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Anti-VAD groups shamelessly manipulate suicide statistics for political mileage

16 March, 2021

Voluntary assisted dying opponents say Victoria’s suicide rate has gone up and the assisted dying law is to blame. But their claims are demonstrably wrong, and reveal the desperate lengths to which they will go to try and stop VAD law reform.

Catholic website HOPE led by Branca van der Linden and anti-VAD lobby group The Australian Care Alliance recently published articles trumpeting what they called an alarming jump in Victoria’s suicide rate – 21% in three years, from 694 in 2017 to 842 in 2020. The claimed reason? Victoria’s assisted dying law.

It would be a concerning development – if it were true.

A closer inspection of the data reveals the ACA and HOPE have engaged in some serious – and easily provable – manipulation of officially published statistics to arrive at their conclusion.

How did they do it? They simply added the number of terminally ill Victorians who chose to end their lives peacefully under the VAD program to the 698 people who tragically took their own lives in 2020. Hey presto, 842 deaths and a 21% jump. 

The ACA then doubled down, claiming “the suicide crisis” is even greater given that VAD supporters have claimed that legalising VAD should actually reduce the number of suicides in Victoria.

VAD advocate Neil Francis expertly summarises the gross misrepresentation of the official figures – and the contempt on display for terminally ill Victorians who choose not to suffer – on his Dying for Choice website.

“Their argument is to shamefully and humiliatingly disrespect Victoria's terminally ill who died peacefully under its VAD law in 2020 — 144 of them according to the reports of Victoria's Voluntary Assisted Dying Review Board,” he writes.

A logical fallacy to fabricate a crisis

Francis goes on to point out the ACA’s entire approach of using raw counts to analysing suicide trends is “lazy and wrong”. To make valid comparisons, you have to compare rates of suicide to account for changes in population and other factors (for example, the impact of COVID-19 on mental health). Comparing the rates of suicide per 100,000 population over the period 2017-2020 confirms the suicide rate has remained static. In fact, there was an equivalent decrease in deaths of 38 persons.

Go Gentle Australia’s founding director Andrew Denton says ACA’s “kindergarten-level attempt at deception” is all the more surprising given most of its members are doctors who know better than most the value of empirical data. 

“It is one thing to have a view. Quite another to distort evidence then put that distortion in the public square.”

Read Neil Francis’ full analysis of the ACA and HOPE’s deception on the Dying For Choice website.

 

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