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Lord Sumption’s Right Of Course, Even If Impolitic

The thing is, so is the cancer ridden biddy arguing with him right. It’s just that they’re both right in different logical realms:

A former Supreme Court justice has been criticised after telling a woman with stage 4 cancer that her life was “less valuable” than others during a televised debate on coronavirus lockdowns.

Lord Sumption made his comments while appearing as a guest on The Big Questions, which was broadcast on BBC One on Sunday morning.

The programme, hosted by Nicky Campbell, aimed to debate the question: “Is lockdown punishing too many for the greater good?”

During the show, Lord Sumption, who sat on the Supreme Court from 2012 to 2018, argued against lockdown measures for everyone, saying older and vulnerable people could isolate themselves “if they want to”.

He said he did not accept that “all lives are of equal value”, adding: “My children’s and my grandchildren’s life is worth much more than mine because they’ve got a lot more of it ahead.”

Deborah James, another guest on the programme, who has stage 4 bowel cancer, said: “With all due respect, Lord Sumption, I’m the person who you say their life is not valuable. I live with metastatic bowel cancer.”

Lord Sumption then interrupted her to say: “I didn’t say it wasn’t valuable, I said it was less valuable.”

Ms James continued: “My response to that would be, who are you to question and put a value on life? In my view, and I think in many others, life is sacred and I don’t think we should make those judgment calls. I feel very, very strongly about that.”

She added: “All life is worth saving regardless of what life it is that people are living.”

Prof Calum Semple, another guest, said he “strongly” disagreed with Lord Sumption’s comments. The University of Liverpool academic said: “The value of life doesn’t change at the age of 70.”

The life being lived is of course valuable to the person living it. The suicide rate tells us that not all that many people disagree. So, therefore, all lives are valuable and there’s no switch that says they’re not at age 70.

This is also the entire basis of such things as civil liberty and so on. All people have equal value simply by being people. But, as one or another egghead pointed out some time ago, this only applies to negative rights. Those that are, if we like, public goods in that they exist for all without extra costs being involved in the extension to any one or one more person. So free speech applies to all, the genius, the cretin and even Owen Jones. The right to property to the Duke and the dustman. And so on.

There is that other world though, that one of positive rights. To education, to housing, to, as here, health care. In which we face a callous universe filled with scarcity. We cannot proffer all to all that is, some may have and some may not.

This is not a function of socialist or capitalist, nor good nor bad, it’s just a fact. We cannot all have infinite health care. No single one of us can in fact have infinite health care while there’s no obvious limit upon the amount of free speech that can be shared around (prudential limits like incitement are prudential, not because of scarcity).

This being the area where Lord Sumption is correct. In a world of scarcity we do have to have relative values, rankings, in order to work out who gets how much of this limited supply of whatever. Which is what the NHS already does. That £30,000 a year for a QUALY is exactly that, it’s an insistence that resources are scarce and we must deploy them where they buy us the most. The flip side of that being that this life here, which is shorter, is worth less than this one over here, which is longer.

And, yes, while the age of 70 isn’t a switch here it is indeed a waystation on that path from vast societal effort to save the sickly babbie to the Liverpool Pathway of an ice chip and a twist of the morphine pump.

This all should be simple enough, clearly, but then all too many people fail to grasp that distinction between positive and negative rights, right?

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jgh
jgh
1 month ago

If there’s one vaccine and two patients, who do you….?
“GET ANOTHER VACCINE!!!!”
But there’s only one vaccine, tomorrow we’ll have another one, but today we have one dose and two patients, who do…
“GET ANOTHER VACCINE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Esteban
Esteban
1 month ago

One mistake by Sumpton is that when discussing such things it is very important to choose one’s words carefully. A perfectly logical point expressed even a little bit awkwardly will be received as (or twisted to be) cruel and uncaring.

Spike
Spike
1 month ago
Reply to  Esteban

By the way, if you choose your words with the utmost of care, have a dozen lawyers listening in, and have three years of training at the national level in avoiding scandal, you will still be received as (or twisted to be) cruel and uncaring. Or instigating civil war.

Esteban
Esteban
1 month ago

jgh – vaccinate neither until tomorrow then! FAIRNESS! EQUALITY!

Boganboy
Boganboy
1 month ago
Reply to  Esteban

Very neat. Especially if the vaccine has to be discarded because it’s no longer frozen.

Steven C Watson
Steven C Watson
1 month ago

There is the other option… kill the NHS.

Chester Draws
Chester Draws
1 month ago

She added: “All life is worth saving regardless of what life it is that people are living.” No-one much actually believes this, other than maybe a few religious extremists. If it were true, 1) then there would be no movement at all for euthenasia. 2) abortion would be banned outright. 3) pacifism would be highly popular. 4) no-one would be in favour of police carrying guns as normal. 5) people would all get the most expensive life health care policy they could. Why take any risk if staying alive is the most important thing? 6) no-one would indulge in risky… Read more »

Spike
Spike
1 month ago
Reply to  Chester Draws

Absolutely. A large majority want to spend their lives rather than saving them. Lord Sumption is right, and lockdown is “punishing too many for the greater good.” Without achieving it.

bloke in spain
bloke in spain
1 month ago

Very silly to get into discussions about the value of lives. Because it’s entirely subjective. Your life is no doubt supremely valuable to you. Although you might value your child’s higher than your own. To be absolutely honest, your life & that of your nearest & dearest have not the slightest value to me. (Unless I’m in the insurance business) I would gladly sacrifice your baby’s life for my next glass of wine. Harsh? No reality. People prove it every day. Seen it throughout Coronapanic. Apart from the ostentatious faux worship of NHS workers who’s given a jot for the… Read more »

Boganboy
Boganboy
1 month ago
Reply to  bloke in spain

All values are subjective. But when we’re making a policy we have to objectify them.

I do agree with you about the general selfishness of humans though. For me this was obvious when the Dems were piling onto Raygun Ron about his Star Wars proposal.

The basic argument seemed to be that it was far more cost effective to spend a billion dollars to incinerate a million Russians rather than waste it saving my worthless hide. As you’ve guessed, it took me exactly zero seconds to decide what I thought of that one.

Spike
Spike
1 month ago
Reply to  Boganboy

That is a breathtaking transition, from tugging your forelocks to objectivity, to deciding a policy issue through caricatures.

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