Rights, liberties and the ‘gift’ of life


In (25 March) I deliberately did not refer to life as a gift from God or some “higher power” (Dr Brigid Purcell, , 30 March). The fact is that many agnostics and atheists do regard life as a gift. The novelist Katherine Mansfield, for example, when speaking of her delight in the Alps: “If only one could make some small grasshoppery sound of praise to someone, of thanks to someone – but to who?”

Nor is the distinction between a liberty and a right just theoretical, but fundamental to many aspects of life. I may be at liberty to smoke myself to death, but to talk about having a right to do so is to trivialise the crucially important language of human rights. The language of rights exists first to protect the individual from the overweening power of the state – so desperately needed in the world today.

I do not sit in the House of Lords as a bishop but as an independent crossbench life peer expressing only my own view, and I do not deny Sue Atkins (, 30 March) “a comfortable and dignified death” in her own home. I hope for the same myself and believe that the excellent palliative care now available in this country will help give me this.
Richard Harries
House of Lords

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