How would you describe your identity and beliefs in terms of religion?
I would say I consider myself a spiritual person. I don’t belong to any particular religious body. I have a bit of a problem with organised religion, dogmas, doctrines, etc. I am more into meditation and more liberal.
What made you adopt or retain this position?
I was never a member of a traditional religious denomination. As a child, my parents were not religious, although I lived in a village and we did go to Sunday school… and as an adult I have been searching, I have been on an Alpha course and attended different churches. I felt very at home when I first attended Quaker meetings, although I don’t go anymore. I studied religion and theology at university as part of my search, and I am quite interested in Buddhism and practice a form of Buddhist meditation.
Do you think that GB is an equal and tolerant society, especially in relation to religion?
I think Great Britain is a fairly tolerant society. People of all religions and faiths can express themselves.
Are there any challenges for you in living in accordance with your beliefs?
I would say that I don’t face any challenges as a spiritual person. I am a bit wishy washy, I can go and try different things and I think people are welcoming and there is a lot of potential for people of all faiths and no faith…
Have Human Rights enshrined in the Human Rights Act been positive for GB society?
I think Human Rights are positive for British society.
Should there be a universal right to free medical care?
There is a financial limit for a universal right to free medical care. It would be great if there were an open door policy for anyone from the world who came for treatment here, but you know there are financial restrictions. I am afraid it is not a realistic one, perhaps in an ideal world. There must be a limit, drugs for cancer and stuff like that… there are limited pots, and I think people have responsibilities. We talk about rights, but people also have a duty to look after themselves. Many people don’t, but still expect excellent medical care, when actually they are contributing to their situation.
When should the State intervene in people expressing their beliefs?
I think religious and ideological freedom must be limited when they cause or have the potential to cause harm to other people… physical or emotional harm… I think that violence in the name of religion is unacceptable.
Do you think public authorities strike the right balance between the rights of parents and the rights of children when there are disputes about medical treatments? I am thinking of the very well known controversies concerning Jehovah’s Witnesses, for instance…
I probably would be more on the side of the parents, because those parents truly love their children, and who am I to judge, for example, a Jehovah’s Witness who doesn’t want to give blood to their children on religious grounds? I think even people within the same religion can have different ideas about the end of life care. So, going back to children, I can see some people, even if not on religious grounds, would want to put their children under lots of operations in order to prolong life, whilst others might be more concerned about the quality of a child’s life, and feel that all those interventions would be detrimental for their children, particularly when they know that their child’s life is limited… I think this is a very tricky one.
You are aware of the fact that some parents have objected to the teaching of sexual education in schools, also on religious grounds… Do you think parents should be entitled to do so?
Sexual education is taught in many different ways. Some people get it spot on, many other people don’t, and then some parents educate their children themselves and others don’t. So, there are so many variables. I suppose it is better that children are educated in schools about sex, respecting themselves and others in sexual practices, as well as about contraception.
What is your view about religious assistance in hospitals? Do you think that public authorities should meet the costs of chaplains?
I think the spiritual care in hospitals is a very important service. Many people won’t be interested in it, but for the people for whom it is important, I think it has to be on offer.
Would you say that there is sufficient awareness in the healthcare sector of patients’ spiritual beliefs and needs?
I would say that there is some awareness in the health system. Although it is probably easier to meet specific religious needs rather than spiritual needs, for example, meeting religious dietary requirements. I think there is a problem with spirituality, what it really means and how to meet those needs.
Maybe the needs of patients of institutionalised religions are better defined and they are easier to be provided. For instance, people who want to get communion on Sundays or if somebody doesn’t want his/her body to be touched by anyone outside the family until they die, that is quantifiable and you are able to do that. I think some religious needs are more defined, but spiritual needs are much looser and so, often we don’t know what we need ourselves.
Patients need compassion and spirituality can bring that. Often we don’t have time, I think we need to be with people… to listen to them.
Do you think that living in a Parliamentary democracy is a good thing?
I wouldn’t prefer an alternative to democracy… Communism in theory, in its purest form, may be fantastic, but it expects the best of everybody and this ideology can only work if all people are the best they can be… and as people, we are a mixed bunch. So, in the real world it doesn’t really work, and as a result, democracy is the best way to go.
Do you believe that you have a duty to vote?
I think I should vote, particularly being a woman, bearing in mind that women fought for so many years to vote. Also I feel I should vote because politics affect every aspect of our lives. However, I think the problem is that politicians say what they are going to do and they don’t do it, and then people give up on politics… and I know politicians have a hard job, but they say ‘they are going to do this’ and then it doesn’t happen, because when they get there, they realise it isn’t possible, and they spend so much time arguing with each other… I think this makes it harder for people like me, who struggle to understand politics to really know what we are voting for.
Do you find it problematic that members of the House of Lords are not elected?
Yes, I think it is arguably problematic that the members of the House of Lords are not directly elected by the citizens, but they are indirectly elected, you could say. I don’t really know if they would do a much better job if they were elected by the public.
How do you feel about bishops in the House of Lords?
I do think we are a traditionally Christian country. So, although we are multi-faith, Christianity is part of our heritage and I don’t have a problem with the bishops in the House of Lords, but I assume there are members of the Lords who do have other faiths, although they may not be there in their faith capacity… maybe it would be good to appoint representatives of other religious bodies, but the question would be how to choose them.
How do you feel about devolution?
With regard to devolution, I think there is a lot of duplication. For example, in the health service, there would be guidelines about dementia care, the English would do it… and then the Welsh… both countries would have gone through hours and hours of time and resources, and there is really not so much of a difference to justify that duplication. I think the management could be certainly better.
Do you think that public authorities do their best to promote health and well-being?
I think public authorities are aware of the need to promote well-being, and most people would know that is the best way to do things, but often there are tensions when projects are set up… often we look in the short term and then a project starts, but it is stopped… however, I think there is in principle good will on the part of public authorities.
How should people exercising power be held accountable? Should they be held accountable by Parliament, independent bodies, the media, public opinion, etc?
I think people with a position of power in society should definitely be held to account. There should be formal rules imposed by Parliament and the media has a role to play, but the media at times can be unhelpful. Public opinion is also crucial. All those instruments have a part to play.
Do you think accountability in the NHS is sufficiently robust? If not, how could it be improved?
Even though I am a nurse, I don’t know enough about accountability in the NHS. I think there is accountability, but whether or not it is enough, I really don’t know and it would be difficult for me to say how to improve it. The NHS is a huge organisation, with so many people being employed by it, that some people will be more inclined personally to be held accountable for their actions because they are decent. Doctors seem to have a culture of covering up for each other. This may be a nurse’s perception, I don’t know, but maybe doctors are just being more human. Of course, negligence is unacceptable, but sometimes we do things with the best of our intention and at the end of the day we are humans and we make mistakes, and I think that doctors are more understanding of that. At the same time there are people who perhaps shouldn’t be doing their jobs. It is so difficult, because it is such a big organisation…
Do you think that elected representatives reflect society in terms of gender, race, sexuality, etc? If not, is there anything which we can or should do to address this?
I don’t think our politicians are sufficiently representative of our society. I suspect there are many more men and probably lots of very well-educated people… but I guess they have to be. I think everybody should have the opportunity to get to those places or take those roles. In an ideal world we should all have access to excellent education, everyone should be well brought up by their parents, but I don’t think this is the case for everyone… So, education is the key element. We are getting better though. I think there are probably more opportunities for people of other faiths. I am sure there is, unfortunately, still a lot of racism, homophobia, that prevents us from moving on… but I feel we are moving in the right direction and we have many more opportunities now than we had.
Have you ever felt so strongly about an issue that you took action to try to change it? Have you ever demonstrated, written to your MP, signed a petition, etc?
I demonstrated in London against the war in Iraq. I think I may have written to MPs… I don’t do enough, I suppose.
Would you say that in dealing with public authorities your beliefs have been respected and accommodated?
I would say that most of my experiences with public authorities [in situations where my spirituality was relevant] have been positive. I think I am lucky because I am articulate and when I think things should happen in a particular way, I go about doing whatever is needed to make things happen. I can do that, but unfortunately other people can’t, and it is more difficult for them.
Is it important for you to always act within the law?
I would say that generally I am a law abiding citizen, but for example, I often breach the speed limit, as many people do. I can only think of one friend who never breaches it. I know I am wrong at doing it and I still do it, but equally if I get fined, I know it is fair and as it is the law, I have to take it on the chin. I wouldn’t moan about it, because I have done something which I shouldn’t have done. I can envisage situations where I would see myself breaking the law if it were against my conscience, although I cannot think of an example. However, people who have absolutely no money or no food, I can understand if they steal, for example, particularly if they have children they need to feed. I think one has to be desperate to do that, but I understand it can happen. I don’t know if I would do it myself… I am sure there would be examples, but I cannot provide you with one now.
Do you believe that the Rule of Law is applied equally? Do some groups receive preferential or prejudicial treatment?
I don’t think we are all on an equal footing before the law. There is definitely racism. For example, I imagine young black men are more likely to be stopped and searched if they look, in the least, suspicious, and I am sure they have a harder time. Not all police would do that. I think there will be some though. In more deprived areas I am sure they have a harder time with the police, and also I think there is a different approach to people who break the law depending on their social class. Sometimes when people are more articulate can be treated better. The system can be unjust at times.
How do you feel about the increase in police powers over the last 15 years or so? Do you think it is a necessary development or is it a threat to our civil liberties?
I think that the increase of the powers of the police in recent years is an appropriate response to latest developments. I understand terrorism is a serious threat and needs to be addressed. I know it is probably a bit naïve, but I am not so concerned about civil liberties in this respect, because if you don’t have anything to hide, you have nothing to fear… I wouldn’t expect the police searching my house because I have nothing to hide. I think our police have a very hard job, we don’t talk enough about responsibilities… everybody is banging on about their rights, but we need to place more emphasis on responsibilities.
Are there any laws which you find restrictive? Can you think of any laws which you would like to see amended?
I cannot think of any law which I would change if I could. There are laws which I find inconvenient, and I would have been happier hadn’t they been introduced in the first place, but I understand their rationale in terms of keeping people safe. For instance, wearing seat belts in the back of cars.
I hope they won’t bring in a law making helmet wearing for bikes compulsory, as I personally prefer to take the risk and not wear one when I am riding a bike.
Is there anything which you would like to add?
I think I really believe in living and let live. We should all be free to express ourselves, but not to the detriment of other people. So, we should all act in a loving way and we need to respect other people, to be fair and honest. In general, I have a positive view of British society, but I know that if I were a young black man, of a deprived area, without much education, my experience may be very different.
Carole Emmerson grew up in Somerset, but throughout her life has lived in many different areas in England and Wales, including London, Bath and Cardiff. She qualified as a nurse in the late 1980s and worked in the NHS and in private health care on and off since. In her mid-thirties she took a three year break to study Theology and Religious Studies full-time at Cardiff University.
A couple of years ago she moved to Dorset, in order to support her parents, as her mother is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Since April 2016 she has been unable to work, due to the ill health of her stepfather, and her mother is now living with her and she is caring for her full-time.
Although she always imagined that she would get married and have children this hasn’t happened, but she has enjoyed the freedom to travel and work overseas. Carole feels very blessed to have many good friends and in her spare time, she loves waking outdoors, particularly along the coast, and has recently taken up tennis.