Death is not a cause

I recently read an article by the leader of the green party, lamenting the death of her mother in a car crash some years previously, and calling for all built up areas to have a 20 mph speed limit. While it’s tragic that she lost her mother, it’s somehow disappointing that people only campaign for change drawn from their own personal experiences.

It would be nice if people campaigned to improve lives and situations they have no knowledge of. I have no idea what it’s like to starve, or to freeze (well, apart from when I went climbing in Wales in a t-shirt and the wind felt as if it had reached the inside of my pancreas), or to lose my parents to Aids. I can’t imagine living in a war zone.

Of course death is equally tragic in any circumstance, and I’m not sure that its frequency in the poorer parts of the world inure anyone to the death of their children, parents or grandparents. We still all wish it didn’t have to happen, even when it is simply the result of old age, and we mourn them no less. It’s just that we in Europe suffer from the illusion that our relative wealth and the inexorable advances of medicine can stave off death, and that therefore when it does happen, it is somehow wrong.

I was no less devastated when my grandfather died of heart failure at 92 than I would have been if he had died of cancer at 70; probably less so, as he had time to teach me values, humility and Latin before he died. But I don’t bemoan the terrible state of the human heart, or claim that it’s a scandal “in this day and age” for people to die. Cancer, accidental death, heart disease are part of life. Genetic disorders are of course most upsetting in that they tend to cause children’s deaths, but if they didn’t , those disorders would become more common. It is awful for the people affected, but maybe their reaction should be raising money for malaria research, a disease that claims the lives of many thousands of children, and enables the survival of genetic diseases like sickle cell anaemia – it protects against malaria if one parent passes on the trait, and therefore confers an evolutionary advantage that allows it to flourish in malarial areas. If both parents have the gene, their children have a 50% chance of having deformed (sickle shaped) red blood cells, which create very painful blockages in their arteries and organs, and will lead to premature death.

So give money for that, because it will never affect you.

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