Yesterday I went to my very first proper protest. Proper in the sense that it wasn't an art installation, but a good old fashioned placard-holding and slogan shouting event. Actually I'd gone in many ways sceptical, assuming protests did nothing very useful. I was there more to support my colleagues than my cause. As usual I found myself to be wrong.
Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying Bill had it's second reading in the House of Lords in what would become quite an intense day. 10 hours of debate. 130 peers requested to speak. And there we were outside, fenced off from the pro-side--protesting by our side in logistics alone. (Yes, I was against the Bill)
The pro-side were interesting because it was made up of a lot more people my age, I'd guess students more interested in it as an academic issue. So they thinned out pretty early, while we stayed strong all day. But the thinning out meant I could quite easily hop the fence, so to speak, and go see about giving some leaflets to the opposition.
The reasons the pro-side were there were all admirable. They had known people who had suffered immensely and were deprived the choice to die, and they cared enough to do something about it. Or they were simply, and rightfully, aware of the importance of fighting for autonomy of choice, and dignity in dying. Of course I knew this before meeting them, but it was still very moving to meet them.
They had less idea why I was there. Actually, they had no idea.
This of course is often framed as a religious issue, and indeed there is a strong religious presence on the anti-side. It's also very much a disability issue, with both sides of the debate having a strong call to certain disabled people. Those afraid that as a disabled person they represent a very vulnerable group in society for abuse of the law, if the law were to change. And those afraid that as a disabled person they represent a group of people who need that choice for themselves.
So as an atheist, libertarian (ish) able bodied person, it seemed a little like I'd accidentally picked up the wrong placard.
And in a sense I had. Because as an atheist, libertarian (ish) and the many other relevant things I am, I'd have liked to be protesting on the other side.
You see, while in principle I don't have anything against people having a right to choose, my stance is that our culture is not ready yet. We will abuse the law, just as other countries have, and just as we abuse the system as it currently stands. And while I have great sympathy for those who are suffering and want to die and should have that right, it sadly doesn't justify the wrongful loss of lives that will come from it.
And this is what this debate really come down to: will it be abused?
There is too much support for the bill for either the Christian or disabled person perceptive to be relevant to whether or not it gets passed. That's the reality, and why we started the day expecting a vote.
However, during the House of Lord's debate, there was a surprising amount of mind changing. This is where naive me realised that protesting, as well as the many other things that happen in the lead up, are all important ways of focusing an issue on certain key arguments over other arguments. The ignorant, negative interpretations get blown away, and the more important things shine through. This is what happened yesterday in the House of Lords; minds were being changed as more of them become aware of the risk of abuse. As such, in the end there was a shock no vote.
Of course it remains popular with the public, and this is because, I believe, these criticism haven't properly spread out yet. When/if it does, I am optimistic it will change a great many peoples minds