Reducing The Incidence Of Suicide By Reducing Human Misery

Ross Douthat dances on the grave of Dr Jack Kevorkian arguing that though the idea of allowing the terminally ill to get help killing themselves may sound appealing, it’ll put us on a slippery slope to all manner of suiciding:

Writing in The Atlantic three years ago, Bruce Falconer profiled one such clinic: Dignitas, founded by a former journalist named Ludwig Minelli, which charges around $6,000 for its ministrations. Like Kevorkian, Minelli sees himself as a crusader for what he calls “the last human right.” And like Kevorkian, he sees no reason why this right — “a marvelous possibility given to a human being,” as he describes it — should be confined to the dying. (A study in The Journal of Medical Ethics suggested that 21 percent of the people whom Dignitas helps to commit suicide are not terminally ill.)

But unlike Kevorkian, Minelli has been free to help kill the suicidal without fear of prosecution. In the last 15 years, more than 1,000 people have made their final exit under his supervision, eased into eternity by a glass of sodium pentobarbital. Were Minelli operating in the United States, he might well have as many apologists and admirers as the late Dr. Death. But it should make us proud of our country that he would likely find himself in prison, where murderers belong.

I found this whole column to be a kind of telling tale about the difference in conservative and liberal worldviews. After all, in the grand scheme of things physician assisted suicide is not a major source of suicides. And what’s more, though I generally think of suicide as a bad thing, it’s not like continuing to live in the mind frame that leads a person to want to kill himself is so fantastic either. Maybe rather than trying to get fewer people to kill themselves by getting jazzed up about incarcerating Jack Kevorkian we should be worrying more about the incidence of human misery.

The good news, according to this data Matthew Cameron found, is that suicide rates are declining across Europe and North America:

If there’s something to be alarmed about, suicide-wise, it doesn’t seem to me to be Ludwig Minelli but rather the countries bucking this trend. Off the top of my head, the fact that Korean workers are outliers in lack of leisure time as well as suffering from a skyrocketing suicide rate suggests that maybe they should relax. Research also seems to indicate that economic downturns boost suicide rates among working age people, though not the under-25 or over-65 cohort. So maybe we should be pushing for more robust fiscal and monetary stabilizers! I don’t think making the evil eye at Ludwig Minelli is going to end the global recession.