Do most people have a foot on either side of the line?

When it comes to assisted dying, I believe there are four categories into which most people fall.

1. Fundamentally committed to legalised assisted dying as a matter of principle.
2. In favour of assisting people to die without undue suffering.
3. Concerned about the ramifications of the legalisation of assisted dying.
4. Fundamentally opposed to legalised assisted dying as a matter of principle.

People in the first and fourth categories are fixed in their views, but I think those in second and third categories are more flexible in their approach to the issue, and can have a foot on either the line that divides support from opposition. As I have mentioned in previous posts, the journey I embarked upon as I created the characters and plots for “The Sin of Choice” was one where I expanded the scope of my view, and this is reflected in a story that shows the problems that exist on both sides of the issue, from public policy to private pain. I started in the second category because I only looked at my own situation, but after widening my thinking, I took a step into the third category, but only with one foot. The distance moved was not great, but the implications were. I believe that most people are in these middle categories, and I think it is also likely that many people stradle the line between the two.

From what I have heard, and this is anecdotal, campaign groups opposed to assisted dying claim that when the potential risk to vulnerable people is added to an opinion poll question, support for assisted dying falls. I have not yet had the chance to verify that claim, but it makes sense to me because it fits with what I observe of the compassion inherent in the human condition. When the question covers both sides of the line, compassion for the dying is balanced with compassion for those who could be put at risk.

In September 2015, the UK parliament voted against a bill to legalise assisted dying by 330 votes to 118. I sense that the majority of those who voted against the bill would have a foot in the third category, since parliamentarians spend a lot of time scrutinising potential legislation, line by line, and considering the consequences.

If most people are in the middle categories, as I suspect, and if only a small shift of opinion can cause a movement between the two, it makes me wonder if we can ever come to a settlement. Witnessing a painful death could move you one way, while witnessing a loved-one become vulnerable but still remain valid could move you the other way. I made a small step, but I did not discard my compassion for the dying, and I cannot say if my position will shift again in the future. Those in the middle ground could be affected by developments in end-of-life care, so none can be sure on which side of the line they will stand in the future.

Unfortunately, as with many debates, especially those that involve issues of life and death, the extremists shout loudest and often drown out the conversation of those in the middle. If the flexible but polite majority allow rigid and vocal minorities to dominate the discourse, we have no debate at all, just a shouting match, and that is no way to find an answer to one of the most important ethical questions of our time. So, which category, or categories, are you in, and are you prepared to listen to those on the other side of the line?

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