Prohibited from leaving the waiting room...


..,especially if you need some assistance in making it through those heavy double doors underneath the exit sign. Lord McColl writing in The Daily Telegraph sets out arguments against Lord Falconer's proposal for people's non-prosecution of those who assist others seeking to be euthanised. Dying in Dignity have found that two-thirds of people actually think that Falconer's proposal is acceptable and wish to see the change in the law.

Lord McColl's arguments are admirable, but they fail to take into account one very important factor: that people have the rights over their own lives. While there may be a majority of doctors who do not wish to be involved in making a decision with regard to someone's life, there will be others willing to help. After all patients wishes should be respected. For years Jehovah Witnesses have refused blood transfusions, much to the detriment of their own health; those wishes remain respected though. How is it that those with a god have power on their side yet the rest of us meek mortals are subservient to the politician's and medical profession's whims.

At a previous point a person has made a rational choice that they are, or will no longer be, happy with the level of life they will find themselves in. Therefore they wish to end it all. It's time that we grew up in this country and respected individual choices over our lives. We have advanced little in the intervening years since the Suicide Act was passed in 1961 when the state finally relinquished its totalitarian grasp on people's lives. Those who assist in purveying a person to carry out their wishes should not be punished unless there is a highly suspicious reason to. Obviously it would be far easier if euthanasia was available here and we had a system organized that protected the vulnerable from abuse. It will be a while longer before the state cedes total control to us to hold open the doors, as the House of Lords voted against the amendment on Tuesday.

Freezing public sector pay


It’s unusual for me to be in support a policy of Alistair Darling’s; in fact I can’t remember when I last agreed with him, but if he carried through his signalled intentions to freeze public sector pay, this would be an uncharacteristically prudent move.

It is estimated that a freeze in public sector pay could save £5billion for the public coffers – every little saving counts at the moment and any politician signalling cuts in public expenditure is a step in the right direction. But this would not be the sole benefit of the pay freeze. It could signal the beginnings of a culture of change in the public sector towards efficiency mirroring the private sector.

Currently, and for the past decade, civil servants have enjoyed the best of both worlds. They have received good pay, comfortable working conditions, bonuses, unparalleled job security and huge pensions with very little downside. This has resulted in a stagnation of public services with no incentive to cut costs or boost productivity with no external and very little internal competition. Long-gone are the days when a public sector job was done in the vein of public-interest. A freeze in pay would send out messages that the public sector needs to really earn our money rather than automatically receiving it.

The chances are Alistair Darling won’t carry out his threat of freezing public sector pay. If David Cameron comes into power, he has already stated that he won’t be cracking down on public sector pay as ‘that is not the way we do pay in this country’ (whatever that means…). Even if this warning gives some departments a nudge in the right direction, I fear it will be a long time before we see a much-needed large-scale review of efficiency, waste and spending in the public sector.

How to undermine volunteering


Volunteering is an activity that the government does not understand. For politicians, the populace is seen in crude terms, often through the lens of focus groups.

A report from CFE entitiled Cultural Volunteering in the East Midlands, paid for by a collection of publicly funded bodies, apparently demonstrates the “value of volunteering both to the individual and the organisations they volunteer for". This is not exactly a revelation.

The policy recommendations make depressing reading. It argues for the development of a regional policy and strategy on volunteering. While local government “is expected to facilitate an environment in which volunteering is increased and ensure local people can identify opportunities to volunteer and thus fulfil an active role within their communities".

Included in the recommendations is the suggestion that “Local authorities could maximise the engagement of cultural organisations and volunteers by providing volunteer managers in cultural organisations with appropriate information about services, polices and decisions". In essence this is a blueprint for undermining volunteering in the East Midlands.

By its very nature volunteering is set apart from the coercive state. Although usually well intentioned, politicians are taking away the autonomy of charities and with it the values that make them distinct from politics. It is a pity that many charities are happy to lap up public funds not realising that they are drinking poisoned water. Further, they are undermining those charities that know better.

The rise of the surveillance society


Following the 9/11 and 7/7 terrorist attacks, there has been an exponential increase in Britain’s surveillance: currently, Britain has a quarter of the world’s security surveillance cameras with around four million cameras in use and we are currently the world’s most watched nation – something which is very unnerving and reflective of the surveillance dystopia envisaged by George Orwell in his fictional work “Nineteen Eighty Four".

The steady expansion and the overuse of the surveillance in Britain risks undermining the right to privacy; it poses a huge risk to individual liberty; and one more step towards a police state in the United Kingdom. Currently, there are few laws in place to limit the use of CCTV, brought about to “protect national security": this has lead to a “mission creep" in the use and abuse of surveillance. Local councils have been accused of severely abusing the surveillance in the United Kingdom by using CCTV to prevent fly tipping, dog fouling and, recently, CCTV was used by Poole Borough Council to monitor the actions and whereabouts of a family who were wrongly accused of lying about where they live on a school application form.

Britain’s surveillance society can be closely linked to the works of Jeremy Bentham and Michel Foucault. In 1785, Jeremy Bentham proposed the idea of the Panopticon: the Panopticon is a conceptual prison design that allows the prison guard to watch the prisoners without the prisoners being able to tell when they are being watched, in order to gain significant psychological control. Bentham described the Panopticon as "a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example". The French philosopher, Michel Foucault, took up this theme in his 1975 work “Discipline and Punish", where he pursued the link between surveillance and social control. Thus, comparing the effects of surveillance to the effects of the Panopticon.

Although the use of surveillance clearly has its advantages in terms of fighting crime, its overuse can prove counter-productive and can ultimately be viewed as a challenge to Britain’s liberal democratic status.

The rise of the surveillance society is written by Daniel Button, 3rd prize in The Young Writer on Liberty 2009.

Cut public spending by a third


Sir John Major, former Chancellor (and ex-PM) said at the weekend that public spending should be reduced by a third, including cutting the number of civil servants and ministers.

That would mean reducing government spending from nearly £700 billion to around £450 billion. Since the Treasury expects to collect just under £500 billion of tax this year, it would turn the monstrous £175 billion borrowing into a surplus of about £45 billion.

I’ll let you play fantasy Budgets, but that surplus would be more than enough to abolish council tax, fuel duty, or corporation tax, or increase the tax-free personal allowance to £15,000.

So Major’s proposed cut would mean significant tax cuts as well as a balanced Budget instead of record debt.

That sounds like an incredibly radical measure, even though a necessary and desirable one. But is it really (as I am sure the public sector unions will scream) a savage cut that would cripple public services, or is it a feasible, moderate policy?

Let’s look back a few years, to before the recent government profligacy.

In 2000, three years into the Labour government and with “Prudence" Brown as Chancellor, total government spending was just under £350 billion. Increase that by inflation, and it would be about £450 billion next year.

So the radical-sounding cut of one third of public spending just means that the government does what it did in 2000, with its costs increased by inflation. Is that really so difficult?

Just think of all the wonderful things that the government does now, that it didn’t do in 2000 (go on, try). Are they worth beggaring the country for?

As Tom blogged here last week, “all that extra cash has achieved more or less nothing." Well – except for a crippling public debt!

Kindness not enough to cut the queues


Cheers all round as the Human Tissues Authority announce that the number of people donating kidneys to strangers has increased by 50 per cent. The only problem, alas, is that the increase is from ten people to fifteen. And three of those have yet to undergo surgery. In a country where 7,000 people are in need of a kidney, an increase of two donors is hardly a cause for celebration. Fortunately there is a long-ignored solution: compensating organ donors.

The sacrifices made by the fifteen new altruistic donors should not to be ignored; they are committing the most noble of acts, and as a recipient of a kidney myself I cannot overstate my admiration for them. But altruism is not enough; nowhere in the world does it make serious leeway into the long queues of people in desperate need of transplants.

According to the International Society of Nephrology, kidney disease affects more than 500 million people worldwide, while in the USA the number of people dependent on dialysis tripled over the last two decades.

Also, bans on organ vending have created a terrifying global black market in organs which sees people in poor countries forced into perilous situations. Efforts have been made to clamp down on the illicit market in organs, but where demand exists, supply finds a way to meet it. Even when countries such as China, India, and the Philippines had some success in thwarting the trade, it simply switched to other areas like the Eastern Europe. Patients will go to extraordinary lengths to save their lives, turning to underground sources when legitimate avenues are banned by governments.

Due to the corrupt nature of the black market, donors get little or no protection. Deprived of the security of contract law, they often fail to receive the money they are promised, go without follow-up medical care and are forced away from the institutions designed to protect them. These appalling conditions are not a result of a marketplace, but a result of laws that drive it underground, away from where it can be a transparent regime devoted to donor protection.

Such a regime should include an impartial not-for-profit or state body matching donors to patients, with donors carefully screened for physical and psychological problems. The provision of follow-up care, potentially for the rest of the donor’s life, is mandatory. This system therefore rewards all patients, not favouring the rich. Donors, meanwhile, receive excellent levels of care.

The only way to stop illicit markets is to create legal ones. Indeed, there is no better justification for testing legal modes of exchange than the very depredations of the underground market.

Momentum is growing. In the British Medical Journal, a leading British transplant surgeon called for a controlled donor compensation program for unrelated live donors, while Israeli, Saudi and Indian governments have decided to offer incentives ranging from lifelong health insurance for the donor to a cash benefit.

I heartily applaud the donors in the UK who have given their kidneys to strangers, and know what a precious gift this is. But we need thousands more. There is currently no room for individuals who would welcome an opportunity to be rewarded for rescuing their fellow human beings. The system is gridlocked, while those on waiting lists lose their lives.

Sally Satel M.D. is a practicing psychiatrist and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

The boys in green


In the police state of Britain we are already harassed by the ‘boys in blue’ on a frequent basis, whether that be for taking photos in public, holding a peaceful protest or parking on double yellows. But now the government has decided to attack us from another side, sending in the ’boys in green’ to bully our firms and industries.

The Environment Agency is creating a new team to enforce the Carbon Reduction Commitment (CRC). The team of Green Police have been given powers to search company premises and inspect utility bills without the permission of the owners. This is just another way in which the state is trying to flex its muscles, rather than aiding them by letting them get on with the jobs in hand.

The most efficient way to combat carbon emissions is not to set restrictive top-down quotas on firms and then enforce them with jack- booted Carbon Cops. Rather, firms should be free to lead the fight against climate change, with profits as the incentive. As an Environmental Kuznets Curve shows, over time if left to the market, carbon emission will begin to fall as firms search for cheaper environmentally friendly fuels and consumers are willing to pay more towards greener firms.

This latest scheme is poorly timed. Many firms are struggling to survive, with falling revenues and increasing costs. By imposing stricter regulation upon energy producers, costs will inevitably rise, costs which will passed onto consumers – individuals and SMEs.