Why is the Media Glorifying Physician-Assisted Suicide?
Over the last few months since California legalized physician-assisted suicide,there have been numerous media accounts of assisted suicide “parties.” According to articles like this on Yahoo news, people who have chosen to end their life under the assisted suicide law are gathering friends and family one last time to celebrate before taking the lethal prescription. There are numerous things that are troubling about this, but what is really worrisome is how the media is portraying physician-assisted suicide in such a positive manner and with such high levels of detail.
Ironically, this Yahoo news story adds a trigger warning at the end of the article. “Since it’s a trigger topic, here is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Callers will be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in their area, anytime, 24/7.” To say that a few sentences added at the end of a lengthy article and suicide-glorifying video is too little, too late is an understatement.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and many other like-minded groups issue guidelines to reporters and media organizations about how to cover suicides in the news. In short, their guidelines stress that “certain types of news coverage can increase the likelihood of suicides in certain vulnerable individuals” and that the media should be very careful in how they talk about suicides in the news. They go on to say that studies show the “risk of additional suicides increases when [a] story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/ graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death.”
AFSP’s guidance is straightforward and backed up by data. It’s clear based on coverage of suicides in the media that AFSP’s advice is carefully considered. The question is: why doesn’t the media apply these same standards when reporting on physician-assisted suicide? Perhaps the media does not consider physician-assisted suicide as problematic since it’s been legalized in numerous states. In fact, we know the opposite is true. Physician-assisted suicide is very similar to suicide in one important way: suicide contagion. In states where physician-assisted suicide is legal, studies show that the number of other suicides increase. For example, Oregon’s suicides among adults, excluding the physician–assisted procedures, rose by 49 percent from 1999-2010, a rate over 20 percent higher than the national rise of 28 percent.
As more and more states legalize PAS, the media will continue to follow suit with dangerous coverage that perpetuates an already serious problem. The connection between legalized physician-assisted suicide and an increased suicide rates is a issue that states like Maryland must take seriously when considering legislation in the upcoming session.