Chiropractor Fred Deutsch is working hard against the assisted suicide initiative, which hasn’t even made the ballot yet. He spoke this morning in Sioux Falls, and he put a letter in yesterday’s Watertown Public Opinion claiming that Oregon’s law legalizing assisted suicide for certain terminally ill patients makes suicide increase in the general population:
In Oregon, which legalized assisted suicide 20 years ago, the over-all suicide rates are 40% higher in the general public than the national average. This is consistent with what’s called suicide contagion [Fred Deutsch, letter to the editor, Watertown Public Opinion, 2017.08.04].
Deutsch’s error here is similar to the fallacious conclusion that legalizing marijuana drives up marijuana usage. Oregon has legalized marijuana, but its rate of marijuana usage exceeded the national average before that legal change. Similarly, Oregon has legalized assisted suicide in a few limited cases, but Oregonians were killing themselves more frequently than the national average for years before passage of its “Death with Dignity” Act:
In both cases, it is at least as logical to deduce that greater prevalence of the practice in question may have led to legalization of the practice as it is to contend, as Deutsch does, that legalization of the practice led to its greater prevalence.
Deutsch also notes that South Dakota “already ranks 7th in the nation for suicide deaths.” He gives no source, but the CDC ranked us 17th in 2014, not far behind 11th-place Oregon (rates: 17.1 suicide deaths per 100K population in South Dakota, 18.6 in Oregon, a difference 9%). Only three other states had legalized assisted suicide by 2014: two of them, Montana and Vermont, had higher suicide rates than Oregon; the third, Washington, had a lower suicide rate than South Dakota.