04 July 2018

Magna Carta and assisted dying

In 2015, I took an online course on The Magna Carta and its Legacy.  This was presented by my alma mater, Royal Holloway University of London, using the Coursera online platform, to coincide with the 800th anniversary of the original charter.  

The concluding assignment on the course was to write a clause for a modern Magna Carta that addresses the pressing issues and defends the rights that matter to me, and a written motion to persuade others that my clause should be adopted.   The total length was required to be 240 - 270 words - challenging for the topic that I chose, assisted dying.  

This subject continues in public debate, including a fine article by Alice Thomson, We need to talk about assisted dying, in The Times of 4th July 2018.  Some things have progressed - Canada, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, India, six US states  and from next year Victoria in Australia have now allowed doctors to prescribe a barbiturate drug to bring a life to a peaceful end.  Sadly, our own House of Commons rejected such legislation three years ago.  It's time that they re-examined the question.  Here are my proposed clause and motion:

Medical practitioners shall be empowered to prescribe life-ending drugs to mentally competent adults who wish to end unbearable suffering, loss of dignity or of autonomy caused by terminal illness. 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 'a Magna Carta for our age', bans torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Since its adoption in 1948, medical science has advanced so that it can treat many common diseases. However, we all die eventually. End-of-life palliative care is often appropriate and effective, but for some, physical and mental suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life, cannot be prevented. Patients may endure years while 'nature takes its course'. 

This proposal gives the sick the confidence and the freedom that they need not face endless suffering. 

This is a difficult, emotive argument. Some religious groups hold that all life is sacred; only natural processes or divine intervention should determine the time of death. Others hold that members of religions may make a conscientious decision not to utilise a legal freedom, but should not stop others making their own choice. 

Opponents also fear a 'slippery slope' that could extend beyond the tight scope of consenting, mentally competent, terminally-ill adults. Several states have enacted assisted-dying laws, including Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Washington, Oregon and Vermont. All have monitored the effects carefully; public opinion remains largely in favour. None of the states has chosen to extend its legislative scope. 

In Britain, the public is heavily pro (82% according to the 2010 British Social Attitudes survey) but lawmakers are cautious. Australia has no current proposals; Canada's Parliament will consider legislation during its current session. 

That was 2015, and now is 2018.  Of course Brexit is top of most politicians' agendas, but surely Parliament should look again before long.

24 October 2016

Economist inflation

I love the analysis, clarity and comment given by The Economist newspaper.  It's not the only newspaper that is jacking up its prices, but even so, I was fairly gutted to see that my annual renewal will rise from £155 in January 2016 to £179 in January 2017.  Yes, there's a paltry £10 discount for one year only, for taking the Direct Debit option, and there are multi-year options but these demand a big up-front payment.  It's a hell of a jump.

I decided to look at prices paid over the last 10 years and compare them against UK Consumer Price Inflation.  This year the difference between the inflation-adjusted price, £134, and the inflated price, is £45.  That's  not a happy sight for anyone on a fixed income.  

Method used: the Bank of England inflation calculator, which currently covers Consumer Price Inflation for years up to 2015, to work out inflation-adjusted prices based on £99 in 2006, and then use current number for UK 2016 CPI Average inflation given by inflation.eu to for the last point on the chart.  Prices paid taken from my records. 

29 July 2016

White elephant in Somerset

Hinkley Point in Somerset is planned to become the site of a massive new nuclear reactor project, currently budgeted at £18 billion. The project will be executed and funded by EDF and China, with the return guaranteed by a deal to buy the electricity produced at a 'strike price' almost three times the current market rate (£92.50 per MWh compared with £33).  This difference is estimated by the National Audit Office to be a £29.7 billion subsidy by consumers.  Last night (28th July) we heard  that the board of EDF had approved the deal and then shortly after, the welcome news that the UK Government had called a pause before contracts were signed. 
Photo grabbed from order-order.com

The deal shows the cynicism of the Department of Energy and of politicians, both Labour and Conservative/LibDem coalition, who were quite happy to commit future generations to pay a huge amount for electricity to solve their planning problems.  There is no way that Parliament would support a grant of £30 billion to EDF to build this plant; it may anyway have been an illegal state subsidy.  Instead it was proposed to take the money through households' electricity bills over a 35 year period, a stealth tax on every user. 

The  Hinkley Point C plant is due to produce 3200 MW using the new and unproven European Pressurised Reactor technology.  The first project for this reactor, in Finland, is currently 9 years late and £4 billion over budget.   Every other project is late and over budget.  No power is being produced commercially anywhere in the world with this design. 

What would be a better solution?  Submarines have been driven by small nuclear power plants for many years, and a similar Small Modular Reactor technology is now under development for civilian use.   These can be produced more or less on a production line, and sited closer to the end users, with benefits of the reuse of excess heat for municipal heating.   At say 160 MW each, only 20 would be needed to supply the same amount of power as Hinkley Point C.  Rolls Royce is a leader in this field.   Let's hope that the new UK Government stops the white elephant project in Somerset before too much more money has been sunk into it. 

22 September 2015

RWC 2015 - Day 3

Another exciting day of Rugby, and although the results were much more predictable than Saturday's, there are still some big implications for the rest of the tournament.

Match 6: Samoa v USA (25-16)
Samoa showed that they're going to be a competitor in this group.  Their direct and effective play will challenge both Japan and Scotland.  One highlight was a great right-to-left move at an attacking scrum that put Tim Nanai-Williams over in the corner, on the end of a grubber kick by Tusi Pisi. 

Match 7: Wales v Uruguay (54-9)

Wales won easily but at a big cost in terms of apparent injuries: Corey Allen is out of the squad with a torn hamstring, after scoring a hat-trick of tries.  Liam Williams, Samson Lee, Dan Lydiate, Aaron Jarvis and Paul James all had to leave the field. 

Well-managed match, which didn't become a penalty-fest in spite of the differences in skill levels between the sides.  Uruguay kept going until the end, great courage and spirit. 

Match 8: New Zealand v Argentina (26-16)

The crowd's booing of Richie McCaw aside, there was little to disappoint in this great clash between Southern Hemisphere sides.  Off the field - well, the service at the bars could have been a little better organised; how long can it take to take the tops off four plastic bottles of Heineken and exchange the result for a £20 note?  Someone told me afterwards that Murphy's stout was also available, but no other beers. 

Argentina played themselves to a standstill after leading for much of the game.  All Blacks' attack was very organised and patient.  They won't care that they didn't score a bonus point - all they need to do is win their matches, and no-one else in the group is likely to threaten that aim.

Wembley was brilliant, and the crowd was a record for a RWC pool match, almost 90,000.  England2015 and Transport for London were very well organised to help us get away in good time.  My own experience was this: we reached the back of the queue, 250 metres from the station at 18:55, and were on the (right) train at 19:17, at Waterloo and enjoying a beer (not Heineken) at 19:45.   

10 September 2015

Using TicketSource for Waverley Singers

Just been setting up the account to sell our tickets and this is a test for their Ticket Shop web app: