Insults that betray the bigotry of gay zealots

Another almost overwhelmingly depressing column today from Amanda Platell. I think of all the Mail‘s writers, Amanda is the hardest to read – her columns are, almost without exception, viciously judgemental, spiteful and negative to a point where they become quite upsetting to read. Working my way through the snapshots of aggression she takes each week is a draining and dispiriting experience and one which sorely tests my sense of living in a world of positivity and hope, surrounded by equals deserving of my understanding and love. I mention this because central to Amanda’s main column this week is a complaint:

“In articles for this paper, I have committed the heresy of stating my belief that married heterosexual couples make the most suitable candidates to be adoptive parents.

In return, I was subjected to a vile and filthy campaign of personal abuse from the gay media. In one online forum, a contributor suggested the only reason I held such views was that I obviously ‘wasn’t getting enough’.

That’s the sordid level of debate we’ve now reached about an issue with profound implications for the most vulnerable children in our society.”

Amanda is completely right – one of the central principles of this blog is that, in responding to negativity, we need to elevate the argument beyond personal attacks and vindictiveness. Although I often feel that my moderation falls just the wrong side of being po-faced, I think it’s important that the debates we have are civil if we are to generate light in them, and not just heat¹.

This is something which works both ways. The following all appear on the same page as Amanda’s justified and fair complaint about personal abuse:

“We’re used to her craven, attention-seeking publicity stunts, but even by Madonna’s standards, the news that she’s exchanging Kabbalah vows with new toyboy boyfriend Jesus is puzzling.

Then again, if the legal reason she can’t adopt Malawian orphan Mercy is because she’s a single mother, it’s not so much a marriage of convenience as of conveyance.”

“He says he [David Beckham] ‘only has eyes for Victoria’. Yes, but what about your other body parts, Dave?”

“Artistic, inspiring and so modest with it. Is there no beginning to Ms Frostrup’s talents?”

“At first glance, the new pictures of the original Calendar Girls 10 years on was a bit much to, er, bare. But in this body-fascist world, any woman who feels good enough about her body to strip naked at 75 earns my admiration. I just pray they don’t do a 20th anniversary version.”

“Pass the sickbag, Sarah. Paris is a tacky celebrity who’s made millions out of being an airhead. Mrs Brown already has one lost cause at home – she doesn’t need to go searching for new ones.”

“The most astounding thing about the ill-tempered exchange between BBC News 24’s presenter Carrie Grace and Lord Foulkes was that this very forgettable, middle-ranking news presenter gets paid £92,000, while co-presenter Simon McCoy gets £190,000.”

So, we have the impugning of the motives of the relationship arrangements of Madonna, a slur on the current fidelity of David Beckham based on old allegations about his sex life, a snide personal attack on a successful broadcaster, an almost hilariously hypocritical review of a charity calendar², a snide personal attack on Paris Hilton rolled into the doubting of Sarah Brown’s judgement³ and a snide personal attack on a news reader. This is the sordid level we’ve reached.

I don’t want to attempt to justify abuse of Amanda Platell, I think it’s wrong. What I will say, though, is that the Buddhists are right when they suggest the world is acting on you as you act upon it. If you live you life in the life states of animality and anger, the world returns your actions to you on the same terms. If your career is based on weekly personal attacks delivered to strangers, can you be so surprised when strangers see you as a fair target for personal attacks? Any such attacks are not justified, any more than an attack on David Beckham is, but they are inevitable.

This is particularly the case when you are seeking to deny human rights based merely on your own prejudices. It is not heresy to suggest “that married heterosexual couples make the most suitable candidates to be adoptive parents” – it is merely incorrect, based on an ignorance on the research that shows gay and lesbian couples to be as suitable as straight couples. To suggest that view is “backed by an increasing weight of academic evidence” is factually incorrect, and I would encourage readers to complain to the PCC to ask them to correct this. As an introduction to research in this area, I would recommend The American Psychological Association’s ‘Lesbian and Gay Parenting‘¨, and for readers to move from there to the massive and increasing number of studies, meta-analyses, reviews and governmental reports in this area. This would be a much more constructive reaction to Amanda’s column than personal abuse would be – a shining of light into the dark.

It would also avoid Amanda’ fear that:

“No, the real danger of this hate campaign is, first, that it unjustly tarnishes the whole gay community, thereby provoking the very homophobia it seeks to condemn. And second, in its rabid attempt to defend the rights of gay couples, it overlooks the rights of adopted and fostered kids to be raised with a mother and a father.”

Instead, it would show up Amanda’s homophobia for what it is – a position taken against the gay community on the basis of prejudice and ignorance rather than evidence. It is homophobic to oppose equal rights for gays and lesbians purely because they are gay and lesbian. Given the overwhelming evidence that gays and lesbians make parents just as good as any straight couple, there is no non-homophobic reason to oppose their inclusion in the adoption system. In opposing Amanda’s attack on such inclusion, this would be defending a much more important right for children – to be brought up in a loving family.


I’m sorry for the over personal nature of this post – I genuinely find Amanda upsetting, viscerally so, and haven’t found a way of distancing myself from that emotion and dispassionately commenting on her negativity and aggression.

¹ And, as ever, where I fall short I hope to be corrected by readers.

²I believe I’ve mentioned before that if you’re apologising before you say something, you probably shouldn’t be saying it. Delivering an ‘anti-body-fascist’ comment either side of a ‘body-fascist’ one doesn’t undo the harm of the ‘body fascism’, but merely underlines it. Particularly when you’re doing so in a newspaper so obsessed with the figures of celebrities.

³ It’s worth noting here that Sarah Brown actually met Paris Hilton, so is arguably in a better position to judge ‘what she’s really like’ than someone basing their opinions on Paris’ public persona.

¨ In passing, we can put this ‘debate’ down as another of the Mail‘s conspiracy theories. Amanda, and fellow columnists, are asking us to believe that every scientific body to have pronounced on the matter, the peer-reviewed scientific journals in which positive research is published, the governments that are advised by such research, the charities (such as the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, whose comments were the starting place for today’s column) who have taken a position in line with the governments’ – that all these groups are acting against the evidence, or fabricating false evidence, to further the agenda of a minority. How ridiculous does your conspiracy need to be before you accept the alternative? What could be the motivation of these groups? Is the American Paediatric Association really run by a gay mafia?


Why CAN’T Gordon say sorry?

Interesting consideration of the nature of apology and of agency today from Stephen Glover:

“One questions whether this is the letter of a normally functioning human being. He [Gordon Brown] could, and should, have written that he was sorry that Ms Dorries had been hurt by the repulsive email sent by a man whom he had chosen to employ. That would have been the kind and honest thing to have said. But such sentiments are not even hinted at. And because the Prime Minister was at pains to disassociate himself from the activities of his feral sidekick, he was unable to bring himself to apologise.”

A number of claims to unpack here: that Gordon Brown could have written to say he was sorry; that he should have done so; that this normative claim is due to the fact that he had chosen to employ the person who caused the suffering; that this would have been the kind thing to do; that this would have been the honest thing to do; that Gordon Brown wanted to distance himself from Damien McBride; that this was the reason that could not bring himself to apologise. Now, one of these is uncontroversial – Brown could have apologised; one probable – that Brown was trying to distance himself from his employee; one is speculative – that he couldn’t apologise because of this desire for distance; the rest are dubious or incorrect.

Let’s distinguish here between two senses of being sorry – sorry for and sorry that.¹ Only one of these two senses is the apology which Stephen expects. I can honestly say I’m sorry that emails were sent, or that offence was caused – I think the whole affair is thoroughly lamentable. However, I can’t say that I’m sorry for sending the emails, or for causing offence, because I am in no way connected to their sending or the offence they engendered. Gordon Brown has said the second sort of sorry, the letter of his which so disappoints Stephen expressed ‘great regret’ not only for this particular bad thing, but for all bad things of the type that ‘affect the reputation of our politics’. Just so you don’t think this is mere vapidity on his part, he backs up his words with a letter tightening up rules on political advisers, doing, in his words, ‘all he can to avoid this happening again’.

This is an expression of sorrow rather than an apology and that this is insufficient for Stephen’s purposes suggests that he is gunning for the first sense of sorry, being sorry for having done something. Now, Gordon didn’t send the emails and Stephen doesn’t suggest he endorsed, condoned, solicited, commissioned, devised or so much as knew about the emails. As a result, he is seemingly expecting Gordon to apologise for something someone else did.² How meaningful would we find such an apology?

Stephen seems to suggest that Gordon is in some way culpable because he employed the person who sent the emails. It’s worth remembering at this point that Damien was breaking the rules which governed his job and doing something that Gordon regrets. It’s one thing to criticise a man for knowingly employing someone who does regrettable things, it’s another to blame him for actions his employee has done on the sly knowingly contravening the guidelines which are in place to prevent it. It’s like blaming him for funding an employee’s drink problem when that demon is exercised only after work hours – it’s true that the funding is enabling the fulfilment of the addiction, but this is neither known nor foreseeable.³

In light of this then, where do we stand on Stephen’s earlier claims? Would an apology from Gordon been the kindest, most honest thing to do, or would it have been false and inappropriate? Is the lack of apology due to Gordon trying to distance himself, or is there actually a genuine distance there? The reason this matters is Stephen’s climax:

“And now? Mr Brown may have a more developed sense of morality than Mr Blair, yet he employed as a trusted lieutenant a man who disseminated scurrilous emails that would have brought a flush of shame to the face of Richard Nixon.

Mr Brown’s character is writ large in that short, disgraceful letter to Nadine Dorries. It is a terrifying thought that he can employ a man like McBride, while continuing to reassure himself that he has a finely developed moral compass.”

This is a distraction. Stephen’s drawing conclusions on a man’s morality from the actions of an underling and a letter he sent not apologising for employing that underling. Meanwhile, the economy, schools, hospitals, transport, two wars, any amount of international development, communities, agriculture, the regions, the environment and any number of other things rage outside. While Stephen is constructing intricate orreries of political figures reputations, the world goes on. The moral character of the Prime Minister is not what should be concerning us – the spin and evasion that reduces accessibility of our elected officials, the struggle for power rather than the debate of ideas, the fact that a government employee considered this a worthwhile use of their time, these should be concerning us. The fact that this has become a morality play only further confirms in the minds of the average individual the fact that politics is completely disconnected from their lives. Even if he were responsible for the emails, the problem would not be Gordon’s character, but the fact that he wasn’t doing what he’s paid to do. The longer we waste our time on this, the more important decisions will pass by unnoticed and the more solvable social problems will be overlooked. Let’s judge people on their actions, but do so on the ones that actually matter.


¹ I’m ignoring the sense of being sorry on behalf of, which would only really apply where the person who did the bad thing is unable to form an apology themselves (we apologise on behalf of children, for example), partly because I doubt Stephen wants Gordon to apologise on Damien’s behalf (I think he’d prefer it if they both apologised) and partly because there’s a fairly large debate to be had on the meaningfulness of an apology for something done by someone who isn’t actually sorry themselves.

² Imagine Gordon took this further, and tried to make amends and ask for forgiveness – would it make sense for Nadine Dorries to offer him forgiveness for Damien’s emails?

³ To Stephen’s claim that this was foreseeable  (“In other words, Mr Brown knew the kind of man he was employing. He was drawn to him. He picked him out.”), there are two obvious rejoinders: that you can legitimately hire someone for their desirable aspects even when these have undesirable flip-sides and that one would expect better from a PR guru than to be caught gossipping in writing.

Share her pain? No, this woman doesn’t deserve a penny

Even by his own standards, a somewhat repugnant column from Littlejohn today, which reaches its nadir about here:

“Where an earlier generation of public servant would have issued a heartfelt, grovelling apology before reaching for a bottle of single malt and a loaded service revolver, Mrs Shoesmith took the modern way out. She denied everything and reached for her lawyers.”

Although I can understand people disliking media hate figures, there’s something about wishing them dead which I find quite unsettling. It’s not just the implicit premise that justice requires blood, or the black and white claims of total guilt and total innocence which the desire implies, but the utter atavism of it. Leaving aside any questions about whether Littlejohn is right in apportioning blame solely and uniquely, and allowing a weak version of his claim that justice requires retribution, this is another human being he’s talking about. But for a slightly different conception of public service, it could have been him.

Hold that thought, because Richard doesn’t, quite, believe that Sharon Shoesmith is totally guilty:

“While the last breaths were being bludgeoned out of the defenceless Baby P, Shoesmith’s sentinels were busying themselves sitting in case meetings, ticking boxes, sipping fair trade coffee and scouring the jobs adverts in The Guardian.”

At least part of Richard’s claim is that the systems in place were inadequate and that by following them the social workers were inevitably failing to protect vulnerable children. Or, as he puts it later: “Theirs is a world where they are never to blame, provided proper ‘procedures’ have been followed, and even when their incompetence is exposed”. The thing about procedures is that they’re put in place to cover situations, to make sure that things aren’t overlooked. Without procedures, you have no way of guaranteeing that people are acting correctly, and no way of guiding them in unfamiliar situations. It’s harder than he thinks to blame someone for following a procedure that isn’t obviously wrong, one that covers most of the situation but still overlooks some things. It’s harder than he thinks to design a procedure that takes account of active deception on the part of the parent. But for a slightly different conception of public service, it could have been him.

Were it him, he would twice have gotten as far seeking legal advice on whether the baby could have been taken into care, and twice been told the legal threshold hadn’t been met. He would have repeatedly visited the home and found no trace of the two men who were living there who would eventually commit murder. He would have dealt with what seemed to all intents and purposes a co-operative mother, with a child who did not show the signs of violence that were so obviously present on its beaten corpse. He would have found himself trapped between a Daily Mail which believes in less State intrusion, and one that vilifies poor parents. He would not have found the evidence unearthed in a police investigation or the patterns which seem so obvious when you’re looking for them. It is very easy to fault procedures once they’ve gone wrong, and to sit in judgement from outside after the fact. It is harder on the ground, where all you have to guide you is a procedure which has, so far, brought you results. But for a slightly different conception of public service, it could have been him.

Were it him, his reaction would almost certainly one of extreme guilt and remorse:

“I don’t know how anyone could live with themselves knowing they could have prevented a vulnerable child meeting a ghastly death, but had failed to do so.”

We can be fairly sure of this, because of the reaction of Sharon Shoesmith, who it actually was:

“”You do consider how to stop it all, you know. You can just walk off the end of the tube platform and stop it all and I certainly did think about that on occasion, and there was certainly another occasion in the middle of the night when I gathered up all the paracetamol that existed in the house and there was nothing like enough.”” (“‘When a dead child is known to us, that’s the biggest horror. We knew the size of that’“, Friday, 6 February 2009, The Guardian)

But for a slightly different conception of public service, it could have been him.

The point here is not that Shoesmith is blameless or that Haringey Social Services are blameless. It’s more that Sharon Shoesmith is a human being, and that Haringey Social Services is staffed by human beings, and that sometimes human beings make mistakes, sometimes they construct mistaken systems, and sometimes the consequences of those mistakes are grave. That doesn’t negate their humanity, it doesn’t make them any less like Richard. Richard is clearly capable of imagining what it must be like to know that a child died on your watch, just as, in different circumstances, he would be capable of imagining how he would respond to a trial by media and summary breach of contract. Somehow, though, he doesn’t make the leap to imagining how he might reach that point. He just assumes that, because he has the knowledge after the fact, he would have had it before, that Sharon Shoesmith was uniquely fallible in a way he wouldn’t be. That is one hell of an assumption to balance a life on.

A privacy law would suit Mr Mosley very nicely. Like his father he does not believe in freedom

Not sure where to start with this column from Stephen Glover, so I’ll bow to the obvious: the hypocrisy of a Mail writer attacking a man for not distancing himself enough from his father:

“Members hung on his every word, even if they were slightly discomfited by his endorsement of the far-Right beliefs of his father, the 1930s fascist leader and Nazi sympathiser, Sir Oswald Mosley (although the old man might have overdone it a bit, his son conceded).”

The late baronet Mosley lived a busy life – he served as a Conservative MP, crossed the floor as an independent on the Liberal benches, joined the Labour Party (in whose government he served) formed the New Party, who were corporatist, formed the British Union of Fascists, who were fascist, then, after the war, called for a single European state. He had a lot of beliefs. A lot of them were far-Right, such as:

“We will not tolerate within the State a minority organized against the interests of the State. Jews must either put the interests of Britain before the interests of Jewry or they will be deported from Britain.” (The Times, Monday, Mar 25, 1935; pg. 16; Issue 47021; col D – Fascist Policy)

which sounds not unlike:

“On precedent, even if the British Government pressed for his expulsion – which, of course, it would not, even if he started a bomb-making factory in Southall – the European Court of Human Rights would uphold his right to stay here on the basis that he might face unpleasant consequences if sent home to Ethiopia, which is no bastion of personal freedom.” (The Daily Mail, Wednesday, Feb 25, 2009; Torture is wrong but why, in the name of sanity, should we allow those who hate us to live here?)

They were also against “cheap slave competition from abroad.” (Moseley (1938) ‘Tomorrow We Live’, speech), which isn’t much unlike:

“Even in the boom years, this unprecedented influx put huge pressure on our public services and social cohesion. In this grim recession, the only responsible course for the Government is to shut the floodgates fast.” (The Daily Mail, Tuesday, Feb 17, 2009; The one-way traffic in British jobs)

They had no confidence in democracy, which seems a sensible extension of the Mail‘s lack of confidence in our democrats, they were isolationist, like the Mail‘s opposition to the EU’s open markets and they had strong Christian underpinnings, much like the Mail. It’s not surprising that the Mail‘s position on them was not unfavourable – insert inevitable “Hurrah for the Blackshirts” (The Daily Mail, Monday, Jan 8, 1934; Hurrah for the Blackshirts) jibe here. One wonders whether Stephen is discomforted by his paper’s kinship with the far-Right views of Max Moseley’s father.

Moving beyond the obvious, how does Stephen conclude:

“Max Mosley wants rich and influential men to be able to control the way in which their lives are reported, so that they appear to us not as they really are, but as they want us to imagine them to be. A privacy law would be a charter for the rich and powerful – something that would have, no doubt, appealed to Sir Oswald Mosley. The son, like the father, does not believe in freedom.”

while also holding the belief that:

“I don’t want my e-mails routinely inspected, or my phone calls listened to, by someone sitting in Cheltenham GCHQ, and I am sure neither do you.

I don’t want to live in a country where that is possible. It would not be the country of our parents nor the one our forefathers fought for  –  nor the country that we were told, when we were children, that we were blessed to live in.” (The Daily Mail, Thursday, Oct 16; This will soon be a country more spied upon than Communist East Germany under the Stasi)

Why is it that rich and influential men should be allowed to have their lives pried into, while little people like Stephen’s audience cannot? Why should the Press have the power which Stephen would deny the State? Does Stephen not realise the obvious conflict of interests held by the Press, given its dual role in forming, as well as following, popular opinon? Judging by the following, he doesn’t:

“How very enlightened. Sweep everything under the carpet. Mislead the public. Don’t tell the truth. Pretend that men who are not virtuous are. Doubtless, Mr Mosley would extend this latitude to financial matters so that the secret shenanigans of public figures would go unreported.”

Virtue is a matter of private morality, it is not measured by external objective standards (unlike, for instance, lawfulness and honesty). If the Mail is seeking out the unvirtuous, it will find people who live what they believe to be virtuous lives. As such, its ‘public interest’ is persecutory, and aims at constructing a uniform conception of virtue. That’s not a public interest, but a private one – the homogenisation of private morality along the lines endorsed by the Mail. Whose interest is Stephen concerned for here?

“According to the judge, it is in the public interest for newspapers to report on public figures who indulge in Nazi orgies. But non-Nazi orgies, however degrading to the women involved, however perverted and nasty, can and should be enjoyed in privacy without newspapers having the right to report them.”

Whose standards of perversion (and so normality), degradation,¹ and nastiness are we applying? Moseley clearly thought that free, consenting individuals, harming no one but themselves were not doing anything untoward. The same appears to be true of the people he paid for 34 years for the pleasure. So in whose interest is the Press acting here? In exposing the acts of Moseley to public disdain and ridicule, it does the same for the law-abiding behaviour of a minority, indeed, it does the former through the latter. It is assuming a public interest that coincides with its own interest in rejecting this ‘perverted’ behaviour and uses this to intrude on the private sexual morality of not just Moseley, but any other law-abiding, consensual adults behaving in the same way.

This is not the pursuit of the public interest, but the legislation of private morality. In this way, it is clearly different from other cases that Stephen mentions (the hypocritical moral figure of the adulterous bishop or the cheating sportsman) and clearly different from the case the judge hypothesised about (in which Max Moseley completely failed to reject his father’s beliefs and pretended to be a Nazi – placing him in an odd position relative to his colleagues and clients). Indeed, the Press has a privilege, even on these reduced terms, that Stephen is denying the State – he does not want his private life intruded into even if he is suspected of criminal activity and one would have thought that crime would be the definitional public act. Stephen is already lucky to be able to pry into the lives of others to look for private hypocrisies, to insist on the right to judge private moralities is a step too far.


¹ And notice, here, that given the prositutes in question were regular contractors of Max’s able to choose the services they offered, Stephen is implicitly relying on the false consciousness of the women involed. Here the Press’ pursuit of the public interest extends to them determining private experience.

Doctors struck off for denying patients the right to die? What a sinister distortion of medical ethics

A fascinating column today from Melanie Phillips, not least for some impressive rhetorical sleights of hand.

“The disturbing fact is that many leading doctors no longer have a clear ethical sense at all. Many of them subscribe to the amoral doctrine now prevalent in our society, which dismisses the motivation behind people’s actions and focuses instead entirely upon the consequences.”

Quite a conclusion, so here’s the background. Chapter 9 of the Mental Capacity Act of 2005 (see here, particularly of relevance are sections 24-36) created a framework to protect the decision making of those of diminished decision making capacity. The basic principle is the preservation, as much as is possible, of the autonomy of the individual, and the Act looks at how we can best ensure that those without the capacity to make decisions for themselves have their interests protected and how we can take account of the life decisions of individuals who lose their decision making capabilities.¹

The mechanism it lays out for solving this latter problem is the ‘advance decision’, which does exactly what it says on the tin. It gives you the ability to decide in advance, while you still have the capability to do so, up to what point you will be treated. This extends the traditional principle that we have the right to refuse treatment, even life-saving treatment, if we have the competence to do so. In the same way as the refusal of treatment, this protects our autonomy and so our ability to define ourselves, give meaning and coherence to our lives and take responsibility for the sort of person we are². We might not agree with someone who does not seek to prolong their life, any more than we might agree with someone who refused a blood transfusion on religious grounds, but part of respecting them as an individual is respecting their right to live their lives as they see fit. The advance decision allows individuals to make that choice while they still can, enabling us to take responsibility for a part of our lives which previously fell out of our hands.

In light of this legislation, the GMC has revised its guidelines on the care of those who, while dying, could have their lives prolonged but who are not capable of making decisions themselves. (See here for the guidance in full, points 14, 95 and the Appendix outlining the new position, the sanction for ignoring it and the legal thinking behind it.) To summarise briefly, the new guidelines suggest that the law, in the form of advance decisions, should be complied with unless there is reason to belive that the decision may not longer be in force. Or, as Melanie puts it:

“As a result, the terrible truth is that doctors will now be struck off and may be sent to prison for refusing to kill their patients.”

There is clearly some space between my reading of the law and Melanie’s and it comes in that word ‘kill’. There is a fundamental difference between an act and an omission, the former being something that you do and the latter being something that you don’t. While your omission may lead to the death of someone, it does not cause their death, it merely fails to avert it. Now we are not talking here about, for instance, insisting that doctors give slight overdoses of pain medication as a form of passive euthanasia – this is illegal and thus not something you can decide in advance. Instead we are talking about the suspension of feeding. Or, as Melanie puts it:

“The crucial point is what is now included in the accepted definition of ‘treatment’. It has always been an important medical principle that no patient should be forced to have treatment against their will. Patients have always had the right to refuse treatment, whatever the consequences to their own lives.

Ever since the landmark case of Tony Bland, however – the Hillsborough disaster victim whose feeding tubes were disconnected after he was left in a persistent vegetative state – ‘treatment’ has been held to include giving patients food and liquids through feeding tubes.

But although the tubes involve a medical procedure, food and drink are not ‘treatment’. They are simply what we all need in order to stay alive. And so stopping feeding someone who would not otherwise die is simply and straightforwardly to kill them.”

The stopping of feeding is not so much an act as it opposite, its negation. It is no longer acting, or, in the terms used earlier, an omission to feed. As such, it is not the active ‘killing’ but a letting die. Note here that the patient is not being starved, they are not having food withheld, they are merely not being fed. The distinction is subtle, but immense. Were the patient able to feed themselves, the food would be on offer for them to take but as they are not, and they have been asked not to be fed when they cannot eat freely, food is not fed to them.

The sense in which this is a ‘treatment’ should be obvious – it is a treatment in exactly the same way that a tank of oxygen is a treatment for those who cannot get enough from the air, despite oxygen being ‘simply what we all need in order to stay alive. Melanie invokes the comparison between the patient and ourselves when she points to our common need for food, then ignores the fact that we do not need to be fed, but to feed ourselves if we are to avoid death. It is a treatment precisely because it is feeding, artificially sustaining life for someone who would otherwise die.

It is in this context that we have the advance decision to refuse treatment. While capable, the decision is made that life should not be prolonged beyond the point where we are incapable of feeding ourselves and, when the time comes, the doctor is caused to act on this decision by not feeding us. At this point, in the words of the GMC (see earlier link, point 79) “In all cases you should assess the patient for the presence of distressing symptoms, for example signs of pain, breathing difficulties, confusion, and dry mouth. Symptoms should be alleviated appropriately following up to date professional guidance”. That is to say, the doctor should ensure that the patient suffers as little as possible. Or, as Melanie puts it:

“To give doctors no choice but to comply forces them to act against their ethical principles and their conscience.”

By which she means that the traditional principle of ‘First do no harm’ is being violated and doctors are forced to kill their patients. The latter point, I hope we’ve dealt with, the former hopefully requires only reconsideration of the principle of not treating those who are competent to refuse. Take the well-worn example of Jehovah’s Witnesses and blood transfusions – would we harm a believer by forcing a blood transfusion on them, even if it saved their life? Melanie, on this basis, would be forced to say no – for the believer to die would be the harm. However, by ignoring the religious beliefs of the patient we ignore their autonomy and ability to live their lives as they see fit. We undermine their self-identity and force them to live a life that they do not approve of and be a person they do not want to be. If that is not a harm, I am not sure what is. And, if we take this line in the case of the individual who is still capable, we have to take it for those who lose that capability – the undermining of their self-identity by ignoring their wishes and imposing your own values on them is the same in both cases. This is the direct opposite of the accusation I quoted at the start of this piece that “Many of them [‘leading’ doctors] subscribe to the amoral doctrine now prevalent in our society, which dismisses the motivation behind people’s actions and focuses instead entirely upon the consequences.”

Implicit throughout this piece is the assumption that living is an end in itself which, while a perfectly valid opinion is not one shared by all. Indeed, I would say that it was a denigration of our humanity to reduce it in this way to mere biological life and the value of life is value we create through our committments and investments. While I can understand the fear which Melanie plays on,³ suffering is not limited to the physical. The Mental Capacity Act is a recognition of that fact and allows both Melanie and myself to construct our lives according to our own values to avoid what we class as harms and suffering. It is a beautiful, beautiful thing and it does doctors credit that they are upholding it.


¹ It is an inspiring, life affirming piece of legislation and I am proud to pay taxes to sustain the legislature that created it. I am unashamedly partisan about this – it easily and comprehensively replaces the Fraudulent Mediums Act (1951) as my favourite bit of legislation. If we want to thump tubs, as the Mail often does, it makes me proud to be British, underlining as it does key principles of respect for autonomy and compassion.

² Here I crib slightly from Dworkin’s Theory and Practice of Autonomy, Cambridge: CUP, 1988.

³ As, without irony, she goes from “Such doctors are … playing on people’s fear of dying in extreme pain or suffering” to “The terrible irony is that, out of the similar fear of hideous suffering which leads people to make ‘living wills’, they may be instructing doctors to cause them to suffer by starving and dehydrating them to death”, overlooking the ethical principles and conscience she sees as underlying the medical profession which would ameliorate this suffering.

Jacko and a sad day for British values…

I’m totally baffled by Amanda Platell’s column today, I can’t work out whether she’s for the rule of law or against it:

“What possessed Jack Straw to grant Jack Tweed (already convicted of a vicious attack on a 16-year-old) another extension on his curfew, just days after being convicted of a second offence of assaulting a taxi driver?

Spending a night at the bedside of his new wife, Jade Goody, Tweed says: ‘I just wish I could be there all the time.’ The irony is, he could have been – if he wasn’t such an unmitigated thug.”

It’s not the most compassionate of positions, but there’s an argument that the Law should be dispassionate and that punishments should be meaningful, so it seems fair enough. If the Law says Tweed’s punishment is a curfew, Amanda’s question of why this isn’t being applied is a reasonable one. However:

“The scenes of hysteria as Michael Jackson announced his farewell tour in London were as bizarre as they were troubling. Why on earth is a man who admits to having slept with young boys in his bed being welcomed to Britain at all?”

There are a few reasons why a non-EU national would be refused entry to the UK, a list of which can be found here. The mere sharing of beds with boys is not on the list. Odd and questionable though this behaviour most certainly is, it’s not actually a crime – it might be a reason for us to be wary of letting our youngest sleep over at Michael’s, but it’s not enough to keep Michael out of the country¹. However, Amanda can do better:

“Jackson may have been cleared on charges of child molestation, but the details that emerged at his trial four years ago paint a picture of a deeply perverted man. One whole section of evidence was devoted to the pornography he kept at Neverland, inluding two books featuring pictures of naked young boys and DVDs called Barely Legal.”

This isn’t much better, as she lets slip that Jackson was cleared of molestation charges, but it’s a decent attempt, as it implies that this exoneration was unsound. There are a couple of things to note about this. The first is that her basis for this opinion is his possession of legal pornography (the title should have given her a clue) and two legal books², which doesn’t make for a particularly compelling case. More worrying though is her implication that she, as a reader of the foreign press coverage of a court case, is in a better position to judge the innocence or guilt of a defendant, overturning as it does the idea of the fair trial. Taken to its logical conclusion, this would dispense with trials completely, allowing instead the Press to fit the more lurid bits of evidence into whatever narrative they felt was most compelling with media pundits working out guilt and innocence along the way. This is a hellish vision of utopia. If being cleared in open court isn’t enough for you to be considered innocent, what chance does civil society have? How acrid would our relations become if suspicion were considered guilt?³

Now I know that my desire for consistency across mini-articles on the same page of the same newspaper by the same author is almost as unfair as it is anal, but I’ll ask this anyway: how can Amanda complain with one breath that the Law is being stretched in one place, while attempting to sideline it completely with another? I imagine she thinks she’s being consistent as the two subjects of her disapprobation are, in her mind, guilty and all she’s seeking is to see that they’re punished. What she’s missing is that while Tweed is not being punished as the Law says he should be, Jackson is. Until her opinion is accepted as Law, this distinction will continue to make a fool of her.


¹ Actual paedophilia would be as it’s a crime carrying a sentence of more than 12 months so a reason for excluding entry, although it’s worth noting here that the crime exclusion appears in the section looking at discretionary refusals (see here for a handy explanation), so Jackson could still be let in even then.

² My source for this is the BBC’s article on the evidence bit of the trial. The books listed there are ‘Boys Will Be Boys!’, which is available on Amazon, and ‘The Boy: A Photographic Essay’, which is also available on Amazon, and images from which are available here. I admit I haven’t read either of these, so Amanda may well be in a better position to judge this than me, but on the basis of this evidence, casting these as paedophilia pornography is not unlike casting Titian’s ‘Cupid With The Wheel Of Fortune‘ as the same. [Edit – the Titian link doesn’t work, try this]

³ Probably about this acrid: “Don’t forget, the only reason he needs the money in the first place is to pay back the massive loans he incurred thanks to years of monstrous extravagance. Bailing out greedy and incompetent bankers was bad enough. Bailing out Jacko is just asburd.” Here Amanda is against someone trying to earn themselves out of debt by selling their services freely on the open market, merely because she would not, hereself, buy their services. Jackson’s behaviour sounds like someone taking responsiblity for their actions, which, in other areas of people’s lives Amanda is dead keen on: “It’s bad enough we have to pay for their gastric bands, diet-induced diabetes and stomach stapling; now we learn that thousands of obese people are on benefits because they’re too fat to work. If they want to be fat, that’s their choice. But why should the rest of us pay for their Krispy Kreme cravings?” The clash between these two is striking. But I digress.

We show tolerance to ‘gays’ and get tyranny in return

The Mail is a contrary beast. Some days it mourns the decline of civility, the next it opens our minds to the dark tyranny that civility truly is:

“We cringe to the new Thought Police, like the subjects of some insane, sex-obsessed Stalinist state, compelled to wave our little rainbow flags as the ‘Gay Pride’ parade passes by.”

Quite. It’s like Ceauşescu all over again, only this time he likes same-sex couples, not statist command economics. I must say though, I missed that memo (I assume I was out binging and stabbing the elderly). I thought the most that was ever demanded of me was not to be rude. And, to be fair, that was never really a demand, that was an upbringing supported by the idea that I’d be happier if people got on with me.

This is not a thought that is alien to ‘Peter’¹ – he  doesn’t like rudeness either:

“You think I exaggerate the power and fury of these forces? The totalitarian rage on this subject is quite astonishing. I have had several brushes with it, and been called rude names by its militants.”

Now name calling is almost always wrong. At best, it’s an unwelcome mirror (and we should consider whether ‘unwelcome’ is wrong on a case by case basis). Presumably ‘Peter’ would prefer the basic respect owed to him as an individual – the consideration of treating him as an equal. At the very least, this would involve extending the courtesy he would expect for himself, or a reason why such courtesy should not be extended. In short, civility and civil rights.

We couldn’t say, for example, Daily Mail writers are just not as good as the writers for other newspapers merely by virtue of their set membership, therefore ‘Peter’ shouldn’t be allowed to wear cuff-links. That would be a non sequitur following on from an initial unfounded belief². While we’re talking about unfounded belief, ‘Peter’ might rightly accuse me of prejudice, given that I’m adducing no evidence for disliking Mail journos apart from a general gut feeling. Whether ‘Peter’ would want to call me on that would depend on whether he wanted to wave the mirror at me, and whether he thought I’d see myself in it if he did.

For ‘Peter’ to hop up and down, as so many have in the Mail recently, over the grandparents at the center of this story is to obfuscate and avoid the issue. We can imagine the scenario involving a straight couple and the story not existing. We would have no complaints about “this demand, that they mouth approval of the new regime like the defendants at some show trial” as their grandchildren are brought up by strangers because they are considered too old and too infirm to be entrusted with the care of a vulnerable child. The problem they have is not that grandparents are always better than strangers. It’s that gay couples are never as good as grandparents, even if those grandparents wouldn’t be as good as a straight couple according to the rules for adoption as they presently stand. Unfortunately for ‘Peter’, either he’s going to have to justify that belief, or live with me being rude and calling him a bigot. It’s not totalitarian, he doesn’t have to like it, he just has to accept that until he’s justified his position, I’m going to assume it’s mere prejudice and ignore it for practical purposes.


¹ I assume that ‘Peter’ wants us to call him by a name he’s comfortable with, which is why I’m putting it in inverted commas.

² Or, at best, no non sequitur and two unfounded beliefs, but I think the belief that lesser writers can’t do justice to cuff-links, even if they have help dressing from better writers, is one that is generally accepted. At least, by anyone not aware of the evidence to the contrary. Which is all lies anyway. But I digress.