Monday, April 30, 2012

The remarkable story of Steven Thorpe

There used to be just one condition for a diagnosis of human death: irreversible cessation of breathing and heartbeat. In the 1970s, when organ transplantation was becoming more common and there was an increasing need for donor organs, doctors decided on another criterion for death: brain death, which isn't really death at all.

A patient certified as brain dead can be expected to be on a ventilator to enable him to breathe. He will breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. His heart will be beating. His body will be warm. If he is given liquids, he will urinate. He will digest food. If he is not turned regularly, he will develop bed sores. If he is not correctly positioned, he could develop pneumonia. If the patient is a pregnant woman, she can bring a baby to term. But a diagnosis of brain death allows the patient to be declared dead and his or her body used for donor organs.

The question of brain death is in the news once more with the story of an American woman who gave birth to twins almost a month after being declared brain dead, and with the remarkable - and unusual - story of Steven Thorpe. Seventeen-year-old Steven, from Kenilworth in Warwickshire, was in a car crash with two friends, one of whom was killed. He had serious injuries, and four doctors declared him brain dead. Doctors wanted to switch off life support and told his parents "You need to start thinking about organ donations." His parents refused.

They contacted a GP, who called in a neurosurgeon she knew. The neurosurgeon detected faint signs of brain activity. Two weeks later Steven woke up. Within seven weeks he was out of hospital.

There is one more thing that potential organ donors should be aware of. Potential donors, and next-of-kin whose permission is sought for organ removal, are led to believe that life support will be switched off and then the organs removed. In fact, life support is not switched off until after the organs are taken. (The only hearts, livers and pancreases that are used for transplantation are taken while the heart is still beating.)  The fact that potential organ donors and next-of-kin are not told that vital organs are removed before life support is switched off is immoral.

As one former consultant cardiologist has put it, "The uncomfortable fact is that the brains of the so-called 'brain dead' are not truly and totally dead and the diagnosis does not exclude the possibility that some donors may retain or regain some form or degree of consciousness during the surgical removal of their vital organs. We just do not know."

Tests for brain death do not and can not prove lack of awareness.

People should be able to donate their organs to be taken after their death if they wish to do so. No one wants to prevent replacement organs being available for people who need them or sick people being helped. But the end does not justify the means.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Time to say happy birthday

Today is Independence Day in Israel - Israel's 64th birthday.

There has always been a Jewish presence in the land. In the late 19th century, Jews began to return to the Promised Land in line with prophecies made thousands of years before. When independence was declared in 1948 Israel had a population of 806,000. Today, there are 7,881,000 Israelis - 75.3% of them Jewish and 20.6% Arab (the remaining 4.1% immigrants and children of immigrants who are not listed as Jewish by the Interior Ministry).

Israel has come through seven wars, two intifadas and more terrorist incidents than it's possible to count. Jew-hatred among Israel's neighbours is as fierce as ever and peace between Israel and the Palestinians as far away as ever it was. Threats abound. Israel's foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman warned the other day that Egypt is becoming a bigger threat even than Iran. It is suggested that the Muslim Brotherhood is currently engaged in an international charm offensive, but once the Brotherhood consolidates power in Egypt, Egypt's peace treaty with Israel will be scrapped and the way will be open for war with Israel once more.

Will there ever be peace in the Middle East? Yes, there will. One day the Prince of Peace will return. He will appear in power and great glory to destroy His enemies and set up His millennial kingdom. Nothing is more certain. His first appearance was prophesied, and the prophecies were fulfilled in exact detail. His Second Coming is equally sure.

He will return when His Jewish people are ready to welcome Him. He will reign from Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, Israel has completed another difficult year. Birthday celebrations are in order.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The life and death of a 'hatchet man'

You will have heard of Chuck Colson.

Colson, trained as a lawyer, became a master of dirty tricks and "hatchet man" for US President Richard Nixon. He was said to be ruthless. "I would walk over my Grandmother for Richard Nixon," he said once.

He described himself as a nominal Episcopalian, but he had no idea who the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son were. "Oh, I think religion is fine," he told one man, "provided one has as little of it as possible."

Colson left the White House after the Watergate scandal, which cost Nixon the presidency. He called on a company executive, hoping to get some work. Instead of talking about work, the executive spent the evening talking about Jesus, reading Colson extracts from a book called Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis, and praying for him.

Later that night Colson burst into tears at the wheel of his car and said a prayer himself. He told his wife he thought he'd had a conversion experience - but he didn't know what the term meant.

While still under investigation concerning Watergate, news leaked out that Colson had become a Christian. "How convenient," many said. Said the Boston Globe: "If Mr Colson can repent of his sins, there just has to be hope for everybody."

It's said that Colson could have beaten charges in connection with Watergate, but he chose something he knew he was guilty of and decided to plead guilty. He went to prison. 

In prison one day a fellow prisoner named Archie shouted: "Hey, Colson. You'll be out of here soon. What are you going to do for us?" "I'll help in some way," said Colson. "Bull," said Archie. "You all say that. I've seen big shots like you come and go. They all say the same things while they're inside. Then they get out and forget us fast. There ain't nobody cares about us. Nobody!"

Colson proved him wrong. When he got out, he started Prison Fellowship International, which now operates in 150 countries. He regularly visited prisons to preach the gospel and pray with prisoners on Death Row.

He founded the Chuck Colson Centre for Christian Worldview. He was awarded 15 honorary doctorates. He wrote more than 30 books, which sold millions of copies. He became a regular columnist and broadcaster. All the royalties from his books, his fees from public speaking and the $1 million Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion he gave to charity.

He influenced an incalculable number of ordinary Americans, as well as countless people who are now Christian leaders themselves.

On Saturday, Chuck Colson died. He was 80.

I mention these details in order to make a point. In the gospels, you read how Jesus spoke to people and transformed their lives. Can He do the same today?

Course He can.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

A disaster looming for Britain's children

Britain is preparing to reap a terrible harvest, and most people are sitting back and watching it happen.

A Government report shows that

One in three 10-year-olds has seen explicit internet pornography;

Four out of five 16-year-old boys and girls regularly access porn online;

At one school pupils swapping hardcore images on memory sticks was "absolutely rife";

The Portland Clinic in London said 26 per cent of young people coming to it for psychological treatment were hooked on online porn.

This is the first generation of children to be subject to such a barrage of obscenity. Miranda Suit, of the campaign group Safermedia, said: "This generation is going through an experiment. No one knows how they will survive this unprecedented assault on their sexual development. They are guinea pigs for the next generation."

Internet service providers (the people who provide access to the internet for computer users) have largely refused to do anything about it. Prime Minister David Cameron has spoken often about it, but appears to have achieved nothing.

Won't someone stand up for that which is clean, decent and godly?

If you are concerned to protect your children from online pornography, see here and read the article here, including the comments attached.

Open the door for a few. . .

Latest figures from the American state of Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal, show that the number of known deaths by assisted suicide has grown from 16 in 1998 to 71 in 2011 - an increase of 450 per cent.

 The number of Swiss nationals who have died by assisted suicide in Switzerland increased by 700 per cent - from 43 in 1998 to 297 in 2009. These figures do not include people from abroad who have travelled to Switzerland to die.

Both Oregon and Switzerland have small populations compared with the UK.

Because assisted suicide is not legal in Britain, some 15 to 20 Britons travel to Switzerland to die each year. If it were legal here, campaigners say, there would now be over 1,000 assisted suicides in Britain each year.

Those in favour of assisted suicide continue to campaign for it to be legalised in the UK. When more attempts come before Parliament later this year, it is sincerely to be hoped that parliamentarians will bear these figures in mind.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

'Just like 'is Dad'

I heard an interesting story this morning.

A junior school in Bradford was putting on a nativity play. At the appropriate point in the play, three kings appeared, wearing dressing gowns and crowns made from tinfoil.

The first two presented gold and frankincense, reciting the words they had been taught. The third saw his parents in the audience and promptly forgot his lines. He stood before the baby Jesus with his gift of myrrh. There was a long pause.

"Say something," a teacher hissed from the wings. The young lad thought carefully in order to come up with something appropriate. Then, in a broad Yorkshire accent, he said: "Ee, 'e's just like 'is Dad."

The audience was delighted.

The lad was right, or course. Someone said that when God wanted people to know what He was like, He sent His Son. The Bible calls Him "the image of the invisible God."

So if you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus, and you've got it.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Why not same-sex marriage?

Glenn Stanton, of the American organisation Focus on the Family, says people who would not normally be in favour of same-sex marriage have been manipulated.

Homosexual activists, using focus groups and message testing, realised there was one message that would work better than all the others. The homosexual magazine OUT revealed in the mid-1990s that activists began using the phrases "marriage equality" and "freedom to marry" on the advice of a Los Angeles PR firm, based on how well they believed the expressions would work among heterosexual folk.

"The genius," writes Glenn Stanton, "is that while the average American might not personally like the idea of same-sex 'marriage,' they are hard-pressed to offer meaningful reasons for why it shouldn't be adopted in society. Compound this with the very deliberate and widespread accusation that opposition to same-sex 'marriage' and parenting is tantamount to hate-filled bigotry at its worst and back-woods ignorance at its best. With that gambit, this movement has really accomplished something. Show of hands: Who wants to be seen as hateful or ignorant?

"But here is the truth. Same-sex 'marriage' advocates have largely gained their ground through deception, emotional manipulation and diverting the public's attention away from the thousands of scientific studies that tell us healthy child-development requires the two different models of human parents: mothers and fathers. They have manipulated us by high-jacking civil rights language for their own narrow purposes. And as a result, millions of boys and girls will be subjected to intentionally motherless and fatherless families for no other reason than to fulfill the desires of adults who want such radical homes."

The suggestion that people have not known how to counter the homosexuals' argument is an interesting one. The homosexuals have said "We only want equality. A man and a woman can marry and a same-sex couple can't. That's not fair." And people have not known how to respond.

There are good reasons why marriage law should not be altered to allow same-sex marriage. I'm not going to list them here, because other people have done that already, and done it well. Dr Peter Saunders has given 10 good reasons why the law should not be altered. You can see them here. Have a look for yourself.

Prime Minister David Cameron is insisting same-sex couples be allowed to marry. By deciding to be trendy with the Trendies, he may have done himself and the Conservative Party a profound disservice. It seems clear the majority of Britons don't want marriage law meddled with. A new poll of 154 Conservative MPs found 37 per cent believed that the proposal to redefine marriage will fail, with 22 per cent unsure what the outcome will be. In the few weeks since it was introduced, the petition opposing a change in the law (you can see it here) has attracted 436,000 signatures.

Peter Saunders has written 24 articles on the matter. (You don't have to read them all!) But do read the one on the reasons for the law to remain as it stands. You may find yourself involved in a discussion on same-sex marriage. You wouldn't want not to be able to offer an intelligent contribution to the conversation.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Tortured for their faith

More people should be aware of the terrible conditions in which some other people live.

In North Korea, the kingdom of the Communist dictator Kim Jong-Un, large numbers of people live on soup made from grass and tree bark. Countless numbers die of starvation. Anyone found to be a Christian faces prison camp, torture and execution. Christianity still flourishes.

Every Christian in North Korea is said to have made the choice that one day he will die for Christ. "A friend of mine is being terribly tortured in prison," said one Christian. "I am convinced he can take the suffering because he constantly reminds himself of the joy that is set before him."

Despite closed borders, food, medicine and literature manage to reach people inside the country. Delivering the aid is intensely risky. "I experience so much stress I am sometimes afraid I will die from it," said one aid worker.

The organisation Open Doors says North Korean Christians pray and fast for days. Only when they feel God has confirmed they should accept a shipment do they give aid workers the go-ahead. When a shipment is safely delivered, rejoicing breaks out - on one occasion with an all-night prayer meeting, thanking God for sending new supplies and saving many lives.

"God has given us eternal promises," wrote one church leader. "We do not despair. I am confident that at the end of all hardships, there will be lasting victory."

If you would like to know how you can help, click here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

When is an unborn baby able to feel pain?

An unborn baby responds to touch just five-and-a-half weeks after conception. But at what stage of an unborn baby's development does it become capable of feeling pain?

"We simply do not know," was the verdict of Professor David Smith, chief editor of Neuroscience.

Professor Eve Johnstone, of Edinburgh University, head of the Medical Research Council's expert group, said an unborn baby is definitely aware of pain by 24 weeks of pregnancy, and possibly as early as 20 weeks.

Professor Vivette Glover, of Queen Charlotte's and Chelsea Hospital in London, called for unborn babies to be given anaesthetic in all abortions from 18 weeks.

Some doctors believe an unborn baby can feel pain at 13 weeks or less.

One report based on the work of leading gynaecologists and neurologists said the foetus is capable of feeling pain from about the 10th week of pregnancy.

And one doctors' report said scientists were not sure whether babies were able to feel pain from six weeks upwards, and pain relief should be given before all foetal procedures.

I mention the matter because Simon Icke, a Christian who used to live in Little Hulton, on the outskirts of Manchester, but now lives in Buckinghamshire, wrote to his MP pointing out that doctors had been found arranging abortions for women who wanted an abortion because their unborn child was the "wrong" sex (abortions on the ground of a baby's sex are illegal in Britain), and questioning the claim that in most abortions the baby feels no pain.

The MP, David Lidington, appears to have passed the letter to Health Minister Anne Milton. In her reply, she quoted claims in a report by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists that the foetus cannot feel pain before 24 weeks because the connections in the foetal brain are not fully formed; the foetus, while in the chemical environment in the womb, is in a state of induced sleep and is unconscious; because the 24-week foetus has no awareness and cannot feel pain, the use of analgesia is of no benefit; and more research is needed into the short and long-term effects of the use of foetal analgesia after 24 weeks.

Unfortunately, critics say the RCOG report is "a political rather than a scientific document that aimed to shore up the pre-existing position of the RCOG rather than to take a dispassionate view of the scientific evidence." The RCOG's statement that the ability of the foetus to feel pain cannot occur before 24 weeks, they say, is the result of "the substitution of wishful thinking for empirical enquiry."

Dr Martin Ward Platt, a consultant neonatologist, says there is no evidence that a human foetus lacks awareness and there is strong evidence for an opposite view. The RCOG's statement that there is good evidence that the foetus is sedated by the physical environment of the womb, he says, is simply not true.

The Government appears to have no desire to change existing abortion limits.

But if unborn babies are to be killed, what of the suggestion that an anaesthetic should be given before the abortionist's tools do their deadly work?

Is it a question of "out of sight, out of mind," or does not giving an anaesthetic help doctors pretend "It's all right. They're not really babies"?

Saturday, April 07, 2012

The power of an endless life

Quite a few people have come back from the dead.

There was the son of the widow at Nain, whom Jesus raised from the dead as his body was being being taken to its burial. There was the 12-year-old daughter of Jairus, whom Jesus similarly blessed. There was Lazarus, who had been dead four days when Jesus called him out of the tomb and restored him to his family. All of these eventually died again.

There is only One who rose from the dead like He did, alive forever. "I am the First and the Last," He said. "I am he who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore" (Rev 1:17, 18). If Jesus isn't alive, the Christian faith is meaningless.

You know the story: how they laid Him in the tomb, rolled a great stone across the door, sealed it shut, set a guard on the tomb, then found the stone rolled away and the graveclothes empty. (Some teach that He rose spiritually from the dead. If that's the case, what happened to the body? How come He appeared in a physical body and ate food with the disciples?)

You may think it a little over the top going around saying that Jesus is alive. But it's a personal encounter with a living Saviour that turns a heathen into a committed Christian. Christianity isn't just a religious practice, a doctrine, a creed, a belief. It's a personal, daily relationship with the living, resurrected, glorified Son of God.

Jesus said "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27). Do you hear His voice like that? If not, tell Him you're sorry for the life you've been living. Ask Him to take over. Make Him the Lord and Saviour of your life.

It's the most important decision you will ever make.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

If they had but known

Here is a remarkable pair of verses:

We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory,

which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
1 Cor 2:6, 7.

There were quite a few attempts on Christ's life. There was Herod. Herod killed all the male children under two in the Bethlehem area. But he missed Him.

There was the time they tried to throw Him over a cliff outside Nazareth; and the time the Jews took up stones to stone Him after He claimed to be divine. Each time He walked through the midst of them and went on His way. They couldn't kill Him yet: He had a job to do.

Then came what He described to the chief priests, the captains of the temple and the Jewish elders as "your hour, and the power of darkness." He had come to make a way for people's sins to be forgiven. There was a price to be paid. It was a terrible price. Now He had to die.

(In the garden, He had prayed "O my Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will." There was no reply. There was no other way.)

He allowed them to take Him. He was condemned, mocked, spat upon, beaten, scourged. He was nailed to His cross.

When Jesus died, they thought they had got rid of Him. But God had it all in hand.

Sunday was coming.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

The non-PCs fight back

I am in favour of people's right to believe and people's right not to believe - but people dictating to Christians about what they can and can't do gets to be a bit much.

The Student Union at University College London decided that the campus would take a pro-abortion stance and affiliated itself to the organisation Abortion Rights. It voted that if the Catholic Society at the university organised a meeting with a pro-life speaker it must also have a pro-choice speaker and an independent chairman "to ensure there is a balance."

Some students took legal advice and threatened the Student Union with a legal challenge unless the decision concerning the Catholic Society were overturned. They pointed out that the resolution breached section 43 of the Education (No 2) Act 1986, which defends freedom of speech in universities, and Articles 9 (Freedom of Religion), 10 (Freedom of Speech) and 11 (Freedom of Association) in the European Convention of Human Rights. They also pointed out that proposals to affiliate and donate to the Abortion Rights campaign were against the charity laws that govern student unions.

The Student Union trustees have now accepted that their decision regarding the Catholic Society was unlawful.

Neil Addison, director of the legal centre which advised the students, said "I am delighted with the result, which is due to the courage of pro-life students refusing to be intimidated. I find it worrying that a students' union should be so ignorant of the concept of free speech and demonstrate such a totalitarian and intolerant mindset."

Said Andrea Minichiello Williams, of Christian Concern: "This was an attempt to stop freedom of speech and belief. It is a snapshot of what is happening across the country. Deeply held beliefs are being labelled as offensive and those who hold them are being victimised. Political correctness is being used to control what people can think or say. It is an ideology that must be challenged because it's undermining historic freedoms in a significant way."

I wrote about Christians belonging
to a number of different churches - they are a registered Christian trust - who have gathered over the past three years outside Bath Abbey to pray for people, including people who are sick.

Atheist Hayley Stevens complained to the Advertising Standards Authority that the group's claims "could not be substantiated." The Advertising Standards Authority upheld the complaint and ordered the group to stop stating on their website or in literature that God can heal in answer to their prayers.

Christian MPs Gary Streeter, Gavin Shuker and Tim Farron have written to the ASA telling them that unless they have "indisputable scientific evidence" that it is impossible for God to heal in answer to prayer, they intend to bring up the matter in Parliament.

Interesting, eh?