Wednesday, 26 August 2015

So, What's Wrong With Euthanasia Anyway?


My favourite private student of all time was a consultant pathologist who decided, in his ample spare time, to learn to speak French. He was already quite fluent when he came to me for lessons, so I was mostly helping him hone his debating skills in French.

He was great fun to talk to, because he was as opinionated as I was, but happy to actually listen to what I said. He also had this scientific mindset, which meant he would generally bring up himself the objections he could see to his own arguments, but he didn't like my philosophical ones.

Why do I mention him, I hear you ask?

As part of the course he was doing, he had to practise debating about a chosen controversial topic, and he had chosen euthanasia.

Something that is unfortunately getting into the news here in the UK, as the "Assisted Dying Bill" is going to be voted on soon. This bill will allow (or require? as usual this is left nice and vague) doctors to inject or give a lethal dose of medicine to terminally ill patients.

So, what's the deal with that? Why is it a problem?

Andrew (my student) brought up a number of objections to the bill (although he kind of supported it) himself.

  • He mentioned the evidence mounting up in the Netherlands and Belgium, showing that (unsurprisingly) people were being bullied into euthanasia by family, that doctors were over-stepping the mark, etc.

  • He admitted that hospices and palliative care were actually excellent systems, under-funded, but with a very clear and positive impact on end-of-life quality.

  • He mentioned that the main reason people chose euthanasia in those countries was the fear of being a "burden" to their families, with its dangerous overtones of the aforementioned bullying, but also of our failing as a society to make the terminally ill feel valued (as an aside, making euthanasia legal is only going to make that feeling worse).

In short, he didn't so much advocate euthanasia as oppose "acharnement thérapeutique" (it's a great French expression to describe a relentless and invasive string of procedures the terminally ill patient undergoes for very little benefit, just because no-one likes to just give up on treatment and focus on care). And as far as that, I could agree with him.

That sometimes the best choice is to stop treating a patient, and focus on pain-relief instead, is something I have first-hand experience of. Andrew would also have added, with his love of numbers, that "acharnement thérapeutique" does not statistically prolong the patient's life, good palliative care does.

Where we parted ways however, is exactly where this new bill stands. He was in favour of doctors actually giving a lethal dose to patients, but that is where I drew the line.

DNAR and palliative pathways are not active. They are simply acts of acceptance. Death will come for all of us, and sometimes the best course is to accept that, and relinquish control. 
Even unplugging someone from life-support can be relatively passive. It's a stopping of treatment, not the active administration of something that is going to kill the patient.
Even when doctors prescribe doses of pain-killers that are tethering on the threshold of dangerous, they are accepting a risk for a benefit, and that is what most medical interventions are.

What I oppose with all I am, is asking doctors to actively kill their patients. The objections I mentioned above are true and valid, but the one that carries most weight with me, is that you cannot demand that someone kill someone else in cold blood.

My dad is an anesthetist, my husband is a medical student. They do not deserve to be made to kill. 

I remember my dad telling me about the first time he unplugged a patient, and how terrifying it actually was, how he could not shake the feeling that the patient, in his deep coma, could tell what he was doing. If stopping treatment could have this effect, then what would actively killing do to doctors?
Killing someone, actively ending someone's life with an injection or a pill, is not an act without consequences. We are bargaining with doctors' souls when these are priceless. 

I know some doctors will agree to doing it. I don't think that is a good reason to let them. I often actively choose to do what will be harmful to me. 

Ask any smoker you disapprove of.

And I am sure the bill will come with some clause, allowing doctors not to kill if they don't want to. Just like they did with the Pill OB/GYNs and GPs weren't supposed to be forced to prescribe. We all know how well THAT went.

As a society, we should oppose the bill for the sake of the patients.

As a member of a family of medics, I object to it for the sake of the people I love. 

Also, as an immigrant, I cannot vote. Please, citizens of the UK, step up!

Update: I keep saying "doctors" because they are the ones who would have to do it according to the bill, but all this is true of all human beings.

Monday, 24 August 2015

So You Want to Join the Backward Bigots? This is What It's Like (In France).

Hello, Internet! I'm back!

Yes, I left. 

Well, then pretend you did notice.

We were on holidays where no internet was to be had, hence the quiet around here. But I had lots of ideas percolating in my brain in the meantime. 

One of which was about being (trying to be) a faithful Catholic in this day and age, and especially how it compares to what I read about America on my favourite blogs.

Being a Christian in Europe is generally an extremely counter-cultural thing to do. It's not like America, politicians don't even pay lip-service to some vague deity. Being a Christian is an embarrassment as far as they are concerned.

So I figured I'd explain how it feels from the insider view, both in France and in England, and the challenges we face.


So, what is it like, being a Catholic in France? (In my limited experience, I did after all, live in England when I reverted).

Often, it is lonely. It's hard to find people who agree with your views, or are willing to consider them valid thoughts.

Catholics are sheep because they don't follow the majority opinion. It all makes sense now.

In France, Catholicism is still (just) the default religion for most people. There are a few Protestants, a few Jews, a growing number of Muslims, but culturally, it is a Catholic country (in name at least). Basically, if you are One of Them Bigots, people assume you are probably a Catholic bigot.

This means that you are not afforded the protection of a religious minority. Even though, really, you are. (If you are trying to follow some of the most controversial teachings of the Church, on marriage and contraception in particular, whilst believing in the Real Presence, you are a teeny tiny itsy bisty minute minoritette - that's smaller than a minority - basically, there are about three of you. On a good day. But I digress.) So, because you are perceived as a not-minority, you are fair game, in the way that Jews or Muslims are not (of course these groups also face discrimination, but it is more likely to be on a racist than a religious basis. I know, pick your poison.). 

What I mean is that it's ok for people who consider themselves broad-minded (they have a Muslim friend) and liberal (they have a gay friend), who hold for tolerance and freedom and sunsets, to hate you. 

Because Catholicism is perceived as a majority religion, people already KNOW it is a backward, women-hating, gay-hating, AIDS-propagating organisation of Evil. After all, they grew up with a Church in the background, celebrating Christmas and having chocolate eggs for Easter, they know all there is to know about Christianity. So they can dismiss you, and happily wait for you to recognise the errors of your ways, without ever actually listening to what you have to say. They will also be extremely violent in their rejection of you, since it is "allowed".

See? Catholics are preventing children from learning to read!

You also get to be marginalized by most other Catholics as an "Extrémiste". 

There is still a large number of people who will be in the above situation, already KNOWING that the Church is wrong, but still coming to church some Sundays (although their numbers are dwindling), still being involved in the running of the parish, whilst openly saying that they are against its teachings. I am not saying it's altogether a bad thing that such people are staying (I may not flout the Church's teaching on marriage and contraception, but I do it in other ways, every day - yes, there is a difference, because I am not asking the Church to change its teaching to accommodate my selfishness/laziness/fallen-ness, but the point stands) yet it remains true that you are going to be marginalized even in church, unless you go with the flow on divorce, gay marriage, women priesthood etc.

It's fun.

On the other hand, the still Catholic-in-Name-ness of the country means you can get beautiful services and beautiful churches (in the parish where I grew up, the newest church was from the fifteenth century). And some of the major Holy Days are also holidays. So that's nice. And you won't have to go too far afield to find a church where they won't hold hands during the Our Father, and you won't stand out too much (pun intended) when kneeling down for consecration. (Apparently Vatican II did away with all the pomp and ceremony. So I am told.)

Also, the "Tradis" (holding for a 2000 year old Tradition instead of the fashionable opinions du jour) have been discriminated and bullied on and off for two hundred years, so they are pretty well-organised. The Benedict option is alive and well in France, you just have to go find the hotspots (Versailles is generally a good bet, a lot of the Catholic resistance was organised and led by the put-upon nobility during the Revolution, so some of the largest communities of Tradis are where there were lots of old families congregated). 

Apart from such hotspots, there are some communities scattered about, generally gathering around a more orthodox priest. Typically, people will know which one is the "Tradi" parish, and avoid or join accordingly.

These groups are heavily stereotyped as royalists, wanting to return to nobility-run Ancien Régime, and refusing to welcome in anyone who does not agree with all the terms. I have no idea how true this is (I suspect not very) as I never stay long enough in France these days to actually get to know new people.

There are other groups of course, this is only the "Versaillais" stereotype, but they are harder to spot (you have to start talking to people you don't know, and other terrifying activities, to find them out). There are also some seemingly irreconcilable divisions between Extraordinary Rite/ Novum Ordo groups, which is a real shame, as we are already a minoritette. 

Outside of the churches, France is an aggressively secular society (has been for a 150 years, one day I'll explain the history behind it, it's fascinating) - yes, with catholic holidays, because everybody agrees to more holidays - , and its laws don't allow for much religious freedom. 

This is one of the many newspapers entirely devoted to hating the Church which were about in the late 19th/ early 20th century in France. 

Many people have heard of the fact that in French public schools, it is forbidden to advertise your religious views, even by the way you dress. The idea is that everybody should agree to fit into the mold, and your conscience is your own private business.

There is no such thing as a conscience clause allowing you not to prescribe the Pill because it goes against your principles. 

 - On the other hand, people in France are much less likely to sue you over these matters, because they generally don't sue as easily as in America or England. So at least there's that. -

But good luck trying to get anyone interested in the conundrum you are facing! No-one cares much about the freedom of the employer, or the opinion of the tax-payer. 

As far as a large portion of the public opinion is concerned, employers are part of this Evil Group of Evil, so their rights are not a popular thing to uphold (one of the most often-used chant in demonstrations - the national sport - roughly translates to "just take the money from the bosses" -"l'argent, il y en a / dans les caisses du patronat"). 

No God, no master, no boss, no husband. An interesting, albeit complicated, lifestyle choice. (Via)

The fact that the free healthcare system is paid for by the taxes of people who may object to its practices has never been debated by anyone in my experience.

Education is also accepted as a State prerogative, and although homeschooling is legal, people are largely hostile to the idea of SAHMs which would enable it. People never question the fact that you are going to send your children to school or that the State should be in charge of its curriculum. 

More love from the French press for Catholic schools.

On a more positive note, it is considered extremely bad form for a teacher to share anything vaguely resembling political or religious ideas in a public school, and they typically don't do it, and avoid the difficult topics, like sex-education (as far as most teachers are concerned, it's not their job).

There is talk of introducing compulsory sex-education, but I am not sure how hotly debated it is, or if people will agree to it, or if teachers would do it, even if the law said so. In my experience, you learn about the reproductive systems as part of your biology classes around the age of 12-13 and that's it.

A more recent one to advertise the petition demanding that Catholic schools lose public subsidies unless they teach gender theory.

The private school system in France is slightly peculiar, as the best schools are typically state-run (it's a geography roulette) but even Catholic schools have to toe the line to a very large extent. 

So, where does that leave you, member of the Backward Bigots Fraternity?

If you want to raise your children with a good understanding of the Church's teachings, you are going to have to do it yourself. The media will be against you, your children's schoolmates will be ignorant-to-hostile, your own parish will likely try to undo your work because the catechesis they offer is a dire blend of love-rainbow-butterflies, let's-skip-that-difficult-bit-here and you-don't-REALLY-have-to-do-it.

So, your options are:

Either to take refuge in one of the Tradis hotspots where other parents will be reinforcing what you are trying to teach and the parishes are likely to be run by these same people. You will be cut out from the world to a certain extent, but you won't be alone.

Or try to take on the whole world on your own and start gathering a community around you to help you do it. It is hard, but probably do-able, provided you know enough people with similar views, are sociable (I'm not) and can take a few differences of opinion (I'm working on it).

But, if you are a French Tradi, you probably already grew up in this environment and your family is supporting you. I am yet to meet another French revert from Lukewarm Pick-and-Choosism. (Hi! Want to be friends?)

Feel free to disagree in the comments if you have a different experience.

Tune in next time for the English experience!

Sunday, 16 August 2015

A Few Thoughts on the Migrant Crisis

So, in the past few months, more of the migrants fleeing the Middle East have managed to reach Europe, and, predictably, although still sadly, the European reaction to the crisis has been a shameful rejection, mixed with a shifting of responsibilities between countries. 
Facebook is awash with grumpy commentators, scared by the newspapers, angrily rejecting their fellow human beings, scared of the squalor these people live in, whilst comfortably sipping tea in their own armchairs.

Yes, it does make me angry.

Does it show?

I know a tiny bit of what it feels like to move to a foreign country on your own, albeit a country not too far away, and with the option of going home still wide open and easy to reach. And yet it was still terrifying. I can't imagine what it would be like, if you couldn't go back, if you had no resources and your own embassy could be your worse enemy.

Although I obviously only see the British reactions, what I have seen on Facebook is rude and painful. Painful to me, as a migrant myself, painful to us as a nation, painful to us as a part of humanity. And this is compounded by the British selfish attitude to its own difficulties, when it is bearing a much lighter load than many other European countries, without mentioning the crises faced by Turkey or Egypt. 

Britain is being the teenage girl on the hiking expedition, carrying the lightest bag and complaining the loudest (yes I can relate, that was me, but at least I knew it was wrong).

There are some common misconceptions that crop up again and again. Immigrants don't do a comparative study of social security systems, before comfortably making their way to the most promising country, where they can get the most money for the least amount of work. These are desperate people, who have fled in a hurry, who find shelters overrun by their peers and carry onward, following a vague rumour, or the promise that So-and-So's cousin lives in England, and in all his letters home, trying to justify abandoning his entire life to move to a foreign country, he was always saying how the streets are paved with gold, how people bow to him when he goes anywhere and how the Good Life is there. 

Most of the time, they will try to reach a country where they know someone, anyone. Because that is less scary than knowing no-one. This has always been the case. Why do you think there are such things as Chinatowns in most major cities? Why do you think all the Irish immigrants went to Hell's Kitchen? They knew someone there. 

No-one goes country-shopping.

And yes, these people are desperate. And yes, they do not stay in France, Mr Facebook commentator, not because they are not desperate but because they are hopeful. France is struggling? Maybe the next country will be better. Or the one after that. And they drag on their own misery, from port to train station, from rapacious human traffickers to unyielding policemen.

So, Mr Facebook commentator, before you complain about immigrants coming to your country, stealing your tax-money, maybe you should ask yourself Figaro's question in the Marriage of Figaro (the play, not the opera, the opera is all fun, whilst the play is all political manifesto): What have you done for all the goods you have? For your social security, stable country and freedom of expression? You gave yourself the trouble of being born, and that is all.

And yes, we should be involved in this crisis from far away, we should be concerned.

No man is an island,  entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were;  any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

John Donne.

Friday, 7 August 2015

7 Grumpy Mad-Libs

 I may have mentioned once or twice that I have very little patience with the dismissal of the wisdom of earlier times on the sole ground that it was formulated earlier.

Ok, maybe more than twice.

Maybe this entire blog is about that.



I stumbled upon one of G.K. Chesterton incredible jewels of foresightedness the other day, demonstrating once more his genius for analysing and pin-pointing exactly WHICH changes in society were going to have the most lasting and dreadful impact. And then I wondered whether others would be able to see what I saw, even if they buy the idea that our time is the best, most liberal of times, and our thinking the best thinking.

The thing is, I think they wouldn't consider it relevant purely because of my favourite Gilbert's (sorry house-plant, but no, you don't compare) choice of examples . 

Gilbert the peace-lily.

Better Gilbert.

So, to help with that, I have decided to mad-lib some of the most revealing quotes I know. I apologise for really lacking the talent necessary to appropriately replace the masterfully chosen words of the people I am mad-libbing, but it was fun to do.


Let's start with this, a speech rejoicing at a reform of the welfare state:

"No lazy benefit thief could lounge up to the job centres and demand his week's allowance and council house in proportion to the children he had left at home. No teenage mum could parade in designer clothes on the money she received for the keep of her children from three different fathers." 

Here is the original, and the context in which it was uttered, just in case any Tory or pub-stool philosopher felt like stealing the line for their next rant against benefit frauds:

"No lazy pauper could lounge up to the poor houses and demand his week's allowance and loaves of bread in proportion to the children he had left at home. No dissolute woman could flaunt in insolvent finery on the money she received for the keep of her illegitimate children." 

Discourse in the House of Commons on the 1834 Act instituting the workhouses.

Because blaming poverty on the poor and forcing them into workhouses was such a brilliant plan for society. 


Here is another one every person thinking of joining academia should bear in mind before swallowing whole the bias/inter-textual gimmick as the only approach to analysing ideas :

"Just as one generation could prevent the very existence of the next generation by all entering a monastery or jumping into the sea, so deconstructivists can in some degree prevent further thinking by teaching the next generation that there is no such thing as human thought." 

And here is the original I haven't really improved:

"Just as one generation could prevent the very existence of the next generation by all entering a monastery or jumping into the sea, so one set of thinkers can in some degree prevent further thinking by teaching the next generation that there is no validity in any human thought." 

Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Now for a selection from one of the most thought-provoking essay ever written:


"We make men without principles and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and demand the castrated be fruitful."


"A great many of those who 'debunk' traditional or (as they would say) 'backward' values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process. They claim to be cutting away the parasitic growth of bias, religious prejudice and societal constructs, in order that 'real' or 'basic' value may emerge."

And yet, such destruction of values and principles has unintended consequences...


"The rebellion of pseudo-liberalism against old-fashioned morality  is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could succeed they would find that they have destroyed themselves."

Those last two quotes are really meant to go together, because moral relativists always implicitly draw the line of relativity somewhere, but will find they have destroyed the only way to protect such a line from being crossed by denying the existence of a line to others.

Here are all three quotes, as their author (rightfully) intended them:

"We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful."

"A great many of those who 'debunk' traditional or (as they would say) 'sentimental' values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process. They claim to be cutting away the parasitic growth of emotion, religious sanction and inherited taboos , in order that 'real' or 'basic' value may emerge."

"The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could succeed they would find that they have destroyed themselves."

C.S Lewis The Abolition of Man


And here is the Chesterton quote that gave me the idea in the first place:

"If there is one thing worse than the modern weakening of major morals, it is the modern strengthening of minor morals. Thus it is considered more withering to accuse a man of bigotry than murder. Healthy living is not a religion nowadays, for healthy living is made essential and religion is regarded as an offence. A TV series can attack religious freedom so long as it does not joke about gender, and I have known liberal progressives who thought it wrong to smoke but right to encourage euthanasia."

And its original version:

"If there is one thing worse than the modern weakening of major morals, it is the modern strengthening of minor morals. Thus it is considered more withering to accuse a man of bad tastes than bad ethics. Cleanliness is not next to godliness nowadays, for cleanliness is made essential and godliness is regarded as an offence. A playwright can attack the institution of marriage so long as he does not misrepresent the manners of society, and I have known Ibsenist pessimists who thought it wrong to take beer but right to take prussic acid."

Chesterton On Lying In Bed

So there you go. Wisdom from the olden days, updated. 


Now I completely agree with you that this exercise is as much of a murdering of beautiful prose as the countless "Bibles in text-speak" or "Slang Bibles" which are supposed to update timeless wisdom and beauty and make them somehow appealing to the demographics they try to ape. But maybe someone, somewhere will be tempted by this to listen a little more closely to what these people had to say, in which case it would be worth it.

Now I am going to go and be grumpy in that  corner over there.

Go to Kelly for less grumpiness.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Lost in Translation: The North

When you travel on British motorways, you encounter strange signs, informing you that you are travelling to "The North" or "The South". Because they are places, regardless of which cardinal point you are following.

Photo: Alamy

So, yes, you could be heading south from Scotland, and still, technically be going to The North.

Now, I am aware most places have a north (this is a Doctor Who quote, what can I say, it's that kind of a blog), and in France we've even called one department "Nord" (it was a low-inspiration day in revolutionary France - unlike when they named the Côte-d'Or department which boasts exactly no coasts [yes, "Côte" can also mean hill, I am fully aware I am being disingenuous {I think this parenthesis thing has just got out of hand}]-).

BUT! I have a point!

The North v. South opposition is serious business around here. Parisians do make fun of Northerners, but they also make fun of Southerners, and the rest of France unites in despising the Parisians. Whereas in England, you are faced with two camps who refuse to speak to each other (they even use code to confuse the opponent, just ask a Southerner where the cob-shop is).

The funny thing is, beyond accents and vocabulary, I am yet to understand what are the actual differences between Northerners and Southerners. England is only small, and they are the same region by French standards (and decidedly neighbours by Amercian ones). And yet, and yet. For some reason, you mustn't confuse the two. I offer no explanation for this, I only know that, apparently, it matters dreadfully.

The other tricky thing is to try and pin-point where the North starts. The further south you go, the further the imaginary border follows you down, whereas the further north you go, the more you reduce the officially "northern" area behind you.

Nope, makes no sense to me either.

Plus it leaves the poor Midlands stranded, rejected by both North and South whilst trying to identify with both. 

Bless your heart, Birmingham. At least the Midlands have the Peak District (although I wouldn't be surprised if the Northerners suddenly decided to grow more tolerant and include Derbyshire in their reckoning just to steal that one from you as well). 

And don't come telling me it's grimmer in the North to explain all of this, South, face it, the English weather is grim everywhere. Just be civil to each other and share your umbrellas. (You see, when I do the test to find out how northern I am, they put me somewhere beyond Jersey, where the map doesn't go).

Monday, 3 August 2015

Thoughts on the Ashes

If you are in any way not British or Commonwealthish, you may have come to this post thinking this was going to be a deep philosophical reflection on the transient nature of thoughts or anything equally high-brow.

If you are British or Commonwealthish, you already know, right?

I'm totally talking about cricket. 


So, we've been going a little Ashes-crazy over here (talk about emotional roller-coasters! - Or don't, this is cricket after all). 

For non-cricket people around here, the Ashes are the name given to any Test (i.e: 5-day long) series between England and Australia. They have 5 Test matches to play in this series, and so far, England won one, lost the following one, and than won again. Two more 5-day matches to go!

Believe me, it's very exciting.

I promise.

The name "the Ashes", according to wikipedia, comes from a journalist writing a fake obituary declaring that English cricket died and that its ashes shall be buried in Australia, the first time Australia won on English soil. (As an aside, if you type "ashes cricket" in England, Google simply takes you to the scores, whereas in France, it takes you to burnt bugs, or the wikipedia page).

Yup, yup, they totally do the arcane traditions on purpose.

Apparently it contains the ashes of a cricket bail, for authenticity (via)

It is actually the smallest, most ridiculous trophy ever (it's only six inches tall). Go here if you want to see it in scale.

So anyway, as long as the Ashes are going on, this is what Sunday mornings look like at our house:

And we've been teaching a few basics to Patapon.

No, no, no, Jude, that's not the sign for four, that's the sign for six!

(No, no one seems to have told cricket fans that there already was a universally accepted sign for 4, or that it was a lot more self-explanatory than waving horizontally.)

What he's been really good at, though, is declaring people out.

That's it. Bus Driver, you're out!

Phone-Guy, you're out!

And the Lady Friend, out!

You too, lamp-post, you're out!

Mmh, I wonder... LBW?

Just one more thing, if you are planning on becoming an internationally acclaimed cricketer, try not to have a "oo" in your name. It sounds like people are booing you when they shout your name, Patapon finds it upsetting (looking at you Joe Root).