Sept. 10 was World Suicide Prevention Day.
What? You didn’t hear? Don’t be surprised. Suicide prevention efforts seem all but invisible these days. Oh, there are still prevention campaigns, particularly after a celebrity commits suicide. But compared to the concerted community energy once put into prevention efforts, it is almost as if the media and public no longer care all that much about thwarting suicide.
At least, that is my sense when comparing the token, deep-inside-the-paper desultory coverage the media generally give to the issue, especially when compared to the breathless promotion of what is euphemistically referred to as “death with dignity,” or “aid in dying.”
Those deaths are suicides, too. But ever since the assisted suicide movement burst onto the scene, the popular culture’s energy has been increasingly focused on extolling suicides committed by people with serious illness, disability, or even, joint suicides committed in old age.
Just the other day, the Mercury News in San Jose wrote a puff piece about a California doctor who is experimenting with drugs prescribed to assist suicide so people die of their lethal overdoses more quickly. Catch this headline: “How California Doctors are Fixing How We Die.” Really?
Or take the adulation the media heaped on the late Brittany Maynard. Most readers may recall that after Maynard was tragically diagnosed with brain cancer, she moved from California to Oregon so she could commit assisted suicide. She came to the attention of Compassion and Choices—formerly and more honestly known as the Hemlock Society—which launched an international PR campaign that successfully transformed Maynard into an international A-level celebrity.
How boosting was it? Maynard was even the subject of a gushing cover story in People: “For the past 29 years,” the story gushed, “Brittany Maynard has lived a fearless life—running half marathons, traveling through Southeast Asia for a year and even climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. So, it’s no surprise she is facing her death the same way.”
When Maynard finally killed herself with a lethal prescription, the magazine devoted 1,000 words to her obituary, which for People, is akin to a book.
It wasn’t just People. Maynard was the subject of glowing coverage in Time, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, CNN, PBS, CBS—the list goes on and on. Rosie O’Donnell and Whoopi Goldberg even lauded her as “brave” for killing herself on “The View.”
CNN was the champion booster of her suicide, naming Maynard one of its “11 extraordinary people of 2014,” gushing: “Her example sparked a widespread debate about the rights of people with incurable illnesses to determine how and when they will die. Maynard followed through on her plans in November, dying on her own terms.”
OK, we might say that is just the sensationalist media being the sensationalist media. But where is the pushback from the suicide prevention community? There really hasn’t been much.
This is a terrible turn. If there were to be one sector of our society that we should count on to oppose all suicides—not just some—and indeed, to push back against the nihilism that supports suicide as an acceptable answer to suffering, it should be the good-hearted people who lead suicide prevention organizations. But they don’t.
Perhaps that is because they want to avoid getting caught up in public controversy—or lose financial contributions from people who support euthanasia—but they almost never mention assisted suicide promotion in their prevention campaigns. Indeed, one prevention organization specifically stated that the terminally ill who ask for assisted suicide “are not an appropriate target” for prevention services! Good grief.
Talk about whistling past the graveyard! Oregon was the first state to legalize assisted suicide. Unsurprisingly, it is now in the throes of a suicide crisis, with suicide now the leading cause of death in the state for youth ages 10 to 24.
Someone should connect some dots! By legalizing assisted suicide, the state declared that some suicides are right and good. Suffering people outside the approved categories in the law don’t necessarily apply a filter that says, “Oh, that doesn’t mean me.”
Indeed, one study, published in the Southern Medical Journal, found that legalization of assisted suicide “is associated with an increased inclination to suicide in other individuals.”
Someone should tell suicide prevention campaigners. This year’s World Suicide Prevention Day, sponsored by the International Association for Suicide Prevention, is typically silent on the issue. It urges people to bicycle “around the globe” against suicide and to light candles to commemorate the victims. But it fails completely to grapple with the fact that some suicides are now promoted when prevention should be the unequivocal standard for everyone wanting to die.
Indeed, from what I can determine, the organization has never criticized the legalization of assisted suicide. For example, Germany’s highest court recently declared a constitutional right to “self-determined death,” i.e., suicide—for whatever reason they want, and also a concomitant right to assist in suicide. Despite the great likelihood that this ruling will increase suicide rates, from investigating the association’s website, it seems to have been silent about this radical, new, pro-suicide public policy.
Here’s another example. An article published earlier this year in the JAMA Psychiatry, published by the American Medical Association, pushes to “flatten the curve” on our rising suicide numbers. That’s right and good. But it didn’t even mention assisted suicide as a contributor to the problem, or that for political reasons doctor-prescribed deaths don’t count as suicides where legal, thereby falsely reducing the statistical number of people who die by suicide each year.
Let me be clear. I’m not accusing the suicide-prevention community of being complicit in assisted suicide. But I do believe they are neglecting their calling by pretending the euthanasia movement isn’t a threat to their mission. People with cancer, multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and other serious and terminal illnesses are just as worthy of protecting against suicide as everyone else.
If suicide-prevention organizations want to play it safe by focusing on non-contentious issues such as youth suicide, perhaps the time has come to change their organizational names. “The International Association for the Prevention of Most Suicides” might not be catchy, but at least it would have the virtue of honesty.
If you are anyone you know is suicidal—for any reason—please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline number. 1-800-273-8255
Award-winning author Wesley J. Smith is chairman of the Discovery Center’s Center on Human Exceptionalism and a consultant to the Patients Rights Council.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.