News sources are reporting with surprise and seeming alarm on the Center for Disease Control’s newly released statistics showing that deaths by suicide in the entire US are on the rise. Why the surprise? It has been common knowledge since the rise of mass media, and even before, that advertising works.
True Dignity has neither the expertise nor the time to analyze the CDC report’s statistics in detail. A few quotes will suffice to paint the picture of our current situation.
“The suicide rate in the United States increased by 24% from 1999 through 2014…among all groups. The increase in suicide rate has been steady since 1999, before which there was a consistent decline since 1986…” (USA Today, April 22, 2016, http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/04/22/suicide-rate-rise-us/83284568/).
The USA Today article speculates (which is all anybody can do) that the rise is linked to a poor economy. We at True Dignity cannot fail to note that the rise began just as the economic boom of the 1990s was beginning to wind down, and continued through the fairly affluent 2000s, admittedly rising at a higher rate beginning in 2006, on the brink of the Great Recession (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db241.htm).
Though the economy may well have contributed to this rise, True Dignity calls everyone’s attention to a fact that is being ignored. 1998 was the year in which Oregon became the first state in the nation to put legalized assisted suicide into practice. This happened after a furious and widely publicized public argument between pro-assisted suicide forces and those opposing it, an argument waged in the courts and eventually decided by the US Supreme Court, which allowed it in Oregon but declined to make it a right nationally. 1999 was the first year for which the state of Oregon issued its annual report on its assisted suicide deaths. Ironically, this supposedly neutral government report called assisted suicide by the attractive name given to the law that made it legal: Death with Dignity.
The World Health Organization (http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/resource_media.pdf) has warned the media that 1) “Language that misinforms the public about suicide or normalizes it should be avoided”, and that the media should 2)“Avoid prominent placement and undue repetition of stories about suicide.” Yet, beginning in the period leading up to the implementation of the Oregon law and reaching a climax with Brittany Maynard’s picture on the cover of People, there has been relentless media promotion of suicide, relentless misinformation about laws that allow medical professionals to facilitate deaths of people who could have lived years and that contain virtually no protections against euthanasia or even murder of a person who, believing him or herself to be terminally ill, has obtained a lethal prescription. We have detailed the ways in which the laws allow this to happen so many times that we won’t repeat ourselves here, only urge you to search our topic list.
Bottom line: Compassion and Choices has engaged in an ad campaign, both paid and freely given by the media, and it has been effective. The only thing that should surprise us about the rise in suicide deaths is that it has not been even bigger. We hope that the efforts of many individuals and groups, including ours, have, by calling suicide exactly what the World Health organization has urged the media to call it, “a public health problem”, contributed to that fact, the only silver lining to a terrible cloud hanging over our nation and the world.
Will we be able to hold the line? California has been the only US state to legalize assisted suicide since the Maynard campaign, but legalization is a threat in multiple states. Canada’s highest court has ruled that assisted suicide is a right, and has ordered Parliament to write laws to regulate it.