Assisted suicide and the happiness imperative

Published March 18, 2024

WORLD Opinions

“In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had 500 years of democracy and peace—and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” So opines Orson Welles’s character, Harry Lime, in the movie The Third Man. Well, to the cuckoo clock we can now add the assisted suicide pod that has passed an independent legal review confirming that it conforms with Swiss law.

The advent of assisted suicide is both emblematic of the deepest concerns of contemporary Western culture and of the way in which the taboos of yesteryear are being overthrown at an alarming rate. As to the first, it is clear that personal happiness is now the foundational criterion for judging the morality of acts and institutions. This is not the happiness of earlier generations. When, for example, the Founders subscribed the Declaration of Independence and asserted a right to “the pursuit of happiness,” they assumed this “happiness” had an objective moral shape. They assumed the world possessed such, that it was discoverable, and that happiness, private and public, was found by living life in conformity with it. Happiness today is subjective, not objective. It is about feeling good, about a sense of psychological peace or well-being. The happiness of today is all about whatever works for you. And what works for you may not work for me.

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Carl R. Trueman is a fellow in EPPC’s Evangelicals in Civic Life Program, where his work focuses on helping civic leaders and policy makers better understand the deep roots of our current cultural malaise. In addition to his scholarship on the intellectual foundations of expressive individualism and the sexual revolution, Trueman is also interested in the origins, rise, and current use of critical theory by progressives. He serves as a professor at Grove City College.

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