Harm Minimisation


I have a friend who has worked assiduously for many years to expose the dangers of pursuing a harm minimisation approach in regard to illicit drugs. I am sure he has been greatly motivated by the experience of losing a son to this evil.

Imagine my surprise when reading the latest issue of The Economist magazine to see that the concept of harm minimisation has been applied by that journal to the subject of female genital mutilation (FGM). If you don’t believe me, click here:

In a Leader article they argue “It is therefore time to consider a new approach. Instead of trying to stamp FGM out entirely, governments should ban the worst forms, permit those that cause no lasting harm and try to persuade parents to choose the least nasty version, or none at all.”

Is there any difference between that approach to FGM and the approach of the drug campaigners who argue that we should “face reality”, acknowledge that illicit drugs are widely used in the community and that the police are seizing only a fraction, and – in the interests of “harm minimisation” – remove the legal penalties, officially support shoot-up galleries, and fund drug testing booths at rave parties?

I have subscribed to The Economist magazine for several years but it seems to have a blind support on important moral issues of the day. For example, it is very much pro-euthanasia and assisted suicide, and pro-abortion. When I see Leaders and articles based around those subjects I ask myself whether I should cancel my subscription but I would then miss the other articles on foreign affairs and the economy. Future issues will probably be chock a block with commentary on the Brexit decision in the UK, which will be interesting and informative.

The Economist Leader writers probably think they are being innovative and humane in coming up with a harm minimisation approach to FGM but they have exposed the real dangers of such an approach and they have actually been “hoist on their own petard”.

Let me explain.

At the end of the Leader they write: “Faced with the urgency of saving 400,000 girls from severe mutilation each year, arguments without evidence are not good enough. There is only one way to find out whether FGM can be ameliorated more quickly than ended: try it and see”.

This is an admission that they do not know if their suggestion will work and that they have no evidence to support it, but “hey, let’s try it and see”.

In any other area of medicine their dangerous clinical trial would be thrown out on its ear by any reputable institutional ethics committee.

Those who advocate for harm minimisation in many areas of social policy do not appear to be particularly concerned about the flow-on effects of their recommendations. Faced with a recommendation to choose “the least nasty version” will not parents who are predisposed by custom and environment to endorse FGM, find it easy to implement the more complete and nastiest versions?

In a similar fashion, how much easier will it be when governments fund mini-diagnostic booths outside rave parties to test the “purity” of the drugs being sold, for the next step to be taken of complete decriminalisation?

by Denis Strangman

by Denis Strangman

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