Many advocates of assisted suicide try to redefine it as something else—indeed, to redefine human dignity and human life itself. [Brittany] Maynard has become a sort of secular saint for the cause, and the media have provided her hagiography. Maynard herself wrote: “If I’m leaving a legacy, it’s to change this health-care policy or be a part of this change of this health-care policy so it becomes available to all Americans. That would be an enormous contribution to make, even if I’m just a piece of it.” CNN named Maynard one of its “11 Extraordinary People of 2014” for her decision to define death “on her own terms.” Another columnist wrote that Maynard in her choice for self-inflicted death employed her “own definitions of life and dignity.”

This echoes the famous “mystery clause” of Supreme Court justice ­Anthony Kennedy: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” Such a notion of liberty and human dignity can only lead to incoherence and absurdity; life and death are not ours to define, but are objective realities to which we must adapt. There is a great irony in all of this empty talk about controlling the timing and circumstances of our death, since death is the singular event that finally and completely announces our lack of complete mastery and control.