Beyond Disadvantage: Disability, Law, and Bioethics

The above is the title of the 2018 Petrie-Flom Center Annual Conference, which took place in June. I had registered for the event because the topic interests me greatly and I have so much to learn in this area. Unfortunately, I turned out to be away and unable to attend after all.

I am delighted that the Petrie-Flom Center not only decided to make some of the lecture materials available beforehand, but recorded the lectures and has made the videos shareable.

Prominent point of discussion at he conference was the question whether a disability is merely a difference, or a bad difference. Putting the question like this is an oversimplification but it is a good starting point. I will discuss this matter and these lectures in greater detail in coming posts.

For now, here are the opening remarks, and first talks.

“Beyond Disadvantage: Disability, Law, and Bioethics” Opening Remarks and Panel 1: Theory and Definitions of Disability from Petrie-Flom Center on Vimeo.

 

 

 

About dealing with the poleese

Below, you will find a highly entertaining university lecture by a law professor (James Duane) and a police officer about why you should never talk to the police. Ever.

(James Duane won a national debating award when he was still in high school. You can tell.)

Most of us are raised on fairy tales about the police that have little to do with reality. So was I.

Much later in life, when I became more proficient in legal matters, I realized that not only should you never talk to police, you should never let police into your home either, even if you’ve already decided you aren’t going to say a thing.

I’ll tell you why.

(Besides that, as James Duane demonstrates in his lecture, saying nothing is very hard.)

When I was much younger, one of my sisters had a boyfriend who was with the police. When the two visited my home for the first time, I noticed how little reticence he displayed with regard to opening the door to my bedroom and walking straight into it. I realized that it probably came from his policing background.

Would I have been happy for him to have walked in on, say, a display of sex toys or my bloody underpants on the floor because I happened to have gotten my period unexpectedly that day, or even a collection of childhood teddy bears? Probably not!

We value our personal life. Our personal privacy.

Without you being aware of it, police may already have access to all your phone calls and other electronic communications. Everything is recorded and kept these days. So, do they really still need to be able to discover that childhood teddy bear collection in your bedroom too?

You usually are under no obligation whatsoever to open the door to police and if police officers think you have done something very serious, they’ll bust the door down anyway.

This is not about being dishonest or having no respect or about trying to make the lives of police officers as hard as possible. This is about the reality that “life ain’t fair” and that stuff happens. Even when no bad intentions are involved.

Everything that James Duane says is true, and for many reasons. The main reason for how we can get ourselves into a mess is probably that most of us are chatty, perhaps particularly when we’re under some kind of pressure.

So, as Duane explains, you may end up accidentally saying something that has nothing to do with why police wanted to talk with you but that happens to reveal a violation of some obscure law that should have been updated decades ago but wasn’t and that one of the two police officers you’re talking with just happens to know about.

But as Duane also explains, you could for example mention that you weren’t in town on a certain day, not knowing that someone else firmly believes to have seen you that day. That is likely to come across as a lie on your side, even if you aren’t lying at all.

Part of being chatty also seems to be that we sometimes say really dumb things.

I sometimes catch myself saying the stupidest stuff when I am making small talk, or letting stuff rest that other people say. Stuff that isn’t true. Stuff that makes me look bad, or look silly. Nothing serious, usually. Just silly stuff that makes me look dumber than I am.

Such as that when I bought an iPad, I splashed out without thinking. I had a very practical reason for purchasing an iPad and it had to do with my business. But that’s for me to know. I don’t feel inclined to correct another person about an assumption he or she makes when all I am doing is making small talk. I know why I bought that iPad, and that’s enough for me.

But sometimes, I leave stuff unchallenged that I really should have spoken up about and at other times, I find myself automatically saying things like “yeah, me too”. I guess I do it to be sympathetic or because I don’t want to come across as too overpowering or too much of a “smart ass”.

When James Duane did his little quiz, I thought “That’s funny, I didn’t know that they had been dot dot dot but he definitely said dot dot dot” and so I too thought I knew the answer. We say what we say in such instances because we are so eager to get it right, and we know that that answer is the right one. Only, it isn’t. It is the right answer, but to a different question.

Diversity. Inclusivity. Non-discrimination. Easy to talk about. Hard to put into practice.

A few years ago, I was contacted by an organization that provides diversity training. Part of its mission was the following:

We seek to be an open, transparent, inclusive non-profit organisation, promoting diversity and equality.
We also firmly believe that individuals should be treated equally regardless of disability, gender, ethnic origin, religion and sexual orientation.

I met with its Chairperson, who asked me to take a look at the organization’s Articles.

I did that and found that they were (a slightly adapted version of) older standard Articles, even though the organization was set up more than half a year after the change in the standard Articles (28 April 2013).

Different in the newer version was that it no longer discriminated against mental health versus physical health. The Mental Health Discrimination Act 2013 had something to do with that.

This is the offending sub-clause in the articles up to 28 April 2013:

18. A person ceases to be a director as soon as—

(e) by reason of that person’s mental health, a court makes an order which wholly or partly prevents that person from personally exercising any powers or rights which that person would otherwise have;

Compare it with sub-clause 18d, which is not discriminatory toward mental health relative to physical health:

18. A person ceases to be a director as soon as—

(d) a registered medical practitioner who is treating that person gives a written opinion to the company stating that that person has become physically or mentally incapable of acting as a director and may remain so for more than three months;

The newer version reads:

18. A person ceases to be a director as soon as—

(e) [paragraph omitted pursuant to The Mental Health (Discrimination) Act 2013]

Even though the fact that the sub-clause in question (18e) was rendered invalid by the Mental Health Act because of its discriminatory nature, I felt that the organization should update its Articles.

  • It would reflect the organization’s stated values and objectives.
  • Unless the person was familiar with company law, whoever read that sub-clause might not know that it was invalid.

The organization’s Chair didn’t see the need.

 

The illegality of British government actions

A pattern is starting to emerge. The British government does not display a lot of respect for the law.

At least one judge has commented that the government is wasting the tax payers’ money as well as judicial capacity.

The pattern shows unequivocally that the British government goes after the most vulnerable in British society and seeks to protect the wealthiest in society.

Apparently, the Lord Chancellor has the task of ensuring the government’s compliance with the rule of law. As of the beginning of this year, that is David Gauke, appointed by HM the Queen on advice of the Prime Minister. So the Prime Minister recommends who gets to monitor the legality of her own government’s actions? Hmm.

His predecessors were Chris Grayling (2012-2015), Michael Gove (2015-2016), Elizabeth Truss (2016-2017) and David Lidington (2017-2018). All Conservatives.

“We need to talk about this” – updated version

I am wrapping up the much improved version of “We need to talk about this“. There is now a chapter on euthanasia, for instance, with a discussion of the Groningen Protocol.

I didn’t write this book to convince you that my views are the right ones, even though I hope you will agree with many of them. I wrote this book to encourage as many people as possible to develop their own opinions in these areas, to go beyond impassioned exclamations like “this is so wrong” or “this is very good” and to make their opinions known to their governments and  academics, and to discuss these issues with their friends, relatives and colleagues. Continue reading