Making Moral Decisions: A Worked Example image

Making Moral Decisions: A Worked Example

Yesterday, I chanced across the most appalling news story. A mother whose daughter was threatening to jump off the roof of a 10-storey car park had to stand by and listen as onlookers shouted "Jump!"

It’s awful. The girl’s mother described it as ‘the worst of humanity’

I saw people sitting in the gutter for three hours watching with their children.


“Because I was behind the cordon, and had been given a chair and coffee, people had realised I was her mum. “Quite a lot approached me and asked why she was up there and what she was doing. “One said, ‘Stupid cow – why doesn’t she just jump?’

Apart from tone, though, what is the difference between those shouts and the calls for the legalisation of assisted suicide?

I suspect many readers of the iPaper, where I saw the story, would be appalled that anyone would shout such a thing. And as the girl herself said, “What did they hope to see? Did they really want to see me splattered on the pavement?”

Yet many of those same readers would likely be in favour of assisted suicide. Indeed, a Populus poll in 2015 found that 82% of respondents supported Lord Falconer’s Bill to make it legal.

I blogged about this weird dichotomy on my own blog yesterday, noting:

If you’re shocked at one you have to consider why you’re not shocked at the other.

I’ve commented before that we seem to hold some weird distinction between mental anguish and the physical variety. That is apparently changing too, however - this article in The Economist supports, with caution, assisted dying for the mentally ill, despite its own assertion that no one wants it:
“The hardest question is whether doctor-assisted dying should be available for those in mental anguish. No one wants to make suicide easier for the depressed: many will recover and enjoy life again. But mental pain is as real as physical pain, even though it is harder for onlookers to gauge. And even among the terminally ill, the suffering that causes some to seek a quicker death may not be physical. Doctor-assisted death on grounds of mental suffering should therefore be allowed. [Emphasis mine]”

I couldn’t comprehend how we’ve got to this point, where a national newspaper can come out in support of a position it thinks nobody wants. How is that paragraph even possible?

And then I read Andrew’s post and it all made sense.

When you understand that in our culture “intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second” and there is little concept of the idea that “there [might be] more to morality than harm and fairness”, it all becomes clear. We have trained ourselves to reason like elephants with a third of a tongue (or something!).

So here’s a worked example for you: Given that

1) Most people would think it was wrong to shout ‘Jump’ to a suicidal person on top of a building, and
2) 82% of those people would likely think it’s right to help someone die if they are terminally ill and consider their suffering to be unbearable (though the Economist article says even this is too limited, and “The criterion for assisting dying should be a patient’s assessment of his suffering, not the nature of his illness”), and
3) The stats are little different for those who self-identify as Christians (see p3 of the Populus poll),

how would you begin to teach through this in your church? How would you talk about it to individuals? How do each of Andrew’s/Jonathan Haidt’s five points help?

As Andrew says, you may need to buy the book. I know I’m going to.

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