Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

THE High Court has ruled that surgeons may separate the Siamese twins Jodie and Mary. As a result, Mary will die. The decision is right and the reason has wide ramifications.

The ancient Greek historian Herodotus tells the story of the Persian king Darius (d. 486 BC) who once invited some Greeks to say how much money it would take for them to be prepared to eat the corpses of their fathers. They replied that no amount of money would so persuade them. Darius next summoned some members of the Indian tribe known as Callatiae who ate their parents when they had died, and asked them how much it would take for them to be willing to cremate their fathers' corpses. With cries of horror they begged Darius not to say such wicked things. Herodotus concludes:

So these practices have become enshrined as customs and I think the poet Pindar was right to have said in a poem that `Custom is king of a11.

The point is that there is a recent trend, most noticeable in those countries that can be characterised as capitalist, medically advanced, rationalist and essentially non-religious (or, if religious, liberal Protestant), to see death as the ultimate crime. …

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