Human Exceptionalism

How Assisted Suicide Hurts Suicide Prevention

My biweekly On the Square today deals with the wave of suicide prevention. I partly blame the assisted suicide movement and the suicide prevention community’s failure to grapple with the pro advocacy of the “death with dignity” crowd. I begin by noting that suicide prevention seems to receive less attention than when I was practicing law. Not only that, but suicide itself seems to have become more societally accepted. From, “Invisible Suicide Prevention Day:”

Not only does suicide prevention receive less emphasis, but certain segments of society have grown pro-suicide—or more accurately stated, pro- some suicides. Who can deny it? Pro-suicide billboards, mostly sponsored by the Final Exit Network, make headlines. The late Jack Kevorkian was lionized for helping to end the lives of more than one hundred and thirty disabled and terminally ill people, even becoming the subject of a hagiographic movie starring Al Pacino. “How to commit suicide” books can be found at your local retailer, and assisted suicide advocacy groups are treated as respectable “patients’ rights” groups in the media. Meanwhile, as debates rage about the best way to cap the surging cost of our medical system, a Vermont newspaper editorialized in favor of legalizing assisted suicide as a way to help pay for that state’s new single-payer health plan.

I ask why the shift in attitude? I point a finger of at least partial blame. I discuss the “rational suicide” movement within the mental health professions and the laws here and abroad that have legalized suicide and euthanasia as a medical treatment. I then point out how the top suicide prevention organizations in the world are utterly silent about the ubiquitous pro ‘some’ suicide advocacy, and point out that undermines the prevention cause:

The World Health Organization has been similarly derelict, urging that preventers restrict access to “common methods of suicide” and engage in “many levels of intervention and activities” to protect the suicidal. The guidelines also point out that “adequate prevention and treatment of depression . . . can reduce suicide rates, as well as follow up contact.” In contrast, rather than helping people stand against the darkness, the assisted suicide movement seduces people toward embracing it through talk of “death with dignity.” Rather than ensuring access to treatment for mental illness, they claim it often isn’t needed because suicides apparently inspired by serious sickness, disability, or mental illness are not really suicide, but “aid in dying.” They even want the means provided. Thus the euthanasia/assisted suicide movement thwarts suicide prevention by promoting precisely opposite values and actions.

I conclude:

This much I know: Until and unless we stand up against assisted suicide, Suicide Prevention Days will remain invisible.

Euthanasia advocates like to paint themselves as oh, so compassionate. I see it as quite the opposite. Morally, they have much for which to answer.  

Wesley J. Smith — Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.

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