In 2016 Colorado voted to legalize physician-assisted suicide. The law lets doctors prescribe lethal drugs to terminally ill people who want to end their lives.
We have written in the past about studies and reports on assisted suicide in Canada and California. In most cases, people who opt to take their own lives are educated, affluent individuals accustomed to making their own decisions. But another trend is emerging: In some states, most of the people who seek physician-assisted suicide are not married.
According to reports out of Colorado, of the 56 people prescribed suicide drugs last year, 31 — about 55% — were not married.
The Oregon Health Authority reports that about 53% of the people who have taken their own lives since the state legalized physician-assisted suicide in 1998 were not married.
And Washington State reports that in 2016, 57% of those who sought assisted suicide also were not married at the time of death.
This raises a serious question: What roles do marriage or loneliness play in decisions about physician-assisted suicide?
A 2004 study published in the British Medical Journal found,
In general, widowed, single, and divorced elderly people have a higher risk of suicide, with marriage seeming to be protective. Bereavement is also associated with attempted and completed suicide in elderly people—men seem especially vulnerable after the loss of a spouse, with a relative risk three times that of married men.
Although the study noted some exceptions, married adults appeared less likely to commit suicide, overall.
So what does this mean for physician-assisted suicide?
Proponents generally claim physician-assisted suicide helps terminally ill people end their excruciating pain and suffering.
In practice, however, pain and suffering don’t seem to be the reasons people opt for assisted suicide.
A study conducted in Oregon in 1999 concluded, “the decision to request and use a prescription for lethal medications . . . was associated with views on autonomy and control, not with fear of intractable pain or concern about financial loss.” I would add that based on other reports and studies, loneliness also seems to be a factor.
People need to understand what actually drives the demand for assisted suicide. Christians also need to understand why there is nothing compassionate about helping a person take his or her own life.
As we have said time and time again, being pro-life is about much more than opposing abortion. We do not eliminate suffering by eliminating people who are suffering. We must respect the sanctity of human life at the end of life as well as at the beginning.
Photo Credit: By Jeff Belmonte from Cuiabá, Brazil (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
Jerry is the founder and president of Family Council. He began Family Council in 1989 after a successful effort to amend the Arkansas Constitution to prevent the use of public funds for abortions. He and his wife reside in Little Rock. They have four sons.