Posts tagged with Life and Death (ethics)


The Oxygen of Morality

Kerrie Wooltorton is dead. But she isn’t going to go away. Her sad suicide, and the aiding and abetting of that suicide by her doctors, have opened a door to a cesspit of legal incompetence and medical Eichmannship.

For those who have been frying fish for the last few days, KW was a woman with both depression and emotionally unstable personality disorder who wanted to kill herself. That’s what she said, anyway.

Merely Potential Persons

An extraordinary paper published in that hot purple-top The Journal of Medical Ethics has ignited a storm of controversy. The naïve authors argue that a newborn is morally no different to a foetus – both being ‘merely potential persons’ – and thus infanticide – renamed after-birth abortion by the authors – should be permitted on the same grounds as those used for abortion. The pro-life lobby reacted predictably, and demonstrated forcefully that for many of them, pro-life sentiments do not extend to academic philosophers who espouse eugenic arguments. Quite the opposite, in fact: the authors, and the JME for publishing the paper, have been subjected to a torrent of hate, abuse, fire-crackers and death-threats.

Foul and Burdensome Treatment

There is no doubt that the treatment ordered by the Court of Protection, and now to be forced upon E, a critically ill anorexic in her thirties, will be not only foul and burdensome, but intensive and extended too, perhaps for a year or more, providing she does not die in the meantime. For E, the treatment is likely to unspeakably foul, for she appears to have conflated the invasive nature of forced feeding, not to mention mechanical ventilation should that also be provided, with sexual abuse she suffered as a child. Moreover, the order for active treatment has been made at a time when E has already been admitted for palliative care, and started on the Liverpool Care Pathway, in the expectation she will die, and so represents an epic, even gruesome, volte-face, at a time when the patient was already settled on the glide plane to death. Can, we must ask, such a rude, and very likely futile, reversal ever be justified? Is it not, to use the old phrase, a clear case of striving officiously to keep alive, when common humanity calls for care and compassion in the face of the inevitable?

Malicious Seeds of Mischievous Doubt

“[Most] patients would much rather be a live problem than a dead certainty.”

—Lord Cohen

There are those who say that holocaust denial is a crime; and those who say that the BBC had no business allowing the BNP leader Nick Griffin space on Question Time. Giving air to vile thoughts, they say, allows those thoughts a legitimacy they do not deserve.

The Ghastly Passage

Without so much as a hint of irony, a character in one of Susan Howatch’s novels gives orders that under no circumstances should that ghastly passage by Scott Holland be read at her funeral. The ghastly passage is Death Is Nothing At All:

“Death is nothing at all. It does not count. I have only slipped away into the next room. Nothing has happened. Everything remains exactly as it was. I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by the old familiar name. Speak of me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was.”

What’s God Got To Do With It?

November is the sombrest month. As the leaves complete their fall, we Brits go through two very different but very British annual events, Remembrance and Children in Need. Both have at their heart charitie, in the King James sense of the word, but the tone of each could not be more different. On the BBC, Remembrance commentary comes from National Treasures, Huyuwoo Wedwards and Dimblebug D currently standing in, while Children in Need is forever stamped with the ebullience of a National Buffoon, one Terry Wogan. Heaven forbid that, in the current rush - 1459 comments - to secularise Remembrance, Wogan be ballooned in to Remembrance, or, for that matter, Wedwards be wheeled in to Children in Need. Instinctively, we know neither would do; instead, each to his time and place. Wogan’s 1978 Eurovision commentary, caught all those years ago by Clive James, ‘not by any means full’, simply wouldn’t do at the Royal Albert Hall. Neither would the second half of the phrase, ‘possibly for security reasons’, given that most of what is left of our Armed Forces, and a good few fierce looking Veterans armour-plated with medals and bristling with whiskers if not weaponry, were packed into the Hall for the night. Any sharp-shooters dropping by could be sure of a hot reception.

Snuffed Goose Recipe

We shall probably never know whether Ray Gosling was an inspired stage name, or the portentous real name for a lad who, after a TV life rich in sauce and stuffing, would spend much of his later life stuffed and trussed, before – in a final defiant gesture – spatchcocking himself on camera in a lonely graveyard.

Last Monday, early evening BBC viewers in the East Midlands region were greeted by Gosling, decked out in a fetching overcoat, ambling through the tombstones. Speaking in his best bus driver documentary voice, he mused: ‘Maybe this is the time to share a secret that I’ve kept for quite a long time’. Viewers expecting a homely confession that he rigged a past documentary were in for a shock.

The Position to which We’re Sticking

Deferring to the General Synod, which has decided that the Assisted Dying Bill is a Bill up with which it will not put, a bishop declared, ‘that’s the position to which we’re sticking’ (there have since been calls for a Royal Commission, presumably with the long grass in mind). The clarification was needed after an ex-archbish put the cat among the clerics by coming seriously unstuck. Writing in the Daily Mail – hullo? – Lord Carey has come out very publicly in support of assisted suicide, just before the Bill is to be debated in the Lords. Words like shocking rattled round the media faster than balls rattle at Wimbledon. Spigott, the BBC’s God correspondent, had to pinch and remind himself that Carey really was once Chief Pongo of the CoE. This wasn’t the moon faced oval headed conservative Carey bowling from the pavilion end, it was far more striking, as if he had blown his moral brains out. In the event, it turns out he may have shot himself not in the head but foot. Carey’s outing of his change of heart has electrified the established Church into a frenzy of opposition to assisted suicide.

The Curse of a Fortunate Man

Over the years Dr No has encountered a number of single handed general practices. His first encounter was on a Scottish island, as a student, in a practice made memorable by two things: the sweet malt smell from the oil drum sized barrel of beer that brewed beside the kitchen range, and the loan of the practice Land Rover, with a licence to roam the island. Later, as a locum, he found single-handed GPs on leave a reliable source of work: he could be transported, as if by a revolving door, to the seat of a single handed GP. For a week or two, he had eyes-only access to almost every aspect of the practice. He saw the intimate details first hand, not as a squinting sociologist might, but as a living participant. And living practices they certainly were, but pretty rum many of them were too. Too often for comfort, opening a drawer in search of a prescription pad, Dr No was greeted not with a jumble of papers, tongue depressors and broken tape measures, but with the clink-chink of bottles of high proof but non-surgical spirit.

Ain’t Turning No Machine Off

“I ain’t turning no machine off” said Kelly, as if she was a teenager talking about shutting down her Playstation. In fact, she was a mother talking about turning off the life support for her very premature baby.

And so it was that last night's BBC2 documentary 23 Week Babies: the Price of Life exposed one of the central dilemmas at the heart of the medical and ethical minefield that is whether to resuscitate very premature babies. Kelly was clearly up for not turning no machines off. Whether she was up for understanding, let alone navigating, the medico-moral minefield was another matter altogether. She hadn’t even in fact been asked to turn no machine off, only what her views were on aggressive resuscitation should her baby take a turn for the worst. The program’s presenter, Adam Wishart – a thoughtful cove whose brief onscreen appearances featured averted eyes, even if the eyes of his cameras probed mercilessly – asked: is it right to place such a burden of responsibility on the parents?