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Dementia? Who wants moral lectures from academics?

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Interviewed for the Church of Scotland’s magazine, Baroness Mary Warnock effectively said that people with dementia should do us all a favour and expire.

‘If you’re demented, you’re wasting people’s lives – your family’s lives – and you’re wasting the resources of the National Health Service,’ she wrote.

‘I feel there’s a wider argument that if somebody absolutely, desperately wants to die because they’re a burden to their family, or the state, then I think they should be allowed to die.’

So some of us not only have a right to die but a duty to die.

According to the Alzheimer’s Society, around 700,000 people are living with a degenerative condition such as Alzheimer’s disease. Two-thirds of people living in care homes have dementia, with only 60% of them receiving specialised care.

With a predicted 940,000 people with dementia by 2021, it seems that there is quite a lot of culling to be done.

We are fortunate, therefore, that one of the ‘establishment’s’ great and good is prepared to lean out of her ivory tower and give us the benefit of her moral philosophy – which appears to be that human life has no intrinsic value in itself but can only be measured in terms of its quality.

Do we really need professional ethicists and philosophers to provide us with moral leadership? It is one thing to stroll through the rarefied atmosphere of a colonnade making moral judgements, with justification resting solely on theoretical reasoning. It is quite another, and as valid, to make moral judgements that have been informed by intuition, experience, a sense of familial kinship and feelings of love.

I am profoundly against the idea of a garlanded academic assuming that her background in moral philosophy qualifies her to issue moral guidance to the rest of us.

George Winter is a former biomedical scientist from the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and City Hospital

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