Leonard Cohen is surely one of the greatest poet-balladeers of our time. His voice may be gravelly, but his lyrics are inspirational. Now it has emerged that the muse to whom he dedicated “So long, Marianne” has died in Norway. She was Marianne Ihlen – and he sent her a beautiful valediction, wishing her a “good journey” and promising: “See you down the road.” Cohen, like Marianne, is now 81, and he messaged Marianne: “I think I will follow you very soon.”
Cohen has always had a spiritual streak: he spent five years in a Zen Buddhist monastery and is described as an observant Jew of eclectic spirituality.
Sisters of Mercy is one of his most eloquent songs: “Oh, the sisters of mercy they are not departed or gone/They were waiting for me when I thought that I just can’t go on.”
There’s a groundbreaking new drug available which, if taken every day, can prevent HIV/Aids. It’s known as “PrEP”, and by the trade name of Truvada. In America, it has been prescribed widely for homosexual men who may be at risk of contracting Aids or HIV through multiple partners.
There’s been a heated debate in Britain about who should pay for this pharmaceutical, which costs around £400 a month. The NHS initially claimed it was not its responsibility to do so, as there are so many other health priorities. But the Terrence Higgins Trust took the NHS to the High Court, and won. The NHS will now be obliged to pay for PrEP.
Ian Green, the head of the Terrence Higgins Trust, has accused the NHS of homophobia for its reluctance to foot the bill for a condition which some critics have described as a “lifestyle choice”. It is argued that are other ways to avoid HIV besides taking a prophylactic drug; there are not always other ways to avoid cancer, inherited heart disease or cataracts.
Where there is a medication that can cure, we should, surely avail ourselves of that medication. We also accept inoculations that can prevent illness. If Truvada can prevent HIV, why not make it accessible, whatever the cost? Yet the existentialists have consistently advanced the notion of “choice” as the key philosophical issue for modern individuals. We are free to choose what we do and how we act.
The concomitant of choice is responsibility: you also take the consequences of your choices. If a person chooses to have multiple sexual partners and is put at risk of a disease, should that not count as a personal responsibility?
But who am I to talk? I have a chronic bronchial condition (COPD) as a result of smoking. Currently, there aren’t any expensive drugs that can cure it, but if there were, I daresay I would want to avail myself of them.
However, would I have demanded a prophylactic medication that enabled me to continue the pleasure of smoking 60 cigarettes a day? That is the closer
The Catholic Church tied itself in knots grappling with the question of whether condoms might be used to prevent the spread of HIV. But now the condom is being relegated, by some, as being a distinctly old-fashioned method of disease prevention. Everything passes.
As reported elsewhere, there have been ructions at Maynooth in Ireland over the Archbishop of Dublin’s decision to withdraw students from the Irish clerical college and send them to Rome instead. Dr Diarmuid Martin considers Maynooth to be somewhat unedifying in its present form.
Things have changed since an Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, instructed all seminarians to “keep custody of the eyes”, and never to look at anything that might be “an occasion of sin”. Young seminarians today are apparently in the habit of using a dating app on their mobile phones to facilitate encounters.
An interesting suggestion has emerged about how young priests might be prepared for their vocation, advanced originally by the late Archbishop of Paris, Jean-Marie Lustiger: trainee priests could be apprenticed to an older priest in a parish, attending theological college part-time, but meanwhile getting a dose of real life in everyday service to the community. Strikes me as ideal.
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