Dr Catharine Morgan
How you describe yourself in terms of religious belief and identity?
I was brought up Church of England, obviously a Christian, but I am a Quaker at heart, and I would say Quaker more than Christian actually, because not all Quakers are Christians… I believe in God and in a very personal relationship between me and God. Quakers have a very strong belief in recognising God in everyone… God is within you and therefore, you can find answers within you. So, you don’t need a hierarchical Church.
I see Anglicanism as my background, not where I belong anymore… I do still go to church with my family on high days and holidays, as it is part of seeing my family and doing things together… What made me change was that a friend who was not religious at all, but who married a member of an evangelical church, told me that she would like to do something spiritual/religious, but that when she went to church, all these creeds, sitting down, standing up, singing, etc, seemed like mumbo jumbo, and I found myself telling her that she could try the Quakers, as they are not so formal, they do more into prayer and meditation…none of the hierarchy and none of the structure, which is actually very spiritual… and then I found myself thinking ‘maybe I should do that too’… so, I did
Do you think that GB is an equal and tolerant society, especially in relation to religion and belief?
I think Great Britain tries to be tolerant and equal in as much as people are allowed to practise their own religion. We don’t persecute anyone… Tolerant? I don’t think we are so tolerant with each other. There is a lot of prejudice, an increase of islamophobia…
I do feel I am answerable to God above the law, but I can’t think of a good example in which I have felt challenged. I know Quakers who have… who feel very so strongly about peace and nuclear weapons that they have demonstrated illegally. I haven’t, but I can imagine that I might. I think the law is fallible. My faith asks me to treat everyone like equals and to see God in them […] If anything, being a Quaker has helped me socially. But I have not faced any prejudice myself […]
Have human rights been a positive thing for GB society?
Human rights are a good thing for British society… Absolutely! Yes, I think there is a right to free public care, but the limits are practical…there are financial limits and we have to decide how we are going to spend the money which we have, and that can’t be based on age, gender or anything like that. We need to find out how to provide the best care for people, but I certainly believe there is a right to free public care
When should the state intervene in the people expressing their beliefs?
Religious and ideological freedoms must be limited when they interfere with other people. What comes to mind is that I find myself quite conflicted about the wearing of the burqa… I know if it is the individual’s choice and it doesn’t have a negative impact on others I shouldn’t have a problem with that… but I guess I feel concerned that the person under the burqa has been constrained to wear it… what I am getting at is that sometimes I feel we need to defend individuals from their own religious bodies.
Recently there was a child with a brain tumour, and the State tried to prevent the parents from taking him abroad for treatment… I find this dilemma difficult. Of course, parents are hugely connected and hopefully they have their child’s best interest at heart, but as we know they can be abusive, and misguided, and you hope the State makes an informed decision… you know… but the State and the medical profession can also be wrong, can’t they? I have to say that there is a place for the State and the medical profession to intervene at times
Do you think that State sponsored chaplains are appropriate?
There is a role for spirituality in hospitals, hospices and prisons, and my strongest example of that is working in a hospice where we had a chaplain who came every day, saw all the patients, and it didn’t matter at all what religion they followed or none, because they knew they could talk to her about anything, their pains, their worries… she was someone with whom they could discuss the meanings of their lives, and I think must be a space to do that I think it should be paid for by the State…you could say that the Church could send someone for free, and some people would argue that spiritual care is not part of healthcare, but I think it is.
I think spiritual care is very limited and not acknowledged as important… I know that compassion is compromised when staff are exhausted. If there was less money spent on drugs and more money on care, that would be a good thing.
Do you think that living in a Parliamentary democracy is a positive thing?
Living in a democracy is good
Do you believe that you have a duty to vote?
I think I have a duty to vote because of my citizenship. I think everyone entitled to vote should vote.
I was worried when they lowered the age limit in Scotland to 16. At 16 you may still be at home, hormonal and emotional… all over the shop. I think 16 is too young… 18 is a good age. And I worry sometimes about the proportional representation thing. It was very striking in the last elections. The fact that UKIP got 10% of the votes and only 1 seat seems unfair but personally I was relieved about that so maybe we should stay where we are!
Does it concern you that the House of Lords is not elected?
I think there is an advantage about a body which is not elected, which has longer views. We, the electorate, can perhaps be too fickle at times. I find that sort of stability reassuring… Having said that, the only person I know who was appointed to the House of Lords, I have no respect at all But my instinct is that they are a good thing and they should not be abolished…
How do you feel about bishops in the House of Lords?
I don’t feel necessarily comfortable with religious voices in Parliament… I feel it is probably appropriate to have some religious representatives there, but I don’t think they should be there just because they are bishops… that doesn’t make any sense to me
As a Quaker I don’t feel particularly represented by bishops of the Church of England and I regard myself as a Christian… so I’m sure people of other religions or none would not feel represented by them.
How do you feel about devolution?
I’m not so sure about devolution…I wouldn’t want completely independence, but I feel that devolving some powers, as they have done so far, gives Scotland and Wales a sense of empowerment, and I think that is positive
I think more should be done about health… this becomes a hot topic before elections, but I’m afraid that the NHS is quietly becoming privatised, rather than being supported…
Do you think that the mechanisms for holding people with power to account are adequate at present?
I worry about the press, because it can be terribly skewed and massively influential, but at the same time free press is extremely important and it can uncover things which have been under the carpet. From personal experience, I am afraid that the mechanisms of accountability in the NHS does not suffice. It seems to be incredibly hard to sack someone who is not doing their job, or to blow the whistle due to intimidation. So, no, I don’t think accountability is properly working
Do you think that our politicians are representative of society?
No, our politicians do not represent our society… We are failing in some areas… I don’t know the statistics, but my impression is that women are still struggling to get to the top, and I suspect that sexuality is an issue, bearing in mind what the media conveys… the whole idea of family values, politicians seem to be all in traditional families … and then yes, they have approved gay marriage, but you don’t see any gay married politicians. In terms of ethnic groups, again I don’t know the statistics by comparison with what they are in other places, but my impression is that the House of Commons is full of white, British middle or upper middle class men educated in public schools. Maybe that’s harsh, but that is my impression
Do you think that Quakers are appropriately and proportionately represented in Parliament?
I would expect so, in fact, I would imagine Quakers are well represented in Parliament, and local authorities. I haven’t experienced any prejudice and I think Quakers are a politically active group.
Have you ever felt so strongly about an issue that you have wanted to campaign to change it?
I have never written to my MP or demonstrated… I felt very strongly about gay marriage, and I would have happily demonstrated for that. The only other situation that comes to mind is, as a medical student, there was animal experimentation… and again nobody was forced, but one or two people said that they were not prepared to do it… I didn’t say no at that point, but I actually felt compromised afterwards. So, my belief system was compromised
Is it important for you always to act within secular law?
I hope that if I believe that something is wrong, if I were on the wrong side of the law, I hope I would stand by my beliefs above the law, because I think that is how it should be. In a situation of conflict between my conscience and the law, I hope I would follow my conscience… you don’t know how brave you are until you are tested though
Is the Rule of Law applied equally? Do some groups experience prejudicial or preferential treatment?
There is definitely preferential and prejudicial treatment in our society. I am sure young black men experience prejudice from the police… I have a colleague, who has a mixed race son, and she reports countless times that he has been stopped by the police for no reason. I feel I have benefited from being a white British woman when I was stopped by the police for speeding. I was treated very gently and was extremely lucky to be let off… and I thought really?
How do you feel about the general trend towards an increase in police powers over the past 15 years?
We are under an increased threat. I don’t think it is just media scare… there is real concern about terrorism, but human rights are compromised when people premises are searched, phones get hacked and all sorts of things…and there is a massive tension there, isn’t there? I don’t feel able to judge at all. I worry about the powers of the Government to control terrorism, and how that might be abused…
Are there any legal rules which you find restrictive?
I am quite happy with the legal framework, but I guess I am very much with the white mainstream society…
Is there anything which you would like to add?
I feel quite proud to be part of a culture that at least aims to uphold human rights and respect people’s differences, and welcome diverse people and religions… I think that is a very important aspect and I am very proud of that. I think this welcoming nature is very central to our British culture
Catharine Morgan was born in Lancaster and spent her school years in Oxford. She studied Medicine in Cambridge and since then has worked in Leeds and Manchester, Leicester, Cardiff and Oxford. She spent four years training in Palliative Medicine and has spent the last ten years working in Sexual health and HIV Medicine. She is passionate about providing patient centred, holistic care.
Outside of work her great love is for mountains and walking. She also plays the violin and enjoys playing string quartets. She dabbles with skiing, hockey, rock climbing and dance classes. She is close to her family and blessed with a wonderful circle of friends.