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Assisted dying advocates are losing their compassion

We are now devaluing 'costly' lives. Credit: Getty

March 31, 2024 - 1:30pm

When babies are born, they embody all the hopes and ambitions of their parents. Death is the extinguishing of that hope. It is a profound statement about humanity’s loss of ambition that we can see no issue with hastening death; that so many babies born today can expect an unprecedented length of life is seen not as a triumph, but instead as a problem that requires a dark solution.

Hence the distinct sinking feeling I got when reading Matthew Parris’s now viral Times article headlined: “We can’t afford a taboo on assisted dying.” In it, Parris attempts to deal with what he feels is the strongest argument held by opponents of assisted dying — that the terminally ill would be pressured to hasten the ends of their lives. He greets this possibility with open arms: “I believe this will indeed come to pass. And I would welcome it.” You see, there are simply too many old and infirm and it should be their social duty to ask themselves, “How much is all this costing relatives and the health service?”

More chilling than the notion that the NHS is now a hallowed church which the sinful should never enter is the notion that Parris feels no reticence in saying the quiet part out loud. For decades, campaigners for assisted dying have hidden behind calls for compassion, dignity and autonomy. Only sometimes did they let the odd quip about certain lives being “unaffordable” slip out. Usually, advocates shy away from a macabre calculus between life and the bottom line. But for Parris, slashing this taboo is progressive: “It will become common practice to pose the question without embarrassment, and to weigh the answer up.”

The problem is that people are increasingly posing that question, and the answer has not been good for the poor, the homeless, the disabled and even simply victims of injustice. In Canada, where what we call MAiD (medical assistance in dying) has been legalised since 2016, something that was once a stringent law intended only for the terminally ill has been gradually expanded.

People are requesting MAiD not because they want to die but because they can no longer afford to live. And incredibly, a growing portion of Canadians have no qualms offering MAiD to those whose only “affliction” is poverty. Academics suggest withholding MAiD from victims of injustice only causes “further harm”, since those injustices probably aren’t going away any time soon.

At first I thought that Parris just wasn’t considering the fact that legislation inevitably expands in these ways. Initially stringent safeguards inevitably fall on grounds of discrimination, pushing more and more groups into its purview. Urging the terminally ill to hasten their demise lest they be a “burden” on their families and society is bad enough.

But Parris doesn’t seem to mind the idea that it would eventually expand and come to be “seen as the normal road for many to take, and considered socially responsible — and even, finally, urged upon people”. He doesn’t qualify this last “people” with “terminally ill”. This is precisely what’s happening in Canada. It is not an example we should wish to follow.

We once dreamed of so much more. The Marquis de Condorcet, writing at the end of the 18th century, dreamed of a world in which the human lifespan would know of “no upper limit”. He could see the possibilities of a world just beyond the horizon in which humanity would realise its obstacles were not engrained in its nature nor inscribed by God, but out there in the world waiting to be understood and rooted out. Enlightenment philosophers had looked down into the cradle of the human subject at its birth — that subject that would be the bearer of liberty, equality, fraternity; that subject that for the first time in human history would decide its own fate.

But now it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this policy and the unabashed devaluing of “costly lives” is the final nail in the coffin of that hopeful era. In this world, there is no purpose beyond keeping the administrative machine rolling over from one year to the next.

I am glad for arguments like Parris’s that lay bare what the debate about assisted dying is really about. It’s not about compassion and it’s not about autonomy. It’s about hastening the demise not just of the terminally ill, but of the subject that was born with all the hopes of the future in front of it.


Ashley Frawleyis a sociologist, a columnist at Compact and COO of Sublation Media.

AshleyAFrawley

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Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
3 months ago

What happens when the subject who had hopes for the future (or maybe didn’t), ceases to have hope for the future? Do we consign these people to finding their own way out which is often messy and frequently unsuccessful. Doesn’t sound very caring to me.

J Bryant
J Bryant
3 months ago

I agree. I know personal autonomy at the end of life will be very important to me; the right to choose how and when I die. But we also can’t ignore what’s happening in Canada. I never bought into the slippery slope argument opponents of assisted dying often raised, but Canada has proved me wrong.
We need assisted dying legislation of the type Canada originally introduced where, at a minimum, the patient’s financial circumstances cannot be part of the final calculus.

El Uro
El Uro
3 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

We need assisted dying legislation of the type Canada originally introduced where, at a minimum, the patient’s financial circumstances cannot be part of the final calculus.
And tomorrow you will get “Canada today”. Amazing naivety, not to say stupidity.
I participated in the discussion under this article. The overwhelming majority of readers shared your opinion. Tellingly, many went further, even ahead of “Canada today”.
I’m not a believer, but unlike many atheists here, I respect religion and understand where its many “inconvenient prohibitions” came from

Martin Goodfellow
Martin Goodfellow
3 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

The lesson we can learn from Canada, as from our own 1968 abortion legislation, is that ‘safeguards’ are not a guaranty of minimal or reductive appliance.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
3 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

What about a situation where the person lives in constant pain and degradation and cannot afford appropriate meds and care?

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
3 months ago

Apoarently only some 24% of euthanised patients in Switzerland have terminal illnesses. Just as some 2500 abortions out of the 250000 each year in Britain are the result of rape

E Wyatt
E Wyatt
3 months ago

The writer raises an important issue. I’m sure governments and policy makers are very interested in the financial aspects of assisted dying, but most ordinary people who support it surely do so because they have seen appalling suffering at the end of a loved one’s life and hate the thought of others having to go through that. I am old myself and I often lie awake at night fearing how my end might be. Why shouldn’t I have the right, in certain circumstances, to die peacefully?

Ashley Frawley
Ashley Frawley
3 months ago
Reply to  E Wyatt

Instead of opening the door to this horrific calculus, it would be better to demand good quality palliative care which goes a long way towards avoiding the bad deaths people are fearful of.

E Wyatt
E Wyatt
3 months ago
Reply to  Ashley Frawley

Palliative care doesn’t always work with cancer, sadly.

Martin Goodfellow
Martin Goodfellow
3 months ago
Reply to  E Wyatt

Not yet, perhaps, but if euthanasia becomes the norm, further development of palliative care will be impeded, especially if cost is a determining factor. In the UK, we need to support ‘Care not Killing’ to avoid this happening.

Peter B
Peter B
3 months ago

There is a difference between vountary euthenasia/assisted dying and euthenasia that this article and some of these comments seem to deliberately be attempting to blur.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
3 months ago
Reply to  Ashley Frawley

You do understand that in using Parris as an example of those who wish to countenance assisted death whilst dismissing genuine cases of intractable terminal pain, you completely undermine your own argument?

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
3 months ago
Reply to  Lancashire Lad

Parris has written increasing nonsense for some years

Philip Gerrans
Philip Gerrans
3 months ago
Reply to  Ashley Frawley

palliative care is not the solution here. have you been to a dementia ward? Those people are not candidates for palliative care. They can live for on for years in a semi vegetative half life. Each of those people, just to be kept clean and comfortable requires a full time carer. Are you volunteering? Are you suggesting that the UK state pay millions of full time carers to look after the expanding population of demented. Of course not. e
Parris is just saying that the issue needs to be confronted and discussed.
it is not the bad deaths people are afraid of. when death is imminent people are put to sleep even if is is called palliative care. this means of course that people die in discomfort, unable to communicate with loved ones and not in their homes. the opposite of what everyone wants. Prolonging lives in this way is cruel and pointless.
In any case it is not the deaths but the lives It is the quality of lives which is the issue. If you are selfish enough to want to impose the burden of caring for the incontinent demented occasionally aggressive half person you will likely become if you make into the 90s good for you. Even family members (usually women since no men are volunteering or luckily for them die first looked after a by women) get worn down if not destroyed by the task which is mostly accomplished in institutions by poorly paid migrants (who typically do a great job)

Adoptive Loiner
Adoptive Loiner
3 months ago
Reply to  Philip Gerrans

A perfect example of how quickly “assisted suicide” actually becomes culling the weak and vulnerable.

E Wyatt
E Wyatt
3 months ago
Reply to  Philip Gerrans

I suspect some of the people downvoting you have not spent much time in a dementia care home. To be honest, I hadn’t until very recently and I have really been shocked at the state some of these poor souls are in. It’s hidden away from us normally.

Gordon Arta
Gordon Arta
3 months ago
Reply to  Ashley Frawley

And if your ‘demands’ aren’t or can’t be met, just let them suffer? You might choose that for yourself, but don’t presume to choose that for me.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
3 months ago
Reply to  Ashley Frawley

“Quality care” is a phrase that provides more comfort to the living than it does to the dying.
I recently watched a loved one die after weeks of torment in a semi-concious, infantile state. He had the best palliative care. He also had a do-not-resusitate order. But he died without a shred of dignity left. He didn’t deserve that.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
3 months ago
Reply to  E Wyatt

You do have that right. Plan ahead, lay in the means, and just do not leave it till too late, if it is that important to you.

E Wyatt
E Wyatt
3 months ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

It’s not that easy. I’ve no wish to suffocate to death on my own vomit, thanks.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
3 months ago
Reply to  E Wyatt

I do not claim that it is. And I do apologise for suggesting what you should do when you are the one in the soup. But killing yourself, or helping to kill someone else, should require a fairly high activation energy. If somebody says that they want to die, but (e.g.) not if it leaves a mess for others to clean up, or that they would help kill, but not if it means a police interrogation and a tiny chance of a conviction – well, maybe they do not want that death enough to go through with it?

Simon Templar
Simon Templar
3 months ago
Reply to  E Wyatt

E Wyatt asks: “Why shouldn’t I have the right, in certain circumstances, to die peacefully?”
The answer is, as a sole moral agent, you are able to end your life (people do all the time).
But you aren’t asking for that. You are asking for assistance, nay, approval for your choice, from the same group of people who have taken an oath to “Do no harm”.
You don’t want death, you want assisted death, approved death, easy death. And that social opportunity, or obligation, for an easy death, is shocking in its brazenness.
“Universal unqualified easy death” means that every person who is not considered a value to the community is just wasted breath. You can’t escape that conclusion.
Life is supposed to be a fight for life, to overcome adversity, until we die. Death must be the final battle for all of us, or else we have ceased to be compassionate and ceased to be human. Or we are of no more value than a cat. That is what this is about – the intrinsic unmatchable value of every human life, over all other life.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
3 months ago
Reply to  Simon Templar

This is well said. If you want to kill yourself, who’s stopping you? It’s not as if they’re going to toss your corpse in prison. There are a number of fairly reliable methods that are fairly painless, that is if they’re properly executed. Therein lies the real issue. People don’t want to do it themselves. They want to make sure there’s no risk to themselves and that it will be easy. Heck, they may not even want to make the decision themselves. They want the government, or society, or at any rate somebody else to make the decision, for themselves and others, relieving them of both the cost and burden of caring for the elderly. If we’re truly that selfish, maybe we all should off ourselves as a matter of principle.

Peter B
Peter B
3 months ago
Reply to  Simon Templar

I’m not sure that any of us have the right to tell others what life means to them.
You should certainly be free to struggle on to the bitter end if that is what you want.
But I’m not convinced that in a free society you have any right to force that view (which is not universally held) onto others.

Arthur King
Arthur King
3 months ago

Urged on people will give way to forced on people. Unless we reassert the truth that each of our lives matter to God. That we belong to something higher than the state.

Gordon Arta
Gordon Arta
3 months ago
Reply to  Arthur King

Not all gods seem to think that way. There are gods, quite popular ones too, who urge their followers to slaughter others in their name, then promise to torture non-believers for eternity. Not sure that’s ‘higher than the state’.

Lowell Huesers
Lowell Huesers
3 months ago
Reply to  Gordon Arta

Not believing in God doesn’t solve problem of war or pushing people towards their death. Knowing that “there’s more than meets the eye” allows people to persevere through seemingly impossible situations with love.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
3 months ago
Reply to  Gordon Arta

Ahem, you speak of Islam? Why not come right out and say it — you are that fond of your head, infidel?

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
3 months ago

My daughter knows that I will end my life if/when I decide that I want to. She wants me to do this gently – rather than throw myself off a motorway bridge.
The right assisted suicide legislation will allow this.

Carmel Shortall
Carmel Shortall
3 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

It may well allow it as you say, “if/when I decide that I want to”. However, “assisted suicide legislation” is likely to end up enforcing dying whether or not one decides one wants to. That is the point here!

Stuart Sutherland
Stuart Sutherland
3 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Can’t you or other terminally ill people just take an over dose? This would prevent the state introducing the death penalty.

Caroline Ayers
Caroline Ayers
3 months ago

The problem is carers might be done for murder etc… I dont support the idea of assisted suicide but I do see both sides of the argument. I’m very concerned though that any legislation introduced here would go the Canadian way. Plus during Covid we saw loads of old people in Nursing homes ‘suicided’ through NICE approved midalozam/morphine protocols in circs where they were not actually terminally ill… Liverpool Pathway thinking…. it’s a scary world. I think perhaps having to go to Switerland to do Dignitas is how it should be. Otherwise I fear a lot of people who have not chosen to give up on life will be euthanised.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
3 months ago
Reply to  Caroline Ayers

Thank god for those people assisting others to die. You need not be terminally ill if you want to die.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
3 months ago

An overdose of what? And how much should I take? And who will give it to me? You make this sound so easy.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
3 months ago

Every packet of painkillers tells you how many you cn safely take .

Adoptive Loiner
Adoptive Loiner
3 months ago

Logan’s Run

William Brand
William Brand
3 months ago

In Germany the assisted suicide movement rapidly lead to the public approval of the holocaust.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
3 months ago
Reply to  William Brand

I was waiting for someone to mention that. Governments don’t exactly have a sterling record when it comes to deciding whose life is worthwhile and who should be culled for the greater good. The Nazis started with the sick and the elderly, those who ‘burdened’ the state, and then moved to ‘dangerous’ political dissidents who threatened the German way of life, and then to Jews and whoever else didn’t look like them or that they didn’t approve of. Everybody thinks, ‘oh well this time it won’t be like that’. What I want to know is why? Why will it be different? Are Canadians and Americans somehow better people than the Germans of the 1930’s? Are the governments of these nations sufficiently trustworthy that they can make the decision better than the people themselves? What’s to stop this committee or judge or whoever makes the final call for using their authority to pursue an ideological agenda? I’m not so opposed to giving people some choice in end of life options, but letting government bureaucrats and ideologues into the discussion is a mistake we shouldn’t be stupid enough to make given what we know from history.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
3 months ago

Enlightenment rationalist ideals of human agency, utilitarian calculus and ‘deciding your own fate’ are part of the problem.
Strange how the article mentions assisted dying as being in opposition to Enlightenment ideals, when the real opposition is Christian faith in the intrinsic sanctity of all life.

Max Price
Max Price
3 months ago

You’d think that the “progressive” side of politics so attuned to power, control and coercion would be able to see a glaring problem with this. The level of stupidity somehow always surprises me.

Russell Sharpe
Russell Sharpe
3 months ago
Reply to  Max Price

Progressives’ issues with power, control and coercion always come down to the fact that they are not (yet) wielding these things themselves.

Martin Layfield
Martin Layfield
3 months ago

“We once dreamed of so much more. The Marquis de Condorcet, writing at the end of the 18th century, dreamed of a world in which the human lifespan would know of “no upper limit”””

That progressovism went from this to Matthew Parris suggests Fyodor Dostoevsky was right about progressives all along: ‘Starting from unlimited freedom, I conclude with unlimited despotism.’

Carmel Shortall
Carmel Shortall
3 months ago

I suspect the ‘progressivist elitism’ of such as Matthew Parris could be summed up as:

“No upper limit” for me; MAiD for thee!

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
3 months ago

Having read the article following this piece it just seems of a part with much of Matthew Parris’s work over the last few years. His brain got fried by Brexit and he has turned into a troll, gleeful of every misfortune and urging outlandish policies for clicks. What a world away from when he had some humility and apologised for a humorous article about garrotting cyclists (that was almost 20 years ago). If you read his article (and others) in a Swiftian “Modest Proposal” sort of way it is actually quite funny.

Martin Layfield
Martin Layfield
3 months ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

He wrote a column advocating the same thing back in 2015 in the Spectator, so it predates Brexit. Although he does seem to have further delved into misanthropic nihilism as he’s aged further for sure.

Martin Goodfellow
Martin Goodfellow
3 months ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

Parris isn’t Swift. What may be his own self-loathing, projected onto the rest of society, is not an impossibility. Nihilism is a powerful thing.

Louise Henson
Louise Henson
3 months ago

I read Parris’ artcle with horror. What is boils down to is that he sees the decision over whether someone lives or dies – the ultimate decison for any human being – being handed over to the state. That is not compassion. It is despotism.

Alan Melville
Alan Melville
3 months ago
Reply to  Louise Henson

Indeed. Then again, Parris has always been quick to know what’s best for everyone else. Like far too many so-called ‘compassionate’ virtue-signallers.

Peter B
Peter B
3 months ago
Reply to  Louise Henson

I don’t know quite what happened to Matthew Parris. I used to look forward to and enjoy reading his articles … about 10 or more years ago.
What blew it for me was his equally notorious article almost 10 years ago writing off huge parts of the UK like Clacton as beyond redemption or hope and offering up the only solution as that we let them die and hope the most able people leave those areas. He later revisited this article and doubled down on these views.
He would doubtless maintain that he’s still some sort of “One Nation” conservative …
He’s certainly not doing the valid arguments for voluntary euthesia any favours by pushing the envelope much further into cost-benefit analysis of people’s lives. If there is ever a cost (or pain)-benefit judgement to be made, that can only be made by the individual.

Alex Stonor
Alex Stonor
3 months ago

Soylent Green, a film where Ashley Frawley is played by Charlton Heston and Matthew Parris by Edward G Robinson.

John Pade
John Pade
3 months ago

Some are coming to realize that the regime whose goal was to eradicate the unfit is indeed the way to go. Its only problem is that it was before its time.
Although they may not realize that this is what they realize until it is too late.

Gordon Arta
Gordon Arta
3 months ago

‘People are requesting MAiD not because they want to die but because they can no longer afford to live. And incredibly, a growing portion of Canadians have no qualms offering MAiD to those whose only “affliction” is poverty.’ Parris is right, then. Obviously it would be preferable to realise the dream of the Marquis de Condorcet and let everyone live forever, or at least till the planet decides that at a population of 50Bn, 100Bn, or 200Bn, engulfed in conflict, famine, disease, and pollution, enough is enough and terminates the human race. What god might have wanted.

George K
George K
3 months ago

Isn’t it ironic that the first argument for reality of progress that one hears is that the life expectancy has increased. But as Mary Harrington rightly reminded there’s no progress but only trade offs . So as it turns out some people live too long

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
3 months ago

Given what the medical profession is becoming through its DEI mandates, I fear we won’t need to worry about long lives.

Gregory Toews
Gregory Toews
3 months ago

“Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four. Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer. We shall be left defending, not only the incredible virtues and sanities of human life, but something more incredible still, this huge impossible universe which stares us in the face. We shall fight for visible prodigies as if they were invisible. We shall look upon the impossible grass and skies with a strange courage. We shall be of those who have seen and yet have believed.”
GK Chesterton, 1908.

Let us have a strange courage, and be of those who have seen and yet have believed.

Jos Haynes
Jos Haynes
3 months ago

People like Parris like the idea of terminating the lives of the aged (such a drag on society!) but are fierce opponents of the death penalty for murderers. One of the many inconsistencies which Parris reveals whenever he puts pen to paper.

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
3 months ago

How does one argue against people who have openly abandoned the fundamental principles of humanity? There is no frame of reference we share with them upon which to build an argument, but we still hold to principles of free speech that make it possible for them to spread their toxins. Starting to look as though what is needed for people like Parris is the Amish practice of “shunning.”

Peter B
Peter B
3 months ago
Reply to  Daniel Lee

But what are these “fundamantal principles of humanity” ? And are they universal and universally accepted ?
Or are they simply your beliefs, which you believe you have the right to impose on others ?

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
3 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

Just the usual disingenuous sophistry. Yes, I believe I, or more accurately, society, have the right and duty to impose on others a ban on killing other humans for convenience.

Peter B
Peter B
3 months ago
Reply to  Daniel Lee

So what are they then ?

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
3 months ago
Reply to  Peter B

You’re not asking a real question so much as continuing to argue via disingenuous rhetorical sophistry. I stated my view in this matter plainly in my previous comment. Take the last word and have a nice day.

Peter B
Peter B
3 months ago
Reply to  Daniel Lee

I am genuinely asking a real question. You clearly stated such principles exist. I am curious to know what they are.
I’m not sure why you are misinterpreting my intent here. I’m genuinely interested to know.

Edward De Beukelaer
Edward De Beukelaer
3 months ago

The discussion about assisted dying is partly due to the kind of medicine we ‘enjoy’ in the western world: it is a medicine based on money (making diagnoses and treating illness) and not on providing health. Providing health does not pay: it needs a different agriculture, a better school system, better housing, a social system that helps people helping themselves (please read HIllary Cottam; Radical), a medicine that improves resilience of people/patients. Such a (real) health system will cause the collapse of the current illness industry of which the politician and many in the medical world are afraid off…medical income will go down.
If you provide health for a population this tend to bring agency to people and more resilience. The medicine that come with this will not just be concerned with controlling symptoms (pain etc) but improving overall quality of life in all its possible aspects. Improved quality of life will reduce the need to rely on assisted dying.
But such reasoning is too complicated for the current way in which administrations are organised: it does not fit on a spreadsheet…. and because it does not fit on a spreadsheet it is not possible…

jim peden
jim peden
3 months ago

Well, Mr Parris has form here.
Back in 2007, if I remember correctly, he wrote an article in the Times suggesting that country road litter was down to cyclists. He suggested stretching piano wire across country lanes, presumably to assist these miscreants in garrotting themselves.
He was compelled to apologise whilst claiming his article to be ‘humorous’. However, he seems to have once again revealed his true colours.
My guess is that Mr Parris inhabits that effete society whose world view is reminiscent of the pre-Revolution French Court. What we paysans see is the occasional slip of the tongue that reveals its true psyche.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
3 months ago

The Castroite regime in Canada is capable of any affront to humanity.

Sean G
Sean G
3 months ago

Writing from Canada, I can tell you “lack of ambition” is the key term here. I am somewhere in the middle of generation X, and I am shocked by the turn our country has taken from one that used to project a wholesome image (whether deserved or not) and stood out in Anglophone North America for being able to sustain what was a Norther European -aspiring social democratic party, even if it never came to power. There is no ambition for intrinsic quality of life in this country anymore. As is well known, Canadians have the most blase attitude toward an ongoing suicide epidemic (known euphemistically as a drug crisis) that takes six or seven victims every day–and that’s just in British Columbia. As for MAID, if one can’t or can no longer partake in the most conspicuous and shallow kind of consumerism — the only thing that’s valued in this country — one might as well be dead is the message of our government and the consumers who bring it to power. I do believe they’ve even come up with a number for how much they can save if you off yourself: $17,000, if I remember correctly. If you want to verify that, dig around at the National Post, which is otherwise a despicable news source, but one of the only in Canada that’s openly critical of MAID, or at least willing to report on its pitfalls.

Nancy Kmaxim
Nancy Kmaxim
3 months ago

The euthanasia argument expressed isn’t new. It’s simply become acceptable to dispose of the inconvenient citizen. I can’t imagine why this would be surprising given that “shouting your abortion” is acceptable in order to “have a nice house “. Human sacrifice is simply all the rage.

jane baker
jane baker
3 months ago

So someone finally said it OUT LOUD.