Letters - 29 May 2020

From parallels from the past to first names

Parallels from the past

I find myself very much in accord with Anne Macarthur’s ‘unease’ (17 April) around the issue of assisted dying. With a heavy heart, however, I also find myself seeing parallels from the past, remembering the abortion debates of the early 1960s, which paved the way for the act of 1967. I really don’t want to open this can of worms, but…

I was young and naive then. But I had seen the unjust and cruel effects of the prevailing stigma surrounding illegitimacy at close hand, and had been repulsed by them. I knew of a girl in the year above me at school, who had died as a result of a ‘back-street’ abortion. In truth, she died of fear and shame. The removal of that stigma would take away the need for abortion – or so I thought. Every child would be seen as the precious blessing they should be, regardless of the circumstances of their conception.

But while society worked to remove that stigma, then of course no girl or woman should be driven to risk her life in that way. No one in their right mind could want back-street abortions to continue. There had to be a safe alternative as a last resort for the truly desperate – or so I imagined.

Fast forward twenty-five years or so, to when I was pregnant with my youngest child. The first question my GP asked me was: did I want to continue with the pregnancy? I assumed this was because of my age at the time (forty-six) with the associated risks, but replied: ‘Yes, absolutely.’ There was no further discussion. Recently, that baby became a father himself, and I was horrified when my daughter-in-law told me that this is the first question pregnant women are now asked.

The assisted dying issue presents us with a number of people for whom life has become unbearable, whose pain and distress are beyond the power of palliative medicine to relieve. No one in their right mind would want that situation to continue for them. Legally assisted death becomes, if you like, the more desirable option when all else fails. More desirable in the sense that it protects helpers from legal liability, and the sufferer from the added burdens of an arduous journey abroad, perhaps at a time sooner than strictly necessary. But will scarce resources still be directed towards improving palliative medicine, with the ultimate goal of being able to relieve all pain, when there is an easier and cheaper option?

Clearly, whichever course we take will also, over time, affect attitudes in society.

How long will it be before everyone facing a terminal diagnosis, the worsening of a disability, or the onset of dementia, is routinely asked: ‘Do you want to continue with your life?’

Jan Lethbridge

The first Quaker?

Gerald Drewett’s comments on the raising of Lazarus (8 May) seem to apply to much of all the other gospels as well. The most obvious further comment is gap-filling.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, when Jesus retires to pray on his own, presumably in silence or not overheard, he returns to his disciples to find them all asleep. Did Jesus then recount to the disciples the nature of his prayers? No, he reprimanded them for being asleep and returned to his prayers. In spite of that privacy while praying, we are told in the gospels the exact wording of that prayer: ‘Let this cup pass from me’ and so on. The apostles, starting with Mark with the other synoptics copying, are clearly gap-filling. Without the necessary information, they assume Jesus must have prayed as they report it. Does it matter? Yes, it does, as their interpolation/assumption leads to the conclusion that Jesus was aware of his impending death on the cross. That, in spite of the agonised cry from the dying Jesus, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ (Mark 15:34. Even that copies Psalm 22:1.)

We should, however, be wary of killing the goose that lays the golden egg in offering this sort of constructive criticism. The synoptic writers had three sources available to them: the lost gospel proposed by many biblical scholars, ‘Gospel Q’; the stories that were circulating about Jesus; and the letters of Paul. We need to be aware of sources in appraising what is written.

Perhaps Gerald could join me in rating Paul’s letters as more reliable in that they are first-hand experiences. They result from Paul’s applying more credence to inward spiritual light than scripture, and Paul predates Mark by roughly twenty years.

May we, indeed, regard Paul as the first Quaker?

Peter Boyce

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