Why Does Assisted Suicide Bother Us So Much?

I’ve noticed something:¬†people are really conflicted about assisted suicide. And they’re really motivated to do something about it.

There are huge policy debates about it, religious arguments, medical ethics concerns, and a host of people who care so much—both for and against assisted suicide—that they spend their nights and weekends campaigning about it. Most of these people also have strong feelings about regular suicide, but it doesn’t motivate them to organize, march, write letters, and debate the same way assisted suicide does.

What gives?

Why are people so motivated to fight assisted suicide—which kills a relatively small number of people each year—when they don’t act to reduce unassisted suicide?

Much of the recent news has focused on Oregon’s Death With Dignity Act (passed in 1997), since Brittany Maynard died recently in Oregon after attracting a lot of media attention. To hear the news stories, you’d think that Oregonians were dying by the millions. According to Oregon’s official 2013 report, 752 Oregon patients have died since 1997 via assisted suicide. Last year (2013), 71 people in Oregon died by assisted suicide.

Compare that with the national figures for suicide in general, which showed 40,600 deaths by suicide (all forms) in 2012. Nationally, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for Americans.

Oregon’s estimated population in 2013 was 3,930,065. The US population that year was 316,128,839. Scaling the national suicide death rate to Oregon’s population, we would expect Oregon to have 505 suicide deaths in 2013, of which 71 were assisted and 434 were unassisted.

More than six times as many Oregonians killed themselves on their own, without assistance from a physician.

So why are we so much more concerned about assisted suicide? Why does it attract so much public attention and debate when unassisted/regular suicide kills many more people?

Why does assisted suicide¬†upset us so much more than “regular” suicide does?

I have an idea, which I’ll post shortly, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts too. Leave them in the comments!

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