Bobby Schindler articulates a view of autonomy that he and I have been talking through for a while, which is that an “autonomy of violence” and self-harm pervades life and ethics issues. He writes in CatholicPhilly.com about this, and includes a survey of practical examples around the world that’s worth looking over if you’re not familiar with what’s happening:

Attacks on autonomy and human dignity appear to be intensifying.

Autonomy, of course, refers to our ability to act as independent human beings, with an innate and inviolable human dignity inherent to each of us, regardless of our physical, medical, emotional, psychological, or financial circumstances.

It seems as if so many, however, are intent on reconsidering autonomy to mean something like an “autonomy of self-harm.” In other words, many are using autonomy as a means to advocate for forms of euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Yet autonomy has traditionally referred to human good; our ability and desire as well as power to achieve a good life in cooperation with our loved ones, neighbors, fellow citizens, and others. It’s a tragic and perverse situation to use autonomy as a rhetorical battering ram for advocating the rights of human beings to intentionally end their own lives.

As so much of our attention is focused on dramas of the political arena, stories which ought to be receiving attention are simply not. Certainly, meaningful public dialogue surrounding issues like autonomy and human dignity are not taking place in any sustained manner. …

Autonomy means nothing if we allow laws or medical perspectives to compromise the innate and inviolate human dignity each person possesses, regardless of their state of health. When someone is encouraged to accept euthanasia or assisted suicide, and even worse, when individuals are forcibly euthanized against their will or without consent, the power of law and medicine become weapons rather than shields.

No humane society can accept the normalization of intentional human killing.

In practice, we’re too often favoring a simplistic “might makes right” sort of ethics when it comes to life and death issues, where autonomy exists in a limited way—enabling a sort of “autonomy of the powerful” to impose themselves and their judgments on comparatively weaker persons.