Why we don’t need another vote on euthanasia

Ethical issues such as abortion and euthanasia are rightly considered matters of personal conscience for MPs at Westminster, so Keir Starmer’s promise of a vote on assisted dying does not automatically mean that Britain will follow Belgium, the Netherlands and Canada in legalising euthanasia, no matter how large a majority Labour might win. When the House of Commons held a similar vote in 2015, it was heavily defeated by 330 votes to 118, though Starmer himself voted in favour. Nevertheless, we should be concerned about this development. The campaign for assisted dying has recently been energised by the intervention of Esther Rantzen, who is herself terminally ill with lung cancer.

Letters: ‘supercops’ won’t save us from rising crime

Crime stoppers Sir: If the Tories’ reputation on crime lies in the hands of these innovative supercops, then it will be sadly doomed, no matter how enterprising they may be (‘Rise of the supercops’, 5 August). Whether we like to believe it or dismiss it as woolly liberalism, the police and courts have a limited impact upon crime. The reality is that crime is driven by powerful social and economic forces, not the effectiveness of the local constabulary. In a liberal democracy, leaving the police to deal with any complex social problem, particularly one as diverse and intractable as crime, is fraught with danger. The police do have an important

Tales of the Midwest: The Collected Works of Jo Ann Beard, reviewed

Jo Ann Beard has said that one of the stories in this collection, although she does not specify which, took her more than 20 years to write and that there was a gap of eight months – during which she was working on the piece five days a week – between two of its sentences. It is true that her writing is remarkably condensed, not least in ‘Cheri’, the story of a real woman who had a particularly hideous case of terminal cancer (exacerbated by the fact that all pain medication made her vomit). Cheri Tremble contacted Jack Kevorkian, a euthanasia expert sometimes nicknamed ‘Dr Death’, so that he could

Deeply moving but bleak: Plan 75 reviewed

Plan 75 is a dystopian Japanese drama about a government-sponsored euthanasia programme introduced to address Japan’s ageing society. Aged 75 or over? Agree to die and we’ll give you $1,000 to spend as you like in your last days! With a collective funeral thrown in for free! Actually, it’s not sold aggressively like that, as this is an understated film. But, despite the hopeful ending, it is so sad and bleak that if you didn’t feel minded to take $1,000 before, you may feel like taking it afterwards. You could spend it on a spa break and a deluxe sushi platter, which is one of the options, if that takes

Assisted dying is a slippery slope

What are your thoughts on assisted dying and assisted suicide? That’s the question asked by a Health and Social Care Committee consultation, closing today, that could shape changes to the law on euthanasia. Having had intimate experience of what can happen when a vulnerable person feels themselves to be a burden, I’m against. My mother had Parkinson’s, and once she burst out to me that: ‘You’d have so much more time and money if it weren’t for me’. It would be the easiest thing in the world to push someone in that condition towards feeling that it would be better for everyone if she were given a dignified death. Actually

Michel Houellebecq may be honoured by the French establishment, but he’s no fan of Europe

For many years, Michel Houellebecq was patronised by the French literary establishment as an upstart, what with his background in agronomy rather than literature, his miserable demeanour, his predilection for science fiction and his gift for unyieldingly saying the unsayable, especially about relations between the sexes. That’s all changed now. He won the Prix Goncourt in 2010 for The Map and the Territory and in 2019 was elevated to the Légion d’Honneur. The Nobel cannot be long delayed, the committee after all having honoured the equally ornery V.S. Naipaul and J.M. Coetzee. Houellebecq’s new novel Anéantir, published in January in a luxury edition of 300,000 copies, was a quasi-official event

Eugenics will never work – thankfully

In his most recent book, How to Argue With a Racist, the geneticist Adam Rutherford set out a lucid account of how the basis for many widely held and apparently commonsensical ideas about race are pseudoscientific; and he lightly sketched, along the way, the historical context in which they arose and the ideological prejudices that nourished them. We might have some half-baked ideas about how evolution works — and have unthinkingly accepted racial categories invented by 18th-century imperialists — but, he assured us in perhaps the standout line of the book, the underlying genetics is ‘wickedly complicated’. Control is a companion piece to that one. It again looks at the

German euthanasia clinics refusing unvaccinated customers

Irony has been declared many times in this pandemic but now, from Covid-riddled Germany comes the final proof: you can’t kill yourself now unless you’ve been vaccinated. As European countries battle to limit the spread of the virus, Verein Sterbehilfe – the German Euthanasia Association – has issued a new directive, declaring it will now only help those who have been vaccinated or recovered from the disease. In a statement, the association said: Euthanasia and the preparatory examination of the voluntary responsibility of our members willing to die require human closeness. Human closeness, however, is a prerequisite and breeding ground for coronavirus transmission. As of today, the 2G rule applies in our association, supplemented by

There are no safeguards when it comes to euthanasia

Molly Meacher, whose Bill to allow assisted dying gets its further reading in the Lords today, gave an interesting interview on BBC radio today – there was no other speaker to counter her arguments; an exchange of views came later in the programme. She explained that her engagement with the cause had been prompted by the lonely death of an aunt who had a terminal illness; she went on to describe the unpleasant conditions that could not be dealt with by palliative care. But then the interviewer, Martha Kearney, went on to ask about the problem that old people might be made to feel a burden. Baroness M said that

Can doctors be ‘neutral’ on assisted dying?

The British Medical Association (BMA) has dropped its opposition to assisted dying after a landmark vote. In doing so, it marks a journey from professional principle onto the ethical fence. This is not the first time the BMA has declared itself neutral on the termination of post-natal human life. In 2005, the organisation voted to switch from opposition to neutrality on physician-assisted suicide but that position was overturned the following year amid charges that the policy shift had been achieved through an ‘extraordinary manoeuvre’ and ‘procedural tactics’. A decade later, in 2016, the body again rejected adoption of a neutral stance following a consultation with 500 association members and the

The burden of guilt: The Living Sea of Waking Dreams, by Richard Flanagan, reviewed

Thanks to the Booker Prize, Richard Flanagan is probably the only Tasmanian novelist British readers are likely to have heard of. His reworking of the life of the Australian hero ‘Weary’ Dunlop, a doctor who became a prisoner of war on the notorious Burma Death Railway, in The Narrow Road to the Deep North was a winner of a traditional kind of literary storyteller that has recently become extinct. It seems appropriate that his eighth novel, The Living Sea of Waking Dreams, is also about extinction, both personal and environmental. Tasmania is burning, and as its cornucopia of flora and fauna is wiped out, three children gather to decide whether

Euthanasia sitcom: What Are You Going Through, by Sigrid Nunez, reviewed

What Are You Going Through is both brilliant and mercifully brief. Weighing in at 200-odd pages, it can be read in five hours flat and will leave you staring into endless night. ‘Make the audience suffer as much as possible,’ advised Alfred Hitchcock, and Sigrid Nunez, whose subject is emotional extremity, follows suit. The suffering begins at the start when the narrator, a woman of a certain age whose name we never learn, goes to a talk by a writer, whose name we also never learn. His lecture, given in a polished, emotionless voice, is about the death of the planet: It was over, he said. It was too late,

Letters | 25 April 2019

Not an island Sir: I and those with whom I live and work are all within coughing distance of Sam Leith’s ‘threshold of death’ and we need no reminders that your body is your own, because we wish to God it wasn’t (‘Last rights’, 20 April). But as it is, we owe it to that body to see the process through. My ‘going hence’ is not a private matter. I am not an island but a piece of the continent and that connection is the key to the human genius of social literacy. We demented dodderers are an eighth age, a new demographic, practically a new species, and we bring with

Last rights | 17 April 2019

Four years ago, the Assisted Dying Bill was overwhelmingly defeated in parliament. The euthanasia debate hasn’t disappeared, however. One recent poll showed that 90 per cent of the UK’s population now support assisted dying for the terminally ill. So is a relaxation of the law inevitable? Would it represent progress? Or is it very dangerous? Our literary editor Sam Leith joined our associate editor Douglas Murray to discuss.   Sam: I find myself, possibly in accordance with my position as one of The Spectator’s hand-wringing liberals, in favour of assisted dying but I want to be clear on the narrowness of that position. The Assisted Dying Bill would not have

Points of view | 28 February 2019

Is it me or are we now faced (or perhaps I should say fazed?) much more often by stories in the news that test our moral and ethical principles to the limit, forcing us to question ourselves and what we think to such an extent that it becomes impossible to be sure of what is right? I can never understand the high-minded righteousness and full-blown convictions of the panellists on Radio 4’s Moral Maze, who each week are given a topical issue and who then spend 45 minutes tossing it about, testing the pros and cons and questioning a group of often baffled witnesses who are invited on to the

Get me out of here

‘If your time ain’t come, not even a doctor can kill you’ — so goes the proverb that best echoes the dilemma of an ageing humankind as we glimpse the harrowing vista of decrepitude to come: a panorama that first takes in the custard-stained wingback chairs of a soul-extinguishing care home, then yaws off nauseatingly to a vision of the demented and the drooling as they hobble into that good night. How can you swerve incarceration and indignity when you just won’t die — and, more pertinently, when no one is allowed to kill you? How to be the auteur of your own death when ‘self-euthanasia’ proves so tricky you

A dementia tax would be a euthanasia bonus

Had Theresa May not on Monday summarily abandoned her manifesto threat to raid the savings of those who end up senile in care homes, I had planned to defend the idea here in terms that might have added to her woes.  I’ll do so regardless. The so-called dementia tax would, over time, have become a euthanasia bonus. And that would be a good thing. As I argued on this page two weeks ago, morality is the father of religion, and not the other way around. Secular morality can be largely explained by social Darwinism. For a society to prosper it requires an ethical framework that boosts, rather than encumbers, the

The cryonics game

Cults, the desert, natural disasters. Artists, bankers, terrorists. Cash machines, food packaging, secret installations. Mediaspeak and scientific jargon. Crowds and capital. Language and death. Just as it used to be possible to play Ballard Bingo with the work of the late 20th century’s other great literary monomaniac, so Don DeLillo’s themes have remained astonishingly consistent in the 45 years since Americana, his first novel, appeared. The unswerving focus has a lot to do with why, like Ballard, he has so often been charged with prophecy: in cryptic gallows comedies such as White Noise and The Names, with their sinister wonder-drugs and murderous language cults, or the spacey and frigid Mao

Born again

Six years ago, on Good Friday, the journalist Melanie Reid was thrown off her horse while on a cross-country ride in Stirlingshire where she lives. The accident broke her neck and back and left her tetraplegic, paralysed from the armpits downwards. On Easter Sunday on Radio 3 she’s Michael Berkeley’s guest on Private Passions, a timely guest, as he says, because she has recently written in her Sunday Times column about being ‘surprised by a small epiphany of happiness’, of experiencing a ‘rebirth’, if ‘rather cruel’. ‘You find joy in little things …I see all the things that I never saw in my busy life,’ she says, which coming from

Touching the void | 18 February 2016

Scholarly filmgoers may recall a movement that sprouted from Danish soil called Dogme 95. It worked to a Spartan set of rules and regs. In Dogme titles there could be no lighting and no soundtrack, no locations pretending to be other locations. Hell, there were probably no Portaloos on set and actors fixed their own herring smørrebrød. The director, in an ultimate gesture of klaxonning self-effacement, took no credit. Except that everyone knew Thomas Vinterburg shot Festen and Lars von Trier made The Idiots. The spirit of cinema’s Mennonites lives on in Chronic, a pitiless, hatchet-faced film set somewhere sunlit in the grassy American suburbs. It is written and shot