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Posted on July 31, 2019 at 11:05 AM

There is much discussion and debate within bioethics about the permissibility of physician-assisted suicide, but less discussion about suicide in general. We also spent a lot of time talking about end-of-life care and end-of-life decision-making. However, we tend to focus less on suicide in general and very little on suicide among older adults who are approaching the end of life but have no terminal disease. A recent program on NPR titled “Isolated and Struggling, Many Seniors Are Turning to Suicide” caused me to think about this.

Suicide rates in the US are generally increasing. When we
think about suicide, many times we think about increases in teenage suicide rates
but forget that middle-aged and older adults have higher rates of suicide than
teens. Part of the reason for the higher rate of suicide in older adults is
that their suicide attempts have a higher rate of resulting in death, but there
are other things that put them at risk. Older adults suffer from isolation,
loneliness, grief, and depression. The older we get, the more likely it is that
we have lost family and friends close to us to death. That leads to the
isolation, loneliness, and depression that can lead to suicide. Many older
adults also live with chronic diseases which can lead to loss of ability to
perform routine daily functions and cause a loss of independence. These things
may also lead to isolation, loneliness, and depression. They can also result in
feelings of being a burden to family members. The isolation experienced by the
elderly not only leads to depression, but also makes it less likely that
someone will recognize the risk of suicide and intervene.

Do our moral obligations to provide care for those at the
end of life include dealing with the risk of suicide among older adults? I
think they do. As physicians and other medical caregivers, it is important to
recognize that suicide among older adults is a real concern and be alert to
signs that a person may be at increased risk. Intervention can be lifesaving.
We also have obligations as family members, neighbors, and fellow church
members with those who may be at risk. Decreasing isolation can make a
significant impact on the risk of suicide and all of us complaint role in that.
Suicide in older adults is a real concern, and it is something we can impact.

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