Monday 31 October 2011

Saying that too many babies are being born to poor people in developing countries is a new form of global racism

Steve Mosher (pictured), president of Population Research Institute, has made a statement today which deserves a very wide readership.

Population Research Institute is an international non-profit organisation which works to end coercive population control, and fight the myth of overpopulation which fuels it.

I have pasted his full statement below.

Baby Seven Billion. Welcome.

A few seconds after midnight a baby emerged from a mother's womb, drew a first breath, and announced his or her arrival into the world with a tiny cry. This is Baby Seven Billion. Today, 31 October 2011, is this baby's birthday.

As our numbers have grown, incomes have soared. In 1800, when there were only 1 billion of us, per capita income worldwide was a mere $100. By 1927 our numbers had doubled, but incomes had already increased five times to $500. By the time we reached 3 billion in 1960, income had tripled again to $1500. Today, as we pass the 7 billion mark, per capita income has soared to $9,000.

In 2100, when the population will be between 7 and 8 billion (and falling), it is projected to be $30,000 in current dollars.

Driving the so-called "population explosion" has been a real explosion in health and longevity. As late as the 19th century, four out of every 10 children died before reaching age five. Today under-five mortality is under 6 percent and falling. Two hundred years ago, human life expectancy was under 30 years. Today it is 69 years and climbing.

As people live longer, naturally there are more of us around at any given time.

By nearly every measure of well-being, from infant mortality and life expectancy to educational level and caloric intake, life in Africa, Asia, and Latin America has been getting dramatically better. According to the World Bank, the average income in the developing world has quadrupled since 1960.

Enough grain is produced for every person on earth to consume 3,500 calories daily. There is no need for anyone to starve in the midst of this plenty.

Population has more than doubled since 1960, but crop yields per hectare have kept pace. World food and resource production has never been higher.

Economies continue to expand, productivity is up, and pollution is declining. Life spans are lengthening, poverty is down, and political freedom is growing. The human race has never been so well off.

In fact, underpopulation, not overpopulation, is the real threat that much of the world faces today. Some 80 countries representing over half the world's population suffer from below replacement fertilitydefined as less than 2.1 children per woman.

The populations of the developed nations today are static or declining. The UN predicts that, by 2050, Russia's population will have declined by 25 million people, Japan's by 21 million, Italy's by 16 million, and Germany's and Spain's by 9 million each. Europe and Japan are projected to lose half their population by 2100.

Countries with below replacement rate fertility will eventually die out. It's just a question of time.

Even in the developing world family size has shrunk, from around 5 children per woman in 1960 to less than 3 today. And the decline continues.

According to the UN's "low variant projection"historically the most accuratethe population of the world will peak at 8 plus billion in 2040 or so, and then begin to decline.

High fertility rates are becoming rare. The UN numbers for 2010 show only 10 countries with population increase rates at or above 3.0 percent.

By 2050, persons aged 65 and above will be almost twice as numerous as children 15 years and younger. The economic consequences of population aging will be closing schools, declining stock markets, and moribund economies.

Ignoring these facts, the population controllers continue to spread their myth of overpopulation.

The UNFPA and other population control organizations are loath to report the truth about falling fertility rates worldwide, since they raise funds by frightening people with the specter of overpopulation. They tell us that too many babies are being born to poor people in developing countries. This is tantamount to saying that only the wealthy should be allowed to have children, and is a new form of global racism.

We should stop funding population control programs, and instead turn our attention to real problems, such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, and infectious diseases. As mortality rates fall, so will birth rates.

Let us also join together in celebrating the birth of Baby Seven Billion. He or she is a sign of our future, our hope and our prosperity.

People are our greatest resource. Extraordinarily gifted people have helped to enrich civilization and lengthen life spans. But the fact is, everyone, rich or poor, is a unique creation with something priceless to offer to the rest of us.

Baby Seven Billion, boy or girl, red or yellow, black or white, is not a liability, but an asset. Not a curse, but a blessing. For all of us.

Meditations on the Life of Charles Simeon

I took a day off today after an excellent CMF Junior Doctors’ conference where Giles Cattermole was preaching on the life of Solomon. Amongst other things I went on a run (it is two weeks since I did the Cardiff half marathon) and as I often do took along my Zen Micro (yes sadly that is my somewhat dated level of technology!) along with my John Piper Christian MP3 biography series.

If you have not yet discovered Piper’s biographies then I heartily recommend them. They can all be downloaded free of charge from the Desiring God website and are great for car or train journeys, walks and runs.

I have listened to most of them several times and always pick up new gems along the way. Piper puts a huge amount of time into preparation going to primary source material, so unless you are a scholar of Christian biography you will almost certainly find new encouragements in them. Today I listened to his talk on Charles Simeon. The full version is available on line but I have pasted some of the main points below.

Meditations on the Life of Charles Simeon

In April, 1831, Charles Simeon was 71 years old. He had been the pastor of Trinity Church, Cambridge, England, for 49 years. He was asked one afternoon by his friend, Joseph Gurney, how he had surmounted persecution and outlasted all the great prejudice against him in his 49-year ministry. He said to Gurney, 'My dear brother, we must not mind a little suffering for Christ's sake. When I am getting through a hedge, if my head and shoulders are safely through, I can bear the pricking of my legs. Let us rejoice in the remembrance that our holy Head has surmounted all His suffering and triumphed over death. Let us follow Him patiently; we shall soon be partakers of His victory' (H.C.G. Moule, Charles Simeon, London: InterVarsity, 1948, 155f.).

His Trials

1. Himself - The most fundamental trial that Simeon had –and that we all have – was himself. He had a somewhat harsh and self-assertive air about him.

2. His Congregation - The parishioners did not want Simeon as pastor. They wanted the assistant curate Mr. Hammond. So they would not let him preach on Sunday evenings for twelve years.

3. The University - As the students made their way to Trinity Church, they were prejudiced against the pastor by the hostile congregation, and for years he was slandered with all kinds of rumors.

4. Physical weakness - In 1807, after twenty-five years of ministry, his health failed suddenly. His voice gave way so that preaching was very difficult and at times he could only speak in a whisper.

How Simeon Endured and Flourished Through Opposition

How did Simeon endure these trials without giving up or being driven out of his church?

1. Simeon had a strong sense of his accountability before God for the souls of his flock, whether they liked him or not.

2. His preaching in the midst of conflict was free from the scolding tone.

3. Simeon was no rumor-tracker.

4. Simeon dealt with his opponents in a forthright face-to-face way.

5. Simeon could take a rebuke and grow from it.

6. Simeon was unimpeachable in his finances and had no love for money.

7. Simeon found ways to look at discouraging things hopefully.

8. Simeon saw his suffering as a wonderful privilege of bearing the cross with Christ.

But where now did this remarkable power and fruit come from? This is not an ordinary way of seeing things. This is not an ordinary way of life. What was the root of all this fruit. We get a step closer to it when we notice that . . .

9. Simeon strengthened himself with massive doses of meditation and prayer.

My conclusion is that the secret of Charles Simeon's perseverance was that he never threw overboard the heavy ballast of his own humiliation for sin and that this helped keep his masts erect and his sails full of the spirit of adoration.

‘I love simplicity; I love contrition. . . . I love the religion of heaven; to fall on our faces while we adore the Lamb is the kind of religion which my soul affects.’ (Moule, 83) As he lay dying in October of 1836, a friend sat by his bed and asked what he was thinking of just then. He answered, ‘I don't think now; I am enjoying.’

He grew downward in the pain of contrition and he grew upward in the joy of adoration. And the weaving together of these two experiences into one is the achievement of the cross of Christ and the deepest secret of Simeon's great perseverance.

Seven billion - BBC brings some welcome balance to the population debate

According to the BBC, when I was born, I was the 2,909,761,661st person alive on Earth and the 76,445,556,695th person to have lived since history began. You can calculate your own number on line and if you put in today’s date you will learn that there have been 83 billion people born since 50,000 BC. So that means that just under 10% of everyone who has ever lived is alive today.

According to the Daily Mirror the seven billionth person on the planet was born last night in the Philippines. Danica May Camacho (pictured) is only a few hours old but her birth is already being talked about around the globe. According to the BBC the seven billionth was an Indian girl called Baby Nargis.

The reality is that no one has a clue when the seven billionth child will be born let alone who it is.

According to some experts, the UN, who claim that the seven billionth will be born today, have jumped the gun. The US Census Bureau says the most likely date the world population will reach seven billion is between March and April next year. Sergei Scherbov of the Vienna Institute of Demography, meanwhile, says there is a 95% probability that the figure will be reached between January and July 2012.

Regardless, however, today is being celebrated as the actual date.

Some sections of the media have given a platform to politicians and ideologists – like Jonathan Porritt and Andrew Mitchell - who are using the birth of the seven billionth person as a pretext for tighter population control through contraception and abortion. I have already blogged about the false prophecies of past population control champions Malthus (who predicted respectively that the world would run out of food in 1890) and Ehrlich (who said in 1968 that there was an even chance Britain would not exists by the year 2000).

It was therefore refreshing to see a much better balanced article on the BBC website which seeks to grapple with the issues. It is critical of Malthus and Ehrlich and gives airspace to critics who argue that rich people have imposed population control on the poor for decades and that such coercive attempts to control the world's population have often backfired and were sometimes harmful.

The article, which is based on a BBC World Service serial, takes issue with the population control lobby and is worth reading in full.

The idea that the rich are threatened by the desperately poor has cast a long shadow into the 20th Century. From the 1960s, the World Bank, the UN and a host of independent American philanthropic foundations, such as the Ford and Rockefeller foundations, began to focus on what they saw as the problem of burgeoning Third World numbers. The believed that overpopulation was the primary cause of environmental degradation, economic underdevelopment and political instability. Massive populations in the Third World were seen as presenting a threat to Western capitalism and access to resources.

In 1966, President Lyndon Johnson warned that the US might be overwhelmed by desperate masses, and he made US foreign aid dependent on countries adopting family planning programmes. Other wealthy countries such as Japan, Sweden and the UK also began to devote large amounts of money to reducing Third World birth rates. What virtually everyone agreed was that there was a massive demand for birth control among the world's poorest people, and that if they could get their hands on reliable contraceptives, runaway population growth might be stopped. But with the benefit of hindsight, some argue that this so-called unmet need theory put disproportionate emphasis on birth control and ignored other serious needs.

In the early 1980s, objections to the population control movement began to grow, especially in the United States. In Washington, the new Reagan administration removed financial support for any programmes that involved abortion or sterilization and broad alliance to stem birth rates was beginning to dissolve and the debate become more polarised along political lines. While some on the political right had moral objections to population control, some on the left saw it as neo-colonialism. Faith groups condemned it as a Western attack on religious values, but women's groups feared changes would mean poor women would be even less well-served.

Since the UN conference on population and development in Cairo in 1994 the focus has shifted somewhat off population control and onto ‘reproductive rights’ but in practice groups like the UNFPA and IPPF are continuing with the same population control agenda under another name.

As I have argued previously, the experience of Europe is that women will voluntarily limit family size once they know their children will survive. This will follow investment in women’s education, healthcare and addressing rights to things such as food, employment, water, justice and fair wages. The rich world, with is crippling debt through overconsumption, needs to embrace far simpler lifestyles and share its resources more equitably.

If we try to impose population control measures without addressing these fundamental issues of injustice it simply will not work.

Sunday 30 October 2011

One Solitary Life

This painting of St John of the Cross by Salvador Dali used to hang in our home church in New Zealand when I was a teenager.

It has to be my favourite painting of Jesus. Not a contorted distracted Christ as depicted in so much religious art but a muscular self-giving Christ, elevated over the world, and yet intimately involved in it

Below is the short essay 'One Solitary Life' which I used to have hanging on my bedroom wall about the same time. Just found it again on the internet - you can't get too much of a good thing!

One Solitary Life

Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until He was thirty. Then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.

He never owned a home. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put His foot inside a big city. He never traveled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but Himself...

While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied Him. He was turned over to His enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While He was dying His executioners gambled for the only piece of property He had on earth – His coat. When He was dead, He was laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.

Nineteen long centuries have come and gone, and today He is a centerpiece of the human race and leader of the column of progress.

I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, all the navies that were ever built; all the parliaments that ever sat and all the kings that ever reigned, put together, have not affected the life of man upon this earth as powerfully as has that one solitary life.

This essay was adapted from a sermon by Dr James Allan Francis in 'The Real Jesus and Other Sermons' © 1926 by the Judson Press of Philadelphia (pp 123-124 titled “Arise Sir Knight!”).

A poem to commemorate the birth of the seven billionth person

With the world's population reaching seven billion we are going to hear more demands for population control.

But the fact is that families voluntarily limit the size of their families once they know that their children will survive.

So the real priority is not measures to control popluation but better education for women, community development, better healthcare, fair trade and more even distribution of resources.

To commemorate seven billion day here is a poem on a more just solution:

The folk from Guzzle Gorge (who were the richest on the planet)
Had noticed falls in food supply and wondered: 'who began it?'
'It's numbers (not consumption) that's to blame' was their deduction
And so they brought in measures to curb others' reproduction

They'd first flogged powdered milk like it was going out of fashion
And 'Lomotil' to treat the diarrhoea caused (and bring more cash in)
But now they dished out, condoms and fallopian tube ligation
And followed these with RU 486 and 'termination'

Now family spacing's fine and wise (allows the mums to rest)
And ovulation's kept at bay with babies on the breast
But lactose drinks and birth-control imposed without due thought
Can crush the very fabric of a people yet untaught

The poor will choose less offspring once they know that they will live
And poverty's made worse by those who have and yet won't give
Perhaps it's no surprise that those who guard the global purse
Seem to believe that children aren't a blessing but a curse

Friday 28 October 2011

The false prophets of the population control lobby and their appalling track record

On 31 October when the world’s population reaches seven billion we will be subjected to a whole host of alarmist reports about impending disaster - through overcrowding, disease and environmental destruction - and the population control lobby, led by prominent journalists and media celebrities, will try to persuade us that our salvation lies in making contraception and abortion more widely accessible.

I have already blogged about this ludicrous proposition at length and won’t reiterate my arguments and analysis here. Instead I want to point to an excellent review article on Life Site news which highlights past false predictions of the population control lobby.

The article warns that ‘Halloween is traditionally a night of witches, ghosts, and monsters. But for environmentalists and their media allies, an even bigger scare is coming this Halloween: the birth of Earth’s 7 billionth resident’.

It then goes on to note past false predictions, most notably those of Malthus and Ehrlich, the pioneers of the movement:

Panic over population growth is not a new phenomenon. Anglican clergyman and thinker Thomas Malthus, in 1798, called for extreme measures to reduce human population in his Essay on the Principle of Population (World population was below 1 billion in 1798.): ‘Instead of recommending cleanliness to the poor, we should encourage contrary habits. In our towns we should make the streets narrower, crowd more people into the houses, and court the return of the plague. In the country, we should build our villages near stagnant pools, and particularly encourage settlements in all marshy and unwholesome situations.’ By 1890, he predicted, the world would run out of food, and thus the end of the human race would soon follow.

American biologist Paul Ehrlich echoed Malthus in his 1968 work The Population Bomb, which warned of mass starvation and environmental catastrophe due to overpopulation. (World population was below 3.6 billion in 1968.) Ehrlich made a series of fantastic predictions, including the claim:‘I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.’ The United Nations Population Fund - with its population control agenda - was founded in the wake of these scaremongering predictions.

The dire warnings of Malthus and Ehrlich were proven spectacularly wrong. The New York Times stated as much in a 2003 editorial, noting that ‘population growth rates were plummeting.’ Birthrates are rapidly declining in the United States and throughout the world. And food production has increased dramatically over the past 40 years, as new methods of growing food and using resources are discovered.

But Ehrlich has refused to concede his predictions were wrong, and the media still quotes Ehrlich and raises the ghost of Malthus.

So when you start to hear all the population explosion nonsense rehashed on Monday remember these past ‘prophetic’ predictions and don’t get alarmed. Take a deep breath, read the Scriptures below and have a look at the contrary view (eloquently put by Reuters this week in an article titled 'The next challenge: not too many people, but too few?') that the real problem we are facing, at least in the Western world, is a very different demographic crisis altogether - that birth rates are falling and the relative proportion of elderly people is rising - which is why President Putin and others are looking at measures to increase rather than decrease population.

Yes the world population is rising at present and will go higher for a while. But if falling birth rates continue, which looks virtually certain, then in the not too distant future we are headed for a lengthy downward population trajectory. As Life Site News concludes:

‘Not everyone is as terrified of the overpopulation bogeyman as the media seems to be. Colin Mason, Director of Media for the Population Research Institute, explained why fears of overpopulation are unfounded: “Historically, as human population has grown and developed technology, the manner in which we use resources has changed.

For instance, as human population has grown, we have needed to produce enough food to feed our burgeoning numbers. But as our civilizations have developed, we have also developed ways of increasing crop yield, and of growing crops on previously infertile land.”’

A series of videos produced by PRI illustrate their argument that the earth is not overpopulated.

You may say to yourselves, ‘How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?’ If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed. (Deuteronomy 18:21,22)

‘But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. In their greed these teachers will exploit you with fabricated stories. Their condemnation has long been hanging over them, and their destruction has not been sleeping. (2 Peter 2:1-3)

Abortion for Down’s Syndrome – tragic story, review of trends and personal reflections

There was a tragic story in the Daily Mail yesterday titled ‘Having an amnio test ruined my life’.

It relates the testimony of Marie Ideson who was coerced by doctors into having an abortion for her 16 week old baby with Down’s Syndrome, a decision she now bitterly regrets. The incident led eventually not just to ongoing unresolved grief but also to the destruction of her marriage.

Down's syndrome screening has been around for a long time and relies on a variety of screening tests including ultrasound. Cases are then confirmed by the invasive tests of chorion villus biopsy and amniocentesis at 8 and 18 weeks gestation respectively.

Currently only pregnancies at high risk for Down’s Syndrome are screened (those involving older women) but I have blogged earlier about how new prenatal screening tests are making the elimination of all people with genetic disease ‘an achievable reality’.

Cell-free fetal DNA is DNA from the baby that has crossed the placenta into the mother’s blood. It makes up about 10% of all free DNA in the maternal blood and can now be examined to determine the baby’s sex and what genetic disorders it carries. It is extremely accurate but currently expensive. However the cost is expected to come down very rapidly in the near future.

Recently revealed statistics showed that between 2002 and 2010 there were 17,983 abortions of disabled babies. The overwhelming majority of these were for conditions compatible with life outside the womb and 1,189 babies were aborted after 24 weeks, the accepted age of viability.

The 17,983 included 26 for babies with cleft lips or palates and another 27 with ‘congenital malformations of the ear, eye, face or neck’, which can include problems such as having glaucoma or being born with an ear missing.

Over the period 2002-2010 there were altogether 3,968 Down’s syndrome babies aborted and now over 90% of all babies found to have Down’s syndrome before birth have their lives ended in this way.

The problem is that increasingly many people, including doctors, believe that all babies with conditions like Down’s syndrome should be aborted and, as in the case described, this can lead to a huge amount of pressure being placed on parents to choose an abortion. These attitudes are not new and have extended to infanticide in some contexts. Witnessing one of these cases myself had a profound effect on me.

When I was a final year medical student a baby was admitted onto the paediatric surgical ward with duodenal atresia. A relatively straightforward operation would have saved her but, because she had Down's Syndrome, her parents opted not to treat. She was left alone in a side room, given large doses of morphine and effectively starved and dehydrated to death.

Some years later, when I was a senior registrar in general surgery, a woman in her 50s (again with Down's Syndrome) presented with obstructive jaundice secondary to a tumour of the Ampulla of Vater. The necessary Whipple's procedure, which involves removing duodenum, gall bladder, bile duct and half the pancreas, was a major undertaking, but there was no question in the minds of her family that she should receive the best care available. In fact she tolerated the procedure well and made an excellent recovery.

I have often reflected on these two cases and the different attitudes of the families involved. But treatment decisions like these may be consigned to history very shortly if current trends continue.

The number of Down's Syndrome pregnancies is increasing. There were 1,067 in England and Wales in 1989 but by 2009 this had risen to 1,887, mainly due to the fact that women are delaying having children until an age when the risk of having a child with this condition is higher.

But despite this the number of Down's Syndrome babies born alive each year has actually gone up only very slightly from 730 to around 753 over the same period. This is because our society is increasingly taking the view that it is better if children with this condition are not born at all. In 1989 there were only about 300 abortions for Down’s Syndrome but by 2009 1,171 babies with Down's Syndrome were diagnosed before birth, 62% of the total, and 92% of these were aborted. The number of abortions would have been much higher if more had been diagnosed before birth.

There is no doubt that bringing up a child with special needs involves substantial emotional and financial cost, and yet at the very heart of the Christian gospel is the Lord Jesus who chose to lay down his life to meet our own 'special needs'. The Apostle Paul tells us that Christ died for us 'when we were powerless' (Romans 5:6) and that 'bearing one another's burdens' is at the very heart of Christian morality (Galatians 6:1). For Christian doctors bearing burdens involves not only providing the best medical care for the most vulnerable members of our society, but also supporting their families in the long haul, being prepared to speak out when they are being treated unjustly and doing what we can to oppose unjust and discriminatory legislation and health policy.

All of us are called in a whole variety of ways to engage in the fight for these very special people and others in a similar position of vulnerability. Let's pray that we fight these battles well.

Thursday 27 October 2011

Population control lobby seeks to impose its agenda rather than addressing the real causes of poverty

The world’s population is due to pass seven billion on 31 October and campaigners for population control are again using it as an opportunity to promote their agenda.

Back in February 2009 Jonathon Porritt (pictured), former chairman of the UK Government’s Sustainable Development Commission, said that curbing population growth through contraception and abortion must be at the heart of efforts to combat global warming, and that couples who had more than two children were irresponsible.

He is back again this week in the Independent with an article titled ‘Over-population: the global crisis that dare not speak its name’ which reruns much the same message.

In the tradition of Malthus and Ehrlich, Porritt warns of ecological and environmental disaster ahead unless we do something rapidly to curb population growth.

Today’s Metro, in a report titled ‘World’s poor hit worst as population tops 7 billion’, tells us that ‘the world’s poorest regions will be worst hit’ and that ‘areas where there is extreme poverty, food insecurity and inequality will suffer high death rates and high birth rates as part of a “vicious cycle”’.

The solution to these problems? Well you might have imagined that it would be better education of women, community development, better healthcare, more food production and more even distribution of resources, but no! According to International development secretary Andrew Mitchell the answer is still more contraception and abortion.

‘The British government is working to improve access to contraception and family planning education for 10million women in the developing world. This will prevent five million unintended pregnancies, save the lives of 50,000 women and avoid the deaths of 250,000 newborns by 2015.’

And the source of the information on which Mitchell bases his policy? Well not surprisingly it is a new report by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), a key supporter of China’s population control programme, which is in large part responsible for 160 million missing women (as a result of sex selection abortion) in Asia.

Mitchell’s policy is consistent with the report this week by UN Special Rapporteur for Health, Anand Grover, which linked unrestricted abortion with the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. He adamantly affirmed his intention to redefine the ‘right to health’ in UN conventions and treaties to include abortion.

This is despite the fact that saying ‘no’ to abortion is actually an international human right, as outlined in the recently published San Jose articles by a group of leading international lawyers, ethicists and academics.

Grover has not surprisingly come in for stiff criticism from Egypt, Honduras and Chile. The Chilean government emphasized that it is essential to recognize the right to life of all human beings. Its statement was of special interest given the country’s history with legalized abortion. Abortion was legal in Chile until 1989. After its criminalization, maternal mortality actually decreased.

Whether the world is overpopulated is debatable. All the world's buildings would fit in Scotland or Ireland alone and the world's population could currently stand shoulder to shoulder on the Isle of Wight. World per capita food production has more than kept pace with population and Europe's own past demonstrates that fertility can be managed effectively - even without contraceptives - as living standards improve.

Furthermore citizens of the developing world choose large families for good reasons, as insurance against an uncertain future in circumstances of high infant mortality, low and insecure income and labour intensive farming.

Family planning combined with economic development allows couples to plan the number and spacing of their children in the light of their own circumstances and beliefs.

On the other hand imposed population control, with all that involves, coupled with mounting developing world debt and economic austerity measures which slash health and education budgets, actually causes huge damage to poor indigenous populations.

Our stewardship of the earth is not a licence to exploit but to govern wisely. We cannot impose solutions on the world's poor without addressing our complicity in unjust economic structures, environmentally destructive technologies, and consumptive lifestyles.

I have previously argued that, regardless of what we might believe about the importance of global warning, those countries which are amongst the biggest contributors are not those in the developing world with rapidly growing populations but those with relatively static populations.

The top four contributors to global warming are China (23% of total), US (18%), India (6%) and Russia (6%)) which have population growth rates of only 0.51%, 0.86%, 1.34% and -0.07% respectively according to World Bank figures.

Carbon footprint is much more about consumption per capita than about population. It is not how many children we have, but how much resource each one consumes. That is the real issue.

Sodom came under God's judgment, at least in part, because she was 'arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; (she) did not help the poor and needy' (Ezekiel 16:49).

This description fits our Western World well. Let’s not simplistically condemn people for having children without addressing the real problem – consumption of more resources than one needs coupled with neglect of those in real need.

The real challenge is how we can live more simply in order that others might simply live.

(See also 'The next challenge: not too many people, but too few?' - Reuters; 'Media Promotes Left-Wing Panic Over 7 Billion People' - Life Site News; 'Seven Billion Strong, and Counting' - Witherspoon Institute; After 7 billion - Demographic denialists are ignoring the perils of an ageing population - Mercatornet)

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Excellent interview on stem cell patent ruling

Bioedge this week carries an excellent interview with Professor David Jones of the Anscombe Centre (pictured) on the Brustle stem cell ruling which I blogged about last week. I have reproduced it here.

Last week the European Court of Justice, in the case of Oliver Brüstle v Greenpeace, ruled that research involving the destruction of embryos cannot be patented. This provoked an uproar among stem cell scientists. BioEdge interviewed Dr David Albert Jones, director of the Anscombe Bioethics Centre in Oxford, about the judgement.

BioEdge: Oliver Brüstle has described the decision as “an unbelievable setback for biomedical stem cell research." How would you respond?

David Albert Jones: This is an overreaction and also very misleading. The decision of the European Court of Justice does not affect most “biomedical stem cell research" because most such research does not use embryonic stem cells. There are an increasing number of sources of adult stem cells (amniotic fluid, cord blood, bone marrow, eyes, noses, even fat from liposuction!) and cutting-edge research in this area is turning ordinary adult cells into stem cells. These forms of stem cell research will not be set back and may benefit from the diverting of resources away from embryonic stem cells.

BioEdge: Do you think that this will drive profitable research out of Europe?

David Albert Jones:I think most of this research will stay in Europe. Lawyers who represent the interests of embryonic stem cell companies tell me they are already thinking of how to mitigate the effect of this legal decision. I doubt this judgment will make companies uproot, but I hope it will be a “nudge” which will encourage them to look more at other more ethical kinds of stem cells.

BioEdge: How has the decision been greeted in the UK? Is there a different reaction in other countries in Europe?

David Albert Jones: In the United Kingdom the press has widely reported the comments of Oliver Brüstle and similar comments by British scientists. The status of the human embryo is not taken seriously in the United Kingdom and the views of the embryonic stem cell lobby are accepted uncritically. The United Kingdom is also ambivalent about its relationship with Europe and so it is easy to report this case in a way that plays on anti-European feeling. My impression is that the attitude in other European countries, and particularly in Germany, is quite different.

BioEdge: In your opinion, why do human embryos deserve special respect in Germany but not in the UK?

David Albert Jones: This is a complex question and relates not only to religion (Germany is more than 30% Catholic whereas in England the population is less than 10% Catholic) but more importantly to cultural and historical context. In Germany, given their history, there is a reluctance to sacrifice ethical principles for pragmatic considerations.

BioEdge: Why should science and industry care about ethical limits if the result of their research will benefit the economy?

David Albert Jones: Economic wealth is a human good but it is not one that should be pursued at any cost. People may draw a line at different points but everyone draws the line somewhere.

BioEdge: In the English-speaking world, at least, this is a surprising decision, as the plaintiff is not a Christian group, but Greenpeace. What explains the coincidence of interests here?

David Albert Jones: Greens are not generally opposed to legal abortion (though of course some are). As a movement they are concerned primarily not with the embryo as a person but with the manipulation of human nature, as shown by cloning, eugenics, genetic engineering and the patenting of life. Also Greens tend to come to biotechnology with a more critical attitude and are more likely to see through the hype of claims made by companies with a financial interest.

BioEdge: The court declared that ethics must take precedence over commercial interests. Many would say that this is imposing the ethics of a Christian minority upon scientists. How would you respond?

David Albert Jones: This case was not brought by a Christian group and it is extreme permissive views like those in the United Kingdom that seem to be in a minority in this area. Research is allowed in the United Kingdom that is illegal in many countries in Europe and the United Kingdom even allows research that is banned by the European Convention in Human Rights and Biomedicine. Nevertheless, patent protection requires cooperation between countries and part of the price of this cooperation has been the upholding of some minimum ethical standards. A majority in the European Parliament have decided that patents should not be given from the commercialisation of human embryos.

BioEdge: How has the Anscombe Bioethics Centre engaged in the UK's embryo debate?

David Albert Jones: In February 2011, the Anscombe Bioethics Centre had an event to engage with stem cell scientists in closed discussion under “Chatham House” rules. In June we had a letter published in Nature co-signed by 25 professors and directors of ethics centres throughout Europe, expressing the priority of ethics over commercial interests in embryo research. In September we brought professors from Germany, Italy, France, Ireland, United States, and the United Kingdom to a conference in Oxford on the status of the embryo. The Anscombe Bioethics Centre seeks to be a voice within the United Kingdom reminding people of the dignity of human life from its very beginnings.

Sunday 23 October 2011

Three horrific stories of abuse of women and children abroad raise a disturbing question

Three horrific stories involving the abuse of women and children abroad have featured in our newspapers in the last couple of weeks.

First was the report that witch doctors are abducting children in Uganda for the purpose of child sacrifice. The ritual, which some believe brings wealth and good health, was almost unheard of in the country until about three years ago, but it has re-emerged, seemingly alongside a boom in the Uganda’s economy.

According to the BBC, the mutilated bodies of children have been discovered at roadsides, the victims of an apparently growing belief in the power of human sacrifice. Many believe that members of the country's new elite are paying witch doctors vast sums of money for the sacrifices in a bid to increase their wealth.

Second was the distressing report of a two-year-old girl run over twice, about 100 metres from her home in a hardware market district of Foshan, a prosperous city in southern China. As she lay on the ground, writhing in pain, before being hit by the second vehicle, 18 people, on their bicycles, in cars or on foot, passed by but chose to ignore her. Finally, a 58-year-old female rubbish collector came to the girl’s rescue, but it was too late. By the time she was brought to the hospital, the girl Yueyue, (whose name translates as Little Joy), was brain dead.

A Chinese journalist writing for the Guardian asks, ‘How can I be proud of my China if we are a nation of 1.4bn cold hearts?’ and says the incident is symptomatic of a deepening moral crisis.

Finally is the story of a woman, also recounted in the Guardian, of a Chinese woman who died on operating table after officials forced her to go with them to hospital for an abortion she did not want.

These stories are of course shocking, and it is not surprising that they made headlines in Britain. It is truly horrendous when children are killed to give someone else a financial benefit, when the cries of injured children are ignored by adults and when women die as a result of operations to which they have not given consent – all of which raises a very interesting question.

Every year in Britain 200,000 children are sacrificed, have their cries ignored as they are dismembered and killed and die as a result of ‘operations’ to which they have not given consent.

Of course they are children who are both very young and very small and we call their deliberate deaths ‘terminations of pregnancy’ or ‘abortion’. Abortion is, if you like, the ultimate form of child abuse.

Around the world there are 42 million such procedures each year and as result of sex selective abortions there are now estimated to be 160 million missing women in China and India alone.

In fact there is no one more innocent, more vulnerable and killed in greater numbers than children in the womb.

Child sacrifice in Uganda, and two year old hit-and-runs and women dying during forced abortions in China rightly shock us.

But why are we not equally shocked by 200,000 abortions a year in our own country?

Well that is a very interesting question indeed.

Arise Sir Richie! It was a tough fight but the right team won

By most reckonings New Zealand’s victory in the rugby world cup final last night should have been a mere formality.

The All Blacks were playing France, who they beat by 20 points in the pool stage of the competition, in front of a stadium of over 50,000 supporters at Eden Park, Auckland where they have not lost for 17 years.

They had been the most impressive team throughout the tournament by a distance, scoring 73 more points and 11 more tries than any other side. And they had just dispatched Australia, the world number two side and tri-nations champions 20 to 6 with a consummate display of all round skills in the semi-finals.

By contrast France had limped through to the finals, losing two pool games on the way, sneaking past Wales in the other semi-final by just one point after a controversial red card had left their opponents playing 60 minutes with 14 men.

But all New Zealanders, including the All Blacks themselves, approached this game with trepidation. France, unlike any other side, have the ability to lift their game for the big occasion, and in the 1999 and 2007 world cups had sent the All Blacks packing with inspired second half performances.

True to form, France lifted their game again for this final and, many would say, were perhaps unlucky not to have won. Instead they went down 8-7, denied by desperate All Black defence.

Like most Kiwis I found the whole experience unbelievably stressful. I felt elation at the end of course, but this was overshadowed by a feeling of profound relief.

After 24 years since the last world cup victory, the agony was finally over.

‘Not pretty’, as captain Richie McCaw said, but effective, and after all a win is a win.

This win makes it two-all for South Africa, Australia and New Zealand in world cups and is especially important for New Zealand because of the trauma the country has been through in the last year.

Just over a year ago an earthquake of 7.1, miraculously non-fatal, struck Christchurch on the same day that a plane crashed on the Fox glacier killing nine people. Two months later 29 died in the Pike River mining disaster and in February this year 181 died in a second Christchurch earthquake which destroyed most of the centre of the city.

On world scale these might not seem to be big numbers, but for a small country of 4 million people they were devastating. And the damage from the current ongoing oil spill from the stranded container ship Rena, off the North Island’s east coast, had added insult to injury.

In addition all New Zealanders felt the pressure to throw off our reputation for under performing at world cups.

New Zealanders are rubgy’s leading points scorers of all time and the only international team with a winning record against every test nation they have ever played. The All Blacks have held the top ranking in the world for longer than all other countries combined and in over 100 years only five of the top twenty ranked test rugby nations have ever beaten them.

New Zealand competes annually with Australia and South Africa in the Tri Nations competition, and has won the trophy a record ten times in its 16 year history. They have also completed a northern hemisphere Grand Slam four times (in 1978, 2005, 2008 and 2010), defeating all four Home Nations (England, Wales, Ireland and Scotland) during one tour. Ireland and Scotland have never beaten them.

They have won a record 75% of all rugby matches they have ever played since 1903 and they were named the International Rugby Board (IRB) Team of the Year in 2005, 2006, 2008 and a record fourth time in 2010. In the decade from 2000–2009, New Zealand won 100 Tests (82% winning percentage). They won 15 consecutive Tests at one point and recorded a world record 30 straight wins at home.

In view of New Zealand’s dominance, their lack of success in world cups has been one of the great mysteries of modern sporting history.

France was truly magnificent last night. By contrast, the All Blacks stuttered and probably put in their worst performance of the tournament, missing three out of four kicks at goal and having only 45% of the possession.

But the result was the right one for the country and for international rugby. Apart from captain McCaw, who has finally won in his third and last world cup, probably the happiest man on the pitch last night was New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, who faces a national election on 26 November. Losing their third fly half in the tournament during the match made things even harder. But it was perhaps ironic that their fourth choice Stephen Donald, kicked the winning goal.

If the All Blacks had lost last night he could have effectively written off his chances. But now, with the change in national morale this victory will bring, perhaps he still has at least a fighting chance.

Thursday 20 October 2011

‘In praise of stem cell simplicity’ – brilliant New Scientist Editorial

The New Scientist editorial this week, ‘In praise of stem-cell simplicity’, gives a fantastic overview of exciting new avenues in ethical stem cell research which are opening up.

It should be required reading for all UK science journalists who sadly use press releases from the biotechnology industry or briefings from the Science Media Centre as their main (and often sole!) source material.

In so doing they misinform and short change the British public.

I have pasted a lengthy excerpt below but the full article with links is available free on line.

Although the New Scientist is still supporting all forms of stem cell research, including embryonic stem cell research (in spite of the EU court ruling this week), it does at least, unlike the British press and the BBC, acknowledge the tremendous advances being made with ethical stem cell approaches.

Read this because you won’t hear about it in any British newspaper!

In praise of stem-cell simplicity

DID you know that you have accessible stem cells up your nose? Or that human fetuses shed stem cells into the fluid around them? Both of these seemingly random facts could spawn novel, personalised stem-cell treatments that, if not simple per se, are simpler than what has gone before.

What marks these treatments out is that they are eminently practical and ethically unquestionable. This is in stark contrast to much previous work, which has focused on human embryonic stem cells, or hESCs.

From the outset, the use of hESCs has been fraught with controversy. Only last week, after years of trying, and the notorious fraud involving Korean researcher Woo Suk Hwang, hESCs were finally created through a variant of the cloning technique that gave us Dolly the sheep. This fused skin and egg cells, leaving the nucleus of the latter intact. Unfortunately, human eggs are still required, embryos still perish in the process and in this case the embryos and resulting hESCs had three sets of chromosomes instead of two, ruling out medical uses.

A promising alternative to hESCs emerged in 2006 when researchers produced so-called induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) from ordinary tissue such as skin. But to convert adult cells into embryonic-like cells means genetic reprogramming, for example with a virus, and the reprogrammed cells do not yet match embryonic stem cells.

Now there are different avenues of research that are simpler in many ways. In ‘Diabetic rats cured with their own stem cells’, we report how researchers cured diabetic rats by turning brain stem cells extracted through the nose into insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. They did this without any genetic trickery.

And in ‘Baby repair kit found inside the womb’, we report how congenital defects such as holes in the diaphragm could be patched up using a baby's own stem cells extracted from the surrounding amniotic fluid.

Wednesday 19 October 2011

Stem cell patent ruling is a triumph of ethics over commercial expedience and will open fruitful new areas of research

British scientists are kicking up an enormous stink about yesterday’s court ruling that scientists can’t patent stem cells if they are obtained by destroying human embryos.

Europe’s highest human rights court, the EU Court of Justice, said the use of human embryos ‘for therapeutic or diagnostic purposes which are applied to the human embryo and are useful to it is patentable. But their use for purposes of scientific research is not patentable.’

The EU judges were asked by the German Federal Court of Justice to provide a ruling in a case regarding a German scientist, Oliver Bruestle, whose patent on a method to create nerve cells from human embryonic stem cells was ruled invalid. The court said ‘a process which involves removal of a stem cell from a human embryo at the blastocyst stage, entailing the destruction of that embryo, cannot be patented.’ The ruling mentions 'respect for human dignity'.

The full implications of the judgment are explained in more detail by LifeSite news and C-Fam.

The British media is somewhat predictably filled with reports of scientists condemning the judgment.

A leading article in the Independent calls it ‘A patently poor ruling on stem cells' and a lengthier piece in the same paper says that ‘medicine has been thrown into crisis’.

The Daily Mail leads with the headline ‘Stem cell research in chaos as scientist loses patent battle over extracting cells from human embryos’ and the Times with ‘Europe’s ban on stem-cell patents threat to UK medicine industry’

The BBC declares ‘European court ruling “threatens stem cell work”’.

Most broadcast coverage has been mind-numbingly superficial.

The above articles consist largely of a series of quotes from scientists making the kinds of statements that scientists never used to make:

We are told that Europe is now facing ‘a Dark Age of stem cell research’; that this is 'an unbelievable setback'; that 'Many years of intensive research are being destroyed'; that the decision will ‘will hold back research into new treatments for blindness, paralysis and Parkinson’s disease’; that it is a ‘devastating decision which will stop stem cell therapies use in medicine’ and that ‘emerging regenerative medicine industry that the Government has placed at the heart of its plans for economic recovery could be wrecked’.

The usual warnings about ‘experts’ moving off shore to more favourable jurisdictions are reminiscent of the threats emanating from bankers at the time of the economic crisis of 2008 when it was suggested that the government might like to consider regulating the finance industry.

There is virtually nothing in any of these articles about the new advances in ethically uncontroversial non-embryonic stem cell therapy being made all over the world.

The British media coverage tells us much more about the state of science journalism in Britain than it does about the actual scientific facts. But we have now reached a point where most science journalists in this country writing on this issue simply mindlessly recycle press releases from the biotechnology industry or prepackaged ‘briefings’ and soundbites from the Science Media Centre.

Those who wish to know more about the actual facts will need to take their reading off shore.

The truth is that UK scientists have overhyped embryonic stem cells to a gullible public and parliament for over ten years with very little to show for it in terms of any promise of therapeutic advance. I have urged caution about their conclusions before.

I have blogged about this issue ad nauseam and won't repeat the arguments here but refer readers to my past blogs on spinal cord injury, cord blood, three parent embryos and adult stem cells where they are outlined in some detail.

If you follow the links in these blogs you will be able to access information about the science in this whole arena which you may never learn from the BBC or the press releases of British scientists whose salaries are paid by the biotechnology industry.

The case before the court was originally begun by Greenpeace in Germany.

An adviser to Greenpeace, Dr Christoph Then, said in bringing the case that the organisation was not opposed to all stem cell research: 'We do not think the opinion of the Advocate General is so clear. Our original purpose was to clarify the patent law, especially around the industrial use of embryos.'

It is the commercial exploitation of human life that bothers them. It bothers me too. And I think it would bother thousands more people too if they were able to learn the truth.

Dr Then said after the ruling: 'We wanted a fundamental decision on how the protection of human embryos is to be laid out under EU patenting law. The court has said that ethics take priority over commercial interests.'

The Anscombe Bioethics centre has welcomed the ruling as a ‘triumph of ethical standards over commercial interest’.

The ruling does not stop embryo research but it could well take the wind out of the European biotechnology industry's sails by making it no longer economically viable to fund embryonic stem cell research.

That would mean less money wasted on blind alley research by people with financial and ideological vested interests and more being invested where it is really needed for the good of all - in adult stem cell and induced pluripotent stem cell (iPS) technology.

In an opinion column in the French medical daily Le Quotidien du Médecin, Prof Claude Huriet commented earlier this year: ‘While innovations in the field of the life sciences arouse ethical reactions often regarded as obstacles to innovation, it sometimes happens that these ethical objections stimulate the imagination of researchers and finally lead to progress! Who could quarrel with that?’

This court ruling may actually prove to be the best thing that ever happened to stem cell research in Europe by closing ‘a road to nowhere’ and opening a new highway to research that is both ethical and fruitful.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

The GMC is recognizing the importance of spiritual care but is still struggling to define what it actually is

The General Medical Council is about to review ‘Good Medical Practice’, its general guidance to doctors, and new draft guidance is due to be issued later this month.

Early indications are that the revised guidance will give more latitude to doctors attempting to provide whole-person healthcare (including spiritual care) but will take a harder line than at present on doctors who attempt to share their own faith with patients in the context of a consultation.

But given that there is a substantial body of evidence which suggests that religious faith benefits health, does withholding ‘spiritual care’ constitute a breach of GMC guidelines?

One doctor decided to pose exactly this question to the GMC and has given me permission to post his letter along with the reply he received.

Letter to GMC from Dr David Chaput de Saintonge

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your detailed reply to my letter of 27.5.2011.

In fact, my query was not ‘… whether doctors are permitted to offer or provide spiritual care of their patients’ though I'm pleased to note the GMC’s acceptance of this, always providing it is done sensitively.

The question I asked was when it would be allowable to contravene GMC guidelines by withholding spiritual care which is shown to be beneficial?

Of course I recognise that, as you state, the committee cannot, require doctors to offer faith-based management options. I don’t think that is the point. Your guidance on consent: patients and doctors making decisions together (Part 1; para 5) clearly states:

‘The doctor and the patient make an assessment of the patient's condition, taking into account the patient's medical history, views, experience and knowledge. The doctor uses specialist knowledge and experience in clinical judgement, and the patient's views and understanding of their condition, to identify which investigations or treatments are likely to result in overall benefit from the patient. The patient weighs up the potential benefits, risks and burdens of the various options as well as any nonclinical issues that are relevant to them. The patient decides whether to accept any of the options and, if so, which one.’

However the patient will be unable to weigh up the risks of an intervention which has not been discussed with them. They will therefore be denied the freedom of choice which your guidelines indicate they should be given and spiritual care might be wrongfully withheld.

I recognise, of course, that the doctor might consider that spiritual interventions ‘would not be of overall benefit to them’ and would advise against any such intervention.

However, according to your guidelines, this does not absolve the doctor of the responsibility taking the patient's views into account when entering into this discussion.

Clearly the doctor cannot fulfil this requirement with respect to spiritual care without ascertaining the patient's views. It would therefore seem an essential part of the assessment not just to enquire about physical, social and psychological aspects of the patient's condition, but the importance to the patient of spiritual aspect also.

Failure to do so restricts the patient's choice and is would appear to be a denial of their autonomy.

It may be I have misunderstood the GMC’s position on this. If so I'd be very grateful for your clarification.

Yours sincerely

Reply from Jane O’Brien, Assistant Director, Standards and Fitness to Practise Directorate

Dear Dr Chaput de Saintonge,

Thank you for your letter of 30 August 2011.

I think your analysis of our guidance is absolutely right, and where there is medical treatment that is clinically appropriate for the patient and likely to provide overall benefit, doctors should raise this with the patient as part of the consent process.

The more difficult issue is where the boundaries lie between medical treatment and management, which are within the expertise of doctors and properly provided by the NHS or other health funding bodies; and the provision of spiritual support and care, which is generally provided by religious or faith leaders or others with expertise in this area. The GMC does not place a duty on doctors to provide 'spiritual care' - but rather to recognise patients' need for such care and to facilitate patients’ access to it, where the patient would welcome this and is not in a position to do so him or herself.

There are some therapies that might be regarded as 'faith based', including meditation and yoga, but in general it is difficult to identify treatment options which would be available only as part of faith-based management of conditions. Where such treatment options exist, they should be discussed with patients.

I would not claim to be an expert on the research on the impact of faith or spirituality on health, but much of the most accessible evidence relates to the health benefits of practising religion or having a 'spiritual' life more generally. We encourage doctors to help patients to take an interest in their health (see paragraph 6 of Good Medical Practice), for example by talking about the benefits of lifestyle choices, such as taking exercise or losing weight. Of course, doctors can also tell patients about the evidence of the impact on health of being an active member of a faith community or otherwise engaging in a spiritual life.

Finally, the GMC fully supports a holistic view of patient care. You will see in our guidance on consent and treatment and care towards the end of life, in particular, that we encourage doctors to think about the patient’s overall needs, and to take into account their values and beliefs. You may be interested to note that as part of the review of Good Medical Practice we will be consulting shortly on changes to our guidance on good clinical care. This will include the following (additional text in bold type):

If you assess, diagnose or treat patients you must provide a good standard of clinical care: Good care will involve:

a. Adequately assessing the patient’s conditions, taking account of their history (including the symptoms, and psychological, spiritual, religious, social and cultural factors), the patient’s views, and, where necessary, examining the patient.

If you would like to be sent an alert when the consultation is launched later this month, please let me know.

Yours sincerely


The GMC letter makes a number of statements that Christian doctors will welcome, namely:

1.Where faith-based treatment options exist, they should be discussed with patients (but what does the GMC actually understand by the term 'faith-based'?)
2.The GMC fully supports a holistic view of patient care (but what does it understand by the term 'holistic'?)
3.Good care, which doctors must provide, involves taking a spiritual, cultural and religious history.

But there is still lack of clarity over whether providing information about spiritual care and access to it is a duty or an option.

On the one hand the GMC says that doctors must recognise patients’ need for spiritual care and facilitate their access to it, when they would welcome this and are not in a position to access it themselves.

On the other hand the GMC seems to give doctors an option about whether or not to tell patients about the evidence of the impact on health of being an active member of a faith community or otherwise engaging in a spiritual life.

But if patients are not aware of the benefits of faith to health then how can they be in a position to welcome spiritual care?

The GMC is moving in the right direction but needs to be clearer on its requirements so that doctors understand their duties and patients understand their rights.

Perhaps the key problem here is that while the GMC is recognizing the importance of spiritual care for health, it has not yet managed to define what spiritual care actually is. They will need help from doctors practising spiritual care on the front line to do this effectively.

I would urge Christian doctors to respond to this consultation in order to ensure that a whole person approach - including spiritual care - is universally implemented; that doctors are given freedom to practise it and that patients are given full opportunity to make use of it. A majority of patients actually want their doctors to practise whole person medicine which involves the spiritual dimension. Shouldn't that be the bottom line?

The big interview from Evangelical Times

I gave an interview last month for the October Evangelical Times ‘big interview’ column. It is posted on their website but I have also pasted it below.

The big interview – October 2011

Peter Saunders is Chief Executive of the Christian Medical Fellowship, a UK-based organisation with 4,500 UK doctors and 1,000 medical students as members. His role includes leadership training, teaching evangelism and ethics, medical mission, writing, editing and media work. Peter took some time out to answer questions from Sheila Marshall.

SM Which TV drama series — Holby City, Casualty or ER?

PS Definitely ER. As a general surgeon I loved the challenge of assessing and treating critically ill patients. Holby City and Casualty are just too ‘soapy’ and too slow-moving for me.

SM What drives your work with CMF?

PS Luke the physician tells us that Jesus sent his followers out ‘to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick’ (Luke 9:2). This means, to attend to the spiritual and physical needs of a suffering world. Christian doctors motivated by Jesus’ teaching and example have been profoundly influential in shaping healthcare’s history. A significant number of medicine’s pioneers were people of faith — Paré, Pasteur, Lister, Paget, Barnado, Jenner, Simpson, Sydenham, Osler, Skudder, Livingstone and many more. The CMF exists to help doctors continue in the steps of Jesus, the Great Physician. What drives me is a desire to help doctors fully integrate their faith and practice, to be witnesses to the gospel, and instruments of God’s grace and compassion.

SM Why does CMF need to promote Christian values in the church?

PS CMF’s fourth aim (after evangelism, discipleship and healthcare mission) is ‘to promote Christian values, especially in bioethics and healthcare, among doctors and medical students, in the church and in society’. As Christian doctors, rooted in Scripture and dealing daily with a host of physical, psychological and spiritual needs, we are uniquely placed to bring medicine and the Christian faith together. Members are often asked by Christian friends for guidance on end-of-life care, abortion, infertility, contraception and a host of other lifestyle and healthcare issues. Many pastors feel they lack the expertise to apply the Bible to contemporary issues of healthcare and medical ethics. Christian doctors can help fill that gap. We want to help Christians make wise decisions about their own healthcare and want to equip Christians to engage in the wider national debate on issues that have a significant effect on the most vulnerable people in our society.

SM Can Christian values be promoted in a secular society?

PS As Christians we are called to proclaim the gospel and live to honour Christ in every way. This involves bringing a Christian mind to the many issues that plague our society, and being salt and light. As citizens of a democracy, we have a responsibility both to choose our political leaders and to do what we can to ensure that the laws in our statute books are just and fair. We have a special responsibility to stand up for those who have no voice, like those who are poor, marginalised, elderly, unborn, sick and disabled. There is a growing hostility amongst some quarters of our country towards Christian faith and values. This needs to be challenged.

SM Are Christian values too expensive for our welfare system?

PS The current crisis in healthcare has complex causes. Much of the rising burden of disease is a consequence of poor lifestyle choices, such as people literally eating, smoking, drinking and drugging themselves to death. There is little money free to invest in care, because we are spending our financial resources on the wrong things or living way beyond our means. This is compounded by the breakdown of the family. I believe that the root cause is that as a society we are increasingly turning our back on God, so the supports of family, church and community are no longer there. Christian faith has huge benefits for health, because it has a huge impact on lifestyle choices; people are more likely to avoid or delay many of the diseases that are costly to our health service. If more people in Britain lived according to Christian values, there would be less medical need and much more money available to care for the sick and dependent.

SM What issue did you take with Terry Prachett’s recent BBC documentary on assisted suicide?

PS The BBC has become something of a cheer-leader for assisted suicide. This was the fifth BBC documentary in three years that portrayed assisted suicide or euthanasia in a positive light. We are disturbed by the bias of our national broadcaster, which has an obligation to remain impartial. The programme also breached both national and international guidelines on suicide portrayal and posed a great risk to vulnerable people by fuelling the well-documented phenomena of suicide contagion and copycat suicide.

SM How should the media approach this subject?

PS The BBC’s own editorial guidelines on portrayal of suicide are very clear. They call for, ‘great sensitivity’; ‘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’. The World Health Organisation’s guidance is equally unambiguous: ‘Don’t publish photographs or suicide notes. Don’t report specific details of the method used. Don’t give simplistic reasons. Don’t glorify or sensationalise suicide’.

SM Can you give examples?

PS Media stories about how people coped positively with suicidal feelings lead to a decrease in levels of suicide in the general population. Researchers have named this protective effect the ‘Papageno effect’, in honour of the character in Mozart’s opera The magic flute. When Papageno fears that he has lost his love, Papagena, he prepares to kill himself. But three boys save him at the last minute by helping him to find purpose in his suffering.

SM Are euthanasia, abortion and bioethics matters of conscience?

PS The Bible teaches us that human beings are made in the image of God and infinitely precious — meaning worthy of respect, protection, empathy and compassion. The sixth commandment ‘You shall not kill’ is based on this idea and forbids taking the lives of innocent human beings, even if they request us. For centuries the laws of our country have been based on these biblical concepts. Moral issues are not simply matters of individual conscience. It takes a huge amount of grace, courage and character to obey God in tough, costly decisions, but that doesn’t mean that it should not be clearly and unambiguously taught. That is why there is so much moral teaching throughout Scripture.

SM How can everyday believers make a difference?

PS God uses weak and ordinary people to do great things. The smallest step of faithful obedience by God’s grace can turn the course of history. God can use day-to-day decisions to advance his kingdom in and through us. Nothing done in his service is ever in vain and our job is to be faithful to him where he has placed us and trust the results to him.

SM What verses inspire you?

PS Too many to mention really, but here are just a few: Luke 4:18-19 — the Nazareth manifesto; 1 Corinthians 15:58 — never give up; 2 Corinthians 8:9 — Jesus our model; 2 Corinthians 12:9 — strength in weakness; Proverbs 31:8 -9 — speaking up for the weak.

Monday 17 October 2011

Falconer Commission on ‘assisted dying’ soon to be put out of its misery

Even before it was launched in November 2010, commentators were asking serious questions about the status and independence of Lord Falconer’s so-called ‘independent commission on assisted dying’.

These concerns intensified when it emerged that the privately organised enquiry was the idea of campaign group ‘Dignity in Dying’ (formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society) and was being funded by celebrity novelist and DID patron Terry Pratchett (who like Baroness Warnock backs legalising assisted suicide for people with Alzheimer’s disease).

The pro-euthanasia lobby had evidently decided to take this ‘independent’ route because their attempts to legalise assisted suicide through the standard parliamentary processes had failed by large margins at the previous two attempts (148-100 and 194-141 in the House of Lords in 2006 and 2009 respectively).

At the commission’s launch on 30 November it was revealed that nine of the twelve commissioners were well-known names in the pro-legalisation lobby.

When the Care Not Killing Alliance and five other major stakeholders declined to give evidence to the commission on the grounds that it was ‘unnecessary, unbalanced and lacking in transparency’ Falconer attempted to resurrect its lost credibility by turning to others.

Dignity in Dying then contacted its own members asking them to give evidence to its own commission.

In the lead up to the British Medical Association annual representative meeting last June Falconer was embarrassingly dissected by Radio Four’s Ed Stourton on the Sunday Programme and confirmed the bias in composition of the commission.

Not surprisingly a week later the BMA passed a five part motion undermining the commission’s credibility.

About a month later Falconer announced that the commission was now going to start ‘considering’ its evidence. This was not meant to happen until this autumn but the very scant evidence gathered had necessitated this early roll up.

Ever since this time we have been waiting for the announcement of Falconer’s seemingly inevitable conclusion that ‘the law should be changed to allow mentally competent terminally ill people to be helped to kill themselves within strict up-front safeguards’.

Now it seems that we are finally to be put out of our agony. According to the Guardian the commission is going to report in November.

Falconer has apparently concluded that ‘the systems in Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the US state of Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal, would be unacceptable in the UK’.

Well that’s interesting given that Dignity in Dying have been advocating the Oregon model for some years. I suspect that he probably means that he is going to tweak one or two of the Oregon ‘safeguards’ rather than taking them completely as is.

But he also tells us that his commission is set to offer a British, ‘gradualist’ alternative.

Gradualist? That’s a very interesting word. Is he telling us that he is seeing the changes his commission will recommend as a ‘first step’? It certainly does sound like it.

But it leaves us with the question of what the next step (and indeed the final step) will be.

Times newspaper launches its (largely good) ‘silver manifesto’ for elderly people

With all the bad news about elder abuse and neglect in the news lately it was (largely) refreshing to see the Times newspaper this morning launching its ‘Silver manifesto’ – 50 ways to improve age (£)

The Times sets the context as follows:

Barely a day passes without a story of maltreatment and neglect of the elderly in the news, whether in the NHS or care homes sector.

A report in The Times last week revealed that one hospital in five is failing older people so badly that it breaks the law, while stories of poor management, financial problems and abuse have surfaced in residential and nursing homes around the country in the past year.

Yet our population is ageing. The Office for National Statistics predicts that by 2050 one Briton in four will be aged 65 or over, and even with the increases in retirement age due to come into effect, nearly 20 million of us will be pensioners by that time.

It doesn’t matter what your age today, we’re all headed in the same direction. So we felt that it was time to highlight some of the major issues and minor niggles that face us as we grow older.

Here is our silver manifesto . . .

The paper then gives a fifty point plan to improve the lot of older people – here are some highlights:

1 Get the online literacy rate to 100 per cent.

2 Don’t let the Government keep your money.

4 Increase the time available to pedestrians on crossings.

13 Make text on menus bigger.

22 Give older people a role in schools

24 Treat people with respect and consideration.

27 Run care homes like homes — not hospitals.

33 Take an interest in your elderly neighbours.

38 Make education more accessible for mature students.

48 Create more public toilets. And signpost them well.

50 Phone your mum. Ring now — you know you want to.

If these suggestions were put into play it would make a huge difference.

But I was disappointed to see the Times, in accordance with its current pro-euthanasia editorial policy, also sneaking in a reference (19) to ‘clarifying’ the law on ‘assisted dying’. We all know what that means!

The Times, which many regard as the voice of the establishment was once opposed to assisted suicide and euthanasia, but it changed its editorial policy in 2009 to support an amendment by Lord Falconer which would have legalised assisted suicide.

The amendment was thankfully defeated by a heavy margin on grounds that it would undermine the safety of vulnerable people.

But with Falconer’s discredited ‘commission on assisted dying’ about to report we are seeing the pro-euthanasia campaign ratcheting up its celebrity driven campaign for a change in the law.

Be warned.