Legalising euthanasia may increase the suicide rate

In a speech to British Parliamentarians for World Suicide Prevention Day, Professor Theo Boer, a former supporter of legalised euthanasia in the Netherlands, warns that legalising euthanasia and physician assisted suicide may lead to an increase in the overall suicide rate.


The speech, as published in MercatorNet, begins with Professor Boer explaining:

One of the arguments we hear is that assisted dying will bring down the number of violent suicides. It will provide a more peaceful death to patients in unbearable suffering who would otherwise have violently killed themselves. For other patients, the mere option of assisted dying (even if it will never be effectuated) is said to be a reassuring thought that will keep them from killing themselves.

I admit that these arguments may hold in individual cases. However, on the whole, the argument is mistaken.

He goes on to point out that in the Netherlands:

the suicide numbers went up: from 1,353 in 2007, they went up to 1,811 in 2019, a rise of 33.8 percent. In surrounding countries, most of which have no assisted dying practice, the suicide numbers went down.

Professor Boer points to the well-documented Werther Effect as a possible explanation:

We already know from the literature that when one person takes their own life, it can be a catalyst for others. Indeed, there are over 50 peer-reviewed studies reaching the same conclusion in what has been dubbed suicide contagion, copycat suicides or the Werther Effect. Not without reason, and based on advice from the World Health Organisation, the media go to great lengths to censor details that could trigger further suicides. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about their carefulness when reporting assisted suicide stories, the great majority of which express an ill-informed and naïve sympathy for assisted dying.

The Netherlands should act as a cautionary tale ...

For more on the link between legalising euthanasia and an increase in the overall suicide rate see the Australian Care Alliance Fact Sheet on The Social Contagion of Suicide.

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  • Richard Egan
    published this page in News 2020-09-20 12:18:34 +1000
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