Newspaper Hack Goes on Emotional Response to Accuse Assisted Suicide Supporters of Emotional Response

(Previously published in the McTavish Opera blog 3 February 2013)
 
Kevin McKenna relies on hyperbole, smears and cheap shots at MSP’s Parkinson’s Disease in response to the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill.

Margo MacDonald MSP (Member of the Scottish Parliament) is one of the senior statespersons of Scottish politics. A lifelong supporter of Scottish independence, Margo, standing as the Scottish National Party (SNP)candidate, won the Glasgow Govan by-election of 1973. She was deputy leader of the SNP from 1974 to 1979 but with the party still having rightward leanings, she left the party in 1982 as a member of the controversial and left-leaning “79 Group”. She returned to the party in the 1990s and was elected to the then new devolved Scottish parliament as a list MSP for the Lothians. She then had a dispute over party policy which saw her sidelined by the leadership, and stood for election as an independent candidate, for which action the SNP expelled her. Nonetheless she won her seat, just as she has been successfully elected as an independent MSP in every Scottish parliamentary election ever since.

A straight talker, a woman of courage and compassion from strong working class roots, Margo is much-loved in Scotland and is seen as a “people’s politician”. She has constantly stood up for the rights of the underprivileged and has long championed controversial issues. In the late 1990s Margo campaigned for safe zones for sex workers in Leith, but was unsuccessful, largely due to ignorance and the intransigence of the then Labour Party administration in the Scottish parliament. In 2002 Margo was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, a progressive degenerative condition with no cure. This led her to introduce her first Bill on Assisted Suicide before the Scottish parliament in 2010, which was defeated by 85 votes. On 13 November 2013, Margo introduced the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill, which is currently going through the first reading stage of the parliament.

Assisted dying is always a controversial issue, which can evoke many emotions and provoke many heated debates. It is an issue which none should shy away from but which deserves to be discussed in a sober, thoughtful and informed manner. One would imagine that newspapers who pride themselves on journalistic integrity would cover the objectively and with level headed arguments and mature discussion. Sadly, this was not the case on 2 February 2014, when Kevin McKenna, writing in an angry tone in The Observer, “Scotland’s assisted suicide bill is an offence to our human dignity”, embarked upon character assassination of and cheap shots at Margo MacDonald, lambasted another MSP, anyone else who supports Margo’s Bill, and atheists in general, while at the same time coming out with spurious and ill-informed arguments against assisted dying. It is my intention to pull Mr McKenna’s entire piece to bits here and thereby show him up for the odious excuse for a human being he truly is.

Right from the start, in his opening paragraph, McKenna sets the tone for the rest of his article;

“Margo MacDonald’s campaign to establish a culture of death in Scotland is growing increasingly bizarre and more chilling. She appears hellbent on becoming Scotland’s very own Angel of Death.”

Notice the emotive language used here; “culture of death”, “chilling”, “hellbent”, “Angel of Death”. Immediately Kevin McKenna is psyching up his readership, by using language intended to smear Margo MacDonald as if she is some mad professor from an old Hammer horror movie.

McKenna continues, “In the death of her own political career”. This is frankly laughable. As I stated above, Margo MacDonald has been elected in every Scottish parliamentary election, and is loved and respected by all sides in Scottish politics. Let us look then at Mr McKenna’s political affiliations. A quick trawl for him online states that he comes from a staunchly Labour family. So if Mr McKenna’s views swing towards the Labour Party, he may wish to consider the result of the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary election. The Scottish Parliament was set up with proportional representation, in a way which it was claimed that no one party could ever gain a majority government. In the 2011 election the SNP swept the board, overturning a great many “safe” Labour seats and did indeed form a majority in Holyrood. McKenna is also however former Executive Editor of the Scottish(?) Daily Mail, a newspaper well known for Conservative gutter journalism. If he swings towards the Tories, then he may need to be reminded that Scotland has only one Conservative Member of Parliament – pandas outnumber Tories in Scotland by 100%. The only safe Tory seat in Scotland is a lavatory seat – and don’t even be sure about that. What then was that about dying political careers Kevin?

Not content with talking nonsense about Margo MacDonald, Kevin McKenna then goes onto to launch a wholly unjustified attack upon Patrick Harvie MSP, of the Scottish Green Party; “she is being assisted by Patrick Harvie, who leads the Green party in his spare time when he is not trying to eradicate all vestiges of Christianity from Scottish public life.” Patrick Harvie is indeed a committed secularist (as am I), but he has never, not once, stated that he wants all Christianity (or any other faith) completely eradicated from public life in Scotland. No doubt Mr Harvie will take this slur upon the chin and laugh it off. Which is probably fortuitous for Mr McKenna, for if I were Patrick Harvie, I would be in touch with my legal team immediately.

It is after this that Kevin McKenna sinks to a new low, by attacking both Patrick Harvie and Margo MacDonald, and making a snide and underhand reference to the latter’s medical condition; “Harvie is rather like a barnacle here, clinging on to the hide of a rusting and once magnificent ocean-going liner.” That was a cheap shot by anyone’s standards. I do hope the good Christian Kevin McKenna is proud of himself, although I doubt even his friends (assuming he has any) will want to speak to him after that. As to The Observer, shame upon you for allowing such filth to be published.

McKenna then embarks on a diatribe about the defeated 2010 Bill, accuses Margo MacDonald of trying to “hoodwink those who voted against it the last time” and, without offering one shred of evidence to back up his claim, states that safeguards built into the new Bill are “bewildering and meaningless”. He then returns to the emotive language by making a fatuous smear that the Bill has “contempt for the sanctity of all human life”. Help! Michty me, we’ll a’ be murderit in oor beds by the communists.

Commenting on the new Bill “will ensure that only terminally ill people or those suffering from deteriorating progressive conditions can seek to kill themselves”, McKenna a sad attempt at moralising when he says “The twisted morality underpinning the new death bill is that these conditions make life intolerable for the sufferers.” As one who watched a loved one wither away over a period of six years, before dying in terrible pain, which continuous palliative care did little to nothing to alleviate, I would counter that to allow human beings to suffer and die in such a way is not only immoral, it is completely void of any morality, and thereby actually amoral.

But then, McKenna contradicts himself by stating that the Bill covers “only terminally ill people or those suffering from deteriorating progressive conditions”, and then goes off on a rant about people with depression committing suicide. In fact, the Bill does not at any point within it mention depression (which is something I personally disagree with it upon). The Bill continually states the required conditions as an illness that is “either terminal or life shortening”, or “a condition that is progressive and either terminal or life shortening.” (source: Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill, Scottish Parliament).

In the true fashion of a Fleet Street hack however, Kevin McKenna does not let facts get in the way of a good story. Instead he states “Many people who take their own lives do so because of depression. Society has not yet begun to consider urging those suffering from depression to kill themselves and have done with it.” Indeed, society has not yet begun to consider it. And I will wager that Kevin McKenna has not began to consider that depression can also mean an end to quality of life. I’ll doubt he has even heard of the Belgian transsexual Nathan Verhelst, who opted for assisted suicide. Nathan Verhelst underwent gender reassignment which went horribly wrong when his mastectomy was botched, and his body rejected his new penis. 44 years old and faced with being in a twilight world of being neither male nor female every day for the rest of his life, poor Nathan felt that death held less terror than continuing living, and underwent a peaceful assisted dying in 2013. That is dreadfully sad, but who can say he was wrong to take that decision? Not me, and certainly not Kevin McKenna, nor anyone else who has never walked in Nathan Verhelst’s shoes.

Continuing to contradict himself and frankly tell bare-faced lies about the Bill, McKenna states “MacDonald’s latest offering largely mirrors the Oregon model that, when passed into legislation, resulted in a 450% jump in assisted suicides, of which around 20% involved people who were depressed.” Again, the Bill does not mention depression, anywhere, and therefore cannot in any way be compared to the Oregon model. Either Kevin McKenna is misinformed, ignorant, or lying through his back teeth.

Next comes another low blow and more emotive language. “Still, it’s a good way of alleviating the burden of care spending. Better still, as soon as we all start wearing tartan dressing gowns, swearing in the night and getting fed soup, we ought all, in a spirit of civic and fiscal responsibility, sign our own death certificates.” Nobody, certainly not Margo MacDonald or Patrick Harvie, have ever or would ever condone killing the elderly and infirm because they are an inconvenience or a burden. I shall tell you who did however; Tory peer Baroness Warnock, who in 2013 stated that the elderly should consider euthanasia to prevent being a burden either upon their relatives, or the National Health Service or society in general. Baroness Warnock strongly pushed a “civic duty” argument, and that story, which was roundly condemned by the majority of supporters of assisted dying, was reported in the parent newspaper to that which McKenna used to be editor of, the Daily Mail.

The emotive language continues with an attack upon “militant atheists who are egging her on in her deathly obsession”. Now, I don’t know if Margo MacDonald is an atheist or not. She has certainly never publicly stated being one, so if McKenna is stating she is, I for one would like to see his proof for that. I however am an atheist. I mix with atheists and I can assure Kevin McKenna that every atheist is a freethinker, and while I agree with euthanasia, there are others, including those who could be described as “militant” who do not. It is clear from his statement that Kevin McKenna knows nothing about atheists but, in the bigoted style he and some other Christians write, seeks to cast aspersions upon the character of all atheists.

Trying to claim a minor victory, McKenna then points out that those in support of assisted dying in Scotland has dropped from 75% to 69%. While no doubt feeling smug in himself, the reader will notice however that not only does he fail to mention that is not only still the majority, it is an overwhelming majority. I had to laugh however when McKenna stated “There are many reasons why people signal their approval of assisted suicide, many based on an emotional and ill-considered reaction to a sugar-coated question with no knowledge of a complicated issue.” Given the angry tone, the false accusations, the slurs, the low blows and the spurious and ill-informed claims in McKenna’s article, one can only say physician heal thyself. The vast majority of people I have discussed assisted dying with, treat in a sober fashion, advancing thoughtful and informed arguments. I should hate to discuss it with McKenna, who appears totally incapable of doing so.

McKenna continues his emotive style by bringing in those with Locked In Syndrome (LSI). Again without offering any proof to back up his claims, he states “There is an assumption that people suffering from locked-in syndrome – being completely paralysed and able only to communicate through blinking – must have reached a stage where life is simply not worth living any more.” I would like to know exactly who is making any such assumption or claim. In fact the vast majority of those of us in favour of assisted dying are well aware that the vast majority of LSI sufferers are actually happy within their lives and suffer no loss of quality of life. The same can be said of Alzheimer’s and other dementia sufferers who are quite happy with their lot. No serious supporter of assisted dying would ever support it on any other grounds than severe or total loss of quality of life. I would venture therefore that the only person assuming that LSI sufferers should consider euthanasia is Kevin McKenna, given that he is the only one who is mentions it.

Then follows more of the same bile about the elderly and infirm being a financial burden and, yet again without proof, McKenna asserts “For many, though, the financial, physical and emotional demands this would make on us would be too much to bear and thus we would call them vegetables and seek ways of putting them out of our misery.” That is a terrible thing to say, in which McKenna seems to think that “many” people would seek to kill loved ones due to them being a burden. If this were the case, then it would already be happening, albeit by illegal means. When in fact there are thousands of carers of elderly and infirm loved ones across Scotland who attend to them with love and care on a daily basis and for whom killing them could not be further from their mind. But then, it is only McKenna and certainly not carers referring to the infirm as “vegetables”.

Yet McKenna keeps this up by stating “But in a society where the price of human dignity is considered too dear for those who gave us the bedroom tax and who would allow our biggest bank to destroy thousands of small businesses for increased profit we should be wary of placing a price on human beings at the end of their lives.” I would point out to him that neither Margo MacDonald, Patrick Harvie, myself, nor the vast majority of assisted dying supporters are supporters of the Conservative government which gave us these things – see point above about Baroness Warnock. I would also point out to him that when there was a vote in the House of Commons to repeal the Bedroom Tax, it failed because 47 MPs of his precious Labour Party either abstained or failed to turn up for the vote.

Again accusing Margo MacDonald of her political career dwindling, McKenna states “MacDonald ought to be campaigning for a minimum quality of palliative care for everyone in Scotland who requires it at the end of their lives. Scotland can be rightly proud of the quality of its palliative care where it exists.” We can indeed be proud of our level of palliative care. It is not however the great panacea that Kevin McKenna seems to think it is. I will reiterate that when I watched a loved one die in pain, the staff in the hospital did their utmost to alleviate his pain, yet it had little to no effect. I am surmising that Kevin McKenna has never seen anyone die in those circumstances, for if he had, he would not talk such drivel about something he apparently knows nothing about. If he has experienced such a death however, then he should think black, burning shame of himself for even suggesting that palliative care is the answer to all ills.

Then he adds “Where this includes a care module that takes account of a patient’s social, emotional and spiritual needs – as well as physical ones – requests for assisted suicide are sparse.” Again, I would like to see the proof of this, as he offers none. Apart from which the person I watched die was out of his head so much towards the time that he could not understand even loved ones, and if any minister had come near him, and he was lucid enough to comprehend that, he would have told them to piss off. Immediately Kevin McKenna makes the assumption that all the terminally ill need is drugs and a minister, without taking into consideration that some patients may be one of those atheists he hates so much, or completely uninterested. Has he in fact considered that there may be some dying in pain who may be quite angry at some sanctimonious minister talking about God’s goodness and pie in the sky why we die. Incidentally an NHS Chaplain earns £25,783 – £34,530 per annum. While I would in no means deny anyone the right to their faith, I would be more impressed if clergy taking what is to all effects for many a very well paid second job, were to in fact offer their services for free. As far as I can see Kevin McKenna is trying to manipulate the needs of the dying to push his own Christian agenda.

McKenna then returns to the cost argument, which again he is the only person to have mentioned this in relation to Margo McDonald’s Bill and asks what we question as quality of life. Using more emotive language, he states “When people start talking loosely about what constitutes intolerable pain or quality of life, then those who have mental health issues or who have Down’s syndrome or cerebral palsy must begin to wonder if one day some politicians will consider their existences to be too much for the nation to bear.” In fact, just like LSI, nobody has ever suggested that the mentally ill, of those with Down’s Syndrome or cerebral palsy should be euthanised. It is only Kevin McKenna claiming that, while those of us who are better educated know very well that the mentally ill, those with Down’s, or with cerebral palsy do in fact lead very full and satisfying lives with no loss of quality thereof. I myself have long championed the right of Down’s and other special needs people to work, form relationships, get married and raised families. Compare that to past governments, both Labour and Tory, who forcibly sterilised special needs people, and locked them away, out of sight, out of mind. I would suggest therefore that when it comes to Down’s Syndrome and cerebral palsy, Kevin McKenna does not know what he is talking about. But then, given that he mentions mental illness and mental impairment in the same sentence, he clearly sees them as the same thing, thereby proving his ignorance of those issues.

McKenna ends his article on the same emotive note he began with, once more bringing in the financial aspect and then stating “Once again, the vulnerable sick, the elderly, the infirm and those who have become enfeebled must prepare to lock their doors and put on the heating as the air in Scotland just got chilly again. If this bill ever becomes law, how many of them will be made to feel a burden on their peers? How many, their minds beginning to become gently detached, will be handed a pen and a piece of paper and asked to hand over the title deeds?” I would suggest that Kevin McKenna actually reads the Bill, and has a look at those safeguards which he claims are so “bewildering and meaningless” and he will find that they are more than adequate protect such vulnerable people. Particularly those whose mental state is impaired are well protected, thereby making a lie of McKenna’s claims about the elderly, as well as those mentally ill and mentally impaired.

McKenna ends on the note “The last days of a human life are sacred and anointed and must remain free from those who will always exploit legislation to end it before its allotted time.” What exactly is sacred about watching a man you have loved all your life wither away over six years and die in terrible pain, not even knowing you are there? I was in a hospice once and I saw a woman in her last days whose skin was transparent. She looked in her 90s but she was in fact 44 years old. She did not even know her husband or her children around her. Where is the sacrity in such an obscenity to all which is decent? A dear friend of mine died of bowel cancer and spent his last days shitting and bleeding from his anus in constant pain. Just how exactly was he anointed?

It seems to me that the only “sacred and anointed” days are in the mind of Kevin McKenna, and those of like minds. The only “offence to our human dignity” is to allow those in pain, either physically or psychologically, to continue in that pain needlessly. It is not only an affront to decency that we as human beings show more compassion and humanity to animals than our own species, it is doubly so as, being sapient creatures, those in pain are often aware of exactly what is happening to them, and can comprehend what their last days hold. That is not dignity, it is a state of terror.

And why do we do this? Because the state, through archaic laws based on a bronze age book of ignorant and illiterate goat herders camp fire tales says it has to be like this in the third millennium CE, and that is what ignorant, religious busybodies and hacks like Kevin McKenna support. That is not only arrant nonsense in this day and age, it is one of the most inhumane acts we commit upon other human beings.

Kevin McKenna’s full article can be read here:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/feb/01/assisted-suicide-bill-scotland

Margo MacDonald’s Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill can be read on the Scottish Parliament website:

http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/parliamentarybusiness/Bills/69604.aspx

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