The Corner

Politics & Policy

How Contemporary Society Promotes Elder Suicide

I have worried and written about the growing normalization of elder-suicide, brought on in part — obviously, that is not the whole problem — by assisted-suicide advocacy and frequent media applause of such deaths among the elderly.

That opinion receives a peer-reviewed boost in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. The authors — two UCSF medical professors — warn about increasing “rational” elder suicides, by which they mean self-killing “in the absence of diagnosed psychiatric illness.”

Three forces are, in the authors’ view, contributing to this worsening phenomenon. First, “neo-liberalism. From, “Social Causes of Rational Suicide in Older Adults,” (my emphasis):

Neoliberalism changed human relationships within society from a civil sphere that enshrined a commitment to social solidarity and collaboration among fellow citizens to that of a universal market where human beings are pawns in calculations of profits and losses. Rather than emancipation and freedom, the markets created atomization and loneliness.

Second, technology and transhumanist ideology:

Technology companies, eager to “disrupt” everything from the way we drive to the way we dry clean, has declared their intention to conquer death itself by “curing aging” and “solving death.” . . . The declaration of aging as a disease, pathologizes aging as an entity to be shunned and avoided, in oneself and others. . . .

Concerns about overly aggressive care at the end of life and of unrelenting suffering have in part fueled advocacy for PAD [physician assisted death, a.k.a. assisted suicide] with many people seeing aggressive medical interventions and unrelieved suffering at the end of life as avoidable only through premature self-inflicted death.

Many people don’t know that they have the absolute legal right to refuse such high-tech interventions.

Which brings us to assisted-suicide advocacy:

The growing acceptance of PAD and its legalization in six U.S. states and the District of Columbia plays an important role in changing attitudes toward rational suicide. An ethical concern of those opposed to PAD is the potential for the “slippery slope” whereby legalization of PAD and greater acceptance of PAD as a result of that legalization initiates a trend in social perceptions toward acceptance of rational suicide, something that was previously ethically unacceptable. We believe that the legalization and increasing acceptance of PAD was a necessary societal precursor to the rationalization of suicide in older adults.

The authors reach a strong conclusion:

Clinicians should also feel empowered to speak up against agism and recognize it in themselves. Acceptance of the idea of rational suicide in older adults is in itself ageist. It implicitly endorses a view that losses associated with aging result in a life that is not worth living.


May the authors’ strong warning in a very respected professional journal be the vanguard of desperately needed focused push-back at the professional level against our metastasizing culture of death.

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