Dame Joan Bakewell, the Government’s new tsar for the elderly, says she supports assisted suicide and thinks the elderly should not be kept alive once they lose their ‘identity’.
Dame Joan was appointed as the Government’s independent Voice of Older People last week, with the task of raising the profile of age equality issues.
She said: “I look forward to being one of many voices making it widely known what it means to be old, and how to make the most of those important years.”
Yet in a newspaper interview marking her appointment she revealed her support for living wills and said that dementia sufferers should be allowed to die once their identities had faded away.
She also said she supported Lord Joffe’s latest attempt to bring about a change in the law on assisted suicide.
Her comments, likened to Baroness Warnock’s recent declaration that elderly dementia sufferers have a ‘duty to die’, have been described by critics as “disappointing”.
Simon Calvert of The Christian Institute told a national newspaper that Dame Joan’s comments “ran the risk of giving the impression to people with dementia that they have a duty to die”.
Critics of assisted dying say legalisation would pressurise the elderly into prematurely ending their own lives and would stigmatise those with disabilities or terminal illnesses as having less valuable lives than the healthy.
Dame Joan Bakewell presented the BBC’s Late Night Line-Up between 1965 and 1972, which she recently described as “a daily talk show that fearlessly confronted all the taboos of the day – issues like abortion, divorce, homosexuality”.
She recently defended the ‘permissive’ political changes of the 1960s, arguing that “television in the Sixties stripped bare the illusion of all things being well” and the belief that “Christian families were the bedrock of society”.
Like Baroness Warnock, Dame Joan is a well-known commentator on ethical issues. This has added to concerns about the weight her assisted suicide comments could carry.
Here is a selection of her comments on other important moral issues:
“There is, whether we like it or not, a compelling need for many men to have sex without strings, sex with a stranger that is over and done with once the cash has changed hands…
“We can chase it up and down the legal ladders, hound it down dark alleys and squalid bedsits, but its persistence tells us that we won’t eradicate it.
“So let’s face up to the fact and make paying for sex legal. That way we can site and inspect brothels where it suits the community, women can have their health and welfare monitored and their drug problems treated.”
“I was making a point,” Dame Joan has said of her BBC series Taboo, where she read out a poem describing Jesus as an active homosexual.
“You need to show people how sensibilities are offended. It was the very fact that it was to do with Jesus and the disciples that shocked religious people. If you’re going to say, ‘This is a tacky poem’, you have to show it.”
On civil partnerships:
“Now the evangelical wing of the Church of England is furious about plans to allow its clergy to enter such civil partnerships.
“Bible-based fundamentalists deplore what is happening. While society moves on, its churchmen are locked in squabbles about a handful of verses in a 2,000-year-old book.”