It’s Christian Aid week again, with its focus on ‘helping those in poverty out of poverty‘. For more years than I care to count I’ve been involved in door-to-door collecting in my home town as well as events in the city, but this is one of the wettest and coldest CA weeks I can remember – we even had hail and snow to vary the precipitation! But the weather notwithstanding, beetling in and out of Edinburgh (with camera secreted somewhere about the person) has reminded me of what an amazing city it is.
Spectacularly silhouetted … quaintly romantic … quietly regal … monumentally incongruous … gloriously artistic … and much, much more. But it’s to this church that my thoughts go specially this week – St Andrew’s and St George’s West in George Street. The site of the biggest fundraising event for Christian Aid in the UK. This king size book sale has raised over £100,000 each year over the past five years to help the poor and underprivileged; that’s well over a million since the sale started in 1974. And on the first day alone this year it took £46,700! What a lot of books that represents.As part of this huge effort, the convenor, Lady Mary Davidson, writes to local authors inviting them to donate signed copies of their own works which are then sold in a special section. A lovely idea. She’s fiendishly hard working but still makes a point of chatting to us when we call in, and writing to us afterwards. Makes you feel special even when you’re not.
And, of course, I simply HAVE to buy a stack of books every year, even though my shelves are groaning already. Well, it’s a worthy cause. The least I can do.
Long live the book!
Well, that’s Christian Aid week over for another year. I can’t believe how quickly it comes round.
The highlight for me at a personal level is always, of course, the massive book sale in Edinburgh’s St Andrew’s and St George’s Church.
I must confess I bought more books than I donated – not good news for my already groaning bookshelves! In fact the new collection is currently just lying about in piles awaiting a home. But each time I visited the sale I found myself just standing staring at this amazing spectacle – literally thousands of books and not a Kindle in sight! For any author it has to be a brilliant affirmation of the appeal of the written word. And what reassurance to know there’s a huge crowd of folk out there hungry for more.
Customers were repeatedly dodging others in order not to miss a single gem in the rows of boxes. As the novels were snapped up volunteers quickly filled the gaps, and I overheard some of them discussing the relative merits of certain authors, clearly avid readers themselves. On one occasion I even saw a couple of venerable white-haired gentlemen on their knees under tables trawling through some ancient tomes.
The buzz spurred me on through the annual door-to-door collecting – it can be daunting at times. Particularly in times of austerity. Did the dog really eat their envelope? Does ‘the wife’ (absent today) always decide where the money goes in their household and take the envelope away with her in case hubby sneakily fills it? Have the whole family actually gone out leaving the TV blaring and the windows wide open? No, no, no! I hasten to add that most of the householders on my particular stamping ground are exemplary citizens, giving generously and with a smile.
Oh, by the way, did you hear about this year’s Live Below the Line project? An octogenarian friend of ours brought it to our attention, setting a shining example by doing it herself. It’s a challenge to the general public to live on just £1 a day for 5 days to help raise £500,000 for some of the world’s poorest people. Apparently they’ve calculated that about 1.4 billion live on less than that all the time, not just for 5 days. How could we not respond to that appeal?
Actually chez nous the challenge has proved much more enjoyable than anticipated – easy to say when we live in the luxury of UK wealth the rest of the year, I know. But to be positive – I’ve had fun experimenting with dishes that eke out the rations but still provide enough fuel to get us through busy days. And king-size pots of soup and stews mean less hours actually preparing and shopping, more hours for writing, reading, proof-checking, etc. Has to be good! In fact we’re extending this particular project beyond 5 days. I can’t imagine Christian Aid would turn down latecomers.
Because of course, poverty, oppression and hunger aren’t confined to one week in the year; even a crammed-full bright red collecting bag is a drop in a bottomless ocean. But ‘mony a mickle maks a muckle’. We can all do our little bit and I’m sure you do. I know our fellow church members come up with the most amazing initiatives to keep money coming in for worthy causes; I’m constantly impressed by their unflagging commitment. Although we haven’t tried walking on red hot coals yet as I see MND Scotland have!
OK, let’s see how far a bowl of porridge will take me today … The theory is that the brain is sharper when the body is fasting. And I could certainly do with sharper.
Phew. What a week! We might have seen history in the making but I for one will be devoutly thankful when the dust settles from this jolly old general election. And rest assured, I have absolutely no intention of extending the agony here.
But I do want to talk about one particular politician, Independent MSP Margo MacDonald. Last week, in the midst of all the election hype, I was invited to go and hear her in person talking about her proposed End of Life Choices (Scotland) Bill. Of course I leapt at the chance. It’s a subject dear to my heart, as you folks know.
On this occasion she stoutly maintained that having Parkinson’s Disease herself hasn’t influenced her in taking up this Bill, but I have to admit her personal circumstances give her a certain edge in my estimation. Anyone who campaigns so tirelessly when they’re battling personally commands my respect.
But here she was, asking for comment and questions about her proposed Bill from a largely medical audience, which included lots of psychiatrists and some palliative care specialists, both of whom have a lot riding on this. Of course, they challenged her. And why not? She wasn’t seeking any latitude because she has an illness herself. And more importantly, by her own admission, she’s asking an awful lot of doctors: viz to end the lives of human beings. Quite deliberately.
Now, if you’ve read my novel on this subject, Right to Die, you’ll know that I fully understand the dilemmas for those people who suffer horrific degenerative neurological diseases. You might detect that I have a lot of sympathy for those who want to end their lives ahead of nature’s schedule. But what you won’t know from that book, is that I personally have very mixed feelings on the subject of assisted death. Depends where I’m standing what it looks like, I guess. But because I feel honour bound to try to present the picture fairly and honestly (well, I’m not a politician), Margo’s debate with the doctors compels me to spell out a few angles thrown up in the discussion that made me think, even though some at least appear in the novel in one guise or another. (Incidentally the book predated Margo’s Bill by a couple of years.)
Here’s roughly how it went (my paraphrasing).
MMacD: This is a Bill to help a small number of people with intolerable or terminal conditions have the kind of dignified death they wish for.
Audience: Let’s call a spade a spade. It’s euthanasia.
MMacD: Ending a life is too big a responsibility for families who, in any case aren’t knowledgeable enough about medical matters; they might guff it up and not know how to correct their mistakes. Ergo, doctors should do the deed.
Audience: Doctors aren’t trained in how to kill either. They wouldn’t know how to. And given the projected small numbers* eligible for this service it’s hard to see how they could be trained, or build up expertise.
*(Based on the Oregon experience, MMacD had projected 55 per annum in Scotland.)
MMacD: Doctors already end lives because of the double effect of the drugs they use: big doses of pain relief shorten lives.
Audience: This is a myth. Research shows that when medication is carefully titrated against pain by palliative care specialists it doesn’t shorten life. It’s only when non-experts panic this happens.
MMacD: The Bill requires psychiatrists to assess the patient’s definition of ‘an intolerable life’.
Audience: Assessments like this are notoriously difficult.
MMacD: The patient drives this. It’s what they personally find intolerable that counts.
Audience: So what are the doctors assessing?
MMacD: One of the rules for this Bill is that the patient isn’t being coerced or subjected to undue influence to die.
Audience: It’s incredibly hard to decide if they are. Pressure comes in many guises.
MMacD: Whilst she has no quibble with religious or moral objections to this Bill, MMacD gets annoyed by the people who make false claims about its risk to vulnerable people. But she also said she feels guilty she’s being too conservative about who would be eligible for this service.
Audience: No, they didn’t say a word!
It’s only fair to underline a couple of points.
- MMacD was inviting challenges. And she stated that she had every intention of having medical experts present at the discussion stage.
- the Bill is at a very early phase. It could change in lots of ways before it becomes law – if it ever does.
- the doctors who spoke are not necessarily representative of all medical opinion and she is not representative of all politicians.
Do add your comments either on the blog, or to me in confidence (see my contact page), I’d love to hear from you. Especially if you can help to clarify my own thinking on some of this. What a minefield!
In the midst of all this turmoil, it’s been a tonic to involve myself in Christian Aid week. The annual Book Sale at St Andrew’s and St George’s in Edinburgh’s George Street is a fantastic example of love in action. (It raised £101,000 last year!) And the people who go out of their way to be sure their donations get to me if I miss them in my door-to-door collecting – they restore my faith in human beings. As did the church I visited the previous week, who really reach out to their local community in practical ways as an integral part of their Christian service. These are the kind of folk who get my vote. Politicians please note!