Thursday, October 29, 2020

Fit to care for a child?

 I'm currently teaching my Ethics of Public Policy module, which has just moved on to discussing sex and family life. One issue that we look at is parental licensing - as proposed by Hugh LaFollette

I've seen, but not yet read, this recent paper by Liam Shields, which unfortunately was too late to be included on my reading list. I might make it an additional recommendation for the students, since we've recently discussed harm reduction in other contexts (e.g. drugs and prostitution).

My reason for posting is seeing this tragic story today, concerning a mother whose neglect led to the death of her 13-year-old daughter in 2018. She's received a prison sentence of wilful ill treatment and neglect, but was cleared of culpable homicide.

Her own solicitor described her as "a lady who clearly has difficulties both mentally and physically, impacting on her ability in how to view things and the consequences of actions or omissions and I think that lies at the root of her culpability in this case", as a result it seems of a traumatic brain injury in her own childhood.

I don't know the full details of the case, including whether or not she was a single parent (I see no mention of this in the BBC article), but I do wonder whether someone who cannot be held responsible for the death of a child in her care should be in the position of primary caregiver in the first place. Perhaps there's something to the licensing proposal after all. In any case, this is a handy recent example to discuss.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

What is a circuit-breaker anyway?

For some time now, people have been talking about a circuit breaker. The proposal has been backed by Labour leader Keir Starmer. This is usually understood as a brief but extreme lockdown, intended to slow the spread of the virus. It's defined here as "a tight set of restrictions - it could feel a lot like the original lockdown - but crucially it would be for a fixed period of time".

But today, in the news, I see that John Keenan, Bishop of Paisley, is calling for what he calls a 'circuit breaker' on Christmas Day:

"Perhaps we should consider a Christmas 'circuit-breaker'. A 24-hour lifting of restrictions on gatherings and celebrations, a break in the war on Covid, just like the pause in the First World War on the Western Front in 1914, when the British and German troops laid down their guns and met in no man's land to celebrate Christmas"

It seems this comes from a paywalled article in the Sunday Times, which I've not read, but the same wording is reported by both the BBC and STV, so I assume it's accurate.

While the more important question is probably whether or not this is a good idea, my main puzzlement is why he uses the term 'circuit breaker' seemingly to mean a temporary lifting of restrictions, rather than imposition or tightening of restrictions. It's an example of someone using a term to mean the exact opposite of its ordinary meaning.

Who does he think he is? Humpty Dumpty?