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A study which should make us pause for thought

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The findings of a report on assisted suicide in Switzerland prompt some interesting questions

The report published in February 2014 in the International Journal of Epidemiology into the characteristics of people who receive legal assisted suicide in Switzerland is, its authors conclude, relevant to the debate on whether legalisation leads to a disproportionate impact on certain vulnerable groups.  
 
Its findings that the incidence of such suicides is greater among women than men, among the better educated and well-heeled members of society, among the divorced and among those living alone would certainly appear to point in that direction.  The authors recommend that "further research is required to explore the reasons for the differences in assisted suicide rates found in this study and to what extent they reflect greater vulnerability".
 
Few would dissent from that recommendation.  There is, however, something here which should perhaps make us pause for thought.  The report concludes that "the higher rates [of assisted suicide] among the better educated and those living in neighbourhoods of higher socio-economic standing does not support the 'slippery slope' argument but might reflect inequities in access to assisted suicide".  
 
That is as it may be but this is not, we would suggest, a 'slippery slope' issue - in the sense of whether a law designed for one group of people is migrating in practice to others.  It is more a question of whether legalisation of assisted suicide impacts on some groups rather than on others.  
 
The study's finding that assisted suicide in Switzerland impacts disproportionately on the better-educated and the better-off is consistent with research in the US State of Oregon, which concluded that college graduates are much more likely to die by legal physician-assisted suicide than are others.  This should surely prompt us to ask whether the well-educated and the well-off might have particular vulnerabilities.  In this context vulnerability should not be seen as the preserve of the less-schooled and the less affluent in society.  
 

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