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Economics of Assisted Suicide

Economics of Assisted Suicide

    My prediction is that assisted suicide will someday become legal in the United States for mostly economic reasons. We can already keep old bodies alive for decades beyond the expiration date for healthy brains. That’s not a sustainable system, economically or otherwise. We’re burying future generations in debt and burdening them with the responsibility of caring for our zombie bodies and rotted brains.

    I understand all of the moral and social arguments against assisted suicide. Some people say life is sacred, and I respect that. I will also stipulate that if assisted living were legal, some people would attempt to pressure their grandmothers into early graves to collect the inheritance.

    But let’s assume that if assisted suicide were legal it would have a number of safeguards. Perhaps a person who wants assisted suicide services would have to get sign-offs from at least two direct family members, two doctors, and a psychologist. I would think you could devise a system to thwart all but the cleverest schemers.

    In the past few years, several of my relatives and in-laws have shed their mortal coils under our current system. Each of them experienced a final year of life that was quite awful. If you haven’t observed a close relative suffering for months, or even years, with dementia and illness, you probably shouldn’t have an opinion on assisted suicide. You really need to be in the room. 

    You might also want to walk down the hall of a medical facility that handles people in their final months of life. You won’t see anything in the eyes of the patients that looks like happiness. It’s truly horrifying. Our local facility is upscale and well-run, but it still feels like walking through a meat storage facility in which the meat feels pain and depression.

    All of this makes me wonder if any economist has studied the economics of assisted suicide. My best guess is that assisted suicide could reduce a nation’s healthcare costs by 20%. And that might be conservative. I’ll bet it’s not unusual for someone to consume $50,000 of healthcare service up to the final year of life then consume $100,000 worth in the final year. All of that is somewhat offset by the people who die suddenly. So I wonder what the net is.

    A quick Google search found one study that says so few people would choose an assisted suicide option that it would have little impact on overall healthcare costs. In the Netherlands, where assisted suicide is legal, only 2.7% of people take that route. But I expect that someday science will keep bodies alive so long that up to half of all elderly people would want assisted suicide. And in my family, including in-laws, I believe only one out of seven died quickly. The other six had expensive and unpleasant final years.

    Here’s my question for today: Add up the number of people in your family who have died in the past ten years. How many of them went out quickly and inexpensively? I’ll bet it’s fewer than half.

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