Saturday, 31 May 2008

Tony Blair "did not strictly follow the Catholic line" on abortion! says Our Faith on Sunday

Many Catholic parish priests reproduce reflections entitled "Our Faith on Sunday" on the reverse side of their weekly bulletins. Fr Stephen Boyle (picture right), parish priest of The Good Shepherd, in New Addington, Surrey, contacted me to ask for my comment about this week's edition - on the feast of the Visitation.

This Sunday, the author of "Our Faith on Sunday" refers to Ann Widdecombe MP's "begrudging comment" about Tony Blair's reception into the Catholic church and to her concern that Mr Blair had not strictly followed the Catholic line on a variety of issues in his voting record as Prime Minister, most notably on abortion.

"Not strictly followed the Catholic line?" Frankly, that's putting it mildly - and a lot more mildly than Ann Widdecombe rightly put it.

In my letter to Tony Blair (11th January 2008) on behalf of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, I wrote:

We would...be most grateful if, in the light of your reception into the Catholic Church, you would tell us if you now repudiate:

• 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 your government’s policy of supplying abortion and birth control drugs and devices to schoolgirls as young as 11 without parental knowledge or consent;
• your government introducing legislation which has led to a lawii which allows, and in certain circumstances requires, doctors to starve and dehydrate to death vulnerable patients;
• your government’s commitment to the promotion of abortion on demand as a universal fundamental human right.
• personally championing destructive experiments on human embryos."

The author of "Our Faith on Sunday" asks "Is a Catholic politician bound to vote as illegal everything of which the Catholic Church disapproves?" to which the answer is clearly "No" . However, on abortion the Church teaches that Catholic politicians are morally bound to vote against it.

Pope John Paul II writes in Evangelium Vitae:

In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to 'take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it'*.

"Our Faith on Sunday" finishes by suggesting that insisting that politicians have a moral obligation to vote to make abortion illegal "could be counter-productive".

I encourage Catholics who read "Our Faith on Sunday" to write to the author to ask the following question: If Tony Blair had voted for laws permitting the killing of Catholics or Jews or people from ethnic minorities or lethal experimentation on them, would Catholics be right to expect him publicly to renounce such laws and to repudiate his role in passing such legislation before being received into the Church? Is it counter-productive to insist that politicians like Tony Blair vote to make such killings illegal?

By the way, what a way for "Our Faith on Sunday" to celebrate the feast of the Visitation, when the unborn St. John the Baptist leapt for joy in his mother's womb - greeting the unborn Jesus Who may not even have implanted in the lining of Mary's womb! Jesus may have been the same age as the embryos upon whom lethal experimentation is carried out under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act for which Tony Blair voted in 1990 - and which he continued to champion shortly before being received into the Catholic church.

*Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Procured Abortion (18 November 1974), No. 22: AAS 66 (1974), 744.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Pope Benedict's Humanae Vitae address in full

I blogged earlier this month on Pope Benedict's ringing endorsement of Humanae Vitae.

The full text of his address to participants at the International Congress on Paul VI's Encyclical Humanae Vitae and its relevance today has now been published.

My thoughts on the supreme importance of Humanae Vitae for the pro-life movement, no matter what our faith may be, are here.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Beware of playing abortion party politics

Some of the media have been spinning the story that, under a Conservative government, there might be restrictions to the abortion law. Pro-lifers need to be very wary of such spin. It may end in tears.

One of the main protagonists for reducing the upper limit for abortion in the recent parliamentary debates was Nadine Dorries, the Conservative MP for Mid-Bedfordshire. She is openly pro-abortion in the early months of pregnancy. In the House of Commons abortion debate on 20th May, she said: “I should like to make my personal position clear, because it has been misrepresented in the past few days. I am pro-choice. I support a woman’s right to abortion – to faster, safer and quicker abortion than is available at the moment, particularly in the first trimester. That is my position.”

It was under a Conservative government that Parliament voted for abortion up to birth. David Cameron, the current leader of the Conservative party, is on record as saying with regard to such abortions that the current law should remain.

It was also under a Conservative government that the upper limit for abortions was raised for abortions generally; and human embryo research was legalized, backed by the then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.

Today, David Cameron backs human animal hybrid embryos and “saviour siblings” whereby rejected embryos, who won’t provide an appropriate tissue match for their sibling, are destroyed.

People mistakenly claim that the time limit was reduced from 28 weeks to 24 weeks by the Conservative government’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990. However, because of amendments to the law made by the 1990 Act, the previous limit, which was based on the capability of the baby to be born alive – not a fixed number of weeks (28) – was abolished and a 24 week time limit was introduced but only for certain cases. In other cases (including where the abortion is carried out on the grounds of disability) abortions can be and are now carried out right up to the time of birth.

Every child who had reached the stage of development of being “capable of being born alive” was protected by the pre-1990 law. Since 1990 that protection has been removed. So the effect of the 1990 Act was to increase the time limit for abortion in most instances and in many cases right up to birth.

It was pro-lifers who pressed for the 1990 Act to contain provisions relating to abortion, in the hope of being able to insert some restrictions, particularly early time limits. Sadly this tactic backfired, resulting in a less, not more, restrictive abortion law.

SPUC said at the time: “… Kenneth Clarke [the secretary of state for health] was … responsible for giving MPs a misleading concept of the clause allowing abortion up to birth when it was debated at the Report Stage of the Bill on 21st June [1990] … He informed the House ‘the doctor will terminate a pregnancy while attempting to save the life of the baby if he can’. However, termination such circumstances has always been allowed but previously it has been described as ‘induced birth’. For the first time it can be legally categorised as abortion, and, whatever the claims of Mr Clarke, there is now no law compelling a doctor to save the life of the child.” (Human Concern, summer 1990)

Fast forward to 12th May 2008, and the Second Reading of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. The shadow Conservative Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley, demonstrated an equally frightening nonchalance towards the right to life of unborn children when he called for the law to be changed to allow early abortions to be made more easily available, as I blogged that week.

Dr Helen Watt, the director of the Linacre Centre for healthcare ethics, was right to say recently (in relation to the various life issues under consideration in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill): “We get the Parliament we deserve, and should all give a top priority at the next election to these issues, looking less to party affiliation and more to the voting records of individual MPs”. (Catholic News Agency report)

SPUC agrees. SPUC is political but not party political – and that will reflect our policy at the next general election.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Promises of cures from cloned human embryonic stem cell research misguided - Dr James L. Sherley

James L. Sherley, M.D., Ph.D. is a Senior Scientist at BostonBiomedical Research Institute in the U. S. He visited London recently as a guest of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. Last week, he sent me the following reflections on his visit and on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill:

"When I listened to the BBC's 45-minute re-broadcast titled 'Embryology: The Science and the Ethics' [17th May 2008] back in my own home inBoston in the United States, I hoped that MPs debating and voting on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Bill this week in the UK were diligent enough to get and listen to the full 2-hour debate titled, "Science, Ethics, and Faith: A Conversation About theHFE Bill," sponsored by the Welcome Trust on Friday May 16. Even the 2-hour "conversation" is inadequate, but at least it does not have the added deficits of the editing knife.

"There are many more crucial issues that MPs should weigh with reason, before they vote on this landmark human rights bill. My arrival in London Wednesday night was clouded with a sense of déjàvu. Just 19 months earlier, I made a very similar trip to the Australian Parliament in Canberra. I was impressed by the MPs that I met there who were working diligently for their constituents to better understand human embryo cloning research, whose fate in Australia they decided soon thereafter.

"In my capacity as a practising stem cell biologist, my message was simple. Human embryonic stem cells, whether extracted from cloned embryos or fromIVF embryos, cannot work in the bodies of children or adults. Like the UK, in Australia, research with IVF embryos was already permissible. So, against that precedent, the added truth that cloned embryos, like cloned animals, were too defective to be used to develop medical therapies designed to work inside or outside patients' bodies did not prevail. So now, 19 months later, Australian scientists are still actively destroying nascent humans while wasting research dollars on studies that are flawed in concept and practice.

"My visit to London, as to Canberra, was at the invitation of citizens there concerned about both the disregard by some for the humanity of human embryos and the needs of UK and world citizens who suffer from debilitating ailments for which there are currently no effective treatments. I was asked to share additional expertise and insights to MPs as they approached their vote on the HFE Bill, which if approved would allow scientists to make "admixed" embryos by putting the human genetic material into the eggs of animals like cows, monkeys, and rabbits.

"The guiding principle for previous public deliberations on permission for these experiments has been whether they are 'necessary and desirable.' Supporters of the HFE Bill argue that the experiments are necessary to address the shortage of human eggs that limits embryonic stem cell cloning research, and desirable because it keeps alive the possibility of cures from cloned human embryonic stem cell research.

"I came to London to empower MPs and the UK public to act responsibly (to themselves, to their loved ones, and to nascent humans) about what they already know or at least suspect. There are serious flaws in the stated motivation for the argument to pass to HFE Bill.
"The promises of cures from cloned human embryonic stem cell research are indeed misguided. Whether extracted from IVF embryos or cloned embryos, embryonic stem cells are unable to mend tissues and organs. Only adult stem cells have this ability, and they possess it naturally. This special property of adult stem cells is the reason that all current effective human medical therapies based on stem cells utilize adult stem cells, and none utilize embryonic stem cells. This was true 19 months ago when I visited Canberra, and it is still true now. I remind everyone, including my scientist colleagues, that the best test of the worth of the promises of scientific reports, like all other promises, is time. Many more years from now, this picture will not change. Embryonic stem cells lack the natural biological properties required for repair of non-embryonic tissues.

"Beyond the motivation by cloned embryonic stem cell research being a basic flaw, there is a baser problem with the admixed human embryo experiments that would be promoted by the HFE Bill. They are scientifically unsound and absurd. Frankly, I am quite amused (and many other scientists are too!) that anyone wishing to present themselves as scientifically excellent and socially responsible would promote such experiments. Perhaps, they have just lost their way or are blinded by a light that only they see.

"Animal cloning is quite inefficient. It is very difficult to get an egg, which has had its own genetic material extracted, to correctly translate the genetic material of a body cell of the same exact animal type. Human cloning, which has now been attempted by several groups, has proven formidable. So, no one needs a scientific degree to know just about how likely an animal egg is going to be able to correctly translate genetic material from a human body cell. Most likely, not at all.

"Yet, the scientists and physician MPs (like Evan Harris, whom I had the dubious distinction of meeting), who push for the HFE Bill, tell us that these admixed embryos will help us to improve human cloning and better understand human diseases. Really?! The question that the UK public and other MPs need to put to these scientists and this physician MP is, "What is really motivating your vacation of reason?" Of course, ridiculous scientific investigations are only symptoms of the diseased nature of the HFE Bill.

"Many UK citizens, including my hosts, are concerned about the moral gangrene promoted by the bill. I am as well. In countries like the U.S., Australia, and the UK, that have legalized abortion of fully-formed unborn children, it is a difficult, but not impossible, undertaking to raise public awareness and concern for the deaths of the nascent humans conceived by embryonic stem cell research. If approved, the HFE Bill will accelerate the rate of deaths of all immature humans, including experimentally disfigured admixed human embryos, IVF embryos, and fetuses.

"Already there are papers in the scientific literature from groups reporting admixed human-rabbit and human-cow embryos. It is noteworthy that, for these troubling experiments, women's rights issues do not apply. Surely, these nascent humans must be given a different kind of hearing than fetuses have been given. There is neither a moral nor a scientifically acceptable reason for their conception, which is entirely avoidable; and they cannot provide faithful models for our human ailments. They will just die from their own unique ailments that were given to them by their scientist masters."

MPs’ growing intolerance to religious or ethical considerations – Catholic bishop of Lancaster

Bishop Patrick O'Donoghue issued a statement yesterday on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. His compelling reflection on the House of Commons’ “flawed and selective approach to science” entirely complements the article sent me last week by Dr Sherley, a Senior Scientist at Boston Biomedical Research Institute in the U. S. who recently visited London as a guest of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales.

Bishop O’Donoghue says:

"Listening to the second reading and debate on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill in the House of Commons, I was saddened beyond measure. It has been said that the House of Commons is at its best when debating issues of conscience, but do I detect here a growing intolerance to listening to religious or ethical considerations? Again and again the justification given to experimenting on embryonic human beings or killing the unborn was an appeal to ‘science’ or ‘scientific research’ as if it were the only source of objective, rational knowledge. It seems that millennia of ethical and religious thought are lightly dismissed as subjective and discredited.

"In contrast to the language of utilitarianism in the parliamentary debate that sought to justify the exploitation of the unborn for our economic and medical gain there arises in my heart the words of Scripture that speak prophetically of the dignity of the unborn child:

‘You created my inmost self,
Knit me together in my mother’s womb.
For so many marvels I thank you;
A wonder am I, and all your works are wonders.
...Your eyes could see my embryo.’ (Psalm 139:13-14, 16).

"Every embryonic human person is a wonder of creation, who possesses the inherent right to realise his or her potential for creativity, love, self-sacrifice, and joy. However, our society has so cheapened and violated human life that it does not hear or understand the language of wonder about the unborn.

"A dangerous myth appears to be growing that the only knowledge that can inform policy- making is scientific research. Discourse and reason are impoverished when science is used to exclude other branches of knowledge, such as reasoning based on natural law. Not only this, but we witnessed a flawed, selective approach to science, with the House choosing to ignore the hard scientific evidence provided by adult and umbilical cord stem cell research, that proves that unethical research on embryonic human persons is unnecessary. What we saw last week in the House of Commons was the misuse of science to justify the continued exploitation and disposal of society’s most vulnerable members – embryonic and foetal human persons.

"As I understand it, there is not a shred of scientific evidence to support those who promote the benefits of creating human-animal hybrids. What we witnessed in the vote allowing the creation of human-animal hybrids was a partisan act of faith that experimentation on embryos will at some distant time result in cures for Alzheimer’s, MS and other diseases.

"We all hope and pray that medical science will find cures for these diseases that cause such dreadful suffering, but not at the cost of de-personalising the unborn and treating them as things to be manipulated and dissected. Compassion cannot result in the exploitation and destruction of unborn human persons. It is also a misuse of science to employ medical judgements concerning the ‘viability’ of the unborn child’s development as the only consideration that grants the most fundamental of human rights – the right to life.

"It’s farcical to think that the definition of a human person depends on being able to exist on one’s own. Human life is a series of inter-related dependencies at all stages of our existence. The State has no moral right to exclude the most vulnerable stage of dependency from the legal protection granted to human life. Any State that accepts the arbitrary use of power over others is immoral. As I see it, last week’s vote in the House of Commons perpetuated the immoral use of power over the unborn.

"How can it be reasonable that a 12 week old foetus is treated as an unborn child or disposed of as a thing depending on the choice of the mother? Being a person is not something granted by the choice of another, but is an inherent right dependent on the fact of existence. From the moment of conception, the unborn human being is genetically unique from his or her mother and father. The unborn child is a completely new and different living being.

"The Catholic Church truly cares for the well-being of women, particularly those agonising over the decision whether to continue with a pregnancy or to have an abortion. I can only imagine that the trauma of rape or the anxiety of a mother unable to cope can feel unbearable. However, I have been told that the grief and distress that many women suffer following an abortion is also unbearable. Confronted with this suffering, we must all do more to support the work of Pro-Life groups that offer counselling and practical support to women who are considering abortion or are struggling to cope after an abortion.

"In its strong stand against abortion or experimentation on embryonic human persons, the Church is not saying all who have an abortion or all those who voted for this legislation are evil. But it is the Church’s duty to constantly remind society that the act of intentionally killing the unborn embryo or child is always of itself evil.

"I would like to personally thank all those Members of Parliament who tabled amendments and voted in defence of unborn human life. I call on all people of faith – Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, and Christian – who believe in the sanctity of unborn human life to join with the Catholic Church in redoubling their efforts in the continuing campaign for a change in these laws.

"During the 19th century, slavers said black people weren’t human. They were wrong. During the 20th century, the Nazis said Jews weren’t human. They were wrong. Since 1967, the House of Commons has said the unborn are not human. They, too, are wrong."
+Patrick O’Donoghue, Bishop of Lancaster Sunday, 25 May, 2008