We have of course been reflecting a lot on the death of Margaret Thatcher this week. There’s been plenty written elsewhere and I’m not going to bore you with our rather predictable views on her passing.
She was famous for a quote that appeared in Woman’s Own in 1987: “There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It’s our duty to look after ourselves first and then, also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations, because there is no such thing as entitlement unless someone has first met an obligation.”
This is one of those quotes lefties like me like to use to berate her and the legacy she has left. Mostly we think she means (and of course she did mean) people need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, get on their bike and stop using welfare as a crutch. Most people of my bent would argue she misses the point and that support for the weakest enriches the lives of all of us.
But what if we held this quote up to be used to shine a light on other situations – say those who refuse to vote, or hide their money in off-shore accounts or refuse to vaccinate their children. To make things more palatable (to my taste), you have to remove the small word “no” and then remove the two words: “first” and perhaps “individual” and a “then”. Now you have a view I find more compelling:
“There is such thing as society. There are men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves. It’s our duty to look after ourselves and also to look after our neighbour. People have got the entitlements too much in mind, without the obligations, because there is no such thing as entitlement unless someone has first met an obligation.”
This has been in my mind because of a tragedy unfolding in Wales that is too close to home – the measles outbreak in Swansea.
We had hoped Henry would be able to go back to school for the start of the summer term – just a couple of hours a day at first to see how he does. But children with leukaemia or any disease where their immune system is suppressed, are at huge risk from measles. It is, according to the World Health Organization, one of the biggest preventable killers of children in the world. Henry had his MMR; he had the booster; in fact he’s up to date with all his vaccines. Sadly none of them works. We have the leukaemia to thank for that.
Viruses spread like leaping fires. They flare in unexpected places, and school holidays and movements of people help them to move across the country. This is utterly sickening for the families of children with suppressed immune systems. When the first death or serious disability comes from measles, it will be a child like Henry. But where will they catch it? They will catch it from someone who is unvaccinated. Andrew Wakefield, the discredited charlatan, who cooked up spurious links with other childhood disorders, for his own personal gain, must bear much of the blame. But he has been comprehensively discredited. And while any death from measles would surely leave a child’s blood on his hands, parents also have a duty to wake up and smell the coffee. I am writing this as an ardent supporter of vaccination brought to us through reliable, tried and tested and tried and tested and tried and tested science. Medical research has after all improved Henry’s chances of cure from his leukaemia to above 90%. It has immeasurably improved all our lives.
Together we have achieved so much – all of us by paying our taxes, most by giving to research charities and some through careers in science and medicine. Henry is currently part of a clinical trial (UKALL2011). He didn’t hesitate in joining the trial when I explained it may at times be more difficult for him but that he would be helping children who don’t yet have leukaemia. I have a lot to be proud of him for, but that is near the top of the list. He has met his obligations.
So what about the rest of us? One of our obligations is rather simple – to try to stay well. If you can avoid falling ill, then do it… the simplest way to protect yourself and your family and your neighbour is to get your jabs. Some people can’t. Children like Henry can’t. And they are relying on you. For medicine to work, we cannot be individuals, we have to be a society.