We live in a society that vaunts a particular kind of healthy, well dressed, youthful-looking person. A look that cannot stomach perceived flaws (even though the definition of ‘being flawed’ is highly subjective). In printed and social media, we elevate culture’s present position on what constitutes the perfect male and female body shape.
This image of the pristine female or male has its assumed cultural opposite – those who are older, infirm and who manifest many ‘physical flaws’ by comparison. Building on this is the subtle concern of those in the broadcast media, who keep pointing out Britain’s ageing population, the ever-growing ticking timebomb of society. There is a perceived anxiety that this massive demographic is going to get larger in number, not smaller. But there is no way that this swathe of society can be forgotten because their number is too great. Yet, it seems sometimes that that is what society would rather do.
I heard a story the other day of an elderly lady going to a West of Scotland hospital to get a cataract operation. On arriving she discovered it was cancelled. What she understood from the discussion was that those of considerable age are not high enough up the pecking order to be any sort of priority and so her slot was bumped. This poor lady must go on with very little eyesight function at all with no resolution to speak of.
But what are we saying when our professionals make these medical calls? That our older members of society are not worthy of keeping their place in the queue for medical aid? Are we saying that they are less of a priority than anyone else by virtue of the years they have left or by their capacity for bodily function? Are we saying that they are less entitled to keep their number in the queue than younger and fitter people?
Even more sinister is a fresh push in Scotland for a change in our laws to allow for doctors to assist someone to die in certain circumstances. Don’t misunderstand me, there are some terrible degenerative diseases out there and many of our loved ones suffer or have suffered them. These conditions are downright miserable and there is no questioning that. Yet again, our MSPs may have to vote on whether we can legally end someone’s life in a premature manner as a ‘mercy killing’. Previously our MSPs have batted such cases out of the park and rightly so. To be a caring and compassionate Scotland we needed to reject such a move.
But only a good society knows that such a move is a dark one to make on behalf of its fellow citizens. Only a good society understands that its valour is tested by how well we care for our aged, the ones who have been there before us. Indeed, a society can only be good when we argue persuasively against the mistaken idea that we are the sum of our memories. Such a belief suggests that when we remember nothing, we are somehow no longer a person. Rather, we need to grasp the idea that our value is based on God’s memory of us, not our memory of God.
Speaking of striving to protect our fellow human citizens, Scottish society seems intent on another direction in passing laws (despite a legal appeal) that allow women to end a pregnancy at home without the wisdom of physicians for their safety.
A recent study in Sweden found that home administration of abortion pills was a driving factor in doubling the complication rate of early medical abortions.
In all these discussions there is another human being that never gets mentioned – the one being formed within, let alone any fathers. Will the unborn even be given the chance to experience life, with all its joys and adventures?
It is anticipated by some that our age of ‘progressive politics’ that endorses radical autonomy and unrestrained individualism undermines the connectedness of the three human beings involved in a pregnancy. They also predict that there will be a pendulum swing towards community once again. We need a true retrieval of the common weal that universally values the interdependency of all humans at the beginning and end of life. I look forward to that day.
Dr Stuart Weir is director of CARE for Scotland.