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BREXIT REVISITED… (A blog for those who were confused but now are not so sure).

 

My February blog gave 10 reasons I was leaning towards Brexit .  Having had the ‘benefit’ of both sides’ campaigns,  here are 5 reasons I am now not so sure.  And here are some reflections on what the campaign tells us…

brexiter2

1: IS THIS THE BEST WE CAN DO?  Both Brexit and Remain’s campaigns have been strident and lacking in civility– mutual abuse is the currency of the day.  “What’s new?” you ask.  Take a look at the Panorama debate between Tony Benn and Roy Jenkins at the time of the 1975  referendum and you notice that the moderator does not interrupt them or shout them down (contrast Mr Faisal Isalam ) and both Benn and Jenkins allow each other to develop their arguments without interruption  before they respond.  The responses are often barbed but the courtesy they show each other has been lacking in the 2016 campaign.   So yes, that this level of mutual abuse has come to be acceptable is something  new.  A lesson can be drawn from this whichever side wins the most votes.  Political leaders need to re-discover how to listen to each other and how to disagree well.  The example being set from the top is poor.

So much politics on TV consists of people talking past each other, ridiculing one another and showing a lack of respect that this is bound to have negative consequences for the country as a whole.   The tone of the conversation has become destructive.  At best this causes people to turn off and tune out: at worst it provides a model of behaviour which leads nowhere good.  Disagreeing well is an art: it requires a measure of grace and humility.  Neither has been on display in this campaign.

no-jumping-diving-danger-sign-k-0302

2: BOTH SIDES’  CAMPAIGNS HAVE BEEN SHALLOW.

Again comparison with the 1975 referendum is telling.  Watch any of the speeches in the Oxford Union debate from 1975 (Peter Shore, Ted Heath, Jeremy Thorpe, Barbara Castle and others) and you find the speakers get beyond an argument based solely upon what may allow the UK to be better off financially and/or in terms of immigration control.  Both sides present a philosophical basis for their views.  Not so today.  2016 has been a campaign of fear by both sides.  The result is dis-spiriting rather than inspirational: as captured in this poster (which is directed to the leave campaign but might have been directed to the Remain campaign with equal force).

Politicians on both sides of the debate have failed to tell us what their vision is for England outside Europe (should that happen).

poverty of campaign

3: IS IT BETTER TO LIVE WITH A DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT THAN TO GIVE UNRESTRAINED POWER TO WESTMINSTER?

This is the question that I can’t resolve.  The ‘first past the post’ electoral system has many faults but it delivers direct democracy.  There is a chance that when you vote you may ‘kick the rascals out’.  The link between the ballot box and the disposal of lawmakers is real.  By contrast European elections are like pulling a toilet chain in UK knowing that there is no chance that in Brussels law makers will be flushed out.  This lack of accountability matters.  Being ruled by unaccountable bureaucrats is not an attractive idea– the lack of a safety valve (being able to vote a government out) is potentially dangerous and can lead to violence such as the rioting we have seen in Greece recently.

But here’s the rub: the quality of the Party leaders as demonstrated in this campaign on both sides of the Brexit debate is no more attractive than the idea of rule by unaccountable bureaucrats. It is not as if we have statesmen or stateswomen who would be capable of delivering a vision for this country which inspires respect and hope, if only they were not held back by a Brussels machine.  What would our politicians do if un-tethered from the EU that they could not do now from Westminster if they so wished?

 My head tells me that the referendum is so momentous that one should ignore short term factors such as the quality of the politicians who would be in power if Brexit won.  But I am conflicted, my heart is telling me to watch out.   There is a wealth of evidence that Boris Johnson, amusing though he is, cannot and should not be trusted.  Listen to the famous Car Crash interview and read the article in the Spectator under the title “Boris Johnson: everything about you is phoney”. The idea of this man in No 10 would be no laughing matter.  See also the comments of Martin Fletcher , a journalist with first hand experience of working alongside Boris.

farage posterI am disgusted by the way the Brexit camp has exploited fears of uncontrolled immigration.  This  UKIP poster is a disgrace. It is  racist and intended to create fear of refugees.  This, more than anything else, propels me toward Remain, or it would do if I could have confidence that the EU would provide a better solution to the problem of our time: the Refugee crisis.

4.  WANTED HOME AND ABROAD: POLITICIANS OF STATURE.

It is often said that global problems should be addressed with global solutions.  Many of today’s problems should, in theory, be more effectively addressed if tackled  by the EU than by the UK alone.  What is hardly ever said is that this theory does not deliver unless the individual nations who are coming together are willing to subordinate their national interests for the greater good.  It requires statesmanship to lead a nation in this way and politicians of stature are in short supply.  This hints at a greater problem: could it be that the need for government and opposition to keep in tune with the electorate has led to them following instant polls and social media with the result that these fashion government policy?  This makes long-term planning impossible and leads to policies which lack consistency, let alone ideological coherence.  Too often, Ministers appear like salesmen conducting a PR blitz, rather than people who genuinely believe in what they are doing and who are acting from principle.   ‘In’ or ‘Out’ these problems will remain to be addressed.

If ever there was a problem which demands a global solution it is the problem of how to help today’s refugees.  Yet now that the nations of Europe should be coming together, EU country after EU country has put up barbed wire fences and adopted policies designed to keep refugees as far away as possible.  I have written elsewhere about this.  It is relevant to this blog because the EU is not only failing to solve this problem: it may even be making it worse.  See the General Secretary of Médecins Sans Frontières announcement that it will no longer accept funds from the EU and Member States in opposition to their damaging deterrence policies and continued attempts to push people and their suffering away from European shores.

5.   BINARY CHOICES ARE BINDING BUT BLINDING.

 

scale_jpg_300x300_q85Come Thursday we are presented with a stark choice:  ‘in’ or ‘out’.  Normally one can weigh two factors against each other but  in this referendum we are forced to choose between things which can’t be weighed against each other because neither is better than the other– they are  different in kind from each other.  For example the possibility of financial security cannot be weighted against the ability to hold law makers to account via the ballot box.  Little wonder that so many of us are confused and undecided how to vote on Thursday.


WHATEVER THE REFERENDUM RESULT WE NEED TO WORK TOGETHER TO FIND A BETTER WAY TO DO POLITICS.  

Parliament was re-called this week to give thanks for the life of Jo Cox.  A life lived in  the service of others less privileged than herself.  Compare that with the emptiness of the campaigning on both sides.  Focusing almost exclusively upon whether UK plc will be financially better off in or out gives the impression that a person’s life consists in the abundance of his possessions.  It doesn’t.  However important financial security may be it are not the whole story.  Focusing almost exclusively upon immigration is also to sell us short.  Even if you could solve the numbers question that would not cure the nation’s ills or lead to a nation at peace with itself.  Where is the big picture?  What are the ideals for which the UK now stands?  What contribution does the UK see itself making to the world?  Europe has enjoyed an unprecedented period of peace: how do we hope to help the unprecedented numbers of people  who have not been so fortunate, but rather have been made homeless by war and anarchy?  How do we bring people together within the UK and reverse the increasingly polarised divisions in our  society?  It is telling that we have heard not a word about these issues in this campaign.

 

Responding to the Refugee Crisis: A Christian Perspective

word-image

Friendly greetings or a threatening mob: how do you see them?

Corrie Ten-Boom’s book ‘The Hiding Place’ was a life-changing book for me.  Reading it showed me that one could truly know Jesus Christ on a personal level, not just know about him.  It also showed me that there could be an enormous cost to this, as shown by the fact that Corrie and her family paid a very heavy price for hiding Jews from the Nazis until being betrayed on 28th Feb 1944.  Corrie’s generosity, compassion and faithfulness were instrumental in my coming to Christ and I am for ever grateful to her.  But I have been haunted by the question: given the number of Christians in Europe at that time, “why were there so few ‘Corrie Ten Booms’?  

Today there is systematic persecution and killing of Christians in many parts of the Middle East on a scale which has not been seen for centuries. There are more refugees (of all faiths and none) on the move than at any time since 1945.  Perhaps because these problems are so overwhelming there is a temptation to pull up the duvet and bury one’s  head rather than to engage with them.  In an effort to ensure that when people look back on this time people don’t have to ask Why didn’t more Christians do more to respond to the Refugee Crisis?   I have been working with a team of friends  to help shape the response plan for our local church.  We have produced a short magazine.  Download Refugee Responder Issue 1  here for:-

  1. An  honest look at how we see refugees and
  2. What does the Bible say on the Subject and
  3. Some suggestions about what we can do about it. (Other suggestions are to be presented to the church in future weeks).

Please let me have your comments….

Assisted Dying Bill 2015: Why legalising death-by-doctor is a bad idea…

woody allen2

 

“Most of the time I don’t have much fun. The rest of the time I don’t have any fun at all” (Woody Allen).

This blog is short of laughs but please read on, for it considers a truly vital question: should the law be changed to allow doctors to prescribe lethal drugs with the aim of ending the life of a patient? It is partly prompted by Rachel Aviv’s excellent but disturbing article “Letter from Belgium: The Death Treatment”  in the June 22 2015 edition of The New Yorker and partly prompted by the Assisted Dying (No 2) Bill which is to be debated in the House of Commons on 11th September 2015.

Things I’d rather not think about.

“Neither the sun nor death can be looked at with a steady eye”   La Rochefoucauld,  .

Britain in 2015 does not “do” death, dying or grieving very well. Generally they are kept out of sight, out of polite conversation and out of mind until they force themselves upon us. Even top medical specialists who have to deal with these issues regularly find it hard, as I discovered when my Mother was dying of leukaemia in hospital in London and the consultants avoided eye contact and preferred not to acknowledge that her life was ending. Robert Peston became a media story when he flouted convention by speaking about his grief and the clumsiness of his male friends after his wife died[1].

mourning (1 of 1)Another painful subject, that can give grief, death and dying a run for their money is dementia. To watch a loved one gradually being taken away by dementia is to witness a sort of living death. Then there is the fear of losing one’s independence, and fear of the pain that cannot be controlled by drugs and the fear of dying itself. All this against a backdrop of alarming inspection reports by the Care Quality Commission which raise the possibility that though advances in medicine may allow us to live longer, the time gained may turn out to be a fate worse than death. (A paradox nailed by Woody Allen’s insight that “Life is full of misery, loneliness and sufferingmourning2 (1 of 1)—and it’s all over much too soon”)

Against this background, it may at first seem unreasonable and uncaring to oppose a change in the law intended to ensure that a competent adult can make up his/her own mind when and how to die, but I want to explain some of the reasons why this is not so, and why the Assisted Dying (No 2) Bill 2015[2] which aims to amend the law to allow medics to assist people to die would be damaging for society as a whole, and a step too far.  A step we would be wiser not to take.

the bill addresses the wrong problems.

First we should be clear that if the bill is passed it will do nothing to address people’s fears of growing old alone. It will not address fears of increasing dependency or of being at the mercy of inadequate social and health care. It will not help anyone suffering from dementia[3]. Rather than making it legal for doctors to prescribe lethal drugs as if they were a cure, we should be putting the necessary money and thought into providing reliable and good social, health and palliative care for all who need it regardless of post-code. This would go some way towards removing the fears associated with the end of life and it would do so without the darker consequences of the present bill referred to below. The wider topic of how one provides care for an aging population is the subject of Professor Atul Gawande’s stimulating Reith Lectures[4] and his well-researched and accessible book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End[5] but this is a subject that cannot be considered further in this blog. Instead I shall briefly set out the main reasons I believe the proposed bill should be opposed.

Death is not just an individual matter.

Supporters of the bill present the issues it raises as matters of individual choice. They argue that one should be allowed to choose the time and manner of one’s death but they fail to acknowledge that changing the rules so that doctors can administer lethal drugs with the intention of ending life has implications for society as a whole. It is not just an individual matter. This is one of the reasons why the arguments about what the law should be are so very difficult. One of the many perplexing issues to be faced is, at what point must the autonomy of the individual yield to the greater good of society as a whole? Different people will have different views, depending upon how they perceive the possible risks to society but we should all be able to acknowledge that giving supremacy to the choice for the individual has significant consequences for society as a whole just as we should acknowledge that the law as it now stands gives supremacy to society as a whole and limits individual choice.

allowing doctors to prescribe lethal drugs intending to cause death will change the doctor/patient relationship.

dancing with mr dQuite apart from undermining trust between doctor and patient, the doctor who administers lethal drugs is changed by the process.   Anyone doubting this should read “Dancing with Mr D: Notes on Life and Death” which is the memoir of a doctor working for the terminally ill in a nursing home in Holland[6].

Always to care, Never to kill was the title of an article in which thirteen eminent ethicists explained why they believed euthanasia[7] to be contrary to the faith of Jews and Christians and based on a grave moral error, and why it undermined the medical profession. Though written in 1992 the article remains pertinent and powerful[8].

Allowing this patient to choose death-by-doctor will affect other patients.

If you permit a doctor and his/her medical team to assist a patient to die by prescribing and supplying poisonous drugs then this will become a ‘treatment option’ in all but name. This has profound ramifications which have not been adequately publicised.

It is surely likely that when lethal drugs become an available ‘treatment’ option the freedom to choose to receive them may subtly become a duty to request assistance in dying. The obligation to choose death will be unspoken but none the less experienced as real by the person concerned. Advances in medicine allow us to live longer and increase the years of life in which we are likely to be dependent upon others. Such dependency, viewed objectively, imposes obligations upon others. An elderly person may (perfectly reasonably) come to feel that they are a burden to others. Such a person may then feel compelled to hasten his/her death because he/she feels an obligation to do something to remove the burden. Can one really say that choosing to die in these circumstances is a truly voluntary choice? I don’t think so.

I would rather err on the side of caution and want to be very sure that we do not create a society in which someone who is vulnerable or dependent feels an obligation to hasten their own death by asking for a lethal drug.

who matters?

To permit assisted suicide to some categories of people is to tiptoe along the path towards becoming a society in which some lives are valued more than others. This raises the possibility that some lives may in time be regarded as ‘lives not worth living?’ Of course nothing could be further from the intention of those who propose the present bill, but it does not make any difference that one’s motive for allowing assisted suicide is merely to give the right of self-determination to the competent adult, nor that one did not intend to imply that some lives were of more value than others.

the arbitrary  restrictions in the bill are not sustainable.

Since the justification for changing the law is the belief that people should be allowed to choose their own fate, it is hard to see how some of the restrictions in the bill will be sustainable in the long term, and hard to see why they were included in the first place (unless they are merely intended to make the bill less controversial in the short term). The bill will only allow someone to be helped to die if he/she is over 18, competent, ‘reasonably expected to die within six months’ from an ‘inevitably progressive condition’ and has been ordinarily resident in England and Wales for not less than a year[9]. The point is succinctly made in “Always to care, Never to Kill”

“Arguments for euthanasia usually appeal to our supposed right of self-determination and to the desirability of relieving suffering. If a right to euthanasia is grounded in self-determination, it cannot reasonably be limited to the terminally ill. If people have a right to die, why must they wait until they are actually dying before they are permitted to exercise that right? Similarly, if the warrant for euthanasia is to relieve suffering, why should we be able to relieve the suffering only of those who are self-determining and competent to give their consent?”[10]

It must only be a matter of time before a competent adult who suffers from a disease which he/she finds excessively burdensome and who has a clear and settled intention to die will argue that it is unfair, unjust and unreasonable to deny him a prescribed lethal drug which would be available if only he/she had a terminal illness since his suffering will be greater / last longer than someone with a terminal illness unless he is assisted to die.  It will then be said that it is the arbitrary requirement of the law is forcing him to suffer for an indeterminate period.

summary and Conclusion.

An independent committee: the New York State Task Force on Life reported as follows:

[embeddoc url=”http://www.howshouldibegin.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/when-death-is-sought.pdf” download=”all”]

There is also the inconvenient truth that no matter how settled someone’s intention to die appears to be, people change their mind.  Read Alison Davis’s evidence to the House of Lords in the context of an earlier bill to legalise assisted suicide…

Ms Davis: “I have two hats on. I am speaking as an individual today but I do co-ordinate a group for disabled people called No Less Human which is for disabled and terminally ill people, their families and carers. I have spina bifida and hydrocephalus, osteoporosis and emphysema. Nineteen years ago I wanted to die. I have severe spinal pain which is not well-controlled even with morphine. You will excuse me if I am a bit hesitant but I just took morphine 10 minutes ago so I am not quite as altogether as I might be. I have severe pain which cannot be well controlled. When it is at its worse I cannot move, I cannot think, I cannot speak and it can go on for hours; there is no prospect of it getting any better, in fact it is almost certain to get worse. Due to that and a combination of other factors, 19 years ago I decided I wanted to die. It was a settled wish; it lasted 10 years. In the first five of those years I tried to commit suicide several times. They were serious attempts, most of them, and I tried several different methods. I was saved only because my friends arrived in time. My door was never locked at that time and they came in and found I was losing consciousness and they took me to the hospital. At the hospital I was treated several times against my wishes. I told the doctors that I did not want to be treated. They asked for my permission to pump my stomach and I said no. They said, “If we don’t, you will die”. I remember at the time thinking in a very wry way that it was almost funny because that had been my intention; I had wanted to die. So they waited until I lost consciousness and then treated me anyway. Had the form of declaration which this Bill proposes been available at that time I would have signed it with no hesitation whatsoever because my intention was to die and I was suffering then the same pain which is unbearable—except that I have to bear it—that I am now. If the Bill had been law 19 years ago I would not be here speaking with you now. That, in a sense, would give my doctors, who at that time thought I was terminally ill, a very convenient self-fulfilling prophecy because they said I was terminally ill. Actually they were wrong and here I am 19 years later. Had my life been ended by the terms of this Bill nobody would have ever known firstly that my doctors were wrong and secondly that the future held something better for me than would have appeared to be the case 19 years ago. I was saved against my wishes.  I lived on. For 10 years I wanted to die. I note that the Bill has a 14 day waiting period during which the person requesting euthanasia can change their mind. That would not have served me at all: 14 days to change my mind when I wanted to die for 10 years. I think this Bill is extremely dangerous. It sets out supposed safeguards to prevent what is called abuse of what would be the law but I believe that the law itself would be an abuse of sick and disabled people. I sat in at the earlier session and I heard the discussion about people who wanted to commit suicide but cannot and need assistance. By describing safeguards to the Bill in effect we are saying that the sort of people that are specified are right to want to die and should be helped to die, whereas people who are not specified who may well be equally desperate to die and possibly for much the same reason would be considered wrong to want to die and would be helped to live. I think that sends out a very negative message to people like me who suffer on a daily basis and who need help and support to live with dignity. We hear so much about dying with dignity that it almost becomes a slogan or a catchphrase and it suggests that people like me are only dignified when we are dead. …”

For all these reasons the Assisted Dying Bill (No2) 2015 is bad public policy.   That should be enough reason to oppose the bill.

For Christians, there are additional profound and fundamental reasons why assisting someone to kill himself/herself is problematic.  .  As Prof Gilbert Meilander succinctly explained:

“Christians have held that suicide is morally wrong because they have seen in it a contradiction of our nature as creatures, an unwillingness to receive life moment by moment from the hand of God without ever regarding it as simply ‘our’ possession…  We might think of ourselves as characters in a story of which God is the author….characters do not determine the plot of their life’s story, and it is a contradiction of their very being if they attempt to bring the story to its conclusion. We are dependent beings, and to think otherwise—to make independence our project, however sincerely—is to live a lie, to fly in the face of reality.” (“Bioethics, A primer for Christians” 2nd Ed 2005, p 6)

A similar point was made by a group of Jewish and Christian theologians, ethicists, philosophers and scholars in “Always to Care, Never to Kill”

“As Christians and Jews, we have learned to think of human life -our own and that of others- as both gift and trust. We  have been entrusted to one another and are to care for one another. We have not been authorized to make comparative  judgments about the worth of lives or to cut short the years that God gives to us or others. We are to relieve suffering when we can, and to bear with those who suffer, helping them to bear their suffering, when we cannot. We are never to “solve” the problem of suffering by eliminating those who suffer. Euthanasia, once established as an option, will inevitably tempt us to abandon those who suffer. This is especially the case when  we permit ourselves to be persuaded that their lives are a burden to us or to them. The biblical tradition compels us to seek and exercise better  ways to care. We may think that we care when we kill, but killing is never caring. Whatever good intentions we might invoke to excuse it, killing is the rejection of God’s command to care and of his help in caring”

 

 

It is heart-rending to see a loved one in pain and suffering.  Rather than legalising death-by-doctor, we need to press our MPs to make available the necessary resources to ensure the provision of reliable social,  health and palliative care.

 

27/08/2015.


 

http://www.redonline.co.uk/red-women/interviews/exclusive-robert-peston-on-why-he-feels-bloody-lucky-again

  1. http://www.livinganddyingwell.org.uk/publications/parliamentary-business-bills-and-legislation/rob-marris-mps-assisted-dying-no-2-bill . To track the bill see http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2015-16/assisteddyingno2/stages.html
  2. Since dementia of itself is not a terminal disease and someone suffering from advanced dementia will not have mental capacity to demand that the doctor provides him/her with a lethal drug.
  3. Downloadable from http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00729d9/episodes/downloads
  4. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Being-Mortal-Medicine-What-Matters/dp/0805095152
  5. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dancing-Mister-Notes-Life-Death/dp/0552996912 (At the time of writing there are 13 used copies available for £0.01 each.)
  6. The borderline between ‘euthanasia’ and ‘assisted suicide’ is thin. A doctor who prescribes a lethal tablet assists with suicide. A doctor who puts the tablet on the tongue of a patient practices euthanasia.
  7. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Dancing-Mister-Notes-Life-Death/dp/0552996912
  8. Section 2.
  9. http://www.firstthings.com/article/1992/02/006-always-to-care-never-to-kill
  10. http://www.leaderu.com/ftissues/ft9202/articles/documentation.html ↑

“Not in God’s Name: confronting Religious Violence” by Jonathan Sacks

Not in God's Name

How is it that in 2015 a supposedly civilized Europe is left speechless by ISIS’s medieval cruelty?   Where have religious extremists sprung from and why does their cause appeal to the many people who fight for them (some of whom come from England)?   What is to be done about it and what will happen if we fail to engage with these issues?
Dr Sacks’ timely book addresses all these issues and offers both a searching analysis and hope.
Readers may find it helpful to read section 3, which offers practical insights, first and then to read sections 1 and 2 which offer the theory which underpins part 3.
This is an important book and I hope it is widely read.
———————

Some quotations to whet your appetite….

“To paraphrase Kierkegaard:’When a king dies, his power ends. When a prophet dies, his influence begins’ “(p236). I hope this is proved wrong by this book becoming influential in Dr Sack’s lifetime.

“Above all; never seek revenge. Do not believe you can rectify the past by avenging it. That way you merely succeed in perpetuating the past instead of healing it”(p 245)

“Faith is God’s call to see his trace in the face of the Other. But that needs a theology of the Other, which is what I offer in this book” (page 25)

“Science, technology, the free market and the liberal democratic state have enabled us to reach unprecedented achievements in knowledge, freedom, life expectancy and affluence.  They are among the greatest achievements of human civilisation and are to be defended and cherished.  But they do not and cannot answer the three questions every reflective individual will ask at some time in his or her life: Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live?  These are questions to which the answer is prescriptive not descriptive, substantive not procedural.  The result is that the twenty-first century has left us with a maximum of choice and minimum of meaning.” (p 13)

“What printing was to the Reformation, the Internet is to radical political Islam, turning it into a global force capable of inciting terror and winning recruits throughout the world.  The extremists have understood that in many ways religion was made for the twenty-first century.  It is a more global force than national states.  Religious radicals use the new electronic media with greater sophistication than their secular counterparts.  And they have developed organisational structures to fit our time”  (p 17).  (Time that the religious non radicals wised up and used the potential of the new electronic media and adapted their organisational structures to fit 2015 methinks).

“The contemporary West is the most individualistic era of all time.  Its central values are in ethics, autonomy; in politics, individual rights; in culture, post-modernism; and in religion ‘spirituality’.  Its idol is the self, its icon the ‘selfie’, and its operating systems the free market and the post-ideological, managerial liberal democratic state.  In place of communities we have flash-mobs.  We are no longer pilgrims but tourists.  We no longer know who we are or why.” (p41).  This critique is apt.  

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