Sunday 26 February 2012

Matthew Parris – defender of the faith

Which former Conservative MP won an RSPCA medal for saving a dog which had fallen in to the Thames, served as an aide to Margaret Thatcher, holds the record for the fastest marathon by an MP (2:32:57!), drove a Morris Oxford across Africa whilst a teenager, controversially suggested (in jest) stringing piano wire across country lanes to decapitate cyclists, is in a civil partnership with David Cameron’s chief speech writer Julian Glover and is now one of Britain’s most famous political journalists.

The answer, of course, is Matthew Parris.

Parris reacted last week to the recent debate about redefining marriage by suggesting that the word ‘marriage’ should be completely removed from legal language, but it was his comments this week in the Spectator about Christianity that have attracted more attention.

‘As an unbeliever’, he said, ‘I wish to complain on behalf of serious religious belief. Faith is being defended by the wrong people, in the wrong way. As an unbeliever my sympathies are with fundamentalists. They seem to me to represent the source, the roots, the essential energy of their faiths. They go back to basics.’

He laments the decline of true religion: ‘Anglicanism has become bland. Moderate Islam is in theological retreat. And surely it is at the liberal end of Judaism’s spectrum that faith dilutes.’

In words that might even have come from the pen of CS Lewis, he asks of the comfortable faith promulgated by the Church of England:

‘Does it capture what Jesus Christ asks — requires, commands — of His followers?One of the reasons we can be pretty sure Jesus actually existed is that if He had not, the Church would never have invented Him. He stands so passionately, resolutely and inconveniently against everything an established church stands for. Continuity? Tradition? Christ had nothing to do with stability. He came to break up families, to smash routines, to cast aside the human superstructures, to teach abandonment of earthly concerns and a throwing of ourselves upon God’s mercy. Jesus came to challenge precisely what today’s unbelieving believers in belief so prize in what they presume to be faith.’

He then cuts right to the key issue that is ignored by so many contemporary commentators about Christianity.

‘To those who truly believe, the implicit message beneath “never mind if it’s true, religion is good for people” is insulting. To those who really believe, it is because and only because what they believe is true, that it is good. I find David Cameron’s remark that his faith, “like Magic FM in the Chilterns, tends to fade in and out”, baffling. If a faith is true it must have the most profound consequences for a man and for mankind. If I seriously suspected a faith might be true, I would devote the rest of my life to finding out.

As I get older the sharpness of my faculties begins to dull. But what I will not do is sink into a mellow blur of acceptance of the things I railed against in my youth. “Familiar” be damned. “Comforting” be damned. “Useful” be damned. Is it true? — that is the question. It was the question when I was 12 and the question when I was 22. Forty years later it is still the question. It is the only question.’

Just last December, in another piece titled ‘Stand up for your faith: tolerance isn’t enough’(£), he agreed with David Cameron that ‘lively faith in a deity can bring many social and cultural benefits’ but noted that ‘he took care to avoid straying into the question that matters most’.

And what is that? In John Betjeman’s words:

‘And is it true? And is it true, This most tremendous tale of all, Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue, A Baby in an ox’s stall? The Maker of the stars and sea Become a Child on earth for me? And is it true? For if it is ...’

In a 2008 Times article titled, ‘As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God’ he wrote after a return to the Africa of his boyhood that ‘Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa's biggest problem - the crushing passivity of the people’s mindset’.

‘Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

I used to avoid this truth by applauding - as you can - the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It's a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.

But this doesn't fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing…. We had friends who were missionaries, and as a child I stayed often with them; I also stayed, alone with my little brother, in a traditional rural African village. In the city we had working for us Africans who had converted and were strong believers. The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world - a directness in their dealings with others - that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall….

Whenever we entered a territory worked by missionaries, we had to acknowledge that something changed in the faces of the people we passed and spoke to: something in their eyes, the way they approached you direct, man-to-man, without looking down or away. They had not become more deferential towards strangers - in some ways less so - but more open.’

It makes one wonder why Parris, having these insights, is not yet a Christian. He doesn’t say. I can almost imagine Jesus saying to him, as he did to that wise man who questioned him about the core of morality, ‘You are not far from the Kingdom of God’. But I also sense a bit of the rich young ruler, who was attracted to Christ but went away sad when he was asked to lay aside the most precious thing in his life, leave everything and follow him.

It is of course essential to come to the point where you see that Christianity is true, that Christ really is who he claimed to be, and that finding and following him is what life is all about.

But it is not enough. At that point one must take one’s cross and follow him, with all that that involves.

Thursday 23 February 2012

Abortions for sex selection are just the tip of a large iceberg of illegal activity

The Daily Telegraph has tonight named a third facility where staff were secretly filmed authorizing abortions on grounds of sex selection.

The Calthorpe Clinic in Birmingham (pictured), one of Britain’s oldest abortion facilities, is now facing a police investigation after staff were caught falsifying paperwork and a doctor admitted that an abortion he was offering was tantamount to ‘female infanticide’.

Two abortion clinics exposed last night by The Daily Telegraph have already been reported to the police and the General Medical Council (GMC) by Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary.

Consultants working at Pall Mall Medical and Chelsea and Westminster Hospital were secretly recorded offering to conduct abortions because the baby was a particular sex.

The Pall Mall centre in Manchester suspended Prabha Sivaraman, the consultant at the centre of the scandal, and also suspended further abortions.

Mr Lansley has made it clear that abortions carried out on grounds of sex selection are illegal. If it is found, as appears likely, that the doctors involved did actually make false statements on abortion authorisation certificates then they face being prosecuted under the Perjury Act.

If convicted they could face imprisonment. In addition the GMC could strike them off the medical register taking away their right to practise medicine.

It is a common misconception that abortion is legal in Britain. In fact it remains illegal under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 and doctors are only exempted from prosecution if they follow a strict set of guidelines as laid down in the Abortion Act 1967.

But the government, the medical profession and the police have consistently turned a blind eye over many years to practice at or beyond the edge of the law.

The present cases raise again the question of just how many illegal abortions are being carried out in Britain.

I have previously argued that the figure is close to 98% of all 200,000 abortions annually in Britain, on the basis that this is the percentage which are being carried out on mental health grounds when there is actually no evidence that continuing with an unplanned pregnancy poses any greater risk to mental health than abortion. This was confirmed in a major study by the Royal College of Psychiatrists last year.

BPAS, one of the country's two major 'abortion providers' just escaped a police investigation when a centre manager at one of their clinics cancelled an abortion for sex selection that other staff at the same centre had authorised.

Thus far BPAS and Marie Stopes International have managed to escape blame. But the rabbit hole may run deep.

In 2007 Dr Vincent Argent, former medical director of BPAS, gave evidence to the House of Commons Science and Technology committee, in which he alleged widespread abuse around signing of the ‘abortion form’ HSA1 that allows an abortion to go ahead.

He said that ‘there are widespread variations in the actual provision of signatures’ and added that he had personally observed ‘the following practices’:

•Signing batches of forms before patients are even seen for consultation
•Signing the forms with no knowledge of the particular patient and without reading the notes
•Signing forms without seeing or examining the patients
•Signing forms after the abortion has been performed
•Faxing the forms to other locations for signature
•Use of signature stamps without any consultation with the doctor

He added that ‘the HSA1 form is often considered to be just an administrative process where doctors make no attempt to form an opinion, in good faith, that the patient fulfils the grounds of section 1’.

The Labour Health Secretary at the time did nothing about these allegations.

Perhaps Mr Lansley will.

By forcefully making the point that some abortions (ie. for sex selection) are illegal he has already opened the question as to where exactly the line should be drawn.

Having started asking questions Mr Lansley may now find it very difficult to stop, because in reality sex selection abortions are actually just the tip of a large iceberg of illegal activity.

In the meantime abortion doctors need to be very careful what they sign.

Wednesday 22 February 2012

Undercover investigation shows women are being granted illegal sex-selection abortions in Britain

The Daily Telegraph has tonight published the results of an undercover investigation showing that women are being granted illegal abortions by doctors based on the sex of their unborn baby.

Doctors at British clinics were secretly filmed agreeing to terminate babies purely because they were either male or female. Clinicians admitted they were prepared to falsify paperwork to arrange the abortions even though it is illegal to conduct such ‘sex-selection’ procedures.

Andrew Lansley, the Health Secretary, is reported to have said: ‘I’m extremely concerned to hear about these allegations. Sex selection is illegal and is morally wrong. I’ve asked my officials to investigate this as a matter of urgency.’

Ministers have clearly stated that a decision to abort a foetus on the basis of gender is illegal. Last year, Lord Howe, the health minister, told Parliament: 'It is illegal in Great Britain to abort a foetus based on its sex alone, and we have no evidence that this is happening.'

The British Medical Association warns doctors that foetal sex 'is not one of the criteria for abortion listed in the Abortion Act of 1967' and therefore termination on this ground alone would be outside the scope of the law.

The Daily Telegraph carried out the investigation into sex-selection abortions after concerns were raised that the procedures were becoming increasingly common for cultural and social reasons.

The women accompanying Telegraph reporters to consultations were from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. At each appointment, the pregnant woman explained that she had taken a blood test abroad or had a scan to determine the sex of the baby and wanted a termination because of the gender. Staff at several clinics agreed to arrange abortions for women who said they did not want to continue with their pregnancies because of the sex of their babies.

The Telegraph names some of the consultants and the clinics concerned in the article including Claudine Domoney, who works with Chelsea and Westminster Hospital* and Prabha Sivaraman who works for Pall Mall Medical in Manchester. The latter appears in the film on the Telegraph website.

Sex selection, as outlined above, is not a ground for abortion in Britain. This means that these abortions, if carried out, would have been illegal – ie. ‘unlawful killings’ under the terms of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

If the abortions had been carried out the doctors could then have been the subject of a police investigation.

Of course, as I have previously argued, about 98% of the 200,000 abortions performed in this country are arguably illegal. This is because almost all abortions in Britain are carried out on the grounds that the continuance of the pregnancy constitutes a greater risk to the mental health of the mother than abortion does. But, as confirmed by a major study late last year, there is no evidence that continuing a pregnancy ever poses a greater mental health risk than abortion.

In reality they are being performed for the (illegal) reasons of failed contraception or unwanted pregnancy, effectively on demand.

This means that when two doctors sign forms (as they do over 500 times every day) saying that ‘in good faith’ they believe that having an abortion will lead to better mental health outcomes they are committing a form of perjury under section five of the Perjury Act 1911. And when a third doctor performs the abortion on the strength of that certificate he/she is actually carrying out an ‘unlawful killing’.

In the case in question the doctor filmed for the Telegraph website does appear to be signing an abortion authorisation form. If so then this form could constitute further evidence that might provide the basis for a charge against her under the Perjury Act.

The government and the police have turned a blind eye to gross breaches of the Abortion Act for decades. But the Telegraph's investigation also raises searching questions about the watchdog charged with monitoring abortion facilities, the Care Quality Commission.

These questions need answering and I hope that the Telegraph goes about seeking those answers as meticulously and persistently as it sought answers over MPs' expenses. After all that was only about money, but this is a matter of life and death, of babies quite possibly being illegally killed.

In any event doctors working in abortion facilities should be warned that they are being watched very closely. They should be careful what they sign.

(*The Telegraph reported in error that Dr Domoney worked at the 312 Healthwise Clinic in Harley Street. She apparently does not)

Christchurch earthquake one year on: Lest we forget

Today, 22 February, people across New Zealand have been holding memorial services to remember the 185 people who died in the powerful earthquake in Christchurch a year ago. Two minutes' silence were observed at 12:51 local time - the exact moment the 6.3-magnitude quake struck.

Prime Minister John Key said the tremor had ‘changed everything’, but had not broken the city's spirit.

The quake wrecked central Christchurch, and is considered the country's worst natural disaster in 80 years.

At a ceremony at North Hagley Park in Christchurch, tens of thousands gathered for a solemn and tearful memorial. Family members of the victims were seen joining arms and bowing their heads during the ceremony that included songs and speeches.

Governor General Jerry Mateparae read a message of condolence from Prince Charles, while a video from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was played. Earlier, a memorial was held in Christchurch's Latimer Square for families of the victims. Children released 185 monarch butterflies at the park in memory of those who died.

Speaking in the city, the prime minister said it had been one of New Zealand's darkest days.

Today, like many other New Zealanders, and especially those of us with a connection to Christchurch, I am reflecting and remembering.

In the days immediately following the quake I was in Nigeria where it was odd to see my birth-city so far away with its ruined buildings and smashed cathedral repeatedly featuring on CNN, BBC World Service and Al Jazeera amidst reports of the evolving situation in Libya and the Middle East.

I didn’t lose any friends or relatives in the quake. One by one they were all found to be alive and well, although all with their own stories of ‘that day’ to tell. I’m not aware even of any that were injured, although there were some very near misses and some, especially Christian medical colleagues, were involved in treating victims, in the rebuilding and in planning the longer term public health strategy.

I guess we all feel it more acutely when it involves the personal and familiar. But amidst the feelings of loss and grief, I have felt proud to be a New Zealander, and proud at the way my nation has responded.

To stand last year with 5,000 Kiwis at the Westminster Cathedral remembrance service in London, was quite special. To be at Twickenham shortly afterwards with my family to see my home team the Canterbury Crusaders, playing here because their home stadium had been destroyed, was a profoundly moving experience. And watching the videos of the Christchurch memorial service, and reading the newspaper clippings sent from home, touched me in a way I had not anticipated nor expected.

I wrote about the memorial services at the time, and subsequently reflected on the loss.

But today, one year on I am left thanking God that, by his mercy and grace, it was not worse than it was and I am reminded of the words of the 46th Psalm.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea…
He says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.’
The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

New C4EM online petition supports incest, bigamy and marriage of minors. Oops!!!

The Coalition for marriage (C4M) launched an on-line petition two days ago to support the current legal definition of marriage.

In just over 40 hours it has gathered over 25,000 signatures and numbers are continuing to rise rapidly.

It reads as follows:

'I support the legal definition of marriage which is the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. I oppose any attempt to redefine it.'

Obviously miffed by this the gay rights lobby have been working hard behind the scenes since Monday to produce a similar petition backing same sex marriage.

It has been launched this morning and at the time of writing carries 325 signatures.

It looks almost identical in layout to that of C4M (except in pink!) and is titled the 'Coalition for Equal marriage' abbreviated to C4EM.

The web address is

A clever idea? Most definitely!

The only problem is that they have drafted their petition without thinking very carefully about the wording.

It reads as follows:

'I support the right of two people in love to get married, regardless of gender. It's only fair.'

The problem of course is that 'two people in love' covers a whole variety of possible combinations which are excluded by the current legal definition of marriage.

Marriage between close relatives who love each other - otherwise known as 'incest'
Marriage between two people who are already married to other people - aka 'bigamy'
Marriage between minors who love each other - call it what you will

And that's just for starters!

Rather embarrassing especially as a leading journalist on the Telegraph has already put his name down.

Now I'm sure that all of these good people signed this petition 'in good faith' but it shows you just how careful you need to be!

Time for some editing?

I wonder if they will change the wording now that it is launched?

I have saved a copy just in case they do! Should make quite a funny news story!

Some of C4EM's other red-faced (or should I say 'pink-faced) signatories are listed on their site.

Sarkozy opposes same sex marriage as Cameron backs it

At the same time as David Cameron is actively backing the legalization of same-sex marriage French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, is actively opposing it.

He has explained why in a wide-ranging interview in the leading newspaper Le Figaro.

When asked ‘Do you support gay marriage?’ the French President replied as follows:

‘I'm not in favour of it. I proposed in 2007 civil unions. We have not implemented it because we realized that it was unconstitutional to open this contract only to homosexuals. The civil union would have undermined the institution of marriage. However, I made sure that homosexuals were guaranteed the same benefits in terms of inheritance and taxation as married couples, but as part of the Pacte Civil de Solidarit√©. In these troubled times when our society needs benchmarks, I do not think we should blur the image of this vital social institution of marriage.’

Sarkozy is right!

Legalising same sex marriage is first unnecessary. All the legal rights of marriage are already available to same sex couples through civil partnerships so there is no need to redefine marriage to include them. The President of the Family Division has even described civil partnerships as conferring ‘the benefits of marriage in all but name’. Such a move would also inevitably lead to calls to open civil partnerships to opposite sex couples on the basis of ‘equality’. But marriage and civil partnerships have been designed for two very different types of relationship and should be kept distinct. It is not, and should not, be ‘one size fits all’.

Redefining marriage is also undemocratic. None of the political leaders who are supporting the legalisation of same sex marriage, including Cameron, announced it as a priority in their election manifestos. There is already a huge amount of opposition to the move and pressing ahead with legalisation will lead to considerable dissension and division. Legalising same sex marriage to appease a small minority is wrong and it should not be foisted on the British people without proper consultation about whether rather than how it should be done.

Same-sex marriage - 24 articles on all aspects of the UK debate

Britain is coming under increasing pressure to legalise same-sex marriage and Prime Minister David Cameron is determined to drive it through.

A consultation on same-sex marriage closed in Scotland in December 2011 and a new consultation is being launched next month in Westminster to consider how (not if!) legalisation should proceed in England and Wales.

Over the last few months I have published 24 articles on all aspects of this debate which are now grouped together on this page to provide a resource for those interested in engaging with the issues and arguments. I have listed them under six headings.

The legalization of same-sex marriage

1.Ten reasons not to legalise same-sex marriage in Britain
Many people, including Christians, are asking ‘why not?’ An outline of the main arguments

2.Marriage – let’s be clear on the biblical and legal definitions – and fight to retain them
A historical and legal guide to what marriage actually is

3.Why legalizing same-sex marriage will weaken marriage as a social institution
David Blankenhorn’s analysis of current scholarship and research

4.Same sex marriage is a legal can of worms
Why changing the law is not at all straight-forward

5.Draft same sex marriage bill abolishes the terms ‘husband and wife’
The real implications of Stonewall’s proposed law reform

The campaign against the redefinition of marriage

6.Coalition for Marriage Launch - Please sign the petition
A brief outline of the England and Wales campaign with links to launch speech and news debate

7.Please support the current definition of marriage in Scotland
Report on the Scottish campaign against the legalisation of same sex marriage

The benefits of marriage for families and society

8.The blessings of marriage
The real benefits of marriage for families and society

9.New study highlights positive benefits of marriage
The findings of a study of over 250 peer-reviewed journal articles

10.Sexual freedom and relationship breakdown cost Britain £100 billion annually
The real economic cost of marriage breakdown to Britain

11.Couples who cohabit before marriage 45 per cent more likely to split up
The cost of family breakdown is now £41.7 billion

Political and Media interests

12.David Cameron owes the public an explanation as to why he thinks legalising same sex marriage is necessary
The question that our Prime Minister is yet to answer

13.David Cameron’s promotion of the gay rights agenda is based on a false presupposition
The Prime Minister’s agenda and fundamental misunderstandings on this issue

14.David Cameron, by his comments about homosexuality, demonstrates that he does not understand what true tolerance actually is
An evaluation of the Prime Minister’s position on this issue

15.Over half of British Christians would not back Tories if they push for same-sex marriage
Why the government is shooting itself in the foot politically

16.BBC uses distortion, hype, exaggeration and selective reporting to promote gay rights agenda
How our national broadcaster takes sides in this debate

17.Legalisation of same-sex marriage – an orchestrated international campaign funded by national governments
The money and the movements behind this social change

Homosexuality and Bisexuality

18.Do you object to being labelled 'homophobic' when you are actually just 'homosceptic'?
Slogans and category errors - How language can create and perpetuate misunderstandings and stifle debate

19.LGBT community and church at sixes and sevens over bisexuality
Why the popular understanding of gay/straight is fatally flawed

20.Peter Tatchell comes clean that homosexuality is neither biologically determined nor fixed
Leading Gay Rights activist puts a common misconception at the heart of the same sex marriage debate to bed

21.Monty Python, the Australian Open and same-sex marriage
The Gay Rights Movement’s 'struggle against reality'

22.Should ‘gay’ Christians be true to their feelings?
The key differences between homosexual feelings, orientation, identity and behaviour

The church and same sex marriage

23.Deep divisions in church over same-sex marriage going into ‘Marriage Week’
How the battle lines have fallen within the Church of England

24.Faith leaders say marriage and religious freedom are intricately linked
The perspective of American Christian leaders

Tuesday 21 February 2012

Coalition for Marriage Launch - Please sign the petition

Don't play politics with marriage

I have signed the Coalition for Marriage petition and Christian Medical Fellowship is supporting the campaign.

There are over 30,000 signatures so far – please add yours and encourage others

Marriage is unique

Throughout history and in virtually all human societies marriage has always been the union of a man and a woman. Marriage reflects the complementary natures of men and women. Although death and divorce may prevent it, the evidence shows that children do best with a married mother and a father.

No need to redefine

Civil partnerships already provide all the legal benefits of marriage so there's no need to redefine marriage. It's not discriminatory to support traditional marriage. Same-sex couples may choose to have a civil partnership but no one has the right to redefine marriage for the rest of us.

Profound consequences

If marriage is redefined, those who believe in traditional marriage will be sidelined. People's careers could be harmed, couples seeking to adopt or foster could be excluded, and schools would inevitably have to teach the new definition to children. If marriage is redefined once, what is to stop it being redefined to allow polygamy?

Speak up

People should not feel pressurised to go along with same-sex marriage just because of political correctness. They should be free to express their views. The Government will be launching a public consultation on proposals to redefine marriage. This will provide an opportunity for members of the public to make their views known.


Marriage: ‘the most successful partnership in history’ (Opening Address)

Sky News Debate - Sharon James and Peter Tatchell

Christian Institute Report

Same-sex marriage - 24 articles on all aspects of the UK debate

David Cameron owes the public an explanation as to why he thinks legalising same sex marriage is necessary

David Cameron was accused yesterday of planning an ‘Orwellian’ act of ‘cultural vandalism’ by an alliance of bishops, Tory MPs and legal figures yesterday over his plans to allow homosexual couples to marry.

The ‘Coalition for Marriage’, a new grass-roots campaign, is seeking hundreds of thousands of signatures on a petition to maintain the current definition of marriage.

But today the Prime Minister said that same sex marriage would be legalized despite growing opposition to a change in the law.

A senior Downing Street source said: ‘Nothing has changed on this as far as he is concerned. He is very passionate about this subject – it is something that has defined him.’

Indeed it has! I have previously catalogued on this blog his long-standing commitment to a radical pro gay rights agenda.

Mr Cameron told last year's Tory conference: ‘Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don't support gay marriage in spite of being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I am a Conservative.

In this stance he is backed up by none other than Tim Montgomerie, editor of the influential Conservative Home blog and founding director of the Christian Conservative Fellowship (CCF), who recently laid out ‘a conservative case for gay marriage’.

Perhaps ironically, David Burrowes MP, current chairman of CCF, who has signalled his intention to oppose the move, has been hounded by local members of his conservative party for his stand and has even received a death threat.

Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone, a Liberal Democrat in the Coalition Government, said today, ‘We are not changing religious marriage, or requiring religious groups to go against their traditions.’

But in fact this is profoundly misleading. The law makes no distinction between so-called ‘civil’ and ‘religious’ marriage and the government most definitely intends to change the legal definition for all marriages from that which has held sway for the last 800 years, ‘the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others’.

Unlike prominent gay rights (eg. Peter Tatchell, Patrick Strudwick and Martin Robbins) who are very critical of marriage as an institution) Cameron and Montgomerie back same sex marriage because they believe marriage is a good thing.

Montgomerie puts it like this:

‘It is because I value marriage so much that I have come to believe it should be extended to gay people and not kept exclusive. Because it is so beneficial an institution it should be enlarged rather than fossilised. Whereas some people see the gay marriage issue as primarily about equal rights, I see it as about social solidarity and stability. Marriage is, for want of a better word, conservatising. I don't mean in a party political sense. I mean it is one of the key social institutions that conservatives admire.’

There are several unstated assumptions in this argument for which David Cameron owes the electorate an explanation.

First, given that this issue is so controversial, why is it that the government is holding a consultation to determine how same sex marriage should be legalized, rather than whether it should be legalized? This is profoundly undemocratic. None of the political leaders who are supporting the legalization of same sex marriage announced it as a priority in their election manifestos and, given the current level of opposition, pressing ahead with legalization will lead to considerable dissension and division. In a recent poll of more than 1,000 adults conducted by Comres, 51% of people agreed that ‘no one has the right to redefine marriage for the rest of us’ and 86% supported the proposition that it is ‘possible to be tolerant of the rights of others and protective of traditional marriage at the same time’. The main pressure for this change is coming from the gay rights lobby. But legalising same sex marriage to appease a small minority is surely wrong and it should not be foisted on the British people without a proper national debate. The Prime Minister, however, intends to deny us that.

Second, what is the evidence that the clear benefits to society that are known to come from marriage will also result from same sex marriage? There is already considerable evidence to show that marriage leads to better family relationships, less economic dependence, better physical health and longevity, improved mental health and emotional well-being and reduced crime and domestic violence. But ‘same sex marriage’, by comparison with traditional marriage, is an unproven and experimental social model. It has been made legal in only ten countries since 2001 and six US states since 2004. There is accordingly very little research data to determine whether or not same sex marriage will produce the social benefits that campaigners claim.

Third, given that all the legal rights of marriage are already available to same sex couples through civil partnerships (The President of the Family Division has described civil partnerships as conferring ‘the benefits of marriage in all but name’!), should we not wait to see what the long term effects of civil partnerships are before embarking on a legal redefinition of marriage that could cost billions and involve amending hundreds of pieces of government legislation? The word ‘marriage’ appears 3,258 times in UK legislation, and introducing same sex marriage is a legal can of worms which cannot be achieved without changing the common and legal definition of the word marriage and other words which define it (eg. ‘husband and wife’, ‘consummation’ and ‘adultery’). These changes will inevitably change the definition and nature of marriage for opposite sex couples by trying to accommodate these two very different kinds of relationship under one legal umbrella. According to an assessment done for gay rights group Stonewall by a former civil servant, the cost of implementing one favoured option would be around £5 billion. How then can this move, which will confer no new legal rights, be a priority for government at a time of economic recession and with so much other important legislation on the agenda?

In the face of such opposition and such serious unanswered questions the Prime Minister is obliged to put more flesh on the bones of why he thinks same sex marriage should be legalized without a national debate over whether it is necessary and without any clear evidence that it will make any difference.

Christian Medical Comment – 200,000 page-views

Christian Medical Comment (CMC) was launched in December 2009 with a post titled ‘Goats and kitchen sinks for Christmas’ but I started blogging regularly in September 2010.

For those who like that sort of thing here are some stats.

Overall there have been 360 individual posts and just over 200,000 page-views – at an average of about 550 views per post.

CMC has been ranked in the 20 top UK blogs in the Religion and Belief category in the wikio rankings for the last eight months and currently stands at 5th. It ranks 256th overall amongst wikio’s over 210,000 registered blogs.

CMC was a finalist in the 2011 Christian New Media Awards in the ‘Best Christian Blog’ Category and was listed in the Jubilee Centre's seven best blogs giving a Christian perspective on social and political issues in November 2010.

CMC is a specialist blog majoring on issues at the interface of Christianity and Medicine with specific focus on the beginning and end of life. But my broader aim is to bring issues to the attention of Christians that I believe they should be informed and concerned about.

60% of readers come from the UK, 15% from the US and 7.5% from Canada, Australia, Germany, Russia and Ireland with the remaining 17.5% coming from other countries around the world.

I’m particularly grateful to those other blogs which republish some of my posts giving them wider distribution (especially Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, Mercatornet, Anglican Mainstream, Care Not Killing, LifeSite News, National Right to Life News and the Official CMF blog) and also to the Christian Institute, Westminster2010 and Christian Concern which frequently link to or quote from them.

My ten most popular all time posts, with 24,309 views between them, are as follows:

1. Fantastic Interview – Chilean Mining Rescue
2. Twenty facts we did not learn from Terry Pratchett
3. I’m coming out as a homosceptic
4. Ireland victory in the rugby world cup
5. Powerful arguments in UK Parliament for independent pregnancy counseling
6. Euthanasia Bills defeated around the world
7. Hospital kills wrong twin in selective abortion
8. Peter Tatchell comes clean about homosexuality
9. Chilean Miner’s t-shirt gives glory to Jesus Christ
10. BMJ gives platform to Secular Medical Forum to attack CMF

The most popular posts in the last week are listed on the right.

Sunday 19 February 2012

Dawkins’ ill-gotten inheritance and misrepresentation of Scripture

It’s been a difficult few days for Richard Dawkins.

On Tuesday 14 February, some critics branded him ‘an embarrassment to atheism’ after what many listeners considered a humiliation in a Radio 4 debate with Giles Fraser, formerly Canon Chancellor of St Paul's Cathedral.

Dawkins boasted that he could recite the full title of Charles Darwin's ‘The Origin of Species’, then when challenged, dithered and said: ‘Oh God.’

In today’s Sunday Telegraph there is an interesting article linking his family with the slave trade.

One of his direct ancestors, Henry Dawkins (pictured), amassed such wealth that his family owned 1,013 slaves in Jamaica by the time of his death in 1744.

And the Dawkins family estate, consisting of 400 acres near Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, was bought at least in part with wealth amassed through sugar plantation and slave ownership.

One of his other relatives, James Dawkins, was an MP who voted in 1796 against Wilberforce's proposal to abolish the slave trade, helping to defeat it by just four votes. He is also believed to have been among just 18 MPs who supported an amendment to postpone the act's implementation by five years.

Dawkins is now facing calls to apologise and make reparations for his family’s past.

He has responded predictably, and with some justification, that he is not personally responsible.

But he has also taken the opportunity to lash out again against Christianity:

‘I condemn slavery with the utmost vehemence, but the fact that my remote ancestors may have been involved in it is nothing to do with me… For goodness sake, William Wilberforce may have been a devout Christian, but slavery is sanctioned throughout the Bible.’

The charge that the Bible sanctions slavery is a common one from Dawkins and his New Atheist colleagues but is actually groundless.

Contrary to what Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris have said, the keeping of servants in ancient Israel can hardly be called ‘a warrant for trafficking in humans’ or a means of treating people ‘like farm equipment’.

As Paul Copan cogently argues in his recent book ‘Is God a moral monster?’, a mistake critics (like Dawkins and his friends) make is to equate ‘servanthood’ in the Old Testament with ‘prewar slavery’ in the US South.

An Israelite strapped for shekels could choose to become an indentured servant to pay off his ‘debt’ to a ‘boss’ or ‘employer’ (adon). But calling him a master is way too strong a term just as the term ‘ebed’ (servant, employee) should not be translated ‘slave’.

Servanthood in Israel was a voluntary (poverty-induced) arrangement used to ensure that indebted people’s welfare was provided for whilst debts were paid off. Once a servant was released, he was free to pursue his own livelihood without any further obligations, and under the sabbatical year arrangement all ‘servants’ were freed and forgiven their debts after seven years anyway.

In fact one scholar, JA Motyer, has written, ‘Hebrew has no vocabulary of slavery, only servanthood.’

In fact one might suggest that this system was far more just than our present one where people can declare themselves bankrupt, or waste millions as a banker gambling with other people’s money, and get off scot-free!

Furthermore, under Old Testament Law, injured servants had to be released (Exodus 21:26, 27), kidnapping a person to sell as a slave was punishable by death (Exodus 21:16, Deuteronomy 24:7) and Israelites were obliged to offer safe harbour to foreign runaway slaves (Deuteronomy 23:15, 16).

Contrary to Dawkins’ claims, these arrangements were far more protective of slaves than his own ancestors were. Stones? Glass houses?

But lest we are too quick to judge Dawkins for his ill-gotten inheritance and misrepresentation of the Bible, we should remind ourselves that the author of the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’, John Newton, was once a slave-trader... who repented.

And we all fall short of God’s grace... and all have ancestors and relatives who have done questionable things.

Perhaps there is hope for Dawkins yet!

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.

Saturday 18 February 2012

Man who inherits after assisting friend's suicide gets six months

One of the strongest arguments against legalising assisted suicide is that vulnerable people might feel pressure to end their lives so as not to be a burden to others.

Another strong argument is that those who might stand to gain from their deaths, financially or otherwise, could encourage or assist them to kill themselves or simply not stand in their way.

I was most interested therefore to read this story from Australia reported by Michael Cook on Bioedge this morning.

We are not given many details, and the man convicted would doubtless argue that he was 'wholly motivated by compassion', but it seems the judge thought otherwise.

The fact that the notorious Philip Nitschke thought the sentence 'harsh' was perhaps not unpredictable.

Unlike in Australia, assisting or encouraging a suicide in Britain carries only a discretionary sentence up to fourteen years and there have been no prosecutions resulting from the last 40 cases referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

Perhaps we in Britain should be being a little more suspicious.

Queensland man jailed over assisted suicide

A Queensland man has become the first to be sentenced to a full-time jail term for assisting a suicide. Merin Nielson, 50, received a six-month sentence for supplying an 76-year-old friend, Frank Ward, with the lethal drug Nembutal in 2009.

Ward had various ailments and was distressed by a decade of looking after his late wife, but was not seriously ill. In 2007, after a minor stroke, he made Nielson, a former school teacher who is studying for a PhD in philosophy, a beneficiary of his will and gave him power of attorney. Nielson appears to have put him in touch with the suicide group Exit International, headed by activist Dr Philip Nitschke.

Finally Ward gave his friend $7,000 to buy the banned drug in Mexico. After Nielson returned, Ward was found dead in his apartment with a suicide note beside him.

Dr Nitschke said the sentence was harsh (although the maximum sentence is life imprisonment). 'The fact remains we are looking at people who are not violent criminals, they are acting out of compassion and love, meeting the full force of the law here, which is simply showing its inflexibility when it comes to this issue,' he said.

Friday 17 February 2012

Council at centre of prayer storm votes to appeal

Bideford Town Council, the Devonshire Council which last week was banned from having prayers as part of its formal meetings, has voted to appeal the decision.

The High Court’s ruling last Friday prompted widespread criticism with one MP describing it as ‘utterly preposterous’.

And Cabinet minister Eric Pickles described the decision as ‘illiberal and intolerant’.

The Telegraph cartoon pictured says it all.

Ten reasons not to legalise same-sex marriage in Britain

Britain is coming under increasing pressure to legalise same-sex marriage and Prime Minister David Cameron is determined to drive it through.

A consultation on same-sex marriage closed in Scotland in December 2011 and a new consultation is being launched next month in Westminster to consider how (not if!) legalisation should proceed in England and Wales.

Many people are asking 'Why not?'

Here are ten reasons not to legalise same-sex marriage.

1. Marriage is the union of one man and one woman

Throughout history in virtually all cultures and faiths throughout the world, marriage has been held to be the union of one man and one woman. Marriage existed thousands of years before our nation began and has been recognised in our laws as the ‘voluntary union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others for life’ (Hyde v Hyde 1866). The UN Declaration of Human Rights (article 16) recognises that the family, headed by a man and a woman, ‘is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State’. It is not up to governments to redefine marriage – but simply to recognise it for what it is, and to promote and protect it as a unique institution.

2.Same sex couples already have civil partnerships

All the legal rights of marriage are already available to same sex couples through civil partnerships so there is no need to redefine marriage to include them. The President of the Family Division has even described civil partnerships as conferring ‘the benefits of marriage in all but name’. Such a move would also inevitably lead to calls to open civil partnerships to opposite sex couples on the basis of ‘equality’. But marriage and civil partnerships have been designed for two very different types of relationship and should be kept distinct. It is not and should not be ‘one size fits all’.

3.Redefining marriage without consultation is undemocratic

None of the political leaders who are supporting the legalisation of same sex marriage announced it as a priority in their election manifestos. There is already a huge amount of opposition to the move and pressing ahead with legalisation will lead to considerable dissension and division. Legalising same sex marriage to appease a small minority is wrong and it should not be foisted on the British people without proper consultation about whether rather than how it should be done.

4.Equality does not mean uniformity

In a free democratic society we accept that many human activities are not open to everybody. Not everyone is allowed to drink alcohol, drive a car, buy property, cast a vote, own a firearm, attend university, visit Buckingham Palace or participate in a 100m women’s Olympic event. This does not mean that those who are not eligible for these activities are in any way denigrated or demeaned, but just that there are eligibility criteria. Same sex couples do not fulfil the eligibility criteria for marriage, which should be reserved for the voluntary union of one man and one woman for life.

5.Protecting traditional marriage safeguards children and society

Stable marriages and families headed by a mother and a father are the bedrock of society and the state has a duty to protect the uniqueness of these key institutions. Though death and divorce may prevent it, children do best when raised by a married mother and father. Whilst single parents or same sex couples may do a good job in raising children, social policy has to be concerned with what is normally the case, and children have a right if at all possible to have a married mother and a father involved in their upbringing. In general the evidence shows that marriage provides a stability for adults and children which is hard to beat in terms of outcomes. There is considerable evidence to show that marriage leads to better family relationships, less economic dependence, better physical health and longevity, improved mental health and emotional well-being and reduced crime and domestic violence. By contrast sexual freedom and relationship breakdown cost Britain £100 billion annually and other models of the family have not been shown to have the same stability as traditional marriage. Same sex marriage, in comparison with marriage, is an unproven and experimental social model.

6.Marriage is a unique biologically complementary relationship

Marriage is the only legal union which can naturally lead to children. It takes both a man and a woman to produce a baby. The fact that there is a natural link between sexual intimacy and procreation is what makes marriage distinctive and different. Redefining marriage will undermine this distinctness and difference and risks normalising the technological instrumentalisation of reproduction and increasing the number of families where there is confusion of biological, social and family identity.

7.Redefining marriage will be complex and expensive

Redefining marriage could cost billions and involve amending hundreds of pieces of government legislation. The word 'marriage' appears 3,258 times in UK legislation, which underlines the central role the institution plays in national law. Introducing same sex marriage is a legal can of worms which cannot be achieved without changing the common and legal definition of the word marriage and other words which define it(eg. ‘husband and wife’, ‘consummation’ and ‘adultery’). These changes will inevitably change the definition and nature of marriage for opposite sex couples by trying to accommodate these two very different kinds of relationship under one legal umbrella. According to an assessment done for gay rights group Stonewall by a former civil servant, the cost of implementing one favoured option would be around £5 billion. This figure relates to a theoretical increase in straight couples taking up the opportunity of civil partnerships, with knock-on implications to their entitlement to pension and tax benefits. This is simply not a priority for government at a time of economic recession as it will confer no new rights.

8.Schools will be forced to teach about the new definition of marriage

Under existing education law schools will be required to teach children that marriage can be between a man and a woman, between two men or between two women. This will confuse children whose parents may wish to teach them according to their own values and worldview. Those parents who object could be undermined in their children’s eyes, stigmatised as homophobics and bigots and prevented from full involvement in schools.

9.Redefining marriage will not stop with same sex marriage

In Mexico same sex marriage was followed by two year fixed term marriage. In Canada legalising same sex marriage has led to supporters of polygamy demanding in the courts for their unions to be recognised. If the legal definition is changed to accommodate same sex couples other minority groups with a vested interest (eg. Muslims, Mormons, Bisexuals and Polyamorists) will have a much stronger case to argue for the legalisation of polygamy and group marriages. The best defence against this is to keep the legal definition of marriage unique and distinct – ‘one man, one woman, for life’.

10.Redefining marriage will lead to faith-based discrimination

We have already seen a rising tide of discrimination against people who support traditional marriage as a result of the legalisation of civil partnerships coupled with new equality legislation.. If same sex marriage is legalised faith-based employers who provide special health benefits to married employees would be required by law to extend those benefits to same-sex ‘spouses’. They would also face lawsuits for taking any adverse employment action - no matter how modest - against an employee for the public act of obtaining a civil ‘marriage’ with a member of the same sex. Faith-based adoption and fostering services that place children exclusively with married couples would be required by law to place children with persons of the same sex who are civilly ‘married’. Marriage counsellors from faith backgrounds would be denied their professional accreditation for refusing to provide counselling in support of same-sex ‘married’ relationships. All these moves would place faith groups in the invidious position of being forced to act against their consciences or face marginalisation, exclusion and litigation and would further fuel social fragmentation, sectarianism, antagonism and civil unrest.

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Draft same sex marriage bill abolishes the terms ‘husband and wife’

Fifteen months ago Gay Rights activist group Stonewall did not have a position on same sex marriage but this week they have published a bill calling for its full legalisation just weeks before the government issues a consultation paper on how it should be done.

The two-page bill lists five legislative steps it says are necessary and Stonewall is calling upon the government to publish a White Paper, consulting on the detail of how to implement its proposal, and not a Green Paper which would simply consult on the wider principle.

The draft bill (see full text) includes exemptions for religious institutions, and seeks to retain civil partnerships for same sex couples, but not to introduce them for heterosexual couples. This would leave same sex couples with two options - civil partnership or marriage - but opposite sex couples with only one - marriage.

This places Stonewall at loggerheads with gay rights activist Peter Tatchell whose ‘Valentine’s Day wish’ is for ‘Equal Love’: that is an end to what he calls the ‘twin legal bans’ on same-sex civil marriages and opposite-sex civil partnerships.

The Stonewall draft bill also amends the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 to remove the terms ‘husband and wife’ and replace them with ‘parties to a marriage’.

It amends the Marriage Act 1949 to stipulate that ‘a clergyman is not obliged to solemnise a marriage between two persons of the same sex’ and that the ‘Registrar General must provide a system for parties to a valid civil partnership to have their civil partnership registered as a marriage where both parties to the civil partnership consent’.

Finally it contains a clause allowing government ministers to extend its provisions at a later date, suggesting that these initial proposals are simply a first step towards more radical changes later on.

The bill also does not address the legal difficulties of how consummation and adultery are to be legally defined.

Meanwhile the battle lines over same sex marriage have become more tightly drawn in the last week.

Tory MP, David Burrowes, is facing an ‘intolerant’ campaign against him because of his opposition to homosexual marriage. The campaign is led by the treasurer of his local Conservative association, Phillip Dawson, who is homosexual.

Dawson says it is not acceptable for David Burrowes to vote against same-sex marriage and lead MPs in an effort to retain traditional marriage.and has launched a campaign on Facebook and Twitter against him.

David Burrowes, the Tory MP for Enfield, Southgate and head of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, is the latest of a number of public figures who have recently faced intolerance because of their support for traditional marriage.

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, received racist hate mail following his comments that marriage is between one man and one woman. Police are investigating the incidents.

Meanwhile, a Roman Catholic Bishop has urged MPs ‘of Christian conscience’ to rebel against their party leaderships and vote down plans to legalise same-sex marriage.

The Rt Rev Mark Davies, Bishop of Shrewsbury, who is thus far the most senior Roman Catholic figure in England and Wales to speak out, has urged politicians to help protect the ‘God-given meaning of marriage for the sake of all generations to come’.

The Bishop’s intervention comes just weeks after reports that more than 100 Conservative MPs could vote against David Cameron’s proposals on same-sex unions.

Marriage is a human institution recognized by virtually all societies and 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, and as we have seen above, cannot be done without changing the nature of marriage itself.

Equality under the law does not mean uniformity and same sex couples already have the legal option of forming civil partnerships which grant them virtually all the rights of married couples. A same sex relationship, however committed or permanent, is not marriage and should not be called marriage.

It is not up to governments to redefine marriage – but simply to recognise it, to accept that it is not open to everybody, and to seek to protect it and promote it as the bedrock of society that it is.

Tuesday 14 February 2012

Richard Dawkins moral agenda

Much ink has already been spilt on Richard Dawkins' reaction to Baroness Warsi’s warning about the rising tide of ‘militant secularization’ and his forgetting the name of Darwin’s classic work on evolution in a radio four debate.

Dawkins' Foundation for Reason and Science (UK) found in a poll published today that almost three quarters (74 per cent) of 'Christians' polled agreed that religion should not influence public policy, while only about one in eight (12 per cent) thought that it should.

It also found that 92 per cent of 'Christians' agreed that the law should apply to everyone equally, regardless of their personal religious beliefs.

Other interesting findings in Dawkins' survey of a sample of the 54% who called themselves ‘Christian’ in a recent census included the following:

•62% favoured a woman's right to have an abortion within the legal time limit
•61% agreed that homosexuals should have the same legal rights in all aspects of their lives as heterosexuals
•46% did not disapprove of sexual relations between two adults of the same sex
•23% believed that sex between a man and a woman was only acceptable within marriage

None of these findings will surprise evangelicals as it has long been evident that most people in Britain who call themselves ‘Christian’ neither have a Christian worldview nor accept biblical authority.

But I was more interested in Dawkins' statements about his own ethical values.

The Telegraph reports him as saying that ‘Britain is a secular society, with secular, humane values’.

He then goes on to complain about ‘Christian campaign groups’ which have ‘become increasingly vocal’ and are ‘demanding special rights for Christians to be exempted from equalities legislation, strenuously opposing all attempts to review the law on assisted suicide, (and) campaigning against further social advances such as equal rights for gay people to marry.’

So, either explicitly or implicitly, it seems that Dawkins ‘secular human values’ include the promotion of abortion, euthanasia, sex outside marriage and same sex marriage. No wonder he dislikes Christianity so much.

On the home page of his website there is a link to the The Appignani Foundation on the website of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU)

The Appignani Foundation was set up in 2001 by Louis Appignani with an endowment of US$2,500,000 to support ‘secular activities that will address significant, viable and long term human goals on our planet’.

These goals, we are told, ‘can be accomplished by encouraging creative free thought that spreads humanistic values and through a commitment to the belief that scientific research is the most reliable path to truth’.

IHEU is the ‘world union of more than 100 Humanist, rationalist, ethical culture, atheist and freethought organisations in over 40 countries’ with a mission ‘to build and represent the global Humanist movement that defends human rights and promotes Humanist values world-wide’.

Its ‘resolution’ page includes statements supporting abortion, euthanasia, population control and lesbian and gay rights.

Amongst the organizations under its umbrella is the British Humanist Association which embraces similar values on its website as follows:

•The British Humanist Association has long supported attempts to legalise assisted dying for the terminally ill.
•The British Humanist Association’s position in regard to abortion is ‘pro-choice’.
•We campaign for stronger equality laws against irrelevant discrimination, particularly in the context of the 'religion or belief' and 'sexual orientation' equality strands.

Now none of this is surprising and I have previously blogged on the Secular Medical Forum’s agenda to attack Christianity and promote abortion, physician assisted suicide and embryonic stem cell research.

But it is worth noting that Dawkins anti-Christian crusade is not just an intellectual attack on Christian belief. It is perhaps even more an attack on fundamental Christian values such as the sanctity of life and sexual purity. And, as the Apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 1, unbelief in the creator is inextricably linked to a rejection of the creator’s character and morality.

It is said that you can't derive an ought from an is. But this is exactly what Dawkins has done. On the one hand he tells us that 'DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music'.

On the other hand he builds a profoundly anti-Christian set of ethics seemingly out of a vacuum.

Jesus said, 'the world hates me because I testify that what it does it evil' (John 7:7)

Well isn't that interesting! I wonder if it explains some of Dawkins' anti-Christian passion.

Is his problem with the idea of a creator who holds us to account in fact more moral than intellectual?

'For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse...Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools… Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator...Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practise them.'

Monday 13 February 2012

Government blocks attempt by pro-euthanasia lobby to fetter DPP in bringing prosecutions for assisted suicide

Last night the House of Lords discussed assisted suicide.

The one hour dinner debate, in which 30 peers spoke, was focused on the role of the Director of Public Prosecutions in cases of assisted suicide.

The DPP’s current prosecution policy for assisted suicide was published in February 2010 following Debbie Purdy’s successful appeal to the Law Lords for clarity on which cases of assisted suicide are likely to lead to a prosecution.

Purdy, who has multiple sclerosis, had sought to achieve an assurance that her husband would not be prosecuted should he accompany her to the Dignitas facility in Switzerland to end her life.

The pro-euthanasia lobby had hoped that this case would lead to an increase in the number of assisted suicides in Britain but actually since the policy was put in place the numbers have remained constant at about 20 per year. All that has changed is that more cases are now referred to the DPP!

In all, about 180 Britons have gone to Switzerland to end their lives, but whilst only 8 were referred to the DPP in the years 2003 to 2008, there were 50 referred between January 2009 and December 2011.

The debate, which is well worth reading in full, featured all the usual arguments from both sides, but was important for two reasons.

First it revealed the hand of the pro-euthanasia lobby ahead of a more important debate on assisted suicide next month in the House of Commons. Second it told us where the government stands on the issue.

So what does the pro-euthanasia lobby actually want?

Baroness Jay, a vice-chair of the All Party Group on Choice at the End of Life (aka the parliamentary wing of ‘Dignity in Dying’, the former ‘Voluntary Euthanasia Society’), laid out her agenda.

1.Negotiated immunity from prosecution for people intending to assist a suicide before the act has actually been committed (currently the assessment is made after the act)

2.More scope for doctors and nurses to help someone commit suicide (currently they are likely to be prosecuted under the DPP’s policy)

And how did the government respond?

Lord Wallace (pictured), replying on behalf of the government gave both these suggestions short shrift. He also very helpfully explained the respective roles of parliament and the DPP more clearly.

Lord Wallace said that we need to understand the distinction between the law on assisted suicide (which is set by parliament and is always subject to a conscience vote) and the DPP prosecution policy (which is set by the DPP within the general framework set by parliament).

The DPP is superintended by the Attorney General and through him is accountable to parliament but for parliament to alter the DPP’s guidelines would be to interfere inappropriately with his role.

‘There is a distinction, however, between that accountability (through the Attorney General), which is quite proper, and having guidelines and policies approved by Parliament that in some respects could fetter the independence of the decision of the prosecutor.’

It was never the intention that every case of assisted suicide would lead to a prosecution. Instead the role of the law is to act as a strong deterrent whilst the prosecution policy allows the DPP to show compassion on a case by case basis.

Lord Wallace explained that suspected cases need first to be investigated by the police and then referred to the DPP who would then decide whether there was enough evidence to bring a prosecution and whether it was in the public interest to proceed with one.

With regard to would-be assisters being granted immunity from prosecution by the DPP ahead of time, he said that this was beyond the DPP’s scope of authority.

‘Prospective immunity has never been granted. The DPP told (Lord Falconer’s) commission that,

“the position of the prosecutors has been historically that we won’t indicate in advance whether conduct is criminal or not. Various rulings of the courts have indicated that that would be a wrong position for the prosecutor to adopt and therefore we haven’t done that”.

Indeed, it goes beyond the DPP’s power because the police are responsible for deciding when an investigation should be instigated. Obviously, if there was no alleged crime, that would not be possible.’

With regard to a person ‘acting in his or her capacity as a medical doctor’ to assist a suicide, the DPP guidelines make clear that such a person is more likely to face prosecution.

To confer ‘blanket immunity’ on such people ‘would be wrong’ because this ‘would not only fetter the discretion of the Director of Public Prosecutions who needs to look at the individual circumstances of every case but would be tantamount to a change in the law’ which ‘is for Parliament to determine’.

As for ‘families and doctors discussing end-of-life options’, he said that this was ‘a matter which would more appropriately require a change in the law rather than indicating, ahead of a potential crime being committed, that there was immunity for it’.

So in summary Lord Wallace made it very clear that the government intends to let the DPP get on with his job without interfering. It is not for parliament to decide on a case by case basis who should be prosecuted or to usurp his role by amending his prosecution policy.

There was no vote at this debate, but it has set the groundwork for a further debate in the House of Commons next month, when there will be a vote. However, it is pretty clear that if the pro-euthanasia lobby wishes to get immunity for people assisting suicides ahead of time, or involve doctors as assisters without the fear of prosecution they are not going to do it by trying to get parliament to dictate to the DPP what he should and should not do. That would be to usurp his role.

If they want a change in the law they will have to change the law itself and not try to interfere with the DPP’s prosecution policy which is his responsibility, and not parliament’s, to set and administer.

Sunday 5 February 2012

Fantastic treatment breakthrough highlights utter scandal of British banking crisis

Here is an amazing good news story I first read about on Aljazeera which has had wide coverage outside the UK but has been largely ignored by the BBC and most British newspapers.

I have previously highlighted on this blog that by focussing exclusively on HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB, Western governments and NGOs have neglected other easily treatable and curable diseases.

The neglected diseases, which include schistosomiasis, river blindness, ascariasis, elephantiasis and trachoma, affect more than 750 million people and kill at least 500,000 every year.

Treating all of these illnesses with a cocktail of four readily available drugs would cost less than 50 cents (28p) a person a year. Furthermore dealing with the forgotten diseases would reduce susceptibility to malaria and help to make socio-economic improvements for those in poverty, as well as save lives.

Reaching everyone in Africa who needed treating would cost $200 million a year, a mere fraction of the $15 billion a year being spent on malaria, HIV and TB.

But this week a fantastic breakthrough has been announced.

Thirteen major pharmaceutical companies, government groups and health charities will work together in a push to eliminate or control by 2020 ten tropical diseases that affect more than a billion people in poor countries.

The partners, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, call it the largest coordinated effort ever to combat neglected tropical diseases. The government groups and charities alone are committing just over $785 million in new funding.

The drug makers are donating billions of doses of their medicines over the rest of the decade, but did not attribute a value to them. The companies also will work together to speed up development of new treatments, and the partners will work on improving drug delivery and treatment programs, including prevention and education.

The project, announced Monday at the Royal College of Physicians in London, aims to meet the goals of the World Health Organization's roadmap for controlling the diseases by 2020.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the project’s biggest donor, with a five-year, $363 million donation to support research and operations. The U.K. Department for International Development is committing about $305 million, and the U.S. Agency for International Development is providing $89 million. That's on top of USAID’s $212 million investment since 2006. Other governments or charities are giving smaller amounts.

This is wonderful news indeed but in reading the main thing that struck me was the miniscule cost of this project alongside the scale of our British national debt.

I have previously also remarked that the cost of tackling non-communicable diseases (eg. heart disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes) worldwide each year in poor countries is less than 1% of what we spent bailing out British banks.

This cost, calculated at £7.2 billion, is more than ten times what has been pledged this week but less than 1% of what we will spend bailing out British banks (£850 billion). Much has been made of the £45 billion of taxpayers money used to bail out Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS). But this £850 billion total is almost 20 times that.

According to the National Audit Office the Government spent £117 billion buying shares in banks and lending directly to financial institutions.

The audit office also suggested that the bill could rise further, as the total of investments, guarantees, loans and insurance schemes established to support the banks meant that the taxpayer was liable for up to £850 billion - £40,000 for each family.

The £850 billion includes buying £76 billion of shares in Royal Bank of Scotland and the Lloyds Banking Group; indemnifying the Bank of England against losses incurred in providing more than £200 billion of liquidity support; guaranteeing up to £250 billion of wholesale borrowing by banks to strengthen liquidity; providing £40 billion of loans and other funding to Bradford & Bingley and the Financial Services Compensation Scheme; and insurance cover of over £280 billion for bank assets.

Given how little it costs in comparison to prevent, treat or eliminate disease imagine what impact we could have made had we chosen to invest our money in caring for the poor rather than in borrowing to live beyond our means!

Perhaps this is one reason why the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, recently said that Britain’s public debt, which last month topped £1 trillion, was the ‘greatest moral scandal’ facing the country.

God said of Sodom, ‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.’ (Ezekiel 16:49, 50)

If this was what he thought of Sodom, I wonder what he thinks of us.