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The Economics of Suicide

On Friday, a British couple -- he an 85-year-old composer who had gone blind and was going deaf, she a 74-year-old former dancer in the final stages of terminal cancer -- committed suicide in Switzerland. They had been together for 54 years and did not want to live without each other. They ended their lives in the presence of their children, with a barbiturate cocktail designed to spare them pain. The setting, and the cocktail, were provided by Dignitas, a Swiss company that specializes in such things.

It's not a common way to go, but more than a hundred Britons have flown to Switzerland to commit suicide in recent years. It's legal there, and there are services that help you control the process. And why not? We are a society accustomed to both party planners and anesthesiologists. Why shouldn't we be able to manage the circumstances and sensations of our death?

But it's expensive. With only Switzerland in the market, there's little competition. And in addition to the 4,000 euros required for the services of Dignitas, you also have to pay for your flight, and for those of your loved ones. As Annie Lowrey notes, a dignified death at a way and time of your choosing is becoming a luxury reserved for the rich:

It's an expensive way to die -- it costs 4,000 Euros for Dignitas' services, plus the cost of bringing out one's family. And, because it is so expensive, only the wealthy seem to choose to do it. The titled Downeses. Businesspeople. University professors. Doctors.

One can imagine other terminally ill patients, in extraordinary pain and with no quality of life, wishing to end their life in a manner of their choosing, but being unable to do so because of the cost.

Britain's laws, de facto, make it possible for the rich to die via assisted suicide, but impossible for the poor to do so.

It reminds me of one of the common arguments over abortion laws. Women in countries like Portugal (which has restrictive abortion laws) or states like South Dakota (where virtually no clinics provide the service) often need to travel far distances to obtain the service. Which means the rich are able, and the poor aren't.

By Ezra Klein  |  July 15, 2009; 6:41 PM ET
 
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Comments

arthur koestler , the famous writer, and his wife, cynthia jeffries, committed a double suicide together several years ago.

suicide is not an expensive way to end one's life.
the cost of a suicide is not the amount that it takes to do it.
the cost is what it does to the loved ones who try to piece their lives back together...and the long, suffering journey that a person has taken to arrive at that place.

most suicides are not romantically orchestrated, peaceful and dignified; with two people joined together in their afterlife.
i have worked for seven years now, on a suicide hotline.
most suicides are not expensive.
they are mostly about lonely, desperate,deeply hurting, hopeless people with nothing more expensive than a razor, gun or bottle of pills, who can no longer endure the agony of their lives...who find living insufferable.

by the way,
our lines have spiked with calls, especially with the downturn in the economy. people have nowhere to go for help, and dont see a way to fix their problems.
if someone in your life is talking about suicide. please take them seriously.

Posted by: jkaren | July 15, 2009 7:04 PM | Report abuse

"a dignified death at a way and time of your choosing is becoming a luxury reserved for the rich."

'Becoming'? It's a new thing that *anyone* gets to choose a dignified death in the manner and at the time of their choosing.

So of course it's starting off as a luxury good. It will eventually work its way down from there - although the differences between this and more typical consumer goods will slow the rate by which this happens.

Oh, and while what jkaren says is certainly true, there's no connection or enlightening comparison between such suicides and what Ezra brings up here, even though they both fall under the heading of suicide.

Posted by: rt42 | July 16, 2009 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Completely nonsensical post. There are any number of over-the-counter sleep aids and other drugs that can bring about a quiet death.

Posted by: tomtildrum | July 16, 2009 10:06 AM | Report abuse

tomtildrum

you are right.
a dignified and peacefully intended death does not require money.
it requires courage and acceptance in the face of hopeless circumstances,
especially in a society that views death and aging as unnatural.

you realize how quick and painless the process is, when you are waiting for the paramedics to arrive during a suicide call.

Posted by: jkaren | July 16, 2009 10:23 AM | Report abuse

Ezra, Portugal has legalized abortion in 2007. Do you want to lose all your Portuguese readers?

Raio do puto.

Posted by: Nimed | July 16, 2009 3:10 PM | Report abuse

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