In a previous post on physician-assisted suicide, I had the following exchange with a commenter named Van:
Van: I take it you are are against assisted-suicide?
Let me ask you this – how can we say we live in a free nation if we cannot do what we wish to our own bodies, as long as we do not impact the life, liberty and safety of others?
I have mixed feelings on the subject, but I really have a hard time with others telling me what to do with my body.
Dr. Bob: Yes, very much against it.
You are, of course, perfectly free to end your own life, with or without such legislation. A handgun and a single bullet will do the job very nicely–along with a hundred other ways.
The issue with this public policy is that you are asking your physician to kill you — and therefore it is no longer just about what you do with your body, but very much involves other people–the doctor, the families, and society as a whole.
The problem with the “it’s my body” radical self-autonomy is that it focuses solely on the self, while conveniently ignoring the enormous consequences of such legalization on others and society as a whole.
Van: So your key issue is the doctor assisting in the suicide, thereby involving others?
Let’s say you have a 90 year old individual with no family, suffering from cancer, who has no meaningful impact on others. If they take their own life, you are OK with it?
Just trying to understand where you are coming from.
Van’s question is a valid one, to be addressed shortly, but in a digression, one should note what often passes for arguing from principles in our current culture: the argument from the exceptional. When promoting or defending some contentious social or moral issue, we seem always to find the most extreme example imaginable and argue from this specific instance, then applying our conclusions from the specific to the general.
So, for example, when arguing for government prescription health coverage, we must first find some old woman who has to eat cat food in order to pay for her prescriptions; when discussing gay adoption, we must find the idyllic gay couple, lifelong partners (or so we are told), ecstatically happy with nary a relational dispute, as parents; when arguing for assisted suicide, we must find the patient in unbearable pain with a loving husband passionate about ending her life “in dignity” by slipping her a deadly cocktail — or one who is dying utterly alone, with nary a friend or family member to share their suffering. That such argumentation almost invariably presents a false dichotomy is never considered: that far better alternatives might exist to solve the problem is never pondered; that applying the suggested solution based on emotion without consideration for its broad implications or ramifications may well prove disastrous — such complications are never considered as possibilities. We press for great social and policy changes with profound effects on culture and society using pop emotionalism and pulp fiction.
But I digress. So, to answer the question: I would not find suicide of such a sadly-abandoned individual justified, simply because no physician was involved. Suicide is the ultimate repudiation of life, of relationships, of hope, the product of the deep hopelessness and self-absorbed insanity of depression. My point was simply this: we all have free will. Each of us may choose, if we decide to do so, to end our own lives. There is a pernicious distortion of the idea of freedom which is a product of our radical individualism, to wit: I live in a free society, therefore by necessity I must be free to do whatsoever I please. Others must not only allow me to do so, but must bear the consequences of my actions, and must be actively engaged in enabling my behavior, because it is my right. Hence, I must be free to say anything I wish, without consequence, including any criticism of my speech; I must be free to terminate my pregnancy, without guilt or restriction, though my unborn child pays the ultimate price; I must be free to end my life when I wish, and my physician must be required to deliver the lethal potion — or at least must be coerced into finding another doctor who will, if his “values” (defined as mere subjective opinions) don’t agree with mine.
Many of the “rights” which are being promulgated and promoted by today’s secular culture are in reality straw men, fine-sounding proxies for demands and desires far less salutary than they sound. Thus, gay marriage is not about gays getting married (hence the lack of enthusiasm among gay rights advocates for civil unions which provide all the legal benefits of marriage), but is instead an effort to undermine traditional heterosexual marriage as normative in culture, thereby removing not merely legal but cultural restraints on all forms of sexual and relational heterodoxy. The high standard — heterosexual marriage, with its enormous advantages in the raising of children and establishment of societal self-restraint, morality, and relational stability — must be brought down to the lowest common denominator of any two (or more) people getting “married” — with the sole purpose of muting societal condemnation for self-gratifying, dysfunctional and heterodox partnerships. Unrestricted abortion, a.k.a. “freedom of choice” — or, “women’s health care”– is about the uncompromising (albeit delusional) demand for unconstrained sexual license without consequences — especially for women, but also for their sperm donors who want no responsibility for their casual hookups: dispose of the unplanned pregnancy, move on to your next “partner”, and you have achieved the perfect “zipless fuck.”
Likewise, physician-assisted suicide is not at all about “death with dignity”, but rather about actively enlisting the culture in support of radical individual autonomy. Not only must we exert full control over the time and manner of our death — which we have always been able to do, by simply killing ourselves — but we demand that society support, honor, and praise this decision, without the faintest whiff of criticism or condemnation. It is not sufficient that we be able to kill ourselves. Rather, it is necessary that we actively kill those societal sensibilities and strictures which condemn such a choice as morally misguided and potentially destructive to our human dignity and social fabric.
Were some silver-suited alien from Alpha Centuri to visit our noble globe, he would no doubt find our passion for self-extinction puzzling, to say the least. What manner of sentient being seeks to facilitate its own demise, only to perpetuate the illusion that they control their own lives? Has their existence no purpose but to be ended at their own discretion? Are their relationships so shallow that they choose death over life; has their suffering no meaning; will their precious time with life partners, friends, and offspring be traded for the dark comfort of a deadly cocktail? Who are these intelligent fools, our visitor would ask, who hand over the power of death to their doctors, oblivious to the evil which dwells in the hearts of men, waiting to be empowered by cold rationalism, scientific professionalism, self-justification, and sterile repetition?
Yet were our starship sojourner to examine the society which breeds such nihilism, he would, by turns, find his answer: we are, for all our technological advances and unbounded prosperity, a culture without meaning, a people without purpose. We have embraced unquestioningly the mantra of materialism: we have come from nothing, and to nothing shall return. Our relationships mean naught but what we may gain from them; our suffering gains us nothing but rage and resentment; our deaths are like our lives — without hope, without a future, joyless and empty. We desperately push the buttons and mix the potions which promise to make us happy and whole, yet find they only echo forlornly through our hollow souls, singing that siren song:
“I am my own master.”