Phyllis Bowman describes the trials and tribulations of a life dedicated to life
I MUST BEGIN by thanking Father Gardom and the Cost of Conscience Committee for inviting me to give this year’s John Keble Lecture. It is a great honour and a great pleasure. I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Fr Alan Rabjohns, the National Chairman of Cost of Conscience. I had the great privilege and honour of serving under him for over twenty years when he was National Chairman of SPUC. During that time on four occasions I was charged under the Representation of the People Act for producing leaflets giving candidates voting records and intentions on abortion and euthanasia at the time of a general election. I was fined twice but on the final occasion I made up my mind I would go to prison rather than pay another fine. Father Rabjohns agreed – and I knew quite clearly that the one person who would willingly go to prison with me was him. There was never any doubt of that. Although I was determined, having such an ally always gave me added strength. As it was we took the case to the European Court of Human Rights and won. Thus it has become a basic civil right in Britain to publish candidates’ voting records or intentions on any given subject at the time of a general election.
I have been involved in the pro-life movement since 1966 – that is thirty-three years. At the beginning – when I was involved in helping to found and launch the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children – I can only describe myself as the “original trendy”. I thought I knew it all – I was against capital punishment (which is still the case); I thought that free contraception for everyone was the answer to everything – from hiccups to varicose veins, if you understand what I mean; I was living with a man to whom I was not married and thought that the right to do what I liked with my own body was a cause supreme.
I believed in so-called “equal rights” for homosexuals and whereas to-day I would vehemently oppose any attempt to prosecute or pillory the practising homosexual through our legal system – or, indeed, otherwise – neither do I believe that homosexuality should be presented as an alternative life-style with “gay couples” entitled to the same rights as man and wife. All of us have seen how this has been used to help undermine the traditional family (husband, wife and offspring), with children becoming more and more exposed to all manner of dangers in present-day society, including being abandoned by one parent and sometimes both.
However, I was “saved by the bell” as they say. I had come to believe passionately in the right to life and through involvement in the fight against abortion, I came to understand the absolute logic of traditional Judaeo-Christian teaching. It was like an Old-Testament experience: as my mind was opened to one truth, so I came to recognise another. I always feel that Abraham is the classic example: once he recognised the omnipotence of the one true God so the understanding of the Hebrews through Moses and the prophets grew wider and wider. Indeed, Our Lord could only have been born to the people of Israel; only they would have understood the reason for the incarnation.
However, albeit that the sanctity of human life, has been a basic tenet of orthodox Judaeo-Christian belief – “the most absolute value in human history”, as Cardinal John Henry Newman termed it – Christianity was not its cradle. Indeed, the origin of the term sanctity was not religious; it means separateness – an individual quite separate or apart from the rest of nature. This became obvious to philosophers and thinkers hundreds of years before Christ in that they recognised that only man could think, could assess, could plan … and could plan for good or for evil. Man was unique and the civilisations of China, India, Greece, Israel and elsewhere bore witness to this.
It was certainly in this climate that the Hippocratic Oath was drawn up four centuries before Christ and although we in the West persistently quote the Hippocratic Oath, the briefest examination shows precisely the same ethic with regard to respect for human life from conception onwards in all other great cultures. The necessity to respect and defend each and every human life stems not so much from one religion or tradition or another as from the sum of human experience…”the universal experience of life itself”.
One of the major dangers of the Abortion Act 1967 is not that it denied respect for human life. Indeed, those who promoted it referred constantly to the sacredness of human life. What they did was far more subtle. They insisted on the sanctity of human life – but narrowed its meaning. First making implantation of the embryo in the womb, or the twelfth week of pregnancy the point at which meaningful human life was present. Then, opting for 24 weeks and now up to birth – and beyond, explaining this further erosion by using the definition: “meaningful human life”.
In other words, rather than the right to life being a basic human right which should not be denied to any innocent party, the right became the property of society and society could change it at will. They opted for gradualism.
In doing so, they first had to degrade the language – using what Professor George Grant described as the language of deception in his book Philosophy in a Mass Age. They leant and still lean heavily on the concepts of Nietzche (the philosophies of whom were fundamental to the Nazis) and who was among the first to embrace as a political tool the idea of “man as a biological accident, the result of pure chance”.
However, if we accept that man is no more than an accident – not made for eternity or justice – why endow him with rights at all any more than we endow with rights other accidents of nature or the evolution. This is especially so in cases where man is non-productive, disabled, dying or unwanted.. Indeed, if we as a society consider that man is an accident we should also consider that perhaps the ethos of Professor Peter Singer of Monash University, Australia, is consistent, even logical: he declares that an intelligent pig is of more worth than a mentally handicapped child or a disabled child – although I have to add that pigs – intelligent or otherwise refrain from treating their own in the way in which Professor Singer would treat his fellow man in the case of disability or of “unwantedness” (another of his criteria).
Now although a majority of people are appalled by Singer – they nonetheless do little against the present-day attitude towards the rights of unborn children which reflects his ethos. We have to make them recognise that Our Lord in his wisdom warned: “By their deeds (or by their fruits) shall ye know them.” It is not enough for people to declare that they do not accept a certain philosophy if they accept its “fruits”:
To-day Darwinism is being used as a tool to justify political ends and we see the whole medical establishment, including doctors who declare themselves to be Christians or Orthodox Jews, or Muslims, going along with a programme of violence against the weak and the vulnerable. And what is happening to the unborn is undoubtedly an act of violence, albeit that the language used has been sanitised.
In his Nobel Prize lecture, Solzhenitsyn also referred to the abuse of language by those perpetrating violence. He said that all forms of violence were inextricably bound up with the necessity of deception. “There is something about violence” he said, “that does violence to truth itself”.
So we see abortion referred to constantly as “TOP” – termination of pregnancy…or better still “the interruption of pregnancy” – as though it could start again after the interruption. We see the term psychiatric disturbance used persistently to justify abortion virtually on demand and for social convenience.
When I became involved in the fight against abortion, I was not a practising Christian – and the last thing I ever dreamed of was the idea that I would become a worshipper of any kind. But, in 1967 I discovered CS Lewis and among other of his books I was much struck by “Mere Christianity” in which he said that he first began to consider the concept of God when he recognised that mankind persistently reached out for reasons of goodness. He came to believe that there was a force for good as well as a force for evil. However, significantly, bad men never said they were bad. They always claimed to be following certain ideas for good. In other words – however, weak we may be – the will to reach out to good was basically predominant in man.
We see the manner in which people seek to present evil as a good repeatedly in dealing with pro-life issues. Those who accept the abortion philosophy will justify it on the most extreme grounds, often telling quite bare-faced lies. Totally untenable figures regarding back-street abortions before the Abortion Act came into being are frequently used: if the figures claimed were true, it is important for us to realise that back-street abortions would have been far safer for the mothers (not, of course, for the babies) than having abortions in the finest hospital facilities because maternal death rates following abortion were so low. They also claim that they only want abortion to avoid battered children as though dismembering an unborn infant limb from limb was a kindness. However, everywhere in the world where abortion has been liberalised, there has been a significant increase in the numbers of children being taken in to care, and children who become the victims of battering.
Looking around at our society to-day, nobody could possibly consider that easy abortion has increased respect for the rights of the born child. This is not surprising.
Aberdeen City and County – to which I will refer later – was the first region in which social abortion was carried out owing to the policies of a group of determined gynaecologists there who opened up their abortion practices, clandestinely, in the late thirties and early forties. When in the 1966 – 1967 debates, they openly declared what they were doing, they claimed among other things that they were overcoming unwanted children.
As a journalist who had written mainly on social welfare and medicine, I doubted this. Although I was most certainly not a Christian in the true sense of the word, I could think of no example in history where good had emerged from evil. I contacted the social services in Aberdeen to learn that the County had the highest rate of children in care of any country district in Scotland and that the City had the second highest rate of any town in Scotland, considerably higher even than Glasgow. This was despite the fact that it had no slum problems, good employment rates, and little industrialisation of the kind which brings social difficulties (it was before the development of North Sea Gas). Subsequently I went to Aberdeen to investigate further and – without exception – one social worker and child care officer after another told me that there was no evidence whatsoever to support the idea that either contraception or abortion in any way overcame child tragedies. I will always remember the Chief Child Care Officer for Aberdeen County telling me: “bluntly, you cannot tell your society in one breath that the child in the womb is of no account, basically has no rights – and then expect society as a group to respect and love the child when it is born. Life does not work like that.”
In this we have to remember that whereas humans in groups – or collectively – may not always consciously think logically, they act logically. And, they act according to the mores and tenets of their society, usually as laid down in law. This can be seen by the manner in which people throw up their hands in horror at Singer’s ethos, yet accept the fruits of what he says.
Furthermore, it is this kind of mass conformation – mass acceptance – which has led to the shallow concept of man as a naked ape. But, man is different: there have always been those willing to think things through and to stand out for what they believe – even in such terrifying conditions as those which existed under the Nazi Regime. But the Nazi regime rose to power because as Edmund Burke told us “evil only thrives when good men sit back and do nothing.”
Very much the same thing is happening today in all manner of developments. In the case of the right to life, the churches, by and large, have not only done far too little – in the main they have not even quoted the evidence – such as that on back-street abortion and on the so-called benefits of “planned” children – to show that the claims made by pro-abortionists are nonsensical
God’s love is absolutely….completely logical. If we break his laws we can be sure that good will not result.
Very little has also been heard from the churches about the peculiar forms of deception used by politicians. We are told by parliamentarians who claim to be against abortion “personally” – that they accept abortion on demand because they cannot impose their morals on others. If that is the case, they should not be in politics. The whole of criminal law is based on imposing our morals on others. In addition, very little has been heard from Churches challenging those politicians who claim that abortion on demand is not available in this country. (Such deliberate smoke-screens used by politicians, incidentally, give the reason why we developed the policy of publishing their voting records or voting intentions: as I said earlier “By their deeds shall ye know them.”)
Coupled with the abuse of language is what pro-life doctors and other speakers have referred to as “gradualism”. Persistently in 1966 and 1967 the pro-abortion lobby had “courageous” doctors make pronouncements to the press stating that they were already carrying out abortions in the “hard case”: on women worn out by childbearing… women raped by their husbands… girls of twelve or women having reached menopause… women who were on the verge of suicide. The whole of this propaganda was used to promote the concept that “courageous doctors were already doing it….and, therefore, it should be legal.” Yet, in the vast majority of cases these doctors were making enormous sums of money from their work, and simply wanted to be re-assured that they could not be prosecuted. At the press conference which I organised to launch SPUC in January 1967, I can remember Professor James Scott warning that the abortion law before Parliament was little more than a licence to print money for the shady end of the medical profession.
Nonetheless, the pro-abortion publicity machine would one minute beat the drum telling us about the martyrdom of doctors – while in the next breath it would bemoan the martyrdom of women.
And here abuse of the language was used persistently. Anybody referring to the unborn baby was accused variously of being unscientific in referring to a foetus as a child…of using women as incubators…of being emotional…backward-looking… reactionary…and putting the clock back. Here again, I would quote CS Lewis who in response to one such statement pointed out that if your clock is wrong you put it right.
But change – any change was – and indeed is – lauded as “progress”.
Very briefly now I would like to go through the history of the manner in which the Abortion Act 1967 became law. It was originally presented to Parliament as A Bill for the Medical Termination of Pregnancy – and it was not until it was actually passed into law that it was given the title: The Abortion Act 1967. Moreover, in the long title it was (and is) described as a Bill to clarify the law on abortion.
In other words from the beginning the pro-abortionists set out to confuse the issue by claiming that doctors were not clear as to their situation in law. Pro-abortionists are at present using exactly the same tactic in trying to have the law liberalised in Northern Ireland, claiming that it is unclear: doctors and lawyers – so they say – are unable to define the situation clearly.
In fact, the NI law is based on the Offences Against The Person Act 1861 which defines abortion as a criminal act unless carried out to safeguard the life of the mother.
Even in England and Wales to-day this remains the fundamental law governing abortion. The Abortion Act 1967 simply decrees the circumstances in which doctors carrying out abortions may not be prosecuted. Nonetheless, it is still an illegal act – although the pro-abortion lobby hope to remove abortion as a crime from the Statute book by deleting it from the Offences Against The Person Act. In this, sometimes pro-lifers can be more dangerous than the pro-abortionists. I have been amazed to hear some say that removing it from the Offences Against the Persons Act would make no difference as the present law undoubtedly allows abortion on demand. While this is true, it completely overlooks the fact that an increasing number of younger doctors show themselves to be opposed to abortion and refuse to become involved in the procedure. Thus we have representatives of the medical profession who may well use their influence to make women re-consider their decision.
Once abortion is removed from criminal law, however, what would be the situation of a pro-life doctor; to say nothing of the fact that any hope of their helping women to think again would be totally undermined. In addition, there is the fact that the chances of tightening the law would be almost obliterated. (It is tough enough now to fight to tighten a law which is very obviously being abused – let alone being placed in the position of having to re-write the law completely.)
But, to return to the beginning: the situation under the Offences Against the Person Act became confused through medical practice which was opened up by the Bourne Judgement in 1938. Very briefly, Alec Bourne was a gynaecologist who had a fifteen year old girl brought to him who had become pregnant when gang-raped by a group of guardsmen in St James Park, London. The girl was certainly in trauma and Bourne genuinely thought that the girl could go insane. Police arrived at the hospital where he was caring for her – so he rushed her into the operating theatre, carried out the abortion and then gave himself up. He was sent for trial and finally acquitted on the grounds that the girl could have gone insane (so it was claimed), and might have committed suicide. Thus the judgment gave a new meaning to safeguarding the life of the mother – with the judge actually justifying his pro-Bourne summing up by referring to safeguarding the “quality” of the girl’s life.
Alec Bourne, however, was horrified by the results of his trial and the manner in which it opened up easy abortion – with doctors using so-called psychiatric grounds – despite the fact that the judgement related to a very extreme specific case. Indeed, Alec Bourne became a founding member of The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children and appeared at our first press conference, warning that any statute law based on his case could lead to the “biggest holocaust in history”. He stated categorically that the law needed tightening. It certainly did not need to be further liberalised.
Nonetheless, despite his warnings, the so-called martyrdom of doctors risking their professional status – risking criminal charges – to help distraught women was used relentlessly in Parliament and was basic to the success of the pro-abortion lobby.
Another tactic used involved a media campaign on the policy of the Aberdeen gynaecologists. In addition to promoting the fantasy of Aberdeen as a kind of paradise resulting from a liberal abortion policy, the doctors protected themselves by claiming that they had been able to do this because of a clause in Scottish law which allowed them to go to the local procurator fiscal with details of a woman’s circumstances and thus obtain legal sanction for what they were doing.
Nobody at the time thought of questioning this. I most certainly did not….until twenty-five years later, in 1992 when the BMA produced a report in which they said that increasingly doctors were defining what assisted foods and fluids could be withdrawn. It was no different – they asserted – from taking a patient off an artificial respirator. This, of course, was a totally false analogy. The correct analogy with artificial respiration would be some kind of mechanical device to digest food if the stomach had packed up. With patients – such as Tony Bland, his digestive system worked; he simply could not feed himself. As a result he depended on others to get the food inside him.
Most people did not recognise the insidious nature of this particular shift in attitude and the fact that the BMA now suggested that food and fluid could be defined as treatment which could be withdrawn was later well used in the Bland case.
In strengthening their assertions the BMA claimed that in Scotland doctors were in a position whereby they could take a case to the procurator fiscal and obtain a legal sanction to withdraw tubal food so that a patient would die. A BMA spokesperson told Doctor magazine in October 1992 that in Scotland “the prosecution service sees no difficulty in allowing withdrawal of nutrition with the family’s agreement”.
This rang bells. It was identical to the story which played such a great part in promoting the abortion law in 1967. According to this there was a difference in practice between Scotland and England, whereby North of the Border women could obtain social abortions on the agreement of the procurator fiscal whereas South of the Border these were counted as illegal. It was a key strategy which had been used to make the whole situation appear utterly illogical.
As a result I telephoned the Director of SPUC in Scotland to ask him to verify the situation regarding the withdrawal of assisted food and fluid with the Scottish Law Advocate, the Solicitor General, and any other appropriate law officers. In fact, he wrote several times but no clear answer was obtained until the Scottish Solicitor General (at the time, Mr Thomas Dawson QC), addressed the 1992 UK Forum on Health, Care, Ethics and Law. He said there had been a public misconception that the procurator fiscal could give an assurance that the withdrawal of life support facilities in a particular case would not lead to prosecution: “It is not appropriate for the Crown Office or procurators-fiscal to give any such assurance or to respond to any request for such an assurance, or to offer advice in any individual case” he said adding “the involvement of fiscals in such decisions is incompatible with the duty to investigate deaths and to determine what action, if any, needs to be taken in the public interest.”
In other words, the BMA claims were totally untrue.
Nonetheless, as I have indicated earlier, the BMA was quoted by the judges in the Bland case when they followed the line that assisted food and fluid formed treatment and could be withdrawn. So Tony Bland’s death was brought about by starvation and dehydration. This was recognised by at least one of the judges involved in the case – Lord Mustill who stated: “What is being said in this case is that he (Tony Bland) should be starved based on an assessment of his quality of life.”
Just as we have seen abuse of language to obscure what abortion involves, so we see similar deceitful language in the case of euthanasia. Persistently we see BMA documents which refer to “artificial feeding” to allow patients to die. There is no such thing as “artificial feeding” (tubal feeding has been a common practice for over 100 years). Another euphemism used frequently is that of doctors being enabled “to allow patients to die”. If anybody here starved a child, a mother in law, or anybody else to death, English law would not accept a plea that they had simply “allowed him or her to die”. Surely, a different criteria should not be accepted for doctors who above all are supposed to be carers!
Just as the Abortion Act was introduced to an unsuspecting British public as The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill, so we see similar language used in Bills to introduce euthanasia – such as Lord Alport’s Termination of Medical Treatment Bill which he sought to introduce in 1993 (the same year as the Bland judgement).
Here again, we must be clear: the Bland judgement was for the euthanasia lobby the equivalent of the Bourne Case. It has enabled them to claim that the law is not clear – there is a grey area. Some years ago it was agreed at a world convention of euthanasia societies that their best way forward was by first having the withdrawal of food and fluid legalised in cases of profoundly disabled patients who were not dying.
This would be their first step forward: they recognised that death by starvation and dehydration is particularly cruel and insisted that nurses and doctors would revolt with the result that death by the needle would be demanded as less traumatic and painful.
They had a problem, however, with the Bland judgement. It applied only to PVS patients and each case had to be bought before the courts. Thus, their next thrust was to try to have the Bland judgement enshrined in Statute law and they fought for a parliamentary Committee to consider the issue.
The end result was the establishment of the House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics which originally did not include one pro-life peer on the grounds that those opposed to euthanasia “had closed minds”. However, Lord Rees Mogg and others created such an uproar about this that, in the end, Lord Rawlinson and Lord McColl (a Catholic and an evangelical) were included. Their main success appears to have been that they persuaded their colleagues to examine the evidence – as did the pro-life groups. The Committee was compelled to visit hospices and saw that patients did not have to die in agony or die by asphyxiation in the case of Motor neurone disease. They also visited Holland and saw for themselves that although only voluntary euthanasia is purported to be carried out, a high proportion of those killed by doctors have never asked for or even mentioned euthanasia.
They recognised the dangers of opening the flood gates by enshrining the Bland judgement in statute law; they made a unanimous decision against legal euthanasia and they opposed making advanced directives – or “living wills” – legally binding. In fact, the euthanasia lobby achieved nothing through the Report which was published in 1994.
However, we have to recognise that the main danger to the disabled, the old and the dying comes from the medical profession itself, from the BMA.
Sadly we have to face the fact that a clique within the BMA has formulated policy with the result that during the last seven or eight years the drive for euthanasia has been largely spearheaded by them.
After the publication of the Report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics, the BMA with the Law Society set up a joint committee to consider the legal standing of advance directives. This produced a report in 1995 – which was extremely carefully worded – but which claimed that under Common Law advance directives were already legally binding. They organised a number of day forums when it was declared that according to Common Law doctors acting against the wishes of patients made in advance (including statements made in conversation) could be charged with assault. One BMA spokesperson actually made the outrageous assertion to the press that a declaration made in response to a programme on television could be regarded as an advance directive which had legal force.
The Report was hotly challenged in Parliament as well as by doctors and lawyers. The BMA – which if nothing else is sensitive to public opinion – seemed to lie low for a couple of years.
However, at about the same time (in 1995) The Law Commission produced a Report on Mental Incapacity which virtually ignored the House of Lords Select Committee Report – although a number of references were made as though the two documents were similar. The Law Commission recommended legislation making advance directives legally binding; They called for the Bland Judgement to be enshrined in law; and for continuing powers of attorney which would allow for decisions on withdrawal of treatment including food and fluid. These principles were incorporated into a draft Bill which would undoubtedly have introduced euthanasia through the back door.
However the BMA, of course, promoted the recommendations of the Law Commission, at the same time as paying lip service to the House of Lords Select Committee.
Their next open move came at the 1997 Annual delegates conference where a motion declaring that “This meeting recognises that there is a wide spectrum of views about the issues of physician assisted suicide and euthanasia and strongly opposes any changes in the law” had the words added “for the time being”. The original Motion had been put to counter the Law Commission Report and Bill – but believe it or not, an amendment from the floor to delete “for the time being” was overturned.
Since then, the BMA has wasted no time. In 1998 they published a consultation document, Withholding and Withdrawing Treatment (including food and fluid). They sought responses but as these have never been published we cannot say to what extent they were taken into account when the BMA published their Guidelines on Withholding and Withdrawing Life-Prolonging Medical Treatment this year. It is a frightening document and was condemned by almost all the national newspapers responding to its publication.
In calling for the withdrawal of food and fluid from a wide range of patients on the agreement of one doctor I am sure we can expect more test cases along the lines of those we have already seen with the BMA Guidelines being quoted as evidence of existing medical practice. In my view this is what the BMA clearly intends.
And this is not all: In 1998 the BMA Annual Conference accepted a proposal from Junior Doctors (supported from the platform) that a special conference should be organised on Physician Assisted Suicide. One year later – at this year’s conference – they announced that in preparation for the Conference they have opened a Website on the subject inviting the public to respond. However, those responding are not allowed to say whether or not they agree with Physician Assisted Suicide: they are allowed only to make contributions. I leave you to consider the implications of such Alice-In-Wonderland gobble-de-gook. However, the Website details for those interested in sending submissions is http://web.bma.org.uk/public/bmapas.nsf. As you will see the Website states that the material must be ready for the Conference which is to take place in May 2000 so submissions would have to be sent well before then.
Just as in the abortion battle, there are clergy who have played a role in promoting euthanasia. One fairly typical example I would like to give is of a Church of England priest, the Rev Brian Anderson, 62, a former Chaplain at Parkhurst prison who claimed to have been present at 20 mercy killings in a story in The Sunday Times (28.12.’97). The facts however were very obscure and (for all that he obviously sought to promote himself as someone brave enough to “speak out”) would hardly have cost the police five minutes examination. “Doctors will tell me that someone is only going to last 20 minutes or an hour…” he said.
However, my eldest sister died in a hospice where the doctors and nurses realised three or four hours ahead that she would not survive the day – and although her actual death was unexpected when it came, we were all called so that we could be with her. But, she most certainly was not a victim of euthanasia.
Another incident in my family related to a great uncle who was rather too fond of his booze. After one particularly hefty binge, the doctor told his daughter to call the family as he would not last the night. They duly sped from all parts of the country – only to have him live for a further ten years, still enjoying his booze! It so happened, we all enjoyed him as well!
One of the most enlightening papers I have ever read on the dangers of gradualism in the medical profession was written by Leo Alexander MD, an American Jew, and published in the New England Journal of Medicine in July 1949.
He had been chief consultant psychiatrist at the Nuremberg trials. And, even in those early years after the war he noticed the same subtle changes in the American and European medical professions which those studying the horrifying tragedy of the history of the Nazi holocaust had noted there.
In his paper he wrote:
“Whatever the proportions these crimes finally assumed, it became evident to all who investigated them that they had started from small beginnings. The beginnings at first were merely a subtle shift in emphasis in the basic attitude of the physicians. It started with the acceptance of the attitude basic in the euthanasia movement, that there is such a thing as a life unworthy to be lived. This attitude in its early stages concerned itself with the severely and chronically sick. Gradually the sphere of those to be included in this category was enlarged to encompass the socially unproductive, the ideologically unwanted, the racially unwanted and finally all non-Germans. But it is important to realise that the infinitely small wedged-in lever from which this entire trend of mind received its impetus was the attitude toward the non-rehabilitable sick.”
He continues: “It is, therefore, this subtle shift in emphasis of the physicians’ attitude that one must thoroughly investigate. It is a recent significant trend in medicine, including psychiatry to regard prevention as more important than cure.”
Historically, Hippocratic medicine had always been concerned primarily with the care of the sick – but Leo Alexander warned that during this century these subtle changes have resulted in doctors regarding the incurable more and more as futile – until we are faced with the frightening scenario of Lord Justice Hoffmann, in the Bland Appeal Court Judgement, saying: “there is no question of his life being worth living or not worth living because the stark reality is that Anthony is not living a life at all.”
In his paper Leo Alexander wrote: “There is no doubt that in Germany itself the first and most effective step of propaganda within the medical profession was the propaganda barrage against the useless (and) incurably sick…”
This ultimately came to mean that the doctor’s prime duty was to concentrate his efforts on – I quote – “the mere rehabilitation of the sick for useful labour…..”
It is rather sad that at the time of the Bland judgement, amongst religious leaders, only the Chief Rabbi’s Office had the vision to make a really forthright hard-hitting statement. This declared: “Obviously the removal of nutritious substances which are maintaining life is murder and the patient will die as a direct consequence of not receiving nutrition. The moment you get into the equation of life and say that some lives are of better quality than others, and therefore more entitled to life than others, then you begin to descend into judgements of who is more worthy of life than others.”
And we have witnessed precisely that attitude developing in the BMA since Bland. But, there is an enormous amount which each of us can do, particularly priests and pastors.
At present there is a growing tendency in medicine and in the law to undermine respect for life using arguments of “autonomy”: a woman’s right to choose an abortion; a patient’s right to choose death.
However, the House of Lords Select Committee on Medical Ethics and the US Supreme Court both made it absolutely clear that “autonomy” may never over-ride the common good and place in danger the vulnerable and the weak who cannot speak for themselves.
“The noblest motive” stated politician and writer Sir Richard Steele in 1744 “is the public good.” This must be our criterion.
Phyllis Bowman was the founder and for many years the National Director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children. This lecture was a John Keble Lecture of the Cost of Conscience delivered in October 1999.