I had some more thoughts on complex issues in public life. I do agree that there are issues that simply so complex that it is difficult to have a reasoned debate about them in a wider sphere. But what I also find fascinating is the way in which complex issues often get discussed effectively in fairly simple ways. There are times when issues of staggering moral, scientific, and ethical challenge nonetheless are dealt with in straightforward discussions and a new consensus reached. The one that leaps to mind is the Schiavo case. Here we had a deeply nuanced situation that involved issues of “when do we declare someone dead”, issues of parental versus spousal rights, issues of government versus private power, and others too numerous to mention. The discussion that went on around Terri Schiavo was often framed in deeply simple (simplistic if you’d prefer) ways, and yet, I think, everyone understood the layers pretty well. The result was something of a consensus in public life that hadn’t really existed before, I don’t think, around the idea of assisted dying. Whether you agree with that consensus, it was not one reached particularly lightly or without public soul-searching. The process of the discussion itself was pretty awful and painful for most involved, but that may well be a reflection of just how difficult the decision itself was, rather than a failure on the part of the body politic.

And, interestingly enough, there were serious consequences for those who tried to use the situation for frivolous purposes. Senator Frist, for example, essentially (along with a couple of other missteps he made around the same time) scuppered any chances he had with his behavior during the period.