By Peter Saunders is the campaign director for the Care Not Killing Alliance - UK, and he is a leader of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition - International.
Published on Peter Saunders blog - Sunday, 15 April, 2012
There has been a massive increase in cases of assisted suicide in both Oregon and
Switzerland over recent years according to the latest figures.
with Dignity Act’ allows terminally-ill Oregonians ‘to end their lives
through the voluntary self-administration of lethal medications, expressly
prescribed by a physician for that purpose’.
It also requires the Oregon
Health Authority to collect information about the patients and physicians who
participate in the Act, and publish an annual statistical report.
figures show that cases of assisted suicide have gone from 16 in 1998 to 71
in 2011, an increase of 450% (see chart).
The US state of Oregon
legalized assisted suicide in 1997 following a referendum. Thus far over 100
attempts to get other US state parliaments to change their laws have failed and
only the state of Washington has followed suit, again on the basis of a
Switzerland has seen a 700% increase in assisted suicides
over the same period. Swiss authorities have recorded a steady rise of assisted
suicides in recent years, from 43 in 1998 to 297 in 2009. Earlier figures are
not available, even though assisted suicide has been legal in Switzerland since
These figures include only Swiss nationals and not the growing
number of people from abroad who are making use of facilities like Dignitas.
The experience of both countries demonstrates that when assisted suicide
is legalized there will inevitably be incremental extension.
factor fueling this increase is suicide contagion - the so-called Werther
effect. This is particularly dangerous when assisted suicides are backed
by celebrities as they are here and given high media profile as
they are frequently by the BBC.
The Oregon and Swiss numbers may not
seem large to some but we need to remember that Oregon and Switzerland have
small populations relative to the UK.
Back in 2006 the
House of Lords calculated that with an Oregon-type law we would have about
650 cases of assisted suicide a year in Britain. But given the increase of
numbers in Oregon the UK equivalent would now be well over 1,000. Currently
assisted suicide is illegal here and we see only 15-20 Britons going to Dignitas
in Switzerland to die each year.
However, later this year we will see
renewed attempts to change the law in this country.
Macdonald is planning to present a bill based on the Oregon model to the
Scottish Parliament and the pressure group Dignity in Dying (formerly the
Voluntary Euthanasia) is planning
a mass lobby of the Westminster Parliament on 4 July in support of a new
bill they plan to introduce by means of their parliamentary wing, the All Party
Group on ‘Choice at the End of Life’.
We should learn from the Oregon
and Swiss experience and be resisting these moves.
Any change in the law
to allow assisted suicide (a form of euthanasia) would inevitably place pressure
on vulnerable people to end their lives so as not to be a burden on others and
these pressures would be particularly acutely felt at a time of economic
recession when many families are struggling to make ends meet and health budgets
are being slashed.
And once legalized there will inevitably be
incremental extension as we have seen in Oregon and Switzerland. Legalization
leads to normalization.
Let’s not go there.