Get access

Splitting the Difference? Principled Compromise and Assisted Dying


  • Richard Huxtable

    Corresponding author
    • Address for correspondence: Richard Huxtable, Centre for Ethics in Medicine, School of Social and Community Medicine, University of Bristol, Room G.4a, Canynge Hall, 39 Whatley Road, Bristol BS8 2PS. Tel: 0117 331 4511. Email:

    Search for more papers by this author

  • Conflict of interest statement: No conflicts declared


Compromise on moral matters attracts ambivalent reactions, since it seems at once laudable and deplorable. When a hotly-contested phenomenon like assisted dying is debated, all-or-nothing positions tend to be advanced, with little thought given to the desirability of, or prospects for, compromise. In response to recent articles by Søren Holm and Alex Mullock, in this article I argue that principled compromise can be encouraged even in relation to this phenomenon, provided that certain conditions are present (which I suggest they are). In order to qualify as appropriately principled, the ensuing negotiations require disputants to observe three constraints: they should be suitably reflective, reliable and respectful in their dealings with one another. The product that will result from such a process will also need to split the difference between the warring parties. In assisted dying, I argue that a reduced offence of ‘compassionate killing’ can achieve this. I acknowledge, however, that splitting the difference can induce splitting headaches, as there remain certain questions to be answered. Hopefully, however, sufficient work is done here to defend attempts to occupy the middle ground, whether these relate to assisted dying specifically or to other disputed moral matters.