Elderly men are committing suicide at a high rate, and the chief coroner has raised the possibility of a link with euthanasia.
Suicide figures published yesterday highlighted the lack of information about people who died through euthanasia, which was illegal in New Zealand, chief coroner Judge Neil MacLean said.
"Euthanasia is suicide - we don't go into details about the euthanasia rate."
The figures show that, in the past year, men aged 85 or older were more likely to take their own lives than any other group.
Judge MacLean said there needed to be more research into elderly suicides. "Is it in rest homes, in the community, in hospitals?"
He said the research was necessary even though those aged 85 and older made up only a small proportion of the 541 people who committed suicide last year. Nine men in that age group took their lives in the 12 months to June 30, pushing their suicide rate to 31 per 100,000 people. Older women were far less likely to commit suicide, with only three taking their lives last year.
Age Concern chief executive Ann Martin said little was known about why older people committed suicide, or of any possible links to euthanasia. "We don't have a lot of information on the issue."
End-of-Life executive officer Yvonne Shaw, who advocates for legalising medically assisted suicide, said euthanasia was undoubtedly occurring.
"Anecdotally, that is what doctors are telling us. But we don't really know, because it is under the radar."
Overall, the suicide figures show six fewer people killed themselves last year than in the previous year.
Judge MacLean said the stubbornly high figures were frustrating. "We cannot seem to make inroads into our unacceptably high suicide rate."
While fewer men in general were committing suicide, they were being replaced by more women, with 153 taking their lives in the 12-month period, the highest number since records began in 2007.
541 people committed suicide.
- 388 were men.
- 153 were women.
- 144 were 24 or younger, including six between 10 and 14.
- 12 were 85 or older.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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