While more research is needed, the evidence that has been collected suggests that legal euthanasia is detrimental to suicide prevention.
A new study has found that the legalization of physician-assisted suicide leads to an increase in cases of self-initiated suicide. The research was conducted by the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, a Catholic bioethics institute based in Oxford.
Anscombe’s findings, based on data accumulated from Europe and North America, suggest that nations that practice euthanasia and assisted suicide (EAS) always see an increase in self-initiated death, a category that includes EAS and non-assisted suicide. Furthermore, the rates of self-initiated death are disproportionately high in women.
Professor David Albert Jones, the author of the report, noted that there is more need for research into this area, but what evidence has been collected “all points in the same direction.” Jones wrote in the report:
“There is no evidence that legalization of EAS would have a beneficial effect on suicide prevention. There is robust evidence, taken from different jurisdictions and using a variety of statistical methods, that the total number of self-initiated deaths rises significantly where EAS is legally available, and strong evidence that this has a greater impact on older women.”
In a statement made November 9, provided by The Dialog, Jones noted that Belgium has reached the highest suicide rate in Europe since legalizing euthanasia in 2002. Meanwhile, the Netherlands is recording upticks in suicide rates despite performing more EAS procedures than any other country. The US too is recording higher numbers of unassisted suicide in states that have legalized physician-assisted suicide.
When comparing the rates of suicide in European nations that have permitted EAS with those that do not, the study found that the latter consistently record lower rates of self-initiated suicide. This suggests that the legalization of euthanasia is detrimental to suicide prevention efforts.
In his conclusion, Jones wrote:
“There is much that can be done but there is no evidence that changing the law on assisted suicide would help. On the contrary, there is increasing evidence that removing the legal prohibition on encouraging or assisting suicide could do significant harm. These are not only notional dangers but real dangers to people vulnerable to suicide. Legalization of euthanasia or assisted suicide is a threat to suicide prevention.”