Suicide Link

While advocates promote the legalisation of EAS as a way to prevent suicides among elderly and disabled people, opponents say it would send a negative message to society that could affect people suffering from depression or mental illness."
  • "Advocates suggest that legalising EAS will prevent what they refer to as "Back-Street Suicides,""
  • "The only US state to legalise Assisted Suicide, Oregon, has an elder suicide rate significantly higher than the national average. "
  • "A person's decision to end his life can have far-reaching effects, and repercussions."
  • "30% of suspects in reported mercy killing cases end up committing suicide."
  • "The book Final Exit, written by EAS activist Derek Humphry, with its DIY methods of death described in detail, has been used by many people to effect their own suicides."
Suicide, in our society, carries a very strong taboo. Governments around the world spend millions of dollars on suicide-prevention programmes. Athough the focus would seem to be on teenagers and young adults, people aged 65+ have a high rate of suicide.

A major cause of suicide is treatable depression and yet, while interventions are being put into place to identify and treat young people, most elderly people who commit suicide were seen by a doctor shortly before their death. It is estimated that as many as 1 in 3 people over age 65 years suffer from depression. Males, especially white males, age 85 and up, are at highest risk for suicide.

Advocates of Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide (EAS) tend to suggest that legalising EAS will prevent what they refer to as "Back-Street Suicides," borrowing the slogan from the abortion activists of decades before. In the USA however, the only US state to legalise Assisted Suicide, Oregon, has an elder suicide rate significantly higher than the national average, 1 and this is also true of suicide rates in the Netherlands. 2

Opponents of EAS say that to legalise EAS would send a message to vulnerable depressed people of all ages that suicide because of "difficult circumstances" is acceptable.

Autonomy
The main argument in favour of legalising EAS has moved away from the mercy/compassion argument, and is now a demand for self-determination, or autonomy.

The leading advocate for assisted suicide in Australia and New Zealand is Dr Philip Nitschke.

Dr Nitschke has advocated that anyone who wants to (even teenagers) has a right to die, if they so wish, and should be assisted to do so painlessly as possible.
"I do not believe that telling people they have a right to life while denying them the means, manner, or information necessary for them to give this life away has any ethical consistency. So all people qualify, not just those with the training, knowledge, or resources to find out how to "give away" their life.

And someone needs to provide this knowledge, training, or recourse necessary to anyone who wants it, including the depressed, the elderly bereaved, [and] the troubled teen.

If we are to remain consistent and we believe that the individual has the right to dispose of their life, we should not erect artificial barriers in the way of sub-groups who don't meet our criteria.

This would mean that the so-called "peaceful pill" should be available in the supermarket so that those old enough to understand death could obtain death peacefully at the time of their choosing. It's hard to imagine how such a development would affect society, but I believe the impact would not be as great as people fear.

I would argue that if suicide is legal, then advising, counseling, or assisting people to carry out this legal act should also be legal."
Mercy killers going on to Commit Suicide
A person's decision to end his life can have far-reaching effects and repercussions. Those who have been involved in the deliberate ending of a life will never be the same again. Doctors will have to live with the fact that they have become ‘angels of death,' and family members, who approved the assisted suicide, may have troubled consciences.

A report published by the UK Voluntary Euthanasia Society (VES), on 9th September 2003 , stated "30% of suspects in reported mercy killing cases end up committing suicide." The chief executive of VES, Deborah Annetts is quoted as saying, "Behind the statistic of 30% of mercy killers going on to commit suicide, there lies a huge amount of suffering." 3

Ms Annetts' interpretation of the statistic is that 'mercy killers' commit suicide because they are fearful of prosecution.

The fear of prosecution is unlikely to be uppermost in their minds, because it is known that the Courts more often than not tend toward leniency in 'mercy killing' cases. It is possible that the person who has assisted a loved one to die may have begun to suffer guilt, remorse and despair.

In his book, Death as a Salesman, What's Wrong with Assisted Suicide? anti-euthanasia activist, Brian Johnston, writes about suicide copycats and clusters:
"Often social circumstances and the 'modeling' of suicide are enough to create a 'suicide cluster,' or as it is better known, the 'copycat' effect.4

The clear message of suicide clusters is that exposure to suicide, and acceptance of it, even grudging acceptance (justifying it because of "difficult circumstances") breeds more suicides, and has at times led to a rash of self-murders."
Johnston goes on to talk of how the book Final Exit, written by EAS activist Derek Humphry, with its DIY methods of death described in detail, has been used by many people to effect their own suicides. Some of those people had a psychiatric history that included a previous suicide attempt, hospitalisation or treatment. 45

References:
  1. Oregon's elder suicide rate tops national average, study says
  2. Europe: Netherlands: Crime
  3. www.ves.org.uk/newsstory
  4. Brian Johnston, Death as a Salesman, What's Wrong with Assisted Suicide p.136-137
  5. Marzuk, Peter M. et. al. "Increase in Suicide by Asphyxiation in New York City After the Publication of Final Exit." The New England Journal of Medicine (November 11, 1993): 1508-1510
  6. "Investigators Link Suicide Book to 11 Local Deaths," St. Louis Post-Dispatch