Year: 2022 Source: BJPsych Open. (2022). 8, e108, 1–8. SIEC No: 20220545

Background: Euthanasia and assisted suicide (EAS) are practices that aim to alleviate the suffering of people with life-limiting illnesses, but are controversial. One area of debate is the relationship between EAS and suicide rates in the population, where there have been claims that availability of EAS will reduce the number of self-initiated deaths (EAS and suicide combined). Others claim that legislation for EAS makes it acceptable to end one’s own life, a message at variance with that of suicide prevention campaigns.
Aims: To examine the relationship between the introduction of EAS and rates of non-assisted suicide and self-initiated death.
Method: We conducted a systematic review to examine the association between EAS and rates of non-assisted suicide and of self-initiated death. We searched PubMed, Scopus, PsycINFO and Science Direct, until 20 December 2021. Studies that examined EAS and reported data on population-based suicide rates were included.
Results: Six studies met the inclusion criteria; four reported increases in overall rates of self-initiated death and, in some cases, increased non-assisted suicide. This increase in non-assisted suicide was mostly non-significant when sociodemographic factors were controlled for. Studies from Switzerland and Oregon reported elevated rates of self-initiated death among older women, consistent with higher rates of depressive illnesses in this population.
Conclusions: The findings of this review do not support the hypothesis that introducing EAS reduces rates of non-assisted suicide. The disproportionate impact on older women indicates unmet suicide prevention needs in this population.