The following article is from the August 13, 2014 edition of The Washington Post:
The article expresses concern that some of the posts about the death of actor Robin Williams might contribute to suicide contagion, a problem recognized by the US Centers for Disease Control, which issued guidelines for preventing it back in 1994 (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00031539.htm). They caution the media, not to conceal suicides, but to avoid repetitive and continuous coverage, any statements that might glorify or romanticize suicide, and detailed descriptions of suicide methods. Though the article is concerned primarily with a particular Tweet, the media, aided by public authorities, has violated all three proscriptions.
On yesterday’s True Dignity post, our board member Carrie wrote, “Once we legally endorse suicide for some reasons, we begin the conversation about endorsing it for any reason.”
The comments to the Post article reveal the truth of this statement. They say a lot about how attitudes about suicide have changed since 1994, a time when there was no legal assisted suicide anywhere in the world. Suicide was once universally lamented, and mourned. No one doubted that every effort should be made to prevent it. Many commenters to today’s article defend suicide as a rational and justifiable solution to depression.
In Vermont, now that assisted suicide is legal, doctors are required by law to tell a patient with a terminal condition that assisted suicide is a legally available option, whether or not he or she asks. Linda Waite Simpson, the state representative of the pro-suicide advocacy group Compassion and Choices, recently told a reporter the group opposes suicide in cases of clinical depression but not when the person asking for it is experiencing what she called, “situational depression”, such as might be felt by someone who has received a terminal prognosis. Today, the media is speculating on the factors in Robin Williams’ life situation that may have contributed to his suicide. In the Netherlands and Belgium, where both assisted suicide and euthanasia are legal, we know that the suffering of depression has come over the years since legalization to be considered an adequate reason for a person to be assisted in suicide or euthanized. What in the world could lead anyone to think that “safeguards” will be able to distinguish between clinical and situational depression in a way that will protect those whose depression is treatable, especially since the decision about whether to refer a patient for psychological evaluation is left to the discretion of the doctor receiving the request. VT law takes no account of the fact that studies have shown even terminally ill people can be successfully treated for depression (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1291326/; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10541987.
Safeguards also fail to take into account suicide contagion. The law ignores the fact that statistics in Oregon show a rise in the suicide rate there that began just as the law was beginning to be implemented (3 years after its adoption) and that is consistent with suicide contagion. The first victims of suicide contagion are always people suffering from depression.
Assisted suicide advocates are traveling across Vermont this summer, holding meetings to recruit doctors and patients for assisted suicide; they call it “education”. Already they are unashamedly calling assisted suicide “a beautiful death” and encountering no opposition to that term except from True Dignity. Already they are telling us that depression is not necessarily a disqualifier for assisted suicide. Make no mistake about it. Vermont is leading the way down the same slope that is seen in the comments to the Post article, a slope that is very slippery indeed.