Saturday, July 30, 2011

'All I knew was that I wanted to live'

The family of a woman in her early fifties is currently pleading with the High Court for permission for her to be "allowed to die" - in fact, starved and dehydrated to death. The woman is brain damaged, paralysed, unable to communicate and totally dependent on nursing care. Her family believes it cruel to keep her alive.

UK courts have granted permission for food and water to be withdrawn from more than 40 patients in "persistent vegetative state," with fatal results, since the case of Tony Bland in the early 1990s - but this is the first time a UK court has been asked to give permission for food and water to be withdrawn from someone who is said to be "minimally conscious."

Nikki Kenward, who lives at Aston on Clun, Shropshire, and represents a campaign group named Distant Voices, is concerned. And she is qualified to express an opinion: hit by Guillain Barre syndrome in the 1990s, she was completely paralysed apart from her right eyelid. She was "locked in" for five months, unable to communicate and in terrible pain throughout her body.

It took years for her to fight back from total paralysis, and she still needs a wheelchair, not having recovered the use of her legs.

"I have lived that life, and I know how precious it is," she wrote in a national newspaper this week. "I will be grateful until my dying day that no one had the right to 'turn' me off.

"You might think that, if you were in my position, you'd have wished for death. Perhaps you have even spoken to your loved ones about your wishes, should you ever find yourself in such a situation. But all I knew in those dark days was that I wanted to live.

"I didn't care if this was all my life would ever be - forever lonely, frustrated and silent. I wanted to be here, living in whatever capacity I could manage, and I believe there are people lying in intensive care wards all over the country who feel exactly the same.

"I believe that every life that ends at Dignitas, and every dependent patient who is 'allowed to die' by starvation, erodes my right to live. It normalises this kind of death, and it sanitises what is an abhorrent practice.

"Death through the withdrawal of food and water. . . is, according to a doctor friend, about as painful and unpleasant an end as one can imagine.

"It is possible that many of those who have died this way have suffered extreme anxiety, burning sensations all over their bodies, and searing pain in their kidneys that even the strongest medication can do nothing to ease. And yet, this is the death that more and more believe is the 'dignified' way to go."

This week Nikki Kenward and fellow disability campaigners, out of concern, they say, for some 6,000 mentally incapacitated patients in the British health care system - and to draw attention to increasing pressure to allow the killing of incapacitated patients - staged the mock execution of a wheelchair user outside Parliament.

The Royal College of Physicians is undertaking a review of the care of mentally incapacitated patients. Professor Lynne Turner-Stokes, one of those involved in the review, is quoted as saying that "We need to take a deep breath and consider whether doctors are striving to keep people alive in inappropriate circumstances."

Nikki Kenward has been criticised for her performance outside Parliament this week. But does someone need to speak up for those who have no voice?

Friday, July 29, 2011

A colossal loss of human life

More than 30 human embryos are created for every one baby born by IVF, according to Government figures.

The figures show that 3,144,386 human embryos have been created in British laboratories since the 1991 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. Of these, 1,455,832 have been thrown away ("discarded" I think is the official term), 101,605 have been given for research in destructive experiments and 764,311 have been frozen for future use.

The remainder - 822,638 - have been planted in the womb, but since the success rate with IVF is small, only 94,090 live births have resulted.

The figures were given by Health Minister Lord Howe in a written answer to a question by Lord Alton.

Lord Alton said he found the figures "staggering."

"We are creating and destroying human embryos on an industrial scale," he said. "I think the real work that should be going on in fertility treatment is to fund the development of implantation techniques which don't require the destruction of human embryos."

While we are on the subject of the loss of human life, Planned Parenthood, a giant abortion provider in the US, performed 332,278 abortions in 2009, compared with 997 adoption referrals - 333 abortions for every adoption referral.

By comparison, there were something like 203,000 abortions on UK residents in 2009, with only 91 adoptions of babies under a year old - 2,235 abortions for every baby adopted.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Meet Patches, the singing dog

Just to point out that the world isn't all bad news.

Eddie Vassallo, an elderly Italian immigrant to Australia, used to spend hours with his dog Patches sitting on his knee.

Patches had a favourite song: Happy Birthday. When Eddie sang it, Patches would join in. When they finished, Eddie would say "Bravo, bravo, Patches."

"Patches just loved it," said Eddie's daughter Marie. "When it was anyone's birthday, Dad would telephone them and he would sing Happy Birthday to them with Patches singing along. It became a family tradition for Dad and Patches to sing it together."

Three months ago, Eddie died, and in the confusion, Patches disappeared. Marie was upset at the dog's loss - but she lived miles away in Sydney.

Kaye Grivec, a dog foster carer, agreed to look for Patches. She found him at a dog pound, due to be put down because no one could prove he belonged to someone.

Kaye was asked if she could prove he belonged to someone. "Only one way to find out," she said. She started to sing Happy Birthday.

"At first, he had a sad, faraway look in his eyes," she told the Melbourne Herald Sun, "just like he was thinking about someone or missing someone. Then he just put his head back and started howling along with me, and I just burst into tears of joy."

Marie is arranging for Patches to be sent to Sydney to spend the rest of his days with her family.

You can see a video of Patches singing Happy Birthday by clicking here.

The cost of believing

The cost of converting to Christ for a Muslim, particularly in a Muslim country, is often a high one.

This month's edition of Open Doors magazine tells of 27-year-old Amouna Ahamdi, who lives in Sudan. When her brother found she had converted to Christ, he stabbed her three times in the stomach and broke her leg.

The local hospital was reluctant to treat her because of her conversion. She was discharged when she was partially recovered. At home, her torment continued.

Her father shackled her to a chair, locked her in a room, and beat her for a month. "They shaved all my hair and my father whipped my head," said Amouna.

Eventually she escaped, and married another convert her own age. Because of problems from the knife attack, she went to Khartoum for treatment.

After other relatives found out about their conversion, masked men burst into the house where they were staying and attempted to kill her husband. She was stabbed in the hand trying to protect him.

They had no money to pay for medicine and often went hungry.

"We cannot deny Christ," she said. "This is a big challenge for us, because we do not have a place to go. We have no food, and we are jobless. I am still in pain, besides having a two-month-old baby boy to care for."

Converting to Christ for the Muslim doesn't just mean going to church on a Sunday.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

'I'll be so proud'

Andy and Heather Skinner, from Darwen in Lancashire, were told that their unborn baby girl had a massive tumour covering the left chamber of her heart that was restricting blood flow. Specialists were convinced she would die in the womb and advised an abortion.

"I didn't want an abortion," said Heather. "I wanted nature to take its course. The thought of losing my baby was awful. I didn't know how to deal with it. We were left in a room and just cried."

Charley-Marie was born by caesarean section. Three days later, the couple were allowed to take her home. All they had bought for the baby were the clothes and a blanket to bury her in.

Charley-Marie is now 19 months old. She still has the tumour. Sometimes she gets out of breath, but otherwise she is like any other youngster.

"She loves Peppa Pig," says her mother, "and always has a cheeky smile on her face."

Says Peter Saunders, whose blog I can recommend: "I have lost count of the number of times I have heard stories like this. Why is it that the medical profession responds in this knee-jerk fashion recommending abortion for disabilities we would make every effort to treat or correct in a baby after birth?

"Why are not more parents given the opportunity, with proper support, to see their babies' births through? Why is it that offering surgery, other treatment, or if relevant, terminal care, to disabled, sick or dying babies seems no longer to be regarded as a serious option?

"Why has our society instead reached the conclusion that these most vulnerable members of the human race, because they are disabled, sick or dying, have lives that are somehow not worth living? That they are, in other words, better off dead?"

What do you think?

I have another question. What if the parents refuse an abortion and the child dies anyway?

Karen Palmer tells how ultrasound showed during her pregnancy that her baby had profound abnormalities and was not expected to live. She went ahead with the pregnancy. When the baby was born, the baby was peaceful and comfortable. She died just five hours after birth.

Karen and her husband evidently learned a great deal.

"What did we learn? We learned that God is intimately involved with us and with a tiny baby. We learned that even such a tiny, damaged life is precious to him. We learned better how to care for each other and our parents and friends. Our church learned how to care for us. We saw that terminating a pregnancy where there is an abnormality denies the parents and wider family the opportunity to grieve and remember a real and valuable member of that family. We learned that God answers prayer.

"After Jennifer's death, a steadfast friend said that when Jennifer arrived in heaven there would be great rejoicing and celebration because of all she achieved in her short life. I dream that when I arrive there people will say 'Ah! You're Jennifer's mother' and I'll be so proud!"

Monday, July 18, 2011

MPs to investigate discrimination against Christians

Cases of discrimination against Christians at work and in public have led to concern about the erosion of religious freedom in the UK. Well, things are happening.

A select committee-style inquiry is to be held in Parliament this autumn to clarify how legislation on hate crime and equality affects Christians. Peers and MPs will be invited to consider whether changes to the law are needed.

The inquiry, which will be held in public and will take about three months, is the idea of MP Gary Streeter, who chairs Christians in Parliament. He said that while there was religious freedom in Britain, some groups were "whipping up an alternative view and generating fear" where there didn't need to be any.

"The outcome of our inquiry might be that the law needs to be nudged back in certain areas, and we won't shy away from saying so."

What's more, the Equality and Human Rights Commission appears to have done a U-turn. It says judges have interpreted equality laws too narrowly and should not have backed employers who pursued Christians for wearing crosses or refusing to give sex therapy to homosexual couples.

The way human rights and equality law had been interpreted was insufficient to protect freedom of religion or belief, it said. Christians who disagreed with homosexual equality rules should have the freedom to follow their conscience.

"The idea of making reasonable adjustments to accommodate a person's needs has served disability discrimination law well for decades," said EHRC legal director John Wadham. "It seems reasonable that a similar concept could be adopted to allow someone to manifest their religious beliefs."

The EHRC is to intervene - to call for more leeway for Christians to express their beliefs and live according to their consciences - in four human rights cases to come before the European Court of Human Rights. They are the cases of Lilian Ladele, a registrar removed from her job because she was not willing to conduct same-sex civil partnership ceremonies; Gary McFarlane, a Relate counsellor who declined to give sex therapy to homosexual couples; Shirley Chaplin, a nurse who refused to stop wearing her crucifix; and Nadia Eweida, the BA check-in assistant who was told she could not wear a cross with her uniform.

As perhaps might have been expected, homosexuals and humanists have protested at the EHRC's decision. Ben Summerskill, of the homosexual activist group Stonewall, said he was "deeply disturbed" by the move. The British Humanist Association said the commission's intervention in these cases was "wholly disproportionate."

The battle for Christians' rights, however, is not yet won. Barnabas Fund reports that a Christian teacher in the UK has been ordered by her school not to talk about religion after answering a child's question.

The teacher was asked by a girl in her class whether the Christian God and the god of Islam were the same. When she said they were not, she was asked to explain how they were different. Following the discussion, the school department received a complaint from the Muslim parents of the girl.

"[The department] handled the situation well and stated that the child had asked the question and I had answered truthfully without giving or intending any offence," the teacher recalled.

But she has been told if children ask a question about any religious matter she must ignore the question or change the subject immediately.

Said the teacher: "I pointed out that Christianity was my life, not my religion. It was a living relationship with my Lord. I live it daily. I now feel I am being watched. I have always shared my faith with the children I teach whenever they ask me a question about my life, why I pray and do what I do."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A letter to Leyi

After years of missionary endeavour, there were something like a million Christian believers in China when the Communists took over in 1949.

Foreign missionaries were expelled. The Communist government allowed some churches to remain open, but only under the control of the state. The state controlled church appointments; preaching was monitored; evangelism, Sunday school and the baptism of minors were forbidden.

Those who disagreed with such intrusion formed illegal unregistered house churches. Members of such churches were arrested, beaten, tortured and imprisoned.

Despite the persecution - or perhaps because of the persecution - such churches grew. Christians in China are now estimated at between 55 and 130 million. It is said that 10,000 Chinese are converted to Christ every week. Some say that that number are converted every day. (It should be borne in mind that the population of China is in excess of one-and-a-quarter billion.)

In recent years has come something new. In addition to the state-controlled churches and the unregistered house churches - the latter mostly in the country - have appeared churches of educated professionals - doctors, lawyers and government officials - who have come to faith in Christ in the cities. One such, Shouwang Church in Beijing, has been in the news in recent weeks.

Because its 1,000-strong congregation was too large to meet together in homes, the church met in rented premises for Sunday worship. Time and again it had to leave its rented premises because of pressure on the landlord by the authorities.

The church paid the equivalent of four million American dollars for its own premises in a Beijing office building. After the money was handed over, the landlord refused to hand over the key because of such pressure.

The church decided to hold its Sunday worship in public in the open air, leading to arrests and detentions each week. Police prevent members leaving their homes to get to the meetings. The entire church leadership has been under house arrest for three months. Still those who can manage to get there continue to meet.

One member of the congregation has suffered not only from police harassment. Recently his daughter, aged almost two, fell to her death from the upstairs window of the family's apartment. Perhaps to deal with his grief, he began to write letters to the dead girl.

One of them, A letter to Leyi (no. 11), has been translated into English and published on China Aid's website. It gives a remarkable insight into the harassment he suffers and his grief at the loss of his child. You can read it by clicking here. It may just touch your heart.

Friday, July 08, 2011

So will the Government have the courage?

Joanna Jepson, a theological student who later became a Church of England curate, kicked up a fuss a few years ago because a baby was aborted at 28 weeks because of a suspected cleft palate - a condition that can easily be corrected by surgery.

Abortion can be obtained virtually on demand up to 24 weeks - usually because doctors are willing to certify that there is "risk of injury to the physical or mental health of the mother" - but abortions above 24 weeks are legal only - apart from when the mother's life is in danger, which practically never happens - if there is "substantial risk that the baby would be seriously handicapped."

As a result of the fuss, the Department of Health refused thereafter to publish medical grounds on which abortions over 24 weeks were carried out, claiming by way of excuse that small numbers could lead to the people involved being identified.

After a six-year legal battle by the ProLife Alliance, the High Court this year ordered the Department of Health to publish the data by July 4. This week the Department of Health published the information on its website - on July 4, you will notice, and not a day earlier.

The figures do not make pretty reading. Between 2002 and 2010, 1,189 England and Wales residents aborted their babies after 24 weeks; some because of such problems as spina bifida; some because of things like cleft lips or cleft palates; many because of minor deformities which could be corrected by surgery. Between 2002 and 2010 a total of almost 4,000 babies were aborted because of suspected Down's syndrome, 10 of them at over 24 weeks.

So now you know: cleft palates and Down's syndrome are "serious handicaps."

Martin Narey, the UK Government's new adoption czar, has suggested that women with unwanted pregnancies should be offered adoption as an alternative to abortion.

As abortions have risen steadily from 1968 to the present, a Government adoption figures website shows that adoptions in England and Wales have fallen, from 22,502 in 1974 to 4,725 in 2009. Women with unwanted pregnancies would rather kill their unborn baby than hand their baby over for adoption to a couple desperate for a baby to care for.

I remember a young woman I spoke to who had been to an abortion clinic to arrange to kill her unborn baby. I suggested adoption to her as an alternative. "Oh, I couldn't possibly do that," she said. What a selfish society we live in.

"Narey is definitely on to something," writes Peter Saunders. "But will the government have the courage to do anything about it? It will be interesting to see the response."

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Turned out it was true after all

Bob Williamson killed his pet rabbit when he was five. His parents took him to church, but the church was full of hypocrisy, so he didn't go any more.

At 15, he was an alcoholic. At 17, he was a drug addict. When he was 18, he was diagnosed as an incurable sociopath, without a conscience.

He practised witchcraft.

In hospital after a road accident which nearly killed him, he became friendly with a nurse, who gave him her own copy of the Bible. He read about Jesus, who he found was nothing like he had thought. He continued to read until he came to Phil 4:13: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

When he read that he slammed the book shut and called for the nurse.

"Your Bible is nothing but a lie," he told her. "I am a hardcore drug addict and less than two per cent of whoever puts a needle in their arm ever gets out of that alive. I had all kinds of friends die. I've seen people commit suicide, including my brother."

The nurse put her hands on her hips and told him: "Jesus is God and He can do anything He wants to do, and He can change your sorry tale."

Well, the nurse won the argument. Williamson never touched drugs or alcohol again and became a multimillion-dollar businessman.

Read the story in the Christian Post for yourself. It will do you good. You can do it right now by clicking here.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The problems with organ donation

The British Medical Association decided last week to continue to support the idea of presumed consent for organ donation - so it would be possible to take organs for transplantation from anyone who had not "opted out" of the system provided their families did not object. At present, organs are taken from people who have "opted in" by volunteering to join the Organ Donor Register.

The Welsh Assembly is to consider legalising a presumed consent system for people in Wales.

Whenever I am asked to volunteer to become an organ donor, my reply is a definite No. I do not object to people donating their organs for use after their deaths if they wish to do so, but I am not willing to become an organ donor for two good reasons.

Up to the 1960s, the only criteria for diagnosing death were that breathing and heartbeat had irreversibly ceased.

In 1976, after ventilation had been developed to provide ongoing life support for brain-damaged patients, the conference of British Medical Royal Colleges decided that if a patient tested positive for death of the brain stem, then if life support were removed, the patient would be expected to die.

In 1979, when organs were beginning to be required for organ transplantation, the conference issued a statement saying that a patient who tested positive for death of the brain stem was dead already. Prognosis had become diagnosis.

A patient who tests positive for what has come to be known as brain-stem death will be breathing. His or her heart will be beating. Her body will be its normal colour, and warm. She can digest food, and given liquids, will urinate. If she is not turned regularly, she will develop bedsores. If she is young, she will come to sexual maturity. If she is pregnant, she can bring a baby to the point of birth. But the majority of doctors will say that she is already dead, and her organs can be taken for transplant.

(A leaflet for prospective organ donors published by the Department of Health says "Will I really be dead when they remove my organs? Yes.")

I do not believe that brain-stem death is in fact death. That is the first reason why I will not be an organ donor.

The second is this. Prospective organ donors and their next of kin are never told that the patient will still be breathing and his or her heart still beating when the organs are removed. (The only organs used for heart, liver and pancreas transplants are organs taken from patients whose hearts are still beating.)

Prospective donors and next of kin are led to believe that life support will be switched off and then the organs removed. This is not what happens. Any organs required will be removed, sometimes without anaesthetic, and then life support will be switched off.

For donors and next of kin not to be told that the patient will be breathing and the patient's heart still beating when the organs are removed is unethical and immoral.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Discovering the depth of love

I commented two weeks ago on Terry Pratchett's appalling programme on assisted suicide on BBC TV. I'm sorry that I only just got round to reading the Rev Michael Wenham's comment on the programme in the Guardian's Comment is free.

Michael lives in Oxfordshire. He has motor neurone disease. You might think he would be a candidate for assisted suicide. But no. He doesn't want to die; he wants to live. ("Why is the universe so beautiful?" he says on his blog.) His comments on the programme are worth reading.

When he wrote them, he'd just had a visit from old friends Jill and her husband Dan. Jill, a keen horsewoman, was left a paraplegic after a motor cycle accident 52 years ago. Dan was given six months to live because of leukaemia more than 20 years ago and is still here. Both are living a full life and full of fun.

"They actually enrich you in knowing them. I expect that they would say that, having determined to live, their experiences have enriched them. It might have been so different."

And the programme? Pratchett's comment about one of the men who opted for suicide - "I've been in the presence of the bravest man I've ever met" - "left a bitter taste in my mouth," says Michael, "as if we'd been served a cocktail of death disguised as an elixir of life."

The candidates for suicide on the programme might have wanted to spare their families the pain of caring for them, but that didn't seem to be their motive.

"The repeated refrain. . . was 'It's my choice,' 'It's his choice'. . . My individual choice is sovereign. I want my kingdom. And the rest doesn't matter. The individual is the ace, trumping all else.

"Well, that's a pretty impoverished world. In fact, interdependence is the secret of society. We are dependent on each other, and that's something for celebrating, not fearing, for embracing, not avoiding. Perhaps the city is an image of heaven because community is the heart of human existence. The best thing in life is to experience the extraordinary depth with which one can be loved. It's to discover the utter disinteredness of those who love you, to find out when you can give nothing back, literally nothing but distasteful work and pain, they still want to look after you; they still care for you; yes, they still love you.

"The tragedy of Peter Smedley and Andrew Colgan [the men in the programme who chose assisted suicide], it seems to me, is that they didn't trust themselves to the journey their loved ones wanted to travel with them - because if they had, the road might well have been rough, but they would have discovered, hand in hand with them, beauties of the human spirit few of us ever glimpse."

Read the whole thing. To see it, click here.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

A very remarkable lady

Caroline Cox - Baroness Cox of Queensbury, to give her her full title - is, by any account, a remarkable woman.

A humanitarian activist, she is founder and chief executive of HART (Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust), which helps oppressed people neglected by other organisations and ignored by the international media. She is president of Christian Solidarity UK, as well as supporter of countless other organisations.

She has entered war zones under fire. She has travelled secretly to countries where foreigners and aid organisations were not permitted. She has spoken up for persecuted Christians in Burma, Indonesia, Nigeria and Sudan. As a result of her work, she has received honorary doctorates from universities on several continents.

She has taken medical supplies to Communist Poland, Romania and the Soviet Union. She has made something like 60 journeys to Armenia with medical supplies, many of them in violent times when young men were being beheaded and little girls cut in half and left hanging on trees.

Despite being sentenced in absentia by the National Islamic Front for illegally entering Sudan, where more than two million people were displaced and an estimated 400,000 killed, she continued to make trips there.

On one visit, Islamists had passed through days before, killing unarmed men and enslaving women and children. Bodies were everywhere. She met a Christian whose farm had been destroyed, his church attacked, his brother and his brother-in-law killed and his sister captured as a slave.

"We feel completely on our own," he said. "You are the only Christians who have even visited us for years. Doesn't the church want us any more?"

"I sat under a tree," said Baroness Cox, "and wept."

Baroness Cox has now introduced a bill in the House of Lords which would allay fears that the estimated 85 sharia courts set up by Muslims in the UK are beginning to adjudicate in matters of criminal and family law. She has no desire, she says, to interfere with internal religious issues or prevent arbitration for people who want it. But the bill would make it a criminal offence to pretend to be able to adjudicate in criminal or family matters or to discriminate against women.

The Islamic Sharia Council has published a statement suggesting that Baroness Cox doesn't know what she's talking about.

Her bill will have its second reading in the Lords before very long. It is unlikely to become law. I would think that for it to do so it would need the support of some very principled politicians.

Whether Baroness Cox's bill reaches the statute book or not, I wish her well.