By Alex Schadenberg
Special to The Interim
On November 24, I had the opportunity to present our Euthanasia Prevention Coalition brief on euthanasia Bill C-7 to the Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. This was followed with senators asking questions and clarifying items from those who had made presentations. Senator Stanley Kutcher (N.S., Independent Senators Group) decided to challenge a witness by making a statement about suicide rates in jurisdictions where euthanasia is legal.
Senator Kutcher stated that in jurisdictions such as Belgium and the Netherlands, where euthanasia is legal, suicide rates have gone down. He stated that there is no link between euthanasia and the rate of suicide in jurisdictions where euthanasia is legal. He then challenged a witness— a suicide prevention expert—to explain why he was concerned about euthanasia, in relation to suicide prevention.
The problem is that Senator Kutcher is simply wrong.
According to the World Population Review, Belgium has the highest suicide rate in Western Europe where 20.7 per 100,000 people die by suicide, which is the 11th highest rate in the world. The Netherlands suicide rate has increased over the past several years while the suicide rate in Europe has decreased.
Professor Theo Boer, who was a member of a Regional Euthanasia Review Committee in the Netherlands for 10 years, wrote in an article published on Oct. 5 by the Irish Independent: “The logic of many is that assisted dying will bring down the numbers of violent and traumatizing suicides.” Boer added: “If true, this would be a powerful argument in favour of changing the law. But the Dutch statistics speak another language.” Boer explained: “Whereas the percentage of euthanasia of the total mortality went from 1.6 per cent in 2007 to 4.2 per cent in 2019, the suicide numbers went also up: from 8.3 suicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2007 to 10.5 in 2019, a 15 per cent rise.” Meanwhile, Boer wrote, “in Germany, very similar to the Netherlands in terms of religion, economy and population, the suicide rates went down by 10 per cent.”
In Oregon, where assisted suicide has been practiced since 1998, the suicide rate has increased from 16.6 per 100,000 people in 2011 to 19.6 in 2019. In Washington State, where assisted suicide was legalized in 2009, the suicide rate has increased from 13.7 per 100,000 people in 2011 to 17.6 in 2019. It is true that the US national suicide rate has increased from 12.3 per 100,000 people in 2011 to 14.2 in 2019, but the Oregon and Washington State suicide rates have increased faster than the national average.
I am not suggesting that there is a direct link between increased suicide rates and the legalization of euthanasia or assisted suicide, but I am stating that Senator Kutcher was simply wrong. There is no evidence that the suicide rate in jurisdictions that have legalized euthanasia and/or assisted suicide have lowered, while there is plenty of evidence that the suicide rates in these jurisdictions have increased.
Alex Schadenberg is the executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition. This article originally appeared on his blog and is used with permission.