Friday, 8 February 2008

suspended sentence for assisting suicide

This time last week the press reported on the sentence given to a man from West Sussex who, reportedly, placed a plastic bag and pillow over his wife’s face after she had taken an overdose of pills. His wife, Mrs Cook, had multiple sclerosis. Mr Cook was given a suspended jail sentence for assisting her suicide “on the ground of diminished responsibility”.

Alison Davis (pictured), the leader of No Less Human, a division of SPUC, wrote to The Times about Mr Cook’s sentence. Alison believes that the underlying reason for the light sentence was that Mrs Cook was disabled, depressed and wanted to die. Since Alison’s letter to The Times has not been published, she suggests that I publish it instead:

“It seems to me that this [kind of sentence] has become the norm when disabled people who are simultaneously depressed are deliberately killed. It is assumed that the disabled person is "right to want to die" and no effort is put into trying to ameliorate the effects of severe depression - something that would be done as a matter of course for people with no obvious disabling condition.

“I have several disabling conditions and use a wheelchair full time. I experience severe spinal pain on a daily basis, and even morphine doesn't always control the pain.

“Twenty years ago, when doctors thought I didn't have long left to live I decided I wanted to die. It was a settled wish that lasted over 10 years. I attempted suicide several times, and had assisted suicide been legal then I would have requested it. Under the rules that apply in Holland, Belgium and Switzerland I would have qualified for it. Failing that, if I could have found someone prepared to "assist" me to die, I would have jumped at the chance.

“It took my friends many years to help me change my mind about wanting to die. I still have the same level of pain now, and my disabling conditions have deteriorated significantly. What has changed is my outlook on life. If assisted suicide had been available to me then,no one would ever have known that the future held something better for me, and that the doctors' prognosis was wrong.

“I suggest that what sick and disabled people like me really need is help and support to live with dignity until we naturally die. Cases such as that of Mr & Mrs Cook only serve to underline a negative view of the value of suffering lives, and create a double standard - non-disabled depressed people are treated, disabled depressed people are killed. This is unfair, unjust and unworthy of a civilised society.”

supporter climbs 22,800' peak for SPUC

One of our supporters has climbed the highest mountain in the world outside the Himalayas to raise funds for SPUC’s work. Mr Mark Norbury, who is British-born but lives in Canada, set off to climb Aconcagua, Argentina, on the 10th of last month and reached the summit of the Andean mountain on the 27th. He has since made it safely back to base camp.

Mark had to contend with altitude sickness, windburn and sunburn. He said: “Nearing the summit I felt really dizzy with the altitude and my body kept telling me to just lie down and rest, but I continued on, one step at a time. I never once seriously considered giving up. I'd come this far and was so determined to reach the top. I crawled on to the summit at 4 pm.”

Mark has been a keen mountaineer since his youth. His first climb was Great Gable in the Lake District, England, at the age of two. In 2002, he conquered Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, the highest mountain in Africa. Aconcagua is 6,962 metres (22,841 feet).

Mark said that deciding which organisation to support through sponsorship for his climb was not difficult. “Protecting the lives of children is, I believe, the most important challenge facing the world at this moment. Life begins at conception, as scientists can prove, and there is little that distinguishes a baby within the womb from a baby who has been born. Both are dependent on their mother for nourishment, warmth, love and all that sustains their life. The average mother or her doctor would not dream of killing a baby after birth, yet sadly it has become socially and politically acceptable to kill a baby within his or her mother's womb."

If you would like to make a credit/payment card donation to Mark’s fundraising efforts please ring (01772) 258580.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Britain's failing teen pregnancy strategy

The British government's teenage pregnancy strategy aimed to cut the conception rate among under-18s by 15% between 1998 and 2004, and to halve that rate by 2010. It has spent more than £250 million yet has only achieved an 11.5% reduction. The most significant reduction in the rate from its high point in 1998 was in 1999 before the strategy was implemented. The pace of reduction actually slowed down once the strategy was implemented. Central to the strategy has been the availability and promotion of birth control - both "contraception" which may work abortifaciently and abortion via the Abortion Act 1967.

The human cost of this policy is incalculable. While the conception rate in 1998 for England and Wales was 47.1 per thousand, only 42% of those conceptions led to abortion. The conception rate in 2005 was 41.4 per thousand, but 46.4% of these ended in abortion.

Britain now has the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in western Europe. [Daily Mail, 6 February] The government wants teenagers to use long-term birth control methods such as injections, implants and intrauterine devices. [Daily Mail, 6 February] However, contrary to the government's claims justifying its policy, the availability of birth control is not a factor in teenage pregnancy rates.

The social causes of teenage pregnancy

Professor David Paton of Nottingham University (pictured) found that teenagers in poor areas were more likely to visit birth control clinics, yet those areas had higher teen pregnancy rates. Teenagers in better-off parts of England were less likely to go to clinics even though the rate was lower there. [The economics of family planning and underage conceptions, Journal of Health Economics, March 2002] Professor Paton found that social deprivation was a factor in teenage pregnancy. More recently, he has said: "An improvement in general education levels appears to be the most significant factor in reducing teenage pregnancies."

Although politicians want to throw yet more birth control at this problem, they do also acknowledge the social factors. Ms Beverley Hughes MP, the children's minister, speaks of "tailored support for all teenage parents to reduce future teenage pregnancies." A ministry statement says that such support: "… would also tackle the underlying causes of early pregnancy such as low aspirations, disengagement from learning, poor educational attainment and poor emotional health." [Department for Children, Schools and Families, 29 January]

Mr Chris Bryant, Labour MP for Rhondda, recently told parliament: "The map of teenage pregnancy in Britain is the map of poverty and deprivation. Last week, I put together some statistics, which, for the first time, were done by constituency, rather than by local authority. They show that the map is a consistent line of the poorest communities in this country". [Westminster Hall Hansard, 29 January]

Mr Bryant's report, based on extensive interviews with teenage mothers, said that in 2005 there were 39,804 conceptions among under-18s in England - a rate of 41.3 per thousand. Teenage pregnancy was linked with deprivation, leading to a: “vicious cycle of underachievement, benefit dependency, ill health, lack of aspiration, poor parenting and child poverty.” Press coverage refers to Mr Bryant's warning that some teenage girls were getting pregnant to get a council flat. This may or may not be true, but no amount of sex-education or free condoms is likely to prevent a girl who wants a baby from becoming pregnant.

The relationship between household-type and poverty

Social disadvantage is directly associated with family breakdown. Children raised by two married parents do better financially, academically and socially. Children raised outside a stable family structure find it harder to form stable, committed families for their own children.

National government surveys in the US show that, in families where the parents have always belonged to each other and to their children, there is the lowest level of child poverty (12%) and in stepfamilies it is 13%. The level of poverty in divorced, single-parent families is 31% and, with cohabiting parents, it is 39%. Separated, single-parent families have a poverty-level of 41%, while always-single mother households are at 67%. [Dignity of the child from conception and its right to life, home, and family, Dr Patrick Fagan, World Congress of Families IV, Warsaw, Poland, 12 May 2007]

Therefore, the biggest single contribution government could make to reducing social deprivation, child poverty and, consequently, teenage pregnancy, would be to ensure that children were raised by both biological parents in a married relationship.

Undermining parental rights

The teenage pregnancy strategy actually undermines families by removing the parents' rights to decide the nature of the sex-education their children receive and when they should receive it. A Council of Europe document states: "In exercise of any functions which it assures in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions." [article 2, Protocol to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, as amended by protocol 11, Paris, 20 March 1952.]

Ms Beverley Hughes recently said to parliament: "What that strategy has been designed to do is, first, encourage parental engagement." [Westminster Hall Hansard, 29 January] However, in the field of sex-education, Ms Hughes's government has removed parents' rights. It is now threatening to target children in primary schools, and to make sex-education mandatory. Government policy has also assailed parental authority by secretly supplying birth control and abortion to underage children.

Moral hazard and contraceptive failure

People are more likely to avoid risks when there is no safety-net. Teenagers engage in risky sexual behaviour if they think they can get birth control without their parents finding out, and a secret abortion if contraception fails. Insurance companies call this moral hazard. [Professor David Paton, Faith, July-August 2007]

Contraception is much more likely to fail than people generally believe. A report published on the 29th of last month by Marie Stopes International in Australia shows that some 43% of women who became pregnant unintentionally were using oral contraceptives when they conceived and another 27% reportedly used a condom. This highlights the foolishness of a sexual health strategy which is founded on the assumption that children will be more efficient in the use of contraception than adults.

Health risks of hormonal birth control

The evidence shows use of birth control (especially by those under 20) is associated with significant risks. The teenage pregnancy strategy could actually be contributing to the human and economic costs of sexual ill-health. Hormonal birth control such as the pill is associated with cancer. Despite news stories suggesting the pill can reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, there is a well-established link to an increased risk of cancer of the breast, cervix and liver. These effects are even more dangerous when exposure to pill is begun before physical maturity, and goes on for many years.

Cervical cancer

The connection between cervical cancer and the pill, has been under investigation since 1964. Since then studies have confirmed a heightened risk, particularly to teenager users. In 1988, research on 47,000 women published in The Lancet showed the connection between use of the pill and genital cancers.

Breast cancer

This probably presents a greater risk to pill-users than cervical cancer. Research in the Netherlands in 1994 showed a heightened risk associated with long term use. In 1995 The Lancet cited research which concluded women who had started oral contraceptive use at between 20 and 24 years of age had three times the risk of developing breast cancer before the age of 46 than those who had never used it.

Further studies have concurred with this and the Netherlands Cancer Institute reported the particular danger of use before the age of 20. In 1996 research conducted by Malcolm Pike showed a 50% increase of breast cancer in women who started on the pill before the age of 20. The results of tamoxifen, the anti-oestrogen drug, in the prevention of breast cancer confirms the role of oestrogen (and therefore the combined pill and morning-after pills) in the development of cancer. Bringing a pregnancy to full term safeguards against breast cancer.

Blood clots

The risk of death from clots can begin within one month of starting on the pill. In 1968 hospital admissions for blood clots were shown to be nine times greater in women who used the pill than those who did not.

Despite the development of the low-dose pill, this risk remains four times greater in users of the pill. Women with hereditary high cholesterol are advised not to use the pill. Users with a hereditary defect of the clotting factor in their blood face a 30-fold increased risk of developing clots compared to normal non-users.

Liver tumours

These are rare and, although not usually malignant, such tumours can cause death if they rupture.

Minor side effects

These include depression, raised blood pressure (with an increased risk of stroke even in girls as young as 14), and conditions such as eczema and chloasma.

Sexually transmitted diseases

While the discussion of teenage sexual health has focused on teenage pregnancy, the rise in the rates of sexually transmitted diseases has been alarming. There are serious implications for the future fertility of children and teenagers who contract such diseases.

Conclusion

The teenage pregnancy strategy is not working. While the conception rate has fallen slightly, the number of recorded abortions continues to rise, without even including early abortion caused by birth control drugs and devices. (The manufacturer's description of the Norgeston mini-pill concedes that it can stop young embryos from implanting in the womb (nidation).)

The government stubbornly insists that what is needed is even more birth control, yet this has been shown not to be a factor in teenage pregnancy. The government pays lip-service to the social factors which do lead to teenage pregnancy yet undermines the traditional family which is more likely to give children an emotionally stable and materially adequate upbringing. In all this, we are scarcely told about how birth control can fail and can threaten women's health.

For further information on anything mentioned here, or on what you can do in your area to counter the government's failed teenage pregnancy strategy, contact me at johnsmeaton@spuc.org.uk

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Northern Ireland unity against British abortion law

I attended a meeting today at the Northern Ireland Assembly led by Jeffrey Donaldson (right), a DUP MLA and MP and chairman of the all-party pro-life group at Stormont and Pat Ramsey (left), an SDLP MLA and vice-chairman of the group.

Also there were Johanna Higgins, a pro-life barrister, Karen Jardine of the Evangelical Alliance, Mrs Betty Gibson, chairwoman of SPUC Northern Ireland, Liam Gibson, SPUC development officer in Northern Ireland, Bernie Smyth, leader of Precious Life, Lynn Coles of Silent No More in Northern Ireland, Aidan Gallagher of Human Life International, Ireland and a number of other MLAs and pro-life activists.

Everyone at the meeting was united in opposing the imposition of Westminster-style abortion legislation on Northern Ireland which was overwhelmingly opposed in a debate at Stormont last October 22nd on a motion which was agreed unopposed.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Lords fail to oppose unethical embryo bill

The House of Lords this evening approved the Human Fertilisation and Embryology bill on third reading without any substantial restraining amendments. The Lords failed to divide on the Bill.

An attempt by Baroness Williams of Crosby to ensure that embryos could only be used for research when no alternative exists was rejected. Pro-embryo research peers said it was over-restrictive and impracticable.

The clause would have required researchers to produce evidence that the research couldn’t be done without using human embryos, and that the project was likely to produce an outcome. This was opposed by the government as well as peers involved in embryo research, and the House voted by 197 to 41 against the amendment. Following this defeat, critics of the bill failed to divide the House over the bill as a whole, allowing it an unopposed third reading.

During the debate, Lord Jenkin of Roding, a former health minister pointed to the lack of any moral framework behind the proposals – though not opposed to embryo research in principle himself. He said it was a “not to the credit of the House [of Lords]” that the Bill, now at its final stage in the Lords, still lacked any underlying ethical principle.

The Bishop of Chester urged that scientists should have more respect for dead people than to use their cells to create cloned human embryos or hybrid embryos for research, but the government assured the House of Lords that this would be permitted in the bill before it became law. Lord Jenkin rightly identified the total absence of a moral foundation for the bill. The Warnock report in 1984 accorded the human embryo a vague ‘special status’, and the 1990 embryology law paid lip-service to this principle. The current government rides roughshod over any such pretence of ethical sensitivity. The idea that anyone who has previously given general permission for the use of their tissue in research may now be cloned is shocking. This also applies to children who have died, and whose cells may have been cultured and developed into cell lines for legitimate research.

Lord Walton, in arguing for the creation of cloned embryos in such situations, said that it would only apply where there was “no indication that the donor had any objection”. Lord Walton’s assurance was absurd and misleading. Those who donated tissue 20 or 30 years ago would not have had any way of knowing that Lord Walton and his colleagues would be putting forward such obscene proposals now – and therefore no opportunity to express an objection. He will do grave damage to the reputation of doctors and researchers, and the government may seriously harm critical services like the blood donor service if they do what they promise and incorporate this in the bill. Many patients and donors will not want to give any of their genetic material to UK institutions if this becomes law.

"Guilt and Anger over Abortion"

Under this arresting headline, the Sunday Times yesterday carried three excellent letters .

One of them is particularly powerful:

"Like most educated, modern young women, I had believed that abortion was a right that should be freely and safely available...Five years later, not a day passes that I do not regret my decision. The gut-wrenching guilt and the anger at those who played a role in the event, have only worsened over time – especially after the birth of my first child."

These letters remind us how important it is to keep on telling the truth about abortion. Your sensitive witness in the media may save lives from an abortion - a mother's, a father's, and an unborn baby's.

You might want to Have Your Say in The Sunday Times on-line letters page.

Tony Blair "bid" to be president of EU council

“I’ll be president of Europe if you’ll give me the power – Blair” ran the headline in The Guardian on Saturday, and it certainly caught my eye.

I wrote to Tony Blair early last month following reports that he had been received into the Catholic church.

I asked him if he now repudiates:
  • voting in 1990 for abortion up to birth three times during Parliamentary debates on what became the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990;
  • personally endorsing his government’s policy of supplying abortion and birth control drugs and devices to schoolgirls as young as 11 without parental knowledge or consent;
  • his government introducing legislation which has led to a law which allows, and in certain circumstances requires, doctors to starve and dehydrate to death vulnerable patients;
  • his government’s commitment to the promotion of abortion on demand as a universal fundamental human right;
  • personally championing destructive experiments on human embryos.
I have no wish for Tony Blair to don sackcloth and ashes. I’ll do that for my own sins before I judge anyone else.

However, Tony Blair’s position on abortion, abortifacient birth control, IVF and euthanasia by neglect is a matter of public record. As prime minister he was in the forefront of championing the culture of death not only in Britain but also, on abortion, around the world through the UK’s foreign policy.

Particularly while there’s a possibility of Tony Blair running for public office in any part of the world, citizens have a right and a duty to challenge him on his political record on pro-life matters. As a Catholic myself, I do not believe that politicians can be protected from public scrutiny simply by being received into the Catholic church.

If Tony Blair does repudiate these positions, I will be the first to shout it from the rooftops.