Thursday, September 6, 2018
Is suicide by older adults ever a rational choice? It’s a topic many older people discuss among themselves, quietly or loudly — and one that physicians increasingly encounter, too. Yet most have scant training or experience in how to respond, said Dr. Meera Balasubramaniam, a geriatric psychiatrist at the New York University School of Medicine.
She has written on the topic with a colleague, in an attempt "to generate more medical discussion,... in a 2017 anthology, “Rational Suicide in the Elderly,” and she revisited it recently in an article in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society." The Hastings Center has also weighed in on the issue with the current Hastings Center Report with "a debate over “voluntary death” to forestall dementia."
The article acknowledges that suicide is an important public health issue that also includes older adults. The article explains the issues on both sides of this debate. For example,
Failing to take action to prevent suicide, some ethicists and clinicians argue, reflects an ageist assumption — one older people themselves aren’t immune to — that the lives of old or disabled people lack value.
A tolerant approach also overlooks the fact that people often change their minds, declaring certain conditions unendurable in the abstract but choosing to live if when the worst actually happens.
Slippery-slope arguments factor into the debate, too. “We worry that we could shift from a right to die to a duty to die if we make suicide seem desirable or justifiable,” Dr. Balasubramaniam said.
The article explores some of the research regarding suicide and features some quotes from individuals in addition to experts.