Saturday, 10 September 2011

Anscombe Centre points in a better ethical direction than Parliament this week

The Anscombe Bioethics Centre held an impressive day conference this week at Corpus Christi College, Oxford, entitled Human embryo research: law, ethics and public policy.

Anthony McCarthy, SPUC's education and publications manager, Joe Lee, SPUC Scotland's development officer, and I joined an international gathering of delegates to hear leading academics from Ireland, Italy, Germany, the US, France and Britain explain the status of the human embryo in their countries' laws and public policies.

All the addresses given deserve future re-reading and study and I look forward to their promised publication in due course.

Dr David Albert Jones, the director of the Anscombe Centre, gave a fascinating insight into why Britain has one of the least restrictive policies on human embryo research in the world: "Not only", Dr Jones said, "does UK law permit every conceivable category of embryo to be created for research, but it also shows little evidence of willingness to restrict human embryo research in practice. By 2008, 2 million embryos had been destroyed in clincal practice or research in the UK. In the same period the regulator (the HFEA) had only once refused a research license, and this was later granted on appeal."

Commenting on Dame Mary Warnock's report*  on the basis of which the British Parliament voted in 1990 to legalise destructive research on human embryos for a wide range of purposes, Dr Jones said:
"Warnock's approach is highly problematic. It is disingenuous to call this an account of the status of the embryo. The embryo drops out of consideration and it is the moral feelings of objectors that are considered. But it fails also as an attempt to respect these feelings, for it does not critically engage with the arguments but treats concern about harm to the embryo as a mere expression of emotion, in contrast to the concern about benefit to patients which is treated as an objective concern."
I strongly recommend everyone to read the summary of Dr Jones's address or to read it in full when the proceedings of the day conference are published. (Two years ago, I wrote on one aspect of the theme Dr Jones explored with such expertise this week in a post entitled Reasonable-minded citizens should be genuinely frightened of Mary Warnock.)

Another talk deserving wide attention was entitled Regulation and Complicity: Preventing without prescribing harm. The talk was given by Dr Helen Watt, senior research fellow at the Anscombe Centre. Dr Watt's talk showed how "harm-minimising laws can present various problems of principle for legislators, of a kind often overlooked". She explained:
"The following analogy may be helpful in contrasting two approaches to harm prevention. Imagine that you are in charge of a men’s prison in which there are many non-marital sexual encounters, including many rapes. It is one thing for you to tell inmates of the prison that you wish to protect everyone from non-consensual sex: any case of rape by anyone in the prison will be most severely punished. This amounts to a ‘selective ban’ on one, and only one, form of sexual activity in the prison; all other activities are tolerated, if not encouraged, following national prison policy. Such a ban, or partial ban, seems reasonable in principle.

"Now imagine a system where you issue consent forms for prisoners to complete before all their sexual encounters, casual or otherwise. If, as I would argue, it is wrong to prepare for non-marital sex, whether or not the person knows this, to intend that others so prepare amounts to formal or deliberate cooperation in morally wrong behaviour. Even if the hope is that prisoners will be discouraged by the paperwork from embarking on new encounters, inviting them to wrongly begin preparing for such encounters is surely itself morally wrong. And it is wrong whatever the prisoners’ culpability: your own culpability may of course be very much greater should you happen to have a better grasp of the issues at stake."
Dr Watt went on:
" ... One problem for pro-life legislators in Britain is that any change to the abortion law may well encompass changes to the abortion form included in the Act to be amended – a form which has the look of something intended precisely for abortion-minded doctors to complete. So even if a proposed law were not, in its main content, an instruction on how to perform or prepare for abortions, but merely a selective ban on some abortions – ‘leaving’ some legal but ‘making’ none legal - the problem would be with what certainly looks like an offer to abortionists and others of a new way of preparing for abortion, albeit one embodying new restrictions."
I find it deeply encouraging that the Anscombe Centre was addressing some of its best minds to the fundamental challenge facing the pro-life movement and legislators who oppose abortion, human embryo research or other anti-life evils: What kind of legislative proposals and/or regulations may be ethically introduced and supported in response to unjust legal situations allowing human rights abuses such as abortion? After the confusion created by Nadine Dorries's inappropriate and unsound pregnancy counselling amendment, Dr Watt and the Anscombe Centre were pointing in a better ethical direction this week.

*The Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Human Fertilisation and Embryology, Cmnd. 9314, London, 1984

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Friday, 9 September 2011

What was wrong with Nadine Dorries's pregnancy counselling proposal

On Wednesday I published SPUC's press release explaining why the defeat of Nadine Dorries's pregnancy counselling amendment was a relief.

Paul Tully (pictured), SPUC's general secretary, has prepared the following questions and answers which explain further SPUC's position. They are followed by the inevitable call for further action ("The price of freedom is eternal vigilance", Thomas Jefferson) - as the government begins to draw up its plans for so-called independent pregnancy counselling.

What was the ‘Dorries Amendment’ seeking to do?

Nadine Dorries’ amendment to the health bill sought to require GPs to make an offer of “independent counselling” to any pregnant patient who was contemplating abortion.

Why did she put it forward?

She wants to change the present situation where abortion-providers like BPAS and Marie Stopes offer a pregnancy counselling service, but where in practice, women rarely receive any counselling before an abortion, and even then, they receive it from counsellors who are working for abortion providers and cannot be regarded as independent. This is indeed a scandalous situation, but Nadine Dorries’ proposal is not the right way to address it, we believe.

What was wrong with Nadine’s proposal?


The amendment actually called for: “independent information, advice and counselling services” for pregnant women. “Independent” meant either from the NHS or from another source that is not an abortion service, but official regulations would be required to stipulate who could be a pregnancy counsellor. Those regulations would be drawn up by pro-abortionists in the Department of Health – and could threaten pro-life counselling groups, who might be totally excluded.

Nadine’s amendment did not say what “information” or “advice” would entail, but there are pitfalls in these areas too. She is not trying to promote abortion but there is no guarantee her proposals would reduce the numbers of abortions either, and they may make it much harder if not impossible for some pro-life groups and doctors/nurses to carry on their good work.

Is Nadine Dorries pro-life?


Mrs Dorries is not pro-life; she calls herself  "pro-choice" and is quite open and honest about it. She said for example that she does not believe that pro-life or Christian organisations should be allowed to offer pregnancy counselling.

People may ask why she was viciously attacked by the pro-choice lobby if she is not pro-life. There may be several reasons, perhaps.

Firstly, unlike pro-abortionists who call themselves pro-choice she really was arguing that pregnant women be offered help with various choices – help to have an abortion or to keep their baby. Pro-abortionists like Diane Abbott and Chris Bryant reacted violently against Nadine, because she exposed the real, deceitful agenda of the “pro-choice lobby”– which as we know is to promote one choice: abortion.

Secondly, some pro-abortionists probably think that Nadine was a pro-lifer being disingenuous, and this would make them angry.

Thirdly, she has been presented as being “pro-life” in the press, causing some confusion. She herself has strenuously denied such assertions. Furthermore, in the debate she made this statement:

“I should like to make this point before I take any more interventions, because I also want to defend BPAS. I do not want it to look as if I am attacking the organisation, because it, and probably more so, Marie Stopes, do what they do—the clinical procedure of carrying out abortion—incredibly well. The service that they provide for the NHS is absolutely vital, and I do not want to see Marie Stopes or BPAS disappear or to diminish their roles. They have a job to do, and they do it well. Their job is the provision of clinical abortions, and I want that to continue.” (Nadine Dorries, Hansard, 7 Sept 2011, column 369)

There is also a question of why some pro-life people or groups think that Nadine Dorries is pro-life, and have backed her amendment.

As mentioned above, she has been described as pro-life in the media, despite denying this herself. Some pro-life people may think that she is just pretending to be ‘pro-choice’ as a ploy to stop some abortions. Others see Nadine as a likeable and approachable personality, without the airs and graces of some politicians. She has shown admirable tenacity and resilience under attack. These qualities should not lead us to overlook the dangers and imprudence of what she is doing.

What should SPUC and other pro-life people do now?

Despite the defeat of the amendment, the Department of Health is going to draw up plans for so-called independent counselling. We must contact MPs now, in advance of the proposals, and ask them to help ensure three things:

1) that the proposals are primarily designed to further the government’s stated priority of reducing the abortion rate;
2) that the work of pro-life agencies that seek to help women avoid abortions is promoted and not impeded by any regulations, and equally that the inherent right of conscientious objection to abortion is fully respected;
3) that MPs tell the minister they are prepared to vote down any regulations that are not fit for purpose in this regard.

Postscript: What about Frank Field?


The veteran Labour MP Frank Field originally backed the amendment, but in the later stages, differed in his view on strategy from Nadine Dorries. He thought that the amendment should have been withdrawn before the debate, because of the Department of Health’s offer to introduce regulations for independent counselling.

In the event, the DoH are going to do this anyway. Mr Field has never liked confrontation on the abortion issue. In a way, it is surprising that he should have teamed up in the first place with Nadine, who is always up for a fight.

So to repeat: Please contact your MP now, in advance of the proposals, and ask them to help ensure three things:

1) that the proposals are primarily designed to further the government’s stated priority of reducing the abortion rate;
2) that pro-life agencies helping women avoid abortions are not impeded by any regulations, and equally that the inherent right of conscientious objection to abortion is fully respected;
3) that MPs tell the minister they are prepared to vote down any regulations that are not fit for purpose in this regard.

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Thursday, 8 September 2011

Read Alison Davis's powerful response to euthanasia campaigner Tony Nicklinson

Tony Nicklinson (pictured), a paralysed Englishman campaigning for a so-called 'right to die', was interviewed recently by Stephen Sackur for the BBC's HardTalk programme. Alison Davis, the coordinator of No Less Human, a group within SPUC representing disabled people, has kindly sent me her powerful response to Mr Nicklinson's interview:
"While the interview purports to let Tony Nicklinson speak for himself, in fact almost all of what he says is lifted from the ill-named "Dignity in Dying" (DiD, formerly the Voluntary Euthanasia Society). For instance he apparently holds the view that as able bodied people can "choose to take their own life" so "a paralysed person of sound mind [should] have a right to die." However, there is no "right to suicide" in this country for anyone, disabled or not. In fact, much public money is spent on "suicide prevention programmes" for the non-disabled, though those who run them are eerily silent when asked to comment on assisted suicide for sick/disabled people.

Another argument that he uses, again lifted from DiD, is that he might not want to die "if he had the 'comfort' of knowing that suicide was an option." This argument was widely used by Debbie Purdy, in her campaign to make assisted suicide legal. However, in Mr Nicklinson's case it soon transpires that he is not seeking to change the law on assisted suicide, as Mrs. Purdy was. He wants it to be legal for him to be given a lethal injection. This is what DiD originally campaigned for. However, in recent years the group has been careful not to mention this, although undoubtedly it is still their final aim.

Both Mr Nicklinson and his wife want "strict safeguards", again along the lines of DiD's "model" law. Note that lethal injections should be available "in only the most special of cases." As has been apparent from places where some form of killing sick or disabled adults has been legalised (e.g. The Netherlands, Belgium, the American states of Oregon and Washington), it has proved impossible to 'hold the line' in this way. Once it becomes legal to directly kill an adult (by whatever means, and whatever the disability), the situation quickly deteriorates, and those 'not quite' fulfilling the 'strict criteria' are found to be 'worthy' to qualify for this type of supposed 'death with dignity'. Then the proverbial slippery slope is greased enough to allow the killing of those unable to 'choose' death - e.g. disabled newborns and people with dementia, both of whom qualify for being deliberately and directly killed in The Netherlands.

Interestingly, though, Mr. Nicklinson re-defines what pro euthanasia campaigners say - that going to the 'Dignitas' killing facility in Switzerland constitutes 'death with dignity'. His definition of 'death with dignity' is to be killed at home, preferably with the help of his wife, who would give him sedation, followed by an amorphous 'someone else' who would give the lethal injection. One envisages a 'little list' (to quote from Gilbert & Sullivan) of volunteers who would be happy to kill others for any reason they considered acceptable.

However, from my own personal perspective, what stands out most from this interview is Mr Nicklinson's opinion that his situation "causes anguish the pro-life campaigners could not possibly understand." One has to assume that he has not the slightest idea of who "pro-life campaigners" are, and what they may have personally experienced.

I cite my own case in complete contradiction of his view. I run No Less Human, a pro-life disability rights group which, amongst other things, campaigns against all forms of euthanasia/assisted suicide. NLH members are either disabled themselves, have a disabled family member, or care in some capacity for disabled people. I have several seriously disabling conditions, including spina bifida/hydrocephalus, chronic obstructive pulmonary (lung) disease, osteoporosis and arthritis. I use a wheelchair full-time. I take morphine regularly, but that doesn't satisfactorily control the pain. When the pain is at its worst I can't think, move or speak. I need surgery, but cannot have it, because my lungs are so badly affected there is a high risk that I would die on the operating table. I live with levels of pain which most would find 'unbearable'. But somehow, with the help of my closest friend and carer, Colin, we manage to find a way through the tough times together.

I notice that the Nicklinsons' idea of 'safeguards' includes 'a lengthy 'cooling off' period'. Again my situation is relevant. Some years ago I wanted to die, a settled wish that lasted over 10 years. I feel confident that wanting to die for 10 years would be sufficiently 'lengthy' to satisfy Mr. Nicklinson's criterion. I seriously attempted to take my own life, and at that time doctors thought I didn't have long to live. If the Nicklinsons' campaign been successful and in place then, I would have chosen death, and would not now be alive. If that had happened, no one would ever have known that the best years of my life lay in the future, despite the fact that my pain and disabilties are much worse now than they were then. Equally, no one would ever have known that the doctors' prognosis of a very short life expectancy, and of a 'life not worth living' were so very wrong.

Jane Nicklinson, Tony's wife, ends the interview by noting that "all the letter writing and the campaigning ... you quite enjoy it, don't you?" If Mr. Nicklinson still has something to enjoy, albeit campaigning for his own death, doesn't it rather suggest that, given support and encouragement, he might find that he enjoys other, less morbid, activities even more?"
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Wednesday, 7 September 2011

SPUC comments on Dorries abortion debate

The defeat of Nadine Dorries’ amendments in Parliament was a relief. SPUC had expressed serious reservations about the amendments, especially in light of Mrs Dorries’ previous attacks on pro-life counselling organisations, services which have done so much over the past 40 years to help women.

Paul Tully, SPUC general secretary, told the media earlier today:
“Mrs Dorries’ proposals were aimed at ending the abhorrent situation where abortion providers give a woman counselling and then abort her baby, and charge the NHS for both services. This was a laudable aim. But by adopting a ‘pro-choice’ position Mrs Dorries confused pro-life MPs and maddened pro-abortion ones. And she has created an opportunity which pro-abortion health officials will seek to exploit to promote more abortions.”

Speaking for the government in the debate, Mrs Anne Milton, Minister of State for public health, urged MPs to oppose the amendment and supported abortion as a woman’s choice.  She said that regulations for abortion counselling would be prepared. She made no reference to the current legal restrictions on abortion.

Mr Tully continued: “This bears out the fears expressed before the debate by SPUC that Department of Health officials will be given the opportunity to draft regulations.  The Department’s officials have a long track-record of promoting a radical pro-abortion interpretation of the law. We fear that they may now try to ban pro-life agencies offering pregnancy counselling that can help women avoid unwanted abortions.

“As a priority we must urge Parliamentarians to put pressure on the Minister to ensure that pro-life doctors, nurses and counsellors remain free to act according to their consciences. The abuse of women by abortion-providers must also be dealt with, but the approach must be politically astute and morally sound."
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Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Please pray for pro-life parents fulfilling their duty as their children's primary educators

Cardinal Vaughan's tomb
The Vaughan Parents' Action Group are calling for people to join them in an hour of prayer on Thursday 15 September. The full details are below. It is outside SPUC's remit to comment on the administrative issues in the dispute between the parents and the archdiocese, such as the school's admissions policy. My interest as SPUC director in highlighting this matter is to help uphold the rights of parents (Catholic or non-Catholic) to protect their children against prevailing ideas in sex education, ideas which are promoted by the Catholic Education Service (CES) and Paul Barber, director of the Westminster Diocese Education Service. If faithful Catholic parents lose control over good Catholic schools to dissenting episcopal bullies, then many more of our children will be lost to the culture of death.
AN HOUR OF PRAYER

for

THE CARDINAL VAUGHAN MEMORIAL SCHOOL

7 p.m. on Thursday 15th September

Westminster Cathedral Piazza

The Vaughan Parents’ Action Group invites parents, past pupils, friends and supporters to an hour of prayer and hymns and to help us to present our petition to Archbishop Vincent Nichols.

We petition His Grace:

• to nominate two current parents as Foundation Governors of the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School;
• to advise and encourage his nominees on the Governing Body to conduct the selection process of a new Head so as to bring about an appointment that will command the support not just of the Archbishop’s nominees but also of other sections across the unhappily divided Governing Body.

The Vaughan’s success has always depended on dedicated teachers supported wholeheartedly by Catholic parents. The hostile actions of the Westminster Diocese Education Service – in particular the imposition of its own Director, Paul Barber, on the Governing Body – threaten to undermine this harmonious and fruitful collaboration. Vaughan parents chose the School for its distinctive and unambiguously Catholic ethos. They want it to be cherished and protected. This is why they do not want a new Head to be selected while they are still under-represented on the Governing Body.

THE NEW HEAD WILL BE APPOINTED IN OCTOBER. This Hour of Prayer may be our last opportunity before then to show Archbishop Nichols just how worried we are about the future of our wonderful School. Please see our website for further details or if you wish to sign our on line petition : www.savethevaughan.com
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Today's must-read pro-life news-stories, Tue 6 Sep

Top stories:

Abortion counselling debate now due Wednesday afternoon
Further to our alert last Thursday, it has been announced this afternoon that the House of Commons debate on the Dorries-Field abortion counselling amendment is now due to take place this Wednesday (7 September) afternoon. Please read our updated briefing on the Dorries-Field amendment. Also, in response to the government's rejection late last week of the Dorries-Field amendment, Louise Mensch, a Conservative party MP, has tabled her own amendment on abortion counselling. The Mensch amendment raises even more serious concerns than the Dorries-Field amendment. Please read SPUC’s briefing on the Mensch amendment. Please share SPUC's concerns about the Dorries-Field and Mensch amendments with your MP and ask him/her to raise them in debate this week, and subsequently in any debate or consultation if regulations are brought forward.

House of Lords committee calls for compulsory school sex ed
The House of Lords Select Committee on HIV and AIDS has called for the teaching of sex and relationships education (SRE) to be made compulsory in schools. The committee claims that SRE is essential for reducing the incidence of sexually-transmitted diseases. The government is conducting a consultation on the matter. [Children & Young People Now, 2 September] http://bit.ly/nBgZ0l SRE often includes explicit depictions of sexual activity and promotes abortion and contraception.

English couple defend decision to abort disabled son
An English couple have defended their decision to abort their son who was diagnosed with disabilities. Georgina Pearson and Zak Turgoose said they would live with the choice for the rest of their lives. A spokesman for SPUC said: "A life is a life. Disabled children can still find joy in life. Life is precious. When parents face difficult decisions, they need some sound advice. We encourage them to contact us." [This is Derbyshire, 3 September] http://bit.ly/r2fW2K

Other stories:

Embryology
Population
General
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Monday, 5 September 2011

Abortion counselling debate now due Wednesday afternoon

Further to SPUC's alert last Thursday, it has been announced this afternoon that the House of Commons debate on the Dorries-Field abortion counselling amendment is now due to take place this Wednesday (7 September) afternoon. Please read our updated briefing on the Dorries-Field amendment.

Also, in response to the government's rejection late last week of the Dorries-Field amendment, Louise Mensch, a Conservative party MP, has tabled her own amendment on abortion counselling. The Mensch amendment raises even more serious concerns than the Dorries-Field amendment. Please read SPUC’s briefing on the Mensch amendment.

Please share SPUC's concerns about the Dorries-Field and Mensch amendments with your MP and ask him/her to raise them in debate this week, and subsequently in any debate or consultation if regulations are brought forward.

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Today's must-read pro-life news-stories, Mon 5 Sep

Jacek Tomczak, Polish MP
Top stories:

Louise Mensch's abortion counselling amendment is another Dorries-like danger
In response to the government's rejection late last week of the Dorries-Field amendment on abortion counselling, Louise Mensch, a newly-elected Conservative party MP, has tabled her own amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill to be debated this coming week. Mrs Mensch said that her amendment has been framed to satisfy pro-abortion groups who object to the Dorries-Field amendment. John Smeaton, SPUC director, said: "The Mensch amendment is even worse than the dangerous Dorries-Field amendment. I urge pro-lifers to share SPUC's concerns about the Dorries-Field and Mensch amendments with their MP and ask him/her to raise them in debate this coming week, and subsequently in any debate or consultation if regulations are brought forward." [John Smeaton, 3 September] http://bit.ly/pIouuX

English prosecutors failing to prosecute assisted suicide cases
The Times newspaper reports that no cases of suspected assisted suicide in England have been prosecuted since new guidelines were published 18 months ago. 30 suspected cases were referred to the Crown Prosecution Service but no prosecutions were launched. [Times, 5 September] http://thetim.es/o1mJef SPUC warned when guidelines were published that it could lead to the de facto decriminalisation of assisted suicide.

Polish MPs threatened with fine for supporting abortion ban
15 MPs of Poland's government party were threatened with fines for supporting a bill aimed at banning all abortions. The Civic Platform party had ordered its MPs to vote against the bill. Jacek Tomczak (pictured), one of the threatened MPs, said: "I could not vote against my conscience, especially as it concerned the right to life of the most innocent and defenseless human beings." [LifeSiteNews.com, 2 September] http://bit.ly/oQGLCj

Other stories:

Abortion
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