Human Exceptionalism

California “Elder Suicide Rates Sound Alarm”

Well, what do you know: Two reporters have connected a few dots about the assisted suicide issue. In this story, byline John Simerman and Cassandra Braun of the Contra Costa Times, note that while California is debating assisted suicide, we have a brewing elder suicide crisis on our hands. From the story:

Beneath a simmering debate on a proposal to legalize assisted suicide in California for some terminally ill patients lies a muffled truth: Seniors– and particularly older white men–kill themselves at a higher rate than any other age group.

The theories vary, but not the phenomenon. It runs across the country and through Contra Costa County, where every three weeks another senior ends his or her life. Older men swing the balance. They make up 5 percent of the county population but 16 percent of confirmed suicides, county health data show.

Experts suggest the disparity may be even greater. Suicides, among the elderly in particular, are widely underreported, often mistaken as natural, accidental or unexplained — an overdose of medication, for instance. Some experts have predicted that a decline in elderly suicides during several decades could soon reverse itself as the baby boomers surge into retirement amid a shortage of mental health services tailored to the aging population.

“One of the predictions, certainly, is that this increasingly large cohort, as it reaches older adulthood, will tax the system, leaving more people in distress without enough geriatricians and mental health professionals,” said John McIntosh, associate dean of psychology at Indiana University and author of “Suicide and the Older Adult.”

“If, on top of what’s already the highest risk group, you put gas on the fire, the expectation is it’s going to be astronomical.”

Assisted suicide is more fuel for the flame, because when legalized the state is telling its citizens that suicide is an acceptable answer to the problems of human suffering and difficulty. (Oregon has also declared an elder suicide crisis.) And mark my words, once people accept the premise of assisted suicide, advocates will begin agitating for expanding the license to include the elderly and others–and using the same arguments we hear today for the terminally ill. It has already happened in the Netherlands where elderly are euthanized and a former Minister of Health advocated suicide pills for the elderly who are tired of life.

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