The Dignity of the Mob

Three days ago, Bob Cole chose to end his life with dignity, with a smile on his face and listening to Beethoven’s Ode To Joy at Dignitas in Switzerland. Last year, he accompanied his wife to the same clinic to end her life. Every two weeks, another Brit has to leave their home and travel abroad while they’re still able to do so to end their life, generally sooner than they’d have to, if they had the same opportunity under British law to die peacefully at a time of their choosing in more familiar surroundings.

Our politicians struggle with the moral questions surrounding euthanasia, often bringing their own personal deity of choice into the debate. On the other hand, most members of the public who have seen a loved one die slowly through a debilitating illness have no such moral quandaries and know exactly what choice they would make, given the opportunity.

A criticism levelled against Switzerland’s system of (semi-)direct democracy is that it leads to the rule of the mob. Interestingly, such criticism is generally advanced by ideologues who think that a ruling elite with the ‘correct’ opinions should rule over others’ lives; that politicians should ‘lead public opinion’, as they proudly put it – as though politicians were somehow vested with powers of super-wisdom, rather than merely ordinary members of the public who seek power and are subject to political pressure from lobby and special interest groups, or in the worst cases, bribes.

Naturally, these advocates of the chosen few leading the common herd always shout the loudest when the wise few ruling over them don’t happen to be their particular chosen few.

For those who aren’t aware, the Swiss have benefitted for nearly two centuries from a system whereby any franchised citizen can launch an initiative, which, when it reaches a sufficient number of votes, automatically triggers a referendum. It’s a system that I know many people in the UK would dearly love to have, if they were even aware of it. It’s a system which has been widely touted by the likes of UKIP MP Douglas Carswell, Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan, Conservative London mayoral candidate, Zac Goldsmith, and, unusually for a leftist party, the Greens.

That means that unpopular legislation from politicians can always be overruled by the voters. Imagine it… If the public supports renationalisation of the railways, it could have it; no privatisation of the NHS – not a problem; no foreign intervention in wars which don’t concern us – consider it off the cards; if most people support the idea of one’s right to decide when, where, and how to end one’s life, it becomes a reality.

It also means that the public is ultimately responsible for good and bad decision-making and that it therefore tends to be more politicially engaged. Bear in mind that a recent UN research once again found that the Swiss are the happiest people in the world.

After almost two centuries, I think we can conclude that the Swiss system clearly works.

Dignitas is a classic example of where public thinking is way ahead of politicians’ thinking over some core fundamental issues. If this is mob rule, bring on the mob. I’ll get my pitchfork.