Ross Douthat is highly skeptical of Michael Wolff’s claim that his generation — the Baby Boomers — will avail themselves of assisted suicide to avoid burdening their children with the cost and difficulty of caring for them when they’re old and sick and helpless:
As a friend suggested to me after reading the article, the idea that the Baby Boom generation, of all generations, would willingly hasten their own exit from this mortal coil in order to save someone else (their children, the government, future generations, etc.) from trouble and expense flies in the face of pretty much everything we know about that particular cohort’s habits and inclinations. This isn’t to say that there won’t be more support for assisted suicide as the original “Me” generation grows ever-less-gracefully old. But it will be a supplement, rather than a corrective, to the demand for ever-more-expensive medical interventions that Wolff’s article laments — a minor accompaniment to the major theme of life extension by any means and at any cost. There isn’t necessarily any deep conflict between the desire for any and every form of medical intervention when you still want to live and the desire for assisted suicide when you’ve given up the fight. Instead, the two desires intertwine somewhere deep within the modern psyche, because both spring from the same quest — for a perfect mastery over death, which aims for immortality but then eventually settles for the ability to choose the exact timing of our final exit.
Ross has been aware of this sort of thing for a long time. Here is something from his contribution to the excellent TAC “What is Right? What Is Left?” symposium from a few years back:
The picture is further complicated by the fact that because conservatism only really exists to say “no” to whatever liberalism asks for next, it fights nearly all its battles on its enemy’s terrain and rarely comes close to articulating a coherent set of values of its own. Liberalism has science and progress to pursue—and ultimately immortality, the real goal but also the one that rarely dares to speak its name—whereas conservatives have … well, a host of goals, most of them in tension with one another. Neoconservatives want to return us to the New Deal era; Claremont Instituters want to revive the spirit of the Founding; Jacksonians want to rescue American nationalism from the one-worlders and post-patriots; agrarians and Crunchy Cons pine for a lost Jeffersonian or Chestertonian arcadia. Some conservatives think that liberalism-the-political-philosophy can be saved from liberalism-the-Baconian-project and that modernity can be rescued from its utopian temptation; others join Alasdair MacIntyre in thinking that the hour is far too late for that, and we should withdraw into our homes and monasteries and prepare to guard the permanent things through a long Dark Age.
Liberals, on the other hand, dream the same dream and envision the same destination, even if they disagree on exactly how to get there. It’s the dream of Thomas Friedman as well as Karl Marx, as old as Babel and as young as the South Korean cloners. It whispered to us in Eden, and it whispers to us now: ye shall be as gods. And no conservative dream, in the 400 years from Francis Bacon until now, has proven strong enough to stand in its way.