The first Australian state to enact legislation allowing so-called assisted dying has recorded a significant annual rise in suicides.
Victoria, which in 2019 allowed patients to kill themselves by taking lethal drugs prescribed by a doctor, reported 764 suspected deaths by suicide in 2022 – a nine per cent rise on 2021.
This bears out what the University of Nottingham’s Professor David Paton recently told Westminster MPs, that legalising assisted suicide leads to an increase in “unassisted” suicides.
According to the Coroners Court report, the 2022 figure of 764 suspected suicide deaths “is in contrast to the preceding four years, in which Victoria had seen a plateau in suicide numbers”.
Monthly suicide data shows that the average number of deaths rose from 58 between January and July, to 71 between August and December.
The report stated that “the higher numbers during August to December 2022 might signal an emerging trend”, one which state coroner Judge John Cain described as “troubling”.
From July 2022 to June 2023, 306 people died under Victoria’s assisted dying programme, up eleven per cent on the previous year.
In January, Prof Paton submitted evidence to the House of Commons Health and Social Care Committee inquiry into assisted suicide and euthanasia on the impact of assisted suicide laws on rates of suicide.
In the submission, the term “assisted suicide” will be used to describe the involvement of healthcare professionals in a process intended deliberately to end a patient’s life at their request. The term “unassisted suicide” to describe suicides that occur outside of any legal framework and without the involvement of a medical professional.
From written evidence submitted by Professor David Paton
His aim, he said, was “to examine the evidence for one argument commonly used in favour of legalising assisted suicide: that legalising the procedure, may lead to a reduction in unassisted suicide”.
The Professor of Industrial Economics concluded: “There is strong evidence that legalisation of assisted suicide leads to a significant increase in the total (assisted and unassisted suicides) suicide rate.”
He added: “There is some evidence that legalisation of assisted suicide leads to an increase in the rate of unassisted suicides.”