Lies, damn lies and statistics

When euthanasia and assisted suicide were being pushed in Victoria, and then in every other state, one of the central arguments made by pro-euthanasia advocates related to elderly suicides.

Organisations such as the Victorian Coroner’s Office and South Australia Police argued in favour of legalised euthanasia as a means of preventing elderly Australians committing suicide in their homes, an obviously distressing situation.

In particular, Victorian Coroner John Olle gave evidence to the state’s parliamentary inquiry into end-of-life choices that these were occurring at the rate of 50 suicides each year or one per week.

This narrative took hold and was credited as being very influential in convincing some MPs to back the euthanasia laws.

Given the strength of the “assisted suicide will prevent suicide” and “one preventable death each week” arguments and their influence on the passage of this legislation, Oxford University research fellow and Professor of Bioethics at St Mary’s University Dr David A. Jones conducted research into whether there is any evidence to show suicide rates decreased after the implementation of euthanasia. 

The study demonstrated what has been seen in other jurisdictions where assisted suicide is legal: rather than preventing suicides, these laws actually see them increase.

According to the report:

“Between 2018 and 2022 the increase was 54 elderly suicides. Rather than a reduction of “at least one suicide every week”... there has been an unwelcome increase of approximately one suicide a week.”

Despite this recent research and the ‘suicide prevention’ argument being demonstrated to be misinformation in other jurisdictions, the same argument is being raised in the current ACT debate. 

The Australian Federal Police Association has made a submission arguing that the introduction of euthanasia and assisted suicide in the ACT will reduce non-assisted suicide and - by extension - reduce the trauma experienced by officers who are called when someone has taken their own life.

It is a compelling argument, to be sure. It’s just not true.