Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Evolutionary inevitability

Martin Amis, "novelist, journalist and teacher", packed a lot in to his 4Thought on euthanasia last night. He was, not surprisingly, highly articulate. Assisted suicide, he told us, was an "evolutionary inevitability" with longer life expectancy. He looked forward to a day when there would be "suicide booths"into which you could just pop and be welcomed as you popped off your clogs. He was, of course, using provocative novelistic language to make a point. I wouldn't be so uncharitable as to imply he really believes that dying is as inconsequential a matter as having mugshots taken for a driving licence. Grandma says, "I'm just popping down to Tescos," adding, "I may be gone some time." Death just ain't like that.

His main argument seemed to be "None of us likes being a burden." In other words, when we become a nuisance to the pack, it's time for us to be abandoned and left (or hurried) to die. That sounds more like the law of the jungle than evolutionary development to me. As I've said before, as civilisation has advanced, so we have learned increasingly to value human life. We recognise that life is ultimately inviolable. I wonder what tonight's chap will try and say....

In quite another context I was looking through Edward Gibbons' Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and came across this piece of 19th-century optimism:

"Should these speculations be found doubtful or fallacious, there still remains a more humble source of comfort and hope. The discoveries of ancient and modern navigators, and the domestic history or tradition of the most enlightened nations, represent the human savage naked both in mind and body, and destitute of laws, of arts, of ideas, and almost of language. From this abject condition, perhaps the primitive and universal state of man, he has gradually arisen to command the animals, to fertilise the earth, to traverse the ocean, and to measure the heavens. His progress in the improvement and exercise of his mental and corporeal faculties has been irregular and various; infinitely slow in the beginning, and increasing by degrees with redoubled velocity: ages of laborious ascent have been followed by a moment of rapid downfall; and the several climates of the globe have felt the vicissitudes of light and darkness. Yet the experience of four thousand years should enlarge our hopes and diminish our apprehensions: we cannot determine to what height the human species may aspire in their advance towards perfection; but it may safely be presumed that no people, unless the face of nature is changed, will relapse into their original barbarism."
Well, I guess he's been proved wrong by the 20th Century. And perhaps he will be by the 21st too. Human nature hasn't really changed, has it?


  1. Wednesday: I'm looking for QUALITY tonight! (2nite as your kids would say)

  2. I too was looking forward to your appearance last night on "the box", I felt you got a very important message over, that of "When the odds are stacked against you fight to the bitter end, and despite severe disability there is much to be gained from the experience".

    As Joanne said in "I choose everything", a phrase that I often reflect on, that of "God had never given anything that she could not handle". Folk must learn to accept people as they are and take time to learn from the experience. If we were all the same life would be very boring.

    Gld to c th David is dpting to mod wds. I bet some of his assignments from students make interesting reading.

    Epilepsy is something my family has learnt to live with and whereas I would welcome some wonder cure. "Life" as you say Michael "ain't like that". It would be far better if all folk would learn to accept disability as part of life. I cannot think of many people who are not disabled in some way or other!

    My work with profoundly disabled after leaving teaching was one of the richest experiences I have had in life. It is surprising how happy people can be even when they can't communicate with words or enjoy what is thought of as a "normal" existance - whatever that is!

    Best wishes,


  3. Well, the producers did a QUALITY job with the material, I thought. I was glad they picked out the positive message. Not surprisingly people picked up the word 'selfish' in their website comments afterwards, but even if there'd been time to expand it (doctors, nurses, families, friends + knock-on effect on attitude to disability etc) it would still have annoyed them.

    The nicely named Brotherly Love, by the way, Rob, isn't my brother David, but a revered "brother in God"!

  4. I was not disappointed - but I wished Jane had said a few words. And I wish I could get rid of that "Brotherly love" instead of "Brian says ."