On Assisted suicide and other wicked issues

Optimists who before the economic crash blindly believed that the world was heading for a global economic convergence in liberal capitalism were as deluded as they were then as now if they still believe. For those who felt that this economic singularity was opening up space for world harmony, then only drugs can save them now. Once upon a time disease, poverty, food shortages were real issues that needed real solutions, and, lo and behold, much has not changed. In fact, we have new items to add to the list of problems that require many solutions, some of them almost economically impossible with our current urgencies.

Last November Demos released a report entitled Connecting the Dots, taking a look at “joined-up” methods of tackling the so-called “wicked problems“. The examples they look at are the drugs trade, climate change and gang crime, which are issues that at best need global action to solve, and often seem not possible to curb, calling instead for attempts to harness the problem. Climate change is not the fault of one place more than another, and even if nation states are more to blame than another, even then pinpointing the exact point of blame from within that nation state is a long, unfruitful affair. This, like the drugs trade, then begs for a global solution – and it’s not looking good.

Also like the drugs trade, gang crime is often not as easy to curb as “cracking down” on it, sociologists on the issue, like Professor John Pitts of the University of Luton, look at where the need to feel the unity of a gang stems from, places where the state can not retroactively counter like bullying, weak households, histories of physical, mental and sexual violence. The drugs trade, in the same category, to start with relies on an all to willing consumer – where, here, is the traceable point of blame?

John Gray in his book Black Mass looks at the wider expressions of political outlook, those congruent with Christian notions of End Time, such as aspects of Communism (End of History), Fascism (global anti-Semitism), neo-liberalism (Fukuyama’s notion that the fall of the Berlin Wall points to global liberal capitalist convergence), neo-conservatism (the export of democracy to backward countries), and condemns them for their appeals to a utopianism that is not only impossible, but the harbinger of a global delusion – that everything will soon be just fine. A very negative outlook indeed, which is not testimony to ignoring it, but what is his political solution thus? What he calls political realism, which is akin to saying politics should address, acknowledge, and harness global problems, instead of supposing that one day everything will be fine.

Gray’s thesis is much like the Demos report in that it shows political problems to be uneasy to deal with, though made all the worse by pretending to have a single solution, for example gang crime will be phased out by 20?? or by 2050 carbon emissions will be cut down to ??. The latter calls for multi-agency approaches, youth offending networks assessing the local problems so as to address wider ones, looking towards results emanating from the Boston Gun Project in the US etc etc. Gray, from his work, criticises those illusions which suggest solutions come easy, noting such a political motives’ legacy in Plato’s “noble lie” – the notion that to maintain social harmony, a social elite must hold untruths (it has been suggested that the basis of the Iraq war was based on a noble lie, though how noble this might be is questionable).

Plato preferred the political noble lie to democracy, saying that the latter was informed by a compulsion for mob rule. Wrong. But how can we extend the utility of a noble lie, whilst not ignoring Gray’s thesis, to a societal ill that at the same time not only harnesses it as a problem that can be considered wicked, but also curbs its “criminal” conclusions? The problem is assisted suicide.

Critics of the current system say the state should have no part on the pursuit of the individual, whereas the opposite charge is how can the state allow, and thereby sanction, suicide as a means to an end. I hold the view that nobody is in a position to say whether suicide is the right thing to do for whatever reason, but that the state should act as an overseer for justice and suicide falls under this category, therefore the state has the right to act accordingly, and therefore its institutions, with expertise from the health department, should inform what diagnosis fits where – and suicide is never such a diagnosis. Suicide as such should remain illegal, but of course if successful, the punishment is rendered obsolete anyway. However daft this might seem, it makes sense inasmuch as suicide is illegal in the eyes of the law. Just because a person cares not about the punishment that fits a crime of passion (say a person kills their partner for cheating, irrespective of the consequences), does not mean that legal status should not be bestowed upon a crime if the person committing that crime feels nothing for that legal status. Assisted suicide is another matter though. Now of course this is a crime, and usual procedures fit in my opinion. That person who has assisted should go through the usual legal route of court proceedings, however, again in my opinion, that person should be assessed for his crime and have their sentence duly suspended. Why bother, you ask. The trial will assess what surrounds the crime, whether there is anything dodgy about it (because, remember, there could be), and whether it was really an act of compassion. It might help to remember that crimes of supposed necessity – like assisted suicide usually is – happen, and are still criminal. Who would ever really scorn a poor Mother who stole bread from a shop. Some compassion by the judiciary should be bestowed to that Mother, but to decriminalise her act would be to open up the space for people with less than compassionate intentions.

The ideal end to a trial where a person has committed the act of suicide assistance would be where they have their sentence suspended on compassionate grounds, but after due legal examination to check as best as possible that nothing dubious has crept through the cracks, which is where I depart from the current perception of this crime, that often compassion is not bestowed upon the offender.

But this is not exactly a noble lie. My suggestion, however, is that if this was carried out, it should be in effect a noble lie in that it would not be broadcast outside the legal domain, therefore a small section of society would know a little more than transparency would allow. It would be my wild guess that for all those who want to commit suicide, many of them would not get this same decision passed through the most objective medical examination. Therefore if we can curb assisted suicide where unnecessary that would surely be a good thing. If my proposal was carried out in full view of the public it would render the move pointless, because if you knew you would get away with it in the end anyway the law would not function in the way it should properly (to stop crime). But in knowledge of a scrutiny panel, maybe alternatives would be considered, even in the toughest of cases.

I have no criticism for those who wish to pursue suicide, but everyone should be agreed that it would be better without it. And though we can not stop it where it might seem necessary, and is indeed crucial, legalities still need to be adhered to. But for those people who do deserve, compassion should be extended, the legal process is to filter those who deserve it from those who do not, exactly like in any other case. The noble lie would be to make sure the whole thing is not pointless, and should not carry exactly the same weight as it did with Plato and his elitist, anti-democratic ideas. This would be an act of compassion, strategic thinking, and realist measurement.


2 Responses to On Assisted suicide and other wicked issues

  1. Pingback: Linky love 6th January « Left Outside

  2. Pingback: Martin Amis and Dr. Crippen: A Tenuous Link « Raincoat Optimism

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