Advocates for assisted suicide continually cite the importance of individuals having a “choice” to end their lives, but they often overlook the fact that end-of-life decisions are not made in a vacuum. Though there are influences that effect all individuals faced with end-of-life decisions, research is showing that women are especially susceptible to assisted suicide due to multiple factors, otherwise known as “gendered risks.”
The first of these factors is the typically longer life span of women. Because they live longer, women are more likely to suffer from disease and disability, as well as elder abuse. The Australian Law Reform Commission has found that women are much more likely to suffer elder abuse than men- as many as 20% of Australian women are victims.
Women are also more likely to have lost their spouse and live alone. The resulting loneliness is a major factor in older adult suicides as shown in this 2013 Australian psychological study. Without their spouse, women may lose the will to live.
Economic disadvantage is another factor affecting women.
Women have fewer economic resources when they are older, the time when decisions about assisted suicide are most likely to occur.
This entrenched economic disadvantage limits their options for care and means they are more likely to face other financially related adversities.
Women are also more likely to have to pay for care than men due to their male partners and families being less likely to care for them.
Even if they have family members to take care of them, women may feel that they are a burden because of their physical deficiencies or because of the drain they put on their family’s finances.
In a study of assisted suicides where the majority of cases were women, the fear of being a burden was a prominent reason for deciding for death. The ethic of self-sacrifice was summed up by a friend of one of the suicides, who said: “She felt it was a gift to her family, sparing them the burden of taking care of her.”
Legalising assisted suicide could prove a dangerous risk for elderly women, because:
It is clear that increasing numbers of women decide to die when offered the more passive options of assisted suicide. The rate of assisted death of women in the Netherlands, Oregon and elsewhere is nearly four times that of the usual female suicide rate.
Instead of giving elderly or terminally ill women the option to end their lives, we should give them the support they need to live the rest of their lives to the fullest. Assisted suicide does not help women, but turns them into victims.