How Can We Even Be Talking About Legalizing Assisted Suicide

The recent suicides of celebrities has caused a sensation. One of the valuable side-effects of this is that our nation is being forced to realize that there is a genuine public health crisis that has been happening, mostly below the radar.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in 2016, 1 million U.S. adults made plans for death and attempted suicide. Read that again — 1 million adults. The Centers for Disease Control just put out a report highlighting the alarming incidence and increase in suicides. Some of the key conclusions:

  • Suicide rates have risen in every state but one.
  • In 2016, nearly 45,000 Americans age 10 or older died by suicide.
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death and is one of just three leading causes that are on the rise.
  • The suicide rate has increased 25% in the US since 1999.
  • In half the states, the suicide rate increased over 30%. One state, North Dakota, saw a 57% increase.
  • New York’s suicide rate increased 28.8%.
  • 54% of people who died by suicide did not have a known diagnosed mental health condition at the time of death.

So how can we even be talking about legalizing physician assisted suicide?

The message sent by legalizing assisted suicide is precisely the message that is leading more and more people to kill themselves. According to one expert interviewed by the Chicago Tribune, there are “key variables” that make a person more vulnerable to suicide:

  • Perceived burdensomeness, “this idea that my death is more valuable than my life.”
  • Thwarted belongingness, “meaning I try to make meaningful connections, and they just don’t work out.”
  • Hopelessness, “OK, I have this, and it’s never going to get better.”
  • Acquired capability, the ability to set aside normal psychological and physical constraints and perform an act that may be painful or horrifying.

The first three key factors are precisely the messages that assisted suicide sends to people who are terminally ill or disabled. The last factor is what assisted suicide hands to that vulnerable person at their bedside — a deadly prescription from their doctor that will make the act seem easy.

The normalization of suicide is also a major factor here, no doubt fueled by celebrity suicides and prominent examples like Brittany Maynard, who has become the “poster girl” of the assisted suicide movement. Here’s what one expert said to the New York Times about the growing social acceptance of suicide:

“It’s a hard idea to test, but it’s possible that a cultural script may be developing among some segments of our population,” said Julie Phillips, a sociologist at Rutgers. Prohibitions are apparently loosening in some quarters, she said. Particularly among younger people, Dr. Phillips said, “We are seeing somewhat more tolerant attitudes toward suicide.” In surveys, younger respondents are more likely than older ones “to believe we have the right to die under certain circumstances, like incurable disease, bankruptcy, or being tired of living,” she said.

In other words, there is a growing culture of suicide, thanks to the same attitudes that lead to the demand for assisted suicide. Any rational person would realize that the current crisis would only be made worse by legalizing assisted suicide.

Our nation’s current response to the threat of suicide is woefully inadequate. Funding for prevention is stagnant and there is a dire shortage of mental health professionals and facilities, particularly for poor people who depend on Medicaid. The addiction crisis, which is largely the result of the mental health crisis, is also not being addressed adequately. It is also likely that suicides are seriously undercounted because many are seen as accidental overdoses.

There is a relentless push by advocates of assisted suicide to push legislation in the states, including in New York. They are facilitated by a compliant media, who regularly publish puff pieces about terminally ill people who kill themselves, and rarely allow opponents of assisted suicide — particularly people with disabilities — to voice their concerns. The medical profession is under particular pressure, as evidenced by the American Medical Association’s consideration of a resolution to go “neutral” about legalization. There is no such thing as neutrality on this issue — if you don’t oppose it, you’re de facto in favor of it.

The tragic suicides of prominent people have been a wake-up call to our nation about the suicide crisis. This is no time to be talking about legalizing suicide for anyone.

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