The Slovenia Times

Signatures being collected for assisted dying bill

Health & Medicine
Debate on euthanasia gathers momentum in Slovenia.
Photo: Daniel Novakovič/STA

Following years of calls and campaigning to allow terminally-ill people to end their suffering in a dignified way, an NGO has now been given 60 days to collect 5,000 signatures from voters to be able to table a bill legalising assisted suicide.

Silver Thread, an association campaigning for dignified old age, put forward the proposal for signing after amending a draft bill based on a 18-month public consultation. If they collect enough signatures by 22 June, the National Assembly will need to read the bill and vote on its passage.

Current legislation does not offer a solution to those who are dying in suffering because neither medicine nor palliative care can help, says Andrej Pleterski, one of the authors of the bill. He sees assisted suicide as a solution to end the suffering of those in pain.

Adults with permanent residence in Slovenia and mandatory health insurance would be entitled to assisted dying under the bill, provided they experience unbearable suffering and have no hope of improving their health condition.

The proposal would not make it possible to resort to assisted death in case of life weariness, depression or without physiological reasons for suffering. Persons younger than 18 would not be eligible.

Only the person concerned could make a request for the procedure, no one could ask for it on behalf of someone else, says Pleterski, whose father, historian Janko Pleterski, made an emotional appeal for a legislative framework for euthanasia in 2018 after an unsuccessful suicide attempt at the age of 95.

Safeguards against abuse

A special special commission would decide on whether the patient is eligible for such a procedure and would write a prescription for the lethal substance and authorise a medical worker to collect it from the pharmacy and bring to the patient.

The proposal would have the person inject the substance themselves as euthanasia would only be allowed as an exception.

Apart from signing a request to be granted assisted suicide, the patient would also need to sign a statement declaring they have been well informed. Both would be verified by a notary.

Also involved would be a psychiatrist, who would pass a binding opinion on whether the person is fit for such a procedure. The psychiatrist would also be present at the final act and the person could always change their mind.

"The whole process is designed in such a way that the procedure is absolutely not carried out unless the person makes repeated oral and written requests, which means if you don't take any step the process cannot begin at all," Pleterski said.

Law expert Luka Mišič said the proposal guaranteed the highest degree of protection against abuse or mistakes. It sets forth that the decision on assisted suicide can only be made after all other options for treatment have been considered and after consultations with the GP, a psychiatrist and other experts.

Medical organisations oppose the bill

The authors of the bill public support for assisted suicide has been increasing. A public opinion survey in 2009 showed 60% of respondents seeing euthanasia as acceptable, which rose to 75%. A survey by Ninamedia in May 2022 showed 76.5% of respondents supporting assisted suicide.

Medical organisations do not support the proposal but Silver Thread is sensing that the younger generation of doctors and the doctors working closely with the dying are more in favour of the proposal. A conscientious objection will of course be possible, Pleterski said.

The proposal has been deliberated by the Medical Ethics Commission at the Health Ministry. Its arguments are based on the experiences of countries that have already legalised euthanasia or assisted suicide.

"The commission believes that if the bill is passed Slovenia too will see the slippery slope phenomenon, that is that the indications [for assisted suicide] will be expanding and the number will increase by the year," the commission's head Božidar Voljč told TV Slovenija.

Support among parties thin

Considering reactions among the parliamentary parties so far, it will be very difficult for the bill to pass. Only the Left has expressed its support for the proposal.

The other two ruling coalition parties, the Freedom Movement and the Social Democrats, called for a broad in-depth debate on what they described as a subject of extremely sensitive nature.

Borut Sajovic of the Freedom Movement believes it should be a topic of all citizens and not just a decision by any politics. "This is an even more sensitive issue than amending the constitution, but it's true we need to start talking about it, but we shouldn't jump to any conclusions," Jani Prednik, the leader of the Social Democrats (SD) deputy group said earlier this month.

Stronger reactions have come from the two conservative opposition parties; New Slovenia described the topic as divisive and disturbing to society. They instead propose focusing on improving and enhancing palliative care.

The Democrats (SDS) are strongly against euthanasia. "The SDS have and always will advocate the sanctity of life, something that is also in the spirit of the Slovenian constitution, which talks of the inviolability of human life," the party said, noting that medical organisations oppose the proposal.

The assisted dying bill caps years of campaigning and calls spearheaded by a pro-euthanasia petition four years ago signed by more than a hundred public figures.

One of the petition's initiators was Alenka Čurin Janžekovič, a retired teacher and headmaster was euthanised in Switzerland in March this year. She had been suffering from Morquio syndrome.


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