recently put forward a proposal to revisit the legalization of assisted suicide.
In their message, the Austrian bishops said: “We know from countless encounters with the dying that the last phase of life, in particular, can be a blessing. In many cases, important encounters and moments of reconciliation are still possible.”
“In addition, a widely publicized option to commit suicide puts pressure on all those who face life until natural death and are dependent on the help of others to do so.”
“According to the dangerous logic of euthanasia, they too would have the possibility to end their lives ‘autonomously.’”
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