Legalising the encouragement and assistance of suicide will not help prevent suicide
“Every suicide is a tragedy”. This includes suicide of terminally ill people, as well as suicide among disabled people and the frail elderly who would be eligible for “assisted dying” in jurisdictions such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland or Canada. I have known someone who died by suicide who would have been eligible to have his death assisted in such countries  and it scandalises me that people might think that we should seek not to prevent but instead to encourage or assist suicide of people in his situation.
To my mind this is comparable to the flawed and unlawful policies that exposed people in care homes to COVID-19. According to the British Geriatrics Society “average life expectancy in UK care homes is 24 months for care homes without nursing and 12 months for care homes with nursing.” This is shorter than life expectancy from COPD or from most cancers (i.e. that the population used for the ONS data). Shorter life expectancy is a reason to make palliative care services available for care home residents and to encourage advanced care planning but it is no reason to be indifferent to avoidable death whether by COVID-19 or by suicide.
It is clear that action should be taken to address suicidality in vulnerable populations but nothing in the ONS data shows “the dangers of this country’s ban on assisted dying”. The largest Swiss right-to-die organisation claims that “EXIT’s option of physician-assisted suicide is actually an effective form of suicide prevention.” Similarly, Dignitas claims that “the option of an assisted/ accompanied suicide… is one of the best methods of preventing suicide”. However, there is no evidence behind any of these claims. Indeed a recent study found “strong evidence that legalisation of assisted suicide is associated with an increase in total suicides, especially for females and older people. There is some evidence that assisted suicide laws are also associated with a smaller increase in unassisted suicide.” This is not an isolated result but reflects what has been found in other studies in different jurisdictions. No study in a peer review journal has found evidence that introduction of assisted dying is associated with lower rates of suicide, several have flagged up evidence of increased vulnerability to suicide, especially for women.
The ONS data on suicide among people with a terminal diagnosis discloses a real problem that needs to be addressed, but there is no evidence that legalising “assisted dying” (whether euthanasia or assisted suicide, whether for all those included in the ONS data or for more or for fewer) would help. The available evidence suggests that, if anything, it would lead to more suicide not less. Weakening the law against encouraging or assisting suicide will not help prevent suicide.
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Competing interests: I have written previously on the relationship of euthanasia/assisted-suicide and non-assisted suicide and have stated publicly my support for the Better Way campaign which seeks positive alternatives to assisted suicide.