Sunday, October 19, 2003

John Humphrys Speaks

Well - the world and his wife seem to be abusing John Humphreys today, so I'll just add my two-penn'orth, shall I ?

On Sunday Britain's greatest thinker since Simon Jenkins pronounced on the Church of England brouhaha.

"When Rowan Williams was given the job he captured the imagination of the nation."

Wrong. He captured the imagination of Guardian and Indie readers and BBC researchers. Middle class liberals if you like. I didn't hear many people at work discussing his appointment. My brickie made no remark, nor did the plumber or electricians.

"People who normally showed no interest in church affairs perked up and took notice".

Same people, John.

"Here was a man who would drag the ailing church into the 21st century and revitalise it, make it relevant to the lives of ordinary people, imbue it with a passion it had lost over the years."

Here was a man who looked as if he agreed with us. Sod ordinary people. They read the Mail and the Sun.

"There was just one small problem. The evangelicals did not trust him. He was a liberal in a church where the conservative wing has been steadily growing in strength. He was the enemy. They declared war on him. That was less than a year ago."

Wrong way round, John. The Church's (admittedly idiotic) position was that uphill gardening was unacceptable in a pastor, though allowable for laity. By appointing Bishop Elton John, Rowan Williams started 'the war'.

I guess the thing that makes me particularly cross is that, by his own admission, he doesn't give a monkey's about the Church. It simply offends him deeply that any large UK organisation isn't signed up to the liberal agenda.

Mr Humphrys devotes the rest of his article to a crack at the Pope for his outrageous suggestion that chastity and fidelity may help prevent Aids. Such an attitude 'verges on the wicked'. John isn't heavily into youth culture, so I don't think that's a compliment. But Mr Humphrys is heavily involved in a campaign that will kill more people in the UK than any number of Papal pronouncements - the campaign for doctors to be allowed to kill elderly or terminally ill patients.

Last year Mr Humphrys senior died, after a long and painful illness. During this time he frequently expressed the wish to die - hence the campaign. No one who has seen a loved one in pain can doubt his sincerity. But as he himself writes

"The oncologist who treated my late wife (wonderfully) wrote of “the two opposing perilous interventions between which we need to steer”. On one side, he said, is “the inappropriate intervention to wrongly sustain life as it approaches its natural end”. On the other are the “increasingly strident calls to intervene to actively end life . . . that would increasingly put at risk many of the most vulnerable in our society”. "

It is this second strand of thought which is so dangerous and against which (among others) the Pope has spoken so strongly so often. No-one wants 'inappropriate intervention' - though one man's inappropriate ntervention is another man's life-saving intervention. This isn't what Humphrys wants, though. He wants "a competent adult who is suffering unbearably as a result of a terminal or a serious, incurable and progressive illness to have "the freedom to ask a doctor to bring their suffering to an end by assisting them to die at a time of their choosing”. In other words, it would allow a doctor to kill us. "

No thanks. To quote H.P. Lovecraft, "that way lies madness and the void". Estate-hungry relatives, budget-conscious hospitals or those with a desperate shortage of beds, a Dr. Harold Shipman clone. After all, we routinely kill unborn infants who may have a disability.

And if it really gets to you, as I accept it might - you can put the responsibility where it should be - and do something yourself, like Mrs Morel's loving children in "Sons and Lovers".

I re-read this tonight, a year after my brave mother's death from cancer. First time I've read it since she died. Brings it all back.

"She had morphia every night, and her heart got fitful. Annie slept beside her. Paul would go in in the early morning, when his sister got up. His mother was wasted and almost ashen in the morning with the morphia. Darker and darker grew her eyes, all pupil, with the torture. In the mornings the weariness and ache were too much to bear. Yet she could not--would not--weep, or even complain much.

"You slept a bit later this morning, little one," he would say to her.

"Did I?" she answered, with fretful weariness.

"Yes; it's nearly eight o'clock."

He stood looking out of the window. The whole country was bleak and pallid under the snow. Then he felt her pulse. There was a strong stroke and a weak one, like a sound and its echo. That was supposed to betoken the end. She let him feel her wrist, knowing what he wanted.

Sometimes they looked in each other's eyes. Then they almost seemed to make an agreement. It was almost as if he were agreeing to die also. But she did not consent to die; she would not. Her body was wasted to a fragment of ash. Her eyes were dark and full of torture.

"Can't you give her something to put an end to it?" he asked the doctor at last.

But the doctor shook his head.

"She can't last many days now, Mr. Morel," he said.

Paul went indoors.

"I can't bear it much longer; we shall all go mad," said Annie. "

One night Annie and Paul were alone. Nurse was upstairs.

"She'll live over Christmas," said Annie. They were both full of horror. "She won't," he replied grimly. "I s'll give her morphia."

"Which?" said Annie.

"All that came from Sheffield," said Paul.

"Ay--do!" said Annie.

The next day he was painting in the bedroom. She seemed to be asleep. He stepped softly backwards and forwards at his painting. Suddenly her small voice wailed:

"Don't walk about, Paul."

He looked round. Her eyes, like dark bubbles in her face, were looking at him.

"No, my dear," he said gently. Another fibre seemed to snap in his heart.