Saturday, September 20, 2008

That's a... er... brave stance

I am not sure that this is a very wise thing to say, and I also think that 84-year-old Baroness Warnock is more than a little confused herself.
Baroness Warnock: Dementia sufferers may have a 'duty to die'

Elderly people suffering from dementia should consider ending their lives because they are a burden on the NHS and their families, according to the influential medical ethics expert Baroness Warnock.

The veteran Government adviser said pensioners in mental decline are "wasting people's lives" because of the care they require and should be allowed to opt for euthanasia even if they are not in pain.

She insisted there was "nothing wrong" with people being helped to die for the sake of their loved ones or society.


Now, even were your humble Devil not someone who believes in individual freedom—including the freedom to kill yourself—his experiences as an Auxiliary have anyway made him a fervent supporter of euthanasia: you try being unaffected by someone who is living your worst nightmare asking you to kill them. I totally believe that people should be able to end their lives if they so wish and, if they are physically unable to do so, they should be assisted.

However, I also see that there are a number of problems with enshrining this principle in law. I also don't think that people should be guilt-tripped into ending their lives by feeling that they have an obligation to the fucking state to do so.

However, this...
The 84-year-old added that she hoped people will soon be "licensed to put others down" if they are unable to look after themselves.

... sounds like murder to me.
But in her latest interview, given to the Church of Scotland's magazine Life and Work, Lady Warnock goes further by claiming that dementia sufferers should consider ending their lives through euthanasia because of the strain they put on their families and public services.

Recent figures show there are 700,000 people with degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's in Britain. By 2026 experts predict there will be one million dementia sufferers in the country, costing the NHS an estimated £35billion a year.

Lady Warnock said: "If you're demented, you're wasting people's lives – your family's lives – and you're wasting the resources of the National Health Service.

"I'm absolutely, fully in agreement with the argument that if pain is insufferable, then someone should be given help to die, but I feel there's a wider argument that if somebody absolutely, desperately wants to die because they're a burden to their family, or the state, then I think they too should be allowed to die.

I wonder how many real dementia sufferers Lady Warnock has worked with? By the time that dementia becomes a massive burden to the NHS, the dementia-sufferer is almost entirely hollowed out, mentally. They may occasionally remember old memories, but most of the time they cannot even remember that they have a family, let alone actually recognise them.

One of the most vivd memories I have from working in the medical centre is that is a twelve year old boy curled into a corner in the smoking room, weeping bitterly because his father—who had once been something of a socialite—hadn't recognised his son, or even remembered that he had one.

At the same time, the father—let us call him "Simon"—seemed perfectly happy most of the time. He would chatter away, only occasionally making sense, but almost always with a smile on his face; he could dress himself with minimal help and could, for instance, shave himself (as long as someone was there to prompt him when his mind started to wander).

This was in stark contrast to "Mary" whose personality was entirely scooped away by Alzheimer's. She was a walking machine: she would walk unsteadily along, stooped like a bird, gumlessly chewing the ends of her fingers and yammering (sometimes quietly, sometimes loud). Once she came up against a wall, she would brace her hands against it and her legs would continue the shuffling walking motion—a toy robot walking against the wall and you'll get the idea.

Neither of these people would be able to make the decision to end their lives. Simon simply didn't have the wits and, besides, he was quite happy. Mary was, as far as we could tell, utterly unaware that she was alive: she was an automaton, her eyes dead and her body still moving long after her personality had ceased to exist.

Now, if you think that these people should be put down, then you could probably make a case for it—Mary, especially, would probably not notice since what made her human had long since ceased to exist.

But let's call it what it is: legalised murder. And you are going to have to make a really good moral case for that. The fact that they have a duty to die because they are a burden on the state simply isn't that case.


Not a sheep said...

Our bodies, our very lives, are not our own. We exist to support "the State", not the other way around. All we are, all we have, we owe to "the State". We are here to pay our taxes and obey the law.

Budgie said...

A long time ago I read in the Times a brief autobiography (in fact a self justification) of a Nazi who had helped to run an extermination camp (citation needed).

He retold how the Nazi Party had deliberately sent members, before WW2, to work experience in mental institutions, the example I recall run by nuns. From this they learnt that some people are alive only in name. And as fit and healthy young Germans they were disgusted at the derelicts, as the Nazi hierarchy had planned.

The purpose was to justify the Nazi solution of exterminating the useless, the feeble and the demented. Before the Jews these unwanted people were murdered because they were a burden on the state.

What goes around comes around. And how appealing to Baroness Warnock is the slippery slope when dressed in new clothes.

David Davis said...

Was it, I think, Baroness Warnock, who said that Margaret Thatcher was "just .... low"? (google it)

Katabasis said...

Fantastic. Time to line up and 'do your bit' for that nebulous entity, "society".

Think maybe Celebrity Big Brother might be replaced in the future with Celebrity Logan's Run?

Anonymous said...

Surely not even our morally bankrupt governments (EU and UK)would legislate to implement Mary Warnock's musings? There would be an outcry from the Church (in the case of the C of E a murmur) and the medical profession which, in the face of the patient's inability to make such a decision, could only be horrified at having to judge whether the life should be ended. Doctors would never agree to do so to save the NHS money.

Of course if the government's indoctrination has extended into medical schools...

the a&e charge nurse said...

'Mary' and 'Simon' lack capacity because of cognitive impairment associated with dreadful organic brain syndromes like Alzheimers or multi-infarct dementia - in some respects it is too late for them.

Most of us don't and the 2005 Capacity Act now provides a legal framework for us to refuse treatment IN THE FUTURE "even if life is at risk".

An advance directive can thus be used to prevent a doctor from initiating life sustaining treatment when the 'old mans friend', pneumonia takes hold.
Other common complications in old age, include heart/kidney failure, stroke or uncontrolled diabetes - in such circumstances, once an advance directive has been signed [and satisfies the conditions of the Act], nature must be left to take it's course.

In more and more cases TLC, rather active treatment, will thus become the order of the day, except this approach can be legitimatgely adopted much earlier on, rather than in the last few days or hours of life [as used to be the case].

I suppose the next logical step is that it might kinder to provide aggressive palliative care rather than wait for a certain amount of time for a frail body to finally give up the ghost - whether or not this sort of 'treatment' constitutes murder is a matter of intentionality in the eyes of the law.

Having said that many would argue that the legal precedent for state sanctioned killing, or murder to use your own phrase, Devil was established through the 1967 Abortion Act - although endless rationalisations are used to shroud the termination of healthy foetuses.

the a&e charge nurse said...

Incidentally - one study suggested that there might be around 3,000 [annual] cases of euthanasia in the NHS.

Matt M said...

But let's call it what it is: legalised murder.

I hate to be pedantic, especially with a post I so wholeheartedly agree with, but isn't the definition of murder the unlawful taking of life. What Baroness Warnoc seems to be advocating is state-sanctioned execution.

the doctor said...

For an ethicist to come out with this statement it indicates that the Baroness has lost her reasoning abilities . Perhaps she should consider departing this life if she believes what she says .

Rob said...

"dementia sufferers should consider ending their lives through euthanasia because of the strain they put on their families and public services."

Clearly, me putting the fucking bins out seems to be a strain on public services. Anything they are asked to do appears to be a strain. I'd rather not be put down because of that, however.

This speech is so fucking sinister. perhaps we could reduce the strain on the state by reforming the NHS, so that it wasn't a black hole for money? Or we could slash the billions we spend keeping workshy millions sat on their arse, for example. But no: let's knock off the old buggers who aren't likely to pay any tax in the future.

This country is unravelling at an alarming rate.

P.S. - I wonder if Warnock describes herself as a 'humanitarian'?

Tim said...

Is the best way to reduce strain on 'state' (though obviously taxpayers') resources to get rid of the NHS?

Anonymous said...

Baroness Warnock costs quite a lot, and she's clearly bonkers, so no doubt she will do the decent thing.

Vicola said...

Fuck me, she's gone mental hasn't she? Bonkers. My parents own a nursing home for residents with 'challenging behaviours'. We take in the very far side of dementia, the ones that no one else can manage without pumping them so full of drugs that they can't see. We get them off the drugs and many of them go on to have many more contented years. Sure, they may not be productive in the conventional sense and it costs but given that these people have done their work, paid their taxes and raised the following generation it seems a tad harsh to put them down because Baroness Warnock thinks they aren't worth anything. She'd be a bit more fucking reticent if it was her child chasing her round the dining room table armed with the big blue injection.

Hugo said...

Mary Warnock has always said what the state would want.

In an interview her ( she talks about the panel that decided to give state education to the mentally deficient and those who would die very soon before it would be useful. She doesn't give any reasoning: just says some people opposed it but in the end the panel decided it was the right thing to do.

Now she's saying that people who cost the NHS money should kill themselves? I'm sure the state would like that - save a bit of money and keep the NHS going a bit longer. Do your duty to the state and all that...