I Blame Sophomore "Morality" Class

As a teen I used to get so angry about the classic "moral dilemma" posed to morality (if you went to Catholic school) or values clarification (if you went to public school) class. You'll no doubt recall the scenario: Shipwreck in the middle of the sea, 8 people on a lifeboat (you're one), water rations for only 7, who do you toss overboard: the priest, the doctor, the teacher, the mother, yourself, the senator or the artist?

This thought experiment in taking innocent life was supposed to be focusing to the mind somehow, although to me it took an extraordinary failure of imagination not to see that it could rain or you could be rescued and you should pray and hope for both, so it wasn't necessary to toss anyone overboard. Or you could voluntarily go without, sacrificing for the others --but it wouldn't be necessary to toss any living person overboard, for heaven's sake.

This sorry episode in what passes for education was called to my mind by Dr. Bob's essay on assisted suicide, in which he reveals a conversation he had with one of his readers. In response to Dr. Bob's argument that "death with dignity" is not a private, but a public, affair, his reader asks:
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?
And Dr. Bob responds:
Van’s question is a valid one, to be addressed shortly, but in 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, then applying our conclusions to the general. Hence, 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 never pondered; that applying the suggestive solution based on emotion without consideration for its broad implications or ramifications might prove disastrous, is never seen as a possibility. We press for great social and policy changes with profound effects on culture and society using pop emotionalism and pulp fiction.
Well naturally: it's the way we values-clarified our kids to think; and now every public question is posed as a parallel to that corrupt and unimaginative teen thought experiment.

His whole post --and his answer to the actual question--is well worth reading.
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 our social fabric.

Were some silver-suited alien from Alpha Centuri to visit our noble globe, he would 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 direction? 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 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?