Monday 30 January 2012

Council of Europe states that ‘Euthanasia must always be prohibited’

Last Wednesday, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a non-binding resolution concerning Advanced Directives, Living Wills, Power of Attorneys and Consent to Treatment under the title: Protecting human rights and dignity by taking into account previously expressed wishes of patients.

This resolution did not specifically concern the issue of euthanasia, nonetheless Article 5 of the resolution states:

‘Euthanasia, in the sense of the intentional killing by act or omission of a dependent human being for his or her alleged benefit, must always be prohibited.’

The resolution is comprised of a list of principles already elaborated in three documents previously adopted in the Council of Europe, including the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine (Oviedo Convention), which legally binds the majority of member States.

This statement follows a similar decision on January 20, 2011 by the European court of Human Rights which found that the state has no obligation to provide citizens with the means to commit suicide.

Even though this is a non-binding resolution, it does make it clear that euthanasia is an act that must always be prohibited.

Read the commentary about this resolution by the European Center for Law and Justice.

From Alex Schadenberg’s Blog

Sunday 29 January 2012

Christian GP in appeal against home office for unjust sacking

The Daily Mail this weekend has run a long feature on Dr Hans-Christian Raabe, which is well worth reading.

Dr Raabe, a Christian GP from Manchester, was sacked by the Home Office from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) last February for failing to declare that he had co-authored a paper in 2005, while he was living in Canada, suggesting that there was an association between homosexuality and paedophilia.

The German-born doctor has since been granted permission for a judicial review against Home Secretary Theresa May, which is set to commence later this year.

Dr Raabe, who is being represented by leading human rights lawyer James Dingemans QC, hopes to win back his committee post and, in so doing, stand up for Christians, who he believes are becoming increasingly marginalised and excluded from public office.

The Home Secretary has come under pressure from a variety of sources to offer an apology to Dr Hans-Christian Raabe, but has so far declined.

The paper in question summarised scientific evidence, which was in the public domain, and it was one paragraph, mentioning homosexuality and paedophilia together, which apparently caused the Home Office ‘embarrassment’.

The offending paragraph states: ‘While the majority of homosexuals are not involved in paedophilia, it is of grave concern that there are a disproportionately greater number of homosexuals among paedophiles.’

However, the Home Office had also made essentially the same point in a document it published, which states (2nd para, page 14): ‘Twenty to 33 per cent of child sexual abuse is homosexual in nature and about 10 per cent mixed.’ (See also here)

As I have reported previously there are actually a significant number of articles in peer-reviewed journals supporting Dr Raabe’s view.

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.

In a democratic and multicultural society people should be free to hold, express and act in accordance with their beliefs and convictions rather than being pushed out of public life.

Dr Raabe has been treated appallingly by the Home Office. I wish him all the very best in his appeal.

Sexual freedom and relationship breakdown cost Britain £100 billion annually

The costs of sexual freedom and relationship breakdown to the taxpayer and wider economy total some £100 billion annually; about twice as much as alcohol abuse, smoking and obesity combined.

This is the astounding conclusion of the latest ‘Cambridge Paper’, ‘Free sex: Who pays? Moral hazard and sexual ethics’, by Jubilee Centre researcher Guy Brandon.

Rather than addressing fundamental moral issues around sexual freedom, Brandon employs a utilitarian approach and attempts to quantify its financial impact. He argues that sexual freedom ‘represents an enormous moral hazard and, as a result, unsustainable and unjust public expenditure’. Furthermore, these costs are imposed on society as a whole, rather than borne solely by the individuals most directly responsible.

He first surveys the ‘changing landscape of sexual freedom’. The average age of first intercourse has fallen from 21 in the 1950s to 16 now. The divorce rate has risen from 4.4 per 1,000 in 1970 to 11.1 people per 1,000 in 2010. Forty years ago 85 per cent of first unions were marriage but now 85 per cent are cohabitations. Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) in England rose 74 per cent between 1998 and 2009 and abortions increased from 54,819 in 1969 to 189,574 in 2010.

These trends are familiar to all of us with an interest in these issues but what financial burden do they bring?

Arguing on the basis of the link between sexual freedom and the breakdown of subsequent relationships Brandon attempts to quantify the total financial burden by estimating both direct and indirect costs.

STIs are estimated to cost the NHS – and therefore the taxpayer – more than £1 billion per year. There are also longer-term costs. HIV treatment is now estimated at around £0.5 billion a year in the UK. Teenage pregnancy costs the NHS £63 million per year, and a further £29 million for infertility and other complications arising from chlamydia alone. 96 per cent of abortions are paid for by the NHS, at a cost of £118 million.

Breakdown Britain claimed that family breakdown directly costs the taxpayer £24 billion per year but the Jubilee Centre’s own analysis has shown that the figure is almost twice as high, £42 billion. Much of this comes from payments of tax credits and lone parent benefits, housing benefits, and the health, crime and educational impact of relationship breakdown.

This sum – nearly £1,400 per year for every taxpayer – is equivalent to 6 per cent of public spending for 2011.

This represents one-third of the Health Care budget, or roughly the same as the entire Defence budget or the interest on the national debt.

But £42 billion is only the immediate cost to the taxpayer of relationship breakdown. There are even larger indirect costs to the economy from absenteeism, domestic violence and educational underachievement.

Brandon estimates the annual cost to the economy of lost working hours following divorce at £20 billion, which includes both straightforward absenteeism and presenteeism (when people attend work but are distracted and unproductive due to stress).

Domestic violence costs the taxpayer £4 billion per year, and a further £3.4 billion in lost economic output. The additional ‘human and emotional costs’ are £21 billion.

Finally, there are the unquantifiable future costs of educational underachievement, worklessness, addiction and mental health problems that Breakdown Britain identified as going hand-in-hand with relationship breakdown.

Children who grow up in dysfunctional households frequently do not have the same life chances as those with more stable backgrounds. Brandon estimates, on the basis of an Australian study, that this reduces GDP by £6 billion annually.

Although the personal financial impact of sexual freedom can be high, it is often comparatively limited and the costs fall instead on the taxpayer. The UK Treasury does not make the link between the vast costs of relationship breakdown and its drivers, David Cameron’s emphasis on the family notwithstanding. Public policy barely acknowledges the existence of the problem, let alone the scale.

Brandon does not give direct references for his estimates of the financial cost of smoking, obesity and alcohol.

However, a BBC investigation in 2007 estimated the annual cost of obesity to be £2 billion to the NHS and £7 billion to the UK economy.

A 2009 Oxford University study funded by the British Heart Foundation estimated that smoking cost the NHS £5 billion annually and another Oxford study the same year estimated the cost to the NHS of alcohol-related sickness to be £3 billion.

These estimates for tobacco and alcohol costs do not include the wider indirect costs that the Cambridge paper has considered for sexual freedom and relationship breakdown.

Brandon concludes that the moral hazard that arises from our society’s uncritical endorsement of sexual freedom results in massive public costs. He argues that there are three ways of containing such an unsustainable liability, and unpacks the third preferred approach in some detail.

The current ‘Big State’ approach factors in the costs of sexual freedom, thereby actually increasing moral hazard and pushing the financial implications of individuals’ choices – totalling many tens of billions of pounds – onto the taxpayer and wider economy.

Harsh legislation to reduce sexual freedom, similar to Sharia Law, is an even less attractive option.

The third solution, found in the biblical model, is to effect a cultural change and foster greater accountability for sexual choices, strengthening extended families by increasing rootedness and giving them joint financial interests.

In this the Christian sexual ethic of faithfulness and stability has not only spiritual justification but offers a pragmatic answer to a failing culture that generally views Christian standards as hopelessly out of date.

The paper will undoubtedly stimulate debate and arouse controversy and is well worth reading.

Friday 27 January 2012

Holocaust Memorial Day – 27 January 2012

Most when remembering the holocaust will think of six million Jews but apparently this was only the final chapter in the story. What ended in the 1940s in the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Belsen and Treblinka had much more humble beginnings in the 1930s in nursing homes, geriatric hospitals and psychiatric institutions all over Germany.

I have previously written about lessons we can learn from the grisly history of the Nazi doctors.

Dr Leo Alexander, a psychiatrist who worked for the Office of the Chief of Counsel for war Crimes at Nuremberg, described the process whereby doctors were instrumental in the euthanasia programme as follows:

'The beginnings at first were merely a subtle shift in emphasis in the basic attitude of the physicians. It started with the attitude, basic in the euthanasia movement that there is such a thing as a life not worthy to be lived. This attitude in its early stages concerned itself merely with the severely and chronically sick. Gradually the sphere of those to be included in this category was enlarged to encompass the socially unproductive, the ideologically unwanted, the racially unwanted and finally all non-Germans.'

With the advantage of hindsight we are understandably amazed that the German people and especially the German medical profession were fooled into accepting it. The judgement of the War Crimes Tribunal in 1949 as to how they were fooled was as follows.

'Had the profession taken a strong stand against the mass killing of sick Germans before the war, it is conceivable that the entire idea and technique of death factories for genocide would not have materialized...but far from opposing the Nazi state militantly, part of the medical profession co-operated consciously and even willingly, while the remainder acquiesced in silence. Therefore our regretful but inevitable judgement must be that the responsibility for the inhumane perpetrations of Dr Brandt (pictured above)...and others, rests in large measure upon the bulk of the medical profession; because the profession without vigorous protest, permitted itself to be ruled by such men.' (War Crimes Tribunal. 'Doctors of Infamy'. 1948)

Six million Jewish men, women and chlidren...'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it'(George Santayana)

In June 1947 the British Medical Association published a statement on ‘War Crimes and Medicine’ which it later submitted to the General Assembly of the World Medical Association in September1947.

The statement included the following:

‘The evidence given in the trials of medical war criminals has shocked the medical profession of the world. These trials have shown that the doctors who were guilty of these crimes against humanity lacked both the moral and professional conscience that is to be expected of members of this honourable profession. They departed from the traditional medical ethic which maintains the value and sanctity of every individual human being.’ (emphasis mine)

The statement majors, as one might expect, on the atrocities carried out by German doctors during the Nazi holocaust, but returns again and again to general principles about respect for life:

‘The doctors who took part in these deeds did not become criminals in a moment. Their amoral methods were the result of training and conditioning to regard science as an instrument in the hands of the State to be applied in any way desired by its rulers. It is to be assumed that initially they did not realize that the ideas of those who held political power would lead to the denial of the fundamental values on which Medicine is based. Whatever the causes such crimes must never be allowed to recur. Research in medicine as well as its practice must never be separated from eternal moral values. Doctors must be quick to point out to their fellow members of society the likely consequences of policies that degrade or deny fundamental human rights.’ (emphasis mine)

But most interesting is the document's conclusion:

‘Although there have been many changes in Medicine, the spirit of the Hippocratic Oath cannot change and can be reaffirmed by the profession. It enjoins…The duty of curing, the greatest crime being co-operation in the destruction of life by murder, suicide and abortion.’ (emphasis mine)

The BMA was once strongly opposed to abortion. But it has chosen to discard its own ethics. A vigorously pro-abortion position has now been wholeheartedly embraced and is ardently defended by its present leadership.

Seven million British unborn babies who would now be men, women and children...'Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it'.

The case of ‘Martin’ – grandstanding by lawyers and the BBC

Lawyers for a stroke victim who wants help to end his ‘intolerable’ life can continue to act on his behalf without fear of prosecution or disciplinary action after a High Court ruling today.

They successfully urged two judges in London to grant them a declaration which will protect them and third parties, including doctors, during preparations for a ‘landmark’ judicial review action brought by a man in his 40s with ‘locked-in syndrome’.

Making the order, Lord Justice Toulson, sitting with Mr Justice Charles, described it as a ‘tragic’ and ‘exceptional’ case which raised ‘thorny legal and ethical issues’.

The claimant, who cannot be named but was referred to as Martin in court, suffered a ‘massive’ stroke three years ago at the age of 43, and describes his life as ‘undignified and intolerable’.

He is unable to move, is able to communicate only by moving his eyes, requires constant care, and is entirely dependent on others for every aspect of his life.

When his judicial review application is eventually aired at the High Court, Martin will challenge the Director of Public Prosecution’s policy on assisted suicide, which he argues is insufficiently clear and fails to have regard to someone in his position.

He is not requesting a change in the law but is asking that the DPP amend his current guidance so that professionals would not face criminal and/or disciplinary action if they helped him end his life.

Under the Suicide Act 1961 assisting or encouraging a suicide is a crime carrying a discretionary sentence of up to 14 years. But in each case the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) must decide whether there is enough evidence to bring a prosecution and whether it is in the public interest to do so.

The public interest test is decided on the basis of applying a number of criteria published following after a public consultation in February 2010.

Under one of these criteria the DPP is more likely to bring a prosecution if he believes that the assister is ‘acting in his or her capacity as a medical doctor, nurse, other healthcare professional, a professional carer (whether for payment or not), or as a person in authority...’

This clause has led medical insurance firms to urge doctors to exercise great caution when dealing with suicide cases and the matter is also the subject of a consultation about to be launched by the General Medical Council.

The Medical Defence Union’s advice to its members remains that ‘doctors approached by patients for advice about suicide should not engage in discussion which assists the patient to that end. Members who are faced with requests for help from patients, including for example the provision of medical reports, should contact us for advice.’

The Medical Protection Society (MPS) – which provides indemnity, legal and professional support to around half of all doctors in the UK – says that ‘doctors who have even the slightest suspicion that their patient may be planning an assisted suicide should proceed with extreme caution and not comply with requests for medical or travel reports’.

The judges today granted a declaration for the ‘broad purpose’ of ‘stating that the solicitors may obtain information from third parties and from appropriate experts for the purpose of placing material before the court and that third parties may co-operate in so doing without the people involved acting in any way unlawfully’.

Part of the order means that law firm Leigh Day & Co can communicate with Dignitas for information about its services and also take steps to ‘identify one or more people or bodies that might be willing to assist Martin’.

The judge said it ‘seems plain’ from the DPP's statement of policy that his wife would not be at risk of prosecution, should she assist him but she has made it clear that she ‘does not wish to play any part in hastening his death’. No other family member is willing to help him end his life.

Martin had ‘turned to solicitors to see whether there are lawful means by which he may achieve his wish’.

Lord Justice Toulson said the solicitors had made the application for the ‘protection’ of themselves and others they intend to approach, but ‘ultimately for the protection of Martin so he can obtain the advice and information he needs to have his application properly presented’.

The order they argue would provide ‘clarity’ for the solicitors and others.

It is hard to see why this case, which challenges the DPP’s policy about whether doctors and other professionals assisting with assisted suicide are likely to be prosecuted, should be getting such high profile news coverage.

It is currently at a very early stage and does not change the law in any way. All that has been granted in effect is permission to gather evidence to bring a case before the courts.

However, the fact that it has been seized upon and given such high prominence by the BBC, in what appears to be nothing other that a carefully calculated publicity stunt, speaks volumes about our national broadcaster’s ongoing commitment to cheerleading for assisted suicide and their blatant and consistent disregard for international media guidelines aimed at curbing suicide contagion.

Martin’s lawyers, Leigh Day & Co, also seem to be milking the case for all the publicity they can get. Quite why we needed all this hype and fuss just around gaining permission just to bring a case is rather odd – I suspect it is mainly just a bit grandstanding.

Update on assisted suicide and euthanasia from Care Not Killing

Falconer Commission

Lord Falconer’s Commission on Assisted Dying reported on 5 January 2012 predictably recommending a change in the law to recommend assisted suicide (and not euthanasia) for mentally competent adults with less than twelve months to live. CNK played a prominent role in discrediting the Commission with 40 media interviews. CNK has also created four videos about the Commission here.

MPs debate Care for the Dying

David Burrowes MP headed up a Westminster Hall debate with a positive reflection of how we should care best for the elderly in our society. The debate highlighted the desire among the 20 MPs attending for the debate about end of life issues to be framed around the provision of excellent palliative care rather than any measure to introduce assisted suicide. Richard Ottaway MP will talk in March to MPs from the Commons Backbench Business Committee arguing for a change in the law.

Margo Macdonald to reintroduce new Bill

Margo Macdonald MSP has announced that she is going to try again to legalise assisted suicide in Scotland, just over a year after her last failed attempt. She has unveiled a new consultation on the issue and among her proposals is a suggestion that ‘licensed facilitators’ would need to be present when someone is at the point of ending their own life to ensure that lethal drugs are ‘taken correctly’.

Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe (PACE) adopts non-binding resolution

A vote on the resolution for ‘Protection of human rights and dignity by taking account of previously expressed wishes of patients’ was a clear statement against euthanasia by this European Political Institution of 47 member states. The resolution strongly states, ‘Euthanasia in the sense of intentional killing by act or omission of a dependent human being for his or her alleged benefit, must always be prohibited.’

Tony Nicklinson in court

Tony Nicklinson, a 57 year old man paralysed from the neck down, has begun a court battle to allow doctors to end his life, in an assault on the Murder Act 1965. Such a change would have far reaching implications by potentially removing legal protection from large numbers of sick and disabled people.

Euthanasia of woman with advanced dementia in Netherlands sounds warning to Britain

A 64 year old woman suffering from severe senile dementia has been euthanised in the Netherlands – even though she was no longer able to express her wish to die. The case shows that legalising assisted suicide or euthanasia in Britain would be a recipe for the abuse and exploitation of elderly, dying and disabled people.

Dignitas figures overhyped

An article in the Daily Telegraph attempted to make news of a slight rise in the number of Britons registered with the controversial Swiss suicide facility. These deaths, around 20 a year, represent a tiny fraction of the 500,000 natural deaths that occur in Britain annually.

A new milestone in irresponsible media reporting

In December an international media platform was given to a new case of assisted suicide involving a media personality who was dying of cancer. The story broke virtually every international guideline on media suicide portrayal and marked a new milestone in irresponsible media reporting.

‘Life’ sentences for murder are necessary to deter would be mercy killers

The Homicide Review Advisory Group advised in December a revision of sentences for murder under the murder act 1965. Further developments await.

Debate at Festival of the Dying

Dr Peter Saunders and Kevin Fitzpatrick OBE will be debating Debbie Purdy and Dr Philip Graham with Jon Snow at the Southbank Centre’s Festival for the Living on 28 January.

Further Articles

•Lessons from Stephen Hawking and Kathryn Higham about assisted suicide.
•Overview of assisted suicide in the United States
GMC consultation due for guidance on dealing with complaints of assisted suicide
•Why legalising assisted suicide also inevitably legalises euthanasia

Thursday 26 January 2012

Peter Tatchell comes clean that homosexuality is neither biologically determined nor fixed

Many people think that homosexuality is a biological characteristic like race or sex – biologically fixed and genetically determined.

They think this because this is the view that has been successfully propagated by the gay rights lobby for decades in order to provide a justification for arguing that ‘homophobia’ is a form of discrimination akin to racism or sexism.

This belief has also been behind moves to treat discrimination against 'practising' homosexuals as a human rights issue by pretending that homosexuals are a biological category like 'women' or 'asians' whose distinctive features are genetically determined rather than just a group who have simply made a certain life-style choice.

But in fact the strength and direction of erotic attraction, although relatively stable in some people, can be quite changeable in others – it is often not fixed at all.

Similarly identical twins often have different sexual orientations proving that, although sexual orientation may have some genetic influences, it is not genetically determined. There is, in other words, no such thing as the gay gene.

Sexual orientation is much more accurately thought of in the category of a conditioned (and often variable) preference than a determined biological condition.

Most researchers now accept that sexual orientation (the predominant direction of sexual attraction one feels) is the result of a complex interaction in which nature, nurture and choice all play a part. But whether one acts on those feelings by having same sex relations is actually a matter of personal choice (see my previous blog on the difference between same sex feelings, orientation, identity and behaviour).

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has stated, ‘some people believe that sexual orientation is innate and fixed; however, sexual orientation develops across a person's lifetime’. The APA also says that ‘for some the focus of sexual interest will shift at various points through the life span...’

A report from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health similarly states, ‘For some people, sexual orientation is continuous and fixed throughout their lives. For others, sexual orientation may be fluid and change over time’

And in a recent Huffington Post article, ‘Future Sex: Beyond Gay and Straight’, gay rights activist Peter Tatchell affirms the fluidity of sexual attraction.

First he affirms the reality of bisexuality:

‘We already know, thanks to a host of sex surveys, that bisexuality is an fact of life and that even in narrow-minded, homophobic cultures, many people have a sexuality that is, to varying degrees, capable of both heterosexual and homosexual attraction.’

Then he challenges the traditional view that gay and straight are distinct categories:

‘Research by Dr Alfred Kinsey in the USA during the 1940s was the first major statistical evidence that gay and straight are not watertight, irreconcilable and mutually exclusive sexual orientations. He found that human sexuality is, in fact, a continuum of desires and behaviours, ranging from exclusive heterosexuality to exclusive homosexuality. A substantial proportion of the population shares an amalgam of same-sex and opposite-sex feelings - even if they do not act on them.’

He then goes on to quote Kinsey’s (grossly inflated) assessments of the incidence of homosexuality whilst acknowledging that they ‘have since been criticised as out-of-date, exaggerated and unrepresentative’.

Tatchell also acknowledges that ‘evidence from sociology and anthropology (shows) that the incidence and form of heterosexuality and homosexuality is not fixed and universal, and that the two sexual orientations are not mutually exclusive. There is a good deal of fluidity and overlap.’

‘What's more,’ he adds, ‘although scientific evidence shows that human sexuality is significantly affected by biological predispositions - such as genes and hormones - other influences appear to be cultural, including social expectations, peer pressure and the availability and opportunity for sexual release. These influences channel erotic impulses in certain directions and not others.’

In fact he even goes so far as to suggest that some homosexual identities are formed as a result of people reacting to perceived prejudice in others:

‘Gay and lesbian identities are largely the product of homophobic prejudice and repression. They are a self-defence mechanism against homophobia. Faced with persecution for having same-sex relations, the right to have those relationships has to be defended - hence gay identity and the gay rights movement.’

Tatchell, despite these admissions, grossly inflates the true incidence of exclusive homosexuality.

The best evidence (1,2,3) actually suggests that only a very small percentage of men (1-2%) and women (0.5-1.5%) experience exclusive same-sex attraction throughout their life course. It appears that more men and women experience mixed patterns of sexual interest. This includes shifts of interest from one sex to another at various points in their lives or attractions to both sexes at the same time.

Tatchell is right though in saying that bisexuality appears to be more prevalent than exclusive gay/lesbian and if defined in terms of same sex behaviours in past year, may be as much as 5% in men and 11% in women aged 15-44 (4).

Sexual attractions are therefore best understood as lying on a spectrum rather than in terms of a simple dichotomous binary categorisation. Survey data suggest that mixed patterns of sexual desire, including attraction to both sexes at the same time, appear to be more common than exclusive same sex attraction, especially among women.

So what?

Well, like many, I am getting rather tired of the term ‘homophobic’ being used as an accusatory label to tar anyone who does not accept, approve and celebrate same-sex sexual relationships and believe that homosexual orientation is a biological characteristic like race or sex.

There are a large and growing number of people (I call them ‘homosceptics’) who neither hate nor fear ‘gay’ people but simply believe that sex outside a lifelong exclusive heterosexual marriage is morally wrong and the fact that we have certain feelings of sexual attraction does not mean that we should therefore act on them.

These people are also highly sceptical about the key presuppositions on which the gay rights movement has based its campaign, such as the beliefs that:

• Homosexuality is genetically determined
• Homosexual orientation is always fixed
• Sexual orientation is a biological characteristic like race, sex or skin colour
• Feelings of same sex attraction should be welcomed and acted upon
• Offering help to those who wish to resist or eradicate these feelings is always wrong

Tacthell’s arguments above, and the findings of recent research, confirm that these beliefs are actually more ‘ideology-driven’ than ‘evidence-based’.

But Tatchell, by suggesting that gay and straight are not distinct categories at all, has also pulled the rug out from under the feet of the gay rights’ movement.

Of course if you accept these ‘key presuppositions’ in spite of the evidence to the contrary you may well believe that people who don’t are ignorant, bigoted, prejudiced or even immoral. You might even feel that such people should not hold public office, publicly express their views or hold any job which involves having to condone, promote or facilitate same-sex intimacy. And you might feel justified in branding everyone who does not share your views as 'homophobic'.

But if you have any sort of intellectual integrity, then you should accept that you have adopted these beliefs in the face of, in fact in spite of, the evidence.

And if so you should stop using divisive labels, and accept rather that there are some people who believe with good cause that to treat homosexual orientation as a fixed biological characteristic like race or sex is to confer upon it a status that it does not and should not have.


1. Dickson, N, C Paul, and P Herbison. ‘Same-Sex Attraction in a Birth Cohort: Prevalence and Persistence in Early Adulthood’.Social Science & Medicine 56, No. 8 (2003): 1607-15.

2. Laumann, Edward O., John H. Gagnon, Robert T. Michael, and Stuart Michaels. The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994.

3. Savin-Williams, RC, and GL Ream. ‘Prevalence and Stability of Sexual Orientation Components During Adolescence and Young Adulthood’. Archives of Sexual Behavior 36 (2007): 385-94.

4. Last year, two important reports have been published in the United States. The 2011 National Health Statistics Report (NHSR) is a nationally representative, multi-stage study that investigates a wide range of sexual attractions and behaviours (A. Chandra et al., Sexual Behaviour, Sexual Attraction, and Sexual Identity in the United States, US Department of Health and Human Services, 2011). A review from the UCLA School of Law combines data from nine recent surveys (G. J. Gates, How Many People are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender?, The Williams Institute, UCLA, 2011)

Diane Abbott throws hissy fit over abortion counseling

A shadow health minister has resigned from a cross-party group of MPs which had been set up to lay the framework for a public consultation on how counselling should be provided for pregnant women.

Labour MP Diane Abbott, who was in the news earlier this month over allegations of racism following an outburst on twitter, has claimed that the government wants to make provision for groups other than abortion providers to offer counselling and that the committee is being used a 'front' for pro-lfe MPs.

But Tory MP Nadine Dorries, who is in favour of women receiving independent counselling, said Ms Abbott's comments were ‘nonsense’ and that Ms Abbott had ‘no clue’ about what had gone on at the group's meetings because she had only attended two out of three events, being late for one and sleeping through another.

The government will shortly launch a consultation on pregnancy counseling and has given indications of being open to the possibility that women might be given an offer of counseling independent of abortion 'providers'.

Health Minister Ann Milton, who was chairing the group, has said, 'It's disappointing when anyone walks away from constructive talks on such an important issue. Talks are continuing encompassing the wide range of views on abortion. I believe we have all been encouraged about how constructive they have been and how well the meetings are progressing.'

Abbott's resignation has thrown the pro-abortion lobby and abortion providers into overdrive and the MP, in an apparent attempt to manipulate the political process, has thrown her toys out of the pram and stormed off in a huff.

But in so doing all she has done is draw attention to her unwillingness to participate in democratic debate and fight her corner.

Ann Furedi, chief executive of the charity BPAS which receives millions of pounds of taxpayers money every year to perform abortions, has accused the health minister of 'blatantly' disregarding the abortion industry's advice.

Abortion providers, like BPAS and MSI, which carry out over 110,000 abortions a year, gained a stranglehold over abortion provision during the last government and now receive £75 million pounds annually from the NHS for providing this 'service'.

They have recently been granted permission to advertise on television so that they can grow their market share even further.

After having things their own way for so long it seems they are reluctant to relinquish any control of the abortion pathway to give women who opt for it any choice to explore alternatives to abortion through other counselling providers.

Wednesday 25 January 2012

Monty Python, the Australian Open and same-sex marriage

In Monty Python’s Life of Brian the members of ‘The People's Front of Judea’ are sitting in the amphitheatre (see video).

Stan (far left) has just announced that he wants to be a woman and is explaining why.

The dialogue runs as follows:

FRANCIS: Why are you always on about women, Stan?
STAN: ... I want to be one.
REG: ... What?
STAN: I want to be a woman… I want to have babies.
REG: You want to have babies?!?!?!
STAN: It's every man's right to have babies if he wants them.
REG: But you can't have babies.
STAN: Don't you oppress me.
REG: I'm not oppressing you, Stan -- you haven't got a womb. Where's the fetus going to gestate? You going to keep it in a box?
(STAN starts crying.)
JUDITH: Here! I've got an idea. Suppose you agree that he can't actually have babies, not having a womb, which is nobody's fault, not even the Romans', but that he can have the *right* to have babies.
FRANCIS: Good idea, Judith. We shall fight the oppressors for your right to have babies, brother. Sister, sorry.
REG: What's the point?
REG: What's the point of fighting for his right to have babies, when he can't have babies?
FRANCIS: It is symbolic of our struggle against oppression.
REG: It's symbolic of his struggle against reality.

Stan is seeking a right, having babies, which he cannot exercise, because he is not actually a woman. But he fails to recognise this reality and instead claims that he is being oppressed.

At the Australian Open, there was talk of a coordinated protest against former champion Margaret Court’s opposition to same sex marriage (she is now an evangelical Christian pastor), and a Facebook campaign to wave rainbow flags on court.

But in the end it was just the British player Laura Robson who showed her colours by wearing a rainbow coloured headband.

Robson seemed slightly befuddled by the ensuing international media coverage she received, but concluded: ‘I wore it because I believe in equal rights for everyone.’

Robson’s unspoken presupposition, which is shared by many, is that in a free society, equality demands that every activity should be open to everyone.

And yet Robson was herself participating in a tournament, the Australian open tennis tournament, that was clearly not open to everyone, and for which only very few people were able to qualify.

Many activities other than tennis tournaments are open to some people but not to others: attending university, visiting a foreign country, applying for a job, casting a vote, entering a private club, playing a round of golf or visiting Buckingham Palace.

Similarly virtually all rights are balanced with restrictions – not everyone is allowed to drink alcohol, drive a car, buy property, own a firearm or participate in a 100m women’s Olympic event. You must fulfil certain requirements.

We all accept these restrictions largely without question. Not everyone has a right to participate in these activities.

This raises the question as to why some gay rights activists, politicians and members of the public are seemingly unable to understand or accept that marriage, as a special kind of relationship, is available for some people but not for others.

Introducing ‘same-sex marriage’ would confer almost no additional legal rights: same-sex couples have these already thanks to the Civil Partnership Act 2004. The President of the Family Division has even described civil partnerships as conferring ‘the benefits of marriage in all but name’.

There are some differences in English law, between a marriage and a civil partnership, but these differences focus not on the rights they confer, but on the genders of the partners, the procedure and place where the partnership is formed, and the roles of consummation and adultery in making and breaking the relationship. These differences are there because they are different types of relationship. It is not 'one size fits all'.

But the leaders of Britain's major political parties, including prime minister David Cameron, seem not to grasp this and are wanting to lump civil partnerships and marriages together.

When asked this week by Archbishop Peter Smith what additional rights marriage would give same sex couples that they did not have already under the Civil Partnership Act, Home Secretary Theresa May was not surprisingly unable to give an answer.

And yet during their meeting Mrs May said that the Government intended to introduce same-sex marriage regardless and that the consultation was merely to help with the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the legislation.

But marriage – like any of the activities listed above – has never been open to everyone. In order to marry one must be legally ‘free to marry’, that is, aged 16 or over and single, widowed or divorced and there are also restrictions on who, you can marry. You cannot, for example, marry certain close relatives, marry more than one person or marry someone of the same sex.

This is because marriage is a human institution bound by legal contract – with a specific legal definition, ‘the voluntary union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others for life’ (Hyde vs Hyde;1866).

Calling something 'marriage' that is not marriage, in order to appease a vocal minority, does not make any sense.

It is not up to governments to redefine marriage – but simply to recognise it for what it is, and to accept that it is not open to everybody.

A same sex relationship, however committed or permanent, is not marriage and should not be called marriage. To fight to have a same sex relationship called marriage – when marriage is actually something quite different – is not unlike Stan fighting for his right to have babies when he is not actually a woman who is designed to have babies.

It is not a struggle against oppression but a struggle against reality.

Tuesday 24 January 2012

Margo Macdonald dishes up the same confused euthanasia proposals again

Margo Macdonald today announced that she is going to try again to legalise assisted suicide and/or euthanasia (it’s not clear which) in Scotland, just over a year after her last spectacular failure.

Ms MacDonald, Scotland’s only independent MSP, said in unveiling a new consultation on the issue, that she has ‘learned lessons’ from her previous attempt and is proposing a ‘clearer, more straightforward process’.

Among her new proposals is a suggestion that trained ‘licensed facilitators’ would need to be present when someone is at the point of ending their own life to ensure that lethal drugs are ‘taken correctly’.

But on who will actually qualify for assisted suicide under her bill she is less clear.

She told the BBC that it would be for those who are ‘suffering a terminal illness or condition, for whom life becomes intolerable’.

But then she told the Daily Record that it was for anyone who’s ‘life has been made intolerable by an irrecoverable illness’.

And the Scotsman quotes her as supporting assisted suicide when a patient’s life has ‘become intolerable to him or her as a result of their irreversible condition’.

So what is it Margo – ‘terminal illness’, ‘terminal condition’, ‘irrecoverable illness’ or ‘irreversible condition’?

And how are you defining ‘terminal’, ‘irrecoverable’ and ‘irreversible’?

Tetraplegia is usually irreversible but not terminal. Diabetes is ‘irrecoverable’ without treatment but not ‘irreversible’ with it. Leukemia is ‘terminal’ but not irrecoverable if managed properly. And literally hundreds of thousands of British people suffer from conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and chronic bronchitis which are ‘irrecoverable’ but partly reversible and not terminal.

We will have to wait and see Ms Macdonald’s specific proposals but thus far they are rather confused and do not sound much different from those in her last ‘End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill’ which the Scottish Parliament rejected overwhelmingly by 85 to 16 at its first stage debate in November 2010.

On that occasion 87% of all who made written submissions to the scrutinising committee were opposed to it and the committee overwhelmingly recommended that it be rejected. Scottish GPs later added their voices to those calling for it to be dumped.

MSPs rejected Ms Macdonald's last attempt to legalise physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia in Scotland recognizing that such a move would seriously endanger public safety. Instead they sent a ringing endorsement to making the very best palliative care widely available and accessible.

The key argument that decided the last vote and the similar votes in the House of Lords in 2006 and 2009 is a simple one: 'The right to die can so easily become the duty to die.'

Vulnerable people who are sick, elderly or disabled can so easily feel pressure, whether real or imagined, to end their lives so as not to be a burden on others.

Ms Macdonald’s new proposals sound very much like the old ones dished up again. I expect the Scottish parliament to give them short shrift.

Past blogs on Margo Macdonald’s last bill

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

Overwhelming defeat for Margo Macdonald's End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill

Monday 23 January 2012

Tony Nicklinson – there are limits to choice in a free society

As reported in the Guardian, Telegraph and Huffington Post, Tony Nicklinson, a 57 year old man paralysed from the neck down after suffering a stroke that left him with locked-in syndrome, today began a high court battle to allow doctors to end his life.

Today’s hearing was a ‘pre-trial review’ and a Ministry of Justice lawyer argued that the case should be struck out on the grounds that it is a matter for parliament, rather than the courts, to decide.

I have blogged on this case in some detail previously so will not review the background again here.

But the key point to grasp is that Nicklinson, because he is not capable of killing himself even with assistance, is not seeking assisted suicide but euthanasia. So this is an assault on the Murder Act 1965 and not the Suicide Act 1961.

Nicklinson is pushing for an even greater change in the law than either the controversial Falconer Commission on ‘Assisted Dying’ or the lobby group Dignity in Dying (formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society). They claim to be campaigning for assisted suicide for people who are terminally ill – but euthanasia is one step further than assisted suicide and Nicklinson is not terminally ill.

Such a change would have far reaching implications by potentially removing legal protection from large numbers of sick and disabled people.

No one can help but be sympathetic to Tony Nicklinson but cases like his are extremely rare and hard cases make bad law. The overwhelming majority of people with severe disability - even with ‘locked-in syndrome’ - do not wish to die but rather want support to live.

The current law is clear and right and does not need fixing or further weakening. On the one hand the penalties it holds in reserve act as a powerful deterrent to exploitation and abuse by those who might have an interest, financial or otherwise, in the deaths of vulnerable people. On the other hand the law gives judges some discretion to temper justice with mercy when sentencing in hard cases. We should not be meddling with it.

Any further removal of legal protection by creating exceptions for bringing prosecutions would encourage unscrupulous people to take liberties and would place more vulnerable people – those who are elderly, disabled, sick or depressed – under pressure to end their lives so as not impose a burden on family, carers or society.

Even in a free democratic society there are limits to choice. Every law limits choice and stops some people doing what they might desperately wish to do but this is necessary in order to maintain protection for others.

Significance of Dignitas assisted suicide deaths greatly overhyped

An article in the Daily Telegraph this morning attempts to make news of the fact that figures from Dignitas, the Swiss assisted suicide organisation, show a slight rise in the number of Britons registered.

893 members from this country had registered with the controversial facility by the end of last year,up 14 per cent on the figure for 2010. This means that more Britons belong to Dignitas than people from every other country except Germany.

In total, 182 people from this country have now ended their lives with the group’s help since it was set up in 1998, although the annual figure fell from 26 in 2010 to 22 last year.

No doubt this report will lead for further demands from the pro-euthanasia lobby for a change in the law.

But we need to keep it all in perspective.

These Dignitas deaths, around 20 per year, represent a tiny fraction, less than one in 25,000, of the 500,000 natural deaths that occur in Britain annually. They also need to be set alongside the 1,200 deaths we would see annually, based on House of Lords calculations, with an Oregon type law in Britain, or the 13,000 deaths we would see with a Dutch law.

They also represent an infinitesimal minority of the 70,000 people living with multiple sclerosis, the 120,000 living with Parkinson's disease or indeed the more than 150,000 who die from cancer each year.

There will always be a small group of desperate people taking desperate measures to push the boundaries of any law. This does not mean we should change the law. The present laws against assisted suicide and euthanasia in Britain provide a powerful deterrent against exploitation and abuse whilst giving discretion to judges and prosecutors to temper justice with mercy in hard cases. They are working well and do not need changing. The law is there to protect those who are vulnerable and not to give liberties to the determined.

The hugely disproportionate media coverage given to this small number of tragic cases, fuelled by the public policy machinery of the pro-euthanasia lobby with its celebrity advocates and aided and abetted by the BBC in its capacity as euthanasia cheerleader creates the false impression that droves of British people are participating in euthanasia tourism.

This is profoundly misleading but it is sadly also leading some vulnerable people to be caught up in the suicide contagion created leading to copycat suicides. If instead the BBC and other media outlets abided by international guidelines on media suicide portrayal and promoted good care there would fewer desperate people taking these desperate measures and more who could approach natural death with less fear and anxiety.

And better care and support is the bottom line. Anyone who has suffered personally, or seen a loved one suffer from a progessive neurological disease or cancer, will know what a challenge these illnesses can be. But our proper response should be to make the very best care and support much more widely affordable and accessible rather than resorting to selective reporting and scaremongering; assisted living, not 'assisted dying'.

Sunday 22 January 2012

Ministers reconsider independent abortion counselling

When an amendment aimed at giving women with unplanned pregnancies access to independent counselling was lost by 118 votes to 368 last year, things looked grim.

But, as reported in the Daily Telegraph today, the Government is now pressing ahead with changes which could see women considering abortion given this right.

The original amendment, by MPs Nadine Dorries and Frank Field, was initially welcomed by the health secretary but support was withdrawn when pressure was placed on Prime Minister David Cameron after former Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris approached the deputy PM Nick Clegg. The PM then backed down apparently to appease the powerful pro-abortion lobby.

That same lobby was also behind the recent capitulation giving permission to commercial abortion ‘providers’ like MSI and BPAS to increase their ‘market share’ by advertising abortion ‘services’ on television. This was despite these groups already accounting for 60% of the 200,000 abortions carried out in Britain each year. 93% of these 110,000 ‘private’ abortions are actually paid for by the British taxpayer along with all abortions performed in the NHS.

In England, the NHS spent £118 million on abortions in 2010, of which £75 million went to private clinics which had gained a virtual stranglehold on taxpayer-funded abortions under the last government.

But now the Department of Health (DoH) has drawn up plans to radically reform the assistance given to thousands of women with crisis pregnancies.

Among them is a proposal to place abortion providers under a legal obligation to offer women access to independent counselling, stripping them from providing any ‘in-house’ service.

According to the Telegraph the draft proposals will set out three options:

1. This would see abortion clinics, such as those run by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) and Marie Stopes International (MSI), barred from providing counselling, and under a legal duty to refer women seeking it to an independent service - as had been laid out in Mrs Dorries’ amendment.

2. A system of ‘voluntary registration’, meaning that any organisation offering counselling to women with a crisis pregnancy would have to meet minimum standards, and only use appropriately-trained counsellors.

3. Retaining the current system where commercial abortion ‘providers’ have a virtual monopoly on any counselling and women are given little option to consider the alternative options of adoption or keeping the baby.

Ministers are braced for fierce debate over the proposals, which are due to form a Department of Health consultation, likely to begin next month.

Pro-life campaigners believe the introduction of independent counselling to give women ‘breathing space’ could reduce the number of abortions by one third.
A spokesman for the DoH said: ‘Work is under way to develop proposals so women can access independent counselling but no decisions have yet been taken. It's crucial that women considering an abortion get the best advice and support available so they can make the right decision for them. We will consult on this publicly later this year.’

This news is a very positive development.

Back in 2008 CMF carried out a study of abortion rates in European countries and discovered that those with ‘right to know’ legislation (offer of counselling, advice, information about alternatives) had, on average, abortion rates that were 30% lower than those (like Britain) which didn’t.

The clear message is that many women, given proper advice and support, choose not to abort.

For many women the choice to abort is not a choice at all. It is rather the choice they make because they feel they have no choice. It is the un-choice; the choice made for fear that keeping the baby might leave them alone without support or help; deserted by partners; marginalised by friends; frowned upon those who see children not as a precious gift, but as an encumbrance.

In other words many women choose abortion, not for themselves, but because they feel a sense of duty to others, or because they fear what might happen to them if they do not choose abortion.

I cannot see how anyone in their right mind could deny women an opportunity to consider alternatives to abortion and will be following these encouraging developments with great interest.

Ultimately this is about giving women the real choice that they currently lack.

My 2012 New Year letter to Christian doctors and medical students

The British films ‘Iron Lady’ this year and ‘The King’s Speech’ last year have been widely acclaimed and have sparked much discussion and reflection on Britain’s history. But I wonder if like me you were encouraged particularly by the two Christmas speeches over the holiday period - the Prime Minister’s speech and the Queen’s speech.

David Cameron paid tribute to Christianity’s influence on Britain’s literature, art, language, culture, music and law to mark the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible but the Queen went even deeper, focusing on the reconciliation and forgiveness that comes through Jesus Christ.

As Christian doctors and medical students in 2012 we face many on-going challenges as we seek to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ the Great Physician and fulfil his call to preach the Gospel and heal the sick.

Political and economic chaos, increasing hostility to Christian faith and values and growing healthcare needs both here and abroad in the face of shrinking budgets and constant reorganisation of the health service impact all of us both professionally and personally. The need to stand together and to ‘stir up one another to love and good works’ have never been greater.

CMF exists to provide you with the connections, opportunities, resources, training and support you need to help you better fulfil your own personal calling as part of Jesus’ Great commission. Let me tell you just about a few of the resources, events and new developments for 2012.

On 13 January, at St Paul’s Cathedral in London, Christian leaders gathered for a special memorial service for the Rev Dr John Stott to celebrate and give thanks for his astounding legacy to the church. John Stott’s classic talks on ‘Serving Christ in Medicine’ are available through CMF. Also just published is ‘Foundations’ our new comprehensive survival guide for junior doctors packed full of articles, testimonies and questions covering just about every issue at the interface of Christianity and medicine, and ‘Unwanted Same Sex Attraction’, sent to you with your Christmas mailing, deals sensitively and biblically with issues of pastoral and counselling support in a challenging area for the church. All these resources and more are available via the CMF website.

Please pray and please come to one of our two key national conferences this year on 10-12 February when around 400 will attend the National Students’ Conference at Swanwick with John Lennox speaking on the theme of ‘Joseph Chief of Staff’. Also at Swanwick on 27-29 April is the CMF National Doctors’ Conference. This year’s theme is ‘Heroes of Faith’ with Bible readings by Pablo Martinez, Spanish psychiatrist and popular international speaker. Much more details and booking information are available on the CMF website. Please do pray for these events.

CMF’s big new project this year will involve upgrading our website to help provide you with better personalised access to connections, opportunities, resources, training and support that is appropriate for you. Every CMF member will have a personalised page with secure access that will help you to connect with other Christian medics in your locality, workplace, church network and speciality and will enable us to give you information and support that is specifically tailored to your needs. Watch this space.

Please keep praying for CMF’s influence in public policy through parliament, media and the institutions. We rejoice that CMF, through Care Not Killing, was able to marshal a very effective campaign aimed at discrediting Lord Falconer’s Commission on Assisted Dying which reported in the first week of January. The issue will not go away but the opposition to any change in the law in both parliament and in the medical profession remains strong. This year we face fresh challenges too. Please pray for us as we work through both parliament and the media to promote independent counselling for women with unplanned pregnancies, to oppose the legalisation of presumed consent for organ donation in Wales and to resist attempts to change the legal definition of marriage from one man one woman for life. We will keep you informed of all the latest developments.

Finally do remember CMF in your support for good Christian causes. Like most Christian charities we are struggling to maintain income in these difficult economic times and our Christmas Appeal for students has fallen about £50,000 short of its target. So if you were intending to give but have not yet done so it is not too late.

May I wish you all God’s wisdom, blessing and enabling as you seek to serve Christ through medicine this year.

The video with this address is available on you tube.

Saturday 21 January 2012

More hype about ‘three-parent embryos’ – but huge ethical and safety issues

Two consultations have been launched this week into what has been called the ‘three parent embryo’ technique for eradicating diseases caused by genetic mutations in the mitochondria of cells.

Both the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and the Nuffield Council on Bioethics will be carrying out enquiries into whether it would be appropriate and ethical to use the new technique in developing new ‘therapies’ to prevent the birth or conception of children with mitochondrial disease.

The HFEA has been specifically commissioned to do so by the Secretary of State for Health together with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.

At the same time scientists in Newcastle conducting basic research on the procedures have received £5.8 million, largely from the Welcome Institute, to determine the safety of the technique.

There has been a huge amount of media coverage on this over the last few days but for a quick overview of the science and ethical issues Nick Collins and Tom Chivers in the Telegraph are a good start. There is more helpful technical detail on the Nature News Blog and in Nature.

The ‘three-parent IVF’ technique developed at Newcastle University (on which I have previously commented) can be carried out in two different ways.

The first technique involves creating a fertilised egg in a laboratory, then removing its nucleus and placing it into another egg (from a third person) from which the nucleus has been removed (see picture above). This is called ‘pronuclear transfer’ and has already been used in Newcastle to create human embryos, some of which grew to the blastocyst stage (the stage when they would normally implant in the wall of the uterus) before being destroyed.

In the second technique - Maternal spindle transfer (MST) - the nucleus of the mother’s egg is removed and placed into an enucleated egg from a woman donor before this new composite egg is fertilised. MST, where fertilisation takes place after rather than before nuclear transfer, was used in 2009 to produce two rhesus macaques (named Mito and Tracker) which were born healthy and developed normally.

Regardless of which of the two techniques is used, the resulting embryo has nuclear DNA from a man and a woman and cytoplasmic DNA (in the mitochondria) from a second woman - so effectively three genetic parents, although the contribution from the second woman is very small indeed (just 37 of 23,000 genes).

Researchers claim the technique could help prevent mothers passing on a rare inherited condition called mitochondrial disease to their children. Mitochondrial disease is unusual in that it is transmitted through DNA in the mitochondria (cell 'batteries') in the cell cytoplasm rather than through DNA in the cell nucleus.

Getting the regulatory changes necessary to allow using the technique to be used in patients now no longer involves parliament but only approval from the Health minister.

There are about 50 different known mitochondrial diseases which are passed on in genes coded by mitochondrial (as opposed to nuclear) DNA. They range hugely both in severity and clinical features. For most there is presently no cure and little other than supportive treatment.

We need to be clear in the first instance that this new ‘treatment’, even it were eventually to be shown to work (and there is considerable doubt about that), will do nothing for the thousands of people already suffering from mitochondrial disease or for those who will be born with it in the future.

It is primarily about trying to prevent people with MCD being born - or at least helping a very small number of mothers who carry the gene to have children who are unaffected.

And we need to remind ourselves that there are already some solutions available for those couples who find themselves in the tragic position of carrying genes for mitochondrial disease – including adoption and egg donation (although I have serious ethical reservations about the latter).

Tom Chivers sees little in the way of problems with the new technique but I have three big questions:

1.Will it work? I am very skeptical!
2.Is it ethical? No, there are huge ethical issues!
3.Is the debate being handled responsibly? No, there are huge vested interests involved!

I have a great sense of déjà vu here. There is always in this country huge media hype about supposed breakthroughs in biotechnology and the IVF industry – especially the Newcastle group - is very skilled in arousing media interest.

But we have been here before with human reproductive cloning (the Korean debacle), so-called therapeutic cloning for embryonic stem cell research (which has thus far failed to deliver) and animal hybrids (now a farcical footnote in history).

We saw the false dawn most clearly with animal human hybrids where the biotechnology industry, scientists, patient interest groups and science journalists on the UK nationals duped both the public and parliament into legalising and licensing animal human hybrid research to produce stem cells.

The Newcastle unit is a world leader in promising much and delivering little – but given the short attention span of the media and the gullibility of the public few people seem to realise, remember or care.

I have questions about the safety and ethics of both techniques are as follows:

Safety questions

1. What will be the effect on the embryos of the small amount of abnormal cytoplasm containing defective mitochondria that is still being transferred?

2. Will any of these embryos survive beyond blastocyst stage? (cloned human embryos and animal-human hybrids produced by similar ‘nuclear replacement’ technology haven’t)

3. If they do survive will the nucleus from one embryo function properly with the cytoplasm of another?

4. Will the progeny be normal or be suffering from defects that are in fact worse than mitochondrial disease itself? (we know that cloning by nuclear replacement is possible in frogs, difficult in mammals, hugely problematic in non-human primates and currently not possible in humans)

Of course none of these safety questions will be able to be answered without research on hundreds if not thousands of human embryos, all of which will be destroyed in the process, which brings us to the ethical questions.

Ethics questions

1. What about the hundreds of human embryos that have already been destroyed in this research and the many more that will be destroyed now? Does the hunt for ‘therapies’ that might prevent a small number of disabled children (with mitochondrial disease) being born justify the destruction of hundreds if not thousands of embryonic human lives?

2. What will be the psychological effect on any progeny of the fact that their DNA is derived from three separate ‘parents’? What issues of identity confusion will arise in any children with effectively three biological parents?

3. Should we be able to choose effectively not to allow the disabled children, who would have been otherwise born by natural means, to be born? Why should parental preference for a ‘normal child’ take precedence over an (equally valuable) disabled child? Cristina Odone argues that we should be concentrating on finding treatments for disabling conditions, not preventing those who suffer from them from being born or conceived.

4. Where will this selection end? Some mitochondrial diseases are much less serious than others. Once we have judged some disabled babies not worthy of being conceived, where do we draw the line, and who should draw it?

5. What are the financial and ideological vested interests in this work? The Newcastle scientists have a huge financial and research-based vested interests and getting the regulatory changes and research grants to continue and extend their work is dependent on them being able to sell their case to funders, the public and decision-makers. Hence their desire for attention-grabbing media headlines and press releases and heart grabbing (but highly extreme and unusual) human interest stories that are often selective about what facts they present.

What is currently happening in Newcastle may be legal in Britain – but it is illegal in almost every other Western country for good public safety and ethical reasons. Britain is regarded by many as a rogue state in all this.

So I’m not letting myself be carried away by the hype and spin. And I’m not holding my breath about the promises of therapies.

And as for ethics, one embryo destroyed in research or one disabled person excluded from being born so as not to burden others means for me that we have already crossed a crucial moral rubicon.

TV advertising for abortion is unnecessary, discriminatory and an abuse of taxpayers’ money

Private clinics that undertake abortions for profit will be allowed to advertise their services on television and radio for the first time, watchdogs ruled yesterday.

Until now, only not-for-profit organisations have been permitted to use television and radio to advertise advice on unplanned pregnancies, although none have so far been able to afford the huge costs involved in doing so.

But now under the new rules, announced yesterday by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP), commercial enterprises will be allowed to enter the market. This means that Britain will be promoting abortion adverts at the very same time that Russia is restricting them.

The new regulations will take effect on 30 April.

There are more than 35 private hospitals in England which currently offer abortion ‘services’, but the overwhelming majority are carried out by Marie Stopes International (MSI) and British Pregnancy Advice Service (BPAS). These are the two organisations that will mainly benefit from the new rules.

Both MSI an BPAS already employ aggressive marketing tactics to promote their services. Furthermore much of their income, presumably including that which will now be spent on advertising, comes from tax revenues.

In 2010 the NHS funded 93% of all abortions carried out by the ‘private sector’ - 111,775 of the total number 196,109 carried out in England and Wales that year (see DOH report, p13). This stranglehold on abortion funding was achieved under the last government. The NHS spent £8 million of taxpayers money funding private abortions in 1991 but by 2010 this had risen to £75 milion.

BPAS and MSI are strongly driven by financial motivations and see success in increasing the number of abortions that they perform. Both organisations (which have a combined income of about £150 million per year, much of it from tax revenues) employ Business Development experts to promote abortion and increase revenues. They have business plan objectives and targets to increase the number of abortions that they perform.

The great tragedy of this business-like approach is that women who are referred to BPAS or MSI for an NHS abortion are effectively denied access to any other source of independent counselling. These organisations depend on their income from providing and selling abortion and are not the appropriate place to provide pre-abortion counselling to vulnerable women who need support. They also receive no remuneration for promoting the alternative pathways of adoption or keeping the baby so there is little incentive to do so.

Therefore, given that about 98% of abortions are actually illegal under the provisions of the Abortion Act 1967, we now effectively have a situation whereby the government will be using tax revenues to fund commercial abortion providers to advertise largely illegal abortions.

Now there’s an interesting new direction for David Cameron’s ‘responsible capitalism’!

Even more ironic then that the two bodies, responsible for Britain’s advertising codes, have said that ‘it had become impossible to justify not allowing companies to advertise because the services they offer are legal’. As if they have the expertise to make a judgement.

Due to the previous rules, only one advert concerning abortions, by MSI, has ever been aired on UK screens. The advert, in 2010, attracted more than 4,500 complaints.

I was asked to comment by the Daily Mail last night and said that, ‘having an abortion is a deeply traumatic experience that can lead to further medical and psychological complications. A 30-second advert is not the place to discuss and promote this medical procedure.’

But this highlights only one reason why we should be concerned about this new development. Television and radio advertising for abortion ‘services’ is unnecessary, discriminatory and will inevitably give the wrong message’.

It is unnecessary as information on abortion is already readily available, and any woman who wants an abortion can find this information easily.

It is discriminatory as only the big, government-funded abortion providers like BPAS and MSI will be able to afford TV advertising. Not-for-profit crisis pregnancy counselling centres will be excluded because, unlike BPAS they do not receive huge tranches of tax-payers money.

And it will give the wrong message because raising the profile of abortion services will inevitably communicate the message that unwanted pregnancy is not such a big problem, because there is a safety net readily available.

In view of all this it is simply breathtaking that the Department for Culture Media and Sport and the Department of Health failed to respond to the public consultation on this issue in summer 2011 (CMF's own lengthy submission to the consultation is on the CMF website along with a commentary from Philippa Taylor)

Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt is now understood to be ‘very unhappy’ about the move, but claims that he cannot override the ruling from the independent advertising regulator the Advertising Standards Authority.

This seems rather odd given that, in answer to a parliamentary question in 2010, his deputy claimed that there were ‘powers under the Communications Act to direct Ofcom on the descriptions of advertisements that should not be included in programme services’.

He also said that 608 pieces of electronic correspondence received about television advertisements for post-conception advice services (603 from the public and 5 from MPs), all but one (ie. 607) opposed the advert.

Given the huge public opposition to this move and the concerns outlined above, the Culture Secretary should have the courage of his convictions and use the powers at his disposal to counter this move. But will he? I am not holding my breath.

My interview on adverts on BBC Radio Humberside