From 2003 - Updated 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 been a 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 so offended.

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 start here.

OCTOBER 30th 2003    -  with updates as shown down the page

OK, now listen and attend, best beloved, as we are going to deal here and now with the business of LIFE AND DEATH and, to begin with, such matters as abortion, euthanasia,  IVF,
cloning, genetic modification etc.

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 Catholic persuasion within the Christian church regarded the rights of the unborn 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 emergency.

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 are 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 unlocked and encouraged or stifled and rejected by interaction with the environment, from the moment of conception. The single cell has all the 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 with 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 at all. This is what we need to understand. The responsibility of individuals and the responsibility of society is not so easily shrugged off. As life on this 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 are 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 process is one of reproduction in a cosmic context. But although on the cosmic scale success may be inevitable, even tautological, the global future of 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 threat 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 and now why that should be so. Suffice to say that to achieve determinacy on 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 it.

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 human 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 taken 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 application.

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 for 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 is 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 are 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 human 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 inconsiderable. 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 she abides by sensible conditions such as taking qualified medical advice, consulting with the father unless unknown or unreachable or hostile, and 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 is taken

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 not have the technological power to take responsibility. The religious rules 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 and  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 reach  them.

The idea of survival through fertility has given way to that of survival through sustainable 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 the 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 overexposure), 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, be 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 the lives of a good many of the winners. On the scale of society, politicians and medical researchers chasing the consumer, who is now the source of their popularity or their dreams of wealth, are bent on giving 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 distributing 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, as 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 on 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 shows 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 straight 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 have 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 and 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 available.

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 others - 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 for 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 a release. The motivation of those who are against execution and in favour 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 shirk responsibility and may discredit the authority of the law.  This applies to either the imposition or the non-imposition of the death penalty.

Many people are swayed by their personal opinion of the finality of death. The traditional view of life-after-death which was encouraged by 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 open 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 expected no doubt to perform. However, she appears to have buckled under the pressure and come to the conclusion that human life is basically aimless and pointless - we make it up as we go along, individually and, therefore, collectively.  What we can probably safely conclude form 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 of 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 agree 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 minds 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 child.

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 clarify. 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 to 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 to 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 legal systems have been built, we seek to replace the authority of scripture and tradition with the authority of the latest opinion of scientists and philosophers, within the same legal/logical structure. There will be conflicting opinions of course. What we should all agree on is a duty of 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 some cases.

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 now 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 is 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 the universal matrix are very valid; it is only his unfortunate experience with religious fundamentalists of one sort or another that has convinced him that all religion is rubbish. He does not understand the role of religion in the formation and maintenance of civilisations. On the other 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 interest, 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 future.

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 created 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 not 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 the 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 that 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 right 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 known 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 to 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 to 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, sod all.

* 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 logically 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 which brilliant scientists alone can solve. His final words: "It's all just chemistry".

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 he 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 before you have reproduction. All you need is communication and 15 billion years.  Of course Kroto knows all this perfectly well. He is a king 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 bathwater (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 message 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 many 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 and 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 that 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 level 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?". The answer to both questions can be yes (in all conventionally scientifically measurable senses, let us ignore quantum entanglement and 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 of the function of the material universe I have every confidence it is possible.

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
This 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 ceases.

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 developments.

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 actually is.

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 what a 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.

IVF warning over low sperm count

"This is a further concern regarding assisted conception"
Professor Chris Barratt, University of Birmingham

Men with low sperm counts may have an increased risk of passing on genetic conditions to children conceived using fertility treatment, researchers warn.

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 were observed.

Writing in The Lancet, they say these faults could increase the risk of the developing embryo being affected by certain genetic conditions.

Concerns have been raised that children conceived through IVF are at an increased risk of genetic imprinting disorders.

These include Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome, which causes 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.

Genetic behaviour

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 they do not behave in whichever way they should, can cause faults in other genes.

These are key genes where either the maternal, paternal or both versions need to be "switched on" for them to work as they should.

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 genetic disorder.

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 with 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 Medicine 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 been 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 up to them. They have to decide whether to take the risk of not have a child."

He said scientists could carry out tests on sperm to see 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 assisted conception."

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. However.....

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 individual.

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 blind, one mentally retarded, and she had syphilis, would you recommend that she have an abortion?

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 that is the responsibility that falls on us as human beings.

JULY 27th
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 world 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.

JULY 28th
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.

Thomas Hobbs 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.

No government 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.

It therefore 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 educationally 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.

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 appreciating it.

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 irrelevant

New Scientist | AFP

Thursday December 2, 03:00 PM

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 four 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 the main sources of ethical controversy in this research,” says Bob Lanza, head of research at the cloning company Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Massachusetts.

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 triggering 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.

Journal reference: 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 to manslaughter.

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 to 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 it 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.

MARCH 23 2005
Before reading my next entry please read this Reuters report. The sting is in the tail

Wednesday March 23, 08:58 AM

U.S. court rejects right-to-die appeal

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 the 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, saying: "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 disconnected 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 followed 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 conservative lawmakers.

Fierce lobbying in Washington had brought 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 Bush 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 unconstitutional.

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 "end-of-life" decisions.

"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 era.

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 discovered 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 use antibiotics 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 needs attention.

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 Resistance
Part II: Global Issues

September 26, 2002
San Diego, California


Comments and Suggestions

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 22, 2004, 10.1073/pnas.0402521101

Full Text (PDF)
Supporting Information

Complete genomes of two clinical Staphylococcus aureus strains: Evidence for the rapid evolution of virulence and drug resistance

SEE - I think it is unlikely that the hospital was to blame for the death of this baby.

APRIL 4th 2005
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, from Surrey, 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.

DECEMBER 12th 2005
Thank goodness in the case reported today (extract from BBC News) the doctor has been cleared.
Doctors should 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. Madness.

GP cleared of patients' murders
A retired family doctor has been found not guilty of murdering three of his patients with morphine overdoses.

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 Mr 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 patients.

There were gasps and loud cries from the public gallery as the jury foreman delivered not guilty verdicts to all three charges.

Members of the dead men's families expressed disappointment at the verdict and said they felt that "justice had not been done".

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 now.

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 medic.

In 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.

"He was 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 whether the 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 convicted.
Here is the extract from today';s BBC News.
Tomorrow a High Court Judge will be asked to give a ruling.

Life of sick baby 'intolerable'
A baby at the centre of a landmark case over whether life support can be withdrawn has an "intolerable life", the High Court has heard.

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 been 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 a 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, he added.

Baby MB has also been wearing splints on his hands and feet intermittently, which caused discomfort, and a risk of limb fractures would develop in relation to normal handling.

'Difficult position'

Charles Foster, counsel for the family, asked Dr S whether he thought the hospital's application to remove ventilation was premature.

Dr S said he disagreed, replying: "I would actually say that it could be seen as an application that is later than it should have been."

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 it, I 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.

'Difficult dilemma'

"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 attempt resuscitation if he was asked to on the child but that it was "a very difficult dilemma".

Dr S also claimed baby MB did not have the cognitive features normally seen in children with this type of spinal muscular atrophy.

He said in his view, MB's cognitive function "does not 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 deluded. 

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 consequences.

Lords divided over assisted dying
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 unnecessarily.

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.

MAY 13th
What appalls me is that Bishops claimed they are 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 rational. There 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 reasonable.

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 historical context.

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.

OCTOBER 17th 2006
Here is what happened to the child I wrote about on SEPTEMBER 30th 2004 above. First of all we have the sad arguments set out below:

Wyatts 'will move' for Charlotte
By Anna Lindsay
BBC News, Portsmouth

The parents of hospital-bound Charlotte Wyatt say they will move 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 home.

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
Debbie Wyatt

Her parents have fought a series of court battles with Portsmouth NHS 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 home
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 on 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 move.

"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 talked 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.

NOVEMBER 14th 2006
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 not god "

If you 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.

If our 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 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 properly.
Typical of critics is this man who can't even spell resuscitate yet is given a public blog space by the BBC - 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.

'Do not revive' earliest babies
Babies born at or before 22 weeks should not be resuscitated or 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 medical research.

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 same.

The report has been released after two years of research.

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 arguments with 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 is not always obvious to doctors which babies will survive and thrive.

Professor Margaret Brazier, who chaired the committee 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 families, and 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 care
22-23 weeks: No intensive care, unless parents request it after a thorough discussion of the risks and doctors agree
23-24 weeks: Parents, after a thorough discussion with the healthcare team, should have the final say
24-25 weeks: 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 standard

Bliss, the premature baby charity, is campaigning for one-to-one 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 birth weight babies in Western Europe.

About 300 babies are born in the UK each year at 23 weeks.

They have a 17% survival rate, compared with 50% for those born at 25 weeks.

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 small percentage 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 assessment 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 own context. 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 points for treatment."

Bert Massie, chairman of the Disability Rights Commission, said: "The decision to treat or not treat should be based on individual assessment.

"To fail to do so would potentially be discriminatory and breach human rights legislation."

There are about 250 units in the UK offering neonatal intensive care, high dependency and special care.

Earlier this month the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said it wanted a discussion over whether "deliberate intervention" to cause death in severely disabled babies should be legalised.

But the report recommends the active ending of the life of newborn babies should not be allowed, no matter how serious their condition.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics was established in 1991 to examine ethical questions raised by advances in biological and medical research.