Americans United for Life advocates for comprehensive suicide prevention efforts in American law and policy. We are supportive of the expansion of existing life-affirming health and wellbeing services, and the implementation of new life-saving measures to protect persons vulnerable to suicide. We envision an America strong and caring enough to affirm the lives of all vulnerable persons, from those with celebrity status like Robin Williams, Anthony Bourdain, and Kate Spade, to persons facing potentially terminal conditions like Brittany Maynard who are too often led to believe that suicide is a rational response to life-threatening diagnoses.
We advocate for life-affirming law and policy in a special way through model legislation that addresses the threat posed to vulnerable persons by the increasing legalization of suicide by physician, commonly referred to as ”physician-assisted suicide,” ”physician-assisted dying,” or ”medical aid in dying.”
We believe no law or policy should condone any form of suicide, and that all persons of good will have the opportunity to work together to ensure Americans enjoy a holistic, comprehensive, and life-affirming spectrum of health and wellbeing services.
Why Suicide Prevention Is Necessary
Between 1999 and 2017, U.S. suicide rates increased by 45 percent for men ages 45 to 64 and by 62 percent for women in that age group. As a result, that cohort surged ahead of the 65-plus age group in absolute terms, with a suicide rate of 19.6 per 100,000 — producing, in effect, a new epidemiology of suicide.
There are many reasons for this rise, all of them important. But one underdiscussed explanation is the subtle loosening of taboos around suicide. Surveys suggest that Americans in recent years are more likely to view it as an acceptable reaction not just to terminal illness but also to life setbacks that are emotionally brutal but survivable. …
Research suggests that Americans are becoming more tolerant and accepting of the practice. In some contexts, many Americans might find this tolerance benign — as with suicide, or even assisted suicide, in the end stages of a fatal disease (although that practice has strong critics, too).
But other attitudinal shifts may be more plainly troubling. One way to track these views is through the General Social Survey (GSS), which, since its inception in 1972, has asked a nationally representative sample of Americans about their attitudes toward suicide. In an analysis of changes in attitudes from the 1982-86 period to the 2010-16 period, Yi Tong, now a medical student at SUNY Downstate College of Medicine, and I found that the share of Americans age 18 or older who said people have the right to end their lives in the case of an incurable disease rose from 46.9 percent to 61.4 percent. The percentage who said that being “tired of living and ready to die” was a reasonable rationale for suicide jumped from 13.7 percent to 19.1 percent. And roughly 11 percent of Americans in the later period said that suicide was acceptable during a financial bankruptcy or if one had “dishonored” one’s family — up from about 7 percent, in both cases.
We know that attitudes toward suicide affect behavior.
“Patients themselves say that the primary motive is not to escape physical pain but psychological distress; the main drivers are depression, hopelessness and fear of loss of autonomy and control. Dutch researchers [who] … followed 138 terminally ill cancer patients and found that depressed patients were four times more likely to request euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide. Nearly half of those who requested euthanasia were depressed.
“In this light, physician-assisted suicide looks less like a good death in the face of unremitting pain and more like plain old suicide. Typically, our response to suicidal feelings associated with depression and hopelessness is not to give people the means to end their lives but to offer them counseling and caring.”
Arthur Brooks, President of the American Enterprise Institute, addresses the issue of suicide in How Loneliness Is Tearing America Apart, his New York Times op-ed::
[U.S. Senator Ben] Sasse argues that ”loneliness is killing us,” citing, among other things, the skyrocketing rates of suicide and overdose deaths in America. This year, 45,000 Americans will take their lives, and more than 70,000 will die from drug overdoses. Mr. Sasse’s assertion that loneliness is killing us takes on even darker significance in the wake of the mail-bomb campaign against critics of President Trump and the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, both of which were perpetrated by isolated — and apparently very lonely — men.
Sen. Sasse provides further detail for the scope of the U.S. suicide epidemic in Them: Why We Hate Each Other and How to Heal:
The 2016 data point to three culprits: Alzheimer’s, suicides, and unintentional injuries—a number that includes drug and alcohol deaths. Two years ago, 63,632 people died of overdoses. That’s 11,000 more than the previous year, and it’s more than the number of Americans killed during the entire, twenty-year Vietnam War. It’s almost twice the number killed in automobile accidents annually, which had been the leading American killer for decades. In 2014, suicides hit a thirty-year high—and the sobering climb shows no signs of abating: the percentage of young people hospitalized for suicidal thoughts and actions has doubled over the past decade.
We’re killing ourselves, both on purpose and accidentally.
We’re literally dying of despair.