Suicide rates are high, but not high enough for some
As a nation, we’re more attuned to the importance of mental health than ever before in our history. Great emphasis has been put on promoting understanding of conditions such as depression and anxiety, and helping people to cope with their conditions, or to support friends and family who are struggling.
Tragically though, this has done nothing to quell England’s suicide rate, which is at its highest level for more than 20 years. Figures from the Office for National Statistics reveal that more than 5,500 people chose to end their own lives in 2022. That is one in every 100 deaths.
The figures are sobering. Jacqui Morrissey, Co-Chair of the National Suicide Prevention Alliance (NSPA), said that “much more needs to be done”, adding: “It’s simply not acceptable that suicide rates in England are this high.”
Most would agree. Suicide is a tragedy that ends one life, but inflicts pain and grief upon countless others, some of whom are thrown into such despair that they follow in their loved one’s footsteps.
Yet at the same time, there are those who are pushing to change the law so that suicide is an easy, acceptable, and Government-endorsed alternative to living.
There are proposals across the UK to legalise assisted suicide, and while these plans vary, they would make it legal for people who are terminally ill to get help to kill themselves.
Polling from think tank Theos found that of 2,569 UK adults, half (49 per cent) supported assisted suicide in cases of dementia, more than a third (36 per cent) in cases of “old age” and around one in ten for homelessness or “extreme poverty”.
Activists say allowing people who are suffering or in pain to kill themselves is the most compassionate thing to do. But if that is true, then why limit it only to those who are deemed to be in the last few months of their lives? Why not allow those with depression or anxiety to kill themselves too? Why should they be denied a ‘right to die’?
Because that is the way legislation goes. Almost without exception, once assisted suicide (where a patient kills themself with medical assistance) or euthanasia (where a doctor kills the patient) has been legalised, the criteria for a hastened death expand greatly.
Where first it is only the terminally ill who have a few months to live, this requirement is dropped. Anyone with a long-term illness with no known cure can be killed. First it is just those of sound mind, then it is expanded to those with mental illnesses. First it is restricted to adults. But later it opens to children.
Indeed, brand new polling from think tank Theos found that of 2,569 UK adults, half (49 per cent) supported assisted suicide in cases of dementia, more than a third (36 per cent) in cases of “old age” and around one in ten for homelessness or “extreme poverty”.
‘Seeds of expansion’
In 2017, Baroness Ilora Finlay, a long-time campaigner against assisted suicide, examined some of the data from abroad and noted that post-legislation, the number of deaths rises year on year.
Oregon legalised ‘physician-assisted dying’ in 1997, and through the first 15 years there was a steady rise, so that by 2013, there were almost four and a half times as many deaths than in 1998. In the following two years though, there was an 80 per cent increase, and Lady Finlay discovered that by 2016, there were more than eight times as many deaths as in the first year.
Shockingly, data shows that as time went on, more and more people in Oregon were citing the fear of being a burden or financial concerns as their reason for seeking help to kill themselves.
Baroness Finlay then explained: “So, if we take Oregon’s current death rate from physician-assisted suicide and apply it to England and Wales, we can predict just under 2,000 assisted suicide deaths annually if we had a similar law here.”
Logically, legalised physician-assisted suicide leads inexorably to legalised physician-administered euthanasia
But what about if England and Wales mimicked the Netherlands instead? Both assisted suicide and euthanasia are permitted there, and physician-assisted deaths account for 1 in every 26 deaths. Applied here, that would mean not 2,000, but 20,000 deaths per year.
Lady Finlay said: “We are assured that the calls for an ‘assisted dying’ law here are limited to Oregon-style physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill. But is it realistic to expect such limitations to hold?
“If the aim of ‘assisted dying’ is to relieve suffering, could it not be argued that it is illogical to offer it to terminally ill people, who expect to die in the near future of natural causes, but withhold it from others who may have to endure years of unhappiness from chronic illness or psychological distress? What happens to those who are physically or psychologically unable to ingest lethal drugs unaided? Logically, legalised physician-assisted suicide leads inexorably to legalised physician-administered euthanasia.
“Because they are based on purely arbitrary criteria ‘assisted dying’ laws contain within themselves the seeds of their own expansion.”
Anyone who has lost a friend or family member to suicide understands the pain of being left behind, and last year the Government launched a five-year suicide prevention strategy. But this will be completely undermined if Parliament votes in favour of a law which accepts the lie that some lives are not worth living.
As Christians, it is incumbent on us to oppose the introduction of laws which would lead to vulnerable people feeling under pressure to kill themselves, and we should pray for our leaders; that they would reject such legislation. We must pray that society as a whole will change its views, and affirm the value of every human life.
But even more so, we must continue spreading the hope that can only be found in the Gospel – the sure and certain hope of eternal salvation with Jesus Christ. And we can share the good news that God cares for us all, and that Jesus offers to shoulder even the heaviest of our burdens.