Raises concerns that assisted suicide will be legalized

Alex Schadenberg
The Interim
A Canadian study that was sponsored by the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine has found that seniors have the highest rate of suicide in Canada. As people age or become sick, the risk of suicide goes up substantially, with the highest suicide rate in Canada being among men over the age of 65. The Canadian study examined 1,300 suicides over nine years.

Dr. David Juurlink, a specialist in internal medicine and a clinical pharmacologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, said he thinks there are a lot of potentially missed opportunities for prevention, since half of the patients who committed suicides had seen their doctors in the previous week.

The suicide rate among the elderly seems to also be a problem in the United States. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention indicates that the highest suicide rate in the U.S. is among white males over the age of 65.

A recent article from the Reuters news service indicates that Japanese suicide rates have risen to record highs in 2003. Suicide rates continue to rise in Japan even though the Japanese economy is showing signs of recovery.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition is concerned that as suicide rates rise, especially among the elderly and people with disabilities and chronic disease, the demand to legalize assisted dying will grow, or there will be a growing tendency to turn a blind eye toward “mercy killing” deaths.

Within organizations concerned with AIDS, it has been written that an underground death culture is growing. Euthanasia activists have been busy over the past 10 years developing suicide bags, “peaceful pills” and suicide devices.

A British inquest is currently investigating the problem of suicide tourism. Dignatus, the Swiss euthanasia organization, has set up clinics to assist people to commit suicide. Swiss law does not allow euthanasia or assisted suicide, but suicide is permitted. The Netherlands and Belgium have legalized “mercy killing,” but only for their own citizens, whereas two-thirds of all Dignatus suicide deaths are done by suicide tourists. One British couple committed suicide at a Dignatus clinic in Switzerland, even though they were not terminally ill.

Wesley Smith refers to this preoccupation with death as a death culture, but in fact, this movement is also influencing mainstream society.

Philip Nitschke, Australia’s “doctor death,” is currently making plans to set up an internet suicide counselling service in the U.S. Nitschke currently operates an internet suicide counselling service out of Australia that is threatened by the Australian government’s plan to crack down on illegal acts that are carried out over the internet.

Nitschke is also the inventor of the “peaceful pill,” which was developed by Nitschke using items that can normally be found in one’s household.

In an interview with the Pacific Rim Bureau of CNS news, I stated that Nitschke would also be prosecuted if he set up his suicide counselling service in Canada. I explained that Evelyn Martens was charged with aiding and counselling suicide in the deaths of two women in British Columbia. Martens’ suicide counselling allegedly took place by way of e-mail with her victims. Evelyn Martens’ trial begins on Sept. 20, this year.

The Euthanasia Prevention Coalition believes that a link exists between the underground death culture, euthanasia organizations such as Dying with Dignity, Dignatus, Hemlock in the U.S., and Nitschke’s Exit group in Australia, and the suicide counselling that is becoming more common over the internet.

We believe they are attempting to create their own demand for legalizing assisted death by encouraging and preying upon people who are suffering from treatable depression. Their actions also result in the deaths of people with disabilities who are in need of support and encouragement, but instead are offered devaluation, discrimination and death.

The argument that the euthanasia campaigners are making is that because assisted suicide already happens, we should legalize it so that it can be regulated and controlled. In other words, because they are busy finding new ways to kill people, we should legalize it to allow them to kill people with impotent rules.

We fear that our current culture is abandoning people with special needs. We also fear that the euthanasia campaigners are taking advantage of the vulnerable. We recognize that we must change society and reverse the death culture.

What we need to do is to analyze why people are committing suicide, train physicians to recognize the signs of suicide and depression and encourage people to seek treatment and cure for their condition.

Finally, we need to act by interconnecting the elderly, people with disabilities and those with chronic illness and other vulnerable people into society by assisting them in their physical, emotional and spiritual needs. We need to support and uphold their dignity and thus reduce the demand for suicide.

Alex Schadenberg is executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.