Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

The Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill, currently before Parliament, is often discussed in terms of absolute morality. It can never be right to take a life, says one side. The right to choose extends to the right to choose to die, says the other. I wish more attention focused on a prudential argument about an underlying tendency of human nature. People have a very strong desire for the old to hurry up and die. Sometimes this is straightforward greed for their money and possessions; sometimes the Darwinian impatience of the young to get more power and destroy what is unproductive; sometimes our selfish, though natural, dislike of caring for the decrepit. To guard against these tendencies, civilisations have built up strong taboos which accord old people respect and make children and grandchildren feel that they should look after those who once looked after them: their life is valued precisely because it is fragile. If old people are given the 'choice' of assisted death, those taboos will go. Many families will start applying pressure on them to make that choice, just as today they sometimes drive the old into care homes before it is necessary. Oldies who hold out will begin to find themselves considered selfish. The National Health Service will start (actually, it has started already) to regard the old as mere bed-blockers.

Choosing to die will become like caesarian childbirth -- at first, a procedure used only in extremis, then, the usual course if anything at all threatens to go wrong, finally, the neat and tidy method that bourgeois society feels happiest with. Then assisted death will be viewed as the social duty of the old. The cant term for voluntary euthanasia and assisted death now is 'dying with dignity'. Behind the concept is an implied threat -- you'd better choose to die, because if you don't, society will make sure that the life you have chosen to prolong has no dignity at all.

Last weekend Venice was filled with carrying voices and tiaras (in one or two cases supervised by representatives of insurance companies) as hordes of mostly English, mostly posh guests descended for a stupendous ball given by Greville and Corty Howard. Greville is a life peer, but in manner and magnificence he is more like something hereditary and 18th-century. A palazzo on the Grand Canal had been taken, a New Orleans jazz band hired, and a seating plan for nearly 500 arranged. Champagne and a delicious drink with a Brazilian name flowed. There was a traffic jam of water taxis dropping the revellers off. Last week these Notes remarked on the fact that, despite being the candidate of the Conservative modernisers, David Cameron is, by background, a completely traditional Tory. I can't say that the gathering in Venice showed much sign of following the Cameronian dictum of 'loving this modern country as it is', but it was certainly dominated by supporters of 'Dave'. There was the lovely Lady Astor, his mother-in-law, her husband, Lord Astor, a Tory spokesman in the Lords, and Mr Cameron's delightful father-in-law, Sir Reginald Sheffield, Bt, who is the former president of Scunthorpe United Football Club. The mood of the meeting was definitely in favour of the Cameron candidacy and the atmosphere was made piquant by the presence of the one man whom the ever-courteous moderniser has attacked, Simon Heffer (see 1 October issue). …

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