Monday 30 May 2011

Times newspaper unwisely joins campaign to legalise assisted suicide

The Times newspaper has today devoted two whole pages and an editorial to the pro-assisted suicide cause just as Dignity in Dying (formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society) is launching its latest propaganda barrage on parliament with the mailing of a new booklet to all MPs and Peers.

The Times initially adopted a campaigning stance in support of legalising assisted suicide with an editorial titled ‘Life and Death’ at the time of the unsuccessful Falconer amendment to the Coroners and Justice Bill back in 2009. Like the BBC it has been unbalanced in its coverage of the issue ever since. The pro-euthanasia lobby is indeed fortunate to have such a powerful press office assisting it.

DID is now escalating the push for a change in the law so that (in its own words) ‘terminally ill, mentally competent adults can have the choice of an assisted death’ – but with the key terms ‘terminally ill’, ‘mentally competent’, ‘adult’ and ‘assisted death’ left conveniently undefined.

They are doing this in the lead up to the publication of the report from Lord Falconer’s sham commission on assisted suicide due out this autumn, which on the basis of the committee’s composition (nine of its twelve members are outspoken enthusiasts for decriminalisation) will recommend ‘legalisation with safeguards’. Expect DID to have the bill already drafted.

DID’s aim is to produce a slight opening of the door that can then be incrementally widened with subsequent human rights legislation – because as they are well aware, their key arguments (compassion and autonomy) apply also to children, mentally incompetent adults and those who are disabled or chronically ill. This is just the sort of extension that has already been observed in the Netherlands.

Baroness Finlay, professor of palliative medicine in Cardiff, has tonight published a riposte, ‘”Safeguards” will not make assisted suicide acceptable’, in which she makes the following points:

‘Those campaigning for assisted suicide make it all sound so easy: safeguards, no investigation of those who assist and an assumption that everyone involved acts from the finest of motives.’

‘But the law has to protect us all from those who do not necessarily have the best motives…So why are the so-called “safeguards” proposed by campaigners unsafe? First, they assume that one can define precisely who is terminally ill: one cannot. Doctors know only too well of misdiagnoses and prognoses that are wrong by months or years. Second, coercive influences on a person are difficult to detect. Third, doctors and nurses often have a big influence on a patient…’

‘When assisted suicide is investigated, those who stand to inherit should be rigorously examined if they are complicit in the death… We are all interconnected. The actions of one person affect others. Assisting suicide is a step too far; personal gain too easily masquerades as compassion.’

The current law, through the penalties it holds in reserve, provides a strong deterrent to abuse and exploitation, whilst allowing both prosecutors and judges discretion in bringing prosecutions and in passing sentences. This is the right balance. It is working well and does not need fixing.

The set of prosecution criteria produced by the Director of Public Prosecutions in response to the Debbie Purdy judgement are not perfect in that they provide a loophole for those who plead that their actions, in assisting someone else to kill themselves, were ‘wholly motivated by compassion’ – words which have little meaning in law and are also difficult to apply given that the key witness – the victim – is dead.

In fact, as argued by Francis Bennion, retired Parliamentary Counsel, in a letter to the Times well worthy of study, these prosecution guidelines actually in this way change the law.

However, were we to legislate to decriminalise assisted suicide on any grounds at all we would soon see the escalating numbers of cases that we are seeing now in Oregon and the Netherlands.

Britain has seen a total of 150 people go to the Dignitas facility in Zurich to end their lives over ten years – on average about ten a year.

However with an Oregon or Netherlands type law (both defended by DID) we would, according to the 2005 House of Lords Select Committee Report, have 650 and 13,000 British deaths annually.

We do not need a change in the law – but we do need to ensure that all cases of assisted suicide do continue to be fully investigated both to ensure that potential abusers are deterred and that all appropriate prosecutions are brought. This will mean that ‘assisters’ will have to be questioned by the police, but that is a small price to pay to ensure that others are protected.

In order to ensure that vulnerable people – those who are elderly, disabled, depressed or sick – are adequately protected it means that a small number of people who desperately wish help to end their lives will not be able to do it and that others will not be able to help them without the risk of prosecution.

That is part of living in a democratic society. Autonomy is not absolute. All laws limit autonomy in some way because laws are there to protect the vulnerable, not to give liberties to the determined. That is why we have speed limits and breath tests – despite the fact that some people think they can drive safely over either limit.

The current law has a stern face but a kind heart. It does not need changing. It is a shame that the current editors of the Times seem not to recognise that.

Wednesday 25 May 2011

2010 abortion statistics raise profound questions about our priorities and attitudes as a society

The Department of Health published the 2010 abortion figures for England and Wales yesterday.

There were 189,574 terminations in England and Wales during 2010. This was 0.3 per cent more than the previous year but 8 per cent more than the 175,542 recorded in 2000. In 1969, the first full year after legalisation, there were 54,819.

The abortion rate is now 17.5 per 1,000 women aged between 15 to 44. More 19 and 20 year-olds underwent the procedure than women of any other age (33 abortions per 1,000 women) and there were 1,042 abortions among girls not yet 15.

The proportion of women ending their pregnancies through the use of a pill has risen from 12 per cent in 2000 to a record 43 per cent last year. So-called ‘medical abortions’ are only available at the start of pregnancy and the proportion of terminations taking place under 10 weeks gestation has accordingly risen from 58 per cent in 2000 to 77 per cent last year.

Figures also show that more women are having repeat abortions. In 2010, 34 per cent of women ending pregnancies had had at least one previous abortion, up from 30 per cent a decade ago. In total, 85 women have ended seven or more pregnancies.

The total number of abortions in Britain since the Abortion Act was passed in 1967 is now well over seven million. There is now one abortion for every four live births in Britain and one out of every three women by the age of 45 will have had an abortion.

What I always find astounding whenever these annual figures come out is the fact that they have ceased to shock us. The numbers are simply staggering and yet those in the Department of Health and Abortion Industry always seem to find something in them to seize upon in order to argue that the situation is somehow improving, that the government’s strategy is working or that they indicate some sort of new dawn.

However what is very clear is that the government’s teenage pregnancy strategy, built around values-free sex education, condoms and morning after pills is clearly not working in bringing rates of unplanned pregnancy down. Instead abortion is being used purely as another form of contraception. And yet it is not contraception. Whilst contraceptives work in the main by preventing fertilisation taking place, abortion stops a beating heart and ends a human life.

The figures quoted above are those that you will read in much of the media coverage and show a situation out of control.

But if you take the time to dig more deeply into the report there are some other very interesting trends that emerge and raise fresh questions for society to confront.

In 2010 there were 147 cases where doctors ended pregnancies beyond the 24th week. Virtually all of these were carried on grounds that there was a ‘significant risk’ of ‘serious abnormality’ in the baby – in other words these babies were in the main severely disabled.

Abortion was made legal up until birth (40 weeks) for disabled babies through the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act in 1990. 24 weeks is considered by most to be the threshold of viability – the age at which babies can survive in a neonatal unit with good care. Most of these 147 babies, had they been in a neonatal unit rather than in the womb, would have been cared for like any other baby and most would have survived, which is why many argue (and I share this view) that late abortion for disability is morally equivalent to infanticide.

I note also that the total number of babies aborted because they were in some way disabled (most of which were at less than 24 weeks gestation) was 2,290, nearly 10% higher than in 2009. The average for the past 5 years has been under 2000.

That this can occur virtually without comment by the popular press shows how increasingly comfortable we are as a society with the eugenic view that it is appropriate for the weak to be sacrificed so as not to burden the strong, or that the lives of profoundly disabled people are in some sense not worth living. Abortion is after all nothing other than involuntary euthanasia for the very young.

Why is it that we accept involuntary euthanasia for babies in the womb when even the most radical pro-euthanasia groups in Britain do not accept it for those outside? Why is protecting vulnerability apparently not important when we are talking about life before birth? There is after all no one more innocent, more vulnerable, nor killed in greater numbers than the preborn child. Why do we not regard this as one of the most important human rights issues on the planet?

Those unmoved by human rights arguments or the humanity of the unborn child, may nonetheless be concerned about public healthcare costs. 96% of abortions in 2010 were funded from the NHS purse using taxpayers’ money. 59% of the total (up 2% from last year) were contracted to private clinics mainly run by the Britaih Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) and Marie Stopes international (MSI), rather than being provided by the NHS directly.

This compares to approximately 47% public funding of abortions in the years prior to 1990 (see Figure 3: p.8 in the DoH publication). If one excludes non-residents and those not registered with the NHS this means that the government is now funding virtually all abortions in England and Wales. At a time when health budgets are being slashed this must raise serious questions about health spending priorities and the seriousness with which the government is approaching the question of reducing abortion numbers.

Given that approximately one in three women will choose not to have an abortion if given time, space and support to consider alternative options, this must make providing counselling independent of the abortion industry conveyor belt (as called for by two MPs recently in an amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill) an important priority on economic grounds alone.

But maybe the most significant figure in yesterday’s statistics, is that 99.96% of ground C only terminations (representing 185,291 of all abortions) were performed because of risk to the woman’s mental health. This is, I believe, the first time such a statement has been printed as usually ground C terminations do not distinguish between the mental or physical health of the woman.

This statistic is particularly poignant because the Royal College of Psychiatrists is currently carrying out a consultation into the link between abortion and mental health problems and has concluded both their draft statement, and in an earlier 2008 statement, that there does not appear to be any hard medical evidence that the continuation of an unwanted pregnancy constitutes any greater danger to a woman’s mental health than having an abortion. In fact the very opposite may be true.

This means that the overwhelming vast majority of abortions in this country may, technically speaking, actually be illegal under the 1967 Abortion Act. In other words when a doctor authorises an abortion on grounds that it poses less risk to a woman’s mental health than continuing with the pregnancy he is in fact making a claim which is based on ideology rather than evidence, and which would probably not stand up to scrutiny in a court of law.

The fact that no doctor has ever been challenged on this in court betrays the key issue behind this whole debate – that we have decided as a society that abortion is not really wrong.

Sunday 22 May 2011

The GMC has overreacted in reprimanding Dr Richard Scott

A Christian GP has been reprimanded by the General Medical Council for talking about his faith to a patient.

Dr Richard Scott (pictured) was accused of ‘harassment’ and told by the medical regulator that he risked bringing the profession into disrepute by discussing his religious beliefs.

He has refused to accept a formal warning on his record, and is instead taking legal action to fight the censure with the assistance of the Christian Legal Centre and leading human rights lawyer Paul Diamond.

Dr Scott, who says he has shared his faith with thousands of patients in the past, saw the patient who is at centre of the complaint in 2010. Following the consultation, the patient’s mother complained that the doctor had abused his position by ‘pushing religion’ on her son.

However, Dr Scott argues that he acted within official guidelines, having asked if he could talk about his Christian beliefs to the patient, who is of a different faith, and having ended the conversation as soon as he was asked to. The conversation only turned to faith issues after they had fully explored the medical options.

This is Dr Scott’s version of what happened. “The GMC said I had exploited a vulnerable patient. I say I was trying to help a needy patient,” Dr Scott told the British Medical Journal.

'It’s actually one of the longest consultations I’ve had, 20 minutes, trying to establish the details of his very detailed problem. And then in the last five minutes I said to him, "Look, there’s something here that I’ve found over the years has been very helpful to me and many of the patients sat in your chair. It’s about the Christian faith; you probably realise I’m a Christian doctor."'

He asked the patient whether he could discuss this, and he had replied, 'Go for it.'

'Towards the end he actually did become a little bit heated and I could see it wasn’t going anywhere, so we stopped. I finally said, "I will do the things obviously your mother has rung up about in the first place, the standard medical stuff, we’ll do that." In her complaint against me she said that I’d been highly unprofessional and not done anything medical at all in the conversation, which is totally wrong and can be proved on the computer.'

After receiving the complaint, the GMC apparently sent Dr Scott a letter warning him over his conduct and told him that the way he expressed his religious beliefs had ‘distressed’ the patient and did ‘not meet with the standards required of a doctor’.

Dr Scott, a doctor for 28 years, works at the Bethesda Medical Centre in Margate, Kent. Its six partners are all Christians and state on the official NHS Choices website that they are likely to discuss spiritual matters with patients during consultations.

Niall Dickson, chief executive of the GMC, is reported by the Telegraph as saying: ‘Our guidance, which all doctors must follow, is clear. Doctors should not normally discuss their personal beliefs with patients unless those beliefs are directly relevant to the patient’s care. They also must not impose their beliefs on patients, or cause distress by the inappropriate or insensitive expression of religious, political or other beliefs or views.’

However Dickson has been quite selective in his quotation of the guidance which actually gives doctors a lot of freedom in expressing their faith, provided they do it in an appropriate and sensitive way.

The GMC guidance in question, Personal beliefs and medical practice, was published on 17 March, 2008.

Christian Medical Fellowship contributed to the consultation leading to its publication and published a review of the guidance at the time.

At the time of the publication of the guidance Dr John Jenkins, Chair of the GMC Standards and Ethics Committee said: ‘The GMC recognises that personal beliefs, values, and cultural and religious practises are central to the lives of doctors and patients. The guidance balances a doctors' right to practise in accordance with their views and beliefs, and patients' right to receive timely and appropriate medical care.’

The guidance states specifically (para 7) that it ‘attempts to balance doctors' and patients' rights - including the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, and the entitlement to care and treatment to meet clinical needs - and advises on what to do when those rights conflict.’ It is not intended to ‘impose unnecessary restrictions on doctors’ (p8) but does point out that doctors have an obligation not to impose their beliefs on patients:

‘You must not express to your patients your personal beliefs, including political, religious or moral beliefs, in ways that exploit their vulnerability or that are likely to cause them distress.’ (p1)

So there is no blanket prohibition on expressing personal beliefs, as long as it is done in a way that is sensitive and appropriate.

The guidance also underlines the principle that doctors must ‘make the care of (their) patient (their) first concern’ and must treat them ‘with respect, whatever their life choices and beliefs’.

These are all good principles that I personally have no problem with. No doctor, Christian or otherwise, should impose his views on his patient or seek to exploit his or her position.

However, the guidance goes on to stress that all patients and doctors have personal beliefs implying that these principles apply not just to those who subscribe to a particular faith, but to everyone.

‘Personal beliefs and values, and cultural and religious practices are central to the lives of doctors and patients.’ (p4) ‘All doctors have personal beliefs which affect their day-to-day practice.’ (p6)

It also emphasises that taking account of patients’ beliefs is part of good medical care.

‘Patients' personal beliefs may be fundamental to their sense of well-being and could help them to cope with pain or other negative aspects of illness or treatment.’ (p5) ‘For some patients, acknowledging their beliefs or religious practices may be an important aspect of a holistic approach to their care. Discussing personal beliefs may, when approached sensitively, help you to work in partnership with patients to address their particular treatment needs.’ (p9)

I recently blogged about a new report from CMF, which has had wide international news coverage which reviews the positive health benefits of Christian faith.

Good doctors do not treat their patients solely as biological or biochemical machines. Rather they practise ‘whole person’ medicine that is not concerned solely with physical needs, but also addresses social, psychological, behavioural and spiritual factors that may be contributing to a person’s illness.

Here we have the case of a doctor who has talked to many patients about faith matters and who has had only a very small handful of complaints. He seems genuinely to make his patients welfare his main concern, and when he feels it appropriate to raise spiritual issues does so with sensitivity and respect.

From the facts of the case, as reported, it appears that the General Medical Council has acted with inappropriate and disproportionate force and appears to have applied its (very reasonable guidance) in a selective and unbalanced way.

The Telegraph, in today’s editorial, ‘Doctors can be Christians too’, quite rightly says that ‘this case of a doctor reprimanded for discussing his religion is a worrying one’ and accuses the GMC of an ‘excessive reaction’. It concludes that ‘we appear to be heading towards an alarming situation in which the profession of faith becomes an active disqualification’.

The GMC has clearly overreacted and I am on record in the Telegraph today saying just this.

Let’s hope that it reassesses its position and applies its own guidance in an even-handed way by balancing more carefully what it calls ‘the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion’ with ‘the entitlement to care and treatment to meet clinical needs’.

If it fails to do so it may find itself losing more than its credibility.

Saturday 21 May 2011

Christian GP’s appeal challenges the very heart of government

I note that Dr Hans-Christian Raabe, the Christian GP dismissed as a Government drugs adviser for his views on homosexuality, has launched a legal bid to win his job back.

As reported in the Daily Mail this week, Dr Raabe was removed from the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) in February following attacks on him in the Press.

Ministers said he was sacked because he failed to disclose an ‘embarrassing’ academic report he co-authored in 2005 that linked homosexuality to paedophilia. But in fact the Home Office itself quoted similar documents on its own website.

The German-born doctor has now begun a judicial review against Home Secretary Theresa May and is being represented by leading human rights lawyer James Dingemans QC (pictured).

He is being backed by the Christian Institute, which is funding the case.

I previously blogged that by sacking Dr Raabe, the Home Office had demonstrated intolerance, cowardice, ignorance and an unwillingness to investigate complaints properly.

I also noted that a major review on the subject of paedophilia published in 2007 and available on line, which reviews all 554 papers published on Medline on pedophilia, also acknowledges that the jury is still out on the matter:

’The main evidence in favor of a relationship between pedophilia and homosexuality is the common cause of fraternal birth order and postnatal learning… It seems to be questionable logic to view these two conditions as completely unrelated.’

That Dr Raabe should be sacked from his role as a drugs advisor on the basis of his expressed opinions on an entirely unrelated issue (homosexuality) is itself at very least unfair.

But the fact that the data he quoted were actually derived from peer-reviewed scientific journal articles (including one quoted approvingly by the Home Office itself!), and on a matter where experts agree that there is a diversity of learned opinion, makes his dismissal both outrageous and inexcusable.

Home Secretary Theresa May has never apologised to Dr Hans-Christian Raabe but will be under new pressure now.

But the issue goes up much higher that the Home Secretary.

The Prime Minister David Cameron by his previous comments on homosexuality, has also demonstrated that he does not understand what true tolerance actually is.

I wish Dr Raabe all the best in his appeal. It will be interesting to see how he gets on.

We don't hear much about xenotransplantation these days

A transgenic porker from Spain
Went out for a stroll in the rain
But being slow of learning, she took a wrong turning
And strayed in the path of a train

An English vet (on his vacation)
Skilled in porcine resuscitation
Established perfusion with colloid infusion
And quickly arranged transportation

Unfortunately (as it transpired)
The pig's brainstem soon had expired
And so the debate regarding the fate
Of its humanoid organs was fired

Possessed by a motive ulterior
The media whipped up hysteria
An animal activist spiked the intensivists'
IV with potent bacteria

The specialists opted to treat
But riots began in the street
Amidst the delay, the sow passed away
Thus making the drama complete

Let’s work to stop the internet promotion of suicide

Nadia Kajouji, was an 18-year-old student at Carleton University in Ottawa when she tumbled into a deep depression and sought solace in a chat room where she was victimized by a predator who talked her into a supposed suicide pact.

Nadia followed through by throwing herself off a bridge into the Rideau River in March 2008. Her body was not found until five weeks later.

In 2009 Minnesota police identified William Melchert-Dinkel, a 46-year-old nurse, as the person who befriended Nadia by posing as a suicidal young woman. He allegedly tried to convince Nadia to hang herself in front of a webcam so he could watch.

Melchert-Dinkel has been linked to five other suicides including that of 32-year-old IT technician Mark Drybrough, who hanged himself at his home in Coventry in June 2005. He has also been linked by the Sunday Mercury to British mum-of-two Kat Lowe who escaped his advances when she twigged to what was going on.

Kat became suspicious when she discovered he had made suicide pacts with other chatroom users. She said: ‘This person really got inside my head. It got to the point where I went out to buy rope and alcohol and was really scared he might talk me into hanging myself. I knew I couldn't talk to him any more after that.’

Melchert-Dinkel was eventually convicted in 2011 and given a sentence of 360 days in jail and fines and restitution payments equalling $47,450.

The Coroners and Justice Act, which became law in 2010, aims to prevent the internet promotion of suicide. Care Not Killing called Sections 49-51 'Nadia's Law' because they aim to stop internet predators.

Thankfully, Lord Falconer, aided by Dignity in Dying, formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, failed in 2009 in its attempt to hijack these vital clauses for another purpose altogether, to allow assisted suicide for terminally ill people.

In all the media hype about 'assisted suicide', young people like Nadia Kajouji who the Coroners and Justice Act seeks to protect were at risk of being forgotten.

Whenever suicide is promoted on the media vulnerable people are placed at risk.

Let’s uphold and publicise Nadia's Law and stop the internet promotion of suicide.

Tuesday 17 May 2011

Emmerdale distorts facts about assisted suicide in apparent attempt to boost ratings

The problem with television dramas is that they make rare events appear common and so distort public opinion on key issues.

Take for example the chance of surviving a cardiac arrest.

A 1996 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (‘Cardiopulmonary resuscitation on television. Miracles and misinformation’), for example, showed that survival rates following CPR on television dramas (such as ER and Chicago Hope) were significantly higher than the most optimistic survival rates in the medical literature.

On TV 77% of patients were alive immediately after CPR, but only 40% in real life were. Long term survival after TV CPR was 67% as against 30% in real life.

The researchers concluded that the portrayal of CPR on television could lead the viewing public to have an unrealistic impression of CPR and its chances for success. In other words the programme misrepresented reality.

But a far more serious distortion of the truth involves assisted suicide and the implication that a hugely disproportionate number of people with serious illness or injury wish to kill themselves.

The television soap Emmerdale is currently running one of these misleading storylines.

Pauline Quirke’s character Hazel is involved in an assisted suicide plot after her tetraplegic son Jackson Walsh – who lost the use of his limbs following a horrific road crash in the soap last year – asked her to help him end his life by administering a lethal dose of tablets in his drink.

However, despite ‘Emmerdale’ bosses’ alleged best efforts to deal with the harrowing plot as sensitively as possible, the storyline has been slammed by industry watchdogs for exploiting a serious topic in an attempt to ‘boost ratings’.

Media Watch UK spokesman David Turtle said: “”Emmerdale” has been trying to push the boundaries for some time just to boost ratings. It’s a soap, not a serious discussion about a serious topic.’

The Emmerdale case appears to be based on the tragic story of Daniel James, who suffered tetraplegia following a rugby injury and was helped to take his own life at the Dignitas facility in Zurich in 2008.

Just how representative was this case?

Spinal cord injury is actually not uncommon – about 11,000 new cases occur in the US every year and about 250,000 people are estimated to be living with the condition.

On a population basis we would therefore expect about 2,000 new cases a year in the UK and 50,000 living with the condition at any one time. About half of these would involve the cervical spine, with the strong risk of tetraplegia.

The Guardian reported in 2009 that amongst over one hundred people who had killed themselves at Dignitas over ten years only two had tetraplegia.

A 1985 British Medical Journal study of 21 people who were paralysed from the neck down and needed ventilators to help them breathe, found that only one person wished that she had been allowed to die. Two were undecided, but the remaining 18 were pleased to be alive.

In other words the number of people with spinal cord injury wanting to kill themselves is very low indeed as a percentage of all those with the condition.

It would be good if Emmerdale and television in general reflected this reality better.

Why can’t we have more films and programmes about people like Simon Morris and Andrew Bush who have been helped and supported to come through their spinal injuries to a place where they have found meaning and hope?

Sunday 15 May 2011

British Suicide Act remains fit for purpose and does not need changing in wake of Swiss vote

Voters in Zurich, Switzerland, have today rejected proposed bans on assisted suicide and ‘suicide tourism’.

A proposal to restrict access for foreigners to assisted suicide only to those living at least one year in the canton was rejected by 78.4 per cent of voters.

A second popular initiative launched by fringe conservative parties the Federal Democratic Union and the Evangelical Party seeking a national ban on assisted suicide was rejected by an ever greater majority.

The main right-wing and left-wing parties had campaigned against both initiatives, calling on their supporters to vote against them.

Under Swiss law it is legal to assist a person to commit suicide as long as the helper has no vested interest in the death. It is legal to procure lethal medication for another person but not to administer it. About 200 people commit assisted suicide each year in Zurich.

Dignitas, the only Swiss association that helps applicants from abroad commit suicide, has so far accompanied 1,138 people in taking their own lives. Of these cases, 592 came from Germany, 160 from Britain, 118 from Switzerland, 102 from France, 19 from Italy, 18 from the United States and 16 from Spain.

But another group, Exit, will only help those who are permanently resident in the country - saying the process takes time, and much counselling for both patients and relatives.

An earlier opinion poll had suggested that two thirds of Swiss people were concerned about suicide tourism. However this does not seem to have outweighed the general support for the status quo in today’s referendum.

The controversial Dignitas facility run by Ludwig Minelli, has attracted much criticism in recent years over discarded cremation urns dumped in Lake Zurich, reports of body bags in residential lifts, suicides being carried out in car parks, the selling of the personal effects of deceased victims and profiteering with fees approaching £8,000 per death.

Although most assisted suicides have been carried out for patients suffering from cancer, multiple sclerosis or motor neurone disease there have also been case reports of people who could have lived for decades ending their lives (including those with arthritis, blindness, spinal injury or diabetes)

Thus far about 160 Britons in ten years – on average 16 per year – have killed themselves at Dignitas. This is a very small trickle compared with the 650 and 13,000 who, on the basis of the 2005 Lords Select Committee report, it was estimated would die in Britain annually under an Oregon or Dutch-type law respectively. The numbers in Oregon in particular have since increased significantly since 2005 and a more accurate estimation now would be 1,200 British deaths annually with an Oregon-type law.

A recent study by Clive Seale at Brunel University found no cases of assisted suicide in Britain itself.

The British Suicide Act is thereby shown to remain fit for purpose. Through its blanket prohibition on all assistance with suicide, it continues to provide a strong deterrent to the exploitation and abuse of vulnerable people whilst giving both prosecutors and judges discretion in hard cases. It strikes the right balance, is clear and fair and does not need changing.

British parliaments have rightly rejected any loosening of the law here three times over the last five years – in 2006, 2009 and 2010 - on the basis that any change would place pressure on vulnerable people (those who are elderly, disabled, sick or depressed) to end their lives for fear of being a financial or emotional burden on others.

The Swiss vote means that the small number of British people travelling to Switzerland to end their lives will probably continue but we should continue to resist any calls from pressure groups to weaken the law here in the UK.

Tuesday 10 May 2011

The British police could learn some lessons from the Gardai about suicide prevention

Two Irish women have been prevented from travelling to Switzerland for assisted suicide, after intervention by the GardaĆ­ (Irish police).

The women, one of whom is in the final stage of multiple sclerosis, were forced to cancel their planned visit to the Dignitas facility in Switzerland, after officers became aware of their plans.

Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland but is a criminal offence in Ireland (as in the UK), punishable by up to 14 years imprisonment.

The sick woman's friend only became aware of the offence when she went to pick up the tickets at the travel agents. She was told that if she travelled with her friend to Switzerland in order that she could end her life she was in danger of prosecution on her return.

As a result both women decided that they wouldn't travel and remain alive today.

The pro-assisted suicide group Exit International has predictably described the police intervention as ‘shocking’.

But in fact the police were simply doing their job and acting on the basis that one’s first instinct with someone attempting to take their own life should be to try to stop them.

The suicide law in Ireland, as in the UK, is designed to protect people from harming themselves and from exploitation and abuse by others.

But in the UK the police seem to march to a different drum.

In the last ten years there have been about 150 UK cases involving people travelling to Switzerland to end their lives. I am not aware of one single case in which any attempt was made by police to stop people travelling.

Whether any of these cases involved mental illness, coercion, exploitation or abuse we do not know because in each case the key witness is now dead.

Very few of these cases have even been investigated.

In giving evidence last December to Lord Falconer’s discredited Commission on Assisted Dying, Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Proseuctions (DPP), said that in the financial year which ended in March 2010, 19 police files on assisted suicide were sent to the Crown Prosecution Service.

In 17 of these cases, no charges were pursued. One was still being considered, and the last was withdrawn by police. Since March, the DPP had been sent a further 14 cases of which eleven were under consideration, but three had been dropped.

Not one of these cases has led to a prosecution.

Last month, in an article titled ‘Britons die at Dignitas suicide clinic in record numbers’ the Daily Mail reported that the number of British suicides at the Zurich clinic had risen from an average of 14 a year between 2002 and 2007 to a total of 76 – about 25 a year – from 2008-2010.

The increase coincided with British authorities’ more tolerant policy towards people helping in Dignitas deaths, in particular since Keir Starmer QC became DPP in 2008.

More British citizens now die at Dignitas than Swiss people, whose laws allow its existence, and Britain is second only to Germany as the nation with the highest number of suicides at the clinic.

The Dignitas figures show that 160 Britons have died at the clinic since 2002, one in six of all suicides there. There have been 118 Swiss and 592 German deaths.

Many of these cases have had high profile media attention. Three of them (Reg Crew, Anne Turner and the yet unnamed person about to feature in Terry Pratchett’s new propaganda ‘documentary’) travelled to Switzerland with television news crews to record the ensuing events.

The rising rate of assisted suicide in Britain is consistent with the so-called Werther effect, otherwise known as ‘copycat suicide’ or ‘suicide contagion’.

Media reporting of suicide has repeatedly been shown to trigger suicidal behaviour.

A recent article in the British Journal of Psychiatry investigated the associations between specific media content and suicide rates. It showed that both repetitive reporting of the same suicide and also the reporting of suicide myths were positively associated with suicide rates.

Both these factors operate powerfully in Britain.

Two of the most common suicide myths are as follows:

Myth 1: ‘If a person is serious about killing themselves then there is nothing you can do.’

In fact feeling suicidal is often a temporary state of mind. Whilst someone may feel low or distressed for a sustained period the actual suicidal crisis can be relatively short term. This is what makes timely emotional support so important.

Myth 2: People who are suicidal want to die.

In fact the majority of people who feel suicidal do not actually want to die; they do not want to live the life they have. The distinction may seem small but is in fact very important and is why talking through other options at the right time is so vital.

Sadly the police in Britain appear to believe these two myths. And their resultant failure, along with the DPP, to uphold the law, along with the irresponsible media coverage of such events, means that more people from Britain than almost any other European country are choosing to kill themselves in Zurich.

There are many British people who would be alive today if it were not for the attitude of the British police to suicide prevention and the attitude of the British media, and especially the BBC, to suicide portrayal.

Maybe it’s time our police took some lessons from the Gardai.

Monday 9 May 2011

Disabled people fear change in assisted suicide law

Changing the law on assisted suicide would put pressure on disabled people to kill themselves, according to new research.

The new Comres poll found that 70 per cent of disabled people were concerned that such a change would lead to ‘pressure being placed on disabled people to end their lives prematurely’

The survey, commissioned by Scope, the leading disability charity, also showed that over one in three (35%) disabled people believed any move to decriminalise assisted suicide would place that sort of pressure on them personally.

Amongst blind and visually impaired people the figure was 49%.

Over half (56%) of all disabled people surveyed also said it would mean that it would be ‘detrimental to the way that disabled people are viewed by society as a whole’.

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of Scope, is reported in the Daily Telegraph as saying: ‘Assisted suicide is a complex and emotional issue, and there are loud and passionate voices on both sides of the debate.’

‘But while high profile lawyers, doctors and celebrities such as Terry Pratchett and Patrick Stewart grab the headlines, the views of the thousands of ordinary disabled people who could be affected by this issue are rarely listened to.’

‘Our survey findings confirm that concerns about legalising assisted suicide are not just held by a minority, but by a substantial majority of those this law would affect.’

‘Disabled people are already worried about people assuming their life isn't worth living or seeing them as a burden, and are genuinely concerned that a change in the law could increase pressure on them to end their life.’

Mr Hawkes also called on the Government to establish a new independent commission to explore the question of whether assisted dying should be legalised.

Lord Falconer’s highly controversial Commission on Assisted Dying, due to report this autumn, has been criticised for being ‘unnecessary, unbalanced and lacking in transparency’.

In particular, whilst the five leading disability rights groups in the UK (SCOPE, NCIL, UKDPC, RADAR and Not Dead Yet) oppose any change in the law, the only disabled person on the panel is an advocate for decriminalising assisted suicide who acts as a spokesperson for Dignity in Dying, formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society.

Under the Suicide Act 1961 those who ‘encourage or assist’ someone else to commit suicide may face a prison sentence of up to 14 years. But the Director of Public Prosecutions, in new guidelines issue in February 2010, has indicated that people who are ‘wholly motivated by compassion’ are less likely to face charges.

The fact that there have been very few prosecutions under this new arrangement has worried disabled people's groups who are concerned that some people believe people with disabilities are better off dead and will put subtle pressure on them to end their lives out of 'misguided compassion'.

They need a strong law in place to act as a deterrent in order that they may feel safe. It was precisely for this reason that the group 'Not Dead Yet' launched their 'Resistance Campaign' last June aimed at stopping any further erosion of the existing law.

Last November Margo Macdonald’s End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill, which would have legalised both assisted suicide and euthanasia for disabled people was rejected by the Scottish Parliament by an overwhelming majority of 85 to 16 after the general public expressed fears about disabled and other vulnerable people being put under pressure to end their lives.

The latest poll result will come as a blow to Dignity in Dying who have campaigned for a change in the law.

Whilst they have insisted that they want a change in the law only for mentally competent people who are terminally ill, some of their spokespeople, amongst them multiple sclerosis sufferer and campaigner Debbie Purdy, have been disabled but not dying.

This has raised serious questions about their real agenda.

Margo Macdonald MSP should concentrate on targeting loan sharks rather than advancing euthanasia

I see that Margo MacDonald has been re-elected as a member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP) and has vowed to revive proposals for a law to legalise ‘assisted dying’ (a specious euphemism for assisted suicide and euthanasia).

Her previous End of Life Assistance (Scotland) bill was overwhelmingly voted down by an 85-16 majority in November 2010 during the last parliament amidst concerns about the dangers it posed to elderly and disabled people.

Lest we forget why Margo’s bill was quite rightly rejected I have re-linked my previous blogs on the matter here.

Margo Macdonald’s criticisms of the Care Not Killing Alliance are without foundation

The Committee scrutinizing Margo Macdonald's Bill have rejected it – now it is time for MSPs finally to bury it

Margo Macdonald MSP is seriously misleading the Scottish Parliament over the number of deaths her bill would allow

I see that Margo has also set out plans to introduce legislation that would crack down on firms lending money to people at exorbitant rates of interest.

That would be a good thing – Britain’s whole approach to interest and debt needs a radical rethink as brilliantly argued by Paul Mills in his recent Cambridge Paper.

Let’s hope that she concentrates on that rather than wasting more parliamentary time and money trying to revive her dangerous euthanasia bill.

Economic recession plus a law allowing euthanasia and assisted suicide would provide a deadly cocktail that might push many vulnerable people over the edge into ending their lives so as not to be a financial burden on others.

Measures to alleviate debt and finanical exploitation should be the real priority.

Sunday 8 May 2011

The great financial crisis: A biblical diagnosis

May I draw readers’ attention to an excellent article, ‘The great financial crisis: A biblical diagnosis’ in the Cambridge Papers series?

Paul Mills is always stimulating and this paper in particular, building on his earlier articles on interest and debt, is profound in its diagnosis and challenging in its recommendations.

I have just summarized some highlights here majoring on personal implications but the whole (4,000 word) paper (including the sections on church and societal implications) is well worth careful examination by any thinking Christian who wants to apply a biblical mind to personal, public and global finance.


‘The self-destructive tendency of a debt-based financial system is being retaught with a vengeance by the current financial crisis. To diagnose our current plight, this paper expounds the biblical teaching on debt, interest, and finance; explains what is really going on from a relational perspective; and draws applications for the Christian, the church, and society.’


The financial crisis working its way through the US and Europe demonstrates once again the extreme danger that debt-based finance poses. The very self-government of supposedly free nations, such as Greece and Ireland, is being suborned. This paper sets out a biblically-based alternative to conventional financial thinking, stressing its relational aspects. This perspective is not radically new. Rather it reapplies the church’s traditional stance on debt and interest that was upheld until the seventeenth century. Since then, Christians have elevated human reason above biblical revelation, meaning the church has had no prophetic voice when confronting a debt-induced financial crisis. It is time to break the silence.

The financial institutions

The financial system preaches ‘free market’ principles of loss for failure to others, but avoids having them applied to itself. Despite their industry’s very existence depending on taxpayer bailouts and assistance, managers continue to remunerate themselves extremely well, seemingly oblivious to their wider social and moral obligations. Given such hypocrisy and evident injustice, it is no wonder that we are entering a turbulent political period in which even the future of market-based economies is open to question.

The biblical alternative

There is a better way, but to follow it requires the courage to question the very foundations upon which finance has been built for the past four centuries. Rather than radical innovation, it means going back to how the church understood finance for the first three-quarters of its history.

(Relational biblical ethics) what has really been going on in the financial crisis. (This involves the following principles):

1. Lending freely to the needy is an act of love and neighbourly kindness.
2. Repayment of debt is a serious obligation.
3. Being in debt is tantamount to servitude itself because of the solemn promise to repay.
4. God’s ideal is for those made in his image to be free and clear of obligations (ie debt free)

The Bible’s teaching on interest and debt

Given the perspective of debt as ‘slavery’, it is no surprise that the Bible is clear that interest cannot legitimately be charged on a loan to a countryman, for such is to take advantage of the ‘bondage’ of another and an inherently unloving act… In the OT law, interest was prohibited within the Israelite community especially in the context of lending to the poor (Exodus 22:25; Leviticus 25:36, 37) but also between all fellow citizens (Deuteronomy 23:19). This prohibition is then upheld by David (Psalm 15:5), Ezekiel (18:8, 13, 17; 22:12) and Nehemiah (5:1–13).

Charging interest is folly for it attracts God’s retribution (Proverbs 28:8). As we have seen, Jesus assumes the prevalence of interest-free lending within his society and then radicalises the OT teaching for his disciples (Luke 6:34, 35). Moreover, he further condemns the taking of interest in the Parables of the Talents (Matthew 25:14–30) and Ten Minas (Luke 19:11–17). Here, in contrast to the servants commended for taking investment risk with their master’s resources, the wicked servant is judged for taking no chances. In the process, Jesus characterises taking interest from bank deposits as ‘reaping where one hasn’t sown’ (and so inherently unjust and exploitative); it is what ‘hard’ men do. As such, it is antithetical to both love of God and neighbour.

Personal implications

On an individual or family level, these biblical injunctions most clearly point to the desirability of being debt-free. While, in some cases, indebtedness may be unavoidable and not sinful per se, it places the borrower in ‘bondage’ with a strong moral obligation to repay. High debt levels and the resulting money worries constrain our service of God through career choice, often force both spouses to work, and can lead to marital pressures and divorce. God’s clear intention is for his children to enjoy the freedom that comes with their salvation and not to be enslaved by, or yoked to, unbelievers.Hence, we should limit consumption in order to give (Ephesians 4:28), and save to be debt-free as soon as feasible. If occupying a house, seek alternatives to avoid a mortgage or minimise its size (be that renting, using lease-to-buy arrangements,or raising equity stakes from family members or friends).

Then, use money to foster loving relationships rather than maximise financial return. Lend interest-free to help others get out of debt faster; take a stake in a relative’s home so that they can minimise their mortgage; or invest in a local or family business to sustain jobs and the local economy. Of course, all these desirable actions need to be tempered with prudence and wisdom, benefiting from the advice of others. But we shouldn’t let reverence of Mammon deprive us of the blessings promised to those who lend interest-free.

When considering where to invest one’s money, try to use the principles set out above to guide the choices. Attempt to avoid taking interest (through banks or bonds), own property or equities, and know in what you have invested God’s resources. This is unlikely to yield the best financial returns but it will embody relationally-positive principles in monetary form.


God’s intention is for those made in his image to enjoy freedom and stewardship. Instead, we indebt ourselves and others, inverting our moral and common sensibilities in the process and repeating the same mistakes of debt-fuelled booms and busts time and again. But God’s intention was not just our financial liberation. Rather, his ultimate purpose was to embody the gospel principle of debts forgiven and debt-slaves redeemed. Christ cancelled our certificate of debt on the Cross (Colossians 2:13–14). Christians should seek a debt-free future for themselves, their churches, and their society, to point to the exuberance and liberty of the truly redeemed life.

Wednesday 4 May 2011

How could anyone object to a bill ensuring schools provide information and advice on the benefits of abstinence from sexual activity?

MPs have voted 67-61 in favour of a bill introduced by Conservative MP Nadine Dorries, which wants schools to ensure that sex education for girls includes ‘information and advice on the benefits of abstinence from sexual activity’.

The ten minute rule bill proceeds to a second reading next January but is unlikely to become law without Government support.

Dorries, MP for Mid Bedfordshire, said all schoolgirls should be given lessons in ‘how to say no’ as part of a new-style sex education curriculum.

Speaking in the Commons, she insisted society was ‘saturated in sex’, with pupils currently being shown how to put condoms on bananas and self-diagnose diseases but not to reject sexual advances altogether.

The early sexualisation of girls was being fuelled by television references to sex, newsagents stocking pornographic magazines and high street stores that sell provocative items such as padded bikinis for seven-year-olds, she added.

It is perhaps because of the poor quality of current teaching that 59% of parents in a recent survey said they do not want sex education taught in schools at all (also see BBC).

Labour MP Chris Bryant, who introduced his own Sex and Relationship Education Bill in 2010 which sought comprehensive Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) in schools, spoke in the House of Commons to oppose the abstinence bill.

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has described the vote as ‘disheartening’ and has stated that ‘abstinence education does not work’.

I note that the Family Planning Association guidance says the same:

‘There is no evidence that abstinence-only education programmes delay the initiation of sex, increase a return to abstinence or decrease the numbers of sexual partners.’

These sorts of claims have always struck me as rather bizarre. There are many faith-based and ethnic communities in the UK which have very low levels of unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease as the consequence of lower levels of promiscuity.

The FPA and BHA seem blind to this simple fact and instead cherry pick ‘evidence’ to back their ideological convictions that abstinence is impossible and that you cannot change behaviour through good education. All rather defeatist.

The passing of the bill sparked a storm of protest on Twitter, with many users attacking its focus on girls at the expense of boys. At one point, Dorries was among the top ten most discussed topics worldwide on the social networking website.

The full text of the bill read as follows:

‘Sex Education (Required Content): That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require schools to provide certain additional sex education to girls aged between 13 and 16; to provide that such education must include information and advice on the benefits of abstinence from sexual activity; and for connected purposes.’

The debate and result is reported on the BBC website and you can read the full debate in Hansard.

Nadine Dorries gives her own comments on her blog.

Health Minister Anne Milton courted controversy earlier this year when she was reported as not backing an abstinence approach. But she has since claimed that she was misrepresented.

There were very few MPs present at today’s vote so it will be interesting to see if the Cameron government supports the bill when it returns.

The last government’s policy on preventing teenage pregnancy (condoms and morning after pills) has left us with a legacy of unplanned pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, abortion and broken relationships.

In an instructive piece on the CMF website (titled ‘Quangos for the bonfire’) GP Trevor Stammers applauds the dissolution of the Teenage Pregnancy Independent Advisory Group (TPIAG) and the Independent Advisory Group on Sexual Health and HIV (IAGSH).

Since TPIAG was set up in 1998 to halve the national under-18 conception rate by 2010, it has put most of its efforts into the promotion and provision to teenagers of the very contraceptives which, when they fail, then constitute the commonest reason for requesting abortion.

The IAGSH (March 2003) equally adopted an ideological approach which consistently ignored evidence-based practice, such as studies indicating that abstinence-only education programmes can reduce both teenage conception, abortion and STI rates.

The vast majority of members of both TPIAG and IAGSH had declared interests in the contraception and abortion industries. Baroness Gould, the chair of both, was President of the fpa and chaired a pro-abortion lobby group in Parliament.

Like Baroness Gould, many of the members of one of these two 'independent' groups were also members of the other; whereas there were no representatives at all with any experience of alternative strategies such as the highly successful ABC programmes in Uganda or Love for Life programmes in Northern Ireland, Lovewise in Newcastle or Love2Last in Sheffield.

The Coalition Government says it wants to work with charities and churches across the whole spectrum. Supporting the work of these groups would be a good step in the right direction.

I wish Nadine Dorries well and hope that she finds the support she is seeking from the government.

I see that SPUC have launched a Safe at School campaign to advise and support parents and teachers who are concerned about the explicit nature of sex education in schools.

Tuesday 3 May 2011

You Tube video of assisted suicide could well lead to the deaths of more vulnerable people and should be removed

The Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail have both reported on the tragic story of a British couple in their 80s who died in a suicide pact at their home in Victoria Australia last Thursday.

Don Flounders, 81, suffered from mesothelioma, which is an incurable form of lung cancer and his 88-year-old wife Iris, who was not suffering from a terminal illness, decided she did not want to live without him.

The couple made no secret of their intention to die together and travelled to Mexico in 2008 to buy the drug they need for a controlled death.

A video from the couple has been posted on you tube explaining their intentions.

They killed themselves after receiving advice from Philip Nitschke, a dangerous self-publicist and extremist who is well known for promoting suicide amongst elderly people.

In a 2001 interview on ‘National Review Online’ Nitschke was asked who would qualify for access to his ‘suicide pill’. He replied that ‘all people qualify, not just those with the training, knowledge or resources to find out how to “give away” their life and someone needs to provide this knowledge training or resource necessary to anyone who wants it, including the depressed, the elderly, bereaved, the troubled teen’.

In the same article Nitschke said that the so-called peaceful pill should be ‘available in the supermarket so that those old enough to understand death could obtain death peacefully at the time of their choosing’.

It is well-established that the occurrence of one suicide can lead to another suicide. This phenomenon is the ‘Werther effect’, otherwise termed ‘copy cat’ suicide, ‘suicide contagion or ‘suicide cluster’.

It is also well-established that how the media reports a suicide can influence whether other suicides will follow.

The World Health Organization has developed guidelines for reporting suicide to minimize other suicides which state that ‘the degree of publicity given to a suicide story is directly correlated with the number of subsequent suicides. Cases of suicide involving celebrities have had a particularly strong impact’.

The WHO guidance on the media coverage of suicide is very clear:

•Don’t report specific details of the method used
•Don’t publish photographs or suicide notes
•Don't glorify or sensationalize suicide
•Highlight alternatives to suicide
•Provide information on help lines and community resources
•Publicize risk indicators and warning signs

The You Tube video violates all six of these guidelines.

The BBC editorial guidelines on suicide and assisted suicide are equally unambiguous:

Suicide, attempted suicide and self-harm should be portrayed with great sensitivity, whether in drama or in factual programmes. Factual reporting and fictional portrayal of suicide, attempted suicide and self-harm have the potential to make such actions appear possible, and even appropriate, to the vulnerable.

In Oregon, where assisted suicide was made legal in 1997 general suicide rates (in addition to those who are dying under the provisions of the Death with Dignity Act) are rising significantly.

Oregon’s suicide rate is 35 percent higher than the national average; 15.2 suicides per 100,000 people compared to the national rate of 11.3 per 100,000.

After decreasing in the 1990s, suicide rates have been increasing significantly since 2000, according to a new report, ‘Suicides in Oregon: Trends and Risk Factors,’ from Oregon Public Health.

The report noted a marked increase in suicides among middle-aged women. The number of women between 45 and 64 years of age who died from suicide rose 55 percent between 2000 and 2006 — from 8.2 per 100,000 to 12.8 per 100,000 respectively.

The highest suicide rate occurred among men ages 85 and older (78.4 per 100,000). White males had the highest suicide rate among all races and ethnicities (26.5 per 100,000).

It is hard to imagine that the legalisation of assisted suicide in Oregon has not at least in part contributed to this state of affairs.

The danger to elderly people of publicising joint suicides has been noted before and is well recognised in the medical literature.

A 2003 report which has just come into the public domain, titled ‘The Werther Effect and Assisted Suicide’, tells of a large epidemiological study in the region of Basle, Switzerland, from 1992 to 1996, in which a considerable rise in suicides assisted by the right-to-die society EXIT was uncovered after wide press coverage of an assisted double suicide of a prominent couple in that region in March 1995. It also notes that women over 65 are particularly vulnerable.

The posting of this You Tube video is in breach of the WHO guidance on the handling of suicide by the media. It risks promoting other similar suicides and should be removed immediately.

Two news stories on the health risks of obesity are a challenge to Christians

Having just returned from a Christian medical conference where large (especially male) abdomens were very much in evidence I was interested to see that the two lead stories on the BBC health pages this morning deal with the health consequences of obesity.

The first story, published yesterday, reports on a study from the Mayo Clinic which showed that people with coronary artery disease have an increased risk of death if they have fat around the waist.

These US researchers analysed data from five studies involving 15,923 patients, and found this even affected people with a normal Body Mass Index.

There was a 75% increased risk of death for patients with high levels of fat around the waist compared with those with thin waists and even patients with a normal weight, a BMI between 20 and 25, had this increased risk of death if they were carrying fat in that position.

The second story reports on a Swedish study showing that middle aged people who are overweight but not obese, are 71% more likely to develop dementia than those with a normal weight.

The research, published in the journal Neurology, looked at 8,534 Swedish twins. Those with a body mass index (BMI) - which measures weight relative to height - greater than 30, who are classified as obese, were 288% more likely to develop dementia than those with a BMI between 20 and 25.

But there was an effect even for those who were overweight but not obese (BMI between 25 and 30) who were 71% more likely.

Alzheimer's Society head of research, Dr Susanne Sorensen, has commented: ‘This robust study adds to the large body of evidence which suggests that if you pile on the pounds in middle age, your chances of developing dementia later in life are also increased. By eating healthily and exercising regularly, you can lessen your risk of developing dementia.'

Alzheimer's Research UK head of research, Dr Simon Ridley, added: ‘This study adds to existing evidence that excess weight in middle age could increase our risk of developing dementia.’

Now of course dementia is caused by a complex mix of genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors. But it appears that being overweight or obese is one risk factor that can be controlled.’

I have previously blogged about other recent research showing that two-thirds of Britons are overweight or obese – making us the fattest country in Europe.

This means more than 40 million British people are deemed to be at an unhealthy weight.

At the same time a separate study showed that the number of people admitted to hospital for obesity-related illnesses has shot up by more than ten times in the past decade.

The health risks of being overweight are significant. Obesity isn't just an issue of personal health either. The cost to the NHS and to the wider economy - because of increasing time off work - is estimated at about £7 billion per year, of which £1 billion is direct health service costs.

The risks are higher as BMI increases for type 2 diabetes (20 times greater for those who are very obese), cancer (10 per cent of all cancer deaths among non-smokers are related to obesity), coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure (85 per cent of hypertension associated with a BMI greater than 25) and fatty liver (affects 90% of obese people and may lead to cirrhosis).

Last week CMF published a paper showing that Christians generally enjoy better health than those without faith – and attributed this in large part to better lifestyle choices - but judging by the number of BMIs visibly over 30 at the annual conference we have a lot of inroads to make on obesity.

Christians do seem to be at least as prone to obesity as those in the general population. But when did you actually last hear a sermon on overeating or exercise?

Maybe that’s part of the problem.

Of course we never know when God might call us home through trauma or disease – but given that there are clear links between obesity, sickness and death – we may well, by taking care about diet and exercise, be lessening the chance that our spouses and children will be bereaved, or looking after us in a dependent state, ahead of time.

So if you are – if only ever-so-slightly – on the plump side then today might be the day to start doing something about it.

My former post contains information about weight loss and A much fuller treatment of the issue of obesity from a Christian perspective can be found on the CMF website. See Facing the Obesity Epidemic

Monday 2 May 2011

Russia leads the way in dealing with demographic time-bomb. Britain take note!

I warned recently that unless something is done to reverse current demographic trends, economic necessity, together with the ‘culture of death’ ideology which is becoming more openly accepted, may well mean that the generation that killed its children will in turn be killed by its own children.

In other words legalised abortion will lead to legalised euthanasia as a cost-saving and population-control measure.

I was interested to see, following Minette Marin’s proposed ‘final solution’ for Britain’s growing number of elderly people, yet another article in the Sunday Times this weekend linking euthanasia with demographic trends.

Lois Rogers, reporting on the recent joint suicide of a British couple in Australia, concluded her article with the provocative words:

‘Assisted dying is becoming more commonplace with the rise in the number of elderly people. Projections by the government suggest 11m Britons alive today can expect to reach 100.’

In the West we have a growing elderly population supported by a smaller and smaller working population – fuelled by elderly people living longer and an epidemic of abortion, infertility and small families.

These demographic changes, together with economic pressure from growing public and personal debt, and increasing pressure for a change in the law to allow euthanasia, produce a toxic cocktail indeed.

Marin’s solution is euthanasia – ie. continue with our consumptive lifestyles and small families and kill off the elderly.

But there is an alternative – promote marriage, stop abortion, have more children, live more simply, get out of debt, invest in producing goods and services that help rather than harm people, and spend more time and money on care and support for the poor, elderly and vulnerable.

Now there is a challenging (politically incorrect) election manifesto!

The Telegraph this morning, under the headline ‘Vladimir Putin promises £33 billion to boost birth rate’ reports on Russia’s response to the demographic time-bomb.

Putin, the Russian President, has promised to spend £33 billion to boost the country's flagging population by up to a third over the next four years, during a two-and-a-half hour speech that appeared to gear him up for a 2012 presidential run.

As part of a series of measures aimed at making Russia less vulnerable to ‘external threats’ he has pledged to boost the country's birth rate by between 25 and 30 per cent by 2015. He is reported as saying:

‘According to preliminary calculations, between 2011 and 2015 some 1.5 trillion roubles will be invested in demography projects. First, we expect the average life expectancy to reach 71 years. Second, we expect to increase the birth rate by 25 to 30 per cent in comparison to the 2006 birth rate.’

A report on LifeSite news gives more details:

Following Putin’s speech, the Russian parliament, the Duma, introduced a bill to disqualify abortion as a medical service in the national health plan. It would also allow doctors to refuse to commit abortions.

‘The bill aims to create the conditions for a pregnant woman to opt for giving birth,’ Yelena Mizulina, head of the State Duma committee for family, women and children, said.

On Wednesday the Duma also introduced a bill to restrict advertising for abortion.

Anton Belyakov, author of the bill and deputy from the Just Russia Party faction, told journalists, ‘The bill also commits doctors to warn women who decided to have an abortion that it may cause infertility, death or negatively affect physical and mental health.’

Russia has the highest rate of abortion in the world at 53 abortions per 1000 women between 15 and 44, according to UN statistics. Abortion is a key issue in Russia’s plummeting population that has seen a drop from 148.5 million in 1995 to 143 million today.

Belyakov said Russia’s abortion rate is ‘unacceptable.’ The country’s own statistics show that there are 1022 abortions committed for every 1000 births. Official numbers show between 1.6 and 1.7 million abortions per year, but unofficial estimates put it at closer to 6 million per year, 90 percent of which are done, as in most of the developed world, at the woman’s request for ‘social,’ not medical reasons.

Against this backdrop, Christian Newswire reports that the World Congress of Families is to hold the world's first demographic summit – ‘Moscow Demographic Summit: Family and the Future of Humankind’ – at the Russian State Social University (RSSU), on 29-30 June.

It suggests that this conference may a good place to start the reversal of demographic trends.

The Western world, including Britain, needs to take note. Although our demographic problems are not currently as bad as Russia’s, we are certainly moving in the same direction, and unlike Putin, most Western leaders have not even recognised the problem, let alone begun to embrace solutions.