Category Archives: Health

Think sex-selective abortion is crazy? It could be just around the corner

Is there a more fitting way to celebrate fifty years of Britain’s 1967 Abortion Act than by permitting sex-selective abortion? You may think there is, but it might be too late.

The British Medical Association could soon be forwarding this as its official recommendation, at least if Professor Wendy Savage, an influential member of the BMA’s ethics (ha) committee, gets her way.

How a medical professional of many years, acutely aware of the difficulties that women face when going through the abortion process, can propose scrapping a law that prevents aborting by gender I am not quite sure.

It is possible that, after carrying out thousands of terminations, Ms Savage has internally normalised the process of killing babies to such an extent that she now thinks it viable in almost all scenarios.

Her claim that it is the woman’s right to decide as it is her body offers the medical profession with a very slippery slope. Since all pregnancies involve the mother’s body, Savage’s argument can be readily applied to every single request for an abortion.

I am appalled by the notion that unborn babies ought to be killed if their mother or parents do not approve of their gender. And no, I don’t care that it occupies a part of the mother’s body.

It should not be her right to choose what sex her child is, and I would seriously question the motive of any couple that seeks to terminate a pregnancy purely on the basis of whether their child is male or female.

Inevitably, the normalisation of sex-selective abortion will lead to societal imbalances between men and women. This has been the result wherever the policy has been tried. I believe that the skewing of gender ratios would reinforce a demeaning attitude towards whichever sex was phased out by parents.

Across both India and China, perhaps ironically, sex-selective abortion has been used as a tool to dispose of unwanted females. A survey of a dozen villages in India produce quite shocking results, with just 50 females living amongst a population of 10,000 people[1].

Newsweek reported in February 1989 that, in six clinics in Bombay, after eight thousand amniocentesis tests that showed the baby to be female, all were aborted but one[2].

In Guangdong, a province of China, bachelors are struggling to marry as 500,000 males outnumber women aged 30-45 by 10 to 1[3], causing demographers to warn about social upheaval on an unprecedented scale.

At present, it is difficult to image a situation in which British parents opt for the same sort of foetal gender discrimination. But that does not mean that decriminalising (likely within the current 24-week threshold) will not take place.

We have, especially since the 1967 Abortion Act, been rapidly marching towards a society in which abortion is used fundamentally as a form of contraception. In 2015 alone, 191,104 were performed on women in England and Wales.

Indeed, Diana Johnson’s latest Reproductive Health Bill, designed to repeal certain criminal offences related to the termination of pregnancies, passed its first reading in the House of Commons only last week.

Attitudes towards abortion have found themselves nestled firmly in the liberal camp, and pro-choice campaigners could soon have sex-selective abortion on their to-do list. I suspect that those in favour of it will someday get what they desire. After all, history tells us that, when campaigners for reproductive rights mobilise effectively, they get what they want.

 

Notes

[1] Robert Stone, “Women Endangered Species in India”, 14 March 1989.

[2] Jo McGowan, “In India They Abort Females”

[3] “Asia: Discarding Daughters,” Time, Special fall edition 1990, 40.


Some thoughts on UKIP’s struggles, purpose and future

First, a little personal history about my involvement with the UK Independence Party:

I joined UKIP around the time of the 2015 General Election, knowing at the time very little about British politics but for the fact that the European Union wasn’t particularly democratic and that crucial powers had left the jurisdiction of Westminster for the jurisdiction of Brussels. Nigel Farage was primarily responsible for igniting my interest in Britain’s EU membership. My reasoning for joining was always to help pursue Brexit. I never really had all that much interest in the rest of the party’s manifesto. I left almost a year later, upon gaining employment with the Vote Leave campaign. To clarify, I was not asked to leave and did not feel compelled to, rather I chose to in order to focus on one campaigning avenue and set of messages.

Unlike most of UKIP’s detractors, I have actually been inside the party. This means that I know where faults lie (especially at local level) and I know where to draw the line between fair and unfair criticism. UKIP is not a party of racists and homophobes. In fact, it mostly comprises of former Labour and Tory voters, disillusioned with their former party’s messages around issues like EU membership and immigration. The oddity was that as UKIP drew more scorn from their rivals, they became more popular, as other parties began to reek of sneering, establishmentarian arrogance.

It took the main parties quite a long time to realise this, which has always surprised me. The Labour Party still makes the mistake of referring to UKIP’s message as the politics of hatred and division, despite its ongoing battle to overcome lingering internal anti-Semitism. The Conservatives, who had the most to lose from a strong Independence force, reacted a little more proactively, and ceased labelling UKIP figures and voters in uncomplimentary terms because they knew that it would backfire on them. What is even more interesting is the number of Tory youth members – of which I know many – who like UKIP and credit them for giving their party a kick up the backside across various policy areas.

It is correctly argued that UKIP does best as a radical party, but it is also worth remembering that the sheer scale of immigration for the past two decades, and the party’s ability to link it to a referendum, shaped their success. UKIP will still portray itself as a radical party, but it will not be aided in the same way going forward. Michael Heaver, Nigel Farage’s former spin doctor, believes that his party needs to get back on the offence and take the lead in policy proposals. He mentioned on the Daily Politics today that House of Lords reform or proportional representation could be areas of policy that UKIP may try to influence – but these things simply do not have the same value for them. They are not issues that unite or rally their voter base, and they are not big enough issues to attract very many swing voters. This is especially true of the country’s Remain supporters, who would sooner barbecue their own children than be pulled in by even a sentence of any UKIP manifesto.

The in-fighting quite clearly isn’t helping things either. UKIP squabbles aren’t new and they most certainly aren’t surprising. But, in previous years, hostile sections of the party could put their differences aside much more easily as they knew that on the horizon lay an issue not worth dividing over. Even Farage and Douglas Carswell, who I got to meet several times during the referendum campaign and rather liked, simply ignored one another in the weeks leading to polling day, knowing full well that it was better to enter battle united that it was to entertain pointless feuding.

For the record, I believe Douglas Carswell was a little petulant in not backing a proposed Nigel Farage knighthood. I think it was quite clear why he did it. Just as it became clear that his defection from the Tories softened UKIP’s jagged voice as the referendum debate was under way. For anybody who has not yet read it and is interested, my blog on the case for knighting Mr Farage can be read at the following link:

https://norgroveblog.com/2017/02/25/why-nigel-farage-deserves-a-knighthood/

I am therefore unsurprised to learn that Arron Banks, who I’ve often thought will prove to be more useful behind the scenes in political life, is preparing to challenge Mr Carswell for his seat in Clacton. I don’t believe the UKIP donor will win the seat – in fact, come the next election, I believe it is highly likely that the Conservative Party may reclaim it…even if Douglas Carswell does re-stand for election. Between the by-election of 2014 and the General Election a year later, the Tories gained seven and a half thousand votes, and with the Leave vote now under the country’s belt, it is entirely possible that this increase will continue in 2020 (provided that another election is not called sooner).

I will always defend UKIP from unwarranted attack, and I greatly appreciate their efforts in fighting for an ‘in/out’ referendum on the question of EU membership. It was at least sincere, unlike the false promises made by former party leaders over the years (Tony Blair in 2005, David Cameron on the Lisbon Treaty in 2009). But their time as a credible political force, radical or not, has come to end in Britain. The Conservatives will soon be able to sleep easily.


Three steps British people must take before we address the NHS’ problems

My personal NHS experiences haven’t been so bad. Thankfully, either through conscious effort or sheer genetic luck, I haven’t had any serious medical concerns over the years, with a little bit of physiotherapy and a brief period of mental health treatment the only real blotches on my medical history. Each time I’ve had to use a clinic, GP surgery or hospital, procedure has been reasonably smooth and staff helpful and reassuring.

For the most part, those who work in our health service do a tremendous job. They work long hours, often far beyond what they are contracted to, and really do make a difference in people’s lives. I sometimes think that, given the NHS’ blatant inefficiencies, it is the efforts of staff alone that help to maintain strong public opinion of the organisation. Even when visiting my local surgery I get a pretty clear picture of the sheer magnitude of demand placed on the health service. I daren’t imagine what hospital winters are like.

Notice first and foremost that I make a distinction between the NHS and its staff. This is done so deliberately, not because I love one and hate the other, but because it makes debating the future of the service a little easier. We have, in the UK, a very real connection to a treasured institution, so any critique can often be dismissed as personal attack or Right-wing irrationality. Getting over this sacred cow treatment and attitude towards healthcare would be the national equivalent of an alcoholic admitting that he is so.

Dr Kristian Niemetz noted in a lengthy overview of the health service for the IEA on December 4th, 2015: “The NHS’ status as a sacrosanct institution promotes ‘groupthink’ and undermines the ability to detect and correct instances of failure, and adapt to changing circumstances.”[1] He is undoubtedly correct. The first step towards injecting the UK’s NHS debate comes from admitting that even something we love so dearly has its problems, and that the sacred cow treatment it receives is damaging and unjustified.

An intriguing report published by the BBC on the problems facing the National Health Service can be read in full here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-38887694

It is unsurprising to me that our society has such an ingrained attachment towards the main entity in the healthcare sector. Most people alive in Britain today were born on the NHS, have been treated by the NHS and will die on the NHS. But what is bewildering is why, given this affection, we let politicians to this day use it as a political football. Healthcare, after all, is on its own terms a private affair. The NHS was set up in a silent, broken country still reeling from the effects of the Second World War. The idea (however inherently flawed) was that people would have access to care based not on ability to pay, but on clinical need.

So herein lays the second step towards providing the NHS debate with some much needed clarity: we must recognise that the society in which our health service was so proudly set up no longer exists. The country is very different now from the post-war era. Free movement of people has increased overall demand as well as introduced new, complex problems to an already over-burdened service. Health tourism, frequently earmarked by doctors as a major structural and financial problem, is one such issue. It is good that we look after those who need help, regardless of where they are from, but compassion can all too easily fall victim to corruption and exploitation.

The NHS is a public service, and thus is set up for public use. If public dynamics change, such as increases in how long we are living or how rapidly the population is growing, then pubic services must adapt in order to reflect those changes. A stale setup will not suffice in an age where British citizens are used as a cash cow (even those on low incomes pay hundreds in National Insurance) for a service that many now feel does not meet their needs. Public satisfaction is noticeably declining.[2]

A third change in social attitude that must prelude any reasonable proposals to address healthcare in Britain relates to the United States. In the UK, too often we conflate private, market-based healthcare with the widely-condemned American system. This, for two reasons, is an unhelpful conflation that only manages to worsen unwarranted support for maintaining nationalised healthcare.

Firstly, the notion that American healthcare is private is largely a flawed one. The World Bank notes that state spending on healthcare by 2014 had reached just over 17% as a proportion of GDP.[3] Back in July, the U.S government announced that they expected total state healthcare expenditure to rise to $10,365 per head.[4] There is clearly something to be said for the claim that the private sector is at fault for very real faults in American healthcare.

Secondly, using the United States as a projection for market and insurance-based models in the UK ignores the very tangible successes with similar systems in Europe. A BowGroup (respected Conservative think tank and research body) report summarised starkly:

“UK Healthcare continues to be much worse than in Europe. 323 lives are lost per day because we are not matching the best European standards in the three main killers – heart disease, respiratory disease and cancer. That’s 117,743 per year. 85 lives per day (or 30,965 per year) are being lost because we are not even matching EU average standards. Looking at trends over time, there has been no significant improvement over the last 7 years. Another good measure of the quality of healthcare is the survival rate once a disease has been diagnosed. On this measure, the UK is bottom of the league table of Western European countries for cancer survival rates. In fact, you have more chance of surviving lung cancer in Poland, Estonia or Slovakia than you do in the UK. In France, patients are twice as likely to survive lung cancer as they are in the UK. Significantly more money has recently been put into the NHS in the last seven years. But standards are still much lower than in Europe and activity (e.g. number of operations) has not increased. Money alone has not worked.”[5]

It is possibly due to the bureaucratic, centrally organised nature of the NHS that funding is not necessarily put to good use. Left-wing commentators and publications will, from time to time, refer to budgetary cuts as the source of these problems[6], but as studies frequently show, Britain’s successes in dealing with severe illnesses – of which cancer has emerged as a particular problem – have stagnated, likely due to the inevitability of longer waiting times in state-monopolised healthcare systems and irrespective of funding levels.

Europe has quietly managed to avoid the problems that we face by seeing and treating healthcare for what it actually is: a private concern, better organised efficiently than in a way that is necessarily universally liked. So the NHS zealots, which are also found on the Right in surprising numbers, would do well to concentrate on provision on the continent, and stop using America’s woes as a barometer for eternal market failure.

So, ditch the sacred cow treatment, acknowledge the many social changes that have taken place between now and the 1940s, and consider European templates before screeching about U.S healthcare. Only then, if we are to have a rational discussion, can we talk about what to do with the NHS.


Sources:

[1] https://iea.org.uk/publications/research/diagnosis-overrated-an-analysis-of-the-structural-flaws-in-the-nhs

[2] https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/sites/files/kf/BSA-public-satisfaction-NHS-Kings-Fund-2015.pdf

[3] http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.XPD.TOTL.ZS

[4] http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/new-peak-us-health-care-spending-10345-per-person/

[5] https://www.bowgroup.org/sites/bowgroup.uat.pleasetest.co.uk/files/The%252085%2520A%2520Day%2520Who%2520Need%2520Not%2520Die%2520-%2520January%25202005.pdf

[6] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/jan/20/nhs-funding-falling-behind-european-neighbours-kings-fund-research

 


Michael Phelps is awesome, but Kurt Angle is my Olympic hero

I was informed whilst browsing Twitter earlier this afternoon that Michael Phelps, the decorated American swimmer, is one Olympic gold medal away from breaking a 2,168 year-old record. Both Phelps and ‘Leonidas of Rhodes’ are tied on 12 golds in their respective competitions (and generations), with the former looking increasingly likely to win a 13th in Rio.

It’s an astonishing achievement to even think about. Michael Phelps is a superb athlete and Olympian, and will surely go down as one of the greatest sporting figures of all time, let alone swimmers. But it got me thinking. Would this really be the greatest achievement in modern, or indeed any, Olympic history?

Commentators are rightly heralding Phelps as the greatest Olympian of our age. He continues to break records and set the bar for swimmers the world over. It is a shame that swimming doesn’t receive the kind of attention that it perhaps should. If it did, Michael Phelps’ praises would be sung as often as he deserved.

But when Olympic season comes around, it isn’t Michael Phelps who captures my attention; it is Kurt Angle, the former amateur wrestler who became a star on the professional scene. Angle was a shining star in my childhood, and I’ll always have huge respect for him and his accomplishments.

For those unaware, Kurt Angle won gold at the 1996 Olympic Games (hosted by the United States) with a broken neck. It’s an achievement that is often forgotten by sports journalists and writers, who prefer not to cite wrestling in any meaningful analysis, but it is one that is so uniquely impressive that I felt the need to raise awareness of it during this summer’s Games.

There was a documentary on YouTube in which Kurt talks openly about his training pre-Olympics and the problems that he had been having with his neck, but, alas, I can’t seem to be able to find it. During his Olympic trials in 1996, Angle suffered a severe neck injury; two cervical vertebrae were fractured, two discs were herniated and four muscles were pulled. He spent a long time trying to find a doctor [in his words] “either stupid or smart enough” to clear him for the Olympic Games that year.

Having not ever been in a similar position myself and not knowing Kurt Angle, it is incredibly difficult to describe what it takes, both physically and mentally to compete with the weight of your country on your shoulders whilst having a broken neck. Ordinary athletes would have been ruled out for the majority of the year and many would have retired altogether.

In Atlanta in 1996, he competed in the 220lb Freestyle weight class. In his Gold Medal match, Angle beat Iran’s Abbas Jadidi. Kurt mentioned in an interview some years ago that his overriding feeling when he knew he had won Gold was not one of jubilation or excitement, but one of relief. He had been through hours of excruciating pain and personal torment in the form of his trainer’s murder and the death of his father; something I may say could not be said for many Olympians competing in Brazil this year.

A video of the match can watched below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQ17NKEQ69A

Whatever your view, you cannot deny that the United States has produced and continues to produce exceptional sporting talent. Michael Phelps is perhaps the greatest performer in the history of the Olympic Games, but Kurt Angle will forever be my Olympic hero.


Sugar tax, stigma, Jamie Oliver and childhood obesity

There are three guarantees in this life: death, taxes and Jamie Oliver interfering in the dietary habits of the British public.

Mr Oliver, I suspect, would have been delighted by George Osborne’s introduction of a sugar levy on soft drinks yesterday, set to come into effect in 2018. His rallying for a penalty on teeth-eroding beverages took off late last year, and as I wrote here on my blog a few months ago, I was as unenthused by it then as I am now.

But unlike the UKs favourite celebrity chef, I’m not really a fan of the ‘Nanny State’ approach to modern societal behaviour. I find it to be an extraordinarily useless and condescending waste of time. Government interference in our personal lives and the economy is inevitable, but a punitive tax on sugary drinks will harm only the poorest in Britain.

How telling it is, too, that it was the Conservative Party, of all parties, to bring in the new measure. If anybody was in any doubt as to whether or not the Tories were New Labour in disguise, this decision should act as a wake-up call. Were the Tory Party in any way socially or morally conservative, no such interference would have been suggested.

In their surprisingly naive response to the announcement, the NHS declared that the measure is the “first step to tackling childhood obesity”, and that obesity “now affects one in five children, already costing the NHS £5bn per year. Obesity is the new smoking”. Well, forgive me, but seeing as taxation didn’t work with cigarettes, why on earth would such a policy be effective in countering our nation’s growing obesity problem?

Obesity is becoming rampant throughout Britain, without doubt. You only have to walk down the average high street for two minutes before you see the mouth-wateringly grotesque fat community, waddling in and out of fast food restaurants, concealing their lard rolls with appallingly baggy clothing and taking up entire seat rows on public transport. I may sound contemptuous and frustrated, but it is becoming a real problem.

When I was little, fat kids at school were called names. Those fat kids did not like to be called names, and in many cases (though often some years later in life), chose to lose weight as a means of pushing back against the bullies and dealing proactively with name-calling. In the age of hyperactive political correctness that we are now pretty much nestled into, advocates of social stigma are, of course, considered to be bigoted or extreme in some manner. But stigma works, and the process is far less damaging to those unaffected by obesity.

But, alas, Jamie Oliver has his way once more, and struggling parents and students will feel the strain of his agenda on their wallets and bank accounts. “Education, not tax”, too, is a commonly-propagated line which, to some extent, I agree with. It is a sensible proposition, but seems to fly over the heads of many parents who routinely fail to select healthier options for their children, or restrict the treats that they are permitted around the house.

If a little more parental responsibility was enacted, I’d suggest that many of the UK’s childhood obesity issues would begin to subside. Even children are fully aware that the more they eat and less active they are, the fatter they will become. It is a simple principle, which doesn’t seem to be registering as well as it used to. Education programmes have now been proven to be futile; taxation is a silly, penal measure which punishes everybody (to varying degrees), regardless of weight or dietary habits, leaving only a resurgence in social stigma as a plausible candidate to turn our woes around.

Schools, governments and parents can only do so much, though, and so it does seem to me to be time for society to play its role. But, whatever your opinion on the matter, Jamie Oliver certainly isn’t the answer.


David Cameron was right to scrap Jamie Oliver’s moronic sugar tax

Very rarely am I supportive of the actions of David Cameron.

Besides his cautious and intelligent handling of the Syrian refugee crisis, I have remained relatively unimpressed with his start to the new parliament. That was, however, until I read this morning’s newspapers.

Bravo Dave, I salute you for not even reading Jamie Oliver’s sugar tax report. If I had one criticism of you in this case, it would be that you didn’t shred it live in the House of Commons. That would have been quite something.

I’ve had enough of rich-boy Jamie Oliver trying to flout his dietary agenda. When he took ‘turkey twizzlers’ away from me as a schoolboy (I think I was about 10?), I pledged never to forgive or forget. And I haven’t.

His incessant interfering in commercialism and social needs has frustrated me for a long time, and I am glad that our Prime Minister has given his silly ideals about as much time and respect as they deserve.

I don’t enjoy shocking people on this blog, but food and drink do not make people fat; people themselves make people fat. It is our choices which truly define who we are (I’m starting to sound like Dumbledore), and the ten tea spoons of sugar in a can of coke are not going to stop me drinking it.

He claims to be trying to stamp out obesity in society. Well, may I advise you Mr Oliver that in order to fix an ongoing problem, you have to get to the root. And that root is people, not sugar, and it certainly isn’t fast food and drink corporations.

The last time I checked, Coca Cola don’t force people to buy their product; they simply put it on the market and make it readily available should consumers want to do so. Coke is even available in the Andes Mountains, if you would like some perspective on the company’s global presence.

Fizzy drink producers have never claimed that their products are healthy or necessary for the human body, so why are you placing blame upon the developers, and not on the consumers?

Sugar taxation is possibly the most poignantly ridiculous idea that has been proposed in parliament in a long time. Thankfully it was rejected without even being read. Quite what the idea deserved, in my mind at least.

Those of us in society who aren’t fat don’t deserve to be weighed down by burdening taxations (yes, I know it’s only 7p, but it all adds up) when shopping. How many obese people does Jamie Oliver think that there are in Britain?

Obesity is a choice, after all, and not a disease. Those with severe conflicting medical conditions aside, the obese community in the country (a rapidly-growing one, might I add) are making themselves fatter and more unhealthy. And Jamie Oliver, in typical liberal fashion, is blaming the purchasing habits of the individuals, rather than the individuals themselves.

The idea that placing upon high-sugar food and drink a small tax will weed out its regular consumption is an absurdity, and I suspect consistent buyers would be largely untroubled by it regardless of its effect on pricing.

I’m not sure why Jamie Oliver is obsessed with imposing upon society his own brand of totalitarian, nanny-stateism, but whatever the reason, I think it best suited for his own restaurants and home life.

The introduction of a sugar tax would not in any way as a deterrent against the frequent eating or drinking of sugar-saturated products, and would only serve as punishment to the poorest in society, struggling to make ends meet.

My mother always taught me that looking after the pennies would ensure that the pounds would look after themselves, and I am beginning to see what it was she meant all those years.

As I said at the beginning, I am not a fan of David Cameron, and his tax-credit reforms (I may refer to this again in a future piece) have even further lowered my opinion of both his attitude and intentions, but I am at least supportive of his disapproval of Jamie Oliver’s sugar tax.

He took away my turkey twizzlers at Primary school, and I’ll be damned if he takes away my Coke.