Monday 29 September 2014

Why are the Home Secretary and Metropolitan Police allowing this man to operate in Britain?

Notorious Australian euthanasia campaigner Philip Nitschke has been in the news again.

Last week, it was reported that his organisation Exit International was establishing a London office to ‘cope with demand’ from UK citizens for assisted suicide.  

The group, which charges members a fee to access online information and attend workshops to discuss ‘peaceful’ methods of suicide, has attracted fierce criticism in Australia, where it was originally set up.

Its activities include:

  • Advising members on how to source  a lethal drug used to kill US Death  Row prisoners;
  • Selling test kits so members can check the purity and potency of this controlled Class B drug in their own homes;
  • Providing instructions on how people can gas themselves using a ‘DIY’ kit;
  • Giving tips on how those assisting a suicide might avoid prosecution.
Today it has been further reported that Nitschke has enraged victims of crime groups by his suggestion that killers serving life sentences should be able to choose the timing of their own ‘peaceful’ deaths behind bars.

Yesterday the Sydney Morning Herald reported that he is being investigated by police in every Australian state over his possible role in nearly 20 deaths in the past three years, all of them apparently suicides.

The latest investigation, by Victoria Police, concerns the death of a 55-year-old Geelong man who allegedly killed himself using a do-it-yourself kit bought though a company affiliated with Exit International, the pro-euthanasia organisation founded by Dr Nitschke. 

All of the deaths being investigated involved the use of the two suicide methods promoted by Dr Nitschke, the lethal drug, Nembutal or a nitrogen inhalant device.

Nitschke currently faces expulsion by the Australian Medical Association when its Northern Territory branch Council meets in November, after a move to suspend him last month failed after an error in the paperwork.

The Medical Board of Australia suspended him in July. The decision which used the board's emergency powers to  ‘protect  public health and safety’ came after he admitted in an interview with the ABC that he had supported a 45-year-old Perth man, Nigel Brayley, in his decision to commit suicide, despite knowing the man was not terminally ill.

The AMA has cited the same ‘adverse event’, saying Dr Nitschke's ‘professional behaviour … was not consistent with the high professional and ethical standards for the Australian medical profession promoted by the AMA’.

Documents obtained by The Sunday Age reveal there are currently five separate medical board investigations, one dating as far back as 2011, into Dr Nitschke's conduct.

Nitschke (aka Dr Death) is an extremist and self-publicist whose presence in the UK puts the lives of vulnerable elderly, depressed and disabled people at grave risk. 

The British Suicide Act, as amended in 2009, states that ‘an act capable of encouraging or assisting the suicide or an attempted suicide of another person’ is illegal, ‘whether or not a suicide, or an attempt at suicide, occurs’; the emphasis is on whether the accused ‘intended to encourage or assist suicide or an attempt at suicide’.

What Nitschke is doing must surely fall within the scope of these offences. The information shared by his organisation in his London seminars and on the internet is surely capable of encouraging or assisting people to commit suicide and his activities are clearly intended to encourage or assist people to commit suicide by offering them advice about the ‘best way’ of doing it.

Nitschke’s activities present a real and present risk to vulnerable members of the British public.

With the growing elderly population, failure of the care system and worsening economic situation a growing number of frail, disabled, ill and depressed people in Britain will be feeling under even greater pressure to end their lives, either for fear that they will not cope, or so as to be less of a burden to relatives.

They deserve better protection from suicide predators like Nitschke than they are currently getting.

Quite why the Home Secretary and Metropolitan Police allow him into the UK to conduct seminars and continue his activities remains a mystery but Britain deserves a full explanation.

Euthanasia deaths in the Netherlands continue their relentless rise

According to Dutch media reports today, euthanasia deaths in the Netherlands in 2013 increased by 15% to 4,829. This follows increases of 13% in 2009, 19% in 2010,18% in 2011 and 13% in 2012.

In fact from 2006 to 2013 there has been a steady increase in numbers each year with successive annual deaths at 1923, 2120, 2331, 2636, 3136, 3695, 4,188 and 4,829 – an overall increase of 151% in just seven years.

Almost 3,600 people were helped to die because they had cancer, the report said.

Euthanasia now accounts for over 3% of all Dutch deaths.

In total, there were 42 reports of people who underwent euthanasia because they suffered severe psychiatric problems, compared with 14 in 2012 and 13 in 2011.

Dementia was the reason behind 97 cases, mainly early stage dementia in which patients were able to properly communicate their wish to die.

There were five cases in 2013 where doctors were reprimanded for not properly following the protocol. None of these led to legal action.

But as alarming as these statistics may seem they tell only part of the full story.

On 11 July 2012, The Lancet published a meta-analysis study concerning the practice of euthanasia and end-of-life practices in the Netherlands in 2010 with a comparison to previous studies done in 1990, 1995, 2001 and 2005. 

The Lancet study indicated that in 2010, 23% of all euthanasia deaths were not reported meaning that the total number of deaths last year may not have been 4,829 but rather 5,939. 

The 2001 euthanasia report also indicated that 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. 

As I have reported previously, although official euthanasia deaths are rising year by year in the Netherlands, these deaths represent only a fraction of the total number of deaths resulting from Dutch doctors intentionally ending their patients’ lives through deliberate morphine overdose, withdrawal of hydration and sedation. 

Euthanasia in the Netherlands is way out of control. 

The House of Lords calculated in 2005 that with a Dutch-type law in Britain we would be seeing over 13,000 cases of euthanasia per year. On the basis of how Dutch euthanasia deaths have risen since this may prove to be a gross underestimate. 

What we are seeing in the Netherlands is 'incremental extension', the steady intentional escalation of numbers with a gradual widening of the categories of patients to be included. 

previously described the similar steep increase of cases of assisted suicide in Oregon (450% since 1998), Switzerland (700% over the same period) and Belgium (509% in ten years from 2003 to 2012).

The lessons are clear. Once you relax the law on euthanasia or assisted suicide steady extension will follow as night follows day. 

Britain needs to take warning as debate on the Falconer bill continues.  

Sunday 21 September 2014

Vicky Beeching’s challenge to evangelicals about same-sex marriage

Christianity magazine has just published an interview by editor Justin Brierley with British Christian singer-songwriter Vicky Beeching (left), who self-identified as ‘gay’ in a high profile ‘coming out’ on 14 August.

Beeching, who is a media personality in her own right and has over 52,000 followers on twitter, has listed over 70 almost exclusively positive media reports covering the event on her website.

Earlier this year she joined the group Accepting Evangelicals, who back same-sex marriage, as a patron.

At one level it is not at all unusual today for Christians to admit to feelings of same-sex attraction or to identify as ‘gay’.

Furthermore, those who do, perhaps unlike in earlier generations, are in my experience, generally now treated in evangelical churches with warmth, grace and understanding. Having said this I fully accept that this is not always the case and Vicky's own early experience bears this out.  

I personally know many Christians who would describe themselves as either same sex attracted or having a homosexual or bisexual orientation.

In fact a number of prominent evangelical leaders, in order to help others, launched the Living Out website last November to share their testimonies about their own personal experience of same sex attraction and to explain how they had handled it.

But whilst the ‘Living Out’ leaders express their intention to remain committed to biblical teaching on sexual morality in practice (see my earlier post ‘Should ‘gay’ Christians be true to their feelings?’), Vicky Beeching says she intends to marry a same sex partner.

‘My goal is to find a soulmate and get married; that is what most of us are made to do. God said it is not good that people are alone.’

Furthermore she believes she can do this without relinquishing her claim to be an evangelical. This is what has attracted so much media attention.

‘People have told me that I don’t have the right to that name (‘evangelical’) any more as I’ve spoken in support of same-sex marriage, but for me evangelicalism is rooted in many things: loving the Bible; having a high view of scripture; a passion for social justice; wanting to share the good news about Jesus.  These are all things I hold true to. So I don’t see why there should be a black and white issue that casts me out.’ 

I do not doubt Vicky’s sincerity and indeed share her professed love for the Bible, passion for social justice and her desire to share the good news about Jesus. But I believe she has crossed a significant rubicon with respect to her expressed views and proposed actions on sexual behaviour. At the same time she has laid down a significant challenge to evangelical Christians and must not be simply ignored.

I’ve previously reviewed the Bible’s teaching on sexuality on this blog and Robert Gagnon and Ian Paul (see here and  here) have more recently published some helpful reflections responding to Beeching’s biblical arguments in support of her stand.

I’ve also previously listed on my blog six excellent resources giving an evangelical perspective on homosexuality.

In short, the Bible teaches that the only moral context for sex is within a life-long monogamous heterosexual marriage relationship. All sex outside this context constitutes sexual immorality (Greek porneia). This includes all sex between two people of the same sex whether legally 'married' or not. 

‘But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.’ (Ephesians 5:3)

‘It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality;  that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honourable….For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.’ (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8)

I am not intending to revisit this teaching in detail here. Rather, especially for those who accept the biblical teaching on this issue at face value, I want to look at what the Bible teaches about Christians endorsing or practising what it classes as sexual immorality.  I have deliberately included Bible quotes rather than just giving references as I am convinced that many evangelicals are genuinely not aware of what the Bible actually says. 

First, the Bible is clear that sexual morality is not a ‘secondary issue’ on which Christians may legitimately disagree and on which there are a variety of acceptable views. Rather continuing in sexually immoral behaviour can put one’s own salvation at risk:

‘Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men… will inherit the kingdom of God.’ (1 Corinthians 6:9,10)

This is not to suggest that we are saved by good works. Rather it upholds the biblical teaching that genuine faith is evidenced in moral behaviour (more on this here). Furthermore, the Apostle Paul makes it clear that God views sex between two women in the same way that he views sex between two men.

‘Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.’ (Romans 1:26, 27)

The writer to the Hebrews makes it clear that God views those with a Christian testimony who willfully return to habitual sin very seriously indeed:

‘ It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit,  who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.’  (Hebrews 6:4-6)

‘If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left,  but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God... How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?’ (Hebrews 10:26-29)

‘If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.’ (2 Peter 2:20,21)

Whilst the Bible is very clear that Christians should not judge those outside the church, dealing with those inside the church is a different matter altogether:

‘I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.’ (1 Corinthians 5:10-11)

It might be objected that Vicky Beeching, and others who share her views, have not yet moved from publicly endorsing same sex marriage (and all that it involves) to participating in it herself.

But the Bible is equally clear that teaching a specific sin is admissible is at least as serious as practising it:

‘Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.’ (James 3:1)

Jesus was very clear about the seriousness of leading young ones astray through false teaching:

‘If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.’ (Matthew 18:6)

The epistle of Jude warns about ‘ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality’ (1:4) and warns that ‘Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality’  and ‘serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire’ (1:7).

In a similar vein the Apostle Peter warns that ‘if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell…’ and ‘condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly’ then ‘the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment. This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the flesh and despise authority’. (2 Peter 2:4-10)

It is striking that in both these instances (both in Jude and 2 Peter) there is a specific reference to Sodom and Gomorrah where the sexual immorality involved was homosexual (see also Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13).

The Apostle John in Revelation records Jesus’ words to the seven churches. Two of them (Pergamum and Thyatira) he warns specifically about not tolerating teaching which endorses sexual immorality:

‘Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.’  (Revelation 2:14)

‘Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.’ (Revelation 2:20)

I was told recently by a Church of England Bishop that Scripture nowhere commands us to stop people teaching heresy (false teaching which puts personal salvation at risk) in the church. But it seems to me that this is exactly what Paul instructed Titus to do:

 ‘For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach….’ (Titus 1:10-11) 

From the above Scriptures it is clear that:

1. All sex outside (heterosexual) marriage constitutes sexual immorality
2. Continuing in sexual immorality puts one’s salvation at risk (see also Revelation 21:8 and 22:15)
3. Teaching that sexual immorality is acceptable is very serious and deeply damaging
4. Tolerating such teaching is also contrary to the explicit teaching of Jesus Christ
5. Those who teach or practise such things whilst claiming still to be Christians should be subject to church discipline.

The implications are clear.

I do not know Vicky Beeching personally and as I have said earlier I do not doubt her sincerity. But my fear is that as a result of the warm affirmation she has already received for her endorsement of same sex marriage, including from many Christians, she is heading on a very dangerous and damaging course indeed – both for herself and for others.

I understand that she has so far ignored the sincere but serious warnings she has received from well-meaning Christian brothers and sisters.

We need to pray that she changes her course and that her teaching does not lead others astray. But more than this, those responsible for her pastoral oversight must ensure that her teaching is not tolerated in the church and that she is appropriately disciplined.

We owe it to our young people, many of whom will have been confused by what she is saying, and not least to Vicky herself. 

Monday 1 September 2014

A great video on depression and an insight from one of the world’s greatest preachers who suffered from it

‘The Black Dog’ was Winston Churchill’s famous name for depressed mood. 

I was sent today a link to a YouTube video on depression which I had not previously seen, but which deserves much wider viewing.

‘I had a black dog, his name was depression’ is only four minutes long. Do take a look.

Millions have suffered with depression, amongst them many famous Christians. Charles Spurgeon and William Cowper are poignant examples.

I’ve previously written about some of the lessons we learn from Cowper about how to help those with depression and also blogged about a brilliant set of self-help books that will benefit both sufferers and those trying to help them.

There is also a very good CMF File, recently published, on depression and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

But today I found this remarkable quote from Spurgeon (pictured above), which I reproduce here, where he describes how he learnt to see his depression as part of God’s providence and a harbinger of hope.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834 – 1892) was a British Baptist minister who is regarded as one of the greatest preachers who ever lived. He has been called the ‘Prince of Preachers’ and is estimated in his lifetime to have preached to around 10,000,000 people.

He describes, in chapter 11 of Lectures to My Students, the way God used the episodes of depression in his life to refine him for future service.

‘This depression comes over me whenever the Lord is preparing a larger blessing for my ministry; the cloud is black before it breaks, and overshadows before it yields its deluge of mercy. Depression has now become to me as a prophet in rough clothing, a John the Baptist, heralding the nearer coming of my Lord’s richer benison.

So have far better men found it. The scouring of the vessel has fitted it for the Master’s use. Immersion in suffering has preceded the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Fasting gives an appetite for the banquet. The Lord is revealed in the backside of the desert, while his servant keepeth the sheep and waits in solitary awe.

The wilderness is the way to Canaan. The low valley leads to the towering mountain. Defeat prepares for victory. The raven is sent forth before the dove. The darkest hour of the night precedes the day-dawn. The mariners go down to the depths, but the next wave makes them mount to the heaven: their soul is melted because of trouble before he bringeth them to their desired haven.’