Section 78 of the Criminal Code of Austria made the act of “assisting suicide” a criminal offense. It states that “whoever induces another person to kill himself, or helps him to do so, shall be punished with imprisonment for a period of six months to five years.” The phrase “or helps him to do so” has been deemed unconstitutional, while the act of “inducing someone” to commit suicide still remains an offense.
The court held that the provision violated one’s right to self-determination since it laid down a blanket ban on assisting a person in dying without providing for any exceptions. While noting the reasons for its decision, the court stated that the constitutional guarantee of the right to free self-determination is implicit in various fundamental guarantees including the right to private life, the right to life and the principle of equality. It also observed that the right to free self-determination is a significant guarantee, since it ensures that a person is able to exercise their right to shape their own life as well as the right to a dignified death. Therefore, by necessary implication, it must also include the right of a person willing to commit suicide to seek help from a third party, the court said.
The decision emphasizes the need for existence of free self-determination without any external influence from third parties, regardless of whether one ultimately executes their suicide or does it by giving away their agency to another person.
The provision will come into force on December 31, 2021.