Assisted Suicide Is a White Thing

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

California’s assisted suicide act went into effect last year, and today the Department of Public Health released statistics for 2016. A total of 191 people requested prescriptions for aid-in-dying drugs, and 111 used them. However, because the program is very new, and only covered half the year, these numbers are certain to go up significantly in future years.

Unsurprisingly, the initial statistics confirm what we know from other states that have similar laws: assisted suicide is barely used at all among non-whites.

The reasons for this are not entirely clear. Among Hispanics, it’s probably partly related to religion, since the majority of Hispanics are Catholics and the church forbids suicide. More generally, it’s probably also related to a distrust of doctors among minority groups. Beyond that, I’m not sure anyone really has a persuasive explanation.

Generally speaking, though, the main demographic for assisted suicide is professional, college-educated white folks who are used to being in charge and dislike the idea of losing control over their lives. This was true in the 90s and aughts, when it was illegal and done under the table, and I believe it’s true in every state that’s legalized assisted suicide since then.

UPDATE: Via Twitter, Forrest Sholars points out that assisted suicide is mostly an option for the elderly, and the demographics of those over 60 is different from California’s overall demographics. That’s true, especially for Hispanics, and I intended to mention this in the original post. It just slipped my mind before I published it. So here it is:

There’s still a considerable racial disparity, but it’s somewhat less dramatic than it is when comparing to all age groups.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend