After years of declines, the US suicide rate rose 24% over 15 years according to a report from the national Centers for Disease on suicide rates in the U.S. from 1999-2014. The suicide rate rose for everyone between the ages of 10-74 .
National media like the Wall Street Journal and CNN speculated that the economic downturn, drugs and lack of mental health resources could be factors in the 24% increase.
However, one huge factor was totally ignored: the legalization and promotion of physician-assisted suicide.
The Legalization of Physician-Assisted Suicide and Suicide Contagion
It must not be dismissed as mere coincidence that the new rise in suicides correlates to the implementation of the first physician-assisted suicide law in Oregon.
A 2012 report on suicide trends and risk factors for the Oregon Health Authority found the state’s overall suicide rate had risen 41 percent higher than the national rate . This is the “regular” suicide rate. Physician-assisted suicides are not included. But it is only now that the media is noticing a suicide rate that has been increasing for 15 years.
There is a well-known and recognized suicide contagion effect after reported suicides. Both national media guidelines and World Health Organization guidelines warn against media glamorization or normalization of suicide by the media that could lead to more suicides.
Yet, since the legalization in Oregon, the media has become increasingly positive in reporting on physician-assisted suicide. This reached a peak when People magazine devoted it cover story and some subsequent issues to Brittany Maynard , her impending assisted suicide, and her Compassion and Choices led foundation to raise money to promote the legalization of physician-assisted suicide throughout the US.
That’s not just glamorizing or normalizing physician-assisted suicide. That’s advertising.
And it is having an enormous effect. Now the media is bowing to the pro-assisted suicide movement’s propaganda by changing even the terminology. Instead of physician-assisted suicide, news reports now use more soothing terms like “death with dignity,” “aid in dying,” or “physician-assisted death”.
Make no mistake. This is a calculated tactic to increase support of physician-assisted suicide by denying reality.
Why Don’t Physician-Assisted Suicide Laws Require Psychiatric or Psychological Evaluation?
As most of you may know, I am the mother of a physically healthy 30 year old daughter who killed herself in 2009 using a technique the medical examiner called “textbook Final Exit,” the title of a book she read by assisted suicide supporter Derek Humphry. But I am also an RN with 46 years of experience who has cared for terminally or seriously ill people considering even physician-assisted suicide who changed their minds after suicide prevention and treatment interventions.
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I am appalled that no physician-assisted suicide law actually requires a psychiatric or psychological evaluation before a person is given the lethal overdose prescription. For example in Oregon, the physician-assisted suicide law only states “If in the opinion of the attending physician or the consulting physician a patient may be suffering from a psychiatric or psychological disorder or depression causing impaired judgment, either physician shall refer the patient for counseling.” (Emphasis added) Not surprisingly, very few such evaluations are currently done, according to Oregon’s annual reports.
That stands in stark contrast to the standard evaluations given to other suicidal patients.
There must be no medical discrimination based on a predicted prognosis when it comes to standard suicide prevention and treatment interventions. Suicide for any reason is always a tragedy to be prevented when possible.
The terrible despair that leads to suicide must not be ignored in favor of a cold piece of paper with a lethal prescription.
LifeNews Note: Nancy Valko, RN, ALNC, is a longtime writer and speaker on medical ethics issues who recently retired from critical care nursing to devote more time to consulting and volunteer work. She is also a spokesperson for the National Association of Pro Life Nurses.