Former Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption said his remark apparently telling a Stage 4 bowel cancer sufferer that her life was ‘less valuable’ than others were ‘taken out of context’.
Anti-lockdown figurehead Jonathan Sumption, who sat on the Supreme Court until 2018, made the comment to BBC podcaster Deborah James, 39 while appearing on the BBC‘s The Big Questions this morning.
Lord Sumption was discussing the cost of lockdown on the show and argued that he believed his children’s and grandchildren’s lives were worth more than his ‘because they’ve got a lot more of it ahead’.
Miss James – who suffers with Stage 4 metastatic bowel cancer – was brought into the discussion as a younger person with a life-threatening condition.
She said: ‘With all due respect, I’m the person who you say their life is not valuable. I live with metastatic bowel cancer’.
Lord Sumption then interrupted her and said: ‘I didn’t say it was not valuable, I said it was less valuable.’
His comment proved controversial online, with outraged viewers blasting him as ‘inhuman’, ‘almost grotesque’ and ‘morally bankrupt’.
But Lord Sumption insisted that it had been made in the context of his earlier remarks on the harm done to the young through lockdowns designed to save the elderly from Covid-19.
Jonathan Sumption, who sat on the Supreme Court until 2018, made the comment while appearing on the BBC’s The Big Questions this morning (pictured)
He said: ‘I object extremely strongly to any suggestion that I was inferring that Miss James’s life was less valuable because she had cancer.
‘I thought she was responding to my earlier comments about older people being protected by a total lockdown which is causing immense harm to the young who are unaffected.
‘That harm can be to their mental health or through cooping undergraduates up at university or through the loss of jobs.
‘I was saying this should not be inflicted on the young to protect old people like me.
‘If Miss James has misinterpreted that then I can only apologise to her as it was not my intention to suggest she was less valuable. Sometimes on videolinks it can be difficult to hear what the other person is saying.’
Host Nicky Campbell invited guests to discuss the cost of lockdown and whether it was ‘punishing too many for the greater good’.
Lord Sumption, who argues that vulnerable people should be able to isolate if they want while leaving the rest of the population to continue without lockdown, said: ‘All lives are not of equal value – the older you are, the less valuable yours is because there’s less of it left.’
Miss James, who hosts the BBC‘s You, Me And The Big C podcast, has had 17 tumours in her lifetime and had her latest cancer operation just six weeks ago.
Following his comment during Miss James’ appearance on the show, viewers took to Twitter to vent their anger – calling him ‘dangerous’ and ‘callous’.
Human rights barrister Adam Wagner said: ‘My goodness. Lord Sumption’s response to a woman with Stage 4 cancer asking why her life isn’t valuable is he didn’t say it isn’t valuable just ‘less valuable’.
‘This is the figurehead of anti-lockdown movement – comes across as inhumane, almost grotesque.’
Lord Sumption (left) was discussing the cost of lockdown on the show and argued that he believed his children’s and grandchildren’s lives were worth more than his ‘because they’ve got a lot more of it ahead’. Miss James (right) – who suffers with Stage 4 metastatic bowel cancer – was brought into the discussion as a younger person with a life-threatening condition.
Employment and personal injury barrister David Green said: ”Lord Sumption is a far cleverer lawyer than I will ever be, but I’d swap every brain-cell in my head to avoid being as horrible as he evidently is.’
Lotty Burns wrote: ‘I’m sorry, but if you’re OK to play ‘who’s life is more valuable than others” – you’re morally bankrupt. It’s dangerous. It’s callous.
‘And even if you thought it wasn’t, it’s subjective so isn’t a way to decide who lives and dies.’
Ethics professor John Tasioulas said: ‘Important to be reminded that ethics by numbers yields results that are, indeed, grotesque. Yet the apparent simplicity of it all makes it irresistible to many.’
Miss James (pictured in hospital), from London , known as Bowel Babe, has had 17 tumours in her lifetime and had her latest cancer operation just six weeks ago
His comment sparked outrage among viewers who branded him ‘morally bankrupt’ and ‘horrible’
NHS mental health doctor Benjamin Janaway added: ‘Firstly, it’s more than worth saying it was an abhorrent and thoughtless comment devoid of empathy.
‘No matter what utilitarian argument you may field, it cannot be made on a 1:1 basis, or on the inherent value of life. That is beyond any of us.’
James Foster wrote: ‘Lord Sumption to a woman with Stage 4 cancer: ‘I didn’t say your life wasn’t valuable, I said it was less valuable’
‘WTF’s wrong with these people? My Mum had Stage 4 cancer. 42. It killed her. Her life wasn’t ‘less valuable’ but, actually, it was more valuable.’
Kerry said: ‘I have tears in my eyes listening to this. I am an ex-cancer patient, how can a stuck up b****** say that some people’s lives are less worthy of saving.
‘For f**** sake! How can a human being say that to another human being on national TV. All lives need saving.’
Others sided with Lord Sumption, saying they value their lives less highly than their younger loved ones.
Clare said she ‘did see Lord Sumption’s point’, adding: ‘I would stand in front of a train for my grandchildren.
‘Their life does have more value than mine at 59. This isn’t to say I have no value but he did have a valid, and personal, point.’
Emma Robertson said: ‘Watch the whole debate for context. I am a Stage 4 cancer patient myself and actually agree with Lord Sumption.
‘I am not sure I understand the outrage around this.
Others sided with Lord Sumption, saying they value their lives less highly than their younger loved ones
‘I think Lord Sumption made his point pretty clear and I think people are willfully misinterpreting it and feigning outrage to skew the debate.
‘You don’t win an argument by turning on the tears, you just shut it down.’
Talk Radio presenter Julia Hartley-Brewer added: ‘Rubbish. If you had the chance to save only one person from a fire and had to choose between an eight year old and an 80 year old, you know perfectly well which one you’d save.
‘It doesn’t mean all lives don’t have value, it’s about relative value when tough decisions have to be made.’
Mark said: ‘All those lockdown fanatics spitting feathers because they know he’s right. Totally agree with Lord Sumption.
‘My life is less valuable than my kids. They have everything ahead to live for and to experience and I’m 52. I’ve lived a great life and I would save them ahead of me.’
Miss James, from London, known as Bowel Babe, replied to Lord Sumption saying her life was ‘less valuable’, adding: ‘Who are you to put a value on life? In my view, and I think in many others, life is sacred and i don’t think we should make those judgement calls.
‘All life is worth saving regardless of what life it is people are living.
‘I’m fully aware and I’ve seen first hand and said goodbye to best friends in terms of collateral Covid is causing but at the same time I’m grateful to be somebody who is kept alive because of the NHS…
‘Only six weeks ago I was in intensive care for a cancer operation that has got me back up on my feet and without that I wouldn’t be here.
‘And we have to protect the NHS to allow the collateral to be as minimal on all health conditions as possible.’
Miss James said she has seen ‘many friends’ who she met through cancer die in the four years since her diagnosis.
One was a fellow host of the podcast, Rachael Bland, who died of breast cancer in 2018, aged 40.
Last night, her widower Steve told the Mail Lord Sumption’s comments were ‘extraordinary and outrageous’.
He said: ‘It’s one thing to think what he said but another thing to say it to a cancer patient.
‘I’m super-proud of Deb for the way she came back at him.
‘If that had been Rachael [being spoken to like that] I would have been raging. But I thought Deborah handled herself really well.
‘To hear this man saying that their lives are somehow less valuable must be very painful for any cancer patient, some of whom may have suffered delays to treatment in the pandemic.’
Miss James later tweeted of the row: ‘Politics aside, have we scooped so low in all this and lost our moral compass?’
Professor Pat Price, a leading oncologist and founder of the Catch Up With Cancer campaign, said: ‘This is outrageous – every patient’s life is important.’
Lord Sumption added: ‘I was certainly not saying her life was less valuable. I was saying the lives of older people are worth less because they have less time to live.
‘I understood her to be disagreeing with my proposition.
‘I do not deny saying what is recorded on the footage.’
He said: ‘You are interpreting that as meaning her life is less valuable because she had metastatic bowel cancer. It’s a question of age.
‘I was saying that young people should not be sacrificed to save old people.’
During his appearance on the BBC’s The Big Questions, Lord Sumption also claimed there was no real evidence to suggest that lockdowns are an effective method for reducing fatalities from coronavirus and instead said there are a ‘large number’ of statistical studies into the relationship between lockdown and mortality and ‘there is almost no correlation at all’.
He added that they show variables which determine mortality depends primarily on the age boundary balance and underlying state of health of the population.
Lord Sumption said: ‘Covid attacks vulnerable groups… 90 per cent of the deaths from Covid have been of people over 70 and 90 per cent of those have other very serious underlying clinical conditions.’
He added: ‘Instead of isolating the old and the vulnerable who need it, we have chosen to isolate everybody.
‘The argument is that if the young fit and healthy get Covid they will pass it on to the old and vulnerable but that is not correct because the old and vulnerable can isolate themselves if they want to.’
In October Lord Sumption accused ministers of keeping Britons ‘under a form of house arrest’ for three months in the spring under the original lockdown.
Miss James, who hosts the BBC ‘s You, Me And The Big C podcast (pictured with her cohosts Lauren Mahon and Rachael Bland), has had 17 tumours in her lifetime and had her latest cancer operation just six weeks ago
Giving a prestigious Cambridge University law lecture he attacked the control ministers had had over everyday life, saying they went further than any previous curbs, even during wartime.
The peer, a seasoned critic of the lockdown, accused Mr Johnson and his Cabinet of acting by ministerial decree and sidelining MPs.
His concerns echo those of many MPs who have demanded more power to oversee Government coronavirus measures.
Tonight he gave a speech, Government by decree – Covid-19 and the Constitution, to the Cambridge Law faculty.
Speaking via Zoom from Milan he said: ‘During the Covid-19 pandemic the British state has exercised coercive powers over its citizens on a scale never previously attempted.
‘This has taken effective legal control enforced by the police over the personal lives of the entire population, who they could meet, what they could do, even within their own homes.
Pictured: BBC podcast cohost Rachael Bland who died of breast cancer in 2018
‘For three months it placed everybody under a form of house arrest qualified only by their right to do a limit number of things approved by ministers
‘All of this has been authorised by ministerial decree with minimal parliamentary involvement.
‘It has been the most significant interference with personal freedom in the history of our country. We have never sought to do such a thing before, even in war-time and even when faced with health crises far more serious than this one.’
Lord Sumption, 71, who sat in the Supreme Court from 2012 until his retirement in 2018, has repeatedly warned that ministers have been exceeding their rightful powers.
He added: ‘I do not doubt the seriousness of the epidemic but I believe that history will look back on the measures taken to contain it as a monument of collective hysteria and governmental folly.’
In another swipe at Mr Johnson, he drew a parallel with its attempt last year to prorogue parliament to force through Brexit legislation.
He said: ‘Governments hold power in Britain on the sufferance of the elected chamber of the legislature. Without that we are not a democracy.’
Orders to remain at home and rafts of new laws to restrict what people can do amount to a ‘breathtaking’ infringement of democratic rights, he said.
He accused ministers of using the police to suppress opposition to their policies, of creating new criminal offences without the legal right to do so, and of grabbing unconstitutional powers by issuing misleading guidance.
He warned the methods used by ministers will undo the unity of society and will lead to long-term authoritarian government.