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Assisted suicide laws increase suicide rates, economists say

Assisted Suicide
29 April 2022
Drugs

Senior economists have argued that legalising assisted suicide leads to a rise in overall suicides in society due to a "reduction in societal taboos".

In an article for Vox, a site providing research-based policy analysis by economists, two UK Professors consider the claim that allowing assisted suicide reduces "unassisted and possibly even total suicide rates".

Professors David Paton and Sourfel Girma, from the University of Nottingham, discount this idea, saying: "In contrast to [this] hypothesis, the real-world data suggest that assisted suicide laws lead to a substantial increase in total suicide rates and, if anything, are associated with an increase even in unassisted suicides".

The professors say: "There is very strong evidence that the legalisation of assisted suicide is associated with a significant increase in total suicides. Further, the increase is observed most strongly for the over-64s and for women. To give an idea of the size of the effect, the event study estimates suggest assisted suicide laws increase total suicide rates by about 18% overall. For women, the estimated increase is 40%.

"There is weaker evidence that assisted suicide is also associated with an increase in unassisted suicides. The effect is smaller (about a 6% increase overall, 13% increase for women). It is still statistically significant in the main estimates but not in all of the robustness checks, meaning we have less confidence in that result. However, we find no evidence that assisted suicide laws are associated with a reduction in either total or unassisted suicide rates."

They conclude: "To date, there seems to be little if any real-world evidence in support of [the] hypothesis that assisted suicide laws might reduce suicide rates... It is possible...assisted suicide laws do induce some substitution from unregulated to assisted suicide, but that this effect is neutralised by an increase in unassisted suicide arising from, say, a reduction in societal taboos associated with suicide".

In the UK, private member's proposals designed to legalise assisted suicide are currently being considered in both the House of Lords and the Scottish Parliament.

Baroness Meacher's 'Assisted Dying Bill' has reached Committee Stage in the Lords. It is thought the Bill will not reach the statute book given a lack of cross-party and government support.

A bill by Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Liam McArthur is expected at Holyrood in the coming months. A consultation on draft proposals closed at the end of last year and received a high volume of responses.

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Assisted Suicide

Where assisted suicide is legal, it makes vulnerable people feel like a burden. CARE works to uphold laws that protect those people, and to assist them to live—not to commit suicide.

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