Posts Tagged ‘Suicide’

How Can We Even Be Talking About Legalizing Assisted Suicide

Monday, June 11th, 2018

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.

The Danger Signs on Suicide are Clear

Saturday, April 23rd, 2016

It is hard not to have sympathy for those who are advocating for the legalization of assisted suicide as a way of alleviating suffering. Suffering is a terrible reality of human life, an experience of evil that cannot be avoided. Without a Christian understanding of the meaning of suffering (see St. John Paul’s magnificent letter Salvifici Doloris), it is a fearsome thing to face.

But even a non-believer should be able to discern the clear danger signs about the inevitable effects of legalizing any form of suicide, and step away from that precipice.

The experience of European countries that have legalized assisted suicide are test cases. We can see the way that the practice spread from the terminally ill, to those with chronic illnesses, to those with psychiatric or developmental problems, to minors, and utimately to people who were put to death even though they never requested it. It is abundantly clear that there are no limiting principles that can stop the spread of assisted suicide, and its progress to outright euthanasia.

The danger signs can also be seen in the most recent statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control on the incidence of suicide in the United States.

The situation is truly alarming — suicide has increased dramatically over the last two decades. Here are some of the lowlights of the report:

  • From 1999 through 2014, the suicide rate increased 24%, with the pace of increase accellerating after 2006.
  • Suicide rates increased from 1999 through 2014 for both males and females and for all ages 10–74.
  • In 2014, the rate for males was more than three times that for females, but the percent increase was greater for females (45% increase) than males (16% increase).
  • Although there were few suicides compared with other age groups, the suicide rate for females aged 10–14 tripled.
  • In both 1999 and 2014, suicide rates were highest among men aged 75 and over. Men aged 45–64 had the second-highest suicide rate for males in 2014 and the largest percent increase (43%) in rates.
  • Suicide is increasing against the backdrop of generally declining mortality, and is currently one of the 10 leading causes of death overall and within each age group 10–64.

With this information, how can it possibly make sense to legalize assisted suicide, which sends a clear, strong message that some lives are not worth living, and that death is the solution? Shouldn’t we instead redouble our efforts to convince people to reject suicide?

Advocates for assisted suicide insist that society defer absolutely to their autonomy, based on a notion that people have absolute liberty to do whatever they like. Yet our society has never done so. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said in his famous dissent in the Lochner case, “The liberty of the citizen to do as he likes so long as he does not interfere with the liberty of others to do the same, which has been a shibboleth for some well known writers, is interfered with by school laws, by the Post Office, by every state or municipal institution which takes his money for purposes thought desirable, whether he likes it or not.” The idea that people have complete autonomy is both incoherent and an invitation to anarchy.

Again, the suffering of individuals is compelling and naturally rouses sympathy. We must do everything we can to alleviate the physical, psychological, social, emotional and spiritual suffering of all our brethren.

But the particular desires of individuals cannot be the basis of making law for our entire society. St. Thomas Aquinas defined law as “an ordinance of reason for the common good”. The good of all of society must be the controlling concern when we make law, not the idiosyncratic interests of some people or groups.

The danger signs of relaxing our immemorial ban on suicide are very, very clear that it would lead to many more unnecessary and tragic deaths. We must continue to resist any effort to legalize any form of suicide, for the good of all of society.