Wednesday 21 December 2011

The last 280 films I have watched

Christmas holidays are almost upon us so here are the last 280 films I have watched since July 2000 – or at least those I remembered to write down.

Many were watched on long plane journeys, some in the cinema and others at home with the family.

Taste for films is very personal and although I enjoyed most of those listed I have marked with an asterisk (*) those I would particularly recommend and have given my top ten a double asterisk (**)

Some in the list below I would definitely not recommend!

If you have any suggestions about films you would recommend that are not in this list, or comments about those that are, then please make them below.

1. Erin Brockovich*
2. The Hurricane*
3. The next best thing
4. Return to me
5. Mission to Mars
6. The Truman Show*
7. Wrongfully accused
8. Sixth sense
9. The Mummy
10. The Fugitive
11. Price of Glory*
12. Where the Money is
13. The Skulls
14. The whole nine yards
15. The last musketeer
16. Lightning Jack
17. Fried Green tomatoes*
18. Casper
19. Independence Day
20. Escape form Alcatraz
21. Octopussy
22. Titanic
23. Mousehunt
24. 101 Dalmatians
25. A bridge too far
26. Chicken Run
27. Dave
28. Platoon
29. Deep Impact
30. High Fidelity
31. Mrs Doubtfire
32. The Man in the Iron Mask
33. The Miracle Maker
34. Dances with Wolves
35. Air Force I
36. Vertical Limit
37. Space Cowboys
38. Wild Wild West
39. Jerry McGuire*
40. Patch Adams
41. Out of Sight
42. The Bravados
43. Extreme Measures*
44. Raw Deal
45. Galaxy Quest
46. Gattacca*
47. The Battle of the Coral Sea
48. Ground Hog Day*
49. Last Orders*
50. Rush Hour
51. Matilda
52. Lord of the Rings*
53. Regarding Henry
54. Shrek
55. Antz
56. Flubber
57. Enemy of the State
58. Lord of the Rings (2nd time)*
59. Rush Hour 2
60. Entrapment
61. I am Sam
62. What’s the matter with Jimmy Grimble
63. The Count of Monte Cristo*
64. Behind Enemy Lines
65. Lost in Space
66. Lilo and Stitch
67. Force 10 from Navarone
68. Miss Congeniality
69. Pearl Harbour
70. Spies Like Us
71. Naked Gun 2 ½
72. What women want
73. Beverly Hills Cop 3
74. The Mummy (2nd time)
75. Minority Report*
76. The Mummy Returns
77. Lord of the Rings 2 (Two Towers)*
78. Cats and Dogs
79. The Bourne Identity*
80. The Third Wheel
81. The Mission*
82. A Fish called Wanda
83. Gattacca (2nd time)*
84. Lord of the Rings (Two towers) (2nd time)*
85. Brassed Off**
86. Gloomy Sunday*
87. The Full Monty*
88. The Four Feathers
89. Mr Holland’s Opus*
90. Goodbye Mr Chips
91. XXX
92. One Hour Photo
93. Jurassic Park 3
94. Blues Brothers*
95. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
96. Bend it like Beckham*
97. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin*
98. Swordfish
99. Lord of the Rings (Two towers) (3rd time)*
100. Dietrich Bonhoeffer*
101. Jumanji*
102. Johnny English
103. The Sound of Music*
104. Naked Gun 33 1/3
105. The Thin Red Line
106. Catch me if you can
107. Showtime
108. East is East*
109. Lord of the Rings 3 (Return of the King)*
110. Love Actually
111. Sum of all Fears
112. Finding Nemo
113. My Left Foot*
114. The Widow Maker
115. Reach for the Sky
116. The Road to Perdition*
117. Angela’s Ashes*
118. Shrek III
119. Suzi Gold
120. The Day after tomorrow
121. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
122. Laws of Attraction
123. Flatliners
124. The Passion*
125. Million Dollar Baby
126. As good as it gets*
127. The Island
128. Outbreak
129. Star Wars III*
130. Troy
131. The Lion, the Witch and the wardrobe*
132. King Kong*
133. The Last Samurai
134. Snow Walker
135. Motorcycle Diaries*
136. Amelie
137. Millions*
138. Amazing Grace*
139. War of the Worlds
140. Waking Ned
141. Lost in Translation
142. Saving Private Ryan*
143. I love my wife
144. Tsotsi**
145. Pleasantville**
146. Alien
147. Sixteen Blocks
148. Firewall
149. The River King
150. Perfect strangers
151. Something New
152. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid*
153. Fastest Indian*
154. Fracture
155. Keeping Mum
156. In my Father’s den
157. Last King of Scotland*
158. Rain
159. The Quiet Earth
160. Eagle vs Shark*
161. Casablanca**
162. The Untouchables*
163. The Usual Suspects*
164. The 11th Hour
165. Stardust
166. Forest Gump**
167. Conversations with my gardener*
168. The Conversation
169. Terms of Endearment
170. The Bourne Ultimatum*
171. The Choir
172. Four (Vivaldi)*
173. The Band’s Visit*
174. The Wizard of Oz
175. The Bank Job
176. The Happening
177. Caramel
178. Iron Man
179. Prince Caspian*
180. The 1st Ladies Detective Agency
181. Atonement
182. Pan’s Labyrinth*
183. The Insider
184. Blades of Glory
185. Predator
186. The 39 Steps*
187. In the Line of Fire
188. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly**
189. Citizen Kane*
190. Slumdog Millionaire*
191. Lions for Lambs
192. The Reader
193. Defiance*
194. Last Chance Harvey
195. Billy Elliott*
196. Doubt*
197. The Black Balloon
198. Gran Torino**
199. Taken
200. Seven Pounds
201. A river runs through it*
202. Juno*
203. Avatar
204. District 9*
205. Sin Nombre*
206. Inglorious Basterds
207. A Perfect Getaway
208. Whiteout
209. Priceless
210. 21
211. The Lives of Others*
212. It’s a wonderful life**
213. Valkyrie
214. I love you, man
215. In Bruges
216. The Blind Side*
217. Invictus
218. The Hurt Locker
219. The Raffle*
220. Napoleon Dynamite*
221. Inception*
222. Up**
223. Hotshots
224. She’s out of your league
225. A few good men
226. The untouchables (2nd time)*
227. Toy Story 3
228. The History Boys
229. Nativity Series (4)*
230. Apocalypse Now*
231. Rain Man*
232. Alaska
233. The Usual Suspects (2nd time)*
234. Hot Fuzz
235. Star Wars 5*
236. Time Bandits*
237. Star Wars 6*
238. Sophie Scholl**
239. Seven Pounds (2nd time)
240. Beautiful Mind*
241. Green Mile*
242. Shawn of the Dead
243. Sound of Music (2nd time)*
244. Slumdog Millionaire (2nd time)*
245. The Italian Job (Original)*
246. Hotel Rwanda*
247. Mary Poppins*
248. Defiance (2nd time)*
249. Cool Hand Luke**
250. Terminator Salvation
251. Shadowlands*
252. My Sister’s Keeper
253. The Book of Eli*
254. The Social Network*
255. Wall Street*
256. The American
257. Patriot Games
258. The King’s Speech*
259. Crash
260. 127 Hours
261. The Town
262. Tuxedo
263. Blind Side (2nd time)*
264. Flawless
265. You’re my hero
266. Greenzone
267. Lorenzo’s Oil*
268. Goethe*
269. Knight and Day
270. The Sunset Limited*
271. Never Let me Go*
272. Unknown
273. The Adjustment Bureau
274. Casablanca (2nd time)
275. Battle Los Angeles
276. Bonnie and Clyde*
277. Deliverance
278. Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf?
279. Twilight
280. Africa United
281. Black Sheep
282. Gladiator*
283. Braveheart*
284. Shawshank Redemption**
285. Schindler's List**
285. Days of Glory
286. The Kite Runner*
287. Shutter Island
288. Prince Caspian
289. Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull

Sunday 18 December 2011

David Cameron has professed Christianity but fails Luther’s test of confession

David Cameron’s comments last Friday about Christian values have generated a huge amount of media coverage but what did he actually say?

Those who rely solely on the BBC, or media reports based on press releases from AFP or UKPA will miss much of his message.

The full speech, which was given to mark the end of the 400th anniversary year for the King James Bible, is available on the Downing Street website and a highlighted version (for those with less time) has been posted by Cranmer on his blog.

The Prime Minister confessed to being only a ‘vaguely practising Church of England Christian’ who was ‘full of doubts and, like many, constantly grappling with the difficult questions when it comes to some of the big theological issues’.

His stated aim in the speech was to present his personal conviction that ‘The King James Bible is as relevant today as at any point in its 400 year history’ and that ‘none of us should be frightened of recognising this’.

He gave three reasons for this conviction:

First, the King James Bible has bequeathed a body of language that permeates every aspect of our culture and heritage… from everyday phrases to our greatest works of literature, music and art. We live and breathe the language of the King James Bible, sometimes without even realising it.

Second, just as our language and culture is steeped in the Bible, so too is our politics. From human rights and equality to our constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy… from the role of the church in the first forms of welfare provision, to the many modern day faith-led social action projects…

Third, we are a Christian country. And we should not be afraid to say so… and the Bible has helped to give Britain a set of values and morals which make Britain what it is today.

He then set out to elaborate on these three points.

In support of the first he gave a long list of ways in which the Bible had influenced literature, music and art – in which Shakespeare, Tennyson, Bach, Handel and Michelangelo were amongst the highlights.

Expounding the second he argued that the Judeo-Christian roots of the Bible provided ‘the foundations for protest and for the evolution of our freedom and democracy’, placed the 'first limits on Royal Power’ and that ‘the knowledge that God created man in his own image was… a game changer for the cause of human dignity and equality’.

But it was the third section on Christian values that was probably the most interesting. Here Cameron argued that ‘the Bible has helped to shape the values which define our country’. He quoted Margaret Thatcher who once said, ‘we are a nation whose ideals are founded on the Bible’ and then gave a list of Christian values including ‘responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, self-sacrifice, love…pride in working for the common good and honouring the social obligations we have to one another, to our families and our communities…’

This provided the framework for an analysis of the cause of problems as diverse as the financial crash, the London riots and the expenses scandal which he claimed were evidence of the ‘absence of any real accountability, or moral code’. He concluded that ‘one thing is clear: moral neutrality or passive tolerance just isn’t going to cut it anymore’.

The Prime Minister was later critical (with some justification) of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s selective defence of (some) Christian values and warned that the Church of England must keep to an ‘agenda that speaks to the whole country’.

But what interested me most about the speech was what Cameron didn’t say – the Christian values that he himself left out.

Four key omissions stood out to me.

First there was no mention of the importance of respecting the right of Christians to live according to Christian conscience. This was particularly ironic coming a few days after the government had been heavily criticized by former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey over its decision not to back four British Christians who have taken their cases to the European Court of Human Rights.

Second, there was no mention of the sanctity of life, consistent with Cameron’s poor voting record on abortion and his caving in under Liberal Democrat pressure at the time of the vote on independent counseling for those with unplanned pregnancies.

Third, there was no mention of sexual purity or the biblical model for marriage as ‘one man, one woman, for life’. This also would have been impossible given Cameron’s own backing for same-sex marriage and his general posturing over homosexuality.

And finally and most crucially, there was no reference to the foundation on which all Christian values are based, Jesus Christ’s divinity, incarnation, death and resurrection, the need for repentance and faith and his imminent return in judgement.

Melanie McDonagh recently made this final point in her Spectator piece ‘Cameron's missing the point: Christian values require Christianity’:

‘Mr Cameron's remarks about Christian values fail to get to the heart of the contemporary moral malaise. Look, Christian values flow from Christianity. Without those beliefs in the God who became man, and who died for sinners and rose from the dead, and forgave sins, the moral values don't count for much. It's because of who and what Christ was that we take to heart what he said about loving our enemies, turning the other cheek. Values aren't something free-floating; they come from what we believe. So when Mr Cameron says we should return to Christian values, he misses the point. What we need – with all respect to other faiths – is a return to Christianity.’

The Prime Minister has been bold in defending the King James Bible as a powerful cultural, political and moral influence but he appears to have shrunk back from proclaiming Christian truth precisely at those points where it is currently under attack – in part from his own government.

I am reminded of Martin Luther’s words:

‘It is to confess we are called, not merely to profess. If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.’

The Prime Minister has certainly ‘professed’ Christianity. But his flinching at these most crucial points makes it, by Luther’s reckoning, not a true confession of Christ but rather ‘mere flight and disgrace’.

NB. Since writing this blog I have come across an article by Carl Wieland who argues that the Luther quote above has been misattributed and is based on another source. It's well worth a read. He says that Luther did not use the battle analogy but did say that if people were publicly open about every other aspect of their Christian faith, but chose not to admit their belief on some single point of doctrine (for fear of what might happen to them if their conviction on that one point became known) they were effectively denying Christ, period.

BBC uses distortion, hype, exaggeration and selective reporting to promote gay rights agenda

With the consultation about legalizing same-sex marriage already underway in Scotland and with the Westminster consultation about to start, the BBC is ratcheting up its support for the gay rights agenda with more distortion, hype, exaggeration and selective reporting.

The latest example of this is the coverage given to a new study recently published by the American Journal of Public Health on the alleged health benefits of same-sex marriage.

Aware of the tendency of the BBC to give an international platform to anything, however obscure, which might further its liberal agenda I decided to investigate further.

Under the provocative headline ‘Gay marriage “improves health”’ the BBC reports:

‘Legalising same-sex marriage may create a healthier environment for gay men, say US researchers. The number of visits by gay men to health clinics dropped significantly after same-sex unions were allowed in the state Massachusetts. This was regardless of whether the men were in a stable relationship, reported the American Journal of Public Health.’

These words are all most people will ever read as they are the only ones that will appear on CEEFAX.

However, on turning to the BBC webpage, we also see highlighted in large letters, a quote highlighted in a large font drop-in that originates from the Terence Higgins Trust, an organization which campaigns for gay rights:

‘It's no surprise that people who are treated as second class citizens tend to have low self esteem, which in turn makes them more likely to take risks. Whether this is drugs, alcohol abuse, or unsafe sex, treating gay men unequally has lasting repercussions for their health.’

There is no balancing quote from anyone else and this quote from a lobbying group is given equal authority to the study by the BBC although there is no evidence whatsoever given to support it.

So what about the article itself? What does it really say?

Now normally when journalists quote an article from a peer-reviewed medical journal it is customary to give the title of the article and a link to the original source.

But the unnamed BBC journalist who wrote this article has neglected to do so. Why?
The answer is not difficult to deduce. He/she hasn't actually read it!

The link at the bottom of the BBC piece to the American Journal of Public Health leads not to the article itself but rather to the home page of the journal. But I could not find the article in question in either the December or January journal contents lists. Nor was it available through PubMed where all published journal articles are listed.

However, the BBC does give a link to a Yahoo News article, which contains all the facts the BBC journalist has quoted and was clearly his primary source.

Now let me just spell that out.

This unnamed BBC journalist has written a report about an article which he has never seen, nor even read in abstract. In fact he has simply copied it from another secondary news source – Yahoo!

It took me less than a minute to find the original article in question on the American Journal of Public Health website. He (or she) had clearly made no effort even to look.

As it turns out the article is in a section titled ‘First Look’ with over 50 other articles that have been accepted for publication but not yet published in the paper edition of the journal. Its full title is ‘Effect of Same-Sex Marriage Laws on Health Care Use and Expenditures in Sexual Minority Men: A Quasi-Natural Experiment’

Only the abstract is accessible without subscription and reads as follows:

Objectives. We sought to determine whether health care use and expenditures among gay and bisexual men were reduced following the enactment of same-sex marriage laws in Massachusetts in 2003.

Methods. We used quasi-experimental, prospective data from 1211 sexual minority male patients in a community-based health center in Massachusetts.

Results. In the 12 months after the legalization of same-sex marriage, sexual minority men had a statistically significant decrease in medical care visits (mean = 5.00 vs mean = 4.67; P = .05; Cohen's d = 0.17), mental health care visits (mean = 24.72 vs mean = 22.20; P = .03; Cohen's d = 0.35), and mental health care costs (mean = $2442.28 vs mean = $2137.38; P = .01; Cohen's d = 0.41), compared with the 12 months before the law change. These effects were not modified by partnership status, indicating that the health effect of same-sex marriage laws was similar for partnered and nonpartnered men.

Conclusions. Policies that confer protections to same-sex couples may be effective in reducing health care use and costs among sexual minority men. (Am J Public Health. Published online ahead of print December 15, 2011: e1-e7. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2011.300382)

So this is an article which looks at one year’s data from one US state and evaluates just three healthcare measures (medical care visits, mental health care visits and mental health care costs) which it finds are marginally decreased over the twelve month period after the law change.

This is as much as one can say without reviewing the full article but the abstract does nonetheless raise some very interesting questions.

Why, when the paper was published in 2011, were only the data for 2003 and 2004 reviewed? Was this decrease a one-off or part of a continuing trend? One rather suspects the former.

Was this one year trend mirrored in other states that had legalized same-sex marriage? How were potential confounding variables controlled for? (ie Was the observed effect apparent or real?)

Why were mental care health costs included but not medical care health costs? Why were these particular three measures of health chosen and not objective measures of specific diagnosed illnesses? Were other health indices measured?

These are just a few questions that would immediately spring to mind to anyone wanting to know what conclusions about the health effects of legalising same-sex marriage could reasonably be drawn.

The cautious conclusion in the abstract, ‘Policies that confer protections to same-sex couples may be effective in reducing health care use and costs among sexual minority men’ actually justifies neither the confident BBC headline ‘Gay marriage”improves health”’ nor the highly emotive Terence Higgins quote.

Rather the article itself appears to have been cherry-picked simply because its tentative conclusions provided some fodder for the campaign which could be sexed up into misleading headlines.

And I’m betting that gay rights activists, and sympathetic MPs, will be trotting out these headlines when the parliamentary debate comes along.

I have documented previously on this blog the way the BBC advances other social and political agendas by selectively reporting stories about euthanasia, abortion and stem cells.

This is apparently yet another area where we need to read far beyond the headlines and drop-ins to learn the real truth.

But sadly public policy is often built on such distortion, hype, exaggeration and selective reporting.

Pro-abortion lobby admit that most abortions in Britain are illegal

Last week the Academy of Royal Colleges presented a report which, as a result of the strong spin in an accompanying press release, was widely reported as ‘proving’ that abortion was no worse for mental health than childbirth for women with unwanted pregnancies.

These strong conclusions, as I have already argued, were based on weak data from just four studies. Furthermore the author of the strongest of the four studies, David Fergusson, has already disputed the conclusions.

That particular debate will no doubt rage on and on.

But the most interesting conclusion to follow from last week’s report is that 98% of abortions are actually illegal. When I made this claim last week on Radio Four the presenter John Humphries gasped and almost jumped off his chair. But no one has since seriously or publicly disputed it.

Almost all abortions in Britain are indeed carried out on the grounds that the continuance of the pregnancy constitutes a greater risk to the mental health of the mother than abortion does, something that the author of the report, Professor Tim Kendall, explicitly confirmed in our Today Programme debate on 8 December. And yet there is no evidence that continuing a pregnancy ever poses a greater mental health risk than abortion.

This means that when two doctors sign forms saying that ‘in good faith’ they believe that having an abortion will lead to better mental health outcomes they are committing a form of perjury under section five of the Perjury Act 1911. And when a third doctor performs the abortion on the strength of that certificate he is actually carrying out an ‘unlawful killing’ under the terms of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

It has been interesting to see the pro-abortion lobby reacting to this new challenge.

Jeremy Laurance, in the Independent, a strongly pro-abortion journalist, wrote last week:

‘Reassuring as that finding may be for the 200,000 women who have abortions in the UK each year, it does raise a tricky question. To obtain an abortion women must to find two doctors who will authorise it. By far the commonest ground, cited in nine out of 10 abortions, is that to proceed with the pregnancy would put the mental health of the woman at risk. This study appears to put that ground in jeopardy.’

Yes exactly Jeremy. Except that the figure I think you will find if you look at section 2.8 of the 2010 abortion statistics is 98% and not ‘nine out of ten’.

Laurance goes on to report reaction to this disturbing fact:

‘Abortion organisations were split in response to the finding, with half still insisting a termination did permanent damage to women's souls, with the other, cannier, half hoping the finding was true so that they could challenge the legality of the procedure.’

Again this is interesting spin. Note that he doesn’t name any pro-abortion organizations specifically and I have been unable thus far to find any quotes from them in the public domain. As there are only really two main pro-abortion organisations, BPAS and MSI, it raises the interesting question of which said what to Laurance on the phone. But regardless, Laurance should have called the ‘cannier’ half the more ‘honest’ half because the finding itself is not in doubt.

Laurance goes on to report that:

‘The authors of the study reject this challenge, insisting the findings could indicate doctors are successfully identifying women at risk from the pregnancy, and referring them for abortion to obviate it.’

Now that I find fascinating because, again, they have not said this publicly. And do they really expect us to believe that this is the case for each of the 185,000 abortions carried out every year?

But now we see the real agenda exposed in Laurance’s conclusion:

‘It is clear already that this world-beating review, despite its size, will not settle the debate. But it is surely time now, in the wake of its findings, to abandon the pretence of "grounds" for abortion and acknowledge, once and for all, that it is a woman's right to choose.’

In other words if 98% of abortions are illegal then let’s change the law to make them legal!

Deborah Orr, writing this week in the Guardian, is more honest than Laurance about the true implications of the report.

‘But pro-abortion groups have something to learn from this research as well, and to campaign for. In Britain an abortion can only be given if two doctors authorise it. In the absence of any other medical reason, they tend to agree that it would be bad for the mental health of a woman if the pregnancy continued.

Mostly, people know that this is poppycock, something that three people have to conspire to say in order to tick the boxes that earn the right to have a medical procedure that is requested, perfectly sanely, because they don't feel that they are in a position to have a child. It is ridiculous, infantilising, that women must play the "it'll drive me to despair" card in order to obtain a sensible intervention. It is appalling, too, that medical professionals are obliged to play along. The only really important opinion about the suitability of an abortion is that of the pregnant woman. The excuse of dire effects on her mental health has always been an insulting and craven figleaf. It has to go.’

So she admits that for most abortions in Britain to be carried out three doctors have to, knowingly and wilfully, break the law. So she concludes’ ‘Let’s change the law’.

What we actually have here, by the liberal press’s own admission is a culture of ‘unlawful killing’ and ‘perjury’ to which the police, the judiciary, the crown prosecution service and parliament are turning a blind eye. Furthermore it is leading to 185,000 deaths a year and has resulted in over 7 million deaths altogether since the Abortion Act was passed in 1967.

This bears striking similarities to MPs’ expenses’ scandal where everyone was breaking the rules but no one was doing anything about it because so many were involved.

In that case it needed the Daily Telegraph to take up the cause for the perpetrators to be brought to justice. Money wrongly obtained was repaid and some MPs went to prison.

In the case of abortion, of course, the lives of those seven million British lives taken by abortion can not be brought back. But justice can still be done and still be seen to be done.

But in order for that to happen the police, the crown prosecution service and the courts will have to begin doing the job they are actually paid to do, which is to uphold the law.

I wonder if any British newspaper is as concerned about seven million unlawful deaths as the Daily Telegraph was about a few hundred thousand pounds of taxpayers’ money.

Saturday 17 December 2011

Sham euthanasia report from Canada should make us more wary about Charlie Falconer’s ‘commission on assisted dying’

Charlie Falconer’s sham ‘Commission on Assisted Dying’ is due to report on 5 January 2012, over a year after it first launched in November 2009.

The private commission was set up by Falconer because Dignity in Dying (previously the Voluntary Euthanasia Society) had failed three times since 2006 in legalizing assisted suicide in Britain and was losing credibility.

The House of Lords were so sick of debating the issue that they refused to set up a Royal Commission or any other official parliamentary committee to revisit it.

Therefore children’s novelist Terry Pratchett, a Patron of DID, agreed to pay for a private commission headed up by Lord Falconer, a known pro-euthanasia advocate who had attempted to decriminalize assisted suicide through an amendment in the House of Lords in 2009 in order to provide new impetus for the campaign.

Included in the panel of twelve ‘independent’ people assembled for the commission were no less than nine known to support the legalization of assisted suicide and/or euthanasia.

Given these circumstances it was not surprising that over 40 organisations refused to give evidence to the commission, and that it ran out of ‘witnesses’ half way through last year after DID had encouraged its members to send in their own ‘evidence’.

The panel was due to report in November this year but the report was put off until the New Year, apparently to avoid the eurozone financial meltdown news storm in the hope of attracting more publicity. It is also thought that a 2012 date was needed, to prevent the report immediately losing its relevance and in the hope that journalists with short memories would have forgotten what had previously been written about it.

DID are expected to launch more assaults on Britain’s Suicide Act and Murder Act in the New Year and for this reason we have seen a recent escalation of high profile cases demanding a change in the law.

Following the publication of the report we expect either another bill in the House of Lords (sponsored by one of the members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Choice at the End of Life – the parliamentary wing of the pro-euthanasia lobby) or, if one of their supportive MPs comes high enough in the Easter ballot, a similar bill in the House of Commons.

Falconer’s commission is expected to make recommendations in line with DID’s incremental legalization strategy. That is, he is expected to conclude that there is a case for ‘assisted (suicide) for mentally competent terminally ill adults who are suffering unbearably, but with robust up-front safeguards’.

In the meantime we should take warning from a similar recent report recently produced in Canada as part of a similar pro-euthanasia campaign.

The Royal Society of Canada’s Expert Panel Report on End-of-Life Decision Making sounds impressive and on first appearances it is – 117 pages of carefully documented ‘evidence’ and ‘recommendations’.

But this is only on first appearances. Its conclusion last month that assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia should be ‘legally permitted’ should alert our antennae and it is perhaps no surprise to find that the ‘expert panel’ which put it together consisted of five members, four of whom are known to be adamant euthanasia advocates.

An October press release from the RSC had said that the report was ‘designed to be balanced, thorough, independent, free from conflict of interest, and based on a deep knowledge of all of the published research that is pertinent to the questions that have been posed.’

But as commentator Wesley Smith has pointed out, ‘expert commissions’ to advise on contentious issues of public policy are usually political tools designed to come to a predetermined conclusion in order to pave the way for a desired policy changes.’ He adds, ‘the bias [in the report] isn’t even subtle’.

Queen’s Philosophy professor Udo Schuklenk, who headed the panel, is a well-known pro-euthanasia philosopher. In an essay explaining why he is an atheist, Schuklenk argued that ‘our end-of-life decision-making’ is interfered by ‘religions’ that ‘stand as one in their rejection of many dying patients’ requests to end their lives in dignity’.

Also on the panel was Sheila McClean, who argued in favor of legalizing assisted suicide in her book ‘The Case for Assisted Suicide’, Jocelyn Downie, author of ‘Dying Justice’, a book urging the decriminalization of both euthanasia and assisted suicide, and Johannes J. M. van Delden, a Dutch euthanasia researcher.

In its report the RSC speaks of human dignity as a ‘value whose meaning is obscure’ and adds that the ‘concept of dignity cannot provide a sound basis for either supporting or rejecting a permissive regime with respect to voluntary euthanasia or assisted suicide’.

The RSC report argues that legalizing euthanasia and/or assisted suicide does not ‘result in vulnerable persons being subject to abuse or a slippery slope from voluntary to non-voluntary euthanasia. The evidence does not support claims that decriminalization will have a corrosive effect on access to or the development of palliative care.’

Consistent with its use as a campaigning tool the report was published just a day after the commencement of a case in British Columbia in which B.C. Civil Liberties Association and Gloria Taylor, a 63-year-old woman suffering from ALS, are challenging Canada’s laws against assisted suicide.

Margaret Somerville, founding director of the Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University, has attacked the report as follows:

‘The arguments against the legalization of euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide are almost completely absent. Moreover, issues are considered almost entirely at the individual level. There is no in-depth discussion of the impact of legalizing euthanasia at the institutional level (in particular, the impact on health-care institutions and professions, and on the law) or at the societal level (in particular, on important shared values, such as respect for life). In fact, the value of respect for life is not discussed - an extraordinary omission.
The reporting on practices in jurisdictions that allow euthanasia and assisted suicide is seriously deficient, and selective. The report's coverage of abuses, problems or controversies is minimal.

For example, the report indicates that there has been one case of the use of euthanasia on disabled babies in the Netherlands. This is probably correct in the short time since the criteria for allowing such euthanasia was formally accepted by the Dutch Society for Pediatrics in 2005. But an article in the New England Journal of Medicine documents 22 cases of babies with spina bifida being euthanized in the Netherlands prior to that; this is not mentioned in the report. Likewise, a survey of Belgian physicians who had carried out euthanasia that found that 32 per cent of those physicians had euthanized patients without their request or consent, is never mentioned.’

‘The report emphasizes the burden and health-care costs of an aging population, and gives the impression that euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide will help to resolve this "problem." The authors note that euthanizing people "in advanced stages of dementia" will be an issue to be addressed in the future, and they don't reject the possibility that this might be acceptable.’

Falconer is not expected to go as far in his recommendations as the Canadian Royal Society Panel.

But he will use similar arguments and his more modest ‘recommendations’ will be in keeping with a clever incremental strategy. If Britain can be made to accept the general principle that assisted suicide or euthanasia should be legalized for some the boundaries can later be extended using equality and human rights legislation.

I said earlier this year that Falconer’s commission was unnecessary, biased and lacking in transparency.

My position has not changed. I do not expect to be surprised by its conclusions.

Thursday 15 December 2011

The blessings of marriage

Marriage leads to better family relationships, less economic dependence, better physical health and longevity, improved mental health and emotional well-being and reduced crime and domestic violence.

These are the (unsurprising) main conclusions of a new report (1) on the benefits of marriage from the Institute of American values.

Based on a survey of over 250 peer-reviewed journal articles on marriage and family life from around the world, a team of 18 leading American family scholars chaired by Professor Wilcox of the University of Virginia has drawn 30 conclusions about the positive benefits associated with marriage under five headings. Each of the conclusions is substantiated in the report and 20 pages of supporting references can be downloaded from Institute of American Values' website.

Amongst these conclusions are:

•Marriage, and a normative commitment to marriage, foster high-quality relationships between adults, as well as between parents and children.
•Children who live with their own two married parents enjoy better physical health, on average, than do children in other family forms.
•Marriage is associated with reduced rates of alcohol and substance abuse for both adults and teens.
•Marriage is associated with better health and lower rates of injury, illness, and disability for both men and women.
•Children whose parents divorce have higher rates of psychological distress and mental illness.
•Married women appear to have a lower risk of experiencing domestic violence than do cohabiting or dating women.

The findings of the landmark 2006 report 'Breakdown Britain' (2) were similar. Based on an extensive evidence-based analysis by the Centre for Social Justice (3) it found that the breakdown of marriage and the family was the key driver of Britain's collapse. The percentage of children born outside marriage went from 8% in 1970 to 41% in 2003 to 46% in 2009 (4); lone parent families have increased by 40,000 per year since 1980.

Many of the mental and physical health problems that daily fill our GP surgeries, hospital wards and outpatient departments are symptoms of this. The main drivers, the five 'pathways to poverty', are all correlated with the collapse of marriage: family breakdown, educational failure, economic dependence, indebtedness, and addiction.

Furthermore the five 'pathways' are all interrelated. Children from a broken home are twice as likely to have behavioural problems, perform worse at school, become sexually active at a younger age, suffer depression, and turn to drugs, smoking and heavy drinking. A parent who has a serious drug problem or is addicted to alcohol can exhibit destructive behaviour patterns which can destroy the quality of life for the other parent and for children, leading in turn to family breakdown.

Solutions must be multi-layered. We need sound legislation to strengthen and protect the vulnerable, a welfare system that helps those in genuine need and encourages independence, active corporate philanthropy and flourishing voluntary organisations. All levels of society including government, the corporate and charitable sectors, communities, and families have a role to play in reversing the decline. But government, charities and business are increasing failing to deliver in Britain's increasingly indebted and fragmented society.

That is because the breakdown of Britain and its five 'drivers' are themselves symptoms of a more general spiritual malaise – a loss of Christian faith and values leading to a breakdown of marriage and family. The church has a huge role to play; not just in what it does directly to support families in the community, but through the actions of individual Christians in positions of influence in health, education, local councils and government.

But more than this the church has at this time an amazing opportunity to model marriage and family to a society where alternative models have failed.

Marriage is a virtually universal human institution because it was originally God's idea. It was God who first said that it was not good for man to be alone and who created the unique complementarity of the marriage relationship for companionship, pleasure, procreation and the raising of children – one man, one woman, united for life (5) – illustrative of Christ's own self-giving abandonment to his bride the church (6) and pointing to a greater richness of human relationships beyond the grave of which the very best on earth are but a pale shadow. (7)

Let's celebrate, demonstrate, promote and protect marriage as the vehicle of blessing that it is for husbands, wives, children, parents, extended family, community and ultimately the world.


1. Why Marriage Matters: Thirty conclusions from the social sciences, Institute for American Values and National Marriage Project, 2011.
2. Breakdown Britain. Social Justice Policy Group. December 2006
4. 'Proportion of births outside marriage 'has risen to highest ever level'. Daily Telegraph 2011; 24 September.
5. Genesis 2:24
6. Ephesians 5:31, 32
7. 1 Corinthians 2:9, 10

(My editorial from Triple Helix winter 2011 out this week)

Judge rules in favour of life in M case – A review

(My review from Triple Helix winter 2011 out this week)

On 28 September the Court of Protection ruled in favour of life in the case of M, a 53 year old woman who suffered severe brain damage as a result of viral encephalitis in 2003.

M's sister and partner wanted artificial nutrition and hydration (ANH) given via a gastrostomy tube to be stopped with the explicit intention of ending her life. But the PCT caring for M and the Official Solicitor opposed them.

Since the 1993 Tony Bland decision, 43 patients with permanent vegetative state (PVS) have died following court rulings to remove ANH but M was the first case with minimally conscious state (MCS), the next step up from PVS, to come before the courts.

In his judgment (1) Justice Baker found that M had some awareness of herself and her environment, and some understanding of language. She occasionally spoke, appeared to be able to appreciate some things that were said to her, and responded to music. She regularly experienced pain, but this was not constant or extreme, and her condition was stable. The prospect of any significant improvement in the level of consciousness was remote. In reaching these findings he found, not surprisingly, that the carers who had daily contact with M had the greatest insight into her condition. It was their observations that squared most accurately with the more objective results from the 'Sensory Modality Assessment and Rehabilitation Technique' (SMART) and 'Wessex Head Injury Matrix' (WHIM) assessment tools.

The judge applied principles established by previous cases and affirmed by the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (MCA). ANH can only be removed if it is in the best interests of the patient (2) and the burden of establishing this rests on those who want it withdrawn. (3) In determining best interests a balance sheet approach is used, (4) but the assessment is holistic, including not just medical considerations, but also the patient's wishes, feelings, beliefs and values.

M had not given any indication before her injury about how she might like to be treated should she lose capacity. This meant that the deciding legal principle was the right to life. Justice Baker concluded: 'the principle of the right to life is simply stated but of the most profound importance. It needs no further elucidation. It carries very great weight in any balancing exercise.'

The decision was not surprising. The key problem enshrined in the MCA remains – it already allows legally binding advance refusals of ANH placing some vulnerable patients at risk – but this case has not taken us further down the slippery slope.


1. W v M and S and A NHS Primary Care Trust [2011] EWHC 2443 (Fam)
2. Airedale NHS Trust v Bland [1993] AC 789
3. R (Burke) v GMC [2005] QB 424
4. Re A (Male Sterilisation) [2000] 1 FLR 549

Monday 12 December 2011

Four amazing YouTube videos celebrating the birth of Jesus

Here are four great YouTube videos on the Christmas story well worth watching and sharing with friends.

One was doing the rounds last year but I have just had my attention drawn to the other three by two of my sons who are much better up on these things than me.

All four are innovative ways of celebrating the divinity – maybe to spice up carol services!

Enjoy as we celebrate our wonderful Saviour’s birth.

First up is ‘Christmas in a nutshell’ (2 minutes). We’ve all given some poor gifts at Christmas but God gave us something no one could’ve imagined.

Next is ‘The Digital story of nativity’ (3 minutes) - a ‘social media-fest’ of the birth retold using twitter, facebook, gmail and youtube, all to the sound of jingle bells. Very clever!

Third, ‘Bethlehemian Rhapsody’ (5 minutes) – an amazing Christmas parody on Queen’s biggest hit. Enjoy!

And finally - one the best tenor renditions of ‘O Holy Night’ (6 minutes) you will ever hear from David Phelps. The song starts 1m20s into the video but the story at the beginning is not bad either – don’t be put off by the Tennessee accents.

A special thank you to those who produced these four 'labours of love' - whoever spent their time putting them together has done us a great service.

Pass it on!

Saturday 10 December 2011

Why 98% of abortions in Britain are now illegal and what it means for doctors

In this blog I explain why I believe 98% of abortions in Britain are now illegal and why doctors who authorise or perform them are committing a criminal offence. This is a long post so if you would like to read my conclusions first then skip to the summary at the end.

Yesterday I took part in a debate on Radio Four’s ‘Today programme’ with Professor Tim Kendall, one of the authors of a new report on induced abortion and mental health, which was published this week by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AMRC).

The rather grandiose full title of the report is ‘INDUCED ABORTION AND MENTAL HEALTH: A systematic review of the mental health outcomes of induced abortion, including their prevalence and associated factors'.

I have reviewed the report both on this blog and in more detail on the CMF website. The overall conclusion (that abortion poses no greater risk to mental health than childbirth for those with unwanted pregnancies) we feel was more strongly stated than the relatively weak evidence base justified.

But my concern here is to unpack my claim on the programme, also reported on the BBC website, that 98% of all abortions in Britain are now technically illegal and what that means for doctors.

Professor Kendall confirmed on the programme, in answer to a question from presenter John Humphrys, that childbirth does not constitute a greater risk to mental health than abortion, and that therefore abortion does not improve mental health outcomes for women with unplanned pregnancies.

I then pointed out that 98% of the 200,000 abortions carried out each year in Britain are being carried out specifically on grounds of protecting women’s mental health. This brought a gasp from Humphrys and an initial denial from Professor Kendall. He then, after being pressed by Humphrys, claimed falsely that the figure was only 95% (it is actually 98% - see below).

I insisted that the figure was 98% and then argued that doctors who authorise abortions in order to protect a woman’s mental health are doing it on the basis of a false belief not supported by the medical evidence.

I then asked why, over 1,000 times every day, British doctors signed legal documents authorising abortions on mental health grounds when in fact there were no mental health grounds for abortion (over 500 abortions are performed each day and each requires two doctors’ signatures to authorise it).

The opening sentence of the executive summary of the AMRC report actually misrepresents the law and perhaps explains the Professor's apparent confusion. It says that ‘the majority of abortions carried out in the UK are done so on the grounds that continuing with the pregnancy would risk physical or psychological harm to the woman or child’.

This is not strictly true (and I wonder actually if the meaning has been deliberately distorted in the report).

Section 1 (1) (a) of the Abortion Act 1967 actually reads as follows:

Subject to the provisions of this section, a person shall not be guilty of an offence under the law relating to abortion when a pregnancy is terminated by a registered medical practitioner if two registered medical practitioners are of the opinion, formed in good faith

(a)that the pregnancy has not exceeded its twenty-fourth week and that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family…

The key words here are that ‘the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman….’

On abortion authorisation certificates the risk of injury to the pregnant woman and the risk of injury to existing children are split into two parts called C and D as follows:

c) that the pregnancy has not exceeded its 24th week and the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman (Section 1(1)(a))

d) that the pregnancy has not exceeded its 24th week and the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of any existing child(ren) of the family of the pregnant woman (Section 1(1)(a))

The physical and mental health indications in section C are also separately recorded.

So how many abortions are done under each of these clauses? For the answer to this question we need to consult the 2010 Annual Abortion Statistics on the Department of Health website.

Section 2.8 reads as follows:

2.8 In 2010, the vast majority (98%; 185,291) of abortions were undertaken under ground C and a further 1% under ground D (1,635). A similar proportion were carried out under ground E (1%; 2,290). Grounds A and B together accounted for less than a quarter of one per cent of abortions (358). The proportion of ground C abortions has risen steadily, with a corresponding reduction in ground D cases. (See Table 3a.ii.) The vast majority (99.96%) of ground C only terminations were reported as being performed because of a risk to the woman’s mental health. Abortions are rarely performed under grounds F or G.

So in summary 98% of all abortions are performed on the grounds that ‘that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the mental health of the pregnant woman’.

And yet this week’s review tells us that there is no evidence that the continuance of a pregnancy ever involves risk to the mental health of the mother that is ‘greater than if the pregnancy were terminated’.

This raises an interesting question. Are those doctors who authorise abortions on these mental health grounds aware of these facts or not? In other words, when they sign these forms, are they just ignorant of the facts or are they being deliberately disingenuous?

Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that up until this point every doctor in Britain signing an abortion authorisation form did so ‘in good faith’, genuinely believing that normal pregnancy and childbirth constituted a greater risk to mental health than abortion.

Now, however they will not be able to do so ‘in good faith’ because the true facts are known and have been made public in a major report endorsed by the AMRC and the Department of Health.

If they continue to authorise abortions on mental health grounds from now on they will then be knowingly making false statements on legal documents when previously (giving them the full benefit of any doubt) they were doing so unknowingly.

Is this serious? Well yes because abortions which are carried out outside the bounds of the Abortion Act 1967 are still illegal, as section 5(2) of the Act makes very clear:

‘For the purposes of the law relating to abortion, anything done with intent to procure a woman’s miscarriage (or, in the case of a woman carrying more than one foetus, her miscarriage of any foetus) is unlawfully done unless authorised by section 1 of this Act’

Section 6 of the Abortion Act states that:

‘“the law relating to abortion” means sections 58 and 59 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861, and any rule of law relating to the procurement of abortion’

Many people do not understand that abortion is still a crime in Britain if the exemptions in the Abortion Act do not apply, and as I have argued above they do not currently apply in 98% of cases.

So what do sections 58 and 59 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 say?

58 Administering drugs or using instruments to procure abortion.
Every woman, being with child, who, with intent to procure her own miscarriage, shall unlawfully administer to herself any poison or other noxious thing, or shall unlawfully use any instrument or other means whatsoever with the like intent, and whosoever, with intent to procure the miscarriage of any woman, whether she be or be not with child, shall unlawfully administer to her or cause to be taken by her any poison or other noxious thing, or shall unlawfully use any instrument or other means whatsoever with the like intent, shall be guilty of felony, and being convicted thereof shall be liable . . . to be kept in penal servitude for life . . ..

59 Procuring drugs, &c. to cause abortion.
Whosoever shall unlawfully supply or procure any poison or other noxious thing, or any instrument or thing whatsoever, knowing that the same is intended to be unlawfully used or employed with intent to procure the miscarriage of any woman, whether she be or be not with child, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and being convicted thereof shall be liable . . .to be kept in penal servitude . . ..

In other words anyone convicted of carrying out an illegal abortion could face life imprisonment.

But what about those doctors who knowingly make false statements on abortion authorisation forms? For that we need to turn to the Perjury Act 1911 Section 5 which reads as follows:

5 False statutory declarations and other false statements without oath

If any person knowingly and wilfully makes (otherwise than on oath) a statement false in a material particular, and the statement is made—
(a)in a statutory declaration; or
(b)in a… certificate, declaration… or other document which he is authorised or required to make, attest, or verify, by any public general Act of Parliament for the time being in force… he shall be guilty of a misdemeanour and shall be liable on conviction thereof on indictment to imprisonment… for any term not exceeding two years, or to a fine or to both such imprisonment and fine.

In other words, making false statements on an abortion authorisation certificate is a form of perjury.


So where does this leave doctors? Let me sum it up:

1.There is no evidence that continuing with an unwanted pregnancy poses any greater risk to a pregnant woman’s mental health than an abortion does and yet 98% of abortions are authorised on these grounds

2.The doctors who are authorising these abortions are not therefore doing so ‘in good faith’

3.These abortions are therefore unlawful under the Abortion Act 1967 and Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and those doctors who are carrying them out are committing a criminal offence

4.Those doctors who are authorising them are knowingly and wilfully making false statements on legal documents and are thereby committing an offence under the Perjury Act 1911

5.These offences under the Abortion Act and Perjury Act both carry custodial sentences

Thursday 8 December 2011

Abortion Review confirms that 98% of all abortions in Britain are technically illegal

The most comprehensive review to date into the link between abortion and mental health problems has confirmed that women who have an unwanted pregnancy are at an increased risk of experiencing mental health problems after an abortion (See Guardian and BBC)

More significantly it reveals that 98% of all abortions carried out in Britain are technically illegal.

This new Review by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (AMRC) shows that abortion does not improve mental health outcomes for women with unplanned pregnancies, despite 98% of the 200,000 abortions being carried out in this country each year on mental health grounds.

This means that doctors who authorise abortions in order to protect a woman’s mental health are doing it on the basis of a false belief not supported by the medical evidence. In other words the vast majority of abortions in this country are technically illegal.

Otherwise the report confirms earlier conclusions that negative attitudes towards abortion, pressure from a partner to have an abortion and negative reactions to the abortion including grief or doubt, may have a negative impact on mental health after abortion.

Controversially it also claims that the risk of mental health problems after abortion is not any greater than the risk after birth but that both life events are nevertheless associated with an increase in mental health problems.

However the strength of evidence for the claim that abortion poses no greater risk to mental health than childbirth is weak as the report itself admits: 'The evidence for this section of the review was generally rated as poor or very poor…These factors limit the interpretation of the results.' This main conclusion of the report is what most media coverage has picked up, even though it is based on only four studies (Cougle, Steinberg, Fergusson, Gilchrist), two of which were judged as 'fair' and the author of the only one judged 'very good' (Fergusson) has a new paper in press which he claims shows a link between abortion and mental health problems in unwanted pregnancies which is not there for unwanted pregnancies carried to term.

He summarises this as follows:

'The implications of this analysis are inescapable: despite the claims made in previous reviews about the absence of association between abortion and mental health, when data are pooled across studies there is consistent evidence suggesting that women having abortions are at modestly increased risks of mental health problems when compared with women coming to term with unplanned/unwanted pregnancies... While it remains possible that these findings reflect methodological problems of sample selection, residual confounding and investigator bias these considerations do not justify the strong conclusion that there is no evidence to support the view that abortion has adverse mental health consequences. It is our view that the scientifically appropriate and cautious assessment is that: there is currently suggestive evidence indicating that abortion is associated with modest increases in risks of common mental disorders. However to confirm this conclusion requires further and better research which addresses issue of measurement , confounding and investigator bias. A detailed paper describing these findings is currently under review.'

There are some strong messages to take home for those offering counselling and support to women with unplanned pregnancies.

First, women with unplanned pregnancies need to know that abortion will not reduce their risks of mental health problems relative to giving birth.

Second, those who have a past history of mental health problems, who believe that abortion is wrong, who are being put under pressure by their partners or who are experiencing other stressful life events, are at risk of increased rates of post-abortion mental health problems.

The first response to an unplanned pregnancy should therefore not be abortion but, as the review rightly recommends, proper support and care for women.

The government should make the provision of fully independent counselling for all women with an unplanned pregnancy a key priority, in order that they can have access to support and counselling that is not linked to abortion provision.

End notes

In 2010, the vast majority (98%; 185,291) of abortions were undertaken under ground C c) that the pregnancy has not exceeded its 24th week and the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated, of injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman (Section 1(1)(a))

A new milestone in irresponsible media reporting of suicide

I was phoned last Monday by Sky News to be told that they were planning to give an international media platform to a new case of assisted suicide involving a media personality who was dying of cancer. The story has broken today.

This carefully orchestrated move by a former BBC producer, in collaboration with the pro-euthanasia lobby, breaks virtually every international guideline on media suicide portrayal and marks a new milestone in irresponsible media reporting. Sadly however, it is entirely consistent with our national broadcaster’s self-appointed status as a cheerleader for assisted suicide.

The extensive coverage and attention this story is generating will unwittingly fuel suicide contagion and plays into the hands of pro-euthanasia campaigners to whip up public and media support for a new assault on the Suicide Act ahead of the publication of the controversial Falconer Commission report in the New Year.

The very last thing we need at a time of economic recession, shrinking health budgets and failures in the care system is a media celebrity presenting suicide as a solution for terminal cancer. Next year over 150,000 Britons will die of cancer. Many of them are vulnerable and all deserve the very best care, not media scaremongering about the dying process.

British parliamentarians have repeatedly considered and debated these issues and have three times in the last five years rejected the legalisation of assisted suicide on grounds of public safety. They have rightly recognized that any change in the law would simply place more pressure on vulnerable people – those who are disabled, elderly, sick or depressed - to end their lives so as not to be a burden on carers, relatives or the state. Such a move would also be a green light to would-be abusers who have a financial or emotional interest in their deaths.

Our priority at this time should instead be to resist any further weakening of the law and to make the very best palliative care, in which Britain is a world leader, more widely accessible and available so that patients can die as comfortably as possible at home or in hospital without fear.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Please support the current definition of marriage in Scotland

The Scottish Government Same-Sex Marriage Consultation closes on Friday 9 December.

CMF is backing Scotland for Marriage in its campaign to retain the current legal definition of marriage which has served Scotland well for centuries. Scotland for Marriage is opposed to redefining marriage in Scotland and is calling for a referendum on this issue.

Respondents do not have to be Scottish to have a say in the Scottish government’s public consultation on extending marriage rights to same-sex couples.

To support this campaign please add your responses to the six multiple-choice questions in the online consultation at Scotland for Marriage. It is very straightforward to do.

If you live in Scotland please also consider signing the petition.

CMF agrees with the Scotland for Marriage statement that marriage is the union of one man to one woman, for life, to the exclusion of all others and is the best environment for raising children. We note that same-sex couples already have full legal rights available through civil partnerships.

A similar Westminster consultation on same-sex ‘marriage’ will begin in February. Prime Minister David Cameron has already voiced his support for legalisation.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

My reply to BMJ article on the Secular Medical Forum

Last week the British Medical Journal gave a platform to the Secular Medical Forum to attack Christianity and promote abortion, physician assisted suicide and embryonic stem cell research.

The 900 word one page article, titled ‘Secularism needs a distinctive medical voice’, which appeared in the BMJ’s ‘personal view’ column, claimed to be ‘not commissioned; not externally peer reviewed’.

It was, however, essentially an advertorial for the author Colin Brewer’s organisation.

I have critiqued the article on this blog, but also posted a rapid response on the BMJ website which I have reproduced here:

The Christian contribution to medicine is considerable

In his full page advertorial for the ‘Secular Medical Fellowship’, Colin Brewer gives an inaccurate and highly selective overview of the relationship between faith and medicine and neglects to mention that Christian doctors motivated by Jesus Christ’s teaching and example have been profoundly influential in shaping healthcare's history.

Many of medicine's pioneers were men and women of faith: Pare, Pasteur, Lister, Paget, Barnado, Jenner, Simpson, Sydenham, Osler, Skudder, Livingstone and many more.

Christians remain active in all fields of medicine today but particularly in AIDS care and education, drug rehabilitation, child health, palliative care, relief of poverty and in service to the developing world. In a recent survey, to which over 1,000 members of Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) responded, 230 respondents had served long term in 48 countries around the world, 74% with a mission or church organization, and 459 had made short term visits (<6 months) to 98 countries, most commonly to train and teach (1).

Although respecting the authority of the Bible, CMF’s 4,000 doctor and 1,000 medical student members are not ‘text worshippers’ but rather, like 2.3 billion other of the world’s inhabitants, worship God, the creator and sustainer of the universe, who we believe revealed himself in the historical person of Jesus Christ.

Christ's dynamic entry into first century Palestine was marked by miraculous healing of many illnesses for which even today there are no known treatments. But along with his compassion to restore health he brought a message of healing of broken relationships - between human beings, between human beings and the planet and most crucially between human beings and God.

In his historical account of those events, Luke, probably the first ever Christian physician, tells us that Jesus sent his followers out 'to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick' (Luke 9:2). He is still sending them out today - to attend to the spiritual and physical needs of a suffering world.

BMJ readers who are interested in a more accurate and informative account of the Christian contribution to medicine are welcome to peruse the footnoted articles (2,3,4) on the CMF website, most of which were published in the Millennium edition of our journal Triple Helix (5).

1. Survey of CMF Graduate Members about International Work in Resource-poor Settings
2. May P. Jesus - the Pivot of History and Medical Care
3. Parry E. Luke - the Physician's Gospel
4. Beal-Preston R. The Christian Contribution to Medicine
5. Triple Helix Millennium Edition

BPAS plan to sell morning-after pill to teenagers online this Christmas will lead to more sexually transmitted disease and no less unplanned pregnancy

A British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) campaign, launched today, encourages women to stockpile emergency contraceptive pills over the Christmas period.

According to the Daily Telegraph a poster for the scheme, featuring the word ‘sex’ in fairy lights, asks: ‘Getting “turned on” this Christmas?’ And a dedicated website for the service is titled, rather bawdily,

Women wanting to obtain the morning after pill, Levonelle One Step, will have to register their details on the website. They will then be phoned by a nurse for a 15-minute consultation intended to weed out young teenagers and assess suitability before being posted the pills.

However, BPAS has admitted that under-age girls will almost certainly obtain pills through the scheme by lying to them. Some children ‘will not be completely honest about their age’, a spokesman said. Under-16s would usually need a prescription to prevent a possible pregnancy in this way.

Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, said last night that he would prefer the pills to be issued after a face-to-face consultation but stopped short of saying he would intervene.

Not suprisingly critics have reacted sharply.

Michaela Aston, spokesman for the pro-life charity, Life, said the new service made getting the pills as easy as ordering a pizza. She said: ‘There are absolutely no guarantees that under-age girls won’t be given this pill, as there are no checks on their age carried out by BPAS.’

Norman Wells, director of the Family Education Trust, said: ‘When the morning after pill was first approved for use in the UK, assurances were given that it would be used only in exceptional circumstances and would remain a prescription-only drug under the control of doctors. Not only is it now being marketed as a “just-in-case” drug and supplied free of charge, but BPAS’s telephone service will inevitably lead to underage girls lying about their age in order to access it.’

Josephine Quintavalle, founder of the Pro-life Alliance, said: ‘BPAS won’t have any idea about what is really going on with the caller. She could be having underage sex. She could sell it to a friend.’

The risk of underage girls accessing the morning after pill is of course a key objection to the scheme.

But there is a more fundamental reason why this scheme is dangerous: Morning-after pills don’t actually cut teen pregnancy rates and actually increase the incidence of sexually transmitted infections.

Research findings demonstrating this earlier this year (published in the Journal of Health Economics (full text) just last December and reported in the Daily Telegraph in January) were the final nails in the coffin of the Labour government’s teenage pregnancy strategy, dreamt up by the now defunct Teenage Pregnancy Independent Advisory Group (TPIAG) which was set up in 2000 to advise the government on how to cut teenage pregnancy.

Part of its strategy was to make morning-after pills free over the counter to teenagers.

The research, by professors Sourafel Girma and David Paton of Nottingham University, compared areas of England where the scheme was introduced with others that declined to provide the morning-after pill free from chemists.

The academics found that rates of pregnancy among girls under 16 remained the same, but that rates of sexually transmitted infections increased by 12%.

Britain has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in Western Europe. In 2008, the latest year for which figures are available, more than 7,500 girls in England and Wales became pregnant. Nearly two thirds of these pregnancies ended in abortion.

Rates of sexually transmitted diseases are also rising. In 2009 there were 12,000 more cases than the previous year, when 470,701 cases were reported. The number of infections in 16-to 19 year-olds seen at genito-urinary medicine clinics rose from 46,856 in 2003 to 58,133 in 2007.

International research has consistently failed to find any evidence that emergency birth control schemes achieve a reduction in teenage conception and abortion rates. But now we have evidence showing that not only are such schemes failing to do any good, but they may in fact be doing harm.

The phenomenon whereby applying a prevention measure results in an increase in the very thing it is trying to prevent is known as ‘risk compensation’.

The term has been applied to the fact that the wearing of seatbelts does not decrease the level of some forms of road traffic injuries since drivers are thereby encouraged to drive more recklessly.

In the same way it has been argued that making condoms readily available actually increases rather than decreases rates of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections because condoms encourage teenagers to take more sexual risks in the false belief that they will not suffer harm.

Whilst condoms offer some protection against sexually transmitted infections the morning-after pill offers none.

They are the very last thing we need to foist on vulnerable drunken teenagers during the festive season and will simply encourage them to take more risks by giving them a false sense of security.

This latest BPAS strategy is underpinned by the dangerous assumption that there is no right or wrong in teenage sexual activity - just choice. This assumption has led to a values-free framework in which the rate of unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease amongst teenagers is the highest in Europe.

Its prime effect, apart from further inflating BPAS’s already inflated coffers with more taxpayers money, will be to lead to more reckless behaviour, more sexually transmitted disease and no decrease in unplanned pregnancy and abortion.

The best way to counter the epidemic of unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease is to promote real behaviour change through such programmes as Love for Life (Northern Ireland), Love2last (Sheffield), Challenge Team, Romance Academy or Lovewise (Newcastle). These are just the sorts of initiative that the government should be encouraging and their message of abstinence and caution is the one they should be giving.

This latest BPAS move is sadly yet another unfortunate, ill-conceived opportunistic knee-jerk response to Britain’s spiraling epidemic of unplanned pregnancy, abortion and sexually transmitted disease amongst teenagers and will only make matters worse. It is most unfortunate that the government is actually funding it through them.

Instead of pursuing these tired flawed ‘ambulance at the bottom of the cliff’ policies we should be focusing on evidence-based strategies aimed at bringing about real behaviour change.

'Life' sentences for murder are necessary to deter would-be mercy killers

A group of legal ‘experts’ has claimed today that mandatory life sentences for murder in England and Wales and the system for setting minimum terms are unjust and outdated.

The Homicide Review Advisory Group, made up of judges, academics and former QCs, says the system does not allow for sentences to match individual crimes.

The mandatory life sentence replaced the death penalty in 1965. But in practice this means that people convicted of murder receive a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years with judges using a starting point of 25 years, 30 years or life for more serious cases. Life almost always does not actually mean life.

Judges can increase or reduce sentences from these starting points on the basis of the facts of the case in order to make the punishment more appropriately fit the crime but 15 years remains the minimum.

Rules of sentencing are described in more detail on the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) website.

Campaigners, including pro-euthanasia groups, have been pushing for the minimum sentence to come down from 15 years for what they see as less serious crimes such as mercy killing and this is primarily what this latest move is all about.

They are claiming the support of research last year which claims the public may support reforming the penalty for murder to make life imprisonment the maximum sentence rather than mandatory. They plan to publish a new report later this week.

However there is a huge amount of opposition to such a move amongst the constabulary, the public and the government itself.

Peter Neyroud, a former chief constable, has said that the public did not want killers treated with more leniency and a Ministry of Justice spokesman has said it had no plans to abolish the mandatory life sentence for murder adding that ‘The most serious crimes deserve the most serious sentences.’

In my view successive governments since 1965 have been right to resist any further watering down of sentences for murder.

The current mandatory ‘life’ sentence provides a powerful disincentive to the exploitation and abuse of vulnerable people.

Any relaxation of the law in cases of mercy killing would weaken legal protection for vulnerable people and would provide an extra incentive for those with an interest in their deaths to push the limits.

There is already a lot of leniency and flexibility built into the current system with discretion given to prosecutors about what charges to bring (murder, manslaughter, assisted suicide etc), to judges in instructing juries and deciding sentences, to juries in deciding what verdict to bring and through the appeal court system. There are also a wide range of defences and aggravating and mitigating circumstances that judges can take into account in deciding in any individual case.

It is right that justice is tempered with mercy in hard cases but justice must be upheld and be seen to be upheld if those most vulnerable are to be properly protected.

It was the motivation of mercy that led to the abolition of capital punishment for murder in 1965 in order to replace it with a much more lenient sentence of 15 years for the majority of cases. It was similarly mercy that has led to a system meaning for most that life does not actually mean life.

A minimum of 15 years may seem likes stiff penalty but it is necessary to deter would-be abusers. Upholding strong sentences for mercy killing will mean that vulnerable people – those who are disabled, dependent, elderly or frail – can sleep more easily in their beds knowing that whose who might have an interest in their deaths will think twice in weighing up any decision to end their lives.

Let’s resist any attempt to water the law down any more than it is already. Let’s not start chipping away at the 15 year minimum to establish a series of lesser degrees of murder for mercy killers and others. That would send all the wrong signals and simply provide more encouragement to would-be abusers. It would also further trivialise mercy killing in the public mind.

A fair and just society punishes the guilty, with mercy in hard cases, and protects the innocent. It does not excuse the guilty and remove protection from the vulnerable. When we start to see those who take others lives as victims – even when they act under duress or because they have been carrying a burden - we can find ourselves on a very slippery slope indeed.

Taking the life of another human being through murder is a very serious crime and it should carry a stiff penalty.

Let’s leave the law as it is.