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Submitted By beansbeans
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An extraordinary poll published by the British Humanist Association (BHA) highlights the public ambivalence about assisted suicide and euthanasia. In conjunction with other recent surveys, it shows that more people are in favour of the law allowing the killing of relatively healthy patients like Tony Nicklinson than of those who are terminally ill.

The "respectable" wing of the assisted dying movement, Dignity in Dying, wants a very limited right to medically assisted suicide: only people who are terminally ill and in full possession of their faculties would qualify. Even this limited position is hugely controversial.

But the BHA believes that doctors should be allowed to help kill anyone who really wants to die and who cannot manage for themselves. This applies explicitly to perfectly healthy people as well as the terminally ill. And it is more popular than the limited position. No more than 15% of the population are opposed, or strongly opposed to it.

In fact, these attitudes are perfectly coherent and show that people understand there are clear limits to individualism. What the public wants is for everyone to have the right to determine as much as possible about their own lives. This includes the manner and moment of death. Suicide then becomes the grandest and clearest declaration that our lives are our own to do what we want with.

You may think that this kind of autonomy is unrealistic and that it can lead to a distorting egoism. I certainly do. But that doesn't make it any less attractive. It speaks to a rather gnostic idea of our being free spirits trapped in gross bodies, which is why someone like Nicklinson made such a powerful figure: his mind was unaffected but his body was ruined.

Yet in practice we do know that no one is like that, and certainly no one is like that all the time. Nicklinson's reasoning powers may have been entirely...

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