Wednesday, June 15, 2022

US Suicide rates are now highest among the elderly.

Alex Schadenberg
Executive Director, Euthanasia Prevention Coalition

Suicide is always a tragedy but a little known fact is that the highest US suicide rate is among the elderly. But this was not always the case.

When examining the suicide data published by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) the highest suicide rate in America was historically among the 45 to 54 age group, but since 2019 the 85 years and older age group has the highest suicide rate and in 2020 the 75 - 84 age group had the second highest suicide rate.

The US suicide rate was increasing on a yearly basis but it has gone down since 2018. For instance, in 2011 the US suicide rate was 12.32 per 100,000 people. The suicide rate increased every year until 2018 when the rate was 14.23 per 100,000. The US suicide rate in 2020 declined to 13.48 per 100,000 people.

Why is this important?

As much as teen suicide is a national concern, there seems to be silence concerning the fact that the highest suicide rate in the US is among the elderly. Is there a form of reverse discrimination concerning suicide? Are not all suicides a tragedy?

The assisted suicide lobby continually publishes articles justifying the assisted suicide deaths of elderly people and people with disabilities. Does the promotion of assisted suicide lead to a suicide contagion effect among older Americans?

This is not an easy question to answer but there are some clues to the answer.

The suicide rate in Oregon, where assisted suicide has been legal for more than 20 years, is higher than the national average at 18.3 suicide deaths per 100,000 people. The suicide rate among seniors 85 and older in Oregon is significantly higher than other age groups at 42.6 per 100,000 people in 2019.

Similar to Oregon, the Washington state data, where assisted suicide has been legal since 1999, also shows a much higher suicide rate among seniors 85 and older.

It is important to note that the suicide data in Oregon and Washington state do not include assisted suicide deaths.

A recent study by bioethicist David Jones compared the suicide rates of European nations that have legalized euthanasia or assisted suicide to European nations that have not legalized assisted death. The study found that - suicide rates rise after euthanasia or assisted suicide is legalized.

I contend that legalizing assisted suicide leads to a suicide contagion effect. Jones found that in every country that had legalized euthanasia or assisted suicide, that relative to European nations that had not legalized euthanasia or assisted suicide that the suicide rates were higher.

Professor Theo Boer, who is a former euthanasia case reviewer in the Netherlands published an article titled: Be careful what you wish for when you legalize active killing. In that article Boer explains:
the percentage of euthanasia of the total mortality went from 1.6% in 2007 to 4.2% 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% rise. If we would include the deaths through assisted suicide in patients considered to be at risk of committing suicide (psychiatric patients, people with chronic illnesses, dementia patients, elderly and lonely people), the total increase in self chosen deaths over the past decade would be closer to 50% than to 15%. Meanwhile in Germany, very similar to the Netherlands in terms of religion, economy and population, the suicide rates went down by 10%.
The difficulty with suicide data is that there are many factors that affect the suicide rate. Nonetheless, there have been several studies that have indicated that legalizing assisted suicide leads to a suicide contagion effect.

What is most concerning is the silence concerning the increase in the elder suicide rate at a time when, nationally, the suicide rate has dropped in the US.

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