New research published in the Journal of Ethics in Mental Health has found that the introduction of voluntary assisted dying has failed to reduce the rate of unassisted suicide in Victoria, writes David Albert Jones. Source: Mercator.
Since the law in came into force in June 2019, suicide among older people in Victoria has increased by more than 50 per cent.
A key argument that helped swing the debate in favour of a change in the law was made by the Coroners’ Court to a committee of the Victorian Parliament.
Coroner John Olle described harrowing cases of people with terminal illnesses who had taken their own lives. The clear implication was that many of these suicides would not have happened if VAD had been available. He said this was happening at the rate of “50 cases per year”.
Mr Olle’s evidence was picked up by the Australian media at the time and was highlighted by Andrew Denton, founder of Go Gentle Australia in his campaign for the legalisation of VAD.
In numerous articles, Mr Denton popularised the coroner’s statistic of “50 cases of suicide every year”, sometimes rephrased as “one suicide a week”. This argument was pivotal to the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee and was invoked by most of those who spoke in favour of the bill in the Parliamentary debate, including then health minister Jill Hennessy and premier Daniel Andrews.
What then has happened to suicide rates in Victoria since the law came into force in June 2019? Rather than seeing a reduction, there has been an increase in unassisted suicides, and especially among those aged 65 or over. These have increased from 102 in 2018 to 156 in 2022, according to figures from the Victoria Suicide Register.
In fact, while suicides increased among the elderly, who are more directly affected by VAD, suicides did not increase among those below the age of 65. The increase in elderly suicide was also much larger than the increase in elderly suicide in neighbouring New South Wales, which only implemented VAD in November 2023.
These findings were published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Ethics in Mental Health. There was no evidence of a reduction in suicide after implementing VAD.
Dr David Albert Jones is the Director of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre, Fellow at Blackfriars Hall, Oxford, Professor of Bioethics at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, and Vice-Chair of the Ministry of Defence Research Ethics Committee.
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