The British media was in a febrile ferment of frothing fury this week over explosive allegations made by Dominic Cummings, a former aide to the Prime Minister.
Mr Cummings, Boris Johnson’s election Svengali and the architect of the Brexit referendum victory, testified before a House of Commons committee about the UK’s performance in the Covid-19 pandemic.
The London Times described his seven hours of testimony as “primal chaos” — as “molten and Sicilian” as Mount Etna and “longer and bloodier than Hamlet”.
A cunning political operator with scores to settle, Cummings “rained fire” on both his former boss and Matt Hancock, the Health Minister.
He claimed that Boris Johnson’s disastrous handling of the pandemic had cost tens of thousands of lives. He was even more scathing about Hancock: “He should have been sacked up to 20 times for coronavirus failings.” He repeatedly accused him of lying about how well-prepared the government was.
Cummings said that Hancock had presided over a policy, at the beginning of the pandemic, of sending untested patients to care homes, where the virus spread like wildfire among vulnerable residents who died in their thousands.
The Health Secretary “misled the Cabinet when he assured it that patients would be tested before leaving hospital”. He and Mr Johnson “only subsequently found out that hadn’t happened”. In his version of events, the strategy for dealing with Covid fell to pieces: “Now all the government rhetoric of ‘We put a shield around care homes’ … was complete nonsense. Quite the opposite of putting a shield around them, we sent people with Covid back to care homes.”
Mr Cummings admitted that the care home chaos “was not deliberate. It was a function of the fact that the system was just completely overwhelmed.” Likely he is correct on this — in other countries the policy seems to have been one of treating the safety of older people as an afterthought.
However, it was predictably inconsistent that the Health Secretary faced no probing questions from the media about his support for the campaign for “the right to die”.
Of course, this is being promoted euphemistically as “assisted dying” — but that is already available as palliative care. New proposals, which Mr Hancock has tentatively endorsed, will involve those not in the dying process – which, logically speaking, could include any one of us.
Given his involvement in the care home fiasco, Mr Hancock must know all about Covid-assisted dying. But, sadly, given the public’s ignorance and the media’s sympathetic treatment of moves to legalise human-assisted dying, I predict that his support will be depicted as wise and humane.
We have laws against assisted suicide (aka “assisted dying”) for a reason: to protect the vulnerable, to build a shield of care and compassion against the virus of despair.
But these are the very laws that we are being groomed to discard, our ethical qualms soothed by dozens of safeguards – safeguards which will be discarded as soon as they fulfill their role in getting the new law on the statute book. The loopholes will grow bigger and bigger as time passes and as “assisted dying” is found to be the answer to suffering in more and more human problems. Death is being touted as the ultimate solution to sickness and old age.
Of course, it will be their own “choice”, although anyone who has had to rely on the care of others knows that the balance of power in such situations tilts heavily in the direction of the helper rather than the helped.
Dominic Cummings has painted Matt Hancock as a hapless and hopeless Health Secretary because he allowed so many elderly to die in the pandemic. Shouldn’t Mr Hancock also be held to account for proposing that even more of them should die via assisted suicide? He is not lying about his support for that; alas, he will not be sacked for it.