Archive for January, 2012

Do we, as free individuals, have the right to die? The answer is not clear. The law as it stands says that it is no longer a crime to commit or attempt suicide by our own hand. It also now says that friends and family who help us to die, when we no longer have the means to take our own lives, are unlikely to face prosecution. However, if we ask a medical professional to help us because our loved ones refuse, are we breaking the law?

Until last week, the answer to that question appeared to be an unequivocal yes. However, a high court ruling that granted a paralysed man facing this exact dilemma the right to consult with legal practitioners of assisted suicide, such as Dignitas in Switzerland, in order to prepare his case for legally permitting it here and identifying an individual willing to help him take his own life, has turned this conventional wisdom on its head and reopened the right to die debate yet again.

The question we must now confront as a liberal democratic society is whether we should have the right to die. Reading the heart-rendering interview with the man in question, identified only as Martin, who uses a computer to communicate as he cannot speak, it is hard not to come to the same conclusion as his wife: that while we may have no wish to directly help him end his own life ourselves, we have no right to stand in his way should he find someone who will,

What forces me to rethink this position is the assumption made by the able-bodied masses that his life is automatically not worth living because of his condition as demonstrated by the public’s reaction to the case of Frances Inglis, the woman convicted of murdering her brain damaged son in 2010. Despite the assurances from her son’s doctors that he would emerge from his coma, she decided that his life was not worth living, due to the level of brain damage he had sustained and that a mercy killing was in his best interest. While she was rightly convicted of murder, her case attracted an outpouring of public sympathy and comparisons with Kay Gilderdale, who in the same year had pleaded guilty to reluctantly assisting the suicide of her long-suffering daughter after an excruiciating battle with ME. 

Such prejudice overlooks the fact that for every Martin there  is a Marini McNeilly, whom I myself had the privilege of meeting two years ago, and whose continued optimism and zest for life are  both humbling and inspiring. The evidence too suggests that she is not alone. However, the real reason I could not support a law that permits assisted suicide is the effect it would have on those who do not even have a voice at all. Frequently derided as the slippery slope argument, it is not without merit.

In 1996, a groundbreaking study by Dr Keith Andrews found that 43% of vegetative state (awake but not aware) patients, out of a sample group of 40, had been misdiagnosed and were simply slow to recover with some just as conscious as Martin or Marini, but merely unable to communicate, including one man who had been confined to a nursing home for 8 years before the mistake was realised. 

Yet, despite the drastic improvement in the quality of treatment and rehabilitation for such people in the intervening 16 years, the misdiagnosis rate has failed to significantly improve, partly because the mainstream medical profession has yet to embrace the most modern methods of detecting awareness in locked-in patients and partly because it is far cheaper for a Primary Care Trust to send a patient diagnosed as Vegetative to a nursing home than to a specialist centre to receive the care they so desperately need. Furthermore, considering that relatives and doctors already have the authority to terminate life-support for patients deemed to have no hope of recovery, the conclusion that fully conscious individuals are at risk of being involuntarily euthanised is both disturbing and inescapable.

Any change in the law should benefit the most disadvantaged before it benefits anyone else and I fail to see how legalising assisted suicide, especially against the backdrop of modern attitudes to terminal illness and disability, would do anything other than place the misdiagnosed 43% at even greater risk. The real question facing lawmakers, therefore, is not should we have the right to die, but whether such a demand is equal to the right to life for society’s most vulnerable members, to which there is surely only one answer.


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Iain Duncan Smith, author of the Welfare Bill. (c) PA

You can’t accuse the Conservative party of being out of touch. They’ve heard the recent wave of discontent aimed at the 1% and produced legislation aim to hit them where it hurts; in the wallet. However, it is unfortunate that they’ve taken aim at the top 1% of benefit claimants rather than the extremely wealthy as Occupy intended. The highly publicised benefit cap is winding its path through the Lords right now as part of the coalition’s flagship Welfare Bill but far from a principled stance, or a necessary adjustment, it is simply playing politics with the lives of the poorest to save a pathetic 0.1% from the welfare budget.


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Perhaps the PM fears UK being more like Russia?

Apparently last week our dearly beloved Prime Minister compared the European Court of Human rights to a small claims court, and has invited the boys from Europe to discuss reform in Brighton. Well this got me thinking and not for the first time – from a distance I had previously noticed that the US Republican hopeful Newt (is that really his name?!?!?) Gring-rich has said if he becomes President, he will set out to defy the Supreme Court.

But it seems to me that Newt was only saying what our PM doesn’t have the balls to say – ‘If I don’t like you’re decision, I’m going to ignore you!’ (more…)

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Well that was unexpected wasn’t it?

When on Monday Jon Huntsman ran up the white flag and endorsed Mitt Romney, it looked like the path was clear for that most unexpected of results in American presidential politics – for the tallest, richest candidate with the nicest hair to get an easy victory.

And yet later that day something strange happened as Newt Gingrich staged yet another comeback by slamming Juan Williams when the Fox News Debate moderator suggested that calling Obama a ‘food stamp president’ and suggesting poor African Americans need to be taught the importance of work was racially insensitive. On Martin Luther King Day no less! The impact of that coupled with Mitt Romney having a rare bad week created a tsunami that turned comfortable Romney opinion poll leads to a thumping Gingrich landslide with Newt leading Romney by 41% to 27%.


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The Pirates of PIPA

Today the English version of Wikipedia (along with many other websites) had a 24 hour blackout.  This was in protest against the Stop Online Piracy Act and its cousin the Protect Internet Providers Act, two bills which are a currently in discussion in the US Congress.  This post is not about the reasons for and objections to SOPA and PIPA (I may examine those in a later post) but rather about the concept of piracy on the internet, why it is so widespread and what to do about it.


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Euro Coins The European single currency, the Euro. (c) Barry Batchelor/PA

Germany’s economy shrank during the last 3 months of 2011, France’s cherished AAA credit rating disappeared, while Greece’s industrial output continues to plummet. Economic pain is hitting every corner of the Eurozone but no politicians are seriously contemplating break up. The huge cost of leaving is obscuring alternative worst case scenarios and popular discontent but how much longer can a monetary union with no winners survive?


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Michael Le Vell returns to work

Michael Le Vell ((c) Xposure)


Michael Le Vell, the actor who plays Kevin Webster on Coronation Street, has been completely exonerated of rape. Given the tabloid splash made by the original accusation, I felt obliged to do my bit and spread the word. And, while I’m here, I thought I’d make the case for granting anonymity to those accused of rape.


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