For some reason, I am reminded of the poem "The Last Hero", by G.K. Chesterton.
The poem is in four stanzas. They describe powerful enemies, a ruined castle, a kidnapped bride, a final battle, and death.
The last two stanzas are especially striking.
The wind blew out from Bergen to the dawning of the day,
They ride and run with fifty spears to break and bar my way,
I shall not die alone, alone, but kin to all the powers,
As merry as the ancient sun and fighting like the flowers.
How white their steel, how bright their eyes! I love each laughing knave,
Cry high and bid him welcome to the banquet of the brave.
Yea, I will bless them as they bend and love them where they lie,
When on their skulls the sword I swing falls shattering from the sky.
The hour when death is like a light and blood is like a rose, --
You never loved your friends, my friends, as I shall love my foes.
Know you what earth shall lose to-night, what rich uncounted loans,It feels like a tale from a distant past. The main character is a man accustomed to war and violence; he is on his final battlefield.
What heavy gold of tales untold you bury with my bones?
My loves in deep dim meadows, my ships that rode at ease,
Ruffling the purple plumage of strange and secret seas.
To see this fair earth as it is to me alone was given,
The blow that breaks my brow to-night shall break the dome of heaven.
The skies I saw, the trees I saw after no eyes shall see,
To-night I die the death of God; the stars shall die with me;
One sound shall sunder all the spears and break the trumpet's breath:
You never laughed in all your life as I shall laugh in death.
The man's choices had something to do with his death. But his choices were not alone; they intertwined with the choices of other men. The path that resulted doesn't look like a death with dignity: angering powerful foes, losing a castle (and whatever army he led), outnumbered in his last struggle, and death at the hands of his enemies.
Yet the story seems magnificent. The man is defiant, not despondent.
The discussion of death-with-dignity seems to hinge on the assumption that dignity can be found in the time and manner of death. And that personal autonomy is incredibly valuable.
I find this to be odd. Isn't dignity to be found in the life that precedes death, rather than in the ability to choose time and manner of death?
How much autonomy do I have, if the decisions of many others (living and dead) affect the situation I live in?
I can choose things that increase (or decrease) the risks of medical trouble. Similarly, I can choose things that can increase (or decrease) the odds that other people might attempt to harm me.
But I can not insulate myself from outside forces. The chances of life are too varied; the world is too wide for that.