31 August 2010

Ideology can lead to tyranny

My letter to the Leicester Mercury (published 30/8/10) was edited so I thought I would publish the full text here:
Dear Sir,

Michael Myers (Mailbox, August 19) disputes my assertion that “Hitler came to power helped by a deal with the Vatican” and puts the blame on other parties. While I agree he is quite correct in pointing out that others were involved, I still believe it is reasonable to say that the Vatican, through its agent Baron von Papen, was one of the parties that “helped” Hitler take power in Germany. Von Papen, a papal chamberlain, was  a leading member of the Catholic Centre Party. It was largely von Papen, who persuaded President Hindenburg to put aside his scruples and approve Hitler as Chancellor. The political manoeuvring included the negotiation of  a “Reichskonkordat”  between the Vatican and Germany, guaranteeing the rights of the Catholic Church in Germany.

As to Michael's remarks on the Lateran Accord, this certainly created the Vatican State, but in recognising the State of Italy, the Vatican also gave its tacit approval to Mussolini's fascists, the Vatican also gave its tacit approval to Mussolini's fascists, allowing him to turn Italy into a fascist state.

I think some quotes will demonstrate this. Shortly after the signing of the accord, Pope Pius, in a statement referring to Mussolini, said “In all this We have been nobly seconded by the other side. Maybe We had need of a man such as Providence has given Us to meet, a man who has not the preoccupations of the Liberal school” and “By the grace of God with much patience and much labour, nobly seconded by the other side, We have been enabled to escape per medium profundum, and to conclude a concordat which, if not the best of which We can possibly conceive, is yet amongst the very best.

Mussolini said “We have recognized the pre-eminent place the Catholic Church holds in the religious life of the Italian people, which is perfectly natural in a Catholic people such as ours, and under a regime such as is the Fascist”

My original comments related to Michael Brucciani's assertion that “The last two centuries are filled with the consequences of this moral vacuum, centuries of cruelty to individuals leading to their enslavement under dictatorships or socialist cabals” and was an attempt to demonstrate that religion does not necessarily protect us from, or oppose, tyranny.

I would suggest that any immutable ideology, whether or not based on religion, is likely to be tyrannical. I strongly believe that our best hope for progress is to stand up for the rights of all (as set out in the Declaration of Human Rights) rather than allow any form of political ideology or religion to impose its rules upon us.

The text that was removed is highlighted.

My earlier letter can be found here and the original letter from Michael Brucciani can be found here.

More information on the Catholic Church and Mussolini can be found at the "Walls of Jericho" Website.

The website "Concordat Watch" provides more information on the Reichskonkordat.

24 August 2010

The price of life?

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), charged to determine whether drugs are good value for money for the NHS, has decided that the anti-bowel cancer drug avastin, also known as bevacizumab, is not worth the average cost of £21,000 per patient for an average extension of life expectancy of only six weeks. It is used only in advanced cases.

The campaign group Bowel Cancer UK has protested against the decision, arguing that the 6,500 sufferers each year have a right to any medication that might extend their lives.

However, I have to agree with NICE: £21,000 for six weeks extra life is not good value for money for the taxpayer. On the figures quoted it appears the extra cost to the taxpayer would be £136m per year.

I certainly would not expect that sort of public expenditure to keep me alive for an extra six weeks and if ever I am in the unfortunate position of suffering from bowel cancer I will refuse the drug if offered on the NHS. I or my relatives might have special reasons to want those extra weeks of life for me and might be prepared to find the money by some means but I would not expect the taxpayer to stomp it up.

The decision is riddled with questions of relativity. Suppose the equation were £100,000 for just one extra day of life? How many would argue for it then? Issues of quality of life are also relevant and no doubt NICE takes those into account too in arriving at its decisions.

This is not the sort of decision that can be taken on the basis of a principle – it has to be on the basis of common sense.

I believe there are a number of drugs that have not made it on to NICE’s list for the same reason. If all were approved on principle then NHS costs would rise significantly and drugs companies would be given licence to manufacture all sorts of exotic and expensive drugs in the sure knowledge that the NHS would have to cover the cost. Their profits would be guaranteed on the back of a rising tax bill for working people.

You are entitled to ask where I would draw the line and for the sake of argument I propose that drugs should only be approved if for a cost equivalent to the national average annual wage (circa £26,000) an extension of life of 12 months could be anticipated. No, there’s no connection, it’s just an intuitive guide to reasonableness.

Anyone contributing is, I think, obliged to state where they would draw the line.


06 August 2010

The Burka Debate

The National Secular Society weekly Newsline has asked subscribers for opinions on banning the burka. This was my response:

The Burka

Wearing the veil is regrettable. It cuts the wearer off from normal human interactions through which communication, understanding and friendship can grow. But our commitment to the freedom of the individual to do as they wish, as long as it harms nobody else, means we cannot support legislation to bar certain types of clothing. However, there are circumstances where freedom may be circumscribed owing to the need for the individual to undertake particular roles in employment or to satisfy reasonable security requirements for identification and openness. These limitations are best defined by employers, agencies and trading organisations in their particular circumstances.

The courts must be careful to ensure the veil is not recognised as a religious requirement (which could make it unchallengeable) and that the rights of others to withhold jobs, services, passage and participation from veil wearers are protected.

Wearing the veil may demonstrate hostility to Western traditions but it is everybody’s right to demonstrate that. When wearing the veil is forced upon women by relatives or communities the means of combating that must be through education and campaigning and clear support for Muslim women fighting for their rights.