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Austria: Most requests for assisted suicide come from women

According to a report from the OPG, one year after its approval, the most common reason given for requesting assisted suicide is fear of existential suffering in the future.

FUENTES OPG, AUTOR 5/Evangelical_Focus VIENNA 10 DE FEBRERO DE 2023 17:45 h
A street in Vienna, Austria. / Photo: [link]J Mikhail Volkov[/link], Unsplash CC0.

The Austrian Palliative Society (OPG) presented a report on assisted suicide in Austria, one year after the Sterbeverfügungsgesetz (Assisted Suicide Act, StVfG) was approved.

Since the Ministry of Health does not conduct any scientific research on it, the OPG collected its own data, creating an online reporting system called ACIRS, where relatives, carers or psychologists who witness or care for people around assisted suicide can anonymously share their experiences.


67% are women

Of the 59 requests for assisted suicide received since May 2022, 23 suicides with lethal poison were completed and one aborted. The majority took place in private settings, three cases in nursing homes and one in a hospice. So far, no case has been reported from a hospital.

The patients were aged between 43 and 97 , most of whom had a tumour disease, followed by neurological diseases.

Moreover, the majority were women (67%), as other international studies has also reveal, mainly because “they are more likely to outlive their partners, live alone longer, suffer from loneliness or the worry of being a burden on others, and are more often affected by poverty in old age and depression”.


Fear of future suffering

By far the most common reason given for requesting assisted suicide was fear of existential suffering in the future, followed by distressing physical symptoms of illness. Fear of losing autonomy was also mentioned six times.

Of the 23 assisted suicides completed, 75% were because unbearable physical symptoms

The OPG report also states that half of all assisted suicide requests were due to inadequately treated symptoms in the context of a serious illness; and in almost 60% of the cases, patients decided not to make an early decision after comprehensive counselling on palliative care options.

"We know that the fears, the physical symptoms and the suffering experienced can be effectively countered by comprehensive palliative care”, said Angelika Feichtner, nursing scientist and member of the OPG's working group on ethics.

However, “not all patients who need palliative care have access to it in Austria”, denounced Feichtner.


Different figures

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Healths of December reported that, as December 2022, there was 111 requests in Austria, and 90 lethal drugs had been dispensed, but the number of drugs used remained “in the single-digit range”, as did the number of drugs returned after one year, which is far from the reports received by the OPG of 23 completed assisted suicides.

OPG President, Dietmar Weixler, told Catholic German newspaper Die Tagespost that such difference was “apparently due to the problem of notoriously sloppy death examinations in the private sector”. He considers the OPG data to be “more credible”.





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