Of course choice is good. I aspire to more of it and so do people who have enjoyed much less of it than I have. Offer me more choice, at least in theory, and I’ll say Yes. I’ll answer your loaded opinion poll and tell you I am in favour of this choice and that choice because who, in this culture, can be against more choice without being a heretic? But talk about choice on that day in the future when I am wholly dependent on the people around me, when my life is almost over and I have far more chance of pleasing others by getting out of their way quietly than of making much difference to my own situation, and my choice won’t be about me, it will be about them. And those last days of life, surely, are precisely the moment when choices ought to be about the one approaching the end – and no one else.
How many Parliamentarians who will shortly debate the Falconer Bill on assisted suicide are people with wide enough life experience to empathise with those who see more choice as a threat and not a blessing? How many subscribers to the BMJ put themselves, day by day, into the shoes of people for whom consumer choice is someone else’s luxury, even if their editor chooses to use his journalistic position to make a ruling on behalf of ethicists everywhere?
Some of them, to be sure – maybe many of them. Will they encourage the rest to dig deep into their imaginations, to empathise with people who are not articulate, who are used to being done unto, and who have lived on the receiving end of other’s choices all their lives?
They are in Parliament to govern on behalf of all citizens. The weak. The poor. The vulnerable. The dying. The ones who don’t want to be a nuisance. The ones who do not regard choice as an unalloyed good, as well as the people who are used to choosing. And the medical profession too – despite the sweeping assertions of the BMJ about the nature of ethics, are also in business for those people.
Will the Parliamentarians and the medics empathise beyond their own kind? I hope so. I do hope so.