Increased Risk of Suicide – including Assisted Suicide – during COVID-19 pandemic

“The Elderly deserve our respect and, when necessary our protection

Suicide rates amongst people who are socially disengaged are on the rise here in Australia.  Over the weekend, a man was found dead in his hotel room in Victoria where he was being kept in isolation after returning from overseas.  His death is not being treated as suspicious with reports speculating that he has taken his own life. 

Lifeline calls are on the increase with information coming to light last week that demand has increased by 20% with up to 50% of callers now talking about Coronavirus.  As a result, Lifeline has set up additional strategies to help manage mental health and wellbeing during the Coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak:  ph 13 11 14 (24/7).

Beyond Blue has set up a dedicated 24/7 Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Line (ph 1800 512 348) in recognition that the suicide rates during a pandemic like this are going to rise significantly. 

The burden on suicide prevention services has been recognised by state governments who are pouring millions of dollars into maintaining and expanding services during this time of social isolation.  Calls to proactively reach out to the isolated and the vulnerable, to combat loneliness and social isolation which is impacting our Senior Australians particularly hard, are being answered.

We are rightly appalled by the increased suicide rate and sympathetic to those who feel so cut off from the world that they are at risk of self harm and/or suicide.

We are also appalled that advocates for suicide are using this time to advance their goals.

Victoria’s regime of assisted suicide and euthanasia continues.  It is unclear as to the effect on the work of their Navigators – that all comes down to whether the state sees their work as an “essential service” or not.  I tried to call them this week to enquire but I haven’t been able to get through to them, so we will continue to watch this space.  We do know that Dying with Dignity in Victoria has ceased his presentations advocating for further “end-of-life choices” and note that the Dying with Dignity NSW AGM set for the 18th April 2020 will need to be delayed in this current climate.  Dying with Dignity NSW  is using their time to promote the writing of  advanced care directives or “living wills”.

In Queensland, the attempt to normalise assisted suicide was evident through the committee report recommending legislation which had less restrictions than the legislation in Victoria.  Fortunately the Queensland parliament will have limited (if any) sitting days left to debate legislation prior to their election in October due to the close-down caused by the Coronavirus.  For a pro-life perspective on the Queensland committee report, read this article by Bishop Tim Harris of Townsville who is the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference delegate for euthanasia:  

Turning to international reports, and we find that pro -euthanasia advocates in Canada have been upset that some hospitals don’t consider euthanasia to be essential during the pandemic.  Two clinics in Ontario have ceased euthanasia services however other clinics are reportedly pushing to relax the rules to allow for virtual assessments of eligibility.  Considering that here in Australia we have federal legislation preventing the use of virtual assessments (or telehealth as we call it here) for the purposes of assisted suicide or euthanasia, we are monitoring this push in Canada very closely.

Turning to the US, it has been suggested that hospitals are discussing ‘do not resuscitate’ orders for Coronavirus patients ‘regardless of the wishes of the patient or their family members’.  This is dangerous territory for the health system to enter into and will have broad implications post-COVID-19 for how healthcare is practiced in the US.

The National Council on Disability (NCD) in the US have been so concerned about healthcare discrimination against people with disabilities who contract COVID-19 that they wrote to the Office for Civil Rights with their concerns.  Their letter included this strong statement (emphasis added):
“Unfortunately, … people with chronic illnesses and other disabilities have been left behind, denied resources to survive, and as a result, have suffered great losses of life because of lack of emergency preparation that respects every life, and by outright discrimination by medical practitioners who, through ignorance of the law or due to the belief that people with disabilities are less valuable, and therefore less deserving of medical care, than those who are not. Such prejudice has fed into the belief that people with disabilities, especially the most weak and vulnerable, should be put out of their misery. NCD opposes these views and any medical actions that implicitly and explicitly disregard the dignity of the lives of people with disabilities. These beliefs have always been dangerous – but COVID-19 raises NCD’s concerns to an unprecedented level.”

Some good news has come from the Netherlands where The Euthanasia Expertise Center – a clinic dedicated solely to euthanasia – has closed its doors in ‘the interest of public health’ due to COVID-19 – the Center admitted that “euthanasia care is not a top priority in health care”.

Reports out of Italy, France and Spain have spoken to the suspected lack of treatment for the elderly while healthy younger patients are being prioritised in overburdened healthcare systems, the pressure to limit pain medication in the face of shortages and even the increased ‘temptation’ doctors face to participate in euthanasia practices during the Coronavirus pandemic.

During the dark times we are facing here and throughout the world, we must continue to Stand for Life.  I encourage you this week to take the following steps:

  1. Phone someone you know is in isolation and possibly vulnerable and encourage them.  Check if they need any practical, emotional or spiritual support – and if they do – find a way to help them;
  2. Forward this email to friends and family who may not be as active as you are in the pro-life movement but who need to be aware of what is going on right now;
  3. Use this time to equip yourself for the arguments of the future!  Keep an eye of our recommended reading/watching;
  4.  And above all, look after your own mental health – make sure that you are maintaining a positive attitude towards Life at all its stages, through all its frailties.