For the fourth year, Compassion and Choices of Northern California (and its other chapters around the country) has invited high school students to submit essays on the subject “Matters of Life and Death.” The winning essayist receives a college scholarship in the amount of $1,000. The second-place winner receives $500. Under the name Compassion and Choices the organization may not be familiar to many people. But it is well-known under its previous name—the Hemlock Society.
A 2011 press release from Compassion and Choices of the state of Washington announced that year’s essay contest winners.
The title of the essay of the first-prize winner provides food for thought. It was written by 18-year-old Megan Brennan and was titled “Thinking About Death Is Just for Old People, Right?
Whether or not thinking about death is for old people, encouraging young people to reflect on suicide is a bad idea. According to suicide.org, drawing on statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, while suicide as a whole has dropped from 13.2 per 100,000 persons in 1950 to 10.8 in 2003, suicide among those aged 5-14 has tripled from 0.2 to 0.6 per 100,000. In the same time period suicide among those aged 15-19 has more than tripled, rising from 2.7 per 100,000 to 7.3 per 100,000. In 2007, the CDC reported that suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for Americans age 10-14, the third leading cause of death for Americans aged 15-24, and the second leading cause of death for Americans aged 25-34.
The same press release also mentioned the second-place winner from Washington, a young man named Davis Kennedy from Gig Harbor. Compassion and Choices made their attitude to suicide clear, writing that Mr. Davis “…earned $500 for his second-place essay which was opposed to the option of Death With Dignity titled ‘Where There Is Life, There Is Hope.’”
Catholic High Schools have been targeted as well, and at least one is playing ball with the former Hemlock Society. In its February 2010, February 2011, March 2011, and May 2011 College and Career Center webpage, Carondelet High School of Concord, founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondolet included a blurb for the scholarship, as well as a link to the Compassion and Choices website.