The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collects data about mortality in the U.S., including deaths by suicide. In 2017 (the most recent year for which full data are available), 47,173 suicides were reported, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans. On average, someone in the country dies by suicide every 12 minutes. With those totals, we are all bound to be involved in investigating suicides. Suicides can be acute, meaning short term or spur of the moment final decision, or a well planned and risk assessed action. In this episode of Coroner Talk™ we are going to look at the pros if there be any, and the cons of a planned suicide.
Featured in this week’s show is a PBS production of Frontline that deals with the topic of a well-planned suicide and the legal and moral implication that accompany such a decision. Regardless of where you stand on the topic, this episode will start you thinking of the other side.
The Assisted Suicide Debate
Since Oregon legalized physician-assisted suicide for the terminally ill in 1997, more than 700 people have taken their lives with prescribed medication — including Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old with an incurable brain tumor, who ended her life earlier this month.
Advocates of assisted-suicide laws believe that mentally competent people who are suffering and have no chance of long-term survival should have the right to die if and when they choose. If people have the right to refuse life-saving treatments, they argue, they should also have the freedom to choose to end their own lives.
Opponents say that such laws devalue human life. Medical prognoses are often inaccurate, they note — meaning people who have been told they will soon die sometimes live for many months or even years longer. They also argue that seriously ill people often suffer from undiagnosed depression or other mental illnesses that can impair their ability to make an informed decision.
At the latest event from Intelligence Squared U.S., two teams addressed these questions while debating the motion, “Legalize Assisted Suicide.”
Before the debate, the audience at the Kaufman Music Center in New York was 65 percent in favor of the motion and 10 percent against, with 25 percent undecided. After the debate, 67 percent favored the motion, with 22 percent against, making the team arguing against the motion the winner of this debate.
The Suicide Plan – Investigating Planned Suicide
Investigators are offered a hard road when it comes to investigating a planned suicide when it is found that family or friends may have assisted in some manner, regardless of the extent of that assistance. Even providing a cool drink of water to wash down the pills that will end life can be enough in some states to charge a person with assistance. But where, as investigators, do we stand on the issue. Some investigators are only providing cause and manner of death determinations, which can be clouded by the assistance issue. While other investigators are charged with the task of deciding the criminal aspect of the assistance rendered.
In part two of this issue, we will take a deep dive into the debate that will most assuredly muddy up the waters a bit. That is the next episode on Coroner Talk™..