Writing as a conservative for a newspaper published in the most liberal city in the state, I have always expected that many readers will disagree with my views.

Opinions that would pass unremarked in Peoria, Pittsburgh or Pensacola bring quick retorts in Portland. That’s fine; I get to write what I believe, readers get to write what they do.

But some responses bemuse me. For example, a comment last week about my view on assisted suicide (which is that legalizing it would be a tragic error) said my opinion was “at odds with (my) usual conservative ideology.”

OK, conservatives have “ideologies,” while leftists have thoughtful, well-considered points of view. I understand that.

But how is supporting respect for vulnerable human life against atomistic individualism inconsistent with decades of my previous writings? Where did that come from?

Let me hazard a guess: The writer stated a premise and a conclusion, and accused me, because I have a qualified agreement with the premise, that I contradicted myself in opposing the conclusion.

No, I didn’t — because I don’t define the relevant terms the same way he does.

The premise? “America is built on the foundation of the right(s) of the individual.” I would instead have said, along with the Declaration of Independence, that they were “inalienable, God-given rights.”

And where in that list of rights does self-destruction appear? Until very recently, no one asserted it did, and the underlying premise is not that our lives are divinely granted, but that they are random constructs that we own ourselves, and thus can dispose of as we wish.

This wasn’t our Founders’ view, as they knew where rights originate. As John Adams said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

However, our culture has to a large extent (but not yet completely) turned away from the idea that life, even lived poorly, is preferable to death.

It has rejected Adams’ view and substituted a real ideology — hard-core naturalistic materialism — instead. It says we make our own decisions about our existence because we spring from nothing and end up as nothing, and all we have is our own identity.

It is why feminists can say “We own our bodies” — even when they contain someone else’s body — and have a right to end the fully human life within them by their own sovereign decision.

That’s not conservatism, folks. Radical individualism may be Ayn Rand’s cup of tea, but it’s not mine. Rand applies it to economic issues, and the radical left to social ones, but the cup is poisoned either way.

Conservatives know that while human beings have the capability of doing great good in life, they also have the innate ability to do great evil — and can justify it under many disguises, including asserting desires as “rights.”

So, some say that the worst thing in life is suffering, and that ending it — even by ending the life of the sufferer — overrides any other value, including the one that says we would be wise to see how other countries have exercised this “right.”

Other nations, equal in cultural and civilizational depth to our own, have shown where this leads. Though their initial laws permitted only consensual deaths for the terminally ill, the same as proposed here, Belgium and the Netherlands now kill hundreds of the mentally ill, the comatose and newborns and young children without consent.

Meanwhile, Switzerland’s “Dignitas” and “Exit” clinics accept the depressed and the “weary of life,” even those without any physical illness, for their fatal aid.

If this prevails here, what’s the future look like? In the June issue of the journal First Things, Patrick Deneen, associate professor of Constitutional Studies at Notre Dame, says it will see us “unleashed from the old restraints of culture and place, where libertarian indifference — whether in respect to economic inequality or morals — is inscribed into the national fabric, and where the unburdened, hedonic human will reign ascendant.”

And he concluded: “No limits reflected in political, social, or religious norms can be permitted: All are allowed except those who would claim the legitimacy of restraint.”

I hope this answers the complaint that my arguments against legal self-elimination depend on abuses of the practice. To tell vulnerable people that, instead of trying to eliminate their suffering, we want to eliminate them, is itself the principal abuse.

That some of them come to agree with that icy diagnosis doesn’t make it better, it makes it far worse.

Assisted suicide, and its close cousin euthanasia, are abuses of the hard-won lessons of Western culture, and of the regard we owe each other in our common humanity.

Indeed, they are far worse than abuses. They are betrayals.

M.D. Harmon, a retired journalist and military officer, is a freelance writer and speaker. Email at: [email protected].