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How does legalization of physician assisted suicide affect rates of suicide?

Jones, David Albert; Paton, David

How does legalization of physician assisted suicide affect rates of suicide? Thumbnail


David Albert Jones


Objectives: Several US states have legalized or decriminalised physician assisted suicide (PAS) whilst others are currently considering permitting PAS. Although it has been suggested that legalization could plausibly lead to a reduction in total suicides and to a delay in those suicides which do occur, to date no research has tested whether these effects can be identified in practice. The aim of this paper was to fill this gap by examining the association between the legalization of PAS and state-level suicide rates in the USA between 1990 and 2013.

Methods: We used regression analysis to test the change in rates of non-assisted suicides and total suicides (i.e. including assisted suicides) before and after legalization of PAS.

Results: Controlling for various socio-economic factors, unobservable state- and year effects, and state-specific linear trends, legalizing PAS was associated with a 6.3% (95% confidence interval [CI] = 2.70%, 9.9%) increase in total suicides (i.e. including assisted suicides). This effect was larger in the over 65s (14.5%, CI = 6.4%, 22.7%). Introduction of PAS was not associated with a reduction in non-assisted suicide rates, nor with an increase in the mean age of non-assisted suicide.

Conclusion: Legalizing PAS has been associated with an increased rate of total suicides relative to other states and no decrease in non-assisted suicides. This suggests either that PAS does not inhibit (nor acts as an alternative to) non-assisted suicide, or that it acts in this way in some individuals but is associated with an increased inclination to suicide in other individuals.

Funding: The authors received no funding for this research beyond the salaries paid by their respective institutions.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Oct 1, 2015
Deposit Date Feb 18, 2016
Publicly Available Date Feb 18, 2016
Journal Southern Medical Journal
Print ISSN 0038-4348
Electronic ISSN 1541-8243
Publisher Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 180
Issue 10
Keywords physician-assisted suicide, suicide, Oregon, Washington
Public URL
Publisher URL


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