Friday 29 November 2013

New website launched to help Christians experiencing same-sex attraction

A new website, containing articles, videos and personal stories has been launched today to help Christians experiencing same-sex attraction.

Living Out is a brilliant initiative by men in pastoral ministry who admit to feelings of same sex attraction but who also see the Bible’s prohibitions on same-sex relationships as non-negotiable.

The core of the new group, recently interviewed by Christianity magazine, are Sam Alberry, a church leader in Maidenhead, Sean Doherty, a tutor at St Mellitus College and Ed Shaw, who helps to lead Emmanuel Church in Bristol.

Their testimonies are clear, powerful, hugely encouraging and most welcome at a time when many young evangelicals are genuinely confused about the issue. 

Doherty, who has experienced some degree of shift in his sexual feelings and is now married, explains how his own church experience helped him:

‘Church was a place of nurture and unconditional acceptance, but at the same time the teaching was clear that I shouldn’t act on those sexual desires. In an environment where young people were being encouraged to experiment, I was really grateful that I had been kept from acting on my feelings.’

He is reluctant to describe himself as gay and instead adopts terminology adopted by blogger Peter Ould who has a similar testimony:

‘I don’t speak of myself as an “ex-gay” person. I prefer the term “post-gay”. You choose to move away from the label of “gay” altogether, which has come to be associated with a certain lifestyle. I’ve clearly experienced some change in my feelings so that I am attracted to my wife. But it’s definitely not a 180-degree reorientation. All of us will continue to have desires and feelings which aren’t right, until Jesus returns.’

Alberry and Shaw share Doherty’s perspective, but accept that they will remain celibate if their orientation does not change. 

Alberry previously posted an article titled ‘How can the Gospel be good news to gays?’ on the Gospel Coalition website, where he takes a firm biblical stance on the issue but argues strongly and compassionately that people with homosexual orientation need more grace and not less. 

Last year Vaughan Roberts, a leading conservative evangelical, spoke for the first time of his own struggle with same-sex attraction in an interview with Evangelicals Now. His testimony is clear, biblical, passionate and pastoral and well worthy of study.

Alberry, Doherty and Shaw's experience, and those of Ould and Roberts, underline the fact that there is a difference between experiencing same sex attraction and choosing to participate in homosexual erotic behaviour. 

The Bible is very clear that all sexual relations outside marriage (a life-long exclusive monogamous heterosexual public covenant relationship) are morally wrong (Leviticus 18:6-23, 20:10-21; Romans 1:26, 27; 1 Corinthians 6:9,10; Colossians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; 1 Timothy 1:9,10; Revelation 22:15). This includes fornication, adultery, same-sex relations and all other sorts of sex imaginable, even if you are deeply in love with the other person.

Claiming that we are just ‘being true to our feelings’ in this area is just as wrong as claiming that our feelings justify any other form of sin. As Jeremiah put it ‘the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure’ (17:9) It is God’s Word that must guide us, not our feelings.

So people who become Christians, who recognize that they experience same-sex feelings or have a homosexual orientation and/or identity, are in the same category as anyone who has opposite-sex feelings but is unmarried, divorced, widowed or in a marriage relationship where, for physical or psychosexual reasons, sex is not possible.

For those who recognize themselves to be exclusively of homosexual orientation this may well mean that the only course open to them is staying single. Sometimes sexual orientation may change over time, but often it doesn’t.

Jesus of course was unmarried and never had sex yet we know that he ‘was tempted in all ways as we are – yet was without sin’. This must surely have included the temptation to sexual sin.

Is it possible to live a full life without having sex? Well Jesus himself did just that. And he is able to help any Christian to do the same. Marriage is a great calling but so is singleness, and sex is neither compulsory, nor necessary, in order to live a fulfilled and fruitful life. Jesus also said that there would be no marriage (and therefore sex) in heaven.

Sex is a wonderful gift but like any gift it is not granted to all.

This is where God's grace becomes evident. God never allows us to face a temptation that he does not give us the power to resist. Nor does he ever give us a command that he does not also grant the power to obey. And for those who, for any reason, can’t have sex, he grants other good gifts to enjoy. 

The powerful testimonies on this new website demonstrate the goodness of God, the wisdom of his pattern for our lives and also the fact that he grants his grace and power to enable us to live in ways which are both fulfilling and also  pleasing to him. 

For a list of helpful resources for those seeking an evangelical Christian perspective on homosexuality see my earlier blog.

Wednesday 27 November 2013

UCL Debate - 'This House would legalise assisted dying'

A debate at University College London on Monday night allowed the issue of assisted suicide to be addressed.  

UCL’s Cruciform Building was the impressive setting for the motion, ‘This House would legalise Assisted Dying’, I was in the opposition team with Lord Carlile, Baroness Finlay and Robert Preston – leading lights in the think tank Living and Dying Well.

Speaking for the motion were Lord Falconer, Baroness Jay, Sir Terence English and Prof Raymond Tallis, all of Dignity in Dying (the former Voluntary Euthanasia Society) and its small medical wing.

We were given seven minutes each. Here is my talk which focused on the issue of the ‘slippery slope’. A full report of the debate is available on the CNK website

The four main groups resisting the legalisation of assisted dying in this country – doctors, disabled people, faith groups and parliamentarians – do so primarily because they are anxious about the consequences of licensing of doctors to dispense lethal drugs.

Their concerns are both about how such a system could be regulated and also about the pressure legalization would place on vulnerable people to end their lives for fear of being a financial or emotional burden on others.

This is heightened by the evidence of incremental extension or mission creep in other jurisdictions.

In the Netherlands which legalised assisted suicide and euthanasia in 2002 there has been an increase of 10 to 20% of euthanasia cases per year since 2006 from 1,923 to 4,188. The 2012 figures included 42 with early dementia and 13 with psychiatric conditions.

In addition in 2001 about 5.6% of all deaths in the Netherlands were related to deep-continuous sedation. This rose to 8.2% in 2005 and 12.3% in 2010. A significant proportion of these deaths involve doctors deeply sedating patients and then withholding fluids with the explicit intention that they will die.

Children as young as twelve can already have euthanasia and a 2005 paper in the New England Medical Journal reported on 22 babies with spina bifida and/or hydrocephalus who were killed by lethal injection in the Netherlands over a seven year period. It estimated that there actually 15 to 20 newborns being killed in this way per year - despite this still being illegal. The culture and public conscience have changed.

In Belgium, which legalised euthanasia in 2002, there has been a 500% increase in euthanasia deaths over ten years between 2003 and 2012. High profile cases include Mark and Eddy Verbessem, the 45-year-old deaf identical twins, who were euthanised by the Belgian state, after their eyesight began to fail; then there is Nathan/Nancy Verhelst, whose life was ended in front of TV cameras, after a series of botched sex-change operations. His mother said she hated girls, found her child 'so ugly' at birth and did not mourn his death. And then there is Ann G, who had anorexia and who opted to have her life ended after being sexually abused by the psychiatrist who was supposed to be treating her for the life-threatening condition.

Organ donation euthanasia is already practised in Belgium and the Belgian Senate is tomorrow discussing plans to extend the programme to minors and people with dementia (they have since recommended this). Already in parts of Belgium one in three cases of euthanasia is involuntary and half go unreported. And there has been not one prosecution for abuses in the last ten years – perhaps because the one of the lead euthanasia practitioners – Distelmans – chairs the very committee that is meant to regulate his activity.

Switzerland, where assisted suicide is legal, first released assisted suicide statistics in 2009, laying bare a 700% rise in cases (from 43 to 297) from 1998 to 2009. Amongst those travelling from abroad to end their lives at the notorious Dignitas facility have been many people who could not by any stretch be described as terminally ill – and included cases of people who could have lived for decades ending their lives -  with arthritis, blindness, spinal injury, diabetes, mental illness -  or people who were essentially well but could not bear to live without their spouses.

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

In the US state of Oregon there has been a 350% increase assisted in suicide deaths since legalisation. I’ll leave it to my colleagues to expand on the details but notable are two people with cancer – Randy Stroup and Barbara Wagner – who were told that the Oregon Health Authority would not pay for their chemotherapy but would happily pay for their assisted suicide – which was of course much cheaper. Is this really the kind of temptation that we wish to put before NHS managers in Britain? Is it any wonder that over 120 attempts to change the law through US state parliaments have failed?

The problem is that any law allowing assisted suicide or euthanasia will carry within it the seeds of its own extension.

And whilst Lord Falconer may claim to have limited objectives - on his coat tails are a host of other UK groups with more radical agendas – FATE, SOARS, the BHA, NSS and EXIT International.

They will not be satisfied with the so-called modest changes he seeks but they are using exactly the same arguments to advance their case – ‘compassion’ and ‘choice’

They are able to use exactly the same arguments because Lord Falconer’s position is at heart both illogical and discriminatory.

  • If adults can have it why can’t children who are judged to be Gillick competent?
  • If competent people can have it what about those with dementia who it is argued would have wanted it?
  • If people who are terminally ill why not the chronically ill or disabled who are suffering unbearably?
  • If it's for those with physical suffering why not those with mental suffering?
Or as Exit international asks – why not the elderly bereaved and the troubled teen?

There will inevitably be pressure to extend the boundaries which may well not survive legal challenge once the so-called ‘right’ is available for some.

We will hear – it is only for this group or only for that group - but I tell you – it is only the beginning

Any law allowing assisted suicide or euthanasia in any circumstances at all will be subject to extension - or abuse

And that it is the other problem –changing the law would give doctors a degree of power over life and death that some will inevitably abuse.

It will be doctors who see the patients, fill out the forms, dispense the lethal drugs. Some of them will push the boundaries. Some will falsify certification. There may be some who, like Harold Shipman, will develop a taste for killing and they will be very difficult to detect.

But many will simply be too busy, too pressured and facing too many demands to make the kind of cool comprehensive objective assessments that this kind of law requires. And very few of them will really know the patients or their families.

We have seen this already with abortion. We began with a very strict law which allowed it only in limited circumstances. Now there are 200,000 cases a year. Most of them fall outside the boundaries of the law. There is illegal pre-signing of forms, abortions for sex selection, abortions on demand for spurious mental health reasons. And only one conviction for illegal abortion in 45 years.

Society is reluctant to touch and question doctors. The police are reluctant to investigate. The DPP hesitates to prosecute. The courts are unwilling to convict. Parliament turns a blind eye. It is simply not safe to give doctors this sort of power because some will abuse it as they have in other countries and it will be very difficult to stop them.

It’s far better not to go there at all.

The best system available is that which we have currently – a law carrying a blanket prohibition on both assisted suicide and euthanasia but with discretion given to both prosecutors and judges to temper justice with mercy in hard cases – the current law has both a stern face and a kind heart.

In other words the penalties that it holds in reserve act as a powerful deterrent to exploitation and abuse of vulnerable people

And it works – there are very few cases observed (just 15-20 per year make the trip to Switzerland) but also very few prosecutions. 

Let’s keep it that way.

Saturday 23 November 2013

Belgium’s meteoric rise to become euthanasia capital of the world

Please sign this petition to stop child euthanasia in Europe. It takes only a minute to do. 

It is widely acknowledged that euthanasia is out of control in Belgium: a 500% increase in cases in ten years; one third involuntary; half not reported; euthanasia for blindness, anorexia and botched sex change operations; organ transplant euthanasia; plans to extend euthanasia to children and people with dementia. 

One commentator has said that Belgium has 'leaped head-first off a moral cliff'.

Belgium's law, which came into effect in 2002, permits euthanasia for those in a ‘medically hopeless’ situation due to a serious and incurable condition caused by injury or illness, with physical and/or psychological suffering which is constant and unbearable, and cannot be mitigated.

But it is clear that in practice the boundaries are continually migrating and the nation's moral conscience is shifting year on year. Call it incremental extension, mission creep or slippery slope - whatever - it is strongly in evidence in Belgium.

Assisted suicide is treated the same as euthanasia when reported, despite its position in law being unclear.

Here is a series of articles, both on this blog and elsewhere, which chart the steps in Belgium’s meteoric rise to become euthanasia capital of the world. Much of this material has not been covered by the British media in spite of the fact that Belgium is one of our very closest European neighbours.

With the Falconer and MacDonald bills currently before the House of Lords and Scottish Parliament respectively Britain needs to take sober warning from events across the English Channel.

(National Post, 22 November 2013)

(National Post, 22 November 2013)

Belgium debates euthanising suffering children 
(Deutsche Welle, 22 November 2013)

(Alex Schadenberg, 21 November 2013)

(Wesley Smith, 21 November 2013)

(Tom Mortier, 20 November 2013)

(National Post, 31 October 2013)

(Peter Saunders, 15 August 2013)

(Peter Saunders, 17 June 2013)

(Peter Saunders, 6 April 2013)

(Peter Saunders, 16 March 2013)

(Alex Schadenberg, 2 March 2013)

(Peter Saunders, 28 January 2013)

(National Post, 14 January 2013)

(Peter Saunders, 10 December 2012)

Euthanasia in Belgium: Ten years on 
(European Institute of Bioethics, April 2012)

(Peter Saunders, 12 June 2011)

Thursday 21 November 2013

Belgian Senate will vote on bill to extend euthanasia to children with disabilities on 26 November

Alex Schadenberg is chair of Euthanasia Prevention Coalition International. The following article is reproduced with permission from his blog.

Euthanasie Stop in Belgium is reporting that the Belgian Senate will vote on the bill to extend euthanasia to children with disabilities on 26 November. Earlier reports suggested that the bill might be delayed until after the next election. Insiders recently learned of a political trade-off with the Flanders N-VA party which has enabled the Socialist party to bring this bill to a vote immediately.

Currently the Belgian euthanasia law limits euthanasia to people who are at least 18 years old. This unprecedented bill would extend euthanasia to children with disabilities.

The Belgian Socialist government is adamant that the euthanasia law needs to extend to minors and people with dementia even though there is significant examples of how the current law is being abused and the bracket creep of acceptable reasons for euthanasia continues to grow. The current practice of euthanasia in Belgium appears to have become an easy way to cover-up medical errors.

EPC needs you to email Annemie Turlelboom, Minister of Justice at:  and Laurette Onkelinx, Minister of Social Affairs and Health at: or

Sample letter: 

I am writing to urge you to stop the initiative that promotes euthanasia of minors. 

Regardless of disability, life should be valued. To pass legislation that allows termination of life for people with disabilities who are minors is unacceptable. 

Instead we must make every effort to use the research provided to us to provide attentive care to relieve their physical suffering in a moral way. 

Please oppose the euthanasia of children! 


The number of euthanasia deaths in Belgium is skyrocketing with an increase of 25% in 2012. Recent studies indicate that up to 47% of all assisted deaths are not being reported32% of all assisted deaths are being done without request and nurses are killing their patients, even though the law restricts euthanasia to doctors.

Some Belgian experts are supporting the extension of euthanasia to children with disabilities because they say that it is being done already. The same medical experts suggest that the extension of euthanasia will result in an increase of 10 to 100 euthanasia deaths each year.

The Belgian euthanasia law appears out-of-control. The Belgian Euthanasia Control and Evaluation Commission appear to be in a conflict of interest. The Commission supported the euthanasia deaths of: Nathan Verhelst (44) who was born as Nancy,Ann G who had Anorexia Nervosa and was sexually exploited by her psychiatrist, Mark & Eddy Verbessem, and at least one depressed woman. These are only the cases that we know about.

Dr Wim Distelmans, who is the leading euthanasia doctor in Belgium has also been the chairman of the Belgian euthanasia commission for more than 10 years, and the commission has been stacked with supporters of the euthanasia lobby.

All of this is occurring after the recent launch of EPC - Europe, a coalition of groups and individuals from across Europe who are working together to halt the growing threat of state-sanctioned euthanasia.

The EPC - Europe launch included a debate between myself and euthanasia promoter Professor Jan Bernheim. During the question and answer session, Bernheim admitted that there are problems with the Belgian euthanasia law while Professor Etienne Vermeersch, an author of the Belgian euthanasia law stated that the euthanasia law was designed for people with disabilities.

The experience with euthanasia in Belgium should concern everyone.

More detail on this story in Deutsche Welle 

Belgium’s grisly descent down euthanasia’s slippery slope

Wesley J Smith (pictured), is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism and a consultant for the Patients’ Rights Council. He also acts as a consultant for the Centre of Bioethics and Culture (CBC). This article is reproduced with permission from their website.  

If you want to see what happens when a society enthusiastically swallows the euthanasia poison, look at Belgium. Perhaps influenced by its neighbour the Netherlands — which pioneered euthanasia permissiveness — Belgium legalised euthanasia in 2002. The country has since leaped head-first off a vertical moral cliff.

As usual, when the law was being debated, supporters described it as being strictly limited to those at the end of life for whom nothing else but killing would adequately alleviate suffering. That is definitely not how things have worked out.

The international media usually ignore euthanasia and assisted suicide abuses. But even the complacent Fourth Estate couldn’t ignore the joint euthanasia deaths of disabled Belgian identical twins named Marc and Eddy Verbessem.
Neither of the brothers had contracted a terminal illness. Nor were they in physical pain. Rather, having been born deaf, and at age 45, both were progressively losing their eyesight. As the Telegraph reported, “The pair told doctors that they were unable to bear the thought of being unable to see each other again.” When their own doctor wouldn’t kill them, they found their executioner in one Dr David Dufour, who calmly and coolly told a television newscast:

‘They had a cup of coffee in the hall, it went well and a rich conversation. Then they separation from their parents and [each] brother was very serene and beautiful. At the last there was a little wave of their hands and then they were gone.’
In a morally sane society, Dufour would lose his license to practice medicine and be tried for homicide. But Belgium apparently no longer fits that description.
Perhaps the Verbessem lethal injections should not surprise us. In the last few years, euthanasia consciousness has bored deeply into Belgian societal bone marrow.
Joint Euthanasia Deaths of Elderly Couples
At least two elderly couples who didn’t want to live apart have also been reported. The first was in 2011 — and apparently the local community knew about the plan and approved. They even made their final arrangements at the local mortuary before being killed. The couple’s demise was celebrated by a Belgian bioethicist who said: “It is an important signal to break a taboo,” adding, “This is a beautiful example that allows us to provide a dignified death to this couple, thanks to euthanasia.” Most societies see joint suicides by elderly couples as tragic. In Belgium, apparently, they are ‘beautiful.’

Euthanasia after Sexual Exploitation by Psychiatrist 
Bioedge recently posted a story, taken from Belgian news reports, about the euthanasia of “Ann G.” Ann was a suicidal anorexia patient who publicly accused her previous psychiatrist of persuading her into sexual relations. When the psychiatrist — who admitted the charge — was not severely disciplined, Ann went to a second psychiatrist for euthanasia. She died at age 44.

Euthanasia for a Botched Sex Change
Nathan Verhelst underwent a sex change surgery from woman to man, and then was euthanized because of despair over the result. From the Daily Mail story:

‘A Belgian transsexual has chosen to die by euthanasia after a botched sex change operation to complete his transformation into a man left him a “monster”. Nathan Verhelst, 44, died yesterday afternoon after being allowed have his life ended on the grounds of "unbearable psychological suffering" . . . In the hours before his death he told Belgium’s Het Laatse Nieuws: "I was ready to celebrate my new birth. But when I looked in the mirror, I was disgusted with myself."’
So, Dufour — the same doctor who killed the disabled twins — killed him! Words rarely fail me. But they do here.
Euthanasia and Organ Harvesting of the Disabled
The joining of voluntary euthanasia and organ harvesting in Belgium first came to light in a 2008. The doctors who removed the woman’s organs after her death published a letter in the medical journal, Transplantation, reporting that a totally paralyzed woman first asked for euthanasia — permission granted — and then to donate her organs after her heart stopped.

Since this first known case, other euthanasia killings followed by organ harvesting have been reported. In 2009, Transplantation Proceedings published an article entitled, “Organ Procurement After Euthanasia: Belgian Experience,” in which doctors described euthanasia accompanied by organ harvests from disabled patients in clinical detail.

Euthanasia and organ donation has now expanded to include at least one patient with a severe mental illness. As reported in “Initial Experience with Transplantation of Lungs,” published in 2011 Applied Cardiopulmonary Pathophysiology (PDF), four patients (three disabled and one mentally ill) were euthanized and their lungs harvested.

By joining euthanasia with organ donation, Belgium crossed a very dangerous bridge by giving society autilitarian stake in euthanasia. But the acceptance of joint killing and harvesting also sends the cruel message to disabled, or mentally ill people: “Your deaths have greater value than your lives.” In such a milieu, self-justifying bromides about “choice” and the “voluntary” nature “of the process” become mere rationalization.

What’s next for Belgium? Euthanasia for children!  currently being debated in the Parliament and expected to become law. But why be surprised? Once killing is accepted as an answer to human difficulty and suffering, the power of sheer logic dictates that there is no bottom.

Wednesday 20 November 2013

A deadly conflict of interest: why euthanasia in Belgium is so out of control

It is widely acknowledged that euthanasia is out of control in Belgium: a 500% increase in cases in ten years; one third involuntary; half not reported; euthanasia for blindness, anorexia and botched sex change operations; organ transplant euthanasia; plans to extend euthanasia to children and people with dementia.

One commentator has said that Belgium has 'leaped head-first off a moral cliff'.

But why Belgium? 

One of the reasons seems to be because of the utter failure of regulation of the practice which is exacerbated by serious conflicts of interests. One of the leading euthanasia doctors actually chairs the regulatory committee that is mean to supervise him! Other members of his ‘Commission’ are pro-euthanasia activists.

Dr Tom Mortier (pictured), Leuven University College, and Dr Georges Casteur, General Medical Practitioner, Ostend, lift the lid on Belgium’s euthanasia governance fiasco. Dr Tom Mortier is also a member of the Belgian group - Euthanasie Stop. Parts of this article were previously published by the Belgian Medical Newspaper

In October 2013, the leading euthanasia doctor in Belgium, Wim Distelmans, received international media attention for the second time. Under his ‘medical’ guidance, he killed 44-year-old Nathan Verhelst, who was born as Nancy. Distelmans, who is an oncologist, said on the Belgian radio that his patient met ‘all’ the conditions of the euthanasia law. Furthermore, Distelmans said that unbearable suffering under the Belgian euthanasia law can be both physical and psychological.

In the case of Nathan Verhelst, euthanasia was done for reasons of psychological suffering. Distelmans said that it is not exceptional for mentally ill patients to be euthanized. When he was asked about the terms of the legislation, Distelmans replied laconically that a second opinion should be sought from two other doctors, and when the patient is not terminally ill, one doctor must be a psychiatrist. Furthermore, a month must pass between the written request for euthanasia and the lethal injection.

However, according to the Belgian euthanasia law, the opinions of the two other doctors are not binding; and the doctor who does the euthanasia can ignore a negative opinion and still give a patient the lethal injection. Basically, in Belgium, a person only needs to find a euthanasia doctor who is willing to kill! The euthanasia doctor only has to have two written reports in the medical record approving euthanasia of the patient and the doctor can ignore any negative reports.

It is striking to see that Distelmans, as the leading euthanasia doctor in Belgium, has been given so much freedom. Distelmans has become a Belgian media icon who continually propagates his ideology through various newspapers and magazines. His institutional background also has enabled him to be honoured as the ‘hero of the Belgian euthanasia law’. He has been the chairman of the Belgian Euthanasia Control and Evaluation Commission (Belgian Commission) for more than ten years.

Furthermore, he has started his own ideological association (Leif) that is giving awards to other members of the Belgian Commission. For instance, the retired Senator Jacinta De Roeck, a pro-euthanasia activist, was recently honoured by Distelmans with a ‘lifetime achievement award’, which is ironic as already more than 8000 euthanasia cases have been registered in Belgium since 2002.

As the chairman of the Belgian Commission, Distelmans is ‘controlling’ his euthanasia law, while continuing to administer lethal injections after ‘consulting’ with his close colleagues. Therefore, we strongly question whether independent consultations, a legal requirement of the law, are actually occurring during these so-called medical consultations. Is it not a conflict of interest when Distelmans declares euthanasia cases performed by himself to the Belgian Commission when he is also the chairman and when the members of the Belgian Commission include pro-euthanasia activists like Jacinta De Roeck and Jacqueline Herremans?

Furthermore, there will never be a two-thirds majority to send a case to a judge because the members of the Belgian Commission and its chairman are in a conflict of interest!

It appears that Distelmans has become both the judge and the executioner.

If the euthanasia law in Belgium has taught us anything, it is that in Belgium the euthanasia doctors have been given all of the power in contrast to the patients who are given lethal injections!

Sourced both from Tom Mortier and Alex Schadenberg’s blog

What’s happening? A quick update on euthanasia and assisted suicide

Excerpts from the latest newsletter from Care Not Killing Alliance.

Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill

Independent MSP Margo MacDonald launched her long awaited second attempt to legalise assisted suicide in Scotland, just three years after her last bill was defeated in Holyrood by a massive 85-16 in 2010. 87% of all who made written submissions to the scrutinising committee for that bill were opposed to it, and 64% of individuals and 62% of organisations responding to her own consultation ahead of the current bill also rejected a change in the law.

Doctors' opposition

The MacDonald bill was immediately met by the British Medical Association restating their opposition to legalising assisted suicide, and with healthcare professionals and organisations around the world also restating their opposition to legal changes which would fundamentally alter the practice of medicine, we will watch closely as the Royal College of General Practitioners assesses responses to its consultation, which closed on 9 October.

Euthanasia Prevention Coalition Europe

Twenty four hours prior to the unveiling of the Scottish bill, the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition Europe was formally launched in the European Parliament. The coalition was first convened at the beginning of 2013, with representatives from the UK, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Spain and Italy. Last week's programme included a press conference hosted by Finnish MEP Sari Essayah and a public debate at the Goethe Institute. Please visit the EPC Europe website, and follow the coalition on Twitter (@EPCEurope) and Facebook (/EPCEurope).

Around the world

The Belgian legislature is pressing on with efforts to extend its euthanasia law to children as young as 12, statistics released in September showed a 13% rise in Dutch euthanasia and a bill in Quebec surges forward, but legislative efforts in other parts of the Europe are stalling or falling.

  • euthanasia bill for France promised for the end of this year by President Hollande has yet to materialise, having been opposed by the national medical ethics advisory board and rejected in public polling in favour of improved palliative care
  • Tasmania's lower house rejected a wide-ranging euthanasia and assisted suicide bill in October while a Labour MP in New Zealand pushing for euthanasia there dropped her bill in September in the face of pressure from her own party.
  • Two huge court victories in Canada massively impact the public debate there and have ramifications for other cases around the world.

Falconer Bill

While Lord Falconer's bill - the principles of which were rejected by the House of Lords 148-100 in 2006 and 194-141 in 2009 - awaits second reading, the flaws in its foundation and drafting have become ever clearer. The Labour peer conceded in one interview that his bill effectively places doctors above the law, while two high level think tank reports have stated that the bill fails 'the public safety test' and is 'asking Parliament to sign a blank cheque'. Media consideration of the bill has also caused concerns, with Lord Falconer being given carte blanche to publicise his bill on the BBC's flagship breakfast TV show.

Court of Appeal

We welcomed the decision by all three judges in the Appeal Court comprehensively and completely to reject the Nicklinson and Lamb cases, but were concerned at the 2-1 decision in the 'Martin' case to seek further clarification of the DPP guidelines for so-called 'class two' cases relating to assisted suicide, requiring the involvement of a health professional. The DPP (Keir Starmer, who has since been succeeded by Alison Saunders) immediately announced that he would appeal to the Supreme Court, and leave to appeal was also granted to Paul Lamb and the Nicklinson family.

Liverpool Care Pathway

Following the report, published in July, of Lady Neuberger's review of the LCP - which concluded that the LCP should be phased out 'over the next 6 to 12 months' and replaced by an individual end of life care plan, 'backed up by good practice guidance specific to disease groups' - a Leadership Alliance for the Care of Dying People(LACDP) was set up under the chairmanship of Dr Bee Wee, National Clinical Director for End of Life Care at NHS England. The Leadership Alliance has begun a public consultation to inform its response to the review, which runs until 6 January 2014.

By sensationally propagating Ray Gosling’s lies as truth the BBC rightly earned its title of euthanasia cheerleader

As reported by the BBC today, Journalist, broadcaster and gay rights activist Ray Gosling has died in hospital in Nottingham.

My sympathy is with Gosling’s family.

However his death revives memories of the time when the BBC’s flagrant promotion of assisted suicide and euthanasia arguably reached its greatest depths.

When the former television journalist confessed on BBC’s Inside Out programme on 15 February 2010 that he had taken a pillow and smothered a gay lover with AIDS who was in ‘terrible, terrible pain’ it very quickly became an international news story.

But it later transpired, after a police investigation involving 32 officers, lasting six months and taking 1,800 hours at a cost of over £45,000 in taxpayers money, that Goslings’ ‘confession’ was simply made up. He did not kill his lover and in fact was not even in the country at the time he died. Furthermore the man did not die in pain.

Gosling was given a 90-day suspended prison sentence at Nottingham Magistrates' Court after pleading guilty to wasting police time. The judge in passing sentence branded him as ‘a sheer liar and fantasist’ guilty of ‘creating and maintaining this cruel fabrication’.

It was very clear at the time the story broke that the BBC intended it to have maximum impact.

The Care Not Killing Alliance (CNK) started getting media calls hours before the programme was originally broadcast regarding a ‘new euthanasia story’ involving a ‘prominent BBC employee’ but we were not allowed to know any of the details. Meanwhile every regional and national BBC news outlet was lining up interviews for the ensuing 24 hours.

We later learnt that Gosling had made his original confession to BBC colleagues four months earlier over a ‘beery lunch’. And the programme itself was filmed some months before it was shown and eventually screened just one week before the Director of Public Prosecutions published his prosecution policy for cases of assisted suicide.

Why did the BBC not inform the police during this time or more carefully investigate what was effectively a confession of murder? How many BBC employees actually knew about it? Was this actually a cynical attempt to influence public and judicial opinion at a critical point in time?

These questions were never satisfactorily answered.

In the days that followed the screening, as well as giving a spate of national and regional broadcasts in the UK (including Five Live and BBC breakfast), I was interviewed by a host of international outlets covering the story – including Italian and Spanish newspaper journalists, Russian, Bolivian, Brazilian and Indian television and the BBC world service. The international interest was huge.

The very same week, both the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph carried the story of Lord Carlile, CNK Chairman, writing to the BBC Director General to allege media bias and to accuse the corporation of adopting an ‘incredibly zealous’ ‘campaigning stance’ on assisted suicide.

The BBC has a long history of acting as a cheerleader for euthanasia and assisted suicide, but with the Gosling affair it plumbed its greatest depths.

The corporation cynically planned months ahead to release a story that was total untrue at a time and in a manner guaranteed to maximise its international impact and to influence public policy.

Not only did it fail in its duty to provide fair and impartial broadcasting. It also failed to report a criminal act to the police, opting instead for the sensational proliferation of partisan propaganda and, in this case, downright lies.

And it used our licence fees to do it.

Saturday 16 November 2013

Why many British evangelicals are not that bothered with ethics

'If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.’

This famous quote has been attributed to Martin Luther, by Christian commentators as illustrious as Francis Schaeffer but, as argued convincingly by Carl Wieland, it actually comes from a 19th Century novel referring to Luther by Elizabeth Rundle Charles, called The Chronicles of the Schoenberg Cotta Family (Thomas Nelson, 1864).

However, according to Wieland, Luther did actually say something very similar. He said that if people were publicly open about every other aspect of their Christian faith, but chose not to admit their belief on some single point of doctrine (for fear of what might happen to them if their conviction on that one point became known) they were effectively denying Christ, period.

As Christians we are fighting in a spiritual battle, but Martin Luther’s point is that not all God's truth is equally under attack at any one time. In any culture and generation there are certain truths which are more under attack than others.

As Christians in 21st century Britain we need to be aware of which Christian truth is most under attack, and ensure that we are faithful in standing for that truth.

There are some Christian causes, which in Britain today are politically correct. If you campaign, for example, to end child poverty, to care for trees in the Amazon rainforest, to fight cancer, to clamp down on loan sharks, or to curb human trafficking you will find yourself in a large like-minded company of both believers and unbelievers.

This does not mean that these are not important causes for which Christian should fight. They are. But my point is that few if any will publicly oppose you for making a stand on them. Especially in the church, you will find many allies who will stand alongside you.

It’s terribly important that Christians and churches, particularly at a time of economic recession, are moving into food bank provision, debt counselling and street pastoring. The needs are great and we should be involved.

But if we restrict ourselves to those areas of Christian service that our society applauds, then we are actually being selective in our discipleship. Luther would even say we are denying Christ.

Most unbelievers are very accepting of Christians who support popular causes and it is tempting to imagine that if we are being good and faithful Christians everyone will like us, but Jesus actually said exactly the opposite (Luke 6:22).

The Bible reminds us that everyone who genuinely seeks to live a godly life in Christ will be persecuted in one way or another (John 16:1-4; Matthew 24:9-14; Mark 13:9-13; Luke 21:12-17; 2 Timothy 3:12). It was the false prophets, Jesus said, whom everyone spoke well of (Luke 6:26). We must ensure that our only offence is that of the Gospel but often in the Christian walk opposition is a sign that we are doing a good job rather than a bad job (Matthew 5:10-12).

Many people hated Jesus simply because he spoke truth that people did not want to hear – that is precisely why he was crucified. Likewise when we speak the same truth some people will hate us too (John 7:7).

Persecution began for the early church when Peter, John and Stephen opened their mouths and started to speak. We must of course speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), but how often do we use 'sensitivity' simply as an excuse for cowardice, when our real underlying motive is actually to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ? (Galatians 6:12).

The high profile cases involving Christians getting into trouble with the law or governing authorities, with which we are all familiar, tend to involve a limited number of issues. Homosexuality is a particularly common theme – whether it is a couple running a bed and breakfast who wish to ensure their clientele sharing a double room are married, or street preachers addressing moral issues, or an Oxford student making casual remarks about a policeman’s horse.

When it comes to Christian doctors being hauled up before their NHS trusts, or being complained about to the General Medical Council, or being the subject of court proceedings, it is similarly a small number of issues that tend to feature.

If a Christian doctor wishes to opt out of abortion or gay adoption, or expresses views about these issues, or attempts to share the Gospel with a patient or colleague there are risks of losing one’s reputation, job or even licence to practise.

If you publicly express biblical views on subjects like abortion, euthanasia or sex you can become very unpopular indeed. Last year, in response to direct questioning on twitter, I expressed in simple terms what I regard to be an orthodox Christian view of sex. I said ‘All people are sinners (Romans 3:23) and also all sex outside marriage is morally wrong’ and ‘Sex between two people of the same sex - male or female - is always wrong’.

My responses were then retweeted by an atheist doctor (who was also gay!) to several thousand of his followers and I was buried for several hours under a barrage of the most unpleasant abuse you can possibly imagine.

I was recently out for a meal with a friend, with whom I have a great deal in common, who told me that he disagreed with me about three things.

While I was inwardly shaking my head with astonishment at ‘only three’ (!) my friend informed me that the three things in question were abortion, assisted suicide and homosexual practice.

My own view, as you might guess, is that abortion, assisted suicide and homosexual practice are not good ideas.

But the friend in question, an evangelical Christian and Bible college lecturer, felt strongly that there was a place for Christian involvement in all three. These views are not unusual.

The Evangelical Alliance surveyed 17,000 ‘evangelicals’, mainly at conferences like New Wine and Spring Harvest, in 2010 and published the results in January 2011 (See here and here).

Amongst the questions were one on each of abortion, assisted suicide and homosexuality. A wide range of views were expressed.

  • 63% of British evangelicals did not agree that abortion can never be justified
  • 40% did not agree that assisted suicide is always wrong
  • 27% did not agree that homosexual actions are always wrong 
Remember that these are conference-going evangelicals and probably represent therefore a more committed section of the evangelical population.

Richard Dawkins' Foundation for Reason and Science (UK) found in a poll published last year that of those who called themselves ‘Christians’:

  • 62% favoured a woman's right to have an abortion within the legal time limit
  • 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
  • 74% believed that religion should not influence public policy
Why is it that so many Christians now have views on these issues that would have been considered anathema just a generation ago?

First, and perhaps obviously, the prevailing culture has shifted hugely on these questions. The so-called mountains of culture – parliament, universities, institutions, law, science, media, arts, entertainment – are increasingly dominated by people with an atheist world view. This new ‘liberal elite’ believes that God doesn’t exist, that death is the end and that morality is relative to each individual. But in practice most adopt the ethics of secular humanism. Undoubtedly this cultural change has affected the church.

Second, as I have already alluded to, taking a traditional view on these issues now carries a cost that it did not have a generation ago. In 2012, Christians in Parliament, an official All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), chaired by Gary Streeter MP, launched an inquiry called ‘Clearing the Ground’, which was tasked with considering the question: ‘Are Christians marginalised in the UK?’ Its main conclusion was that ‘Christians in the UK face problems in living out their faith and these problems have been mostly caused and exacerbated by social, cultural and legal changes over the past decade.’ There is loss of reputation, job and income to consider with certain Christian beliefs and behaviours.

Third, some Christian leaders with large followings, have changed their position on these issues. The Bishop of Liverpool, James Jones, and Baptist minister Steve Chalke are two examples of prominent Christian leaders who have come out this year in support of the church affirming monogamous gay (sexual) partnerships. There is intense speculation that the Church of England’s Pilling report is about to be published recommending the same thing.

Fourth, there has been a huge decline in Bible reading and study generally and in Bible teaching specifically. In particular there is very little teaching in our churches about ethical issues. This year, I was asked for the very first time in 20 years of ministry with CMF, to lead a seminar on abortion at a leading London evangelical church. We were told that it was being widely advertised through home groups and through the over 30 full time workers in a congregation of over 1,000. Twelve people turned up. I learnt later that the poor attendance was due to the fact that the leadership had not thought it important enough to advertise. Last week I was asked by the editor of a major denomination’s ministers’ magazine to write an article on the biblical case against euthanasia. He was concerned that many ministers in his (well known) Bible-believing denomination were of the view that euthanasia in hard cases was a genuine act of Christian mercy.

But, whilst these four factors play a part in accounting for what I would call ethical drift amongst Christians, I think the real reasons are more deeply theological. I would attribute them to two destructive heresies – one infecting liberal evangelical congregations and one infecting conservative evangelical ones. In both groups are many who actually know their Bibles very well, but who are increasingly adopting ethical views that are much closer to that of the prevailing culture than those held historically by the church.

I have recently reviewed each of these in turn on this blog. I’ll call them the new liberal heresy and the new conservative heresy, although, as we will see, neither of them is actually new. They are a rerun respectively of what Joseph Fletcher called ‘situation ethics’ and what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called ‘cheap grace’.

Thursday 14 November 2013

Care Not Killing responds to the Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill

Margo Macdonald MSP (pictured) today launched her new assisted suicide bill in Scotland. The Scottish government has said it does not support a change in the law and the British Medical Association (BMA) has in response reiterated its opposition to assisted suicide. 

The bill comes the day after the launch of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition of Europe (EPCE) in Brussels. The Care Not Killing Alliance, a founding member of EPCE, has today produced a detailed response which is reproduced here. Macdonald’s last bill was overwhelmingly defeated by 85-16.

In 2010 MSP Margo MacDonald's very similar End of Life Assistance Bill was defeated by 85 votes to 16, in a free vote at the Scottish Parliament.

This should have settled the debate in Scotland for a generation.

Yet, Ms MacDonald now proposes her Assisted Suicide (Scotland) Bill, under which people as young as 16 would be able to tell their GP about their desire for assisted suicide.

Despite the fact that 65 per cent of responses to the consultation process were opposed to the Bill the MSP plans to take her Bill forward, essentially on a system based on that operating in Oregon, USA.

There, the annual number of assisted suicides has risen by 450 per cent since legalisation in 1997. One in six of those are depressed, less than one in 20 receive psychiatric assessments. Some patients have been denied medical care and offered assisted suicide as a cheaper alternative.

Care Not Killing, which is spearheading opposition to the proposed Bill, is an alliance of individuals and more than 40 organisations which brings together disability and human rights groups, healthcare providers, and faith-based bodies and believes that assisted suicide is unneccessary, unethical and uncontrollable.

Dr Peter Saunders, Campaign Director of Care Not Killing said:

“MSPs rejected Ms MacDonald's last attempt to legalise physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia in Scotland by an overwhelming majority of 85-16 recognizing that such a move would seriously endanger public safety. Instead, they sent a ringing endorsement to making the very best palliative care widely available and accessible.

“The right to die can so easily become the duty to die and vulnerable people who are sick, elderly or disabled will inevitably feel pressure, whether real or imagined, to end their lives so as not to be a burden on others. The stories of incremental extension presently coming out of Belgium and the Netherlands give a stark warning about the dangers of going down this road.

“Ms MacDonald’s new proposals are effectively her old ones dished up again. I expect the Scottish Parliament to give them short shrift.”

Care Not Killing committee member John Deighan said: "Compassion must urge us towards giving proper support and care for the sick and suffering.

“Killing can never be the right answer in a civilised society. History teaches us the importance of protecting every human life. We must ensure the frail, disabled and sick are not put at risk for the sake of a small minority determined to end their lives."

Dr Gordon Macdonald, Convenor of Care Not Killing Scotland said:

"Margo MacDonald's Bill is unnecessary, unethical and dangerous. Experience from Oregon, Belgium and the Netherlands shows that there can be no safe system for legalising assisted suicide or euthanasia.

Margo seems to think that by resurrecting her proposal she will be able to convince people to support it this time. However, the arguments remain the same and dangers of practice elsewhere are well known. Margo should move on to another issue and accept the settled will of Parliament. It is not a priority for the Scottish people and the Scottish Parliament has made its view clear. Her personal interest in this matter should not be allowed to dictate to the rest of Scotland."

Dr Stephen Hutchison MD FRCP (Glasg), a Consultant Physician in Palliative Medicine at the Highland Hospice said:

“As a practising palliative care consultant, I am working hard every day to provide the highest standard of care for my patients. Having seen assisted suicide so rigorously debated in the public and parliamentary arenas, and so resoundingly rejected by our parliament on the grounds of public safety, the launch of this new Bill once again undermines my work, and the confidence which my patients can have in those who are looking after them at this most fragile and vulnerable stage of their lives.

“Once again Margo MacDonald is revealing how little she really knows about the clinical care of people who are seriously ill. Killing people has always been wrong, and it remains wrong. We can do much better than that in a properly caring society.

“The legalisation of assisted dying/assisted suicide has been debated widely in public and parliamentary arenas on numerous occasions over several years. It has always been rejected by parliaments on the grounds of public safety, and this criterion remains absolutely unchanged.

“The legalisation of assisted suicide would be dangerous and unnecessary. We have the best palliative care in the world here in the UK. The law as it stands is safe, and gives assurance to the public, and particularly to those who are experiencing the vulnerability of serious illness, that those looking after them will not do anything to prejudice their lives.”

The Scottish Council on Human Bioethics (SCHB) is also opposed to the proposal. Formed in 1997, SCHB is an independent, non-partisan, non-religious council composed of physicians, lawyers, ethicists and other professionals from disciplines associated with medical ethics.

The SCHB recognises that crossing the boundary between acknowledging that death is inevitable and taking active steps to bring about death, changes fundamentally the role of the physician, changes the doctor-patient relationship and changes the role of medicine in society.

Dr Calum MacKellar, Director of Research of the SCHB said the concept of a “life unworthy of life … should never be accepted in a civilised society” and added:

“Assisted suicide is unnecessary since physical suffering can now be adequately alleviated in all but the rarest cases by appropriate palliative care. And even in the very exceptional cases where physical suffering does not fully respond to treatment there is the possibility of using artificial transient or (very occasionally) total permanent sedation in patients to keep them asleep in order to address physical and/or mental distress.”

The SCHB emphasises that vulnerable people need to know that society is committed first and foremost to their well-being, even if this does involve expenditure of time, effort and money.

Dr MacKellar added: “These proposals are asking the people of Scotland to agree that there are lives that should be ended. That there is such a thing as a ‘life unworthy of life’ which is a concept that should never be accepted in a civilised society.”

The SCHB is also of the opinion that the government should encourage society, comprising an ageing population, to accept that elderly or disabled people may become dependent on others without losing any of their inherent dignity.

Dr MacKellar concluded: “The SCHB agrees that the concept of autonomy is extremely important in medical ethics and law but that there are times when inherent human dignity must take priority over autonomy for a descent civilised society to exist.”

Care Not Killing emphasises the following points

* Any change in the law to allow assisted suicide would place pressure on vulnerable people to end their lives for fear of being a financial, emotional or care burden upon others. This would especially affect people who are disabled, elderly, sick or depressed.

* The pressure people will feel to end their lives if assisted suicide or euthanasia is legalised will be greatly accentuated at this time of economic recession with families and health budgets under pressure. Elder abuse and neglect by families, carers and institutions is real and dangerous and this is why strong laws are necessary.

* If assisted suicide or euthanasia is legalised any ‘safeguards’ against abuse, such as limiting it to certain categories of people, are unlikely to work. Instead, once any so-called ‘right-to-die’ is established we will see incremental extension with pressure being applied to expand the categories of people who qualify for it.

* The vast majority of UK doctors are opposed to legalising euthanasia along with the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Association for Palliative Medicine and the British Geriatric Society.

*  Major disability rights groups in Britain (including SCOPE, UKDPC and Not Dead Yet UK) oppose any change in the law believing it will lead to increased prejudice towards them and increased pressure on them to end their lives.