Saturday 27 November 2021

Assisted dying

I strongly support voluntary euthanasia, or assisted dying. So I was interested to hear that politicians on the island of Jersey have approved the principle of assisted dying. Details of the procedures and safeguards will now be worked up, for a draft law in 2023.

I've read so often of people with terrible terminal illnesses, illnesses that cause constant pain, destroy their quality of life, and impose a huge burden on their partners and family, wanting to die but being unable to do so. The stories are quite heart-breaking.

Those who oppose assisted dying always raise the spectre of unscrupulous relatives wanting to get rid of someone and claim their inheritance, but in other countries where it's legal I gather there's scant evidence of such behaviour.

People can be so desperate to die that they arrange it discreetly with their doctor and family, who cover it up by presenting the death as due to natural causes. Or they travel to the Dignitas centre in Switzerland, which enables assisted dying for members of the organisation.

I would hate to be suffering from some appalling terminal illness but be unable to end the misery. I would want to finish with my suffering at the earliest opportunity. I don't see anything commendable about enduring such hardship until the bitter end - which could be decades away.

I wouldn't want Jenny to have to put the rest of her life on hold in order to care for me, with all the messy and distasteful tasks that would involve. Why should she have to make such a sacrifice?

(Assisted dying may in fact be legalised in the rest of the UK. The Assisted Dying bill is currently progressing through parliament, but I've no idea when it would become law. The bill is modelled on legislation that has been in place in Oregon, USA, for 23 years, since adopted by nine other American states plus the District of Columbia, five Australian states and New Zealand)

Tuesday 23 November 2021

Gender dissenters

I hate gender roles. They put so many arbitrary limits on what you can and can't do. Women should be this and this. Men should be this and this. And if you do something that doesn't fit your allotted gender role, you can get a very frosty reception.

Which is why I really admire those people who deliberately flout their designated role and are prepared to put up with all the negative responses, however upsetting and infuriating.

Like the artist Grayson Perry, who revels in his alter ego Claire, with her flamboyant dresses and bizarre hairdos. Of course he can get away with it because he's a phenomenally successful artist, but even so.

Like Samira Ahmed, who took the BBC to an employment tribunal in a dispute over equal pay, and won.

Like the Pakistani girl Malala Yousafzai, who from the age of 11 campaigned for the right of girls to go to school.

Like Sally Ride, who in 1983 became the first American woman in space when she rode the space shuttle Challenger.

Like women who sport cropped hair, a suit and tie, and chunky footwear. They know the ignorant will assume they're lesbian or "wasting their femininity" but that doesn't put them off.

Like all the women who're determined to pursue careers traditionally reserved for men, and all the men who're happy to be house-husbands.

But these unabashed gender benders are still thin on the ground. The reality is that gender roles are very strictly enforced and you need a thick skin and a lot of bravery to ignore them.

It would be fun if I could wear a dress occasionally, but I don't think east Belfast is quite ready for such wayward behaviour. I'll have to leave it to the celebs and the unrepentant social mavericks.

Friday 19 November 2021

Worldly wise

One big thing that's changed as I get older is that my passionate youthful idealism has given way to a more realistic view of the world and the realisation that things are a lot more complicated and a lot harder to change than the teenage me naively assumed.

How difficult could it be, I thought, to end poverty or homelessness or sexism or warmongering? Surely if enough people wanted to banish these things, it could be done? Surely if enough people were sufficiently horrified and sickened by what other people were forced to endure, then things would change?

I was forever going to rallies, going to sit-ins, signing petitions, lobbying politicians, and being the stereotype frenzied activist, espousing every worthy cause and predicting a better tomorrow.

I gradually realised as I grew older and more worldly-wise that these problems were much too deeply rooted to be eradicated overnight. They were so embedded in our collective way of life, so taken-for-granted as "just one of those things" ("the poor are always with us") that it would take the most colossal effort to make even the smallest inroads into these long-standing horrors.

I could agitate to the point of exhaustion with little to show for it because so many people were content to live with these problems rather than solving them. Or even worse, they stood to gain from them. The weapons manufacturers. The loan sharks. The privileged males. The landlords charging exorbitant, unaffordable rents.

So now I desist from most political activity and let others summon up their enthusiasm and optimism on my behalf. I still sign petitions and email my MP but that's about it. I anticipate that by the time I've shuffled off my mortal coil the poor will unhappily still be with us.

Monday 15 November 2021

Sure to survive

It suddenly strikes me that one of the assumptions I make as a relatively privileged person is that I'll survive. And not just that, but survive until a ripe old age. There are millions of people around the world who can't make that assumption.

People caught in a civil war. Refugees trekking across multiple countries. Women trapped in domestic violence. People with severe mental disorders. People caught in famines. And even people living in high-rise flats that turn out to be a major fire risk.

Centuries ago very few people could assume they would survive. Health care and living conditions were so poor that people were lucky to reach their thirties. Many children died at a tender age.

Now living conditions are so improved that the average British lifespan is 81 and there are many centenarians. So I've always taken for granted that I'll survive and very little can jeopardise it.

But many people can't assume that. They have to live from day to day, not knowing if they'll still be alive by tomorrow. Not knowing if a serious health condition will take a turn for the worse. Not knowing if their spouse might attack them. Not knowing if they'll be hit by a bomb. Not knowing if they'll be overcome by suicidal urges.

I have a sense of safety and security and a bright future that many others don't have. Instead of having to concentrate first and foremost on keeping myself alive, I can take my survival as read, sit back and enjoy my comfortable lifestyle.

It's a huge privilege that it's easy to overlook.

Pic - February 2013: a woman in Aleppo, Syria, in the ruins of her house, destroyed by government warplanes, killing 11 members of her family.

Thursday 11 November 2021

Going private

Many people outside Britain still think of the NHS as the envy of the world, but it hasn't been anything of the sort for several years now. The NHS is seriously underfunded and understaffed and many of its employees are so overwhelmed and so exhausted they're thinking of quitting for less stressful jobs - or they already have.

I've always been a loyal supporter of the NHS and a critic of private medicine, which provides swift treatment if you've got the money, but leaves those who can't afford it at the mercy of a declining public health service.

I'm very conscious that with rapidly lengthening waiting times for both consultations and surgery, there might come a day when I face a choice between waiting indefinitely for the NHS to attend to me or going private and getting the sort of care that should be standard practice.

I don't mean waits of a few weeks or months. I mean years. Some people in Northern Ireland are waiting up to seven years for a medical procedure. Some are waiting over three years for pain management appointments. There were long waits before Covid, but now they're totally off the scale.

So suppose I needed a hip replacement, a knee replacement, cataract surgery or some other operation, and I was told I'd have to wait years? And suppose things would get worse in the meantime? And suppose a private clinic could treat me tomorrow? I would seriously consider going private, despite my socialist principles.

I had to wait 18 months for a routine prostate operation under the NHS. I could have gone private but it wasn't urgent and I wasn't in pain so I was prepared to put up with the long wait.

But I can see myself being forced into some agonising decisions.

Sunday 7 November 2021

Begone, damn tie

As you know, every so often I like to have a good rant about ties and how pointless they are. I've always avoided wearing them whenever possible, and luckily most of the time I've had jobs where ties weren't required.

In the late sixties I was a local newspaper reporter and I was expected to wear a suit and tie, but since then I've worn a tie so infrequently that when I did so I had to resort to youtube to remind me how to knot it.

I've never understood why wearing a tie for work is supposed to make a man more professional, more trustworthy, and more competent. Women apparently have all these qualities without the need for tie-wearing.

What's more, there are several health and safety reasons for not wearing ties. It seems that a tightly-knotted tie can not only reduce your cerebral blood flow but affect your eyes and aggravate eye problems. They're also said to spread infections in hospitals as ties aren't washed very often. Some British hospitals have banned tie-wearing by their staff altogether. Dangling ties can also get caught in machinery.

Yet I still see men walking into their offices in suits and ties, looking uncomfortable and slightly embarrassed rather than professional. A crumpled suit that probably hasn't been cleaned for a while looks rather less than professional.

There are still elderly gents who feel undressed without a tie. On the hottest days they'll still be in their tie and resist all hints that they might be more comfortable without it. My maternal grandpa was a splendid example.

The longer my tie stays in the drawer, the happier I am.

Wednesday 3 November 2021

Christmas ruin

Apparently a lot of people are getting their knickers in a twist about Christmas. They're afraid Christmas will be ruined by a possible shortage of the traditional festive items, due to Brexit, Covid, supply chain hold-ups, and other problems.

They might have trouble getting turkeys, mince pies, children's toys and Christmas trees.

Well, who says Christmas has to include all these things anyway? Christmas is just a holiday, and you can celebrate it any way you want. Will Christmas really be ruined if you can't chomp a mince pie, or guzzle some turkey?

There are plenty of tasty foods you could have instead. And plenty of alternative toys. And will the world come to an end if you have no Christmas tree?

Surely the only important thing is to be enjoying yourself, and enjoying the company of your family or friends. People who're going nuts because they can't have all the traditional trimmings are being ridiculous.

When I was young, Christmas was a much simpler affair, and not the massive consumption-frenzy it is today. I don't recall having turkey or mince pies, though I may just not remember them. We had a few token decorations like paper chains. We did have a Christmas tree. But we didn't have all the fashionable and wildly expensive children's toys that are now deemed essential or little Rebecca might throw a tantrum.

One thing we didn't have when I was a kid, but which is now a crucial part of my Christmas, is a daily tipple of white wine. If there was a severe wine shortage, then I might very well throw a serious tantrum. A cup of tea would not be a passable substitute.