The Muddled Majority

Recent opinion polls in the Irish Times and elsewhere have highlighted a curious mismatch in the public discourse on the 8th amendment. The majority of people (55% according to the Irish times) seem to be of the view that sometimes, just sometimes, the least worst. most medically appropriate, decent, compassionate and realistic option is to allow for the termination of a pregnancy; even where that pregnancy had been very much wanted. That this should be available safely, legally and within Ireland. That the circumstances that would give rise to a recourse to this action should be, if at all possible, minimised or eliminated, whether through the further development of medical science or the rigorous enforcement and vigilance of the criminal justice system where crimes are the cause of the pregnancy. In other words that the need would be as rare as possible and that we as a society should be doing all that we can to make it so.

Yet, listen to our airwaves, read our papers, and consider the views most commonly voiced in our politics and you’ll see that these are dominated by the views of the extreme ends of the debate which are supported by just 19% and 18% of people. So long as those are allowed to dictate the discourse and shape how this issue is dealt with then, so it would seem we are doomed to fail to deal sensibly and decently with the messy reality of being human beings.

We see that modern medicine can prolong life long beyond when a person can’t make use or enjoyment of it especially when disease has debilitated them or left them in constant pain and so we’re kind of but not entirely comfortable with the notion that the individual should be able to choice when to depart this life. Yet we’re scared what that might mean for ourselves one day. We see that sometimes a much wanted pregnancy is not going to end as hoped for and that a couple may feel unable to endure a long slow agony of letting gone, and prefer instead to bring that to a more sudden perhaps more manageable stop. Yet we see that others may prefer to endure and indeed enjoy every moment that they’ve given however short that might be. And we’re unsure which we’d be if it came right down to it, and we’re conscious that it may, just may, represent a slippery slope to the avoidance of progressive wider and wider forms of what might be termed less optimal outcomes. That it might lead to the elimination of many forms of what some term imperfection, that others would call a core part of a rich human diversity.

So we’re unsure and we’re confused and we’re not neat or hard or fast in our opinions and the 18 and the 19% shout us down, and dismiss us and our muddle as unworthy of consideration. Yet without us they can’t change anything, and if it’s change that’s needed then the tidy mess needs to be acknowledged and listened to and taken on board otherwise change will not happen and the status quo will remain in effect. Isn’t that also a large part of the problem of modern life and the politics of it that many of the issues we’re grappling with are too untidy and too messy to fit neatly into any particular predefined boxes. We want to support others who are less fortunate than others and are willing to do so through our taxes but we’ve also got a lot of things we’d like to do ourselves with the money we’ve earned and so we’re constantly caught in two minds between want to ensure others are ok but that we’re ok too. We make compromises with ourselves and then try and find ways to break them. We want to be free to do what we want without the interference of others, while retaining the right to interfere in the choices of others.

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