venerdì, ottobre 06, 2017

Professor Binchy defends equal worth of every human being before Oireachtas Committee on abortion

Professor William Binchy appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on abortion yesterday.  Professor Binchy, an expert in constitutional law, is one of the main architects of the pro-life clause of our Constitution. In his testimony to the committee, he defended the right to life of the unborn and challenged the idea that under our international law commitments, we must liberalise our abortion regime.
Human rights, he explained, are based on the inherent and equal worth of every human being. “Human beings have human rights, not because they are given by legislators or courts, but by reason of their humanity.” Commenting on the recommendations of the Citizens’ Assembly, he claimed that, if accepted, they would make lawful to take the life of a child on request, with no restriction as to reasons, and also where the child has a significant foetal anomaly. If human rights are to have any meaning, one human being should not be entitled to choose to end the life of another, innocent and defenceless, human being. The idea that our law should authorise the taking of a child’s life with “no restriction as to reasons” is, frankly, abhorrent to any civilised society.”
Speaking of children with disabilities, professor Binchy remarked that “terminating the life of a disabled child because of the child’s disability is not consistent with respect for the child’s equal right to life.” Our society has been founded on the value that no one has the right to choose to hurt, let alone kill, another innocent human being – professor Binchy claimed -but the “right to choose” philosophy, fully embraced by the Citizens’ Assembly implies, the right to take the life of another human being, with “no restriction as to reasons”, on the basis of the supremacy of choice.
The international human rights treaties which Ireland has ratified do not provide for a right to abortion, according to the Trinity academic. If they were in conflict with the Irish Constitution they would not have been ratified. Any comment from the monitoring committees of the international treaties does not change the meaning of the treaties. Their members, Professor Binchy maintained, are earnest supporters of the “right to choose” philosophy and Ireland doesn’t have to change its Constitution to get it in line with their views.
Commenting on the submission of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, of which he was a member for two terms, he noted that if the proposals were implemented, they would involve abortion with little or no restrictions in practice, i.e. a regime of abortion on demand. “Throughout its Policy Document, the Commission never addresses the entitlement of children before birth to be protected from having their lives ended. It offers no reasons why such a profound discrimination against them should be proposed. Alarmingly, it presents no objections from a human rights perspective to late term abortions.”

martedì, settembre 26, 2017

How ‘safeguards’ aimed at limiting assisted suicide are collapsing

“Is it time we talked about euthanasia?”, an Irish Time article asks. Yes, it is and it is also time to show what happens when a country legalises euthanasia or assisted suicide. We can see, for example, how the number of deaths by assisted suicide has been rapidly escalating in Belgium and the Netherlands.
We can, in addition, see that euthanasia or assisted suicide are usually introduced on seemingly very limited grounds and in a short matter of time these grounds are widened to non-terminal conditions such as “unbearable pain and suffering”. This is a common pattern.
These developments should be taken note of in months to come when they are presented with a Private Member’s Bill by John Halligan TD in favour of assisted suicide.
In the Netherlands, the number of cases of assisted suicide increased by 10% in just one year in 2016 with 6091 reported deaths by euthanasia/assisted suicide.  Since 2006 there has been a huge 317% rise in cases of assisted suicide. In recent years the rate of increase has accelerated. This is true not just for the overall number but also for non-terminal cases.
In 2016, 141 people were killed because of dementia (564% increase since 2010), 60 for psychiatric reasons (428% increase since 2012) and 244 for “advanced age”. Non-voluntary euthanasia, without an explicit request from the patient, is also permitted.
In Belgium euthanasia was legalised in 2002 and in 2014 it was extended to children!
The rate of euthanasia increased significantly between 2007 and 2013, from 1.9 to 4.6% of overall deaths, and it is now significantly higher than the Netherlands where it represents 4.1% of deaths. Both the number and the proportion of the requests granted has increased.
These trends have raised serious concerns regarding the changing role of health care professionals, who are now required to kill rather than cure and take care. Moreover, there is a suspicion that in some cases euthanasia is performed with the purpose of getting organs from the patient. For instance, in Belgium almost a quarter of transplanted lungs are from euthanised patients.
In Belgium and Switzerland mental illness can itself be a basis for euthanasia or assisted suicide. A study published in 2015 in the British Medical Journal shows that of 100 patients who requested euthanasia for psychiatric reasons not even one was terminally ill. They suffered of mood disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, eating disorders, autism, etc. The most frequent diagnosis was depression.
The official report from Oregon shows that the most frequent end of life concerns cited by people requesting assisted suicide are psychological rather than medical. They relate to disability and increased dependence. Being a burden on others is more significant than fear of pain.
The problem with euthanasia is that once we accept the idea that we have a right to die, which in fact means a right to be killed, it becomes difficult to limit this right.  Moreover, what is the point of campaigning against suicide, in school for instance, if the state offers it as an opportunity?
These laws “normalise” suicide and they are in fact associated with an increase of suicide in the general population because they tell them that it is an appropriate response to the burdens of life. With time, those practises becomes acceptable, creating social pressure and also expectations on the most vulnerable patients and families.

More information about euthanasia can be found here.

venerdì, settembre 22, 2017

Irish Government happy to promote gay rights abroad but not religious freedom

A delegation from the Irish State’s foreign aid organisation, Irish Aid, is currently in Vietnam promoting gay rights. Interestingly, Irish Aid seems to have nothing to say about the suppression of religious freedom in the Communist dictatorship, never mind other crucial freedoms. Why?
The Socialist Republic of Vietnam controls all aspects of the lives of its citizens, including religion. Government oversight and repression of religious activity, and persecution is very common. Last year, for example, 108 protestant pastors were imprisoned.  Vietnam’s most famous religious leader, Cardinal Nguyên Van Thuán was arrested in 1975 and spent 13 years in prison – including nine years in solitary confinement.
Vietnam’s appalling record on human rights includes no right to life for the unborn.  Vietnam ranks first in Asia for abortions, and among the top five in the world. Every year one million abortions are carried out, corresponding to a rate of 59 cases to 100 live births.
According to its website the purpose of Irish Aid fight global poverty and hunger. It also promotes “equality and respect for human rights”. As an article on its website explaining its visit to Vietnam promoting gay rights says: “Equality and respect for human rights are key values of Ireland both at home and abroad, and remain at the heart of the work of Irish Aid and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Vietnam is one of Ireland’s key partner countries receiving support through the Irish Aid programme. As part of Irish Aid’s Civil Society support programme, Ireland has been supporting a number of initiatives to facilitate the realisation of rights of the LGBTI community in Vietnam.”
The question arises: if Irish Aid sees fit to promote LGBT rights in Vietnam, why not the rights of religious believers there? Why is Irish Aid being so selective? Are human rights divisible?
Another question arises: why is it that a single-party, authoritarian State like Vietnam finds it less threatening to promote gay rights than freedom of religion? It permitted gay marriage in 2015. The Vietnamese Government knows this will make it appear ‘modern’ and ‘tolerant’ to the Western world. It is part of the official propaganda and Irish Aid certainly seems to be taken in by this.
LGBT rights don’t challenge the hegemony of the State whereas religion does by pointing to a source of moral authority independent of the State. The Vietnamese Government will be well aware of the role religion played in helping to bring about the fall of European communism. Indeed, the Catholic Church also helped to bring down military dictatorships in South Korea and the Philippines.
Little happens in Vietnam that is not approved and controlled by its dictatorial State. It is very wrong of Irish Government agencies to go along with the agenda of the Vietnamese regime in promoting what suits it while continuing to suppress fundamental human rights.

mercoledì, settembre 06, 2017

Katherine Zappone’s madly contradictory views on Church and State

Following a meeting between Catholic bishops and Government representatives last week, Children’s Minister Katherine Zappone, who was not present, told the Catholic Church that it has no right to determine our laws, and that its own teachings ought to recognise a right to abortion. That is quite a double whammy.
According to The Times Ireland Edition, she said: “I absolutely do want to see a referendum on the Eighth Amendment, I think it is really integral to a social justice agenda in order to enable women to have greater choice in relation to the issue of their pregnancy. The Catholic Church has a very strong social justice tradition, and so I would think that in our negotiations discussion with them we need to draw on that social justice tradition to ensure it extends to women’s ethical choices in relation to their reproductive capacity. I respect the tradition, I think they need to voice their views, but I also believe and know that those views were to influence their own members. They cannot determine the laws of the land,” Ms Zappone said.
These comments raise a number of questions.
If Ms Zappone believes that the Bishops should influence only their own members, why were they invited by the Taoiseach to present and discuss their views with representatives of the Government, including the Taoiseach. Does she believe the meeting should never have happened?
Would Minister Zappone tell any other part of civil society that they cannot attempt to influence the laws of the land? Would she say it to Amnesty Ireland, for example, which is campaigning to have abortion made legal on wide-ranging grounds? If not, why single out the Churches? Are religious groups less entitled than others to contribute to democratic debate?
Additionally, if the Minister wants the separation of Church and State then it is not her role to tell the Catholic Church what to believe. (On the other hand, as citizens we all have a right to seek to determine our laws, whether we are religious or not). To demand that the Catholic social justice tradition should extend to women’s ‘ethical choices in relation to their reproductive capacity’, which is another name for abortion, is an unjustifiable interference in contradiction with the principle of separation.
Moreover, suggesting that the Catholic social justice tradition could somehow justify the legalisation of abortion negates the long established Catholic teachings on the profound injustice that abortions imply.
It is at the same time ironic but also tragic that the person calling on Catholic bishops not to stand up for unborn children is the Minister for Children.
In the USA, the country of origin of Ms Zappone, abortions can be performed until birth. As she is actively promoting a referendum to liberalise abortion, it would be interesting to know if this is the model that Minister Zappone is advocating.

giovedì, agosto 24, 2017

Leo Varadkar should have challenged Justin Trudeau about Canada’s barbaric abortion law

When Taoiseach Leo Varadkar met his Canadian counterpart, Justin Trudeau in Montreal this week, Trudeau presumed to lecture Varadkar on Ireland’s abortion law. There was no evidence of pushback from our Taoiseach despite the fact that in Canada there is no law preventing abortion taking place for any reason right up to birth.
Trudeau said: “On the issue of reproductive rights, I shared our perspective that reproductive rights for women are integral to women’s rights in general, and women’s rights are human rights. And I encouraged him to look at it as a question of fundamental rights for women and we had a good discussion on that.”
Well, we encourage our Taoiseach to look at the Canadian abortion regime carefully. He will realise that it is among the worst examples possible.
In 1988 the Supreme Court of Canada removed abortion from the criminal law because it was deemed an unconstitutional restriction on civil liberty. As a result, it is now possible to have an abortion at any stage up to birth and for any reason. Yes, at any stage and for any reason.
There are professional codes of conduct that in some cases appear to limit abortion-on-demand to 24 weeks and after that permit it only in cases of a risk to the life of the mother or a serious disability, but in practice these codes are easily circumvented.
By way of proof, here is an interview with a woman who had five abortions, one at 26 weeks. Neither she nor her child had any health problem. (She attended a state clinic specialised in handling pregnancies of more than 24 weeks).
There are plenty of other cases of late abortions, when the child could easily survive outside the womb.
In December 2016, a woman sought an abortion at the McGill University Health Centre but the hospital ethical committee denied her request because her pregnancy was at 30 weeks and there was “no threat to the health of the mother or the future child.” No matter, she ended up getting a termination elsewhere in the same province. Her lawyer complained: “Nobody has to assess the merit of her grounds to approve her decision”, asking the college to review their ethical guidelines. In other words, McGill is not liberal enough!
Margaret Somerville, a former professor of Law at McGill University in her book ‘Bird on an Ethics Wire’ recalls two shocking, late-term abortion cases (34 weeks and 32 weeks): “In one, an unmarried graduate student from a Middle Eastern country was thirty-four weeks pregnant with a healthy unborn child and wanted an abortion to save her from ‘disgracing her family.’ In the other, a married couple learned at thirty-two weeks gestation that their unborn child had a cleft palate – correctable with routine surgery – and ‘didn’t want a defective baby’. In both cases, the unborn child was killed in utero and delivered dead, making the intervention that of abortion and not first-degree murder, as it would have been had the killing taken place after birth”. (p. 219)
This is what happens in Canada where abortion is a ‘fundamental right’.
A letter to the Irish Times today claims that in Canada the law states: “No physician in Canada can terminate a pregnancy over 24 weeks without serious indications that the life of the mother is at risk or that the foetus has very serious malformations”. That is not true. It is not the law. It is a quote from a politician who was referring to a professional code of conduct which can, as mentioned, be easily circumvented without consequence.
So, Canada’s abortion law is one of the most barbaric there is. In cases of late-term abortion such as those detailed here, the pregnancy can easily be ended by delivering the baby alive but the law permits these babies to be killed just prior to delivery.
This is the law Justin Trudeau boasts about. It is the law he supports. It is the law he requires all members of his party to support. We do not need to take lectures on ‘human rights’ from this man and Leo Varadkar should have told him so.

martedì, agosto 22, 2017

The ethics of showing pictures of aborted foetuses in public

Some pro-life groups show pictures of aborted foetuses in public. I will try to address three questions: Is this legal? Is it appropriate? Is it effective?
First of all, we need to clarify that the Director of Public Prosecutions has confirmed in a letter that showing the reality of abortion is not illegal under the Public Order Act. 4. Pictures showing aborted human foetuses lying in pieces are extremely disturbing but it is not a crime to use them to inform the public about the real consequences of introducing abortion.
Those images are shocking, indeed, because abortion is shocking. This is precisely the point that those who exhibit them are trying to make. The truth is upsetting, pictures don’t lie. They are not euphemisms or easy slogans. Abortion cannot be sanitised.
Any attempt to normalise a termination of life is easily invalidated by the spontaneous reaction of any ordinary person at the sight of the outcome of that termination, i.e. a dead body. If we still feel disgust there is still hope, it means that our sense of humanity has not been totally suppressed by ideology.
Those who defend the choice of abortion can’t campaign for something so abhorrent and then demand to keep its graphic representation totally outside of the public debate. You can’t be pro-choice and at the same time seek to hide the reality of choosing abortion. Despite this, however, I think there are good reasons for only showing these pictures in public places very sparingly.
It is undeniable, for example, that pictures of aborted foetuses will cause distress to some women who have had abortions themselves. It will also upset others, particularly children.
I believe the only appropriate display of those images is when they are used as part of an information board and their scale is sufficiently small so that only those who are really interested will see them. They can be used to educate the general public but only when the potential viewers have been made aware of what they should expect.
I have seen those pictures shown in large scale at roundabouts or walking paths. I don’t think it is appropriate. It might provoke some discussion and sometimes those conversations change minds but usually it will upset and shock people.
The use of such pictures is also considered by some pro-life groups to be counterproductive. They are generally perceived as extreme by the general public and they don’t serve the cause. This is true. A referendum on the eighth amendment will be won only if those who have middle-of-the-road views can be persuaded and I am not convinced that large picture along the street of aborted foetuses will achieve much. Reasonable arguments, personal stories, positive experiences are, instead, more effective way to persuade.

lunedì, luglio 31, 2017

Medicine is intrinsically ethical

There is no medicine without ethics. Hospitals don’t need to be under church or religious influence but they cannot exist without an ethos.
Medicine has three main purposes: to prevent and cure diseases, and to take care of patients. It is not simply a science but also a practice inspired by ethical values. So, what is the difference with other sciences? Take for instance mineralogy. It is the description of the chemical and physical properties of minerals. Medicine, instead, aims not simply at describing what a human body is but it is also based on the assumption that there is a natural order, which we call health, and the purpose of the medical practice is to keep or to restore this order. There is an intrinsic good (health) that we discover through science and we preserve and reestablish through practice.
For instance, anatomy and physiology tell us what is the proper function of the eyes, i.e. to see. This is not simply a description but it also contains a prescriptive element because the ideal eye is also the normative model that the doctor uses when she acts to keep the patient’s eyes healthy or to prevent their diseases.
This understanding of medicine doesn’t require a particular religious faith but it is nonetheless intrinsically ethical. It is inspired by a certain conception of the good (health) that we find in human nature through the correct use of reason. The principle of “do not harm”, which has guided health care since ancient times, has the form of an ethical imperative.
Not everything that happens (or might happen) in a hospital or a clinic is necessarily medicine, unless it aims at preventing and curing diseases, and also at the same time at taking care of patients.
Not all interventions that alter our bodies surgically or chemically are medicine, even if a scientist (medical expert) might be involved. Getting your facial features surgically changed to look more like your music idol is not medicine. Killing the unborn because she was unplanned or is disabled is not medicine. Augmenting your muscles through drugs to win a weightlifting contest is not medicine. Removing a perfectly healthy organ to adjust your body to your perceived gender is not medicine. Facilitating suicide is not medicine.
In all these examples a certain level of scientific knowledge is necessary but they lack what makes medicine more than a science: the ethical value of health. They might involve someone who has a proper knowledge of the human body but his purpose, in these examples, is not to restore or preserve the good of the functioning body.
They are instances of scientific techniques without ethics.
There is a growing pressure by certain ideologies to transform medicine, which is necessarily lead by an objective good that we call health, into the satisfaction of the subjective requests of the patient.
If bodily autonomy (my body, my choice), rather than health, is the ultimate value then there is no reason why doctor should not amputate a healthy arm or leg, when requested, or administer a dangerous substance, for recreation or self-harm. Without the guiding principle of health, practitioners become simply the executors of someone else’s desires. Obviously, people can do what they want with their bodies but this is not medicine.

There is no medicine without ethics. Hospitals don’t need to be under church or religious influence but they cannot exist without an ethos, without values. When their core value is not health – an intrinsic good indicated by human nature- they don’t serve medicine anymore but trends, ideologies, business.

venerdì, luglio 28, 2017


Turn the lights on, look at what I have See the twisted trophies of a dead man Countless stories, tell of sin and pain But they sing the sweetness of my savior’s grace I’m a torn man, spirit fighting flesh There’s a battle raging deep in my chest But all that haunts me, all that leaves a stain Only sings the sweetness of my savior’s grace A fortunate fall, my sins are stories of grace to recall A fortunate fall, I glory in my sins forgiven Jesus bought me, and now I am His Dying with Him, in His death I now live All my vices, to which I was chained Only speak the sweetness of my savior’s grace And still I’m a wicked, wretched man, I do everything I hate I am fighting to be god, I seethe and claw and thrash and shake I have killed and stacked the dead, on a throne from which I reign In the end I just want blood, and with His blood my hands are stained See the God who reigns on high, He has opened His own veins From His wounds a rushing torrent that can wash it all away Grace upon grace, upon grace upon grace

domenica, luglio 16, 2017

The Citizens’ Assembly report ignores conscientious objection

At the end of June, Ms Justice Laffoy  presented her report on the Citizens’ Assembly meetings dedicated to the discussion of the 8th amendment. In spite of calls for the provision and regulation of conscientious objection to abortion, the report has made no recommendation about it.
The Citizens’ Assembly members voted for Article 40.3.3 to “be replaced with a constitutional provision that explicitly authorises the Oireachtas to legislate to address termination of pregnancy, any rights of the unborn, and any rights of the pregnant woman.” If this will happen it will be also necessary to regulate the right of conscientious objectors.
As one of the purposes of the Citizens’ Assembly was to make recommendations about what should be included in a possible new legislation, one wonders why it failed to address this fundamental issue, ignoring the suggestions and requests coming from Assembly members, private citizens, advocacy groups and professional bodies.
During the first weekend of the Citizens’ Assembly, in November, members were asked to identify topics that they believed to be important. The regulation of conscientious objection was one of the key points raised. Following their request, at the February meeting prof. Gerard Bury delivered a paper on the “Regulation of the medical profession and issues arising including conscientious objection”. Other speakers have occasionally referred to the same issue.
Some submissions from private citizens, advocacy groups and professional bodies have also dealt with this topic, suggesting different solutions to the regulation of conscientious objection. These submissions came both from the pro-life and the pro-choice sides. (See, for instance, the contributions of the Green Party, Amnesty International Ireland or the Irish Council for Civil Liberty.) Unfortunately, we know that the large majority of those submissions have been ignored by the Assembly and only a random selection have been offered to its members for reflection.
Freedom of conscience is recognised by art. 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe approved a resolution on the right of conscientious objection in lawful medical care stating that “No personal, hospital or institution shall be coerced, held liable or discriminated against in any manner because of a refusal to perform, accommodate, assist or submit to an abortion, the performance of a human miscarriage, or euthanasia or any act which could cause the death of a human foetus or embryo, for any reason”.
Note that the resolution refers not only to individuals but also to hospitals and institutions. This is precisely what is missing in the current legislation, which allows conscientious objection only to some healthcare professionals but not to entire hospitals and institutions. Any discussion on abortion inevitably has to address who can object to their performance and in what circumstances. The submissions have proposed different solutions. Why then there was no vote by Assembly members on conscientious objection? Why not even an ancillary recommendation about it?

mercoledì, luglio 05, 2017

Exclusivity no longer an essential element of marriage, Supreme Court decides

The recent ruling by the Supreme Court on a polygamous marriage means that exclusivity is no longer considered an essential element in marriage. So, marriage does not have to be exclusive under the new legal dispensation, it does not have to be the conjugal union of a man and a woman, it cannot be legally permanent and indissoluble, and it need not even be a sexual union, at any stage of the marriage. Little is therefore left of how we once understood marriage. Certainly, the Christian idea of marriage, mirrored to a large extent in most cultures, is dead and buried as a legal concept.
At stake in ‘H.A.H – v – S.A.A & ors’ was whether the polygamous marriages of a man entered into Lebanon could be recognised here. The Supreme Court ruled that the first marriage was valid but not the second marriage. However, in accepting the first marriage of the Lebanese man the court has also, perhaps inadvertently, treated exclusivity as a non-essential element of marriage. His first marriage was not intended to be to the exclusion of all others. He did not intend to be monogamous. His commitment wasn’t complete and exclusive as he was open to a possible second marriage.
Traditionally, in common law, the definition of marriage was based on the dictum of Sir James Wilde (later Lord Penzance) in the polygamy case Hyde Hyde and Woodmansee (1866) “I conceive that marriage, as understood in Christendom, may for this purpose be defined as the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others.”
To repeat, after the introduction of divorce in 1995, marriage is no longer indissoluble. After the 2015 referendum, conjugality is no longer an essential feature. Now, the concept of “to the exclusion of all others” isn’t an essential element either in contracting marriage.
Indeed, as mentioned, marriage need not ever be a sexual relationship of any kind. The Referendum Commission confirmed this in 2015 when it said under the changed definition of marriage, two heterosexual friends could marry if they wished.
In this polygamy case, the Attorney General correctly took the position that neither of the two marriages should be recognised on the ground that “Irish public policy is opposed to the attachment of legal consequence in this State to polygamous marriage”.
The Supreme Court declared otherwise. In fact, in her ruling on behalf of the court, Justice O’Malley also declared the Christian understanding of marriage to be essentially dead and buried in Irish law.
“The combination of the introduction of no-fault divorce and, in particular, the amendment of the Constitution providing for the introduction of same-sex marriage have resulted in a legal institution of marriage that cannot be described in terms of traditional Christian doctrine.  ….  In my view the defining characteristic of marriage as envisaged by the Constitution in this era is that it entails the voluntary entry into mutual personal and legal commitments on the basis of an equal partnership between two persons, both of whom possess capacity to enter into such commitments, in accordance with the requirements laid down by law”.
She is certainly correct to say civil marriage and religious marriage in Ireland no longer bear much resemblance to each other. Indeed, her own definition of marriage, given in the passage above, reads more like something from company law.
This is what we have turned marriage into in Ireland. Is this really what we intended?