Two girls from Florida and Georgia, ages 14 and 12, live-streamed their suicides on Facebook last month. Another man, who was 33, did the same in Los Angeles.
Three million American teens are currently experiencing a major depressive disorder. According to the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-34 year-olds and the third leading cause of death among those ages 10-14. The link between depression and suicide is irrefutable.
Suicide is now a public health crisis.
Rather than alleviating the suffering experienced by those who lack services for physical and mental illness, our legislators are drafting bills to make it lawful for physicians to order lethal drugs for the terminally ill who want to opt out of life on the their own timeline.
How does this policy relate to the teen suicide rate? It is tragic enough when an adult takes his life, but when a child does so, this suicide rings of possible failures within our health care and education systems.
These failures have triggered a descent into dangerous territory by normalizing the act of suicide through legislation. Six states and Washington, D.C., have legalized physician-assisted suicide when life becomes unbearable near the end of life. A couple of dozen other state legislatures are currently considering the same.
Does our generation not have a moral responsibility to provide our youth with compassion, attention and support to help them through tough times? Have we devolved our focus to be directed toward expediency by sanctioning assisted suicide as appropriate medical treatment for the desperate? Are America’s youth picking up this message?
Do not be fooled.
The advocates for new legislation use euphemisms to anesthetize the public to the language of suicide. The Hemlock Society changed its name to the more palatable “Compassion and Choices.” The organization now labels physician-assisted suicide as “physician aid in dying.” State bills are titled “Death with Dignity” legislation. Let’s be clear! It’s suicide.
Additionally, our own compassion and anxieties about a painful death are being exploited. Research shows that pain is not the top reason for selecting this option. Only 24 percent of those requesting assisted suicide have reported a concern about pain. More than 40 percent have reported depression, fear of loneliness and worries about being a burden. Such anxieties affect teens as well as their grandparents.
I worry about the message legislators are sending to our struggling children who experience the same challenges and opt for suicide at a higher rate than ever before. Instead of addressing the needed funding for mental health services, social services, disability advocacy and expanded community support for the most vulnerable, state governments are opting for expediency.
Incredibly, we are asking physicians to repudiate their Hippocratic oath of doing no harm and administering no poison. The American Medical Association stands firmly in opposition to physician-assisted suicide; the organization’s position on the issue states that the practice “is fundamentally inconsistent with the role of the physician’s professional role as a healer.”
The physician-assisted suicide movement is a call for serious dialogue about how we define our society. Did we really elect representatives to proudly and publicly support legislation for desperate individuals to kill themselves? Is this the message that we want to send to our teens and young adults? Are adults telling young people to end it all when life gets really tough?
We can do better than this.
Our children deserve better from us.