Nations that have legalized euthanasia have higher rates of “self-initiated” suicides, a result that experts contend has been a predictable side effect of making it legal for people to end their lives in certain circumstances. A recent study, published by the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, derived its conclusion from multiple studies in Europe and North America. The studies found that the rates of self-inflicted suicides increased alongside the number of physician-assisted suicide deaths. The study found that women were the most likely to die by self-inflicted suicide in jurisdictions that have permitted euthanasia and assisted suicide. Wesley J. Smith, chair and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Centre on Human Exceptionalism, a conservative think-tank, said he doesn’t find the study’s results surprising. “A society can’t be pro-some suicides and then be surprised that some suicidal people outside the permitted categories think it includes them.”
Smith asserts that the popular culture and the law pushing “some suicides” sends the message to people that killing themselves is “proper.” Smith noted that such messaging might encourage individuals to take “lethal action.” “Encouraging and aiding suicide for some, while trying to prevent others from killing themselves, is inconsistent” he wrote. “We either try to prevent them all, or eventually we will end up where Germany is now, suicide on demand for any reason, or no reason at all.” Germany legalized physician-assisted suicide in 2020, with its top court arguing that a previous law banning the practice breached the country’s Constitution. In 2021, the Social Democrats presented draft legislation to require patients considering it to prove the decision was not based on impulse or pressure. Germany’s opposition party drew up a separate draft, requiring two doctors to provide an opinion before patients can be given a lethal dose of sodium pentobarbital.
“Euthanasia is particularly sensitive in Germany due to the legacy of the Nazis, who murdered an estimated 300,000 people with disabilities and psychological ailments under its ‘euthanasia’ program because their lives were deemed unworthy,” Reuters reported. Italy also recently legalized the practice of assisted suicide, with the Italian Constitutional Court ruling in 2019 that the practice is permitted under certain circumstances. The court decided that assisted suicide is permitted for those in intense pain with no hope of recovery or who have expressed a clear wish to die. In June, the country carried out its first-ever assisted suicide on 44-year-old Federico Carboni. A road accident in 2010 rendered the truck driver a quadriplegic, and he opted to end his life by lethal injection. Carboni had thought of traveling to Switzerland to end his life, but he took legal action in 2020 in Italy instead.
The organization that represented him, revealed his last words: “I have no autonomy in my life, I am at the mercy of events. I depend on others for everything. I am aware of my physical condition and future prospects so I am totally calm about what I will do.” Smith highlighted “several notable issues involving assisted suicide seeping into Italy”. “First, this is because of a court ruling, not a law,” Smith said. “Second, the patient who killed himself was not terminally ill, but paralyzed, illustrating that assisted suicide isn’t about terminal illness.” The Discovery Institute fellow argued that the legalization of assisted suicide stems from “a philosophy that sees death as a splendid response to and kind of suffering no matter the cause.” “The contemporary view in the West is fast becoming that we will try and prevent suicides of the young and of veterans, but that the deaths of people with serious illnesses or disabilities we will facilitate,” he continued.
In May, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott signed into law a bill that amended the state’s assisted suicide statute to expand access to life-ending drugs. Under the previous law, patients with a terminal illness and a six-month prognosis were required to make two in-person visit requests 15 days apart to a prescribing physician. Patients also had to visit another consulting physician to make a written request and wait 48 hours after receiving the prescription to use it. The new law eliminated the in-person physical examination requirement, allowing physicians to determine a patient’s eligibility to take life-ending drugs via remote consultation. It also removes the 48-hour waiting period between when the physician writes the prescription and the patient uses it. “Once the principle is established that suicide is an acceptable answer to human suffering, then the supposed guidelines that are promised to protect against abuse soon come to be seen as obstacles,” Smith said.
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