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.

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The Trouble with Tunnel Vision

I have received a bit of feedback suggesting that what I have written so far in this blog comes across as a bit too serious. Upon honest inspection, I have to agree that it presents me as having a touch of tunnel vision. That would not make me unique in the blogosphere, where many adhere to the philosophical position of, “I think, therefore I rant!”

My problem is that I do not want to be a ranter, and the novel I have written is not a rant, but the nature of some of my blog posts could cause potential readers to regard it as a polemic, and a long one at that. When I started this blog, I wanted it to draw attention to my novel, but without it looking like an advertisement, so I wrote posts about my take on the art of storytelling and the craft of writing, followed by a discussion of the issues contained in my story. However, re-reading my posts in sequence gives the impression that I am focusing on the concerns associated with assisted dying rather than reflecting the way the issue is presented in my novel.

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You cannot see the hazards if you only look at your own next step.

In my previous posts, I have outlined what underpins my perception of the dangers of changing the law on assisted dying, and those who support legalisation might be wary of what seems like a campaign, but my position is not that one-sided. It is the result of an ethical journey in which religious scripture played no part whatsoever.

Those who support the idea of assisted dying often like to label their opponents as religious sheep who are merely bleating in accordance with the text of an old book, but that is too simplistic a view to take about any moral argument. I walked away from religion decades ago, but I do not reject it as worthless; I just prefer to work things out for myself. As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I wrote ‘The Sin of Choice’ because it stayed in my mind and refused to be moved, but there is more to it than that. A simple but persistent idea could persuade you to create a blog or engage in online discussions, but is such an idea enough to compel anyone to write a third of a million words?

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How do we balance misery as we slide down the slippery slope?

Set in the context of a lone individual who is suffering the final stages of a debilitating illness, the offer of an assisted death can be seen as the alleviation of misery, and therefore as a good idea. Yet this notion is subverted if you take a wider view of society and of different forms of misery. Pain causes misery, but so to does fear.

In earlier posts I talked about us all living a shared life and I said that your kin are who you say they are. This is the fulcrum on which the balance of misery rests. A choice that alleviates one person’s misery can lead to an increase in the suffering of others, and to such an extent that the overall level of suffering in our society can rise. None of this is easy or comforting to anyone suffering from a debilitating condition, and in such circumstances it is difficult to hear that public policy should be set in accordance with what is best for the many rather than the few, but it remains the only credible basis on which any society can function.

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How much sand should remain in the hourglass?

The metaphor of an hourglass succinctly encapsulates the fulcrum on which balance the ideas expressed in the previous three posts when you apply them to the act of assisted dying. As with many aspects of humanity, the general principles of mutual behaviour, however wise and robust in the public arena, can be broken into pieces when dropped onto the hard surface of private family pain.
Those who have experienced the anguish of witnessing someone they love in pain as death approaches will probably have scoffed at the apparent detachment of the ethical arguments I have previously raised. The alleviation of suffering is always a worthy goal, but it depends of the amount of sand remaining in the top of the hourglass. When only a little sand is left, it occupies a narrow space that matches the narrow perspective of the final stage of person’s life. By this I mean the very end, when the medicine given to ease pain can bring death a little sooner, perhaps with the quiet consent of a medical professional who can focus general legalised ethics down to the moral imperative of sparing everyone concerned the final mile of pain. This has been done since before Hippocrates wrote his oath, as it is both practical and compassionate, and it requires the close involvement of the physician with the patient.

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The Wrong Idea of Rights

The idea that your life is solely your own is based on the right of personal autonomy, which I have challenged in an earlier post. I will now go further and challenge the very nature of rights themselves.
All of us like the rights we have, and we regard them as sacrosanct, but we perhaps forget where they originated. Some have existed for centuries while others are recent, but none of them were created by you. An isolated and self-sufficient person could create a long list of rights, but none of them would mean anything in a solitary life. All your rights are privileges created by the society in which you live, and they only have meaning in that context. You have no automatic right to education or healthcare or justice; you are just fortunate enough to live in a society that has come to recognise the collective benefit of such things and agreed to provide them. Common consensus has defined these privileges as sufficiently important to be enshrined in written law, which is itself another gift that only a society can provide for you.

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Your kin are who you say they are.

In my previous post, I said that the medical staff who delivered me via caesarean section were not just doing a job of work; they saw me as kindred and brought me into the world. This will strike no one as surprising because we are all familiar with the concept of compassion, but we perhaps overlook its origins. An evolutionary biologist might tell us that as we evolved into a sentient species capable of sophisticated abstract thought, we recognised that our prospects for survival would be improved if we worked together and helped one another. Thus we could say that our global population of over seven billion is a triumph of reciprocal altruism, but that is a rather sterile way to look at something profound.

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Whose life is it anyway?

If I asked you who owns your life, you would probably reply, almost as a reflex, that you own your life and no one can tell you otherwise. It is an empowering thought and a troubling delusion.
Troubling? How can the autonomy of the individual be seen as troubling when it is one of the cornerstones of how humanity sees itself? Yet this is not true. The accurate version of this statement is to say that the autonomy of the individual is one of the cornerstones of how human beings see themselves. The difference in words is only slight, but the implications are great.

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Why did I write a story about assisted dying?

The scarcity with which the topic of assisted dying is mentioned in written fiction can be interpreted in different ways. Authors look to make a living from their writing, and so wish to produce what are deemed to be the choicest tales. It can also be said that authors write what they like to read, so their lack of satisfaction with the last few books they have read in a particular genre may inspire them to write their own story, which will be free of all the irritating aspects of other people’s work.