The following comes from an October 6 Careful! blog post by Michael Cook:
Ten percent of Americans now have access to assisted suicide after Jerry Brown, governor of California, approved Assembly Bill 15 yesterday.
Assisted suicide had failed in California six times since 1988. But exactly one year ago, on October 6, Compassion & Choices released a superbly-crafted video about Brittany Maynard, a winsome 29-year-old Californian woman with a brain tumor, who had to move to Oregon because assisted suicide was illegal in her own state. It became a YouTube sensation; the tears trickling down her cheeks drowned opposing arguments in a flood of emotion.
And will the new law actually result in fewer people committing suicide as its supporters have promised?
Dramatic new findings about the Oregon experience with physician-assisted suicide (PAS) were published today in the Southern Medical Journal which suggest that this is not true. In a fine-grained statistical analysis of the experience in the four American states where PAS is currently legal British academics David Albert Jones and David Paton show that “the introduction of PAS seemingly induces more self-inflicted deaths than it inhibits”.
The suggestion that legalization reduces the total number of suicides and postpones those that do occur is a popular argument on the right-to-die side. It was first mooted by libertarian economist and jurist Richard Posner and has subsequently been adopted by assisted suicide advocates around the world. It allows advocates of assisted suicide to claim, paradoxically, that they are against suicide. But there is precious little data to support it.
Now the study by Jones and Paton shows that Posner’s argument is plainly wrong. In fact, PAS could actually increase an inclination to suicide in others.
As psychiatrist Aaron Kheriarty points out in an commentary in the same journal: “Several well-studied phenomena in the social sciences and suicide literature suggest that Posner’s hypothesis was dubious, even before empirical testing. You do not discourage suicide by assisting suicide.”
One of the best-studied phenomena of suicide is the Werther effect, named after a disappointed lover who takes his own life in Goethe’s 18th century novel, The Sorrows of Young Werther. The book was phenomenally popular and sparked a rash of copycat suicides throughout Prussia. The dangers of glorifying suicide are so obvious that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in partnership with the National Institute for Mental Health, the World Health Organization, and the Surgeon General recommend the utmost discretion in reporting suicides, lest vulnerable
people succumb to the siren call of suicide.
California’s new law shows that the copycat effect is alive and well. Jerry Brown and California have followed Brittany Marnard over the edge.