What have déjà vu and doublethink got in common? I got a strong sense of both in the media last week.
Mostly it was in relation to the assisted suicide debate that kicked off during the week as Gino Kenny TD intends to introduce a Dying with Dignity Bill. On three Drivetime programmes (RTÉ Radio 1), I got a feling of déjà vu as the pro-choice playbook was reactivated. We got references to choice and bodily autonomy, genuinely sad personal stories nudging us in a particular direction, the endorsements by celebrities, the euphemistic language, the promises of restrictive measures, the burden of having to travel for a ‘service’ that’s legal elsewhere.
And then there’s the doublethink. In Orwell’s 1984 universe, the loyal Party followers were made capable of holding two opposite viewpoints at the same time. And so, after voting in a children’s rights article into the Constitution, we followed by voting against our children’s right to be born soon after. Likewise, how crass was it that this bill was promoted the same week as World Suicide Prevention Day?
On Wednesday’s show, Barry Lenihan presented a report which, in my opinion, was loaded in favour of the proposal. There was much referencing of the support of cancer campaigner Vicky Phelan and her “powerful contribution”, with little sense of any opposition.
There was an interview with Gino Kenny, who was obviously in support of his bill. His “safeguards” included oversight by two medics and a cooling off period (sound familiar?). He said it would be highly restricted and regulated, and wasn’t challenged on that.
Then we heard from Fianna Fáil TD Malcolm Byrne who favoured a free vote on such life issues, but he talked about being influenced by the story of Marie Fleming (previously at the centre of an assisted suicide case) and the “eloquent testimony” of Vicky Phelan. Lenihan referenced four EU countries that allowed it, but not the countries that didn’t.
On Thursday we heard from Gail O’Rourke, previously charged and acquitted in relation to a case of assisted suicide. Lest anyone think I’m concocting connections, she referenced the changes in relation to same sex marriage and abortion as precedents.
The interview was largely sympathetic and unchallenging. Mary Wilson said that the bill “quite strictly” provided for assisted dying – a value judgement and quite debateable.
By contrast, at the end there was her perfunctory acknowledgement that “there will be people who worry”.
O’Rourke rejected this slippery slope argument citing previous divorce and ab-ortion concerns –has she even noticed the drastic rise in abortion figures just one year into liberalisation?
Presenter Mary Wilson showed awareness of the requirement for balance, careful to point out that there would be a different perspective on the Friday.
That was an interview with palliative care consultant Dr Feargal Twomey. I found it a much more challenging interview with lots of interruptions on Wilson’s part. And she started with a questionable statement that there were “very strict guidelines” and “safeguards” in the bill. Dr Twomey disagreed, finding the bill dangerous and flawed.
He feared for the vulnerable, the disabled, those who could be pressurised. He feared the broadening of the term “terminal illness”, and pointed out how in some countries assisted dying or euthanasia had been extended to those who were blind, deaf, depressed or just tired of life.
Comparing the Thursday and Friday interviews it was a classic case of emotion vs reason, the personal story vs the rational argument.
This was Mary Wilson’s last show after 14 years on Drivetime and she bid a gracious farewell, acknowledging the support of colleagues and audience.
With so much negativity towards death, illness, the disability and aging in some quarters it was good to see some strong positivity in that area on Love Your Family Garden (UTV, Tuesday) a series in which presenter Alan Titchmarsh creates imaginative gardens for families who are coping with all sorts of challenges. It was a fine antidote to some modern trends.
Finally, Andrea Gilligan, new in the role, has been a lively and cheerful presenter on Lunchtime Live (Newstalk). During the week she featured an item about gender reveal parties – those weird and often lavish events when parents reveal the gender of their unborn child. Strange indeed, but at least it does suggest that after all there are just two genders, and that, believe it or not, what’s in the womb is actually a baby! Now there’s a reveal.
Pick of the week
Night of the Prophet
EWTN, Sunday, September 20, 9 pm
Through the eyes of a Roman journalist, a dramatisation of Padre Pio, who is unveiled as a man of purity and Christian charity.
RTÉ1, Monday, September 21, 9.35 pm
Whistle-blowers: Fighting to be Heard – an exploration of the role of whistle-blowers in society.
BBCTwo, Friday (night), September 25, 3.45 am
Louis Theroux explores how some people’s most fervent beliefs can bring them into conflict with mainstream society. Expect the fringes, and irony!