This week, blogger Wesley J. Smith directed his readers' attention to an article on Salon.com written by Lillian B. Rubin. Eighty-eight years old and in failing health, Rubin speculates about our society's fear of death, the taboo surrounding elder suicide, and her own struggles with "ambivalence" about taking her own life. She challenges the notion that suicide is the coward's way out, insisting that – on the contrary – to accept the fact of one's "diminishing existence" and to take decisive action to end one's suffering is an act of immense courage.
It would be disingenuous to accuse Rubin of discussing this issue cavalierly. She recognizes the complexity of the issue, and acknowledges the difference between merely contemplating suicide and actually mustering the nerve to do it. Nonetheless, it is clear that her position derives from a worldview in which human life has no inherent value. It is quality that counts. Since this life is all we have, our mental, physical, and emotional capacity for enjoying existence is paramount. When the humiliating descent into senility and incontinence begins, life is no longer worth living.
Rubin's arguments may appear reasonable, and they certainly appeal to the American tradition of self-determination, but the embrace of such logic represents a grave danger to society nonetheless.
The Declaration of Independence is the document that establishes the principles of equality that inform American government and guide our culture. In it is the implicit recognition that human beings are special because we are created in God's image. This concept of the imago dei is what gives rise to the notion of human exceptionalism, and is what inspired America's founders to accord special protections and freedoms to individuals. We are not viewed as mere machines which can be discarded when our useful life is over. That was the attitude of Old World kings and aristocrats who thought nothing of the lives of those on the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder. The rather recent political concept of equal protection under the law is premised on the idea that we are creatures made in God's image and of infinite worth, value and dignity. Accordingly, suicide has traditionally been discouraged in public policy because it is a form of self murder. It defaces the divine image within each of us and degrades our species. It is an affront to humanity and an affront to God himself.