Monday, June 6, 2011

Absolute Strangers

Ross Douthat does not mourn for the late Dr. Kevorkian.

If participating in a suicide is legally and ethically acceptable, in other words, it can’t just be because cancer is brutal and dementia is dehumanizing. It can only be because there’s a right to suicide.

And once we allow that such a right exists, the arguments for confining it to the dying seem arbitrary at best. We are all dying, day by day: do the terminally ill really occupy a completely different moral category from the rest? A cancer patient’s suffering isn’t necessarily more unbearable than the more indefinite agony of someone living with multiple sclerosis or quadriplegia or manic depression. And not every unbearable agony is medical: if a man losing a battle with Parkinson’s disease can claim the relief of physician-assisted suicide, then why not a devastated widower, or a parent who has lost her only child?

Leaving aside the case for or against assisted suicide, Mr. Douthat is doing what a lot of people on the right do with moral issues: assume that he knows better than the people actually involved with the situation, and therefore prescribes a moral guidepost for them, complete with government-imposed rule of law to back him up. It’s the same with abortion; absolutes become the only definition of how we are to deal with the very complex and personal questions in each case. It makes it very easy for them to decide for other people, and it’s even better when they have no connection whatsoever with them.

This would be sardonically humorous — the proponents of smaller government and more freedom are imposing government-enforced sanctions on our private lives — if it didn’t touch millions of people. It doesn’t mean you have to be in favor of assisted suicide; in fact, people who are in favor of it think Dr. Kevorkian set the cause back by his publicity-seeking actions. It has to do with being trusted as a citizen and a human being to be free to make the choice when you and your loved ones are the only people in the room to make the choice.