Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pro Life's pharisees are its biggest liabilities

To a very well-heeled pub on Horseferry Road with a chum where we were joined by Sarah M***** who works in public affairs for an aerospace interest group and dreams of becoming a Tory MP. In her spare time she's a big fish in the very small pond which is the Alive and Kicking Campaign. A&K is is another one of litigation queen, Josephine Quintavalle's megalomaniac initiatives. It attempted an assault of the Abortion Act last year but flopped badly not least because Quintavalle, for all that she considers herself much more modern, much more savvy than SPUC, has precisely zero experience of political campaigning and the kind of brilliant people skills which saw her fall out and publically diss her star attraction, the hot blonde vicar, Joanna Jepson.

Anyway, fresh from its barnstorming success last year, Alive and Kicking is still at it apparently and determined to have another heave at the abortion issue; specifically, it's set itself the task of slashing the number of abortions in half. Sounds fabulous, I'm Pro-Life too but dare one be so impertinent as to enquire how it intends to do this? Much waving around of hands and talk of strategy and tactics and the steering group. Uh huh and who's on the steering group? Well, Josephine of course and a chap called Kevin and Peter Saunders - yes that Peter Saunders, the one who Chris Paul exposed, if that's the right word, as having some very curious ideas about how to deal with sex offenders - and, wait for it ... Andrea Minichiello Williams. The last the telly-watching public saw of Minichiello Williams was on Channel 4's Dispatches giddily declaring that planet earth was four thousand years old or thereabouts.


But sorry to press the point, Sarah, how, exactly, will this campaign set about changing hearts and minds? Does it have any comprehension of the needs of women in crisis pregnancies? What would you do, Sarah, if you knew someone in a crisis pregnancy? "I'd talk to them about support about financial support and ..." what exactly does that mean, what do you mean by support? "Financial support, accomodation ..." Accomodation, you mean housing benefit right? "Yes and income support." Do you think about income support and housing benefit for yourself, Sarah? "No, I think about my pension." You think about your pension and what on earth makes you think that women in crisis pregnancies want to think of a life of housing benefit and income support? Don't you think they'd like to think about their pensions too? "Well they don't have to be in that position," she replied by which I think she meant they don't have to find themselves pregnant in the first place. Incisive thinker, eh?

But don't let me interrupt Sarah who was explaining why she was so moved to work for the cause. "I feel empathy with the foetus and solidarity with women who've had abortions and are left on their own but I don't feel empathy for women in crisis pregnancies," she declared casually.

There you are, she said it. Her boss, multi-millionairess Josephine Quintavalle, by the way, styles herself among other things, as a pro-life feminist and what an enormous outpouring of sisterly solidarity she's inspired in her circle. In case your fingers are hovering above the keyboard and poised to bash out a furious comment that this is an isolated example and one which is entirely atypical of the current crop of pro-life activists' genuinely felt compassion for the poorest and the weakest among us, hold your fire. Dredging around in my memory I can recall hearing that bright spark at the Catholic Union, Ms E***** K******, who had her fifteen minutes of fame some years ago when she refused to accept a school prize from a pro-choice politician, objecting to the dangerously communist idea that single mothers are entitled washing machines, or was it fridges? Same difference. Ms K******, incidentally, is supposed to be our front line of defence against the secularist hoardes and I'm sure you'll agree that she's an inspired choice for the role. She hasn't heard of Nick Cohen or David Aaronovitch and she thinks the Observer is a daily newspaper.

Mind you, I should also point out that by no means all pro-lifers are like that. The doyenne of Pro Life in the UK is the formidable Phyllis Bowman, a magnificent diva who stands only 5 foot tall but has a commanding presence. Phyllis Bowman has one of the tenderest hearts that can be found, she was an anti-war activist in the 1960s and took striking miners in during the strike of 1984-5. But there seems to be an increasing gulf between the younger core of Pro Life activists, who all too often are wierd single-issue obsessives and the older guard who have a more rounded view of the world, who have, in Denis Healey's famous phrase, a hinterland.

Pro Lifers often wonder why they keep on failing in the UK. There are many reasons but one of the main ones is that which I've just outlined. Far too many of them don't care about women in crisis pregnancies, haven't the faintest idea what they go through, are utterly disinterested in their needs and aspirations and let me tell you that their contemptuous attitude to the women they supposedly champion shows. It's not just the fact that croesus rich dowagers who style themselves Pro Life feminists have never campaigned for free or affordable childcare, or against cuts to single parent benefits, or for rape crisis centres, or any of the other basic bread and butter issues which concern working women and which socialist feminists in particular have battled hard for, which make a mockery of their pretensions, though God knows it's enough. It's that they very transparently couldn't give a damn about women for whom an unplanned pregnancy means the world falls in.

Idealist that I am, I believe in the Pro Life cause. I really would like to see it succeed. But it's not going to happen unless and until Pro Lifers engage in some serious self-criticism and the self-appointed wierdos who've achieved their status in the lobby by virtue of having bought their positions lose their litigation addiction, stop launching silly single-issue deposit-losing political parties and stop launching high-profile campaigns to lower the abortion limit when they haven't even a coherent idea of what it means to be Pro-Life and why. And for God's sake, could they stop mewing that they have compassion for women in crisis pregnancies. Women in crisis pregnancies don't need compassion, they need solutions.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sayed Parnian Torture Care Appeal

This just in from Brighton Unemployed Workers Centre.

Seyed Parnian Torture Care Appeal
For Mr Seyed Parnian from Iran
To pay for care from the Medical Foundation
working with victims of torture
Sunday, 15 February 2009

Dear friends and colleagues,
I am writing to you in the hope that you will respond to the situation of Mr Seyed Parnian, an Iranian who has been in the UK as an asylum seeker since 5th April 2006.
Up to 2006, Mr Parnian was working in the family business of importing and exporting heavy machinery. He was successful enough to travel freely all over Europe to do his job. In April 2006, he was in the process of leaving the UK from Gatwick airport when he received a call from his family telling him at all costs not to get on a flight back home, as his house had been searched by the Secret Service. Mr Seyed was charged in his absence with having ‘illegal’ books and his wife was arrested.
Mr Parnian had had a personal dispute nine years previously (1996) with man from one of the Iranian Secret Service organisations and whose family wielded huge power in Iran. In the process of the battle through the Iranian courts, Mr Parnian was imprisoned twice. He was badly tortured, being repeatedly hung upside down and beaten, his teeth smashed out and many more terrible experiences too degrading to put into words. From this period, he was continually harassed, prior to claiming asylum in the UK.
After the Home Office judges refused Mr Parnian asylum, further supporting evidence was gathered and his fresh claim submitted. However, in the time between his first UK trial and his fresh claim (new request for asylum), the very thing that Seyed feared happened. His wife was picked up for the fourth time by the Secret Services in Iran. She was imprisoned, where she was viciously attacked and traumatised, receiving amongst other injuries, a broken nose and bad bruising. She needed immediate hospital treatment upon her release in November 2009.
As a result of his wife’s trauma and his inability to protect his family, Mr Parnian became mentally unstable. He attempted suicide by taking an overdose on June 22nd 2008. He was resuscitated in hospital and a nurse aware of the Medical Foundation alerted a local member to his situation.
Seyed’s constant source of fear is that he cannot protect his family and maybe will never see his wife and children again. He suffers from flash backs of the time when he was tortured by the authorities and is in continual physical pain - a symptom very typical of some torture victims.
Mr Parnian has support from individuals within Brighton and Hove and organisations in Sussex. If you are able to donate any amount towards his treatment and towards the production on a Medical Legal Assessment to legally substantiate the story of his torture, could you please forward any donations to the fund we have set up at the following address.
Any amount however small is gratefully received.
It costs £650 for a Medical Legal Assessment to be written, following interviews with specialist doctors
It costs approximately £2,000 for a course of treatment at the Medical Foundation.
Any funds in excess will be donated to the Medical Foundation for the care of victims of torture.

With thanks

Jo Smith (friend and supporter)
Please follow the link below to find out more about the Medical Foundation.

Brighton Unemployed Workers Centre has set aside a special account for any donations and is donating £200 to kickstart the appeal. Write 'Seyed Parnian Torture Care Appeal' on the back of any cheque and make it payable to 'BUWC' which stands for Brighton Unemployed Workers Centre. The Centre hopes to raise at least enough for the initial assessment since the Home Office believes that there is no reason at the moment for Mr Parnian not to return him to Iran.

Cheques payable to … (Brighton Unemployed Workers Centre)
Please send to:
Brighton & Hove Unemployed Workers Appeal
4 Crestway Parade,
The Crestway

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Geert Wilders: Banning a bigot is a bad idea

It's time to dust off that old favourite, freedom of speech versus public order yet again as the Dutch politician who wants to ban the Koran has himself been banned from the UK by Her Majesty's government.

Geert Wilders exploded into boorish insults on being told of the decision at Heathrow Airport, denouncing Brown as a coward and a this and a that. Mind you, he'd be forgiven for being a bit confused by his banning as he'd been in the House of Lords just two weeks ago. On this occasion he'd been due to show his controversial film, Fitna, in the Lords at the invitation of UKIP peer, Lord Pearson, and crossbencher Baroness Cox. In the event the screening went ahead sans Wilders but with all the added frisson that an official not welcome stamp on the flick's creator provides. How deliciously naughty, how rebellious Cox and co must have felt as they sunk their posteriors into their seats and waited for the opening credits to roll. Cox, incidentally, is on the advisory council of the anti-immigration group, MigrationWatch, which goes some way to explaining why she is so impressed by the peroxided Islamophobe and why neither she nor he are my cup of lapsang suchong.

As long time readers will no doubt be aware, I don't like xenophobia or religious bigotry. They are invariably constructed on the shifting sands of ignorance and irrational emotion; they aren't just wrong, they are vulgar. Now I'm sure Wilders insists that he is merely criticising Islam when he plucks verses from the Koran at random and declares that they inspire terrorism but for one thing, history records all sorts of charlatans and sadists whose nastier activities can be said to have been inspired by the Bible or Kapital or whatever text they had to hand and for another, I doubt that Wilders' classical Arabic is up to much. What people like Wilders do is churn out a kind of cod-theology of poorly-translated proof-texting, extravagant distortion and excitable commentary. It's not dissimilar to the kind of grubby anti-Semitic literature which was sold on many Mittel European streetcorners in sorrier times. It's not the sort of material a cultivated individual would want to to immerse themselves in, in other words.

But for all that, the wisdom of banning this jumped-up soapbox orator escapes me. As always, official prohibition and censoriousness are worth their weight in a gold-plated advertising campaign; at this moment, Geert Wilders who should be paddling in the obscurest of media shallows, is leading news bulletins and his cheap film has achieved cause célèbre status.

That's the practical side of the argument dealt with. But there's also a principled argument for allowing Wilders and his ilk to roam around freely, saying whatever they want to about Islam, so long as they don't actually call for anyone to be killed. That is that free speech is the best corrective to bad ideas and the best guarantor of public order that there is. Free speech has the affect of cleansing public discourse because it means not only that gutter demagogues can broadcast their particular brand of poison to the world but also that the erudite, the thoughtful and the public-spirited can counter their arguments, can refute them and can demonstrate their wrongness in the public square.

A few hours ago on BBC2's Newsnight, Majid Nawaz, who used to be a member of Hizb ut Tahrir, which was itself almost banned and is now a director of the moderate think tank, the Quilliam Foundation explained why he would have liked to have done exactly that. He said he would have delighted in the opportunity to debate Wilders and show that far from critiquing traditional, orthodox Islam, Wilders' ugly arguments were but a mirror image of those expressed by such new-fangled extremists as Al Qa'eda. I think he was coming close to describing Islamist terrorists as heretical and how sweet that would have sounded. Why couldn't he explore that thought further with Wilders in front of him, why couldn't he debate Wilders in his own country, Nawaz asked. There was no satisfactory answer. Doors slammed shut, a demagogue was deported and another opportunity for orthodox Islam to assert itself against the dangerous cuckoo in its nest was missed.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Murder Most Modern: Sanitised, Euphemised but still as Evil as ever

Eluana Englaro, the woman known as Italy's Terri Schiavo, has died a mere four days after life-sustaining food and water were withdrawn. She was 38 and had been in a coma for 17 years after a car accident. Englaro's father Beppino had won a court order to kill his daughter after fighting for a decade to do so.

According to her neurologist, Carlo Alberto Defanti, before her feeding tubes were removed, Englaro was physically healthy:

“She has never had any diseases and has no need for antibiotics. She does not have any damaged or injured internal organs. The tests performed at the hospital in Lecco, before her departure [to the clinic where she would be killed] were perfect.”

The enforced starvation and dehydration of Englaro were explicitly intended to kill her even though her inevitable end was described by those determined on her demise in slushy go-gentle-into-that-good-night cliches as a peaceful death, a dignified end, or even more nauseatingly, as allowing her to die.

Away from all the shmaltz besmearing the matter of murder, bioethicist Wesley J Smith provides the necessary note of gritty realism. Death by dehydration isn't pretty, or gentle, oh no it isn't.

'It always fries me when they call dying by dehydration a "gentle death,"' said Smith. 'It reminds of of when Michael Schiavo's attorney, George Felos, told reporters when she was on the verge of dehydration: Frankly when I saw her . . . she looked beautiful...In all the years I've seen Mrs. Schiavo, I've never seen such a look of peace and beauty upon her.

'Then Terri's anguished brother Bobby Schindler told the world blood was pooling in his sister's eyes because her tissues were so dry. The public is always kept from seeing these deaths in the name of patient privacy. But this is how the late Dr. Ronald Cranford--an enthusiastic supporter of dehydration, who testified in support of ending the lives of Nancy Cruzan, Michael Martin, and Terri Schiavo, among others--described the process in sworn testimony in support of dehydrating Robert Wendland, (as quoted from the trial transcript in my book Culture of Death):

After seven to nine days [from commencing dehydration] they begin to lose all fluids in the body, a lot of fluids in the body. And their blood pressure starts to go down.When their blood pressure goes down, their heart rate up...Their respiration may increase and then the patient experiences what's called a mammalian's diver's reflex where the blood is shunted to the central part of the body from the periphery of the body. So, that usually two to three days prior to death, sometimes four days, the hands and the feet become extremely cold. They become mottled. That is you look at the hands and they have a bluish appearance. And the mouth dries a great deal, and the eyes dry a great deal and other parts of the body become mottled. And that is because the blood is now so low in the system it's shunted to the heart and other visceral organs and away from the periphery of the body.

'A pro life neurologist named William Burke, who opposes dehydration, told me about what happens when patients are dehydrated (again, from COD):

They will go into seizures. Their skin cracks, their tongue cracks, their lips crack. They may have nosebleeds because of the dryness of the mucus membranes and heaving and vomiting might ensue because of the drying out of the stomach lining.

But no need to worry, she was comatose and would have been blissfully oblivious to any er, discomfort. Yeah, that's why the clinic took the precaution of sedating her when they removed her feeding tubes. You know, just in case.

Englaro's death followed valiant attempts by Italian Pro Lifers to save her life. For once in his sorry career, Silvio Berlusconi did the right thing and attempted to block her court-ordered death by rushing an emergency bill through the Italian parliament which would have made it illegal for carers of people unable to take care of themselves to suspend artificial feeding.

The senate was debating the bill when her death was announced. Angry scenes ensued; an impassioned centre right senator, Gaetano Quagliarello, roared “she didn’t die. She was killed,” while others shouted "murderers, murderers" at their opponents. It's impossible to disagree with them. Those who supported withdrawing Eluana Englaro's feeding tubes are as complicit in her untimely death as the clinic staff who performed the action. They have blood on their hands.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Don't say we didn't warn you

Hybrid embryos fail to live up to stem cell hopes

The creation of human–animal hybrid embryos — proposed as a way to generate embryonic stem cells without relying on scarce human eggs — has met with legislative hurdles and public outcry. But a paper published this week suggests that the approach has another, more fundamental problem: it may simply not work.
Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology, a stem-cell company based in Los Angeles, California, and his colleagues show that in their labs, early-stage human–cow, human–mouse and human–rabbit hybrid embryos fail to grow beyond 16 cells (
Y. Chung et al. Cloning Stem Cells doi:10.1089/clo.2009.0004; 2009). The hybrid embryos also failed to properly express genes thought to be critical for pluripotency — the ability to develop into a wide variety of cell types.
Human–human embryos developed normally and increased their expression of many genes, including several known to be involved in pluripotency. Hybrid embryos, however, were short-lived, and failed to express known pluripotency genes properly. Lanza says that his team has ploughed through many different protocols and "thousands" of embryos over the years, without success. "At first we thought it would just be a matter of tweaking the culture conditions," says Lanza. But "the problem was far more fundamental".