Suicide rates show women most at risk from euthanasia laws

Suicide rates show women most at risk from euthanasia laws

As more data emerges from countries where euthanasia has been legalised, it is becoming clear that women are the biggest losers when it comes to these harmful laws. The latest research points to a worrying escalation in rates of suicide for women in countries that have legalised euthanasia and assisted suicide.

A new study published earlier this year by Professor David Albert Jones in the Journal of Ethics in Mental Health has revealed that “it is women who have been most placed at risk of avoidable premature death” by the legalisation of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Professor Jones analyses suicide rates in European countries which have legalised euthanasia and assisted suicide and compares them with suicide rates in neighbouring countries. The study is a direct response to claims made by academics that in Europe, after euthanasia and assisted suicide were legalised, “non-assisted suicide rates … remained constant or decreased”. This new study finds that these claims are in fact “not borne out by the evidence” and that the reverse may be true:

When we look at what actually happens, what we find is that the number of non-assisted suicides does not go down. Even in countries where every year thousands of people have their lives ended by ‘assisted dying’ there is no evidence of any reduction in non-assisted suicide. The Netherlands has the highest rate of euthanasia in Europe and it is one of the few countries in Europe where the rate of non-assisted suicide is rising.”

The news is not good regarding the suicide rate for women in these countries:

“It was very noticeable that in all the countries I looked at the changes were greater in women. For example, while the rate of total suicide, inclusive of assisted suicide, in Switzerland increased somewhat since 1998, (from 19 per 100,000 population to 22.2), the rate of total suicide for women increased dramatically, almost doubling (from 9.4 to 18.6). 

Again, in Belgium since the law changed in 2002, the non-assisted suicide rate has not gone down as much in Belgium as in neighbouring non-euthanasia countries. Because of this, by 2016 it had the fifth highest suicide rate in Europe, exceeded only by the former communist countries Hungary, Slovenia, Latvia and Lithuania. However, for women the contrast with other countries was even stronger. 

By 2016, Belgium had the highest suicide rate among women of any country in Europe at 8.8 deaths by suicide per 100,000 population. For comparison, the respective figure of the United Kingdom was 3.3 while in New Zealand and Australia it was 6.1 and 6.0 respectively.” [Emphasis added]

In essence, the study has found that when total rates of suicide are examined in European countries where euthanasia has been legalised, and then compared with neighbouring non-euthanasia countries, “very large increases in suicide (inclusive of assisted suicide) and in intentional self-initiated death, especially among women has occured”.

Professor Jones does not seek to provide answers as to why this may be the case. His study focused on the data itself, and offered only tentative explanations for the pattern he observed:

The reasons for this are not clear. It may be because women who die by suicide more often chose a means that is similar to assisted suicide, that is, the ingesting of a lethal dose of drugs. Men more often chose more violent methods. However, this is speculative. More research is needed to explore why these changes have a greater adverse impact on women.”

Women’s Forum Australia has written previously about some of the sex-based factors that may work against the supposition that euthanasia laws have a positive impact on patient autonomy, particularly when it comes to women:

“Biological factors, structural inequalities, disparities in power, social and economic disadvantage and cultural stereotypes that may underlie the decisions of some women are gender distinctive and challenge the rhetoric of choice.”

We have argued that “legalisation could in fact compound oppressive sociocultural influences and facilitate the last of many non-choices for women”.

The very large increase in female suicides in countries where euthanasia has been legalised raises questions about the assertions of euthanasia advocates that legalising euthanasia enhances patient autonomy. Does the high number of women ‘choosing’ euthanasia and assisted suicide mean that these laws are in fact removing important protections for women and elevating their vulnerability to pressure – whether covert or overt – to take their own lives?

It is concerning that despite the emergence of clear data demonstrating the disproportionately negative effect of euthanasia laws on women’s suicide rates, those pushing for these dangerous laws continue unabated.

It is incumbent on parliamentarians considering such laws to satisfy themselves that any legislation they pass will not have the unintended effect of disadvantaging women further, increasing their already high risk of premature and avoidable death.

Women’s Forum Australia is an independent think tank that undertakes research, education and public policy advocacy on issues affecting women and girls, with a particular focus on addressing behaviours and practices that are harmful and abusive to them. We are a non-partisan, non-religious, tax-deductible charity. We do not receive any government funding and rely solely on donations to make an impact. Support our work today.

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