Aaron Kheriaty, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Medical Ethics Program at the Irvine School of Medicine, University ofCalifornia, is looking at the effects on populations of legislation authorising assisted suicide. He is focusing on a study recently carried out by British scientists, David Jones and David Paton, who showed that the legalisation of assisted suicide in certain states has led to an increase in the number of assisted and non-assisted suicides in these same states. The law on assisted suicide is “more contagious” for the over sixty-five year-olds.
The “contagious effect” of assisted suicide has been propelled into the limelight by the media. Professor Kheriaty refers to “the Werther effect”whereby many people, often young, use the same methods to commit suicide as those highlighted by the media. This has led the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organisation and the U.S Surgeon to publish recommendations for journals to avoid publishing information on suicide and assisted suicide cases.
Suicides are also being propagated via social networking: “My decision to end my life would not only affect my friends, but also the friends of my friends”.
Finally, Aaron Kheriaty pointed out the role of law in the propagation of suicides because, he explained, we must remember that “nothing is above the law”. Laws authorising assisted suicide are sending a particular message to society. In some highly specific circumstances, some lives are no longer worth living and suicide is an appropriate, dignified end.
He concluded with the following, “What sort of society do we want to become? Suicide is already a public problem. Do we want to legalise a practice that will only worsen the crisis?”
The Washington Post (20/11/2015)