Why take the risk?

Throughout the euthanasia debates in Australia, we were fed the line that legalising euthanasia and assisted suicide would prevent suicide.

The logic of this argument was that people were taking their own lives prematurely because they feared being unable to do so at a later date, and the security of euthanasia or assisted suicide might have actually allowed them to live longer and die naturally.

The opposing view is that encouraging suicide – any form of suicide – would undermine suicide prevention efforts.

Professor David Albert Jones from the Anscombe Bioethics Centre tested the evidence to determine which of these views was more accurate. He wrote:

There are thus two contrasting views about how the legalisation of EAS [euthanasia and assisted suicide] could influence suicide rates:

  • Some are concerned that making EAS legally available would encourage suicide: increasing the overall rate of self-initiated death (including EAS) and possibly also increasing the rate of non-assisted suicide; 
  • Others argue that legal availability of EAS would prevent some suicides: reducing the rate of non-assisted suicide and possibly also reducing the overall rate of self-initiated death. 

The impact of legalisation of EAS on suicide prevention is an empirical question. It is possible to examine jurisdictions that have legalised EAS, or made EAS more widely available, and test whether this has had a harmful or a beneficial effect on non-assisted suicide and on overall self-initiated death.

Studying US and European jurisdictions where euthanasia and assisted suicide have been legalised, Jones found “no evidence of a reduction in non-assisted suicide” in these places. He also found some evidence – although not as strong – “that deaths by non-assisted suicide also increase” and recommends further research into this be done.

While more research needs to be done into the link between legalised euthanasia and assisted suicide and those taking their own lives in other ways, it is clear that the claim that euthanasia is a suicide prevention mechanism is blatantly false.