Wednesday, 22 September 2010

On the business of medals

Yesterday I attended a debate at the Scottish Parliament about assisted suicide. In response to a highly provocative statement from Margo MacDonald, I made some comments that have caused a small media furore.

Margo stated that “the state gives soldiers medals for killing people”. This is not only an unfortunate metaphor to use in defence of assisted suicide; it is also not true. The State gives medals for bravery and valour in the field of battle. It is true that killing is involved in war situations, but it is not the killing that is being honoured.

The sanctity of life remains, whether in the theatre of war or the hospice. Death through war is tragic and our armed forces should be given every bit of moral support in the fulfilment of their duties. Only this week, I was in discussion with service chaplains about how to improve our delivery of pastoral care for those in the front line as well as for veterans. It is unfortunate that the press has chosen to report this wee spat and not the much more important issues that we had been discussing. Such is life!


  1. Since living in Massachusetts, I am no longer a communicant member of the Church of Scotland, having become a Congregationalist (United Church of Christ) by reason of lack of PCUSA churches in my area. However, I still very much consider my Christian Faith to have been shaped by my Scottish Presbyterian upbringing and background.

    Let me preface what I am about to say, by stating that I find war to be iniquitous as a rule. However, there are sometimes legitimate reasons for the prosecution of war (Just War Theory), and I believe the present conflict in Afghanistan to have been such a case. You are of course right to point out that soldiers receive medals for gallantry, and not for the act killing.

    What I find unjust is how many members of the political and media establishment make awful assumptions about the motives and morals of the average serviceman or servicewoman, without themselves being prepared to put everything on the line (including their lives) to keep the rest of us safe.

    Ms. MacDonald has a perfect right to her opinion, but she sometimes gets carried away with herself, and makes crass statements like this one.

    I do not believe in assisted suicide, it is a very selfish thing to ask someone you love or whom owes you a duty of care to terminate your life, when that person has to live with the moral consequences of that action for the rest of their life.

    I have seen terminal illness and the resulting death at very close quarters (my late mother), It is devastating to see someone you love die in pain and know what a relief death is in such circumstances.

    However, there are some facts about the nature of life itself that are beyond a human rights discourse.

    Nobody has a right to be a natural parent, nobody has the right to take life (except in certain defined ways related to the defence of themselves or those whom they have a duty to protect), nobody has a right to 'happiness', although you have the right to pursue it, nobody has a right to procreate without the informed consent of another adult. Nobody can avoid the inevitability of death, natural or otherwise. However, while people are living they have a right to life and dignity as a consequence of their innate human personhood.

  2. "Soldiers should not be awarded medals for killing, says churchman

    Soldiers who kill their enemy on the battlefield should not be awarded medals, a leading Scottish churchman has said. "

    The headline quoted above, greets visitors to the Daily Telegraph webpage ( Sept 21) - and is, I think, seriously misleading. It would be well worth submitting a letter for publication a.s.a.p. to put the record straight - I believe you may have been caught out, thinking on your feet in reply to quips from the MSP (who surely doesn't believe Britain awards medals for "killing"?) Anyway, I've asked her to confirm in writing, one way or the other. But from the Kirk's point of view, I'd like to see a tighter statement from the Council on this question; we've just commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain and suich careless argument dishonours the memory of thousands of servicemen and women, who laid down their lives for their friends - and for strangers - defending the civilised world against fascism.

    Also, I'm not sure if abolishing the idea of medals is your own or that of the Council, and can't recall it coming up at a General Assembly. And how does this sit with the Chaplains to HM Forces? These points need to be set out so that we, the public, know the true position. It's no use just blaming the poor old media for not reporting two hours of debate. They, too, have limited time/space and will naturally use the most newsy sections.


  3. Whether you were caught out or said something in the heat of the moment, perhaps you will consider the hurt and upset you have caused Serving and Ex-Serving Personnel and the families who have lost loved ones in the act of defending this country. For a senior member of the Church of Scotland to be seen to suggest that the taking of another human life is glorified by giving out medals makes me very angry indeed. As an Ex-Serviceman myself, I feel it is only fair to point out that Service Personnel only takes the life of another human being with great reluctance and only when there is no choice.
    Perhaps you would be better to stay away from the political battlefield to avoid further such embaracement.

  4. Dear Mr McAulay, Thank you very much for voicing your comments through the blog. Rev. Galloway is away on holiday but he has asked me to answer your concerns on his behalf.

    Mr. Galloway understands the strong emotional response that his remarks have caused. It was not his intention to question the bravery or commitment of our servicemen and women. However, it was actually Margo MacDonald who said that “the State gives medals for killing people”. Mr Galloway regrets responding to that comment the way he did. Nonetheless, please accept his apology for any offence that his remarks may have caused you.


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