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Maxim Institute - real issues - No 187

Maxim Institute - real issues - No 187

The price of suicide

A new report on the cost of suicide has raised important questions about the effect of suicide on wider culture. Titled, 'The Cost of Suicide to Society', the Ministry of Health report estimates the cost of suicides and attempted suicides in New Zealand as $1.4 billion during 2002. In light of the ongoing debate on euthanasia, it is worth asking: how do we as a society determine the value of human life?

The report estimates that each suicide costs New Zealand nearly $3 million. This figure is calculated by adding the economic costs of services used upon death (such as the police, ambulance services and funerals) and the production lost as a result of the loss of a member of the work force. On top of this, the report adds a value for the non-economic contribution each person would have made to society over the rest of their lives, had they not committed suicide.

Calculating the cost of suicide to our society may be beneficial for those working on suicide prevention schemes, including the Government. However it is impossible to place an economic figure on the more important social and spiritual costs of suicide to society. How can a dollar value be placed upon the loss to family and friends of a loved one, or the wasted potential of a unique human being?

Mixed messages regarding the value of human life are being broadcast within our culture. The growing promotion of a so-called "right to die" and the increasing focus on utility as opposed to dignity as the gauge of human worth are contributing to the growing culture of death. Ironically, the Government is simultaneously investigating the extent of the harm caused to society as a result of premature death, and is seeking to prevent further loss of life.

Without a coherent understanding of the value and worth of human life, the debate becomes subject to economic, emotive, and rights-based considerations. A belief in inherent human dignity must accompany any discussion about the value and costs of lost life, in particular that a life is worth living regardless of age, ability, or economic contribution. Within such a framework, we are able to recognise suicide for the tragedy it is, without formulae and equations.

Automatic citizenship no longer

Recent changes to the Citizenship Act 1977 have highlighted what it means to be a citizen in New Zealand. Currently, a baby born in New Zealand automatically becomes a New Zealand citizen, but from 1 January 2006, most newborns will remain a citizen of their parents' country unless one parent is a New Zealander or has permanent residency.

These changes will mean that people cannot travel to New Zealand for the purpose of obtaining citizenship for their newborn child, and will affect between 100 and 600 babies born each year. As a consequence of the changes, the New Zealand Immigration Service will now have greater discretion in a larger percentage of their cases.

Many things must be carefully considered when granting citizenship. Hopefully these changes will enable the needs of immigration applicants to be better balanced with the requirements of New Zealand.

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