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CDC Neglects to Include Assisted Deaths in Official Suicide Report

Assisted dying is a form of suicide, regardless of the ways our culture has euphemized the term

2021 was among the worst years ever for suicides in the U.S., with 2022 looking to have been even worse. According to the CDC, in 2021, 48,183 people killed themselves. That number is projected to increase to 49,449 for 2022 once the data are tabulated.

That’s a terrible tragedy. But it is even worse than that because assisted suicides are not included in the suicide statistics.

Why? Because the laws legalizing assisted suicide in most states — which is euphemistically referred to as “medical aid in dying” (MAID) or “death with dignity” — redefine a doctor-prescribed overdose as other than what it is: suicide. Indeed, most of these laws require doctors to lie about the actual cause as the underlying disease on death certificates rather than the reality of an ingested overdose of barbiturates. Some laws even define these suicides as natural deaths. And states do not include assisted deaths in their own suicide statistics.

You can call a dung beetle a butterfly, but it remains a dung beetle. The term suicide defines what is done, not why. In other words, assisted suicides are as much suicides as jumping off a bridge.

I checked the most recent state statistics of assisted-suicide deaths compiled in the ten states and D.C. where doctors prescribe death legally — available at this link. The reporting from the states is not complete, but close enough to get an idea about the total assisted-suicide toll. I found that in 2021, close to 1,400 people died by assisted suicide in the U.S. That means the actual number of suicides in the U.S. in 2021 was just under 50,000 and will surpass that number in 2022.

The CDC’s statistics do not mention assisted suicide. That’s a mistake. Normalizing suicide as an answer to suffering caused by illness, studies have shown, normalizes and increases suicides more generally.

The CDC should add “aid in dying” to its suicide statistics and include that category of people who should receive prevention services. Doing otherwise will only make our suicide tragedy even worse going forward.

Cross-posted at National Review.

Wesley J. Smith

Chair and Senior Fellow, Center on Human Exceptionalism
Wesley J. Smith is Chair and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism. Wesley is a contributor to National Review and is the author of 14 books, in recent years focusing on human dignity, liberty, and equality. Wesley has been recognized as one of America’s premier public intellectuals on bioethics by National Journal and has been honored by the Human Life Foundation as a “Great Defender of Life” for his work against suicide and euthanasia. Wesley’s most recent book is Culture of Death: The Age of “Do Harm” Medicine, a warning about the dangers to patients of the modern bioethics movement.

CDC Neglects to Include Assisted Deaths in Official Suicide Report