Human Exceptionalism

Assisted Suicide Increases Other Suicides

I have long suspected that pushing suicide in some situations, would increase suicides in others.

For example, Oregon has the second highest suicide rate in the country–and that doesn’t include its assisted suicides.

Between 1999-2010, the suicide rate among men and women aged 34-65 spiked nearly 50% in Oregon, compared to 28% nationally.

I believe that assisted suicide advocacy pushes suicide generally because it communicates the message that self-termination is an acceptable way to end one’s suffering.

Now, a study published the Southern Medical Journal supports my hypothesis, finding a statistically significant suicide increase in states that have legalized assisted suicide. From the article: (my emphasis):

Table 2 reports results of grouped logistic regressions of the associations between PAS and total suicide rates.

Controlling for state-and year-fixed effects, PAS is associated with an 8.9% increase in total suicide rates (including assisted suicides),an effect that is strongly statistically significant (95%) confidence interval [CI] 6.6%Y11.2%).

Once we control for a range of demographic and socioeconomic factors, PAS is estimated to increase rates by 11.79% (95% CI 9.3%Y14.1%). When we include state-specific time trends, the estimated increase is 6.3% (95% CI 2.7%Y9.9%).

The authors summarize:

The introduction of PAS seemingly induces more self-inflicted deaths than it inhibits. Furthermore, although a significant proportion of nonassisted suicides involve chronic or terminal illness, especially in those older than age 65, the available evidence does not support the conjecture that legalizing assisted suicide would lead to a reduction in nonassisted suicides.

This suggests either that PAS does not inhibit (nor acts as an alternative to) nonassisted suicide or that it acts in this way in some individuals but is associated with an increased inclination to suicide in others. 

U.C. Irvine professor of psychiatry, Aaron Kheriaty, analyzes the study and suggests some reasons why legalizing assisted suicide pushes suicide generally (no link):

Many PAS advocates claim that this decision is a purely private exercise of personal autonomy, but Christakis’s research suggests that behaviors like suicide, whether assisted or nonassisted, influence the behaviors of not only one’s friends but also of one’s friends’ friends’ friends. No man is an island. 

Finally, it is widely acknowledged in the tradition of Anglo-American jurisprudence that the law has a pedagogical function. Laws shape the ethos of a culture by affected cultural attitudes toward certain behaviors and influencing moral norms. In other words, the law is a teacher

Indeed, but here’s the rub. The media will ignore this study just as they do all studies showing abuses or bad outcomes from legalizing assisted suicide.

We are becoming a pro-suicide culture. I fear that many will look at this disturbing study–and I predict it is or will become worse than this study suggests–and simply shrug.

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