Monday, August 27, 2012

Another slippery slope?

I  have written here and here about my concerns regarding organ donation.

The only hearts, livers and pancreases used for transplantation are taken from donors whose hearts are still beating when the organs are removed. The donors used to provide organs have been certified as brain-stem dead. They are still breathing; their flesh is still pink and warm; they can process food and drink; a child certified as brain-stem dead can grow to sexual maturity; a pregnant woman certified brain-stem dead can maintain a healthy pregnancy. I do not believe that brain-stem death is in fact death.

Says Dr D. W. Evans: "The basis upon which a mortally sick patient is declared 'deceased' - for the purpose of acquiring his or her organs for transplantation without legal difficulties - is very different from the basis upon which death is ordinarily diagnosed and certified and that highly relevant fact is not fully and generally understood." And again: "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."

What's more, potential organ donors and next of kin are led to believe that life support will be switched off and then the organs removed. That they are not told that the organs are removed before life support is switched off is unethical and immoral.

I do not object to people donating their organs for removal after their death if they wish to do so. The end, however, does not justify the means.

Currently there are more sick people wanting organ transplants than there are organs available. In an attempt to deal with the shortage, the Welsh Government is proposing to bring in legislation according to which all people living in Wales for longer than six months, including prisoners, tourists and students, will be deemed to have given permission for their organs to be taken for transplant unless they have specifically registered their objection. While it is needful now to opt in to the organ donor system, people then will be deemed to have given permission for their organs to be removed unless they have opted out.

The authority says that families will be consulted before organs are taken, but there appears to be no legal guarantee that organs will not be taken if families object.

Critics say that a similar change has not been effective in other countries;  that not everyone would be aware of the new legal situation; that the new legislation might lead to a lowering of standards to be met before organs are taken; and that informed consent is important in other medical matters and ought to be important here too.

The Welsh Government has organised a consultation on the proposed legislation. It is not confined to people living in Wales. Replies are required by September 10. Details and suggestions on how to reply are available here and here.

If you have concerns, will you not express them?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Misery - or life worth living?

Surely there could have been no other decision in the Nicklinson case in the High Court this week than the one that was handed down.

Tony Nicklinson, a 58-year-old from Wiltshire, has locked-in syndrome after a severe stroke. His mind is in perfect working order, but he can move only his head and his eyes. He is fed through a tube, and communicates through a computer which reads head and eye movements.

He says his life is "dull, miserable, demeaning, undignified and intolerable." He wants permission for a doctor to end his life.

Some have said that his case is a perfect example of the need for a change in the law on assisted suicide - but assisted suicide is not the question here. Mr Nicklinson is unable to commit suicide, even with help. Granting permission for his death would have the effect of legalising euthanasia. As the law stands, the one ending his life would technically be open to a charge of murder.

While expressing sympathy for him in his condition, Lord Justice Toulson said in the High Court: "To do as Tony wants, the court would be making a major change in the law. It is not for the court to decide whether the law about assisted dying should be changed and, if so, what safeguards should be put in place. Under our system of government these are matters for Parliament to decide."

Mr Nicklinson intends to appeal.

Commenting on  the case, bioethicist Michael Cook points out that the majority of people with locked-in syndrome want to live. He recalled Frenchwoman Maryannick Pavageau, who had locked-in syndrome and was awarded the Legion d'Honneur for her battle against euthanasia.

She denied her life was miserable.

"All life is worth living," she said. "It can be beautiful, regardless of the state we are in. And change is always possible. That is the message of hope that I wish to convey. I am firmly against euthanasia because it is not physical suffering that guides the desire to die but a moment of discouragement, feeling like a burden. . . All those who ask to die are mostly looking for love."

Thursday, August 16, 2012

About Sabden treacle mines

About 25 miles from my home is Pendle Hill, a great expanse of moorland perhaps best known for its association with the Pendle witches, who roamed that area in the 17th century and had their natural lives ended at the end of a rope after a trial at Lancaster Assizes.

A cannon ball fired from the slopes of Pendle Hill by Oliver Cromwell's army is said to have made the great hole you can still see in the wall of the keep of Clitheroe Castle. That's total fantasy: no cannon ball fired from that distance could possibly have made that amount of damage.

Pendle Hill does have happier associations. George Fox, founder of the Quaker movement, had a vision of  "a great people to be gathered" while on Pendle Hill.

In the shadow of the Big End of Pendle lies Downham, once said to be the prettiest village in Lancashire. At the other end, a road goes over the Nick of Pendle to Sabden in the valley on the other side. Beyond Sabden is Black Hill.

Sabden is known for its treacle mines. The treacle mines are probably Sabden's (pop. 1,371) best-known attribute.

One day recently, in a moment of idle curiosity, I typed "Sabden treacle mines" into the Google monster. It came up with a variety of websites, but I still have no authentic information about the mines' origin.

One day perhaps, if I live long enough, I will hear about how they began. When I do, I will squirrel the information away with the rest of the fairly useless information that makes life so interesting.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The greatest gift of all

Christian antisemites - sad to say that there is such a thing - hold the Jews responsible for Christ's crucifixion.

So who was responsible for Christ's death?

First, though many of the common people were for Him, it's true that the leaders of the Jews plotted His death.

Second, it was Pontius Pilate who sentenced Him to death, despite the fact that he knew that He was innocent, and it was Roman soldiers who crucified Him. Both Pilate and the Roman soldiers were Gentiles.

Third, it was God's purpose for Christ to die, so that a way might be opened for sin to be forgiven. So He had some responsibility too.

Fourth, Christ allowed them to take Him and crucify Him.

Fifth, it was my sin and your sin that put Him on the cross. If I hadn't been a sinner, or if you hadn't been a sinner, it would not have been necessary for Christ to die.

So who then can point a finger at whom?

Jesus is not only the Jewish Messiah. He's the Saviour of the world. He died not only for Jews, but for Gentiles. Not only for Christians, but for non-Christians. Not just for those who wanted Him, but for those who didn't. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

God could have smashed my rebellion in a moment, but instead He decided to win me by His love. And at what a cost! Christ gave His all. Such love deserves an unequivocal response. He deserves my all, in exchange for His. No other response would be adequate. Not for a love like that.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The BBC and Christianity

Why, wrote Cranmer after Usain Bolt's triumphs at the Olympics, does the BBC ignore Usain Bolt's God?

Usain Bolt - the fastest man on the planet - is a devout believer (of the Protestant Christian kind) in the One True God, says Cranmer. And he makes absolutely no secret at all of the fact: he crosses himself to exalt the Trinity, and mouths a prayer to the heavens before every race. And after each victory, he publicly gives thanks to God, in word and physical supplication. Following yesterday's triumph in the 200m, he said of his Lord and Saviour: "Nothing would have been possible without Him."

Is this not worth just a passing mention by the BBC?

It is strange that they chose to narrate in minute detail every minute of the countdown: as the clock was ticking, they filmed him on CCTV and followed his every move. They described Bolt's events and focused on the man and his achievements like they have no other athlete. We were given insights into his family life, with comments by his brother, parents and coach. The focus on the personal has been intense.

But not one mention of Bolt's faith.

While he was manifestly thanking God on his knees for yesterday's victory, the BBC presenter spun this spontaneous act of worship as Bolt having 'a moment to himself.' This manifestly blurs the significance for the viewer. This is what Bolt tweeted:

I want to thank GOD for everything he as done for me cause without him none of this wouldn't be possible.

But not a mention by the BBC. Instead, they pass it over with embarrassment, pretending it is what it is not. What they refer to as 'a moment to himself' is a glorious outpouring of thanks and praise to God.

The BBC have known for more than four years what Usain Bolt always does, before and after each race, without fail: how he chooses the moment the camera is on him to make the act of humble worship, as a very public witness that it is the Creator who made him fast. They have been briefed to bits by Bolt's PR team and by members of his family: Usain Bolt is a Bible-believing, God-honouring, Jesus-worshipping Christian. But not a whisper from the BBC; not a word of explanation of the real significance of these 'moments to himself.'

It is strange, but not very surprising. Not with the BBC.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

God keeps His promises

There is a completely false doctrine which pervades the Christian church. It is commonly known as replacement theology.

Replacement theology holds that whilst the Jews were once God's chosen people, God has now washed His hands of the Jews and all the promises God made to Israel are now transferred to the church.

There's one thing seriously wrong with that: it isn't true.

Proponents of replacement theology "spiritualise away" the literal meaning of large portions of Scripture. Romans 11 particularly makes it plain that God has not cast away the Jewish people. When the Jews as a nation failed to recognise their Messiah, God opened the door of salvation to the Gentiles. Rom 11:25, 26 makes it clear that when the fulness of the Gentiles who are going to believe have come to faith, God will turn again to the Jews, and all Israel will be saved. (All Israel, that is, living at that time.) When it says all Israel will be saved, Israel means Israel; it does not mean the church.

Replacement theology has fuelled antisemitism and led to all manner of injustice. Many Palestinian Christians have fallen for replacement theology, including the belief that the Jews have no right to their land.

Among Roman Catholics, there are still antisemites who consider the Jews Christ-killers, despite the pronouncement by Pope Paul VI and the Second Vatican Council in Nostra Aetate that "What happened in His passion cannot be charged against all the Jews, without distinction, then alive, nor against the Jews of today."

Despite the fact that John and Charles Wesley believed that the Jews would be restored to their promised land (including the area known today as the West Bank and East Jerusalem) and instructed their followers to "speak tenderly" to the Jewish people, the Methodist Conference decided in 2010 to boycott all goods and services from the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which it called "illegal Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories."

Now I see the Church of England, apparently forgetful of the extreme suffering of Christians in the Middle East and oblivious to the fact that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East as well as the only country in the Middle East that guarantees freedom of Christian worship, has voted to support the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, a pro-Palestinian organisation which promotes boycotts against Israel and seeks to end "the illegal occupation of Palestine."

Shame on them.

A patriotic young Scotsman wanted to know why Jesus was a Jew. Why couldn't He have been a Scotsman? Because of God's promises to Abraham, that's why.

God keeps His promises. All the promises God has made to Israel that have not yet been fulfilled will be fulfilled. If God isn't going to keep His promises to Israel, how do we know He's going to keep His promises to the church?

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

A story of forgiveness

According to new research from the University of California in San Diego, people who forgive those who hurt them are less likely to suffer high blood pressure, with increased risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Well, the Bible's been teaching that for years. Unforgiveness leads to resentment, and resentment leads to bitterness. Unforgiveness, resentment and bitterness are like acid in your soul. They eat you up inside.

Whenever there's a major disaster, there's often a Christian or two involved. When a young man started shooting during the showing of a Batman film at a cinema in Aurora, Colorado, the other week, 70 people were hit. Twelve died; 58 were wounded.

Some remarkable stories came out of the incident. Few more so than the story of Pierce O'Farrill, a young man interviewed from his hospital bed, where he was recovering from multiple gunshot wounds.

People were surprised to hear that he had forgiven the gunman.

"There is an evil in this world, and there is a darkness," he told one news outlet. "There is an enemy, but the wonderful news is there is a Light, and there is a Light that shines brighter than the darkness."

Of the gunman, he said "This is going to be hard for some people to understand, but I feel sorry for him when I think what that soul must be like to have that much hatred and that much anger in his heart - what every day must be like. I can't imagine getting out of bed every morning and having that much anger and hatred for people that he undoubtedly has. I'm not angry at him. I'll pray for him."

Said Ryan Heller, Pierce's pastor at a Baptist Church in Aurora, "Pierce believes God had him in the theatre for a reason. For him to say that [he forgives] moves me every time I think about it." Pierce, he  believed, had prompted a national debate on forgiveness.

So, Pierce forgave the gunman who shot him for no apparent reason. Will you forgive those who have hurt you? Don't say that you can't. You may not feel like forgiving. You may not feel able to forgive. But forgiving doesn't have to do with feelings; it's a decision. Decide you're going to forgive. When you think of the people concerned, pray for them. Turn your feelings into prayers. Take the decision and your feelings will follow.

Remember, when you forgive, it's not just to do with them. It's setting yourself free.

Saturday, August 04, 2012

The spy who came home

Reza Khalili was born and raised in Iran, but educated in the United States. He returned to Iran with high ideals. "I wanted to help my country progress, hopeful that there would be full democracy. I believed that Ayatollah Khomeini would be true to his promise of freedom for all."

He was persuaded to join the Revolutionary Guard, but was unprepared for the things he saw.

"The mullahs forced Iranians to adhere to a strict Islamic dress code and subjected them to amputation as the punishment for stealing, lashing for drinking, stoning for adultery." Young people who sought new freedoms they thought they had been promised were arrested.

"Many were raped, tortured and executed, among them my best friend and his siblings. Teenage girls as young as 13 were raped prior to execution because in Islam a virgin can go to heaven, and the 'men of God' wanted to deny them that reward. Others were slowly lowered in tanks of acid so they would die painfully.

"Khomeini and the clerics announced themselves as the representatives of Allah on earth and declared anyone opposing them to be an enemy of God. The punishment was execution. Tens of thousands were executed.

"This broke my heart. I was searching for God, so I prayed to him and I said 'This can't be from you. This is not you.'"

In a book, A Time to Betray, Reza tells how he decided to fight the regime his own way. He persuaded his superiors to allow him to fly to the United States to visit a sick relative. He met with the FBI, who turned him over to the CIA. He returned to Iran as a CIA agent.

He fled Iran in the 1990s. A friend gave him a New Testament and a copy of the Jesus film, which touched his heart. God's love suddenly became irresistible.

"The totality of his love overwhelmed my soul," he says. "I couldn't resist it, it touched me so deeply. It was then that I knew beyond doubt that the Bible was the true Word of God. That Jesus was the One I had always been looking for. I knew I was home."

Reza - not his real name - now lives in the United States and is a target, he says, for assassination, first for betraying his country, and second for renouncing Islam.

He prays for Iran. "The Iranian people," he says, "are desperate for their freedom."

Iran is certainly in need of prayer.

In a  major address to the nation in July, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reminded followers that we are now living in the "end of times."
"The issue of Imam Mahdi," he is reported to have said, "is of utmost importance, and his reappearance has been clearly stated in our holy religion of Islam. . . We must prepare the environment for the coming so that the great leader will come."

The Mahdi is the Islamic messiah who will return, Iran's leadership believes, in the middle of chaotic and catastrophic world conditions to convert the world to Islam. They believe it is their duty to bring about the conditions that will usher in his coming.

The one piece of good news coming out of Iran is that many are converting to Christ and joining churches.

It's an ill wind, as somebody said, that blows nobody any good.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

What would have happened to Beethoven?

American bioethicist Wesley J. Smith, for whom I once had the privilege of hosting meetings in Manchester, points out that a maternal blood test now being perfected will enable technologists to map the entire genome of the developing foetus. Which means parents will have plenty of notice of undeveloped flaws in the unborn child to enable them to arrange abortion.

He writes on his blog:

Unlike amniocentesis, which requires the insertion of a needle into the womb to obtain amniotic fluid, the test would come earlier in the pregnancy and put the fetus at no risk - unless that is, it reveals unwanted genetic conditions or propensities. In such cases, the fetus's very life would suddenly be at material and immediate risk.

In a culture in which all people are valued equally regardless of their health or capacities, fetal genetic testing would be a splendid way to reveal the need for prenatal treatments or to allow parents time to prepare for a child with special needs. That's precisely how Todd and Sarah Palin reacted when they learned their youngest child Trig has Down syndrome. Long before he was born, they absorbed the emotional shock and then joyfully welcomed their son with open arms. But such unconditional love cuts against the current cultural zeitgeist. Consider: About 90 per cent of fetuses testing for genetic conditions such as Down and dwarfism are terminated to the moral support, if not outright cheering, of much of society. It may seem harsh to say, but it is true nonetheless: We are in the midst of a great eugenic cleansing in which diagnosed imperfection often favors abortion.

Can anyone deny it?. . . Increasingly people not only believe they have a right to a baby but to the baby they want.

But our quest for perfection, had the technology come a few hundred years earlier, could have come at a terrible cost. . . 

Beethoven might never have been born, considering his destined deafness. If Lincoln was bi-polar or had the genetic condition known as Marfan's syndrome, as some have speculated, he might well have been "selected out" in the hope that Tom and Nancy Lincoln's next baby would have a less troubled nature. For that matter, the embryonic Winston Churchill might have been terminated when his genetic screeners warned his parents that he would have a predisposition for alcoholism. Similarly, Mother Teresa might have never been born had her parents known she would be diminutive and plain. Ditto Toulouse-Lautrec. . .  

If I were to pick one human attribute to extol above all others, it wouldn't be high intelligence, good looks or athletic prowess - the usual targets for human improvement. Rather, I believe the most crucial human attribute is our capacity to love.

Nearly 2000 years ago, St Paul wrote, "And now abide faith, hope, and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love." Who among us exhibit a greater unconditional love capacity than our brothers and sisters with Down syndrome? To the extent that they and other "defectives" are unwelcome among us can be measured our own deficiency as a society.

Technology isn't the problem. We are.