Sunday, 2 November 2008

Here I stand, I can do no other

No, I am not comparing myself to Martin Luther. Despite my dramatics, I was never in danger of being burned alive as a heretic. However, it is an introduction to what I said to students on Friday.

As you probably know, it was Wear it Pink day, to raise money for the Breast Cancer Campaign. Lots of my students (who were looking very pink) asked me why I was not wearing pink.

My answer was:

I will tell you why I am not wearing pink today. By the end of it, some of you will hate me. It would be less controversial if I informed you that I was a paedophile or a bank robber.

I do not approve of cancer research, for the following reasons:

1. Cancer research charities support and fund research on animals. I consider this immoral and unjustified.

2. They use emotional blackmail to justify this. They will ask, "Would you rather an animal died, or Mrs Didactophobe?" The answer, of course, is that I would prefer an animal to die. However, I would also prefer someone else's wife to die than Mrs Didactophobe. This is not a reason to carry out vivisection on other people's wives; nor is it a reason to kill animals. So I say, "Keep the emotional blackmail. It is not logical. I don't buy it."

3. When we get to the level of emotional blackmail, we are turning cancer research into a superstition: putting a pound in a bucket so that your mum won't get cancer is no different to medieval peasants keeping in with the local witch to avoid their crops being blighted.

4. Cancer research charities are huge, moneyspinning operations. Annually, they rake in hundreds of millions of pounds. We still don't have a cure.

5. Cancer is an illness of wealthy societies. It tends to kill you once you have had quite a decent innings, and have survived a myriad of things which kill people in poorer countries. When there is an exception, it is usually because people have made themselves unhealthy, eg through smoking, drinking or drug taking.

6. The single biggest killer of people from ill health worldwide is a lack of clean water. It is not as sexy as finding a cure for cancer, but I have a monthly standing order for Water Aid, which seeks to help people in poor countries to overcome this problem. Put the hundreds of millions (and indeed billions worldwide) which are spent on cancer research into providing clean water, and we can save millions of lives. Guaranteed. Not just if the witch doesn't hex us.

There. Hate me or not? I am not trying to persuade anyone, but sometimes people need to hear the other side of a story, not just emotional hysteria.

I happen to think there are better things you can do with your pound.