Assisted living- a response to Matthew Parris’ article (The Times)


In writing his article, ‘We cant afford a taboo on assisted dying’, Matthew Parris may well have unwittingly argued the case against euthanasia, or ‘assisted dying’ as those seeking to soothe their own conscience, prefer to call it. 

‘Assisted dying’ is more palatable to our western (Christian) sensibilities: a bit like substituting the words ‘planned parenthood’ for abortion clinics or ‘gender affirming care’ for the irreversible mutilation of children incapable of consent. 

If one needed any examples of the slippery slope argument, they leap forward like a Mao Zedong campaign. 

I suppose it all comes down to one’s worldview, as Parris points out, though I do find his constant sneering towards Christianity rather irritating; especially during Easter. 

Mao’s view of ‘assisted dying’ was very strongly linked to his will and his ideology. 

Behind the cold destruction and the man-made famine was a cold political calculation. Perhaps this kind of hard-nosed pragmatism is more up Parris’ street. There can be no room for sentimentality in the business of healthcare, tight budgets and shareholders or even in running a country.

Matthew Parris put it like this:

“We simply cannot afford extreme senescence or desperate infirmity for as many such individuals as our society is producing.”

Perhaps it would be more convenient for all if there were some sort of cut-off point for those people undergoing cellular decline. It would certainly help the NHS and the housing crisis. 

If the tone of my argument is slightly spiky or sounds angry, it’s because I am. 

As a terminal cancer patient on palliative care, I would much rather that we focused on assisted living and taking proper care of the vulnerable and infirm, not offering them a quick exit for the sake of expediency. 

Hitler had a similar view on the value of human life to Parris:

He said of the catastrophic German losses in Russia, “the life of the individual must not be set at too high a price. If the individual were important in the eyes of nature, nature would take care to preserve him. Amongst the millions of eggs a fly lays, very few hatch and yet the race of the fly thrives”

Too strong, you say? 

Well, since we’re getting down to brass tacks I don’t want to be mealy mouthed about it. Let’s just say it as we see it. 

Parris is right. It depends very much on our worldview, our morality and the value we place on human life. 

In the west, whether we know it or not, Christian values are the very air we breathe. 

Can so-called enlightenment values be called values at all? 

Can they even exist outside an an objective moral standard and apart from God?

Nietzsche realised this when be said “God is dead …and we have killed him’

He knew only too well where that slippery slope led and predicted the horrors that would unfold in the 20th century. 

I write this on Easter Sunday. 

Some, like the Labour Party,  are calling it ‘Trans day of Visibility’ but to me, and many like me, it is Easter Sunday when we Christians celebrate the risen Christ. A triumph of light over darkness; of life over death. 

The cross of Christ is both a symbol of ultimate sacrifice and also of hope. 

I would happily forego cancer treatment if that meant the survival of one child in these days of difficult choices, but in reality, I very much doubt it would make any difference, given the state of brokenness into which our healthcare system has fallen. I could tell you stories about the state of cancer care in this country to make your hair stand on end. 

In fact, the NHS has become a monument to just how much (or how little) our society values human life. 

Glen Scrivener, describes in his book, The Air We Breathe, how the values that underpin western society are deeply rooted in Christianity: equality, compassion, consent, enlightenment,science, freedom and progress. 

He says that just as a goldfish cannot see or perceive the water that makes up the bulk of its environment, the same can be said of the nature of Christianity in ours: It shapes everything we do but we cannot see it. Christianity is the water in which we swim- the air we breathe. 

To those who might consider themselves ‘outsiders,’ Scrivener says, ‘don’t be so sure. Goldfish might not know the chemical composition of H20, but it’s central to their lives. 

We can, of course, abandon these ‘Christian-ish’ values for ‘enlightened’ or secular ‘values’ but they can no longer be called values at all. Rather, they become vague wishes and ideas, built on foundations of shifting sand. 

They cannot claim to be any ‘better’ or worse than those of Hitler or Mao or Pol Pot. 

This raise the question, what is better? Is there such a thing as right and wrong or is there only difference? 

It hardwired in the rebellious nature of Man to be his own god. Since the Genesis story and the fall of Adam it has always been so. Mankind not only seeks to usurp God by remoulding himself into his own image, but also by determining and redefining life itself: which babies will be born and which will not. He also seeks to determine the time and manner of death too; all things that were previously in God’s domain. 

Do you really think that euthanasia is a good idea? 

Do you trust your government and your NHS to have the ultimate say? The ultimate power to give life and to take it away at the very times of our lives when we are at our most vulnerable? 

It is nearing the anniversary of my Brother’s death, from the same cancer that will likely claim my own life. 

Jeremy wrote about his illness in is ‘Low Life’ column in The Spectator which he remarkably continued right up to the very end. 

He bore the pain of death with great bravery and dignity. 

Our Mother had been a nurse in London as a young woman and later ran her own residential care home. She looked after the elderly residents as if they were her own family. It was the very model of what good care should look like. 

Most of the care homes in Devon have closed down now and mum was fortunate that she was able to die in a nursing home just around the corner from her home, overlooking the sea and St Michaels church, where she would at last be buried. 

Standards of care have slipped badly over recent years and there is not only a dearth of suitable homes or home support for our elderly people, the National Health Service is crumbling too. 

Given the inevitability of death and disease, we really ought to be doing something about it. It affects all of us. 

If the answer to the problems we face is managed decline and assisted suicide, then we have strayed very far from our original mission. 

Indeed, how we care for the sick snd elderly says a lot about our society.

It was the early Christians who led the way in rescuing infants from exposure (the Romans threw them onto waste heaps to die). It was the Christians who led the way in caring for the sick and put their lives at risk caring for lepers- things made no sense to the people of that time. 

The Romans had sick bays for wounded soldiers so they were able to recover to fight again for Rome, but it was the Christians who began the first hospitals. 

I am no longer receiving treatment for my cancer. I am slowly dying. The NHS decided not to provide funding for my treatment but told me that I can buy it from the Royal Marsden if i so desire (and have deep enough pockets) 

I am not desperate to go on living but neither would I conceive of hastening my own death. I will leave that part to God. 

My sister in Law, Sarah died two years ago after a failed operation to repair her spine. 

She had faced pain and suffering for many years but still thought life worth living. I have never met a braver soul who bore her pain with such good grace and humour. Who can put a price on that marvellous life? 

Last year I gave my evidence to the coroner at her Inquest on the very anniversary of her death. 

After taking the decision to undergo a final and risky operation she died trying to live.

I was dismayed to learn, however, that her operation was carried out on a Friday when the specialist team who could have assisted her recovery were not working at the weekend and had not been called in, as less competent staff struggled to find a suitable vein to administer life support. 

I also learned that the hospital experienced a ‘critical staffing emergency’ that weekend. 

I do not say that the NHS killed her but, neither Sarah or her family would have consented to the operation knowing the circumstances under which it would be carried out. 

I am angry that we find the money to fight futile and unjust wars and yet make such little effort to preserve life. 

I would ask you to consider the NHS and the Government’s response to the Covid Pandemic. 

At it’s height DNR (do not resuscitate) orders were issued for disabled patients, including those with learning disabilities, who did not want, or in some cases, did not know about them whilst care homes reported that NHS representatives had contacted them and ordered them to issue blanket DNR notices for all of their elderly residents. 

Consider also the now abandoned, Liverpool Care Pathway, where patients were left to starve to death. 

I ask again: do you trust your government and your NHS to have the ultimate say over the life and death of you or your family and loved ones? Do you trust them with the ultimate power over life and death at the very times of oir lives when we are at our most vulnerable? 

In truth, we all know very well what will happen: The boundaries of ‘consent’ will be stretched and distorted, just as they have been before, and are being stretched to unacceptable limits in other areas of medical ethics – (Not least under the guise of Trans affirming care).

We will all have to face this question sooner or later: 

What price do we put on a life? 

And as for the cost, consider these words from the gospel of Mark:

‘For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?’

afterword:

I recently spent some time in hospital after suffering a large stroke ( bleeding and blood clots in the temporal lobe of my brain )

The experience helps make the point i have made in this article. 

The-difficulties experienced in acessing the NHS that hindered my original cancer diagnosis have remained a significant factor in efforts to receive proper pain relief and palliative care in the later progression of my cancer , and feel despite my brother dying of the same cancer in May of last year. 

On receipt of my Original diagnosis I complained to my local surgery and feel thatI am treated as something of a troublemaker. 

The original locum doctor who failed to diagnose my disease told me that my allotted appointment time was up and that i would need a second appointment if i wanted to discuss the  elevated risk of prostate cancer following my brother’s diagnosis. 

I well recall the ACT FAST acronym campaign for stroke victims that was advertised on our television screens when my wife and I were hijacked in the back of an ambulance about whether we would sign a DNR ( do not resuscitate form) because of my terminal cancer. 

I told them that i did not think that waiting for 3 hours in the back of an Ambulance and waiting 1 hour for the Ambulance was following their own ACT FAST advice and tat this failure should not be used as an excuse to sign such a form. 

When we eventually saw a doctor in the hospital we were told that the ED doctors had already decided not to resuscitate me if i were to suffer a cardiac arrest in the absence of the appropriate consent form. Again this all makes my point about a lack of trust in the NHS. Which i gooe you find to be reasonable if not easily understandable .

Though the vocal secular Humanist contingent have much to say about keeping Christianity and Christian morality and ethics out of the public sphere. I contend that ones worldview and especially Christian beliefs are the most important guide to such life and death ethical questions. 

The Shipman report and the tendency of humanity towards pride, especially when holding the power of life and death over another should become the forefront of our minds in consideration of these important questions. 

It has been my own experience that doctors and consultants often become defensive when i have asked difficult questions of them . 

It leads me to lighten the mood with an old doctor joke which i think Doctors would do well to remember and respond with humility: let us not take our selves too seriously shall we? 

The joke plays on this important point: 

Q

“What’s the difference between God and a doctor? “

A “ God doesn’t think He’s a Doctor”

Please don’t be offended by the accusations of narcissistic tendencies of some in the medical professions implicit within my little joke. In modern parlance I might sooner ask you yo check your motivation and your unconscious bias. 

 


4 thoughts on “Assisted living- a response to Matthew Parris’ article (The Times)”

  1. Thank you Jim.
    This has made me stop and think about our God and his place in my life and the solid foundation he provides. ❤️

  2. definitely thought providing Jimbo and tbf you should have been a writer instead of fighting the buffoons of our society x

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