All entries for Thursday 10 February 2005
February 10, 2005
Palaeontologists at the University of Washington have discovered that the biggest mass extinction in history was caused not by an asteroid or comet, but by intense global warming resulting from volcanic eruptions on a gigantic scale. The ‘Great Dying’, as geologists call it, wiped out 95 per cent of marine species and three-quarters of land-based species about 250 million years ago. Could a similar natural catastrophe occur in the future due to global warming caused by human activities?
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On December the first 2004, French legislators passed a bill legalising what they claim to be a "passive" form of euthanasia, with proponents stressing its differences from the practice now permitted in some other European countries. Unlike the situation in the Netherlands and Belgium where doctors aren’t criminally liable for actively ending the life of a patient, the French legislation deals mainly with acts of omission. Described as the "patient's rights" bill, provisions will empower doctors, acting at the request of patients (or a written order to be followed in case they become unconscious) and their families, to end medical treatment that is maintaining the patient’s life artificially.
Under this new law, doctors wouldn’t be penalised for administering – at the request of patients suffering from extreme pain – excessive doses of medication, even if the drugs have a secondary and subsequent effect of hastening death. The bill further seeks to limit ‘unreasonable persistency’ in treating the terminally ill. “When medical acts appear useless, disproportionate or serve no other purpose than the artificial support of life, they can be suspended or not undertaken” said Philippe Douste-Blazy, current French health Minsiter. In the rare event that the patient and the doctor disagree, "the law gives patients the option of appealing to a board made up of other doctors in order to reach a decision".
With 548 votes out of 551 in favour (3 abstentions), the draft bill successfully passed in the National Assembly at the end of last year and will go for a final vote in the Senate before April this year. The French health minister stressed to the deputies earlier that the proposed legislation would not "legalise the right to give death" as he argued that "a humane and dignified death is possible without having to fall back on euthanasia". Jean Leonetti, a centre-right deputy who headed the parliamentary commission responsible for the draft bill, admitted that the part dealing with patients refusing life-sustaining treatment was the most controversial. However, draftsmen included safeguards requiring additional medical consultation and a period of reconsideration by the patient. "The debate was timely because we have been asking ourselves questions about the technical advances of medicine" Leonetti said. "This legislation is one that allows dying but does not allow killing. That is how it is different from euthanasia," argued Leonetti, who visited Belgium and the Netherlands earlier to study their euthanasia laws and their applicability within the medical and social dimensions. It could therefore be contended that what French legislators are trying to achieve is a law that gives patients the right to die over the choice to live.
The euthanasia debate in France gained momentum in September 2003, when the mother and doctor of the 22-year old former fireman, Vincent Humbert, claimed to have “helped him die”. An accident left Vincent a quadriplegic, deaf and unable to speak. His case gained public attention after he wrote to President Jacques Chirac asking him for the right to die. The president responded that he did not have the legal right to do so and instead encouraged him to “regain the ‘taste of life’”. Some may argue that President Chirac’s request was somehow more difficult to achieve than the favour demanded. However, one must understand that these delicate situations should only be perceived subjectively as it may be an extremely difficult –yet achievable- task for a quadriplegic, deaf and mute person to regain an optimistic approach towards life.
Dr Frederic Chaussoy, Humbert's former doctor, admitted disconnecting his patient's life support after the mother Marie Humbert administered a near lethal dose of sedatives. “My true crime was to have admitted in public what many of us [doctors] commit in secret” said Dr Chaussoy, implying that the practice is not uncommon in French hospitals. And it surely is not. The French health Minister, a doctor himself, pledged “an end to the hypocrisy” as he claims that nowadays over “150 000 people are ‘disconnected’ from their machines although there is no legal framework to say how it should be done”. Dr Chaussoy has now been placed under formal investigation over his patient’s death and faces the prospect of a court trial. However, supporters of the Bill denounce his prosecution, and say that it would have been avoided under the new law. They say that the legislation would have enabled Dr Chaussoy to end artificial feeding at M Humbert’s request and give him morphine in the final days of his life.
However, ‘right-to-die’ campaigners say that the Bill does not go far enough. They want France to follow the Netherlands and Belgium, where euthanasia is partially legal, or Switzerland, where doctors can help the terminally ill to commit suicide by procuring lethal medicines for them. Humbert’s mother is among those campaigning for mercy killing to be fully legalised. She said, “Vincent did not want to go slowly, without knowing what was happening to him. He wanted to go at once, on the day he made the decision”. Régis Aubry, chairman of the French Association of Palliative Care, expressly disagrees with the concept of euthanasia as he believes that “there is a fundamental difference between respecting the wishes of someone at the end of their life and the act of helping that person to die”. This conflict of interests between different groups in society makes it extremely difficult for any legal system in a democratic state to legislate on good terms with public policy, especially when the issue is a controversial one.
But how could this law possibly be enacted without causing complications in the criminal law? Well, the French thought it through. Answer: the French penal code will not be modified. The act of ending a person’s life will thus continue to be punishable by law. However, the new law will modify the medical code of ethics and the public health code in order to institute ‘the right to die with dignity’. It is interesting to observe that in a country where 6.5% of the population live below the poverty line no measures are taken to enforce a ‘right to life with dignity’. Although not expressly admitted by legislators, this law would unarguably be of great value economically. From an economic perspective, the monetary cost of an ‘euthanized’ patient would realistically prove to cost considerably less than if the patient were to be kept on artificial life-support. To illustrate this theory, consider the fact that hospitals have limited resources available in a given period of time. It could therefore be suggested that resources that were previously used to maintain patient’s lives artificially could then be redistributed more efficiently towards other patients in greater need.
‘Assisted suicide, mercy killing, euthanasia’ is a controversial issue everywhere in the world, with on the one hand liberals promoting such rights and on the other religious groups loudly disapproving it. However, according to the IFOP, 88% of the French population appear to be in favour of the bill. In England, euthanasia is regarded as murder, a crime that can result in a life sentence, and assisted suicide is punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment. Although it is submitted that the aim of a ‘patient’s rights’ bill is to give more freedom of choice to the patient, it could be argued that there is little choice for a patient facing death. In a moment of despair, the pledge to ‘die sooner’ is actually a cry for help and hope. In my opinion, by accepting euthanasia, one is actually refusing to consider the true demand of a patient: to live!
Human beings are free, independent and autonomous creatures who should treat each other with respect and sympathy. The power of a person over another enslaves, oppresses and limits human life. It gives a psychology of power, based on a pattern of dominance and submission. “Man is born free, and he is everywhere in chains” wrote Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his On Social Contract. And most of us in the world certainly do remain enchained. Proudhon conveyed this concept in one of his most famous diatribes, that “to be governed is to be watched over, inspected, spied on, directed, legislated, regimented, closed in, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, assessed, evaluated, censored, commanded; all by creatures that have neither the right nor the wisdom, nor the virtue”. Realistically, I believe that individuals do in fact need a governing system to guide them as opposed to control them.
This psychology of power undermines the concept of freedom and destroys the values of unity and equality. Nonetheless it must be contended that some form of power must be exercised in order to guarantee certain freedoms and to enforce and secure equality between individuals. Everything in the world is being globalised – and I believe that there is no need to enumerate – except our freedom and consent. It is true that we all have the right to vote, and therefore decide which political party would suit us best in order to fulfil our demands. However, most of the mechanics that govern us today are dramatically influenced, if not regulated, controlled and commanded, by foreign institutions, foreign governments and foreign interests. We no longer have control of what is decided in our national Houses of Parliament, let alone what is discussed abroad. But then again, have we ever had our voices heard?
In January 2003 I published an article in the Neo-Politics Journal in Oxford introducing the concept of a global revolution. I argued that a global democratic revolution is the only strategy which could deliver us from the global dictatorship of vested interests. Let us not ignore that, according to the OECD, more than one-fifth of the world’s population is living on less than sixty pence a day, that there is over 250 million child labourers worldwide, that 1.2 million underage women are trafficked for prostitution each year, that more than a billion people in developing countries lack access to safe water and more than 2.4 billion lack adequate sanitation, that more than 790 million people are inadequately nourished and 1.2 billion people are counted as income poor. These unfortunate people are the result of the corruption and egocentricity that exists among the richer groups of the world. The oppressed masses clearly need to act against, or even, counter-act, the unequal system they have been submitted to. Their opinions must be taken into consideration when those at the top of the hierarchy make decisions which would, directly or otherwise, affect those at the bottom of the ‘pyramid’.
So why opt for a Democratic revolution? Democracy is, as George Monbiot describes it, “the least-worst system available”. In other words, democracy is more consensual than any other political system because it is the only system which in theory at least, consistently provides us with opportunities for dissent. It enables us to express our disapproval of policies and values that offend us, to vote against them, and overthrow them without bloodshed. Marxist regimes are viciously intolerant of dissenters; anarchist systems appear to offer great scope for dissent within a community, as well as the opportunity to leave that community and join another one, but because they do not protect us from persecution, the only means of eradicating the violence of others is through greater violence of our own. If we happen to possess the less effective weapons or belong to the smaller community, that dissent will be useless. The dictatorship of vested interests offers opportunities for dissent only to those who represent the vested interests: the elite.
However, true democracy is unattainable unless it is brokered by institutions mandated by the people and made accountable to them, whose primary purpose is to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak and prevent people of all stations from resolving their differences by means of violence. Unsurprisingly, the powerful enjoy immunity, while the law treats the powerless ever more harshly, as can be observed in today’s ‘democracies’ (or shall I say ‘modern dictatorships’). L.A Freeman, in one of his earlier publications, criticised the law as being “ a spider web, as it will catch, it is true, the weak and the poor; but it will be torn apart from the rich and powerful”.
It has been suggested earlier in this article that individuals must be subject to some form of guidance by a separate body. Thus it could be argued that by exercising some sort of ‘guidance’, the ‘guide’ would indeed be exercising some form of power, which would lead us back to the whole argument of issues caused by the use of power over others. However, in his book The Age of Consent Monbiot argues that power is as intrinsic to human society as greed or fear and reaches the conclusion that “a world without power is a world without people”. Using Monbiot’s ideology, the question is not how to get rid of power but how the weak first reclaim that power and then hold it to account. Answer: a World Parliament. Forget the biased Security Council of the United Nations. Forget the equivocal purposes of both the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Forget the unfair World Trade Organisation. Forget about a rich elite leading the world with the aim of enriching themselves even more, while the poor becoming poorer.
There exist one or several such ‘world’ parliaments already with the UN General Assembly and other fora where membership is universal or nearly universal, such as the UN Economic and Social Council. These 'parliaments' have no legislative powers, however, and it could be argued that it is unlikely that we will see the establishment of a parliament with such powers because states guard their sovereign powers (law-making and others) jealously and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. However, a truly democratic World Parliament would consider policies and decisions from a global humanitarian perspective. By adopting such an attitude, the World Parliament would be able to legislate in the name of those who are nowadays ‘ignored’ by the Law. If the ultimate purpose of the Law is to deliver justice, the existence of a world parliament would deliver a global justice to the whole world. Many theorists have already drafted models of global political, economic and social institutions that could replace the current world system with a novus mundus ordinatio. The only problem for such a system lies in the complexity of its implementation. And complexity undermines legitimacy. It is highly likely that proposals for such a government would be disapproved by many nations in the world, not only because of their lack of political will, but because of other factors such as religion, culture and tradition. It could also be argued that such a system could face difficulties in both the application of policies and in any subsequent accountability issues. Should certain policies be adaptable in accordance to different regions in the world? Who should be responsible for drafting such laws? Where are the safeguards of the system, or as Plato eloquently put it, ‘who guards the guards?’
It is inevitable that many people will criticise what I’ve written and discredit what I believe in. I realise that my message will be received with a certain discomfort by many who read this, who will be inclined to suspect that some hidden sophistry must underlie a demonstration that leads to so many radical conclusions. However, the very act of expressing new ideas and theories activates the mechanics that will eventually permit changes to take place. An illusory veil reflecting the principles of freedom, justice and goodness is masking the world we live in today. Unfortunately, behind this veil is an obscure and egotistical regime of people who are continuously oppressing, controlling and abusing members of their own kind. The concept of a global democratic revolution would uncover this ‘illusory veil’ and enable people to universally contribute for the betterment of world development and global justice. It would allow the ‘weak’ to reclaim the power that they have been refused for many centuries. It would enable the debt that Western nations owe to ‘developing nations’ to be reconsidered and even alleviated. Let us not ignore that between the periods of 1503 and 1660, 185 thousand kilos of gold and 16 million kilos of silver were shipped from Latin America to Europe. The Native American leader Guaicaipuro Cuautemoc argued that his people should see this transfer not as a war crime, but as “the first of several friendly loans, granted by America for Europe’s development”. Were they to charge compound interest on this loan, levied at the modest rate of 10 per cent, Europe would owe the indigenous people of Latin America a stack of gold and silver which would exceed the weight of the planet. Unfair perhaps? Curiously, many of the western nations speak of ‘third world debts’ as if they didn’t owe a single penny.
Amongst the various scopes of many ideologies, I stand by the ‘radical’ views of a global democratic revolution. As Monbiot points out, “we have responded to the Age of Coercion with an Age of Dissent. This is the beginning, not the end, of our battle. It is time to invoke the Age of Consent.”