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Assessing the evidence on Assisted Suicide

18/08/2015 3:00 pm

The debate over assisted suicide frequently generates more heat than light, and arguments are often based on anecdotes or appeal to emotion rather than evidence. When people do appeal to evidence, they often do so selectively or in broad terms, and it is not always easy to check their sources.

As a contribution to this debate, the Anscombe Bioethics Centre has produced a guide to the evidence on assisted suicide and euthanasia. This guide gives direct links to the official data from the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and the states of Oregon and Washington. It also includes links to the UK parliamentary reports and to empirical research published in journals.

In the debate over assisted suicide both sides have appealed to opinion polls. The guide examines the best evidence for public opinion including qualitative research and evidence published in peer review journals. This shows that most polls have been designed to achieve statistics for media consumption rather than seeking to achieve a comprehensive understanding of public and health sector attitudes. Public opinion should be analysed carefully and should not be thought of as something fixed. People can and do change their minds when presented with evidence and with the best arguments on both sides.

This guide aims to help people assess - and judge for themselves whether they are reassured or whether they are alarmed by - the experience of countries where euthanasia or assisted suicide are legal. The evidence from all these countries shows a steady increase in deaths by assisted suicide or euthanasia, a steady expansion to include patients with different conditions, and a steady decrease in the use of safeguards such as psychiatric assessment. In Oregon there is evidence that people are given lethal medication despite suffering from depression.

In Belgium suffering from depression is a positive reason in favour of euthanasia. In Switzerland a study showed that in 23% of cases people died by assisted suicide less than a week after their first contact with the organisation EXIT and in 9% of cases the assisted suicide occurred on the same day they made contact. In the Netherlands the latest figures show that euthanasia for multiple geriatric syndromes increased 46% in one year, euthanasia for dementia increased 130%, and euthanasia for mental disorders increased 200%.

The Netherlands has twice been criticised by the United Nations Human Rights Committee for its practice of euthanasia and assisted suicide. The guide gives links to both Human Rights Committee reports.

Read

For more details, and to judge the evidence for yourself, see Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia: A Guide to the Evidence available at bioethics.org.uk/evidenceguide

Contact

Further enquiries please contact admin@bioethics.org.uk