Nick Robinson 6th January 2009.
Nick Robinson’s disparaging gibe at the blogging world yesterday exposed the chasm which lies between ‘us’ and ‘them’.
We define a story as something we are passionately interested in; it could be a rumour, held up to public examination; a lacuna in the logic of some Government press release; a snippet of information that we reel out to our fellow bloggers to see if anyone knows more; a growing ground swell of informed comment picked up in the few remaining Pubs; a collaborative fisking of leaked information; it is really no different from the conversation you could hear morning, noon and night in the ‘Pen and Ink’ when Fleet Street was a hive of activity.
They define a story as something which has been sieved by the lawyers, shredded by the sub-editors, word count artificially forced to fit round the advertisements, or into the sound bite, bled white by the ‘diversity editors’ and run past the ever helpful Downing Street press office. It emerges as a bland, safe, non-controversial non-event, and that is assuming that the original germ of an idea wasn’t too complicated for the non-specialist journalist to contemplate in the first place – and ditched in favour of a press release on the precise length of Amy Winehouse’s new hair extensions.
Bloggers wear their stories straight from the washing line; the BBC starch, primp and press theirs and emerge looking as ridiculous as any middle aged man with razor sharp creases ironed into his jeans.
Some 40 years ago I was given advice by an insurance actuary, a dear friend of mine. He had looked at the post war baby boom, looked at the declining birth rate post-birth pill, and predicted the 1990s as the age of the ‘terrified Granny’.
He gave me some sound advice as to how to conduct my life, and it didn’t include paying some young scoundrel to drive around the City of London in a Ferrari paid for by my ‘pension plan’. He was completely accurate, the age of the terrified Granny is with us. It is a story ignored by the main stream media, with a couple of half hearted, half witted, exceptions. I make no apology for returning to it time and time again, there are still some dolts out there who didn’t listen first time round.
Sit quietly children, we will go through this very carefully.
In the beginning, it was a capital offence for anyone to take your life – apart from the State. They called it Justice. For anybody else it was called Murder.
Doctors, who are the most likely people statistically to be hanging around in the vicinity looking shifty if you prematurely pop your clogs, were immune to investigation as to whether your demise was justice or murder. They simply filled in a form saying ‘natural causes’ and the law didn’t intervene. During this period, the general view was that the doctor knows best and even judges should not question the doctor’s opinions. Judges were not at liberty to question the validity or appropriateness of the treatment followed. In other words, the negligence of a medical practice should be determined by fellow medical practitioners, not judges.
The Bolitho case caused a sharp intake of breath in the corridors of the GMC. The effect of the ruling was that a judge could, under specific circumstances, pierce through the medical opinions and determine the reasoning of such opinions. The Doctors were no longer a complete law unto themselves. They might have to answer for their actions, particularly if you had unaccountably died in their care.
The principle of double effect helps doctors to distinguish between aiming to end life, which is never justified, and merely aiming to give or withhold treatment, while foreseeing that this may hasten death. Now that their actions were under increasing scrutiny, they started applying to the courts to gain ‘legal permission’ for acts of giving or witholding treatment which might result in death as an ‘unfortunate’ side effect.
As a result of a legal test case (that of Tony Bland, victim of the Hillsborough disaster), UK law does allow passive euthanasia in some cases. This means that certain people can be purposefully killed even without their consent, as was Tony Bland, whose death was brought about by dehydration and starvation following withdrawal of tube-feeding. Since the tube by which he was fed was inserted by a Doctor, this was said to constitute ‘medical treatment’ and as such permission to carry out such treatment could be withdrawn by a court on Tony’s behalf.
The Mental Capacity Act 2005 set up a facility for a government department to make the decision on your behalf as to whether you wanted medical treatment – which now included the right to food and water if artificially given to you – if you had neglected to ask someone you trusted to make that decision for you.
I said at the time that this would end up being a cost effective way of dealing with the tsunami of elderly economically unviable baby boomers heading towards the doors of the cash strapped NHS. All that was required was for them to be fed artificially, and for lack of information as to the simple procedure for appointing someone to decide on your medical treatment for you, et voila!, your friendly local civil servant could issue instructions to the Doctor not to feed you any longer….
The media, and our very own ‘public broadcasting service’ have maintained a stony silence on this subject ever since. This potential cull of the aged and infirm is a non-story as far as they are concerned. When they do mention the act, it is in glowing terms extolling the virtue of ‘your autonomy being extended’ – most people don’t have a clue that this translates as the government deciding whether to starve you to death or not.
All credit to the Guardian for even covering the story that elderly people who wish to enter a care home are being forced to undergo surgery to have an artificial feeding tube (a PEG tube) fitted if they want to go into care – but true to form, they stopped short of pointing out to their readers the legal ramification of this – that you would then be all ready and waiting for when the home grow tired of persuading you to eat luke warm tinned tomatoes on soggy toast; and perfectly lined up to come within the aegis of ‘artificial feeding’ which will allow the secretive Court of Protection to decide on your behalf that you don’t want any more ‘medical treatment’.
Dying of malnutrition – starvation – or lack of hydration – extreme thirst – is a painful and obscene manner in which to die.
Wakey-wakey folks! It costs nothing to download the papers necessary to avoid this undignified death. I can understand the inertia between voting Labour or Conservative – but why do you all persist in giving this government the right to decide when you live and when you die?
Surely you’re not waiting for the BBC to tell you any of this?