A new study has challenged the claim by euthanasia and assisted suicide advocates that legalizing the practices can “save lives.”
The peer-reviewed article “Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide, and Suicide Rates in Europe,” published on Feb. 7 in the international, web-based Journal of Ethics in Mental Health, assessed the relationship between euthanasia or assisted suicide (EAS) and other types of suicide in European countries.
It concluded: “The non-assisted suicide rates have not declined relative to comparable non-EAS countries, whereas there have been very large increases in suicide (inclusive of assisted suicide) and in intentional self-initiated death, especially among women.”
The study was written by David Albert Jones, the director of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre in Oxford, England. He is also the co-author of a 2015 analysis which found that U.S. states legalizing physician-assisted suicide saw “an increased rate of total suicides relative to other states and no decrease in non-assisted suicides.”
Jones’ latest work considered the evidence for the theory that “paradoxically, legalising euthanasia or assisted suicide might save lives.”
He noted that supporters of the practices claim that “if people had the security of knowing that these were options then they might not take their lives prematurely.”
Jones said that this “paradoxical hypothesis” was a significant element in the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2015 Carter v Canada decision, which decriminalized assisted suicide.
The article compared Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg with neighboring states where EAS remains illegal.
“In none of the four jurisdictions did non-assisted suicide rates decrease after introduction of EAS relative to the most similar non-EAS neighbor. There is no indication of prevention of non-assisted suicide at a population level,” the study reported.
Commenting on his findings, Jones said: “This is further evidence that legalizing assisted suicide or euthanasia will result in more people ending their lives prematurely. It will not save lives. It will not help prevent suicide.”
The trend has prompted concern within the Catholic Church. In September 2020, the Vatican’s doctrinal congregation reaffirmed the Church’s perennial teaching on the sinfulness of euthanasia and assisted suicide.
Earlier this month, Pope Francis said at a weekly general audience that the dying need palliative care, not EAS. The Vatican hosted a webinar on palliative care on the day that the pope made his remarks.
Italy’s constitutional court recently blocked a referendum to decriminalize physician-assisted suicide in the country, citing inadequate legal protections for the weak and vulnerable.
The Anscombe Bioethics Centre said in a press release that legislators should consider the conclusions of the new study.
Highlighting local developments, it noted that in October 2021, Britain’s upper house of Parliament considered a bill that would permit assisted suicide for terminally ill adults with fewer than six months to live.
It said that the Scottish Parliament will discuss a bill legalizing assisted suicide later this year and that in Ireland, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice has recommended that a special committee examines the topic of assisted dying.
The center also recalled that the Channel Island of Jersey voted to approve assisted suicide “in principle” in November 2021.
Jones commented: “Legalizing what is euphemistically called ‘assisted dying’ will endanger the lives of older people living with serious illness.”
“We must say very clearly to all people irrespective of age, disability, or illness, that they should not be made to feel that they are not a burden to the community. They are full members of our society and the human family. We are all enriched by their presence.”