Friday, 27 September 2013

The Paralympian and the Professor

I was very glad to read in this article, Tanni Grey-Thompson and Stephen Hawking, that the professor's advocacy of assisted suicide has been intelligently challenged.  Having ALS/MND like him, I'd been disappointed to hear he'd changed his mind about it, and had thought I should write some rebuttal. However I suspect her comment carries more weight and certainly will be more noticed.

One hears all too often the "I'd put my pet out of its misery" comparison propounded by the pro-euthanasia lobby, as an example of compassion. In fact, as Dame Tanni points out, it's all too likely to be the reverse, an example of objectification. Our dog, Jess, whom we like very much, is in her sixteenth year now. Reflecting on our decision to have her put down, whenever we'll choose to make it, I reckon it will based on factors such as her becoming incontinent and incurring increasing vets' bills and probably ceasing to give us pleasure. Those are all issues to do with us and our feelings and convenience and wallets. The dog has become an object - which, to be blunt, is the relation nearly every pet has towards its owner. Human beings are different.

Dame Tanni in her racing days
I suppose a physicist may be forgiven for regarding his body as no more than a sophisticated machine or computer, to switched off and scrapped when it goes wrong or no longer serves a useful purpose. But it appears that an athlete knows better.

Human beings are not merely animals or machines. They are subjects, not objects.

"So why not allow them to choose the time of their death?" I've been asked. "Why not let them say, 'I've had enough. I want to end it all'?" I hear that question, but the professor's comparison and the paralympian's answer provide part of the answer: it opens the way to the reduction of life to something we own rather than something of which we are a part. It pushes the door ajar for others putting pressure on us to euthanise ourselves, when we get messy to care for, expensive to treat, and not good company. When that becomes the way we think about ourselves then we have lost sight of the fact the life is our greatest gift, "from life's first cry to death's final breath".

(Do read Dame Tanni's article in which she also writes about Lord Falconer's approaching House of Lords' bill, his latest attempt to legalise assisted suicide, and if you have a tame peer you might write to her or him to say what you think of it.)

Thursday, 12 September 2013

A dose of our own medicine

How dare she? What right has a foreigner, a Brazilian woman, to come and comment adversely on our government's policies? As The Daily Mail headlines said, "Tory fury at 'loopy Brazilian leftie' United Nations official who launched 'political' attack on government welfare reforms
  • • Raquel Rolnik was sent to assess impact of changes to housing benefit
  • • She said that so-called 'Bedroom Tax' is a breach of human rights
  • • Furious Tory party chairman Grant Shapps slams 'outrageous' attack
  • • UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged to launch an urgent inquiry". It is outrageous, isn't it - that we should be on the receiving end of what's our prerogative: pontificating on how others should run their countries?

If Ms Rolnik, the UN's special rapporteur on housing, has done nothing else with her considered initial comments on the effects the "spare room subsidy" she has at least given us a taste of our own medicine. As a nation we have an ingrained habit of condemning others, for example, for their "undemocratic" political systems or their human rights abuses. What we fail to do is to consider the way our interfering opinions are received emotionally. Maybe that's the reason why we're so often ignored - because of our "outrageous attacks" on them.  

In fact, should you care to read what Ms Rolnik really said and thought, look at her interview in the Guardian here. It's clear she's neither loopy nor out on a limb.
Photo from Martin Hunter/Guardian

"Rolnik, a former urban planning minister in Brazil, said Britain's previously good record on housing was being eroded by a failure to provide sufficient quantities of affordable social housing, and more recently by the impact of welfare reform.

"After speaking to dozens of council house tenants in Britain during her visit over the past fortnight, Rolnik said she was particularly concerned by the impact of bedroom tax, officially known as the new spare room subsidy. The policy was introduced by the government in April, and is designed to charge tenants extra for under-occupying homes that are supposedly too large for them.

"Rolnik said she was disturbed by the extent of unhappiness caused by the bedroom tax and struck by how heavily this policy was affecting 'the most vulnerable, the most fragile, the people who are on the fringes of coping with everyday life'."
Maybe we should be less hasty in sorting out other people's business - if we are so slow to accept the criticism of others. And wouldn't it be nice if we - and our politicians - led the way in good manners?