New UK study shows correlation between suicides, assisted dying

A new study in a mental health ethics journal confirms warnings from anti-euthanasia campaigners: where euthanasia is legalised, suicides soar

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A German photo illustration shows tools used in euthanasia. Photo: CNS, Norbert Fellechner, www.imago via Reuters

Violent suicides increase in countries where assisted suicide and euthanasia are legalised, a new study shows.

A 35-page study published in The Journal of Ethics in Mental Health on 7  February said not a single European country that has legalized doctor-assisted death has seen a subsequent reduction in its rates of violent suicides.

The report, Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide and Suicide Rates in Europe, found that the introduction of euthanasia and assisted suicide often “is followed by considerable increases in suicide (inclusive of assisted suicide) and in intentional self-initiated death.”

Jurisdictions reveal differences in rates

The study examined data on physician-assisted suicides and euthanasia and on violent suicides between 1990 and 2016 in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Switzerland – where “assisted dying” has been legal for a comparatively lengthy period – and compared them to trends in non-assisted suicides rates in bordering countries where assisted suicide or euthanasia was not legal.

“Furthermore, the data from Europe and from the US indicate that it is women who have most been placed at risk of avoidable premature death,” said the peer-reviewed study carried out by David Jones, director of The Anscombe Centre for Bioethics, an Oxford-based institute serving the Catholic Church in the UK and the Irish Republic.

In a news release issued on 15 February, Jones said his study represented “further evidence that legalising assisted suicide or euthanasia will result in more people ending their lives prematurely.”

‘Lives aren’t saved at all’

“It will not save lives. It will not help prevent suicide,” he said.

“Legalising what is euphemistically called ‘assisted dying’ will endanger the lives of older people living with serious illness,” he added.

“We must say very clearly to all people irrespective of age, disability or illness, that they should not be made to feel that they are a burden to the community. They are full members of our society and the human family. We are all enriched by their presence.”

‘No-one should feel like they’re a burden’

In a paper co-published with David Paton of Nottingham University in 2015, Jones said data from the US has shown no reduction in non-assisted suicide in those states that permit the practice.

The authors found instead that the introduction of assisted suicide was associated with a significant increase in all types of suicides, with some evidence of increases in non-assisted suicides.

In Europe, a growing number of countries now permit assisted dying in either the form of euthanasia – the direct killing of a patient by a doctor, which is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Spain – or by assisted suicide, which is legal in such countries as Switzerland, Austria and Germany and involves patients being helped to take their own lives.

Other countries are under pressure to change the laws, and activists have mounted an aggressive campaign to legalise “assisted dying” in all parts of the UK and Ireland, often claiming that assisted suicide would result in fewer violent suicides.

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