Media campaign by advocacy group likely resulted in suicide contagion
MINNEAPOLIS — The publicity campaign surrounding one young woman's decision to die by assisted suicide in Oregon correlates closely with a significant increase in assisted suicides and requests for lethal drugs in that state, an indication of suicide contagion. A white paper analysis of suicide contagion and Oregon assisted suicide statistics was released today by Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL).
Assisted suicide advocacy group Compassion & Choices (the former Hemlock Society), the nation's leading advocate and facilitator of assisted suicide, used Brittany Maynard's intention to end her life by assisted suicide to launch a massive public relations campaign. Compassion & Choices aggressively promoted the story, which ended up on the cover of People magazine and received extensive coverage by CNN and many other media outlets. In the process, Compassion & Choices and its media allies violated nearly every suicide prevention media guideline, including those strongly recommended by the World Health Organization and the National Institute of Mental Health.
"Compassion & Choices' sensationalizing of this woman's assisted suicide obviously benefited the organization with massive donations, but it was a disaster in terms of suicide contagion," said MCCL Executive Director Scott Fischbach. "The collateral damage Compassion & Choices caused by its exploitation of Maynard's story was tragic and entirely avoidable."
As the MCCL white paper explains, suicide contagion occurs when one or more suicides contribute to additional suicides. The number of deaths from assisted suicide in Oregon was 37.1 percent higher in October than the 2014 average. The death total then spiked in November, following Maynard's own death on Nov. 1, rising 71.4 percent above the 2014 average. The number of assisted suicide deaths in November 2014 was higher than that of any other month in at least the last five years.
The white paper places the Oregon figures in the broader context of media reporting and contagion. More than 50 studies worldwide have found that suicides increase with certain types of news coverage. Evidence indicates that the promotion, publicity and legalization of assisted suicide also likely have a contagion effect.
"The impact of the Compassion & Choices media blitz is indefensible," Fischbach added. "Its reckless promotion of assisted suicide has served as encouragement to depressed, vulnerable people to end their lives. These people need hope and help, not a push into assisted suicide."