Hazel McHaffie

Claire Fox

Moral mazes

Well, I’m counting myself lucky this week that the people who came to the launch of Saving Sebastian on Tuesday were kindly folk, asking reasonable questions, and not trying to trip me up or tear holes in my arguments.

Blackwells window

Blackwell’s bookshop hosted the event this time: the right kind of bookish atmosphere; comfortable for lone people who didn’t know anyone else; lovely supportive friendly staff.  And it meant we got a big slot in one of their windows – without a photograph of me too which pleased my mightily. That very day there was a two page spread in the Edinburgh Evening News with THREE pictures of me on one page! Horrors.

the newspaper on display

Here’s Luath‘s Director, Gavin MacDougall, displaying it – with some glee too by the look of it!

me in full flight

But back to the audience and their kindliness … I couldn’t help comparing it with the ferocious questioning of witnesses on the Moral Maze the other day where the participants and witnesses were discussing organ donation. On the panel: Melanie Phillips, Michael Portillo, Claire Fox, Anne McElvoy. All brilliant. All incisive. All very challenging. Which is why they’re chosen, of course.

It was a fascinating debate and I recommend listening to it. But it was also rather unnerving. It made me realise the power of eloquence, and the dangers of clever sophistry. And why I’m not good at these kind of confrontational events myself.

My instinct would have been to be especially gentle with the first witness, Henry, a young man who’d had two kidney transplants already. The panel had no such qualms. He was clearly an ardent campaigner for donation but even his motives were called into question: ‘Are you not avoiding the obvious way to increase the number of organs, which is by the act of persuasion? By morally motivating your fellow citizens?‘ Persuading is exactly what he does do, I’d say! And I’m quite sure he’d be a terrific advocate for the cause in real life. The genuine voice of experience can be much more powerful than theoretical argument.

And even the fluent and erudite Professor of Practical Philosophy at Oxford University, Janet Radcliffe-Richards, who was not in the least intimidated by the combined power of the inquisition, was dealt a low blow after she’d gone off air, when one of the panellists accused her of being ready to kill people off who weren’t actually dead. (Although the chairman, Michael Buerk did give that wholly unfair side swipe a gentle reproach.)

It was great listening though and the questions have been haunting me ever since:

Should elective ventilation be permissible to accrue a store of organs for transplantation?

Could you justify taking the organs from someone in a persistent vegetative state?

Are the rights of potential donors who are dead or dying and the rights of potential recipients of organs morally equivalent?

The Welsh Assembly is moving towards a Bill changing the law to an opt out one – it should be in effect in 2013. Is this a good step or not?

Would you give an organ to a complete stranger just because it feels like the right thing to do?

My current book is about organ donation so these issues are close to my heart and mind right now. But other sleep-depriving matters recently in the news have been bugging me too. Things with no easy glib answers.

Should someone who eats herself to a state of gross clinical obesity (40 stone) be entitled to an expensive package of care to enable her to carry on living her self-indulgent life?

Is it ever acceptable to lie to patients to cover medical mistakes?

Should a woman who has paid to have breast implants inserted for cosmetic reasons be entitled to corrective surgery on the NHS if the implants prove faulty and endanger her life?

Should there be limits set to the age at which women have babies, given the discovery that women possess a potentially limitless supply of ovarian stem cells which can be converted into mature eggs in the laboratory?

I’m not going to be running out of subject matter any time soon! But if you come across anyone in the process of inventing a 48-hour day, do let me know.

 

 

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