Tuesday 30 April 2013

One in four 2010 Tories say gay marriage turning them off voting Conservative, according to new poll

From the Coalition for marriage and covered today by the Daily Telegraph and ITV

• Gay marriage will hit David Cameron hard in the local elections

• Pro traditional marriage UKIP surge to 22 per cent

• Lib Dems also losing votes over policy

David Cameron faces losing hundreds of county council seats this Thursday, because of his plans to redefine marriage, according to a major new poll of voters entitled to vote in this week’s local elections.

The survey carried out by ComRes ahead of the local elections reveals that one in four of those who helped put David Cameron into Downing Street say the policy is turning them off from voting Conservative.

Asked, "Does the Coalition Government's plans to legalise same sex marriage make you more or less likely to vote for each of these parties in next week's local elections?" one quarter, (26 per cent) of Conservative 2010 voters say less likely with fewer than one in 10 (nine per cent) saying more likely. 

The policy is costing the Conservatives three votes for every one gained.

Worryingly for Mr Cameron the poll, carried out between 24th and 28th April, found evidence that the policy was driving voters into the arms of the UK Independence Party, who have seen their poll rating surge in recent months.

Asked about voting intentions for Thursday, more than one in five of voters (22 per cent), said they were planning to vote for Nigel Farage's Party which opposes gay marriage. Amongst Conservative 2010 voters this rises to one in four (25 per cent) who say they will be voting UKIP on Thursday.  

Colin Hart Campaign Director for the Coalition for Marriage described the poll as a “real blow for the PM”.

“The Prime Minister has consistently backed the proposed changes to redefine marriage as part of the so called decontamination strategy, but it has not worked. Every section of the electorate are highly sceptical about his motives, believing he is pushing this policy in a cynical attempt to make his party look trendy and progressive. This is the ultimate failure of Blairite triangulation policy.

“As Lady Thatcher famously said, 'If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time and you would achieve nothing'."

The poll makes grim reading for Mr Cameron's Coalition partners, the Lib Dems who see their electoral support plummet. In 2009 a quarter, (24.9 per cent) of those voting in the same local elections voted Lib Dem. Four years later this figure is set to halve to just over one in ten (12 per cent).

Twice as many Lib Dem 2010 voters say that gay marriage is making them less likely to vote for their party compared with more likely, (18 per cent and 9 per cent respectively). And one in five Lib Dem 2010 voters say they intend to vote Labour on Thursday.

The poll also found some evidence that this weekend’s attacks on UKIP have boosted support for Mr Farage to the tune of nearly five per cent.

Mr Hart continued: "No 10 will no doubt take comfort that his own performance is slightly less disastrous than Ed Miliband's, who polls under a quarter, (24 per cent), but this compares with less than one in nine people (12.7 per cent) who voted in the same elections in 2009. So these figures represent a significant improvement on where Labour was four years ago.”

The poll is the third blow to Mr Cameron’s gay marriage plan this week. Yesterday a national newspaper published a letter from the leaders of the UK biggest so-called black churches, which was highly critical of the plans.

Black church leader Rev Yemi Adedeji (whose group includes churches representing one million people) accused the PM of turning his back on traditional values to satisfy the demands of a “white, liberal elite” while ignoring the growing ethnic minority communities who might otherwise be part of their core vote.

The letter said that the Government had “no respect for democracy” and warned the Conservatives that the redefinition of marriage could cost them votes by rejecting “difference” and “a plural society”.

And yesterday the Northern Ireland Assembly firmly rejected a Sinn Fein backed proposal to rewrite the current definition of marriage by more 11 votes, an increased majority from when the assembly last voted on the issue.

Mr Hart concluded: “This latest poll is a real blow for the PM. It shows that ripping up the current definition of marriage is a real turn off. It is costing both the Conservative and Lib Dems massive amounts of votes and is significantly driving up support for UKIP.

“The legal safeguards have already started to unravel making much more likely cases like Adrian Smith, the Housing Manager demoted for saying on his personal facebook page that gay marriage in churches was an “equality too far”, or Rev Ross who was sacked because his belief in traditional marriage was “not compatible” with Strathclyde’s police equality policy.

“Now we find out that the leaders of Britain’s largest ethnic minority churches have been completely ignored, including their request for a meeting with the Secretary of State being rejected. Given that Black churches represent well over a million people it is astonishing that this important group would be so marginalised and ignored.”

Monday 29 April 2013

Marie Fleming loses Supreme Court appeal challenging ban on assisted suicide

A 59-year-old Irish woman today lost her Supreme Court challenge to the ban on assisted suicide.

Marie Fleming (pictured) is a 59 year old former Irish lecturer who has multiple sclerosis and wanted her partner to be able to help her kill herself without risk of prosecution (See Irish Times and BBC Europe reports).

She had argued the ban on assisted suicide breached her Constitutional rights and discriminated against her as a disabled person.

This morning, however, the Supreme Court’s seven judges concluded that “there is no constitutional right to commit suicide or to arrange for the determination of one’s life at a time of one’s choosing”.

Fleming's landmark case in Ireland is very similar to that of Debbie Purdy in Britain, who won a case in 2009 forcing the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to make public the criteria he used in deciding to bring a prosecution for assisting suicide. These criteria were published in February 2010 and have been the subject of some controversy.

What makes the Fleming case particularly interesting is that her partner who wishes to avoid prosecution is none other than Tom Curran, the Coordinator for Exit International Europe (EIE), a pro-euthanasia lobby group (EIE is part of Exit International, which is headed by controversial Australian euthanasia campaigner Philip Nitschke). 

Suicide was decriminalised in Ireland in 1993, but Section 2.2 of the Criminal Law Suicide Act 1993 makes it an offence to ‘aid, abet, counsel or procure’ a suicide. Those convicted under this law still face a custodial sentence of up to 14 years.

The Irish Act is almost identical to the Suicide Act 1961 of England and Wales, with the exception that in the latter the words ‘aid, abet, counsel or procure’ were amended to ‘encourage or assist’ by the Coroners and Justice Act in 2009 in an attempt to make it easier to secure convictions in cases of internet suicide promotion where the guilty party did not personally know the victim.

In her case against Ireland, the Attorney General and Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Fleming claimed section 2.2 of the Criminal Law (Suicide) Act, which renders it an offence to aid, abet, counsel or procure the suicide of another, was unconstitutional on grounds that it breached her personal autonomy rights under the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights (See more here)

Fleming argued that the absolute ban should and must be relaxed to meet her particular circumstances as a terminally ill person in severe pain who is mentally competent to decide when and how she wants to end her life but cannot do so without assistance. She claimed that the law discriminated against her as a disabled person who needed assistance to kill herself.

A three judge High Court ruled earlier that the absolute ban did not disproportionately infringe Ms Fleming's personal rights under the Constitution and was wholly justified in the public interest to protect vulnerable people.

The High Court also ruled that the Director of Public Prosecutions had no power to issue guidelines setting out what factors she would consider in deciding whether to prosecute cases of assisted suicide. However, the court was however ‘sure’ the Director would adopt a humane and sensitive approach to Ms Fleming's plight, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns said.

Ms Fleming was not appealing against that aspect of the court's decision. Her appeal instead focussed on arguments that the absolute ban on assisted suicide breached her personal autonomy rights under the Constitution and European Convention on Human Rights and that, in her particular circumstances, this ban was not justified on public interest grounds but was disproportionate and discriminatory.

This claim has now failed, with the Supreme Court rejecting 'the submission that there exists a constitutional right for a limited class of persons, which would include the appellant. While it is clear that the appellant is in a most tragic situation, the Court has to find constitutional rights anchored in the Constitution... [and it] has not been the jurisprudence of the Constitution that rights be identified for a limited group of persons.'

Fleming’s case rested on the flawed assumption that, since suicide itself is not illegal, there is thereby a right to suicide. It is on this basis that she claimed that as a seriously disabled person she was being discriminated against for not being able to exercise that right, when able-bodied people can.

Dignity in Dying (the former British Voluntary Euthanasia Society) has used a similar line of argument.

However this is to misunderstand the basis and intention of the law.

When the British Parliament passed the Suicide Act in 1961 it was assured that the decriminalisation of suicide did not indicate any reduction of the seriousness with which either (a) suicide or (b) assisting suicide were viewed.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, moving the Suicide Bill's Third Reading, said:

'Because we have taken the view, as Parliament and the Government have taken, that the treatment of people who attempt to commit suicide should no longer be through the criminal courts, it in no way lessens, nor should it lessen, the respect for the sanctity of life which we all share. It must not be thought that because we are changing the method of treatment for those unfortunate people, we seek to depreciate the gravity of the action of anyone who tries to commit suicide…..' (Hansard: HC Deb 28 July 1961 vol 645: 1961(a): Cols 822-823)

He went on:

'I should like to state as solemnly as I can….that we wish to give no encouragement whatever to suicide…..I hope that nothing that I have said will give the impression that the act of self-murder, of self-destruction, is regarded at all lightly by the Home Office or the Government.' (Hansard:HC Deb 19 July 1961 vol 644: Cols 1425-1426)

Fleming and others wish to argue that in some cases suicide is not serious and is in fact a morally good course of action. That is a position that needs to be strongly resisted at all costs.

It is one thing to argue that people who attempt suicide should be treated with mercy and compassion by the courts. But it is quite another to argue that committing suicide, taking one’s own life, is a moral good and thereby a right.

That would be a very dangerous precedent indeed, which once established would be used as a legal lever for more and more incremental extension.

Judgment Of the Supreme Court: Fleming v Ireland 

Same sex marriage creates a legal fiction and fails to respect difference say ethnic church leaders

Leaders of ethnic churches in Britain have today said that the government is ‘creating a legal fiction’ and ‘not respecting difference’ in its move to legalise same sex marriage.

The statement is a significant new step in opposition to the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, which reaches report stage in the House of Commons on 20 May.

It is also a huge further blow to David Cameron's coalition government in the lead up to the local elections on 2 May and shows that he is alienating and marginalising the very minorities he claims to be anxious to reach. 

Already over 650,000 people have signed the Coalition for Marriage petition against the bill. The letter, published in today’s Daily Telegraph, is reproduced below.

Vote on gay marriage

SIR – The Government is forcing through fundamental changes to the nature of marriage, and has failed to think through the consequences properly. We are leaders of large, ethnically diverse denominations in Britain – growing churches. Instead of hearing our concerns, the Government is taking direction from tiny faith groups to infer backing for its plans.

If the Government gets its way, it will not be a victory for equality. Equality requires diversity, and diversity requires distinctiveness, and marriage is and always will be distinctively a union between a man and a woman. By changing marriage from its historic foundation it would be creating a legal fiction, and consequently devaluing this vitally important social institution. The Government is not respecting difference, and it is not promoting a plural society.

The people of Britain need to have their say. These plans were not in any party’s manifesto, and if the Government had any respect for democracy it would allow a referendum before making fundamental changes to the nature of marriage.

Rev Yemi Adedeji
Director, One People Commission

Rev Kingsley Appiagyei
Senior Pastor, Trinity Baptist Church

Bishop Eric Brown
National Overseer, New Testament Church of God

Rev Dr Daniel Chae
Executive Director, Amnos Ministries

John Glass
General Superintendent, Elim Pentecostal Church

Pastor Agu Irukwu
Senior Pastor, Jesus House

Dr Tani Omideyi
Senior Minister, Love & Joy Ministries

Sunday 28 April 2013

The 45th anniversary of the Abortion Act - what it tells us about our society and what Christians can do

The 45th anniversary of the implementation of Britain’s Abortion Act passed on Saturday unnoticed by the national media.

The Abortion Act 1967 came into effect on 27 April 1968. Since then, around 7.6 million babies have been aborted, now 200,000 each year.

Currently one in five pregnancies ends in abortion and 98% are carried out on spurious mental health grounds when in fact there is absolutely no evidence that abortion protects mental health.

God hates the shedding of innocent blood (Proverbs 6:16-18) and the Bible tells us that the nation of Judah fell under God’s judgement because God was not willing to forgive her for the innocent blood that was shed by King Manasseh (2 Kings 21:15-17; 2 Kings 24:3-5).

The nations that God drove out of Canaan ahead of the Israelites were characterised by three main features – idolatry, sexual immorality and child sacrifice (the shedding of innocent blood) and these same three features are deeply prevalent in our own society and work together to fuel the abortion holocaust.

The vast majority of ‘unwanted’ children are conceived outside marriage as a direct result of sexually immoral acts and the Bible tells us that greed (or covetousness) is idolatry (Colossians 3:5). So our idols are then the things we covet and desire, that we are willing to kill in order to protect.

Francis Schaeffer said that the two principle idols of Western Civilisation are personal peace (maximising pleasure and avoiding suffering) and affluence (material prosperity) .

It is on these altars and in order to appease these false gods - personal peace and affluence - that almost all abortions are carried out.

‘Unwanted’ children constitute a burden. They threaten our personal peace and affluence, so they must be sacrificed.

21st century Britain is therefore a land, like ancient Canaan, wallowing in idolatry, sexual immorality and child sacrifice.

Sadly the church is largely asleep when it comes to confronting these realties but it is in our hands to be agents of healing and change. God in similar circumstances called his people, ancient Israel, to repentance:

‘if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.’ (2 Chronicles 7:14)

Likewise he calls us, his church, today to respond in the same way.

Christian Concern, last week, highlighted several rays of hope and urged Christians to pray and to become more involved in turning the tide on abortion. Here are four of them:

1. Image - Crisis pregnancy counselling and support

Image is a Christian charity in Manchester that offers a number of services to women. It is one of a number of groups across the country which offer pregnancy counselling, parent support groups and post-abortion support.

Many lives have been touched through Image's faithful ministry. The charity firmly believes that all people are made in God's image and therefore have value. Watch this short video to find out about their work and how you can be involved.  

2. One of Us - A small step to save millions of lives 

Please take a small step that could safeguard the lives of many. The 'One of Us' European Citizens Initiative would allow us to propose European legislation to ban European funding for any activities that destroy human embryos. We only need 1 million 'signatures' and we have over 250,000 already.

It only takes a few moments but could have a huge impact – so please start by clicking here.

3. 40 Days for Life - Prayer ministry

40 days for life is a locally organised community initiative encouraging Christians to pray for an end to abortion. Prayer vigils are organised outside of abortuaries with the intention of saving lives and inspiring hearts and minds. During a recent London prayer campaign, organisers estimated that 36 babies were saved from abortion. 

Christians can get involved through prayer vigils, distributing literature, counselling and door-to-door outreach. Get in touch with Robert to find out more.  

4. Alliance of ProLife Students - Students taking action

The Alliance of Pro-Life Students (APS) is a new student-led initiative seeking to bring the pro-life message back onto university campuses and promote a culture of life. APS is not just speaking up for the unborn but also for the right to freely express pro-life views on university campuses.

This initiative has been met with a lot of enthusiasm - four new groups have just recently been set up in Sheffield, Hertfordshire, Aberdeen and Nottingham. If you're a student, get in touch with APS to see if there a group meeting at your university or to find out how you can start one.

Thursday 25 April 2013

The role of Christian doctors - Elijah or Obadiah?

The Old Testament prophet Elijah's confrontation with the prophets of Baal in 1 Kings 18 is one of the best-known stories of the Old Testament. One man has the courage to stand up to Israel's apostate king Ahab and his evil wife Jezebel and wins a great victory on Mt Carmel. God himself intervenes in the contest both to vindicate Elijah and to demonstrate his own majesty and power. It is a reminder that even during the darkest times of human history God remains in control.

The story of Elijah's withdrawal into the desert when later overcome by fear and exhaustion is one beloved by all who have ever found themselves 'honourably wounded' in the Lord's service. God's provision of food, drink, rest and a fresh refilling with his Spirit is a prescription we all need to draw on frequently if we are to retain our sanity and spiritual health in a world increasingly hostile to Christian living and Christian values.

But the story that I would like to draw your attention to is that which immediately precedes the battle on Mt Carmel – the meeting that takes place between Elijah and Obadiah. Obadiah is a lesser known Bible character – but he was in charge of King Ahab's palace and clearly, like Joseph, Daniel, Nehemiah and Mordecai in other Bible stories, had risen to a position of great influence and responsibility in government. We are also told that he was a 'devout believer in the Lord' and that while Jezebel was killing off the Lord's prophets, Obadiah had 'taken a hundred of the Lord's prophets and hidden them in two caves… and supplied them with food and water'. Like a former day Schindler, he was prepared to take risks to do the right thing.

Ahab, egged on by his wife, intended to kill Elijah, who had three years earlier prophesied to him that God was sending a drought as judgement on Israel's idolatry and apostasy. The meeting between Elijah and Obadiah took place as the latter was combing the land at Ahab's command to find grass to feed Ahab's starving animals.

Elijah tells Obadiah to go to Ahab and announce his arrival but Obadiah is reticent to do so afraid that if Ahab cannot then find Elijah, his own life will be in danger. He is reassured when Elijah agrees to meet Ahab himself later that day. As they say the rest is history.

It can be uncomfortable to be an Elijah in today's world. But some of us are called to do just that – to stand up for justice and truth publicly in a hostile environment, delivering messages that the powers that be might not want to hear, being prepared to confront injustice and corruption, speaking out in order to be a 'voice for the voiceless' through letters, articles, submissions, personal visits and on the media.

The responsibility of Elijahs is to speak the truth without compromise; but the danger of playing such a prophetic role is that one can come across as bigoted, simplistic and strident - throwing judgements like grenades from a distance whilst shrinking from the face-to-face encounters with those in authority that really bring results. Elijah did not shrink from seeing the job through and risking all to do it – and he was also prepared to face the risk of meeting Ahab and not leave Obadiah to face him alone.

It can be equally unsettling to be an Obadiah – occupying a position of responsibility in our society's corridors of power. Obadiahs have responsibilities too – to use the position of power and influence God has given them to protect the vulnerable and innocent and to be willing to face up to unjust authority when it is called for. The danger of playing this 'incarnational' servant role is that one can be tempted to become compromised, timid and anxious about one's reputation. Obadiah was afraid about what Ahab might do – but despite his fear he was willing to pass on Elijah's message to the king, even though it put his own life at risk.

God needs Christian doctors in these days who are willing to be prophets like Elijah, people who are prepared to speak unpalatable truth, who are willing to put their heads above the parapet to expose corruption and injustice, and challenge flawed policy, regardless of the personal cost. And God also needs Obadiahs who will accept responsibility within our society's flawed institutions – in NHS Trusts, Royal Colleges, Hospitals, BMA, GMC and government – in order to be salt and light; to safeguard the services for the most vulnerable and to care with compassion for the most needy. And most importantly God needs the Elijahs and Obadiahs to work together, respecting, enabling and encouraging one another, for the extension of his kingdom and for his glory.

Whether you see yourself as an Obadiah or Elijah, or someone called to play another role entirely, God will equip, inform and inspire you on that journey.

Wednesday 24 April 2013

GMC and RCM must now move urgently to review their abortion guidance in light of Glasgow midwives court ruling

Two Roman Catholic midwives have today won a landmark legal battle to avoid taking any part in abortion procedures.

Mary Doogan, 58, and Concepta Wood, 52, (pictured) lost a previous case against NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (GGC) when the court ruled that their human rights had not been violated as they were not directly involved in terminations.

However appeal judges have now ruled their right to conscientious objection means they can refuse to delegate, supervise or support staff involved in abortions.

The Guardian, BBC and Scottish TV have all reported on today’s ruling and I have previously blogged more extensively on the case here and here. The midwives have understandably welcomed today’s verdict.

The judgment is hugely significant and means that official guidance from both the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and the General Medical Council (GMC) will almost certainly now need revision.

The Abortion Act 1967 gives healthcare professionals the right to conscientiously object to ‘participate’ in abortion but the scope of the word ‘participate’ has been the matter of some legal dispute.

But Lady Dorrian, who heard the challenge with Lord Mackay of Drumadoon and Lord McEwan, said: ‘In our view the right of conscientious objection extends not only to the actual medical or surgical termination but to the whole process of treatment given for that purpose.’

She said the conscientious objection in the legislation is given ‘not because the acts in question were previously, or may have been, illegal’ but ‘because it is recognised that the process of abortion is felt by many people to be morally repugnant’.

Lady Dorrian added: ‘It is in keeping with the reason for the exemption that the wide interpretation which we favour should be given to it. It is consistent with the reasoning which allowed such an objection in the first place that it should extend to any involvement in the process of treatment, the object of which is to terminate a pregnancy.’

In the earlier judgement Lady Smith had said that since the midwives were not covered by the conscience clause as ‘they (were) not being asked to play any direct role in bringing about terminations of pregnancy’.

But this has now been overturned.

If this latest ruling is not overturned by a higher court (and it is not yet clear if an appeal will be made by the Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board) then the current RCM guidance will almost certainly need to be revised. It currently reads as follows:

‘The RCM believes that the interpretation of the conscientious objection clause should only include direct involvement in the procedure of terminating pregnancy. Thus all midwives should be prepared to care for women before, during and after a termination in a maternity unit under obstetric care.’

In addition, the latest GMC guidance, which ironically came into force only two days ago, will similarly need to be rewritten. It currently reads:

'In England, Wales and Scotland the right to refuse to participate in terminations of pregnancy (other than where the termination is necessary to save the life of, or prevent grave injury to, the pregnant woman), is protected by law under section 4(1) of the Act. This right is limited to refusal to participate in the procedure(s) itself and not to pre- or post-treatment care, advice or management, see the Janaway case: Janaway v Salford Area Health Authority [1989] 1AC 537'

As Neil Addison points out in para 33 of the Judgment the court makes clear that professional guidelines can be legally wrong and cannot overrule statute, it says:

‘Great respect should be given to the advice provided hitherto by the professional bodies, but prior practice does not necessarily dictate interpretation. Moreover, when the subject of the advice concerns a matter of law, there is always the possibility that the advice from the professional body is incorrect’.

Because this Judgment is from a Scottish Court (and Scotland is a different jurisdiction to England and Wales) it is not strictly binding on an English Court. However it will nonetheless have significant persuasive force in England. The Abortion Act 1967 applies in England, Wales and Scotland (but not in Northern Ireland) and when Scottish Courts have adjudicated on such ‘cross border’ legislation in the past their decisions have been taken very seriously in England and Wales and vice versa. 

I have previously argued that the GMC was over-interpreting the law in a grey area in issuing its guidance. But this latest judgement clarifies the law in a way that now makes that virtually certain.

I trust that the RCM and GMC will move swiftly to review and revise their guidance so that midwives and doctors with a conscientious objection to abortion are clear where they now stand. 

Tuesday 23 April 2013

The Qur'an is facing a blistering attack from contemporary scholarship

Muslims are quick to criticise the Bible’s authenticity and authority; and make the most of the writings of liberal Christian scholars in doing so. But what of their own scriptures? The Qur’an has, in the past, been protected by a kind of doctrinal embargo - but now its historicity, claimed inimitability and historical accuracy are facing a blistering attack from contemporary scholarship.

Missing Manuscripts

According to Muslim tradition the Qur’an was received by Muhammad between AD 610 and 632, recorded by his companions, collected by Zaid-Ibn-Thabit, standardised by Uthman the third Caliph, and then distributed to Baghdad, Medina, Basra, Kufa and Damascus in AD 646-650.

Where then are the original manuscripts? The Qur’anic manuscripts Muslims regard as their earliest; the Topkapi manuscript in Istanbul, Turkey, and the Samarkand manuscript in the Soviet State Library in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, bear the marks of a date of authorship of ~AD 850. They are written in a form of Kufic script which arose in the Abbasid period (~AD 750-850) and are adorned with 9th century embellishments.

The oldest Qur’an, according to forensic dating, is in the British Library. It dates to around AD 790; almost 150 years after Muhammad’s death.

Muslims defend their inability to produce early manuscripts by saying that the Qur’an was originally passed down orally and that early copies have disintegrated. But Muslim tradition itself tells us that the Qur’an was written down 20 years after Muhammad died and we have other Arab literature that has survived from the 7th century. We know that there were secretaries during the Ummayad Dynasty (AD 660-750) and that Muhammad himself worked on a caravan where written records of transactions would have been kept.

The defence of disintegration can be applied to the early New Testament documents which were written on papyrus. However the earliest Qur’ans were written on parchment, a far more robust material. Many of the early Christian parchment manuscripts (such as the Codex Vaticanus, Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Sinaiticus) have been preserved in extremely good condition despite predating the Qur’an by several centuries.

The missing manuscripts are a huge embarrassment to Islam and raise serious questions about whether what Muslims now have are accurate copies of the original. Some scholars are proposing that the Qur’anic text was not standardised until the Abbasid period (AD 750).

Imitable Style

The Qur’an bases its claim of divine authorship on its supposed inimitability. Christians who question the book’s origin are challenged to ‘Bring then a Sura (chapter) like unto it’ (Sura 10:38). The Qur’an’s literary beauty is supposed to prove that it could not have been ‘produced by other than Allah’ (S 10:37).

But is the Qur’an beautiful? Many genuine seekers find its haphazard arrangement, jumbled chronology and endless repetition an insurmountable obstacle. Muslims usually object that the real beauty can only be appreciated in Arabic; and yet great works of literature like Solzenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago and the Hebrew Psalms retain their beauty in English translation. (If in doubt compare Psalm 23 and Sura 109 in English translation and judge for yourself).

Even if we give the Qur’an the benefit of the doubt, is beauty proof of divine origin? Many people would agree that Shakespeare’s plays, Hopkins’ poetry and Vivaldi’s music are magnificent. Indeed, they may lead us to worship God as the giver of such creative talent, but we don’t therefore conclude that only God’s supernatural dictation could have produced these works of art.

In any case, beauty is to some extent subjective an the final judges will always be Muslims, duty-bound to reject any challenge out of hand.

Gerhard Nehls has produced an impressive list of ‘beautiful suras’ in English in his book Christians ask Muslims as noted in the last issue of Isa Masih. A selection of Arabic suras was recently removed from the internet after America On Line faced a barrage of Muslim protests.

Borrowed Stories

Those reading the Qur’an for the first time cannot help but be struck by the number of stories about biblical characters which do not tally with what we know from other historical sources. The usual Muslim defence is to say that the Bible has been changed [but see article on 'Your Bible has been corrupted'- Ed]. However, now we are beginning to identify the real sources for the Qur’an’s mythology.

The account of a raven showing Cain how to hide his brother’s body (S 5:30-32) has its origins in the Targum of Jonathan-ben-Uzziah, the Targum of Jerusalem and the Pirke-Rabbi Eleazar; all apocryphal Jewish writings from the Talmud dating from AD 150-200.

The story of Abraham breaking the idols (S 21:51-71) comes from a set of second century Jewish folktales called theMidrash Rabbah; and the bizarre account of the Queen of Sheba lifting her skirts to walk across a mirrored floor (S 27:44) is derived from a second century apocryphal document called the Targum of Esther.

Equally strange stories from the childhood of Jesus, such as his making real pigeons from clay (S 3:49), and speaking from the cradle (S 19:29-33) originate in the History of Nativity, the First Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ andThomas’ Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ, further fanciful fiction from the early Christian era.

Contradictions and Inaccuracies

The contradictions in the Qur’an are well recognised and have been extensively documented elsewhere.

But perhaps even more damaging to Islamic beliefs about the Qur’an are the factual errors that litter the text. Mary, rather than the Holy Spirit, is identified as the third person of the trinity in Sura 5:119. She is also called the sister of Aaron (Moses’ brother) despite the fact that the two lived 1,500 years apart in history (S 19:28).

We are told in Sura 20:85-87 that a Samaritan was responsible for casting the golden calf of the Exodus, when in fact the Samaritans did not come into existence until after the Jewish exile hundreds of years later. In a similar vein Haman (Esther’s Persian enemy) is identified as a servant of the Egyptian pharoah at the time of Moses.

Once we appreciate that the Bible was not available in Arabic until the mid eighth century, it becomes clear how such glaring fallacies may have found their way into the Qur’an through corrupted oral tradition and hearsay.


Could God really be responsible for a book for which there is so little early manuscript evidence and containing so many inaccuracies? Surely the evidence speaks for itself.

Saturday 20 April 2013

Margaret Thatcher’s views on abortion might surprise you

John Smeaton of SPUC has this week published a short blog listing Baroness Thatcher’s voting record on abortion which he describes as ‘mixed, with a move in a more positive direction in her later parliamentary years’.

In short Thatcher:

1. Voted for (what became) the Abortion Act 1967 at 2nd reading and at Report stage (voting many times for the bill during all-night sittings), though she was absent at 3rd reading

2. Showed a mixed pattern of voting on several attempts by anti-abortion MPs to amend the Abortion Act (St John Stevas, Corrie, Alton)

3. Supported the Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill (now Act) 1990, which enshrined destructive embryo research in law and via which the Abortion Act 1967 was extended with ministerial help

4. Voted against various anti-life/anti-family provisions of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill (now Act) 2008

David Mills, writing for ‘First Things’ this week in an article titled ‘The Complicated Margaret Thatcher’  reviews a Telegraph blog by Damian Thompson and an interview she gave for the Catholic Herald in 1978.

When asked what her attitude to abortion in principle was she answered:

‘The abortion law is only related to the early months and I voted for abortion under controlled conditions. I’m perfectly prepared to have the Act amended along the lines of the Select Committee recommendations because I think that it’s operating in a slightly more lax way than was intended, but I’m not prepared to abolish it completely. Abortion only applies to the very, very early days, but the idea that it should be used as a method of birth control I find totally abhorrent.’

Mrs Thatcher told the interviewer that while Catholics believed that as soon as the ovum was fertilised you had a human being, she believed that ‘after a few months of pregnancy the foetus took on the characteristics of a human being’.

Even then, she said ‘you may have to take the life of the child in order to save the life of the mother, but that is a medical judgment’.

So it seems that she would have been very unhappy with the present situation where 200,000 abortions occur annually in Britain, with 98% being carried out on mental health grounds.

Thatcher’s views would have placed her at the very conservative end of current parliamentarians, but would not be out of place amongst current Conservative cabinet ministers.

Most Conservative members of the cabinet, with the exception of David Cameron, George Osborne and one or two others, have previously voted for lowering the abortion limit to 20 weeks or below
However, when the issue was last voted on in parliament in 2008, MPs rejected any lowering of the upper limit of 24 weeks by substantial majorities.

Votes were as follows:

22-week limit - defeated by 304 to 233
20 week limit - defeated by 332 to 190
16 week limit - defeated by 387 to 84
12 week limit – defeated by 393 to 71

 MPs are, in other words, very liberal on the issue. A substantial proportion of those who voted even for 12 weeks would not have opposed abortion earlier than this.

 So as parliamentarians go Thatcher was at the very conservative end of the spectrum.

 But for those of us who believe that human life should be shown the utmost respect from the time of conception these facts are very sobering indeed. 

Why gay marriage was legalised in New Zealand but rejected in Australia (and what it means for the UK)

Australian golfer Adam Scott teamed up very effectively with New Zealand caddy Steve Williams to lift the US masters green jacket last weekend but the two South Pacific nations are poles apart when it comes to same sex marriage.

Australian members of parliament overwhelmingly rejected a bill that would have legalised gay marriages in September 2012 when the House of Representatives voted 98 to 42 against.

But New Zealand's parliament legalised same-sex marriage this week by a wide majority of 77 to 44, in the process becoming the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to do so.  

In so doing it becomes the 13th country in the world to approve the measure joining the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Argentina and Uruguay.

So why should two countries with such a similar history, culture and ethnic profile come to such different conclusions? Indeed, given that Australia’s government is left of centre and New Zealand’s right, one might have reasonably expected the very opposite result.

The answer seems to boil down to leadership.

Both parliaments allowed a conscience vote but in New Zealand legalisation had the backing of both the Prime Minister John Key and leader of the opposition David Shearer.  

By contrast in Australia both Prime Minister Julia Gillard and opposition leader Tony Abbot voted against the bill.

Australian Marriage Equality national convener Rodney Croome has said that he expects as many as 1’000 gay couples will now cross the Tasman to get married: ‘Now that marriage equality is only three hours away there will be a flood of couples flying to New Zealand’.

But the Australian PM has remained adamant in her opposition telling a gay marriage supporter, ‘I doubt we're going to end up agreeing, I'm sorry’.

The fact that UK political leaders David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg are all strongly in support of legalisation means that the battle to stop it in the UK was always going to be hard fought.

But it is by no means over yet.

The opposition in Britain has been huge and the loss of support to the conservative party over the issue and the resignation of Cameron’s key advisor (and same sex marriage enthusiast) Andrew Cooper last week means that there is still everything to play for as the battle enters the House of Lords in June.

Ironically, Cooper’s resignation seems to be linked to Australian Lynton Crosby now being at the helm to secure the next election for the Tories.

Crosby has a past record of helping Boris Johnson and Australian PM John Howard to victory in the past and will no doubt be advising the British PM that same sex marriage is a vote loser.

There is no doubt that Cameron’s chances of winning the next election have been damaged by his support for gay marriage.

But if he backs down now his campaign to legalise it will lose huge momentum.

I wonder what he cherishes more – to win a reputation as a ‘moderniser’ or to hold on to political power.

Achieving both is looking increasingly not to be possible.

Let’s wait and see.

See also

Friday 19 April 2013

Savita Halappanavar - Medical misadventure verdict does not justify changing Ireland’s abortion law

The jury in the Savita Halappanavar inquest has returned a unanimous verdict of death by medical misadventure.

Savita Halappanavar (pictured), 31, was an Indian woman who tragically died in Ireland from overwhelming infection after allegedly being denied an abortion. 

Her case has been seized upon by the pro-choice lobby as grounds for liberalising Ireland’s abortion law.

Savita was 17 weeks pregnant when admitted to the University Hospital Galway on 21 October 2012 with an inevitable miscarriage.

At that time a fetal heart beat was detected and doctors opted not to end the pregnancy by inducing labour but instead waited for her to deliver naturally.

Her baby was born dead three days later on 24 October.

Savita died from multi-organ failure from septic shock due to an E coli infection on 28 October, four days after her baby’s birth.

The coroner, Dr Ciaran MacLoughlin, said the verdict of medical misadventure did not mean that deficiencies or systems failures in University Hospital Galway necessarily contributed to Mrs Halappanavar's death; these were just findings in relation to the management of her care.

The chief operating officer at the Galway Roscommon Hospital Group, Tony Canavan, acknowledged that there were lapses in the standards of care provided to Mrs Halappanavar and said that deficiencies identified during the inquest would be rectified by the hospital.

Leading obstetrician Peter Boylan outlined a number of deficiencies in her care, but stressed that none on its own was likely to have resulted in Mrs Halappanavar’s death.

The coroner’s nine recommendations  (summarised below) were strongly endorsed by the jury.

The key recommendation read as follows:

The Medical Council should lay out exactly when a doctor can intervene to save the life of the mother in similar circumstances, which would remove doubt and fear from the doctor and also reassure the public. An Bord Altranais should have similar directives for midwives so that the two professions always complement one another.’

The other eight recommendations involved improving hospital systems and procedures.

There are four key questions in this tragic case:

If the doctors had intervened earlier to induce labour when the baby’s heartbeat was still present would Savita have died? Quite possibly not, but at that stage there was no suggestion that her life was in danger.

If they had acted more quickly to diagnose and treat her E coli infection might she have been saved? Possibly. There were several acknowledged errors and omissions made in her care but it is impossible to prove that these led to her death.

Did Savita die because of the Irish abortion law? No, because Irish law already allows abortion when there is a risk to the life, as distinct from the health, of the mother.  Making this judgement, however, sometimes requires considerable skill and experience, which is why clearer guidance from the Irish Medical Council, within the existing law, is to be welcomed.

Does the Irish abortion law need changing? No. As I have previously argued in much more depth on this blog, Savita’s tragic death is not a reason to change the law.

Ireland remains one of the safest places in the world to have a baby. Its maternal mortality rate is just six deaths per 100,000 live births. This compares with 12 in the UK, 15 in the US and 200 in India.

As there are about 75,000 live births a year in Ireland this means that there is an average of just four maternal deaths per year from all causes.

Savita’s death was indeed a tragedy and there was medical misadventure involved in her care, but we should be very wary of knee-jerk legislation. It is far better to handle exceptional circumstances like this by way of guidance from the Medical Council. 

Ending a pregnancy to save the life of a mother by inducing labour when the baby is too young to survive outside the womb is sometimes necessary in extremely rare circumstances.  But this is already legal in Ireland.

Changing the law in Ireland to that of the UK would not save any mothers’ lives but instead would lead to around 11,000 more abortions annually.

The baby in the womb is the most vulnerable of human beings, worthy of wonder, respect, care and protection. The law should reflect that fact whilst allowing intervention to save one life (the mother) in cases where not intervening would mean that two lives (both mother and baby) are lost.

Summary of Coroner’s recommendations (from the Independent):

* The Medical Council should say exactly when a doctor can intervene to save the life of a mother, which will remove doubt or fear from the doctor and also reassure the public;

* Blood samples are properly followed up;

* Protocol in the management of sepsis and guidelines introduced for all medical personal;

* Proper communication between staff with dedicated handover set aside on change of shift;

* Protocol for dealing with sepsis to be written by microbiology departments;

* Modified early warning score charts to be adopted by all staff;

* Early and effective communication with patients and their relatives when they are being cared for in hospital to ensure treatment plan is understood;

* Medical notes and nursing notes to be kept separately;

* No additions or amendments to be made to the medical notes of the dead person who is the subject of an inquiry.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Paul Lamb’s tragic personal circumstances must not blind us to the deadly consequences of his attempt to undermine the murder law

A 57 year-old man, who was almost entirely paralysed in a road accident 23 years ago, is now seeking permission for a doctor to give him a lethal injection to end his life.

Paul Lamb (pictured), who up until the lifting on an anonymity order this week has been known only as ‘L’ (see previous reports here, here and here), has won the right to join the right-to-die campaign started by Tony Nicklinson, a locked-in syndrome sufferer who died last year after an unsuccessful court challenge.  

As a result of his accident Lamb, a divorced father-of-two, has been left with quadriplegia and has no function in any of his limbs apart from a little movement in his right hand.

He requires 24 hour care but can speak and is able to eat, to operate a computer and telephone using an electronic device and to control, with assistance, an electric wheelchair.

Lamb requires a permanent urinary catheter and has pain which is difficult to control. He now feels there are ‘too many negatives’ and claims to be ‘worn out’ and ‘genuinely fed up’ with his life.

His case will be joined to that of Jane Nicklinson, Tony Nicklinson’s widow, and will be heard in the Court of Appeal in the week of 13 May.

Tony Nicklinson’s case was originally rejected by the Divisional Court in August last year and he died less than a week later, on 22 August 2012.

Nicklinson had argued for his GP, or another doctor, to be able to end his life on the basis that the common law defence of ‘necessity’ was available to a charge of murder in a case of voluntary active euthanasia provided that the Court had sanctioned the act in advance (see more on this here). He had also appealed to Article 8 of the European Convention (right to private and family life).

The three judges in the case admitted that Nicklinson was in a ‘terrible predicament’ and described his plight as ‘deeply moving and tragic’ but unanimously agreed that the current law did not breach his human rights and that it was for Parliament, not the courts, to decide whether it should be changed.`

But Paul Bowen QC, counsel for Lamb, has said that he will be asking for this high court decision to be set aside and for the case to be sent back to a different panel of judges to be reconsidered.

Both Jane Nicklinson and Paul Lamb intend to advance arguments under Article 8 and Lamb will also argue for the right to have a lethal injection on grounds of ‘necessity’.

The key point to grasp about this case is that Lamb is arguing not for assisted suicide (help to kill himself) but for euthanasia (giving a doctor the power and authority actively to end his life). He claims that he would be incapable of killing himself even with assistance (although this is in itself questionable given that he appears to be capable of sucking with a straw).

The case therefore threatens to drive a coach and horses through the murder law (rather that the Suicide Act).

It could effectively create a legal precedent for anyone who, according to Tony Nicklinson's words, is suffering from 'a medical condition that causes unbearable suffering', when there are 'no alternative means available by which his suffering may be relieved', who has made a 'voluntary, clear, settled and informed decision' to end his life to be given a lethal injection by a medical doctor 'who is satisfied that his or her duty to respect autonomy and to ease the patient's suffering outweighs his or her duty to preserve life'. 

That is actually a very wide category of people indeed, far wider than any category yet suggested by anyone bringing a bill before any British parliament.

It would also be easily amenable to further incremental extension through the courts. What if a person fulfils all these conditions but is not mentally competent? Or chooses not to try 'alternative means' like palliative care? Or is a minor? Or suffers from a mental illness? Or has dementia? Or could a non-doctor do it? Or might someone claim after death that the conditions applied (when the patient and key witness is already dead)? These are the sort of extensions that we are already seeing in countries like Belgium and the Netherlands which have adopted laws far less radical than this.

Is it any wonder that the Ministry of Justice, the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions are all opposing him?

Paul Lamb is proposing a far-reaching legal change that would remove legal protection from a large number of vulnerable elderly, disabled and sick people. How many of these could then feel pressure, whether real or imagined, to end their lives so as not to be a financial or emotional burden on others? The so called right to die can so easily become the duty to die.

There are also many people who already stand to gain financially or emotionally from the death of particular elderly or disabled family members and they do not need encouragement. This is why the present law is necessary. Through the penalties it holds in reserve it acts as a powerful disincentive to exploitation and abuse whilst giving some prosecutorial and judicial discretion in hard cases. It provides the best balance and does not need changing.

Furthermore, a time of economic recession, when many families are already under pressure from rising costs, unemployment and benefit cuts and health budgets are being squeezed, is the very worst time to be considering such a change in the UK.

We need also to take warning from the rapid incremental extension of euthanasia observed in both Belgium and the Netherlands, two European jurisdictions which have legalised it since 2000.

In the Netherlands cases of euthanasia have increased 15-20% every year since 2006 and in Belgium there was an increase of over 4,600% between 2002 and 2011. And there is now pressure to liberalise the law even further.

More than that, as the Ministry of Justice has already argued, Parliament and not the courts is the proper place to be making such serious decisions. But parliamentary measures attempting to legalise assisted suicide have already been rejected three times by British Parliaments since 2006 over concerns about public safety.

They have also been strongly opposed by medical bodies including the BMA and Royal Colleges along with every major disability rights organisation in the UK.

That is precisely why this current campaign is being waged via the courts. Lamb’s legal team would like the courts to examine ‘the substantive evidence’ and make a decision that is actually the proper province of parliament. This is because they believe that the courts provide an easier path to fulfilling their agenda.

It is noteworthy that Dignity in Dying, the former Voluntary Euthanasia Society, is not backing this case because Lamb is not terminally ill and is seeking euthanasia rather than assisted suicide. Even they see as far too big a step.

Instead Lamb is being supported by the British Humanist Association, which has a far more radical agenda and is intervening on his behalf.

The lifting of Lamb’s anonymity order has effectively passed him the campaigning baton previously held by Nicklinson and the launch of the campaign has been timed to have maximal impact leading up to the Court case in May and the launch of Lord Falconer’s new assisted dying bill in the same month.

Campaigners also know that giving the campaign as human face will help to gain public support for a change that would otherwise be unthinkable.

There will be very few people who will not feel sympathy for Paul Lamb, but we must not allow ourselves to be swayed by his tragic personal circumstances into welcoming a legal change that would have such dangerous repercussions for so many vulnerable elderly and disabled people.

Despite the media hype, the Court of Appeal should give Lamb’s high profile campaign the same short shrift that the Divisional Court gave Tony Nicklinson.