MATTERS OF LIFE and DEATH
down the page, latest May 20th 2010
This section of the web site is designed,
as other parts, to anticipate
events and by so doing show that although the future cannot be
predicted on a scale that affects given individuals, the results of
collective actions can be predicted to a certain extent. There is a
logic to cause and effect, and if we understand the present we can
understand the future. That is why the contents are written in the form
of dated entries. It is one thing to be wise after the events, more
useful to show what will happen in advance, and why, and record if the
outcome corresponds with the prediction.
For example it was made clear in another section that in the case of
Iraq and Saddam Hussein, if the UN Security Council failed to act to
remove him, then a US led a coalition would - and the results would be
very much worse than if the Security Council took the responsibility.
Withdrawing and leaving him in power was not an option. That would have
refusal to take responsibility for the results of his tyranny if he
remained or of the costs of his removal if he was removed. The failure
was due half to George Bush's total failure to carry world opinion, his
credibility being extremely low, and half to the unwillingness of some
national leaders to risk unpopularity with the electorates that GWB had
In this section we deal with taking responsiblity for the life and
death of individuals as our technical capability puts the choice which
was previously made by nature into our own collective hands. It is the
destiny of humanity to 'play God', that is the difficult lesson of the
parable of the Garden of Eden. The irony is that religious
fundamentalists do not understand either the Old or the New Testament.
Today (March 19th 2005) as I write this preface, the serious debate on
abortion I anticipated in October 2003 has started, I have made a
suitable entry, but If you have not read the previous ones you can
OCTOBER 30th 2003 - with
updates as shown down the page
OK, now listen and attend, best beloved, as we are going to
here and now with the business of LIFE
DEATH and, to begin with, such matters as abortion,
euthanasia, IVF, cloning, genetic modification
Most people get involved in these matters only if it directly affects
them, as an individual or a family. They may then be unprepared and,
therefore, take decisions they subsequently regret. Others may get
involved because they have made a career in medicine or biological
research. Others may have chosen to go into politics to support one of
the main political parties and then find out that being a politician
carries a responsibility to deal with matters that may be well outside
their knowledge and experience.
I come to pronounce on these subjects after 60 years of contemplation
as an anthropologist, cosmologist, physicist, philosopher and
investigator of the human condition, but without direct personal
involvement in the above issues. I was baptised and brought up a
Christian in the Church of England but noted carefully the thinking of
other denominations including Roman Catholics. I have studied other
major religions. I was educated as a Darwinian and a student of the
works of Newton, Einstein, and the Quantum Physicists. I have never had
a problem reconciling all of these with reality as I saw it, though
ironically they, or their sometimes confused followers, have usually
failed to understand each other I believe I am well informed, and
would therefore ask you to read what I have to say carefully.
There has been much debate over recent decades on the 'right to life'
of the unborn child. We know that in times past this debate was equally
intense and for some people had been resolved by appointed and
established authorities in the societies in question. The Roman
persuasion within the Christian church regarded the rights of the
child as equal to or superior to that of the mother. Amongst those
societies that developed a more pragmatic approach, with the welfare of
humanity at heart but a less abstract view (some might say more
materialist view) of reality, there has none the less been a serious
attempt to establish the stage in the development of a foetus after
which termination of pregnancy should be contemplated only in dire
There have been attempts to
define various stages in the development of
embryos that have some significance that might justify the linking of
such to a legal right to terminate. However, the truth is that there
no such clearly definable critical instants. The moment of successful
conception is a definable and significant moment. The successful
delivery, the birth of a naturally surviving infant, is another. But
between these two there are no similarly critical moments of emergence
of a new and independent individual life form, even if the presence of
certain attributes can indicate the level of awareness and
sensibility The fertilised human egg, a single cell, has not only
all the natural potential to become an individual but contains all the
detailed specific potential of that individual. Potential to be
and encouraged or stifled and rejected by interaction with the
environment, from the moment of conception. The single cell has all
inbuilt will to life. It has what some have called 'purpose' and what I
have called, in previous writings on the nature of intelligence, anticipation and intentionality. It needs no
outside instructions. Indeed it issues them and the mother responds
the required support.
Does this mean that those
in the 'right to life' lobby are
unassailable in their refusal to condone the termination of pregnancy? Not
is what we need to understand. The responsibility of individuals and
responsibility of society is not so easily shrugged off. As life on
planet evolves, the responsibility of humanity to manage it does not
remain static. It increases in complexity and in significance. What was
adequate or desirable in previous eras, by way of understanding and
behaviour, will not be good enough to see us through to emergence as a
global society in possession of the technological resources and exposed
to the emerging threats that now surround us. We have eaten,
metaphorically, of the tree of knowledge and humanity is destined to
grow up and either succeed or fail in its bid to adulthood. Nature is
neither cruel nor blind. It is self-observing and self referential. But
the emergence of humanity, civilisation and its globalization is in
effect the emergency of a new phase
of life on earth.
Whereas in the past Nature, acting as the womb that is our mother
earth, was responsible for decisions of life and death of species, we
now reaching maturity as humanity and must manage these things
ourselves. That is what we are here to do. Success is planned for, the
possibility of success is provided for, because the whole global
is one of reproduction in a cosmic context. But although on the cosmic
scale success may be inevitable, even tautological, the global future
our home planet's life forms including humanity is no more guaranteed
than is the successful birth of a single human child. We could be
terminated by reason of our own behaviour or by an external
that we fail to avert.
If this were not the case, not only would life be meaningless, the
whole universe would be at risk. I will not go into the details here
now why that should be so. Suffice to say that to achieve determinacy
any given dimensional level there must be a perceived and effective
indeterminacy, as experienced in the logic at that level, in the supporting level beneath. There
is of course more too it than that, but now is not the time to go into
To decide whether or not it is our responsibility as a society to
permit the termination of pregnancy under certain circumstances, we
would do well to decide if we have the right to terminate an adult
life. Historically this issue has been decided in every civilisation
since records began, with the same result. The answer is YES. However
the conditions imposed have also always been the same, with a few
exceptions. These conditions are that the decision to terminate is
by a formally constituted and recognized authority, and the termination
is carried out by officially appointed persons. In the Judaeo-Christian
orthodoxy, the commandment Thou Shalt Not Kill (singular - not Ye Shall Not Kill) makes this very
clear. Even in war, only members of authorised armies are permitted to
take life unless it is self defense.
The aim of modern societies has been to avoid the taking of life as a
punishment, and to abandon war as a means of ensuring security or
obtaining national assets. These aims are worthy. Instead of
capital punishment, restraint by imprisonment is advocated increasingly
in the most liberal societies in order to minimise the possibility of
irrevocable miscarriages of justice, and recognise the possibility if
rehabilitation. War has come to be seen as economically catastrophic
unless alternatives have been exhausted.
Nevertheless the abolition of the death penalty in no way establishes a
new doctrine or a new logic. Any society has the right to terminate a
life if it decides it is the least harmful option. Any society can
institute the termination of life under certain conditions as a policy
if it is, in the considered opinion of the elected government of that
society, after due consultation, the right and proper policy in the
circumstances. The fact that administrative or other human errors may
result in that policy causing, from time to time, the unintentional
death of an innocent adult individual would not, in such circumstances,
be a justifiable reason to abandon the policy or refuse its
The assumption that premature accidental death is a tragedy for any
individual, not to mention society, is common these days. We should not
make such an assumption. It needs to be examined. It may be a matter
great grief for parents, family and friends or even the a nation, but
that is not the same thing. If death is caused by obvious negligence
or, worse, malevolence, we accept there has been a failure of society.
If death is, however, an event that has taken place despite the sincere
efforts of all, we know that such a possibility has to be allowed. Risk
not only part of life, it is an important part. Risk assessment is a
vital part of the process of evolution.
When it comes to the accidental
(unintentional) termination of the life of a human embryo or
foetus, the grief and loss may be deeply felt by parents. It is as we
have already noted a human life. But it is not an independent human
life. As adults we are of course dependent on others. As children we
very dependent on parents or guardians. As fully formed but unborn
children we are totally dependent. As unformed, potential children,
cells growing as part of the mother but with new genetic instructions
(due to modification by insemination by a father) our loss may be felt
extremely by parents. But the accidental termination of fertilised
egg cells takes place by the million every hour of the day without
anyone knowing or caring, and the natural failure of undetected
pregnancies in the first weeks are, it is estimated, not
No suffering, in any way that the word has meaning, is involved.
If a human female becomes unintentionally pregnant and wishes for sound
emotional and logical reasons to deliberately terminate that pregnancy,
there is no reason on earth why society in modern day Europe should not
assist her to do this as soon as the situation is detected, provided
abides by sensible conditions such as taking qualified medical advice,
consulting with the father unless unknown or unreachable or hostile,
taking the necessary time for reflection. The reasons for
termination could be vary from rape to economic inadvisability, family
circumstances, health considerations or perceived genetic
abnormalities. The more time that has elapsed before the pregnancy is
detected, the more circumspect must be the manner in which the decision
The fact that in the past large parts of our society have in the past
stuck rigidly to a dogmatic position that defined the right to life is
no reason for us to suppose that (i) this stance was not right for the
times/places or (ii) conversely, that it is right for the present day. It was quite
acceptable in the past to hide behind absolutist dogma because we did
have the technological power to take responsibility. The religious
were in effect themselves decided on a Darwinian basis. Societies that
developed ethics that enabled them to survive in a competitive
environment, cooperate, feed and shelter themselves and defend their
homeland were bound to end up as the owners and managers of those parts
of the terrestrial planet that they now inhabit. If genes were ever
selfish (an unproven theory in the first place) the road to survival
depended at the very least on honour amongst thieves. Aggression is not
necessarily the best defence.
The interests of society versus the individual have of course been the
subject of the greatest political struggles in human history. Every
civilisation has risen, developed, decayed and died by a process of
moving the emphasis from one to the other, some times gradually,
sometimes violently, sometimes through many cycles or waves, sometimes
through a single roller that reached a towering height before crashing
on the rocks. In our dynamic universe, the phenomenon we call wave
mechanics is the sine-qua-non of existence; so if we are to survive, as
a species and as individuals, we had better learn the art of political,
economical and ethical surfboarding to match the physical reality. That
does not mean there are no fundamental ethical or religious truths - it
does means we are not able to shelter behind them now we have taken the
responsibility on our own shoulders
One platitude we need to get to grips with is that about ends and
means. Do ends justify means? Should the means determine the end? If we
choose certain means, will the end follow and be in character with the
means? Or is the reverse the case? Such debates start from a false
premise - that the end has already been justified. First we must try to
justify some ends, and to do that we must first imagine them.
The survival of the human race and human society is one possible aim.
This used to be defined on a highly competitive basis, the society in
question being tribe or race or religious community. While some still
see it in these terms it is fair to say, without being accused of
outlandish optimism and in spite of the considerable confusion
a certain amount deliberate misinformation that surges through the
media, that the majority of the world's population who will be
responsible either as voters or as politicians for the direction of
global policy have realised that we have to work together in a
multicultural world. We are engaged in a search for, at the very least,
periods of harmony and resolution, even if we must (and indeed should)
pass through periods of tension and temporary dissonance in order to
The idea of survival through fertility has given way to that of
survival through sustainable behaviour.in population growth as in other
environmentally sensitive criteria. Attempts at state-imposed eugenics
were abandoned following the Nazi experience. State encouraged eugenics
has, by association, been seen as the similarly unacceptable
interference in individual freedom of choice. The responsibility for
quality an quantity of coming generations is therefore in the hands of
individuals, influenced only by the support and advice provided by the
society they live in. Available technology and resources that are
supplied as a matter of right by the state, as opposed to those
available only at cost, will statistically affect the outcomes.
These days we hear regularly of couples who are desperate for children.
Today, Oct 30th 2003, there is a story of a couple who have 'set their
heart on a large family'. Are we to provide, as a matter of right, no
matter what the cost, every technological solution that emerges that
will enable such people to have as many children as they like,
regardless of the fact that their natural condition renders them
infertile or unable to successfully give birth?
Is it a good idea to create a future society that is increasingly
dependent on artificial chemical support, shielded from substances to
which its developed allergies (perhaps through artificial
that expects the support of an endlessly developing national health
system? If we are, quite rightly, to leave decisions concerning
procreation in the hands of the individuals that make up our society,
they rich or poor, intelligent or frankly dim, should we then queer the
pitch by subsidising their power to choose destinies beyond their
capability to imagine?
I think not. We seem to be obsessed with empowering people to take
decisions that affect their lives without making any attempt to ensure
that they have been given the education to deal with the consequences,
for themselves as well as society. Winning the lottery has destroyed
lives of a good many of the winners. On the scale of society,
politicians and medical researchers chasing the consumer, who is now
source of their popularity or their dreams of wealth, are bent on
as a gift that which is in reality not theirs to give. With taxpayers
money they plunder Pandora's box and then profit further by
its contents with further subsidised largesse. At the same time in some
quarters they deny the right to death of the elderly and the right to
termination of the unwillingly pregnant.
All this is an indication that we need to get a better understanding of
our aims, our ends, before we start criticising the means or justifying
them. These ends cannot be precise, and they cannot be final. We are
seeking a possible road to a possible future, an open ended future. The
justification of means by ends will be seen, after proper meditation,
a redundant idea. Means and ends should merge into a way forward.
Revolution becomes unnecessary if we understand evolution and, above
all, the evolution of evolution. It will be seen that there is wrong on
both sides of nearly all the conventional orthodox opposing positions
every major issue. To be continued.....
NOVEMBER 16th 2003
David Davis, now Shadow Home Secretary, has spoken up on cue with
perfect timing to give me the context for the next part of this
discussion. I have never been attracted to Mr Davis' politics. While he
might well be a good organiser and a practical thinker, he is not a man
who gives the impression that he has more than a classically lopsided
understanding of the human condition at this stage of his career (he
will doubtless become a wiser man over the passage of time). However, I
give him full marks today for courage, honesty and clear thinking.
Interviewed by James Cox (one of the BBC's better news-and-views
presenters) he defended his personal position on the death penalty for
serial murderers and his reason for revealing these in public. His
defence was impregnable in logic and integrity on both counts, and
up his critics on this score, in all political parties, journals and
media, in a light so unfavourable that to take them seriously ever
again is virtually impossible. The only merciful treatment of serial
killers (merciful for them and merciful for society) is death by lethal
injection. Those who crave vengeance would rather, of course, condemn
them to hell (life as a convicted serial killer is hell and life as a
serial killer in a British jail is the ultimate depth of hell). As Mr
Davis pointed out there is no party policy on the death penalty for any
of the 3 main parties. He declared his personal position because he was
asked what it was. I congratulate him on his decision to give a
answer. James Cox's suggestion that this was the wrong thing to do, or
that Mr Davis logic or information was faulty was wide of the mark.
There is one important respect in which Mr Davis is mistaken. He
believes that the death penalty would be a deterrent in the case of
serial killers. This is not the case. Such people have no problem with
death, they have a problem with life. The death penalty is a huge
deterrent to those contemplating murder, if it were needed, if they
respect for human life or a love of life. A serial killer is by
definition not such a person. A serial killer will challenge society
aim to win, but will not be deterred from his or her path. The liberty
sought by the serial killer is one they will trade willingly only for death. Society's only
defence is swift detection and arrest, using the most modern techniques
There is another reason that some people believe that imprisonment is
preferable to a death sentence: that is that in the era of pervasive
media and communications the convict remains as living example to
- a reminder to all of the extent to which a human being can fall from
grace, a reminder of the value to be placed on being neither such a
person or one of their victims, a witness to the current detection
capabilities of the justice system and the willingness of society to
protect its members. For those who hold that this is a valid use of the
convicted person's life, it is an argument in favour of imprisonment
serial killers. It is not, however, an argument against the death
penalty on any grounds other than that in the case of death the convict
is neither employed for the good of society nor punished (for the good
of somebody's conscience). Life imprisonment is a punishment. Death is
release. The motivation of those who are against execution and in
of life imprisonment for serial killers remains, therefore, still
suspect in my opinion.
Those who are For or Against the death penalty on
principal have not yet reached an adequate understanding of life in
general or human life in particular on the surface of this planet. The
question to be settled is the merits and demerits of the availability
and implementation of the death penalty in a given situation - a time
and a place. Clearly in peacetime, the aim should be to eliminate
or minimise recourse to the death penalty as a punishment or as a
deterrent because of the fallibility of the judicial process and the
possibility of the redemption of the individual. Whenever national
security is not seriously threatened, whenever the rule of law is
maintained ad there is time for proper legal procedure, the death
penalty should not be used unless it is the most humane. In the case of
the dedicated serial killer or the committed terrorist whose declared
function is to attack the state, however, these grounds (of humanity or
the risk of miscarriage of justice) are in certain cases clearly
invalidated. To insist, in such cases, in sheltering behind the
use of abstract principles wrapped up in a form of words may be to
responsibility and may discredit the authority of the law. This
applies to either the imposition or the non-imposition of the death
Many people are swayed by their personal opinion of the finality of
death. The traditional view of life-after-death which was encouraged
orthodox Christian, Muslim and other religions has been directly
associated with the death penalty in Europe, the Americas, The Middle
East and much of Asia. Modern science has to some extent, for some
people, challenged this traditional view. However the perspective that
it replaces it with is uncertain, as there are many interpretations
to the sum of scientific knowledge we now possess. As Donald Rumsfeld
would say, there are 'known unknowns' as well as 'unknown unknowns'.
Susan Greenfield, now considered a leading authority on the human
brain, has for some years been making intelligent observations and
comments on the physical source and location of human emotions and
personality. No doubt she was hoping eventually to come to some
conclusion and with it to come up with some value judgments. Having
been promoted in the public mind to the role of expert, she was
no doubt to perform. However, she appears to have buckled under the
pressure and come to the conclusion that human life is basically
and pointless - we make it up as we go along, individually and,
therefore, collectively. What we can probably safely conclude
this is that she, personally , has come to this opinion concerning her
own life. She was looking for objective answers in her own scientific
field and has found that although there are objective observations and
measurements that can be made, reviewed and repeated, there are only
subjective conclusions as to their value and meaning as determinants of
human behaviour as a society. More important is the probability that
study of the human brain and body alone is not sufficient to reveal the
meaning and purpose of either individual or collective human existence.
To get an insight into that requires either a study and understanding
physics, chemistry, biology, philosophy etc and the history of all of
these, or a personal experience that acts as a revelation. I have to
state clearly at this stage that I do not agree with Susan Greenfield
that life is aimless or pointless, even if in a certain sense I do
that we make it up as we go along. It is unfortunate when people
decide that their own experience of life should define it for everyone
else as individuals and as humanity, but that is our fault for making
people believe they are experts.
Today on the BBC's Broadcasting House (Radio 4) we were treated to a
remarkably intelligent discussion by a married couple, who already had
children, who had decided to go ahead with a pregnancy in spite of the
knowledge that the child would suffer from a genetic abnormality that
would lead in later life to a premature and probably miserable and
painful death. They acknowledged that they could well live to regret
this decision, but at the moment had decided, after changing their
many times, to proceed and not to terminate. The grounds for this
decision were such details as the fact that they had got to the stage
where they knew the sex of the child and had given it a name. They
acknowledged that for many people termination might well have been the
right and proper decision, but they were prepared to accept the
challenge not only on behalf of themselves but on behalf of the unborn
There could well be circumstances when this decision could be seen to
be reasonable. But in a situation were there is no shortage of the next
generation for either their family or the nation, it would appear to
most rational thinkers that this couple are placing their own ambition
beyond the needs of society. That is their choice. It is a choice that
has been given them by the ambitious developers of the techniques that
allow them to know the sex of the child, of those who offer future
support in the name of the state, as well as those who have developed
the technology to diagnose the disease in the first place. Here we are
approaching one of the issues that this document is designed to
The advance of technology places increased responsibility on humanity.
Decisions that were previously taken by 'Nature' are now taken on our
shoulders, because we some of us decided that Nature was cruel and
blind. Now we will learn that handling the responsibility that we have
decided to take into our own hands is not so easy. If we are to
remain wedded to a society that rewards effort*, there will be a cost
supporting future generations that are not naturally suited to their
environment without the assistance of medicines, prosthetics, and the
whole panoply of both a national and private health system. If we
wish to be able to provide help for those who need it, we should avoid
deliberately adding to their number. The idea that future developments
in the realm of genetic engineering will take care of this is folly.
These may well be able to provide help for those who have been unable
avoid the need for it but to create a society that is dependent on such
support is illogical.
*The theory that a society that does not reward effort will develop,
rather than decline, is not supported by evidence.
At the heart of this debate is the understanding, or rather the lack of
it, of what human beings, individually and collectively, ARE.
In France, a coming court case, relating to the accidental termination
of a pregnancy while the mother was in hospital, will have at its heart
the rights of the unborn child. This will probably demonstrate
further that we are reaching a stage in Western civilisation where,
having questioned the objective basis of the religion on which our
systems have been built, we seek to replace the authority of scripture
and tradition with the authority of the latest opinion of scientists
philosophers, within the same legal/logical structure. There will be
conflicting opinions of course. What we should all agree on is a duty
care. We only have, as children and adults, the rights that we
have agreed and are able to deliver to each other, enshrined sometimes
in legislation. The rights of the unborn child do not, in the
conventional sense, exist. What exists is the duty of care of the
parents and family and all those involved in their well-being. Mistakes which are
made despite individuals doing their best should not be subject to
sanction and punishments that are appropriate for deliberate negligence
or wrong-doing, or even unintentional negligence. What is at issue is
behaviour and intention, which includes the duty to inform oneself. But
the continual insistence that judges should pronounce on, and define,
rights which dependent on circumstances can only lead to anomalies in
JAN 04 2004
This week on TV Channel 5 we shall see a series I have been waiting for
before continuing this discussion. We are going to be treated to the
opinion of some of those scientists who have managed to get the ear of
the media and the public, as to what life on earth is all about. As you
will know, scientists have been careful up till now not to stray into
the realms of philosophy and metaphysics. But with the disarray that
afflicts the bastions of moral authority that used to guide our
political institutions, and the growing realisation that 'nobody is in
charge of the store', both media and media-scientists feel obliged to
give us their best shot. I doubt if they will come up with any ideas
that were not obvious to many educated people of my age in the 1950s or
any science that was not easily projectable from the 1980s. But there
just a chance that by putting their cards on the table we might be able
to tick a few boxes and straighten them out on the bits they are still
confused about. After all, Dawkins' thoughts on the positive side of
universal matrix are very valid; it is only his unfortunate experience
with religious fundamentalists of one sort or another that has
him that all religion is rubbish. He does not understand the role of
religion in the formation and maintenance of civilisations. On the
side, those who have specialised in theology have failed spectacularly
to understand that Jesus Christ was the first humanist. We do need a
sort out on both sides
Arguments that pit immanence against transcendence are typically the
currency of minds that have not grasped the projected implications of
either relativity or quantum theory, let alone both at once and more.
For years we have had to read the twaddle served up by writers
pretending that the tale of Schroedinger's Cat is a paradox of
when Schroedinger produced it only to make people understand that the
universe is self-observing regardless of the estimated
self-consciousness of its parts (a tricky point to make at the time but
not for the last 50 years). So we shall now have to wait and see
what is going to be inflicted on the public in 2004. I will not condemn
until we have heard them out. When we have some better understanding of
what life is all about, we might be better able to understand death and
also how modern technology could and should affect the biological
JAN 05 2004
This evening we had Stephen Hawking talking about how (he thinks) his
generation of scientists have discovered great new solutions to
previously unanswered questions. It seems however that Hawking and his
friends were still in nappies when my generation had assumed most of
these answers and were considering the answers to the questions that
they, in turn posed. Let us just run through Hawking's presentation.
He started by telling us that until very recently 'Christians' (for
example) believed that the universe was very young. He suggested that
the Hebrew bible stories were taken literally, and the earth was
a few thousand years ago in 7 days. Sorry, Stephen, nobody who studied
anything seriously thought that in 1946 when I was 8 years old. We all
knew that 'days' are a measure of the rotation of the earth. Days do
exist outside that context except as a simile or analogy. The
metaphorical representation in the bible used a period of time
understood at the epoch. The message is that the universe did not take
up its present appearance all in one go but passed through several
stages, each preparing for the next. This remains a substantial truth.
All ancient biblical scripture that is not an obvious contemporary
record should be seen as written in this way, to reach the public of
time with a reasonably coherent myth or legend to use as a basis for a
common tribal position. Christianity has been perfectly capable of
taking all science, including Darwin, in its stride. Of course the
various 'churches', with their orthodoxies and hierarchies and
individual officers who may be non-starters when it comes to logic and
science were not going to suddenly start talking science from the
pulpit, but they saw no need to argue with any scientific evidence that
came to light. Finding mathematical formulas that could fit a theory of
cosmic 'inflation' is, however, not evidence in any meaningful sense.
Hawking then quotes a lot about passing erroneous scientific ideas,
and recalled how he became interested in the 'Big Bang theory of George
Gamow in the 1960s when, according to him, this was still seriously
doubted. Well, while I remember Fred Hoyle insisting on the merits of
his steady state theory, serious discussion on this subject assumed
the expansion of the universe from an initial concentrated centre of
energy was absolutely beyond argument. Those of us who had a reasonable
grasp of real possibilities were wondering more about the
multidimensionality of the universe. I personally came to think that
there was a sense in which Hoyle could be at least philosophically
about the universe being in a 'steady state' even though it is evolving.
Hawking tells us that Hubble's discovery that the universe was
expanding came as a 'huge surprise' to scientists. It is hard to
construct a model of the universe that includes any of the science
in 1900 that was not expanding. Einstein's stuff was published in 1905
and 1915. I pass. What are we talking about here other
than either (a) the frustrated incomprehension of individuals
trying to make a living as professional pundits who are not really up
it or (b) the fact that what is taught and written about is always
nowhere near the cutting edge of thought at the time.
The so called recent discovery of the repulsive property of the
universal mass is another example. The current interpretation of this
inevitable property is dubious in the extreme. In the end the only
profound remark in Hawking's presentation was that if our universe was
only more than very slightly different there would be nobody around to
comment on it; but here again he misses the point. Our universe was very different. But it
destroyed* and recycled itself rapidly as it came into being until it
progressively reached increasing geometrical and energetic stability.
This is what in reality defines how the so-called laws of physics work
in practice. These laws do not exist in the abstract form in a way that
defines how they work in material reality. This is something that has
be worked out in practice. The necessary 'disasters' of the past are
automatically just out of range, enabling life as we know it to exist
for a period. The window may not need to be all that great. The vital
thing is "what is the function?" It is not beyond the wit of
intelligent observers of the whole shooting match to get a grip. Let us
see what the next few programmes on Channel Five have to offer. So far,
* by 'destroyed' I mean imploded, to re-emerge from what we would still
identify as the origin. There are 'laws' if
you like to use that word which pre-exist the laws of physics, but we
can't go into that here. That is really deep stuff, way beyond
mathematics. It would in fact take us back to the real meaning of the
New Testament, and is well within the reach of small children but not
self-important lecturing scientists!
I assume we are soon going to be told that there is almost certainly
life being produced elsewhere in galaxies such as ours (this is
extremely probable). It is also possible that we might detect it within
a century or so, possibly sooner, but not inevitably. It is important,
in any case, that life should develop independently on planetary
surfaces until it gets well past the stage we are at now.
JAN 06 2004
Today we had Harry Kroto working out his personal puzzles which, as is
the case with the other presenters, he sees as universal mysteries
brilliant scientists alone can solve. His final words: "It's all just
He started by telling us that the first scientific view was that life
emerged spontaneously from the lifeless raw material of the known
elements, and that Louis Pasteur proved conclusively that this was
wrong. Kroto somehow overlooked the fact that over the next half hour
was to show us not only that that Pasteur proved no such thing (he
proved only that the appearance of living organisms in his experiment
was due to contamination) but that that life does emerge spontaneously
in the universe. Not only spontaneously but inevitably. Of course
it does not take a few days, as in the Pasteur experiment. It as taken,
in our case, about 15 billion years. And it is not just chemistry - it
starts more fundamentally with basic geometry (for want of a better
word). Reproduction as a principle will be inevitable as soon as
existence takes a form that is more than a singularity. You do not have
to have ribose to have reproduction. You do not have to have life
you have reproduction. All you need is communication and 15 billion
years. Of course Kroto knows all this perfectly well. He is a
of geometry. But he has to make a TV programme and do all the theatre;
and as far as religion goes he is absolutely dedicated to throwing the
baby out with the bathwater. In fact for him, throwing out the
(which is a good idea) is the key to throwing out the baby, which is
his aim. Because it is not Harry's baby - or so he thinks. But if he
would just throw out the bathwater, by now muddied to opacity, he would
see that it is,
JAN 07 2004
It really beggars belief. This evening we had Richard Dawkins spend
half an hour taking us through what he considers cutting edge science,
all of which is unchallenged anyway, to deliver exactly the same
Jesus delivered 2,000 years ago. What are we to think of these
clowns? Has he not read the New Testament? It is good to know that
science comes to the same conclusion as Jesus, but Dawkins has been
telling us for years that it doesn't! Even more bizarre, Dawkins told
us that when he was first introduced to the principles of natural
selection and told it could account for evolution, and that evolution
could account for what we observe today, he did not accept it. Most
intelligent people cannot imagine an alternative that makes any sense
at all. Dawkins, if you wanted to say something interesting, you could
have pointed out that evolution and natural selection started before
the formation of any stars or galaxies. It comes before biology, as
well as within biology. You have at least discovered, rather late in
life, the evolution of evolution. Now get a shave or grow a beard.
Good grief. NEXT!
Next, immediately after the above Channel 5 programme, we had a
reasonably intelligent documentary on the Search for Extra-Terrestrial
Intelligence (SETI), including SETI-at-Home, the program running on 10
million laptops to provide processing power to analyse the broad
spectrum radiation picked up by the Arecibo telescope, trained on
selected volumes of space. However there was a
serious lack of understanding by some of the scientists in this program
concerning the reason why we have not detected anything so far. I will
therefore explain this now, since I have been studying this problem
years longer than any of the youngsters who held forth today.
It is true that even within our own galaxy (one out of 100 billion)
there is, statistically, the probability of many millions of planets
where 'life as we know it, Jim', will come into existence. It is also
true that there are solar systems older than ours. However, the
assumption that our own galaxy (or others) are full of solar systems
planets that would and could have provided a environment as suitable
and as stable as ours, over a long enough period, without any
catastrophic impact from elsewhere in the universe (near or far) that
would cause a biological wipe out and re-start, is undoubtedly
unjustified. We can see as we look back into space-time that the galaxy
and the universe was a much more dangerous place. It looks unlikely
advanced intelligent life would have had the chance to emerge. Life
would no doubt have started, but life that developed to the stage where
it would be capable of wholesale traumatisation by the regular cosmic
wipeouts that occurred in those stages of universal development would
have been prevented from existing in the first place by the regularity
of such catastrophes. The universe exhibits in this way the same
self-adjusting properties that we observe on the local level.
It is also important to realise that our position in this galaxy is
highly favourable, our galaxy itself is highly favourable, our planet
ideally placed. This situation is more likely to come about in this
stage of the universal evolution as observed by us, not 5 billion or
more years earlier. So we have two probabilities working against each
other: the extraordinarily high probability of life springing up
everywhere on planetary surfaces where it is not completely impossible,
as soon as it can, and the extraordinarily low probability of it having
the conditions and the time to evolve from bacteria to our present
of technological achievement. The result of these two contradictory
probabilities means that it would be reasonable to expect that the
number of other planets in our galaxy near enough for us to expect to
hear from them in the next century could vary from zero to 50. That is
not to say it could not be many more, just that it is not in any way
surprising that we have not detected anything yet. Yet the people who
were invited to address the nation this evening were apparently unaware
of this. Par for the course, it appears.
The question "Are we alone?" is not the same as the question as "Is
there intelligent life on other planets elsewhere in the universe?".
answer to both questions can be yes (in all conventionally
scientifically measurable senses, let us ignore quantum entanglement
multidimensional reality). They are not aware of that either. Over the
next few decades, I hope we shall be able to make some progress in
getting people to understand what the universe is, what life is, and
what its purpose is. This is going to call for quite a shake-up of both
the scientific and theological mindset. But since this is itself part
the function of the material universe I have every confidence it is
Returning for a moment to SETI-at-Home, I run this program myself and
on one occasion the batch of data came up with a clear trace of
narrowband data. It immediately requested I return the data and pick up
a new batch. I assume that all I had detected was an error - that some
local interference had caused what I had seen, however it would have
looked just the same if I had picked up an artificial source. It was
about 6 months ago now. Perhaps I should have asked SETI to let me know
what it was.
JAN 08 2004
evening we had Susan Greenfield. A well presented lecture but hardly
ground-breaking. She tells us correctly that computers are not alive
and not conscious and never will be (unless constructed out of
biological materials with a personal history that enables this, in
which case they would be animals). She tells us correctly that
consciousness comes in degrees - that animals possess it; in fact she
underestimates the consciousness and the thoughts of (e.g.) some dogs.
She failed to point out that consciousness is a conversation between
the parts of the soma, particularly specialised parts in the brain,
orchestrated by the equivalent of a panel guiding a discussion from the
floor. When we are rendered unconscious, this directed conversation
We are individuals only in the degree to which we are responsible for
our personal boundaries in space-time. In reality we are each plural,
not a single entity. It is the internal dialogue, in time, which allows
consciousness and experience. It is this which creates the IDENTITY
which we each believe we have and indeed exhibit. She correctly
identifies the importance of memory to identity.
I would add: when we 'shut down' for the night, it is important that we
do this correctly, rather like a computer is shut down or put into
hibernation. Those of us who have been anaesthetised in hospital and
found it agreeable on waking may have also witnessed the unpleasant
experience of certain individuals for whom the enforced unconsciousness
brought about by artificial means is not manageable. Something in
either the shut-down or the restore process causes the equivalent of a
severe software crash. On waking, these individuals are rendered
virtually insane. It is clear they have lost their identity. They do
not recognise themselves or their place in the world. They behave as if
what they have just undergone, or their present condition, is quite
unbearable. There are clues here as to the nature of consciousness and
the mutual recognition by the parts of our brain that make up our
personality of the validity of their history, of their patterns, of
their integrity. It is as if a reboot reveals missing files that have
been held in live memory but lost from the hard drive, or the reverse
- expunged from live memory but re-imported on reboot.
As far as the Greenfield lecture goes, no quarrel with it; but there
was nothing not guessable in 1950 and nothing from which to draw any
new conclusions. The Nature/Nurture business has been understood for
ages by all sensible people. The development of London cabbies' brains
approximately as described was obvious.
FEB 14th 2004
Right on cue we have the announcement from Korea of the production of
cloned human cells in quantity. Immediately the debate is revived - a
debate that has been going on now for decades, as to whether or not
such research, and the developments that are intrinsic to it, should be
pursued or not. We can set aside for the moment ideas of producing
cloned individuals, but by now it must be becoming clear to all that
such technological development as has already been achieved is out of
our control except as individuals. There is no need for us as
individuals to do it, and no need for us to benefit from it if we do
not wish to. But the research will be done because there will always be
individuals whose personal mission in life is to become involved in
that line of advancement as their own personal way of expressing their
talents. There will be others who will be willing to finance their work
for profit, because they know there will be yet others who will be
either pay for cures for their ailments based on their products and
services. The stem-cells produced in this way will be used after
modification and selection, we are told, to replace and repair failing
or faulty cells in ailing individuals.
There are, however, important issues which are up for legitimate and
logical discussion. These are (a) should we have a nationally agreed
position on the recommendation or otherwise of this research; (b)
should we encourage it by collectively funding, through our
National Health system, treatment for patients at costs which will
justify the investment in research; (c) should our universities, still
largely funded by general taxation, be in the forefront of these
The three elements must be taken together and be answered coherently in
the affirmative or negative, with coherent qualifications concerning
the detailed practice and ethics involved. Of course there will be
places in the world where different ethical standards will be set
unless globalisation extends to a greater level of intergovernmental
cooperation than we have at present.
So now we have to face up to the criteria on which judgments should be
made, and the first problem we meet is that we have no philosophical
agreement as to what constitutes 'life', what constitutes 'human life'
and what constitutes 'individual human life'. The ultimate problem is
that once we have set aside any religious consensus whereby the truth
is based on revelation, enshrined in a traditional culture, we do not
have a scientific agreement yet on what a human life
A. N. Wilson, an intellectual who likes to believe his thinking is
logical and coherent, solves many problems which would otherwise defeat
him by opting out of any knowledge of a range of specialisms. There are
huge areas of human activity which he just dismisses as being
peripheral or non-fundamental, optional, and therefore not requiring an
opinion or a solution. This enables him to pronounce on what he deems
to be the fundamentals regardless of the insoluble problems his dicta
would cause, if adopted, in the areas he dismisses. But to give him hs
due he has been in the vanguard of those admitting to ignorance as to
human life is. And like most people who declare an ignorance on this
and other matters, they assume it is shared by everyone else.
To a certain extent, this has to be correct. The definition of a human
life cannot be objective in
the scientific meaning of the word, as the definition would have to be
in terms of at least all the knowledge and experience presently in what
we call the public domain, subjected to some basic peer review. As
such, it could only be voiced and shared by relatively old and
experienced polymaths who had survived a broad and intense lifetime of
education and experience. In former times, this was indeed how the
truth on these matters was decided. Having been decided, subjectively
by experienced individuals but peer reviewed between such, it was
imposed by authority which also emanated from the same sages. But the
modern media and the empowerment of individuals has led to a strange
paradox. Whereas we grew up fearing the arrival of Orwell's Big
Brother, we now have authority running scared of the power of
self-organising focus and pressure groups of self-interested
populations seeking relief from responsibility, from pain, and from
problems of their own making.
The problems of ill health are to a large extent brought about by ill
considered life-styles, but this does not prevent the medical
profession insisting that they be publicly financed to develop and
apply every means and method available to save human life and cure
every disease. Most obscure is the insistance that when a couple are
infertile, nature must be at fault.
Here are some thoughts on why it might not
be a good idea to encourage IVF, for example
from BBC News May 21st.
low sperm counts may have an increased risk of passing on
genetic conditions to children conceived using fertility treatment,
IVF warning over low sperm count
"This is a further concern regarding
Professor Chris Barratt, University of Birmingham
Scientists from the University of Porto in Portugal
compared sperm DNA from men with normal and low sperm counts.
The lower the sperm count, the more genetic defects
Writing in The Lancet, they say these faults could
increase the risk of the developing embryo being affected by certain
Concerns have been raised that children conceived
through IVF are at an increased risk of genetic imprinting disorders.
These include Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, which
too much growth and is linked with an increased chance of tumours, and
Angelman's syndrome, which affects the development of the brain.
It had been thought this risk could be linked to the
actual process of IVF itself.
But this study looked at whether the increased risk
could be due to the genetic make-up of the sperm.
The researchers, from the Institute of Biomedical
Sciences at the University of Porto took sperm DNA from 123 men with
low or normal sperm counts.
They examined specific imprinting genes which, if
do not behave in whichever way they should, can cause faults in other
These are key genes where either the maternal,
or both versions need to be "switched on" for them to work as they
If they are not expressed correctly, the genetic
malfunctions are then likely to be passed onto the embryo, potentially
affecting its development and causing the child to be affected by a
The researchers found that in all 27 men who had
normal sperm counts, the imprinting genes behaved in the correct way.
But faults were observed in just under one in four of
the 96 men with low sperm count who were studied.
Professor Mario Sousa said the study had shown men
low sperm counts carried an risk of transmitting imprinting errors to
children conceived through IVF.
The study did not look at children born to men with
low sperm counts.
Professor Chris Barratt, Head of Reproductive
at the University of Birmingham, told BBC News Online: "These
conditions are very rare in children.
"But the incidence of genetic faults in sperm has
shown by this study to be higher in men with low sperm count -
therefore it is a significant issue."
Professor Barratt said couples undergoing fertility
treatment because the man had a low sperm count should be counselled
about the risk of their child being affected by a genetic condition.
"What the patient then does with that information is
to them. They have to decide whether to take the risk of not have a
He said scientists could carry out tests on sperm to
if men were affected, but this would only be possible in research
centres due to their complexity.
But he added: "This is a further concern regarding
So it is time to see
if we can reach some consensus on what a human
life is, before we decide how to deal with bring lives into being and
spending public money on their maintenance when (for example) the
individuals concerned are deliberately irresponsible or antisocial. It
is also time to work out if the cloning and growing of human cells to a
primitive foetal stage should be thought of as an individual human life
or not. If not, then the 'taking of life' or the 'creation of life for
the purpose of its use as spare parts' need not even enter the list of
reasons for either supporting or discouraging either the research or
its subsequent application. This would leave the issue greatly
clarified and capable of being decided on moral and economic grounds
not subject to the limitation of truths imparted by revelation.
Ironically the latest news is that stem cells from the umbilical cord
can be stored frozen for at least 15 years and have proved an effective
alternative which may make production by cloning unnecessary.
JUNE 29th 2004
Today on BBC 2 we were treated to a programme featuring Professor Peter
Singer. The suggestion is made by his detractors that he is 'a
dangerous mind'. He is in fact a classic 'utilitarian', and a very
logical and rational one. After the programme he had a long discussion
with Mark Lawson, during which he made perfect sense. He comes to
different conclusions to mine on subjects such as the removal of Saddam
Hussein, but only because he does not pursue his own thinking far
enough - curiously, on this subject, his reckoning of the arrested
development of George W. Bush's mind seems to have rendered him
incapable of giving GWB of the benefit of achieving the right result
through the wrong thinking!! Ironically Singer's own thinking arrests
at a certain point, but since he is still at it he will no doubt mature
even further. I certainly respect Singer a million times more than the
detractors we were introduced to during the documentary. I suggest any
reader who has got this far get a copy of Singer's book. A great man,
and certainly not at all dangerous. I have not read his book and
probably will not get round to it, but I can strongly recommend it.
Personally I see no contradiction with Christianity, though Singer does
because he has come up against people who call themselves Christians,
who are shocked by what he has to say.
JULY 8th 2004
Today is the moment I was waiting for. A centenarian has been forgiven
by a judge for killing his 87 year old wife out of love; and the public
debate I was waiting for before continuing the discussion in the
opening paragraphs of this dieary is now under way. In the light of the latest scientific
development, should the time limit for abortions be reduced further?
Should the matter at least be revisited? The answer to the
second part can be Yes,
becaue we have to involve society widely in thinking these things
through. Education is a lifelong activity, and democracies must be
informed to function properly. The salient points to sort out are: (i)
What are the aims and (ii) How do we best achieve them. The principle
aims are to reduce the number of abortions while at the same time
reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies proceeding to term, these
outcomes both being agreed by all as undesirable. Mathematicians will
want to create some simultaneous equations to encode the problem and
its solution, but we can have a look at the verbal logic.
If you have read my entry of October 30th, particularly the section now
coloured blue, will now see why I wrote that in anticipation of today
and why I write this in the form of a diary. I would ask you to read
that section again. Abortion is something to be avoided, and if
undertaken is to be done as early as possible. The number of early
abortions should be reduced progressivel in any healthily developing
society. But this does not mean that it should be made impossible.
Brnging children into the world is a very serious responsibilty. Some
of us (myself included) have clear memories that go back to the first
months of life. We remembered them then, we remebered them when we were
1,2,3,4..........every year of our lives. Of course only certain
memories persist, those that made an impression at the time or were
repeated daily. Others, by the age of 15, cannot remember much before
the age of 5. But life in the womb, however active we were, was not of
the same nature. This is the burden of Professor Singer's argument. The
quality of life is a factor that has to be counted in its value to the
At this point I would like to remove for ever an argument that has been
used frequently against allowing abortion at all. You may be familiar
with this question:
If you knew a woman who was
pregnant, who had 8 kids already, three who were deaf, two who were
mentally retarded, and she had syphilis, would you recommend that she
If the respondent says, yes, they are told: "You have just killed
Beethoven". But the point is Beethoven survived then and would survive
today, if his mother had decided to go ahead with the birth. What is
different is there has been a period when syphilis has largely died out
in Europe, though it may come back if our educational institutions - I
include the family - continue their downward trend. One reason they are
likely to continue their downward trend is if their are more unwanted
births and unmarried mothers. So the way forward is always to reduce
unwanted pregnancies. Anyone who does not want to be pregnant will go
for the earliest possible abortion unless circumstances have conspired
against them - in some cases fear of admitting the truth, in others not
knowing or believing they are pregant.
So, let us now look at the casue for the current debate. In truth,
absolutely nothing new has been discovered that a sensible imaginative
person did not know already. We are having an emotional spasm because
we have been shown movies of a foetus playing football in a womb.
It has nothing to add to the
reality of life and death except for those who have never faced these
realities before. This is the paradox that must be faced, understood
and resolved. Life is just as precious as the anti-abortionists claim.
In fact I would say more. What is not so valuable is their reaction to
this fact and how to apreciate this value. Today, a centenarian killed
his wife for love and respect for the life she had lived. He may have
been misinformed by the hospital with regard to the alternatives, but
he acted for the best. Those who are not in any respect ready or
equipped to bring children into the world should also act for the best.
If we are to achieve that with the minimum number of abortions, we must
take the responsibility when and where it presents itself. This does
not mean hiding behind the pretense that if the foetus is only 6 weeks
old we are not taking a life. We are. But
is the responsibility
that falls on us as human beings.
Today comes the news that Andrew Wragg has just been arrested and
remanded in custody for taking that responsibility in the case of a
life more advanced. We must assume that
the current law circumscribes the action of magistrates and judges in
these matters, and that there was no other course of action. Andrew
Wragg's son, aged 10, suffered from Hunter Syndrome, a condition that
Mr Wragg understood well. Our current laws forbid the humane
termination of any life, however appalling. In due course we will come
to understand that nature is not cruel, but mankind assuming an
intelligence as yet beyond its reach, can be. Some people look at the
and say "What a mess! The watchmaker must indeed be blind." Not
so. It is not a matter of either blindness or watchmaking. A more
important enterprise is afoot, more difficult, more amazing, more
painful, more essential, more.....everything.
At the same time we have had a change in the law to allow the positive
selection of embryos so that a child may be born to supply vital
genetically compatible cells to treat an existing sibling. If this is
what the cutting edge of medical intelligence wishes to prove it can
achieve, and those who control the funds wish to fund it, with their
own or other people's money, legislators may be accused of obstruction
if they refuse to allow it. Children of today, born of willingly
associating adults, can at least know that
they came into the world through an act of love or lust between two
people. The genes made their own choices within the boundaries set by
the conscious minds of the individuals.
Children of tomorrow may have to live with the fact that they are here
as the result of deliberate selection by a medic, at the request of
their parrents. If
they are pleased with their life they may be grateful. If they turn out
not to like it, or themselves, they will have people to blame. A child
of today can scarcely claim he or she did not want to be born. They
competed for birth from sperm to delivery. Some children of the future
will not be in the same position. So what is on offer, even if
restricted to those cases where no other cure for the ills of the
existing child can be found, will still have to be the responsibility of the parents to
accept or refuse.
Today we have the start of a debate on the sentence of a schoolboy of
16 who murdered a classmate - pre-meditatedely, because he hated him
for being popular and successful. Possibly the victim had made fun of
the murderer on a previous occasion, but the murder was totally
unprovoked at the time. The argument is about the length of the prison
sentence and its effect. The sentence is life with a tariff of 12 years
minimum. There are those who say it should be longer; that at the age
of 28 he will still not be ready for release. There are those who say
it should be shorter, on the grounds that he is an unformed, juvenile
personality that must be given serious rehabilitation training during
detention and if he responds, released at the moment most suited to his
re-integration into society. The hard truth is that unless we
have people and methods who are capable of such rehabilitation tasks,
prison will not prepare him for release at any time. It would be kinder
to do what we we do with an uncontrollable dog who has been damaged by
a combination of nature and nurture that has rendered it incapable of
integration into human society: either permanent incarceration, or
termination. At the moment we do not take the responsiblity for dealing
with the problem at all. We pass it on to the next government, the next
generation, the next Royal Commission. That is why the problems are
building up, and the tensions are growing. It was a refusal to face the
facts that eventually, in Germany, led to the coming to power of the
National Socialist Party with Adolf Hitler as its leader.
The answer to the case of the teenage murderer is either
rehabilitation, or permanent detention, or termination. Those are the
possiblities. In the case of Thomson and Venables, which is quite
different to this one, rehabilitation is likely and acceptable to most.
As things stand in the present case, we will probably apply none of the
solutions. This is not so much the fault of government as of the mass
of contributors to the media swamp that covers the collective conscious
with its never-ending semi-educated talk.
AUGUST 23rd 2004
Last week in the Straw
Poll series on BBC Radio 4, the motion was "Parenthood should not be considered a right"
It came as somewhat as a relief that the motion was carried by the
studio audience, as if it had been defeated it would have meant that a
majority of those present did not understand the basic concept of
rights. That it was only a 2/3 majority was still disturbing.
Certainly the opposer who started his summing up "I honestly believe
that parenthood is a right" or words to that effect is sadly deluded.
It is not a question of belief. Rights are given by societies that have
a social structure, when they have a mechanism to decide on a right,
can communicate that decision to nearly all in the society, support the
right with common resources and defend the right by force, if
necessary, from its denial by others.
pointed out hundreds of years ago that the Social Contract is valid
only when enforced by the Sovereign Power. Enforcement means just that.
The social contract must therefore be confined to social essentials
and/or action that in emergency is vital to the survival of the
society, not of any given individual (unless at the time that
individual's survival is key to the collective survival). These rules
applies to all societies, animal or human.
has the right to ensure or guarantee the right to parenthood by those
unable to procreate naturally. In the event that a dearth of offspring
threatened the survival of a political nation and its ability to defend
and sustain itself, a government would have the duty to allocate
resources to assist in the production of more, healthy children, by
encouragement or subsidy or possibly in extreme circumstances IVF if
national infertility was really the problem. But this would in no way
entail or imply the right of any individual to parenthood.
It is ridiculous
that philosophical arguments that have been resolved centuries ago, the
solving and acceptance of which has, alone, assured the development of
those civilisations that have achieved any form of technical
development that has given rise to the option of IVF and other
artificial efforts to produce children when nature has decided
otherwise, should start a debate as if history was non-existent and the
basis on which we live had not already been worked out by millennia of
trial and error. You might as well have a vote on whether or not the
moon is made of green cheese. I am sure there is some fool who
'honestly believes it is', but most of us have agreed that we have
already discovered it is not. That there is still one third of a BBC
studio audience that 'believes' that parenthood is a 'right' is on a
par with the proportion of Americans who don't know where the Pacific
is. They need to be treated with the same cautious suspicion that, not
to put too fine a point on it, it is not safe to give them a vote on
anything that affects anyone other than themselves.
came as an even greater relief that the result of the phone-in on the
next day was a a vote of over 90 percent in favour of the motion.
SEPTEMBER 30th 2004
Today we have two parents who are keeping their doomed child in
(according to the doctors on the case) continuous pain by preventing
its natural death. A perfect example where the power of modern
technology is held to
be the right and gift of individuals who are not mentally or
equipped to be trusted with it. This is cruelty of the most appalling
kind. The parent justify it not because it does their child any good
but "because the of the unimaginable pleasure they get from cuddling
it". In other worlds their own pleasure. Yet we are told it is the
parent's decision. It should not be. The parents are in no way
responsible for creation of the technology and skill which is being
used to prevent this poor child from dying. Those who are, believe it
should not be used in this way. Those who think the parents should be
allowed to torture the child, day after day, knowing it will die soon
and even the next intervention will add to its pain are, it turns out,
people who say fox-hunting, where the caught fox is dead in a second,
before it is torn apart, is cruel. And on BBC TV Question Time, the
panel agonized over this story, saying how difficult it was, and how
they felt for the parents. What utter tosh. The parents are monsters,
but don't even know it. A 3-year old given a machine gun would be in
the same position. Those who develop the medical technology must be
responsible for its proper use, not put it in the hands of those who
can cause appalling suffering.
SEE WHAT HAPPENED - GO TO OCT 17th 2006
We can thank providence that we live in a country where the judiciary
is drawn from the properly educated. By that I mean people who have
studied the history of ideas and philosophy, so that the acquired
knowledge of past centuries is not ignored. Contrary to the
verbiage streaming from commentators on the story in the previous
paragraph the judge decided that the infliction of obvious and
pointless suffering on the child in question was clearly intolerable.
Contrary to commentators, the parents wishes have been overruled, and
rightly so. They may appeal, in which case the original judgment will
be reinforced. Contrary, again, to commentators it will set a precedent
- and rightly so.
Matthew Parris, rather late in life, has discovered he does not really
understand the basis of human existence. He thought he always knew
right from wrong. Now he thinks may be it is not always clear. Maybe
there is no right? So arrogant and opinionated is he that he has never
for a moment contemplated that there could be a right, clear course of
action but he, the great Parris, is not qualified or capable, yet, of
When 20 years ago I had drafted some chapters of 'The State of The
Art', Dr Michael Shallis, who had inspired me to get on with it, asked
me "Which 'Art' do you have in mind here in the title?". "Most of all",
I told him, "The Art of Appreciation". "Oh yes, he said. I am with you
all the way". It is still that art of appreciation in which
'philistines' hold sway in the public forum. Perhaps the verbose and
silly Parris will quieten down now he realises not only he does not
know everything, but perhaps he does not understand the fundamentals.
On the subject of death, today we also hear that poor Kenneth Bigley
has been murdered. It would indeed have been strange if there had been
any other outcome. Just think it through and try to imagine an
alternative scenario acceptable to his murderers. His forced rescue was
the only alternative, but he could not be found.
Today I am glad to say a Judge has once again overruled an ignorant and
selfish parent, a mother insisting that doctors waste more time and
money torturing her doomed child to keep it breathing so that she can
spend another day drooling over it. We should be grateful that nature
does, at least on occasions, prevent such people from breeding.
It seems the child in question may have a better chance of surviving
now that the invasive attempts of artificial aspiration have been
abandoned, massage allowed and the fate of the baby allowed to rest
with its natural will to survive. There is a relatonship with the
mother that makes my remarks of the 22nd inappropriate. It brings to
mind the classic example of Beethoven, mistakenly used these days to
convince the unwary that his example of one born with a mass of birth
defects means that nobody should be allowed to die. The truth is that
Beethoven was a survivor - it was not modern medical intervention or
technology that was used to force him to live. If this mother's love
results in the unlikely happy survival of her child, that is fine and I
owe her an apology I am happy to give.
DECEMBER 2nd 2004
Those who are quibbling about ethical objections to using cells donated
from human embryos may find their ideas of what is or is not human life
are based on the wrong criteria altogether and will anyway become
Zapped human eggs divide without sperm
By Andy Coghlan
A trick that persuades human eggs to divide as if they have been
fertilised could provide a source of embryonic stem cells that
sidesteps ethical objections to existing techniques. It could also be
deployed to improve the success rate of IVF.
“Embryos” created by the
procedure do not contain any paternal chromosomes – just two sets of
chromosomes from the mother – and so cannot develop into babies. This
should remove the ethical objections that some people have to
harvesting from donated human embryos. There are high hopes that stem
cells, which can develop into many different cell types, could be used
to treat a range of diseases.
The tricked eggs divide for
or five days until they reach 50 to 100 cells – the blastocyst stage.
These blastocysts should in theory yield stem cells, but because they
are parthenogenetic – produced from the egg only – they cannot be
viewed as a potential human life, says Karl Swann of the University of
Wales College of Medicine in Cardiff, UK.
“This could eliminate one of
main sources of ethical controversy in this research,” says Bob Lanza,
head of research at the cloning company Advanced Cell Technology in
But Josephine Quintavalle of
Comment on Reproductive Ethics, a London-based pro-life lobby group
greeted the new procedure with caution. “I’d be happier if it was
beyond all reasonable doubt that it could not become a human life.” She
added that women must not be exploited to provide eggs.
“Spark of life”
Swann’s team tricked the eggs
into dividing by injecting phospholipase C-zeta (PLC-zeta), an enzyme
produced by sperm that Swann discovered two years ago with Cardiff
colleague Tony Lai.
“It’s the spark of life,” says
Swann, who has previously showed that the human version of the protein
can trigger mouse eggs to develop into blastocysts. “It tricks the egg
into thinking it has been fertilised.”
Human eggs contain two sets of
chromosomes, one of which is normally jettisoned within two hours of
fertilisation. Swann and his team used a standard chemical treatment to
prevent this, so both sets in the parthenogenetic embryos come from the
mother. The embryos appear to undergo the same changes as naturally
fertilised eggs, producing waves of calcium ions across the cell every
20 to 30 minutes.
Swann hopes to be the first to
harvest embryonic stem cells from human parthenogenetic blastocysts,
but other scientists are trying different approaches. In 2003, a team
led by David Wininger, now at Wake Forest School of Medicine in North
Carolina, grew parthenogenetic human blastocysts by stimulating eggs
chemically ( New Scientist print edition, 26 April 2003).
His approach involves
a calcium wave. “We don’t have a [stem] cell line yet, but it’s only a
matter of time,” Wininger told New Scientist . A similar approach has
yielded stem cells from parthenogenetic monkey blastocysts ( New
Scientist print edition, 6 October 2001).
PLC-zeta might also help women
become pregnant through IVF. One IVF technique involves injecting sperm
directly into eggs in the lab and then implanting them into the woman’s
womb. Sometimes these embryos never begin dividing, perhaps because the
sperm have defective PLC-zeta. Adding the enzyme artificially might
start them dividing.
Reproduction (vol 128, p 697)
JANUARY 14th 2005
Today we had another sensible judgement. The sentence was suspended quite rightly because
this man's wife should never have been put in the position whereby she
had to submit herself to the mercies of National Health doctors who are
too frightened of the current legislation and its conseqences to help
her to a swift and painless death. Her husband should never have been
put in the position he found himself in as a consequence of the same
legislation. It has to be changed, because it should never have been in
place in the first place. Once again we can give thanks for the quality
and initiative of our judiciary. The BBC report follows:
A retired policeman who killed his terminally
ill wife and then tried to kill himself has been spared jail.
Brian Blackburn, 62, from Ash in Surrey, was given a
suspended nine month
sentence at the Old Bailey, after pleading guilty
He admitted entering into a suicide pact with his
wife, Margaret, also 62, who was dying of stomach cancer.
Judge Richard Hawkins said he had acted as a "loving
husband" but that taking a life was a serious matter.
He said former nurse Mrs Blackburn had had only weeks
live and had asked her husband to cut her wrists "as the last loving
thing you could do for her".
The court was told Blackburn went on to cut his own
wrists in an identical way but his blood congealed and he rang police
when he did not die.
A post-mortem examination on Mrs Blackburn had shown
she had a 3kg (about 6lbs 8oz) tumour in her stomach.
She did not seek medical help because she had worked
in a hospice and had an abhorrence of surgery.
"My wife did not want to die slowly in hospital. I
did what she asked me to do," Blackburn had told the court.
"I failed myself and will now have to pay the price."
MARCH 19th 2005
This is a week I anticipated when I started this section in October
2003. A heated debate is now under weigh on the length of time after
conception that abortion should be made illegal. The debate is joined
by two main categories of participants: those who are against abortion
at any time, and those who are influenced by the age in the womb at
which the foetus could be expected to survive if extracted and
subjected to modern life assisting aid. Resisting these arguments are
those who believe that in the environment of the 21st century in
Britain, children should only be born to mothers who wish to take
responsibility for the birth and the upbringing of their offspring.
The maternal choice argument holds good regardless of any
disability the unborn child might be known or expected to suffer from.
It should be the mother's choice, in conjunction of course with the
father (if known and cooperative) and the best medical advice, but the
mother is the one to decide to proceed with the pregnancy. It is never
a trivial decision. It is also unrelated to whether or not the unborn
child could survive for some time or a normal lifetime independently,
as this is simply not the issue. No doubt in theory at some time in the
future an embryo could be brought right the way through to independent
existence in a laboratory without the mother being present.
Naturally if an abortion is contemplated (for example in the case of
rape, or absence of a known and cooperating father, or under-age mother
or a near-impossible social or personal environment) it is to be hoped
that the termination will take place long before the 20-25 week stage
on which the current debate is centred. But there are sometimes very
serious genetic defects that are only evident at around 20 weeks and
may even be discovered later, so putting a limit on the date at which a
mother has to decide to proceed is ilogical and cruel. There are a few
cases when the mother does not know she is pregnant or been unable to
get help or counselling, where to proceed would not be good for the
mother or the child, and were society is neither capable or willing to
take on the proper care and upbringing of the progeny. It is no good
willing the end if we do not will the means. These are the cases of
greatest distress and need where a reduction on the time allowed to
decide on termination could be the cruellest. Fortunately they are a
very small minority.
So on the face of it, the argument for maternal choice with paternal
involvement and the best possible counselling and medical advice would
seem to be overriding. The idea that we can wash our hands of the
responsibility by claiming every embryo is in the hands of God is seen
to have been once right but now not good enough. The hands are ours,
the eyes are ours, and that is our duty as fallible humans - to work it
out and do what we believe is right. We have developed a society in
which a lot of people get impregnated in undesired, or undesirable, or
accidental, unintentional and inappropriate circumstances and we have
to deal with it. We cannot wash our hands and not take responsibility
for the outcome. Amazingly those who insist we should do this also
insist that contraception is a sin. The combination of enforcing the
cause of problem and then outlawing the solution, causing unnecessary
human misery in both cases, makes this the biggest single error that
any religious authority has ever committed in known history.
That is not to say that the status quo is in any way acceptable. The
morality preached by the Christian church has been fatally neglected in
our schools and homes. That is the reason that today too many grow up
without the support of a family and neigbours that alone can enable
civilisation to flourish. Humanism has no bible, prayer book or hymn
book to inculcate either the outward-looking respect for creation or
the inward looking search for enlightenment The rich are sometimes
sheltered from reality, the poor are often trapped in an environment
where their children's characters are formed by peer pressure that is
lacking in the guidance that has formed previous generations. Of course
there cannot be a Utopia, but the accusation has been made that too
often abortion is used as a form of contraception. It is this that has
to be refuted and where true it must be countered. It cannot be used as
the argument to make termination a crime or to demand that on
confirmation of a pregnancy that is unexpected a mother has only days
to make up her mind.
Finally I would like to deal with Anne Widdecombe's argument, which can
be stated thus: if
is absolute indeniable murder to deliberately kill a baby once it
has been born, punishable by the full force of the law, how can it
possibly not be murder to kill it in the womb? well, the
answer is right there in the question. It is because of the value put
on human life of any age once it is individual, separated from its
mother, surviving on its own, and the penalty put on anyone that fails
to observe it, that the commitment to its arrival and support must be
taken so seriously. If a baby dies through negligeance then the parents
and society are guilty. Anne Widdecombe would deny contraception, then
deny termination (even in the case of rape) and is not capable of
supplying the support required because the electorate would never vote
for any government that promised to organise the state to take care, at
whatever cost it took, of all the children that would be brought into
the world if her laissez-faire policies on procreation were to be
followed. And believe me, if contraception were made illegal, there
would be millions. There is an old fashioned expression for the likes
of Anne Widdecombe: a bloody fool.
All the sections of this web site try to advocate the use of logic
instead of other methods of arriving at personal or collective
policies. That is all that is used here.
my next entry please read this Reuters report. The sting is in
U.S. court rejects right-to-die appeal
|Wednesday March 23, 08:58 AM
ATLANTA (Reuters) - A U.S. court has
rejected an appeal by the parents of brain-damaged Florida woman Terri
Schiavo who had asked that their daughter's feeding tube be reinserted,
according to an opinion issued today.
As Schiavo lay for a fifth day without
food or water on Wednesday, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals
acknowledged the "absolute tragedy that has befallen Mrs. Schiavo".
Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary
Schindler, had asked the appeals court to overturn a lower court's
rejection of their bid to have the feeding tube reinserted.
The Schindler's attorney, David Gibbs,
had told the court Schiavo was "fading quickly" and death was imminent.
A lawyer for her husband, Michael
Schiavo, who maintains she had said she would prefer to die rather than
be kept in a persistent vegetative state, had argued that reinserting
the feeding tube would infringe on his wife's rights.
The appeals court rejected the
parents' appeal in a middle of the night ruling.
"We agree (with the lower court) that
plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate a substantial case on the merits
of any of their claims. We also conclude that the district court's
carefully thought out decision to deny temporary relief in these
circumstances is not an abuse of discretion," Judges Ed Carnes and
Frank Hull wrote in the majority opinion.
Judge Charles Wilson dissented,
"Theresa Schiavo's death, which is imminent, effectively ends the
litigation without a fair opportunity to fully consider the merits of
plaintiffs' constitutional claims."
Schiavo's feeding tube was
on Friday under a state court order. Doctors say the 41-year-old woman
would likely live for one to two weeks without it.
Schiavo was left in a persistent
vegetative state by cardiac arrest that starved her brain of oxygen in
1990. State courts have consistently sided with Michael Schiavo's view
that she would not have wanted to be kept alive.
The case has galvanised the Christian
right and prodded the Republican-led U.S. Congress to pass a special
bill to keep her alive.
Michael Schiavo's lawyer, George Felos
said both sides were likely to pursue their appeals all the way to the
U.S. Supreme Court.
The order to disconnect the tube
a seven-year legal battle between Michael Schiavo and the Schindlers,
whose determination to keep their daughter alive has become a cause
celebre for evangelical Christians, anti-abortion activists and
Fierce lobbying in Washington had
the U.S. Congress scrambling back from Easter recess to pass the
special law allowing the Schindlers to take their fight into the
federal courts. U.S. President George W. Bush cut short a Texas
vacation to return to the White House to sign it.
Michael Schiavo has criticised the
administration for interfering in a family affair, civil rights groups
have deplored it and opinion polls show most Americans believe Congress
was wrong to get involved.
Senate Majority leader Bill Frist, a
Tennessee Republican, wrote to Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the
president's brother, urging him to pressure the Florida state
legislature to pass a similar law.
Florida lawmakers in 2003 passed a
hastily drawn up law allowing Jeb Bush to intervene when Schiavo's
feeding tube was removed then. That law was eventually found to be
Mary Schindler also appealed to state
senators to act after they rejected a bill proposed by the lower house
to protect Schiavo last week, under apparent pressure from elderly
constituents who do not want government interference in their
"For the love of God, I'm begging you
please don't let my daughter die of thirst," she said.
There you have it. It
is hard to tell which is the cruellest, keeping the lady 'alive' (only
technically, as it it is not a life) against her will, or giving her
the alternative of death from thirst. As I have pointed out throughout
the entries on this web site, we have to take responsibility. We do not
treat animals this way. Indeed we would be prosecuted. The lady should
be given painless euthanasia, with the approval of the court and
clearly according to her own wishes.
Thousands of years ago our ancestors figured out that mankind had left
the care of nature (the Garden of Eden) and had taken on the task of
judging how society should develop. If we get it wrong, we will find
out. But right or wrong, in the process we shall find out why the world
is designed the way it is, and that is the one lesson it seems so hard
to get across. It is our responsibility. We have deliberately taken on
the search for knowledge and its consequences.
Now, in the 21st century, it should at last be clear to us what that
means. We can say goodbye to obscurantism and face the future without
losing any respect for Nature. Indeed it is time to row back on many of
the crude attempts to dominate Nature rather than understand it. Our
ideas on hygiene are completely up the spout, with the overuse of
antiseptics causing serious problems in a similar way to the overuse of
antibiotics. Instead of allowing bacteria to achieve a balance,
controlling each other as well as the environment, we indulge in
excessive consumption and waste of nutrients and try to avoid the
consequences by dosing them with poisons of another sort. We try to
solve all economic problems through growth, instead of facing them, and
then panic at the results of the growth on our environment. It is no
coincidence that it should be George Bush who is panicking on this case
of life and death, as he is out to lunch on all the major issues of our
Also at this time we have the case of a baby killed by MRSA. The fact
that this Staphylococcus Aureus was Methycillin-Resistant was only
after an autopsy that revealed its presence at all. We are not told if
the problem was cause by the
virulence of the bacteria rather than its resistance to Methycillin, or
if antibiotics were even tried. Presumably not. It is not customary to
on a baby unless there is a known reason to. The parents blame the
hospital, but this seems to be without evidence as no MRSA was found on
staff. But the whole MRSA problem is wrongly attributed to failure to
clean hospital floors etc. MRSA breeds in people and passes through
contagion. It is individuals and their general state of health due to
wrong eating, drinking and lifestyle which they attempt to correct by
abusive application of medicines and disinfectants and antibiotics that
So, what is the position on the relationship of virulence to resistance
in these bacteria?
Summary Report of a Public Meeting:
Input for A Public Health Action Plan to Combat Antimicrobial
Part II: Global Issues
San Diego, California
- Basic Research Areas
- Molecular evolution of bacterial species,
lineages, and resistance
- Relationship of virulence, drug resistance,
and the emergence of predominate clones and resistance patterns,
- Correlation of in vitro results and clinical
We can see from the
above that it is seen as an important subject for research. What are
the results of the research?
Here is an extract from the
proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA
Published online before print June
http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/0402521101v1 - I think it is
unlikely that the hospital was to blame for the death of this baby.
Complete genomes of two clinical Staphylococcus aureus strains: Evidence for the rapid
evolution of virulence and drug resistance
A report from a
House of Lords Select Committee concluded yesterday that a "Substantial
Majority" supports the concept of allowing terminaly ill patients to
kill themselves. They recommend that the issue should be debated in the
next session of Parliament. This is sense at last. The next step is to
remove the main cause for these suicides: the determination of certain
people to force doctors to keep people alive as long as possible.
Instead, doctors should help people to die in dignity and free from
pain as they used to do, before this generation of idiot worshippers of
safety with a confused idea of health put them in danger of being
classed as murderers.
SEPTEMBER 27th 2005
A doctor who tried to help a
terminally ill friend die has been struck off the medical register by
the General Medical Council.
Right-to-die campaigner Dr Michael Irwin,
admitted obtaining sleeping pills to help his friend die, but denied
the misconduct charge.
The 74-year-old has already received a
police caution for his actions.
A GMC panel said his actions were irresponsible,
and found him guilty of serious professional misconduct.
This is quite
abominable. The man has been struck off purely because he was head of
the Voluntary Euthanasia Society. He has retired fom practising
medicine. This Kangaroo Court should be abolished. But that will not
happen. The doctor may appeal, and he might win his appeal, but he
might be best advised to just ignore it.
in the case reported today (extract from BBC News) the doctor has been
give whatever dose of morphine is required to relieve the pain. If it
causes death, that's preferable to a life of unbearable pain.
The pity is the case seems to have been won on the grounds that it
could not be proved that the morphine caused the death.
The comments of the police and the family are unbelievable. The doctor
was under house arrest for a year.
Now they have found 11 other cases of his patients to accuse him over.
retired family doctor has been found not guilty of murdering three of
his patients with morphine overdoses.
GP cleared of patients' murders
A jury at Teesside Crown Court, cleared Dr Howard
Martin, 71, of the charges after a six-week trial.
He had denied killing Harry Gittins, 74, of Newton
Aycliffe, Stanley Weldon, 74, of Coundon Grange, and Frank Moss, 59, of
Eldon, Co Durham.
The former GP used to practise in Newton Aycliffe,
but now lives in Penmaenmawr, North Wales.
The married father-of-four was accused of murdering
Moss on March 14, 2003, Mr Weldon four days later and Mr Gittins on
January 22 last year.
The prosecution alleged he had administered huge
doses of powerful painkilling drugs with the intention of killing them.
However, the defence argued that the prosecution had
failed to prove that the doses of morphine and diamorphine had killed
the three men, nor had the Crown proved the experienced family GP knew
exactly what effects the drugs would have on his seriously-ill
There were gasps and loud cries from the public
gallery as the jury foreman delivered not guilty verdicts to all three
Members of the dead men's families expressed
disappointment at the verdict and said they felt that "justice had not
Det Supt Harry Stephenson, who led the murder
investigation, said: "In my 31 years as a police officer, this is one
of my most disappointing days.
"We had a moral and legal obligation to investigate.
I think we did that fairly."
He said he would be considering what action to take
Dr Martin's second wife, Theresa, 80, burst into
tears as the jury delivered their verdicts.
Outside court Dr Martin's solicitor Sara Mason said
the murder charges were a "bitter blow" after almost 50 years as a
statement, she said: "Dr Martin has always
maintained he was doing no more than doing his best to relieve the
suffering of these three patients.
legally entitled to do that and indeed it was his duty as their
doctor to do that.
"Being prosecuted for murder came as a particularly
bitter blow as he has spent nearly 50 years of his life caring for
others, at personal sacrifice.
"He would like to thank his family, friends and very
many of his patients for their unwavering support over the ordeal of
the last 18 months.
"Dr Martin is now looking forward to going home."
After his solicitor finished reading the prepared
statement, Dr Martin briefly answered reporters' questions.
He said: "I am relieved, very relieved. I've had a
year and a half under house arrest and eight weeks of hell on earth."
Dr Martin refused to answer questions about
prosecution should ever have been brought in the first place.
MARCH 06 2006
The parents of the child described below have been allowed, so far, to
force doctors to keep it alive.
If this had been an animal they would have been prosecuted and
Here is the extract from today';s BBC News.
Tomorrow a High Court Judge will be asked to give a ruling.
baby at the centre of a landmark case over whether life support
can be withdrawn has an "intolerable life", the High Court has heard.
Life of sick baby 'intolerable'
Baby MB, who cannot be named, has spinal muscular
atrophy - a genetic condition which leads to almost total paralysis -
and cannot breathe unaided.
Doctors treating the 17-month-old say it is in his
best interests to withdraw ventilation and to let him die.
But his family says he has a reasonable quality of
life and should stay alive.
They feel he can recognise and respond to them, and
that he gains enjoyment from spending time with his family.
An injunction reporting any details of the case has
lifted after an application by the BBC, but none of the parties
involved can be identified.
A medic known only as Dr S told the court one had to
consider the baby's inability to express his wishes, move or show if he
is in any pain or distress.
When questioned by Caroline Harry Thomas, counsel for
the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service, representing
the child's interests, he said: "I think the cumulative effect of all
this is that he has an intolerable life."
The doctor said the child would have to live through
period in which he was unable to open his eyes, if the current
treatment regime continued.
He would need them opened manually to be able to see,
Baby MB has also been wearing splints on his hands
feet intermittently, which caused discomfort, and a risk of limb
fractures would develop in relation to normal handling.
Charles Foster, counsel for the family, asked Dr S
whether he thought the hospital's application to remove ventilation was
Dr S said he disagreed, replying: "I would actually
that it could be seen as an application that is later than it should
The child's neurologist, also known only as Dr S, was
asked by the judge whether he would regard it as acceptable medically
and ethically to continue ventilation but not to resuscitate should the
child go into collapse.
He said continuing the specific treatment would not
be in the child's best interests.
"If you ask me personally whether I could continue
would say I would find it difficult, because I have been feeling that
what I have been doing as a doctor has been wrong for many months,
which is a very difficult position for me to be in.
"That is not just my opinion, but the opinion of many
medical professionals who are directly involved in his care," he added.
He also said he would find it very difficult to
resuscitation if he was asked to on the child but that it was "a very
Dr S also claimed baby MB did not have the cognitive
features normally seen in children with this type of spinal muscular
He said in his view, MB's cognitive function "does
appear normal", but it was impossible to assess because of the baby's
inability to respond.
Last week, Mr Justice Holman who is hearing the case,
said it could be a landmark one as it was the first time a court had
been asked to make a life or death ruling on a child who has near or
full cognitive function.
His incurable condition, which affects one in 6,400
newborns, is set to lead to almost full paralysis.
It is a recessive genetic condition passed to a baby
when both its parents carry a certain gene.
We are in this
ridiculous position because many people are deeply confused. They have
little understanding of what life is, what human life is, what the
purpose and function of it is, what the role of the individual is, what
the role of society is. We have some scientists who understand some of
their science, some lawyers who understand how to interpret the law
according to precedent and logic and commonly accepted standards.
Western Europe has a culture that has benefited from a foundation on
the most advanced religion in the world, yet it has completely lost the
plot, being unable to understand the Biblical background or the meaning
they should now discover in it. They have no understanding of the
relationship of the material world to what they call the 'spiritual'
world. Those on every side of the debate are fundamentally
MARCH 15th 2006
A High Court Judge has now decided that in view of the fact that this
child (see previous paragraph), who is likely to die anyway in a very
few years but might exceptionallly survive in a very debilitated state,
cannot have the artificial life-support removed because he is not in
insufferable pain and brings pleasure to his parents, who want him kept
alive. I can quite understand that the judge feels unable to decide
otherwise. We live in a country which has banned foxhunting on the
grounds thati it is detrimental to the fox though we now see that the
banning of fox-hunting is extremely detrimental to the fox. This child,
if it lives, is destined to be be dependent on others more than most of
us and nearly all the time. If we set a precedent on this, we will be
condemning ever more children to such a life and ever more people to
caring for them. We are moving from a society where the most fit,
conscious and sensitive individuals were ready to give their lives in
the service of humanity, to one where a policeman is expected to sue if
he gets hurt, and a member of the public to sue the police if he gets
killed as part of a genuine error when police are trying to protect the
public. A single individual is deemed to have an infinite right to life
at the expense of others. Why should this be? Partly it is a reaction
against the excessive utilitarianism and cruelty of fascist and
communist experiences, partly is a cult of individualism that is taken
to selfish extremes, partly it is the failure to understand that though
an individual dies (and when it is dead it is dead) life goes on and
nothing is lost. As individuals we are not conscious of the whole when
we are a human individual living on the surface of this planet - and
that is for very good reasons. We have an individual life to live and
one mind to make endless choices, to experience and develop.
Individual death is not a tragedy, but an individual life can be. That
chance is not a once and only chance for some individual spirit that is
pre-existing, has one chance of life which is then snuffed out.
Individuals are a expression of the human genome as arranged
continually by nature like the branches, buds and flowers of a tree. It
is that tree that lives. It can be pruned, nourished, trained,
transplanted, damaged, healed, encouraged, mutated and transformed
through evolution. At the moment, ours has cancer. The cancer is
individuals who want to live for ever or live when they are not
functioning properly, just as cancerous cells do in an individual
human body. There is no love or even kindness in encouraging this. It
will produce a diseased and disfunctional tree. Of course tree is an
inadequate similie. The tree of life is not a plant, and it is only a
part of a universal life.That universal life depends on us to play our
part. That is up to us. We proceed by trial and error with the usual
Lords divided over
MAY 12th 2006
The debate on the bill to allow assisted
dying to those who suffering needlessly demonstrates yet again the
confusion in the minds of many.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has stated
that the proposed legislation
implies that we consider that an individual's life 'may not be worth
living'. With the greatest respect, Your Grace, the bill is to enable
those who have already lived their life to depart as nature intended,
without being tortured by doctors under the threat of prosecution by a
society terrorized by the paranoid and vocal who fear that the
legislation is somehow aimed at them.
Life is always, we hope, worth living. We
should do everything possible
to make it so. Those of us who have seen deaths, both peaceful and
violent, have been impressed by those who shortly before their end have
proclaimed it to have been so. The only thing that can spoil it is a
long drawn out, agonizing death. Some may wish for that, or even feel
that in some way it is their duty. Perhaps it is a subconscious guilt
that makes them feel this way. They have no right to drag the rest of
humanity into their pit.
There are those who have felt suicidal and
believe that this bill would
have caused a doctor to help them commit suicide - that is not so.
These people are confused. It is noticeable that those against the bill
are incoherent, emotional and angry compared to those in favour. If the
bill passes, no doctor will be obliged to assist a single death, or
help the emotionally suicidal. If it fails, million upon million will suffer
Then there are those who say it is 'thin
end of wedge', 'start of
slippery slope' etc. These we know, the people who think in
clichés. History buries them eventually but never the clichés, which are trotted out again
and again. Sometimes they are apt, a useful shorthand to be respected
until the moment and the circumstance when they are not. Those moments
when the cliché, be it in thought or molecular habit, is why we
are not still amoeba in the sea, and not chimpanzees. The ones who
could not get past the clichés remain there as part of the
panoply of nature. Life which is not cliché-controlled moves on.
Currently we call it human. Let us dignify it by taking responsibility
for thinking rather than repeating some mantra out of fear.
What appalls me is that Bishops claimed
stopping this in the name of Christians. Not this one, Until now we
have been able to rely on doctors to do the decent thing, and lately
the means to do it have even been enhanced. But counteracting that has
been the rise of those who think in fundamentalist terms, not just in
religion but in bureaucracy, the law and science. They are thinkers who
are forever either inside or outside the box, for whom Schroedinger's
cat will remain for ever a mystery instead of an enlightening joke
devised to drop a hint to the religious fundamentalists of the day that
a human observation is a physical interaction like any other, however
significant the meaning may be to the conversation taking place within
the human skull. Nature is self-observing.
Then there are those who claim their
personal experience proves this
proposed change in the law is not just faulty but wrong. That it would
have killed them, and they are happy to be alive. One in particular
claims that had the law been in force, she would have used it,
believing the future to be hopeless. The truth is she probably would
not have used it, because its existence would have brought into play a
dialogue that would have encouraged her to think it through with
assistance and as this happened she would have realised how seriously
people took her life and her decision. However, if she had decided to
end it and the doctors had agreed (which they would have to), it would
not have been a mistake at all. It would have been the right outcome.
We are moving to a world where the consequence of individual actions is
growing, as technology multiplies the effects. There are two ways
forward: restriction of freedom or learning to take responsibility for
our own thoughts and actions. The lady in question tells us she would
have made the wrong decision. Personally I doubt it, but if she had, it
would have been her decision, not that of people who had no right to
make it for her.
JUNE 21 2006
The discussion on abortion now needs to get
is no rational way in which a connection can be made between
the 'viability' of an unborn child or its ability to survive with
technical assistance and a decison on whether or not abortion is
legalised or what date after conception the legalisation should apply,
unless the unborn child can be seen to be damaged to an extent that is
prejudicial to a tolerable life.
I would think that in future there could be a
variety of devices,
including artificial wombs, which will enable foetus/embryo survival to
be assured from almost any stage. This has no relevance at all to
whether or not there should be a limit, or whether the current limit is
Abortion is not a desirable method of birth control,
as it is
emotionally upsetting for the mother. In addition, we do not know how
the unborn child experiences the operation, so we are uncertain if what
we call 'suffering' is inflicted to any meaningful extent. These
factors are relevant. But they are not related to the 'viability' of
the unborn child.
As for the contention by Roman Catholic clerics that
morality is at
issue, it may well be, but they have no moral authority whatsoever
other than over their adherents who have ceded this authority to them.
No Church has political moral authority. Churches deal with Religion
and the adherence to 'faiths'. These may be excellent, of course, or
not. They are usually traditional. A Church may be an organisation of
great worth. It may foster fellowship and community and altruistic
behaviour. One only has to tune in to 'Songs of Praise' on BBC TV to
see that the participants are amongst the mentally healthiest and most
talented of the human race. But the doctrine and dogma of churches are
not science and they are not morality for free thinking people.
The moral choices that humans must make should be
made in the light of
all the knowledge at our disposal, including of course the world's main
religions and their theologians. These should be understood in their
Only a small number of abortions reach the current
time limit set in
the UK. There is absolutely no reason to alter this unless it
diminishes human suffering to a demonstable or reasonably estimable
extent. It is highly unlikely that it would. It is probable that it
would achieve the reverse.
Should the law be altered, in the few cases where it
conflicts with the
needs of the parents, it will either be ignored or the consequences
will be negative.
what happened to the child I wrote about on SEPTEMBER 30th 2004
above. First of all we have the sad arguments set out below:
'will move' for Charlotte
| By Anna Lindsay
BBC News, Portsmouth
The parents of hospital-bound Charlotte Wyatt say they
anywhere in the country to get a bigger council house - so they can
take her home.
Darren and Debbie Wyatt
began taking the brain-damaged two-year-old on her first day visits to
their two-bedroom council flat in Portsmouth last month.
But they said they have been told it is too small for Charlotte to
live in with her three other young siblings.
The city council said it was working to find the Wyatts a bigger
Portsmouth NHS Hospitals Trust said it was unable to comment.
Charlotte was born three months prematurely in October 2003 weighing
just 1lb (0.5kg) and has severe brain, lung and kidney damage, limited
sight and hearing, and needs oxygen around the clock.
| I don't care where we move, we
just want Charlotte home
Her parents have fought a series of court battles with Portsmouth
Trust over the question of whether Charlotte should be given artificial
ventilation if her condition worsens.
In October, on Charlotte's second birthday, the High
Court lifted a court order that ruled doctors need not give Charlotte
artificial ventilation in a life-threatening situation.
Doctors still have the right to make a final decision
but must now consult with Charlotte's parents and take into account
their wishes before making a decision.
Charlotte was allowed home on two medically-supervised visits in
December, before being allowed to spend a couple of hours with her
family, unsupervised, on Christmas Day.
Until then, she had never left the grounds of St Mary's Hospital.
The Wyatts said occupational health teams have recommended that when
Charlotte is ready to leave hospital permanently she must live in a
bigger home to accommodate her breathing equipment.
| There are limited properties
available so we continue to pull out the stops to find them a suitable
Portsmouth City Council spokesman
The family has been on a Portsmouth City Council waiting list to be
rehoused into a four or five bedroom home for several months.
Mrs Wyatt, 24, told the BBC News website: "I don't care where we
move, we just want Charlotte home."
The Wyatts, who are both originally from the Midlands, have appealed
local radio in Birmingham for private landlords and councils in the
area to get in touch if they have a suitable property.
Mr Wyatt, 33, told the BBC News website: "We don't mind where we
"If someone came up with a property, we can move straight away and
then Charlotte can come home.
"I've just been speaking with Charlotte's consultant and we've
about having her home regularly twice a week for four hours at a time.
"But she's ready to come home except we can't have her because we
haven't been rehoused.
"I'm just really, really frustrated."
A spokesman for Portsmouth City Council said: "We are working
closely with the Wyatts to find them a new home.
"We are aware they are anxious to be close to St Mary's [Hospital].
"There are limited properties available so we continue to pull out
the stops to find them a suitable home."
Then on OCTOBER 16th 2006 we get the news:
Charlotte's parents have split up and cannot look after
her. The council may try to find foster parents.
My point exactly - offering miracles of modern science to people who
are just old-fashioned fallible individuals, in the name of the state,
because in our insufferable pride we can and want to take the credit
or, in the case of some apparently, exorcise some guilt, is a great
mistake. In this case, the doctors are not to blame but the Judiciary,
who seem to have got their feet right off the ground. They believe they
can dispense a justice of humanity that exceeds that of Nature. That
they can distribute mercy to the extent that the laws of physics,
chemistry and biology do not provide. Get down to earth, judges. You
are not above the laws of Nature and cannot distribute life and the
pursuit of happiness to those who are not prepared for it. If any law
says you can, then work to get it repealed before we pay a worse price.
The same goes for their interpretation of the Human Rights act, which
is valuable legislation and should be interpreted in the context of the
world we are in, not some abstract realm without consequence that could
and should not and probably will not exist.
In a BBC
Panorama web debate in September I note the following
"Surely no one has the right to decide who lives and dies. We are
read the Old Testamnt you will note that the parable of the Garden of
Eden and the Tree of Knowledge makes it clear that having eaten of the
fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, the responsibility for life and death
does indeed fall to us. The buck stops here. The writers of the Genesis
story, being aware that humans were unable to deal with their condition
without quite a lot of trouble and pain, described the ascent of man as
the fall and punishment. Today we should be reaching the level of
understanding that these interpretations contain the symbolic truth
that describes a reality that transcends each and both.
understanding of human existence is such that we believe that every
child born into this workd should be kept alive by any means we can
devise, then that is what we should do. It is for society to decide. In
fact at least one senior member of the Anglican Church has decided, I
hear from the news (but can't find the reference today on the web) that
perhaps we have bitten of more than we have learned how to chew just at
this point in time.. The previously heretical thought has been uttered
that perhaps there are circumstances when it might be better to let
Nature take its course.
That is not to suggest that if there are devoted parents and caring,
competent doctors and both agree to do their very best, they should not
do so. The mistake has been to make a law that applies in all cases,
regardless of circumstances. It is a mistake made throughout history by
those who, through insecurity, wish to assuage their own fears and
hopes by extending their preferences beyond the personal and have them
elevated to an abstract truth. However, one thing is quite clear, we
most certainly have not the right but the duty, in all cases, to decide
who lives and who dies. This great responsibility should weigh heavily
on us and lead us to avoid ducking out.by passing the buck and by so
doing cause agnising and unnecessary pain to innocent children. The
same aplies to ducking responsibility for preventing homicidal maniacs
from killing at random, on the grounds that 'we are not God' and by the
false translation of one of the Ten Commandments.
NOVEMBER 16th 2006
Following on from above, today we reach another point anticipated when
this diary was started in 2003. The Nuffield Council on Bioethics
has reported its guidelines for doctors.and parents for dealing with
premature babies. As I expected, some people have criticised from
opposite directions and The BMA's most senior ethicist has said that
binding rules would not be helpful. However, the Nuffield Council have
not set binding rules and the guidelines are spot on. Well done. In the
BBC report below, read the insert with the summary of the actual
recommendations first. You will see that most of the comments are
obviously from people with an agenda who feel obliged to placate their
sponsors or supporters and have probably not read the recommendations
Typical of critics is this man who can't even spell resuscitate yet is
given a public blog space by the BBC - http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/ni/
do license payers foot the bill for this stuff? If so it should stop.
He can pay for his own web space in his own name.
Babies born at or before 22 weeks should not be
given intensive care, a report says.
The recommendation is being put forward by the
Nuffield Council on
Bioethics, which considers ethical questions raised by advances in
For those born after 23 weeks, the recommendation is
that doctors should review the situation with the parents and take
their wishes into account.
But doctors warned no two babies born at 22 or 23
weeks would be
The report has been released after two years of
| We don't think it is always
right to put a baby through the stress and
pain of invasive treatment if the baby is unlikely to get any better
and death is inevitable
Professor Margaret Brazier
Nuffield Council on Bioethics
It also gives guidance on how parents should resolve
doctors over the fate of their babies.
The report comes against a backdrop of medical
advances which have
been able to sustain the lives of very premature babies.
However, research shows that many of these babies do
not live very
long, or go on to develop severe disability.
Part of the problem is that despite advances in
modern medicine, it
not always obvious to doctors which babies will survive and thrive.
Professor Margaret Brazier, who chaired the
that produced the guidelines, said: "Natural instincts are to try to
save all babies, even if the baby's chances of survival are low.
"However, we don't think it is always right to put a
baby through the stress and pain of invasive treatment if the baby is
unlikely to get any better and death is inevitable."
The inquiry also looked at longer-term support for
resource implications for the NHS.
But it rejected suggestions that active steps be
taken to end life
- so-called baby euthanasia - in certain circumstances.
Born before 22 weeks: No intensive
22-23 weeks: No intensive care,
unless parents request it after a thorough discussion of the risks and
23-24 weeks: Parents, after a
thorough discussion with the healthcare team, should have the final say
Give intensive care, unless the parents and the doctors agree there is
no hope of survival, or the level of suffering is too high
Above 25 weeks: Intensive care as
Bliss, the premature baby charity, is campaigning for
neonatal intensive care, and for decisions to made based on clinical
reasoning, and not financial constraints.
The charity said the UK had the highest rate of low
babies in Western Europe.
About 300 babies are born in the UK each year at 23
They have a 17% survival rate, compared with 50% for
those born at
Figures suggest that no baby survives at 21 weeks,
while only 1%
survive to leave hospital at 22 weeks.
Andy Cole, Bliss chief executive, said: "While only a
of infants in the UK are born at 24 weeks or less, it is essential that
every baby should be treated as an individual and given the best and
most appropriate care at the point of life.
"We strongly endorse the recommendation that
of care for the most vulnerable infants needs to be a joint decision
between parents and clinicians."
All babies different
| We cannot agree with stringent
cut-off points for treatment
Dr Tony Calland
British Medical Association
Dr Tony Calland, chairman of the medical ethics
committee of the
British Medical Association (BMA), said much of the report echoed
"existing best practice".
But he added: "The BMA believes that blanket rules
do not help
individual parents or their very premature babies.
"Each case should be considered on its merits and its
While we believe that not all patients, including babies, benefit from
medical intervention if survival is unlikely, it is important that each
patient's circumstances are assessed independently.
"We therefore cannot agree with stringent cut-off
Bert Massie, chairman of the Disability Rights
decision to treat or not treat should be based on individual
"To fail to do so would potentially be
discriminatory and breach
human rights legislation."
There are about 250 units in the UK offering
care, high dependency and special care.
Earlier this month the Royal College of Obstetricians
Gynaecologists said it wanted a discussion over whether "deliberate
intervention" to cause death in severely disabled babies should be
But the report recommends the active ending of the
of newborn babies should not be allowed, no matter how serious their
The Nuffield Council on Bioethics was established in
1991 to examine ethical questions raised by advances in biological and