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How the Media Promotes (Some) Suicides

I began my work against assisted suicide in 1993. The emotional zeitgeist at the time focused intensely—and exclusively—on preventing all suicides. Since then, I have witnessed a very disturbing transition. Today’s society asks us to support suicide in circumstances involving serious illness, disability, and even advanced age. Meanwhile, despite an increase in suicide rates, the intensity of suicide prevention campaigns has declined. As I wrote a few years ago, these campaigns are almost invisible.

Still, there are efforts to turn back that dark tide. UC Irvine psychiatrist Aaron Kheriaty, in the August/September issue of First Things, diagnosed our suicide problem (along with other social dysfunctions) as a loss of mutual attachment. From “Dying of Despair”:

Rising rates of suicide, drug abuse, and depression can all be traced to increased social fragmentation. Since the 1980s, reported loneliness among adults in the U.S. increased from 20 percent to 40 percent. The recently retired surgeon general announced last year that social isolation is a major public health crisis, on par with heart disease or cancer.

Assisted suicide advocacy may also have a place in this. When some suicides are promoted in media, law, and popular culture as a social good—as assisted suicides are—that can have an unintended effect on suicidal people who do not qualify for “assistance” under the law. Kheriaty addresses this concern:

The law is a teacher, and American law increasingly teaches indifference to life when it runs up against respect for radical autonomy. California and Colorado recently joined four other states in permitting doctors to assist terminally ill patients to take their own lives. In the same week that Gov. Brown signed the California bill, two British scholars published a study showing that laws permitting assisted suicide in Oregon and Washington have led to a rise in overall suicide rates in those states.

These findings should not surprise us. We know that publicized cases of suicide tend to produce copycat cases, often disproportionately among young people.

Read more at First Things –

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