Human Exceptionalism

Preventing Only Some Suicides

My biweekly First Things column focuses on the failure of the suicide prevention community to push back against blatant suicide advocacy by the euthanasia movement. I begin by showing the decades-unchanging media depiction of assisted suicide. From, “Preventing (Some) Suicides:”

For two decades, the media have repeatedly presented emotional narratives of very ill or disabled people who “just want to die,” along with sympathetic depictions of the doctors who “just want to help,” filtered through the ideological prism of issue advocates seeking to legalize doctor-prescribed death.

These deaths are usually described in as a matter of the deceased “taking control,” or “dying on her own terms,” and other such laudatory language. In an unsettling bit of spectacle, actual assisted suicides—even acts of active euthanasia—have been aired on television with great fanfare on CBS’ 60 Minutes and the BBC.

Suicide prevention professionals should be the loudest voices pushing back against suicide advocacy masking as stories in the media. But they are generally derelict in their deafening silence:

Back when Kevorkian began his campaign, suicide-prevention leaders spoke out forcefully against him. But that was a long time ago. These days, the suicide-prevention community is mostly silent about the political agenda that actively undermines the universal prevention meme.

I give specific examples, and then conclude:

I am not saying that the suicide-prevention community is complicit in assisted suicide. But I do believe they are partially neglecting their calling. The lives of people with cancer, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease and other serious and terminal illnesses are just as worthy of protection as those of suicidal people who may have other reasons for wanting to end their lives.

If suicide-prevention organizations want to play it safe by focusing on non-contentious issues such as youth suicide, or if they worry that their organizations might lose funding by engaging the emotionally charged assisted suicide controversy, perhaps the time has come to change the organizational names. “The Association for the Prevention of Some Suicides” might not be catchy, but at least it would have the virtue of honesty.

The lives of the dying, the seriously disabled, and the severely mentally ill have to count as much in preventing suicide as at risk youth and people who want to die because their businesses have failed. Failing to protect all sends the message that some suicides are okay–and that adversely impacts suicidal people generally. .

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