lunedì, luglio 11, 2022

The appalling recommendations of the surrogacy committee

The very one-sided Oireachtas Committee on International Surrogacy has recommended the recognition of ‘compensated surrogacy,’ which is commercial surrogacy by another name, in Ireland and abroad. Under the broad notion of “reasonable expenses”, women will be paid large sums of money to carry a child for someone else under the terms of a contract. Almost no country in Europe recognises commercial surrogacy for this reason.

The Assisted Human Reproduction (AHR) Bill 2022, which is still under the consideration of the Dáil, does not include provisions for international arrangements. A special Committee was established last February to address this specific issue and some of their recommendations in the Report presented this week are quite shocking.

The AHR Bill allows non-commercial surrogacy, but also the payment of ‘reasonable expenses’. This would include not just medical expenses but also any loss of income for a period of 12 months, which could be quite substantial.

One of the experts told the Committee that, “Under the Bill, an Irish surrogate can be paid reasonable expenses. When loss of income and other expenses are calculated, this could easily reach €10,000, which is probably not very different from the amount that surrogates are paid in some other countries, excluding the United States, although, of course, this does acknowledge the socioeconomic situation may be different in other countries.”

In Ukraine, where many Irish couples go, the average per capita income is about $2,500.

The Committee Report highlighted the hypocrisy of calling ‘altruistic’ a practice that involves large payments and asked the Bill to be changed.

“The Committee notes that compensation to the surrogate in respect of costs arising in connection with the surrogacy is provided for in the AHR Bill, where it is defined as altruistic surrogacy. This terminology should be amended to be re-termed as compensated surrogacy, to better recognise the compensatory nature of the arrangement, and provisions made for international surrogacy arrangements of a similar nature to be permitted.”, the Report says.

But then the Report went even further and recommended the payment for services abroad that the AHR Bill would explicitly ban because of their commercial nature, such as paying agencies and clinics for “facilitating the entering into or giving effect to the agreement” (54.1a).

State representatives warned the Committee that double standards should not apply to domestic and foreign arrangements. If the potential exploitation of poor women is wrong in Ireland, why should it be accepted abroad? The Committee acknowledged that, while it would be desirable for all international surrogacy agreements to match the list of conditions which apply for domestic arrangements, “it would also be almost impossible to enforce. The Committee believes that as long as the medical and safety conditions of the country of the surrogacy are met, this should be considered sufficient.”

So, double standards will apply.

With the exception of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus, all European countries ban commercial surrogacy and many of them won’t allow any surrogacy at all, not even the “altruistic” one.

Commercial surrogacy in particular is considered exploitative for the women involved and treats children as commodities regulated by contract. There are proposals by politicians in Norway and Italy to make it a criminal offense using a surrogate mother abroad.

Ireland is one of the very few countries going in the opposite direction and will give legal recognition to foreign surrogacy arrangements.

Another shocking passage of the Report is that the Committee does not believe that a genetic link between the child and at least one of the commissioning adults (the ‘intended parents’) should be required in domestic surrogacy, something stipulated by the AHR Bill (53.3a). This means that a single man, for instance, should be allowed to pay a surrogate mother to carry a child conceived for him with the gametes of two “donors”, who will also be reimbursed for “reasonable expense”. How is this different from buying a child?

The child will grow up having no relations with the genetic mother, the genetic father, possible existing siblings, and with the birth mother. It will legally related only to the person who has commissioned him or her.

Senator Sharon Keogan was the only critical voice in a Committee that didn’t hear from exploited surrogate women from poor countries. She was constantly attacked but now that commercial surrogacy has been recommended, under the name of compensated surrogacy, her concerns have been proved to be well-founded. 

mercoledì, giugno 29, 2022

Why Roe vs Wade was overturned


The Supreme Court of the United States has overturned Roe vs Wade, the 1973 ruling that a woman has an untrammelled right to abortion up to viability. Why did it do so? The simple answer is that the 1973 ruling had no real constitutional basis.

The new ruling does not ban abortion. It simply gives the elected politicians, and by extension, voters, the freedom to legislate for or against it. This is the same situation as in Ireland, after the 2018 referendum, and in other European countries.

The Roe vs Wade ruling in favour of abortion was built on an earlier ruling that found a ‘right to privacy’ in the Constitution, although that ‘discovery’ was also highly suspect.

“The right to privacy … is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether to terminate her pregnancy.”, said the Supreme Court in its Roe vs Wade decision.

In its new ruling in Dobbs vs Jackson, the Supreme Court has decided by 5 to 4 majority that: “We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled. The Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision.”  (The Casey ruling dates from 1992 and confirmed that original 1973 decision.)

What Justice Alito was saying is that the US Constitution enshrines abortion neither explicitly nor implicitly.

In 1975, Justice Byron White, in his dissenting opinion in Roe vs Wade called that ruling an “exercise of raw judicial power”, meaning the judges essentially created the right out of thin air because they wanted to.

His words were vindicated by the current Supreme Court when they declared that a right to abortion has no support in history or relevant precedent, and Roe vs Wade was “egregiously wrong. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences.“

The most damaging consequence of Roe vs Wade was allowing abortion for any reason up to viability, which would be considered extreme even by the liberal standards which are now common in the West. Most European countries permit abortion after 12 weeks only in (theoretically) limited circumstances.

Another consequence of Roe vs Wade was that any democratic attempt to limit abortion was potentially deemed unconstitutional.

Justice Alito wrote that the 1973 Supreme Court “short-circuited the democratic process by closing it to the large number of Americans who dissented in any respect from Roe.”

The new ruling leaves the question of abortion up to the people and their elected representatives.

Terminations will, in fact, continue to take place in most states, and there will be no immediate change, but possible limitations can be introduced with time. In some states, pre-1973 bans can now be enforced, while in other states, more recently passed laws will go into effect, banning or restricting access to abortion.

Overturning Roe vs Wade was probably the main political goal of the pro-life movement in the US, and it has to be abundantly celebrated. This victory, which many considered impossible, proves that pro-life activism has a future even when circumstances appear hopeless. It is an encouragement for the whole world, Ireland included.

The pro-life battles will continue in the U.S. at the state level, trying to change current liberal laws or to prevent their introduction, but also promoting policies and offering services that help pregnant women in difficult circumstances. The pro-choice movement will fight back, but that is how normal politics works.

mercoledì, giugno 01, 2022

Forcing religious-run health centres to allow assisted suicide


All hospitals and hospices will be forced to allow euthanasia to take place on site, with no exception, according to a law recently passed in the Australian state of New South Wales.

Pro-life health care facilities will be obliged to allow external doctors to access patients who have requested assisted suicide. The Australian state of Queensland has a similar provision.

Some faith-based groups offering health care had requested an exemption for reasons of freedom of conscience but with no success.

“This law will force organisations that do not agree with assisted dying to allow doctors onto their premises to prescribe and even administer restricted drugs with the intention of terminating a resident’s life – without even informing the facility,” said Brigid Meney, of Catholic Health Australia. “These laws ignore the rights of staff and residents who may choose to work and live in a particular residential facility because of their opposition to assisted dying.”

This is a dangerous breach of medical ethics that erodes freedom of conscience rights.

Belgium was the second country in the world to introduce euthanasia, just 20 years ago, and in 2020 they amended the law to prevent any institution from objecting to euthanasia being practiced within its premises.

In Canada, where euthanasia is legal, religious-based health institutions are currently exempted from offering it but two months ago the Dying with Dignity lobby has started a campaign to remove those exemptions.

Opposition to euthanasia is prevalent among the health care professionals, particularly in those offering palliative case, and it is not necessarily motivated by religious faith as the Irene Thomas Hospice case in British Columbia (Canada) shows.

Last year the Irene Thomas Hospice, which is not religiously affiliated, was forced to issue layoff notices to all its staff after the local health authority cancelled the $1.5 million per year contract with them for refusing to provide “assisted death” on their premises.

The Delta Hospice Society (DHS), a non-profit organisation that owned the hospice and is inspired by the principles of palliative care, offered to operate it without public funds, but the local health authority expropriated the facilities because they are built on public land and DHS refuse to participate in euthanasia.

DHS are simply following Hippocratic medicine, which never permits killing a patient. Hippocratic medicine predates Christianity by several centuries.

There is a fear that other hospices will be compelled to follow the same route as the Irene Thomas Hospice and will be shuttered, unless they betray their own principles.

The Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association (CHPCA) and the Canadian Society of Palliative Care Physicians have released a joint statement clearly saying that hospice palliative care is not compatible with ‘Medical Assistance in Dying’ (MAiD).

“Hospice palliative care and MAiD substantially differ in multiple areas including in philosophy, intention and approach. Hospice palliative care focuses on improving quality of life and symptom management through holistic person-centered care for those living with life threatening conditions. Hospice palliative care sees dying as a normal part of life and helps people to live and die well. Hospice palliative care does not seek to hasten death or intentionally end life.”, they stated.

We often hear that euthanasia and palliative care should not be presented as exclusive alternatives but, instead, as two different choices to be offered to the same patient.

But if the law imposes euthanasia everywhere and allows no space for institutional conscientious objection, many professionals will leave medicine or move to areas not affected by the law, provoking a degradation of the services offered.

It also means that patients can no longer be assured that the place in which they are being cared for never permits assisted suicide or euthanasia.

This totalitarian attitude that leaves no exception should be rejected in principle, as it denies freedom of conscience, but also for practical reasons, as it alienates good health institutions who want to offer Hippocratic medicine.

martedì, maggio 24, 2022

The poor state of marriage across the EU


Ireland had one of the lowest marriage rates in Europe in 2020, according to new data from Eurostat. This was the year Covid emerged, so marriage rates dropped everywhere, but Ireland was particularly bad, and the rate was already low.

Figures from Eurostat show that Ireland had a marriage rate of 1.9 per 1,000 people in 2020. It was 4.1 in the previous year. Only Italy (1.6) and Portugal (1.8) had a lower rate but they have an older population. Again, these particularly dismal rates are because of Covid, but the trends have been down in any case.

About 1.4 million marriages took place in the EU in 2020, which is equivalent to 3.2 marriages per 1,000 population. As we can see, Ireland’s 1.9 per thousand was very low even in the context of the pandemic, but then we also had particularly long lockdowns.

The highest marriage rates in the EU in 2020 were reported in Hungary (6.9), Latvia (5.6) and Lithuania (5.5). Hungary was the only country in Europe that celebrated more marriages during the pandemic than before. Except for Latvia, Hungary was also the only country with marriage rates higher than ten years before.

Marriage rates have constantly declined in the last decades in Europe, from 7.8 in 1970 to 5.2 in 2000, and then a further drop to 4.3 in 2019, just before Covid.

In Ireland, the marriage rate is often slightly below the already low EU average. (7.0 in 1970, 5.0 in 2000).

In the early 2010s, Irish rates were slightly above the EU average, and after that, more or less in line with it.

According to the Eurostat data, in 2020 about 800,000 divorces took place in EU countries, the equivalent of 1.6 divorces every 1,000 people. The lowest rates were registered in Malta (0.5) and Slovenia (0.8) while the highest figures were in Latvia, Lithuania and Denmark (all at 2.7).

The divorce rate for Ireland has always been lower than the EU average. The 2020 figures for Ireland were not available at the time of the Eurostat data publication but we know that there was an increase in the number of applications that year.

We often hear that marriage in Ireland is in good health, compared internationally, but the latest Eurostat figures prove that this is definitively not the case.

sabato, maggio 21, 2022

Leggere Baltasar Gracián

L'indugio prudente stagiona gli intendi e matura i segreti.  

martedì, maggio 17, 2022

Catholic healthcare better than the secular alternative


In the debate about the National Maternity Hospital, Catholic health care, and the role of the nuns in particular, are being constantly demonised. We are led to believe that secular healthcare is far better, something that does not hold up to scrutiny.

Among those attacking Catholic healthcare and the religious sisters has been Sinn Fein leader, Mary Lou McDonald who said recently: “Government after Government in the history of this State colluded with religious dogma to deny us, as women, what we were entitled to by way of healthcare“.

Deputy Brid Smith wants religious iconography removed from the two St Vincent’s hospitals at Elm Park, where the new NMH will be located and a “move away from the historical legacy of the religious order’s involvement”, as though the legacy is entirely bad.

Yes, there is a dark side to that legacy, but also a strong positive side that is now constantly overlooked.

Religious sisters were the founders of modern nursing, for instance.

Generations of women religious who dedicated themselves to healthcare, education and caring for the poor have provided an extraordinary contribution to society, a contribution that has no equal. Their dedication was made more effective precisely by the fact that they had taken vows which meant they would not have a family of their own, or pursue material comfort. Their vow of obedience meant total dedication to the cause of their congregation.

In Ireland, we have some shining examples of female leadership in the likes of Mary Aikenhead, Catherine McAuley or Mary Martin, respectively the founders of the Religious Sisters of Charity, the Mercy Sisters and the Medical Missionaries of Mary. Their legacy worldwide is acknowledged but not in their homeland, where religious sisters are often openly despised, a socially acceptable form of misogyny.

It is not an exaggeration the claim that the Catholic Church is the largest single health care provider in the world. Public health systems are often built on religious foundations.

According to the most recent statistics (2021), the Catholic Church runs 5,245 hospitals, mostly in Africa and America, 14,863 healthcare clinics, 532 leprosaria, 15,429 nursing home for the elderly, chronically ill and disabled.

Catholic medical ethics are often presented as somehow regressive, an impediment to proper care, but it is much more in line with the idea of medicine expressed in the Hippocratic Oath than the “secular alternative”. Doctors in the Hippocratic traditions do not kill terminally ill patients or carry out abortions.

The relocated National Maternity Hospital will offer procedures such as elective abortions, elective sterilisation, and so called “gender affirming care”, which means removing wombs from healthy women who self-identify as men. But none of those procedures are proper medicine as they do not prevent or cure a disease.

In the US, a New York Times opinion piece recently accused Catholic hospitals of endangering the lives of expectant women because they follow ethical directives prohibiting abortion, except where there is a clear danger to life.

response by Sister Mary Haddad, president of the Catholic Health Association of America, rebutted these accusations pointing out that Catholic hospitals in the US “deliver about 500,000 babies annually and are accredited and held to the exact same standards as non-Catholic hospitals.”

We often hear of hard cases in Catholic hospitals, but we never hear of the hard cases caused by the “secular alternative” model of medicine, for instance, babies born alive after an abortion and let die.

Are they not patients who need care? A care that is denied only because they are not welcome.

Moreover, how many healthy babies are aborted because of wrong or uncertain diagnosis of foetal abnormality? Mistakes are constantly being made in the “secular alternative model”, without considering matter of principles such as not killing.

This is leaving aside the fact that secular hospitals are willing to abort the healthy babies of healthy women and increasingly to perform assisted suicide. Catholic healthcare, Hippocratic healthcare, is far superior to this.

lunedì, maggio 09, 2022

Marriage in Ireland continues its decline


New figures from the Central Statistics Office throw light on the changing nature of marriage in Ireland. The number of marriages went up in 2021, however, it hasn’t reached the pre-Covid levels. Many Catholic weddings were postponed last year but they are the most popular ceremony again.

In all, there were 16,717 opposite-sex marriages last year; 81.5 percent more than the year before but 15 percent less than in 2019. There were 500 same-sex marriages. The marriage rate per 1,000 population was just 3.4 in 2021. A clear drop when compared to 2019 (4.1), but a definitively higher figure than in 2020 (1.9) when many couples suspended or delayed their plans because of the pandemic.

Marriage rates have constantly declined in the last few decades, but the Covid pandemic has had a tremendous impact on numbers. Compared the two years before Covid (2018-19), opposite-sex marriage declined 35.2 percent in 2020 and 2021 combined. Same-sex marriages declined even more (37.5%) in the same period. After the 2015 referendum that redefined civil marriage, there was an initial surge of same-sex weddings, but numbers are now going down.

The average age at which couples marry keeps going up. In 2021, it stood at 37.4 for men and 35.4 for women. It was 34.6 and 32.5 in 2011.

Religious ceremonies continue to decline although they are still the most popular ones overall, accounting for 57 percent of all weddings in 2021. Thirty-nine percent were in a Catholic church, the most popular ceremony. The second most common celebration was civil marriage (35%). But ten years ago Catholic ceremonies accounted for 66 percent of the total.

Last year, when churches were closed and the number of people allowed to attend weddings was limited, for the first time in Irish history civil ceremonies became more popular than Catholic weddings. Atheist Ireland said that those figures showed that Ireland was no longer a Catholic country, but Catholic ceremonies were postponed for very practical reasons. The newly released figures confirm that 2020 was really exceptional, and now we are moving back to the normal trends.

The general decline of Catholic ceremonies is partly due to secularisation and partly due to more options being available to those who want to tie the knot, especially hotel weddings. Those who want to marry in a hotel and have a religious ceremony often opt for a ‘Spiritualist’ marriage. Last year 7.9 percent of opposite-sex couples and 12 percent of same-sex couples do so. A significant proportion (43%) also chose non-religious celebrations.

The data released by the Central Statistics Office this year are less detailed compared to the past. For example, this time we are not told about the previous marital status of the brides and grooms, and how many were marrying for the first time. It is a pity that some interesting figures regarding the state of marriage in Ireland were missing.

The most recent data about divorces and separation from the Court Service Annual Report refer to 2020 and show us that there was a 29 percent increase in the number of applications for divorce (5,266) that year, compared to 2019 (4,073), while judicial separations decreased by 48 percent (from 1,229 to 636). These are the effects of the change in family law legislation following the divorce referendum in 2019 that reduced from four to two years the amount of time required to be separated before been allowed to apply for divorce.

Besides the Covid pandemic, 2020 was an exceptional year because of the recent changes in family law and it is of little use to compare divorce and separation figures for 2020 with the previous years.

In any case, the overall figures show that marriage in Ireland is in anything but rude health.

martedì, aprile 26, 2022

Yet another study confirms the benefits of religious practice


Robust new research confirms that religiosity is linked to well-being, particularly when there is a match between personal beliefs and the surrounding culture.

The newest research took an unusual approach. As the interpretation of data can sometimes be affected by researcher bias, the authors of the study invited 120 different analysis teams to answer the same research questions. Different teams used different analytical approaches but reached a consistent conclusion: religious people report higher well-being.

The dataset provided to the analysts featured data from 10,535 participants from 24 countries from six continents and it included different ethnic and religious groups.

54pc of participants did not identify with any religion while the rest were Christian (31pc), Muslim (6pc), Hindu (3pc), Buddhist (2pc) or were part of other religious groups.

Participants answered questions about their physical health (pain, sleep, dependence on medication), psychological health (self-esteem, negative feelings, body-image) and social relationships (personal relationships, social support, sexual satisfaction).

Of 120 analysis teams, all but three reported a positive answer to the first research question: “Do religious people self-report higher well-being?”

The analysts were also asked, before and after the research, about the likelihood of this hypothesis. The researchers’ prior beliefs about religiosity being positively related to self-reported well-being were already high (72pc), but were raised further (85pc) after them having conducted the analysis.

For the second hypothesis, the teams were asked to establish whether, according to the data, the relation between religiosity and self-reported well-being depends on perceived cultural norms of religion. By cultural norms, the authors of the study meant whether it is considered normal and desirable to be religious in a given country.

“95% of the teams reported a positive effect size for the moderating influence of cultural norms of religion on the association between religiosity and self-reported well-being, with 65% of the confidence/credible intervals excluding zero”, found the study.

This means that when religious practice is seen as something socially expected and desireable, this contributes even more to the link between religion and well-being. Conversely, in countries where religion is considered more trivial, or it is even stigmatised, “the relationship between religion and well-being may be absent or even reversed”.

When asked about their own expectation about the likelihood of this second hypothesis, 71pc the analysis teams considered the hypothesis likely before seeing the data but this percentage dropped to 54pc after having seen them.

It is interesting to compare the data about Ireland with the rest of the dataset. The Irish score for self-reported well-being (3.6 on a 0-5 scale) is slightly lower that the overall figure (3.7). The Irish level of religiosity (0.49 on a 0-1 scale) is higher than overall (0.40). The perceived descriptive norm of religiosity in one’s country is higher in Ireland (0.46 on a 0-1 scale) than abroad overall (0.42).

This means that the Irish respondents reported themselves being more religious than the rest of the world but they experience almost the same level of well-being.

This may well be down to the fact that religious people in Ireland are not yet that different from the norm as religious practice has only declined sharply in relatively recent times and we have not been a secular country for very long.

Photo by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash