Thursday, 27 February 2014

New government consultation on three parent embryos asks the wrong questions

The Department of Health today has published for consultation draft regulations to allow mitochondrial donation to prevent the transmission of serious mitochondrial disease from mother to child.

The consultation will close on 21 May.

This new government consultation is not asking whether but how these controversial techniques for mitochondrial disease should be implemented. In so doing it sweeps aside genuine ethical and safety concerns in the headlong rush to push the scientific boundaries. 

Rather like the motorist who asked an Irishman for directions and received the answer, ‘I wouldn’t start from here’ the government in this new consultation is actually asking the wrong questions.

Marcy Darnovsky, executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society in Berkeley, California has previously argued in an piece titled ‘A slippery slope to germline modification’ that were the United Kingdom to grant a regulatory go-ahead, it would unilaterally cross ‘a legal and ethical line’ observed by the entire international community that ‘genetic-engineering tools’ should not be used ‘to modify gametes or early embryos and so manipulate the characteristics of future children’. This is now happening.

She is not alone in her concerns. Just this week advisors to the US Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have expressed concern that the three-parent embryo procedure could lead to human gene manipulation and have questioned its ethics and whether the research into it is as far advanced as some of its advocates claim.

In short, should we be giving treatments to human beings that have not yet been tested fully in animals?

It is deeply regrettable that the government intends to press on recklessly with this controversial technology in real patients in the face of genuine concerns about safety, effectiveness and ethics which have so far prevented its implementation anywhere else in the world.

In many countries around and the world, and by commentators from both secular and faith based scientific backgrounds, Britain is viewed as a rogue state in this area of research.

The Government gave an assurance in 2009 that regulations to allow treatment would not be made until any proposed techniques were considered to be effective and safe for use in treatment.

It has still to deliver on this undertaking. 

Further background

Christian Medical Fellowship has recently published a paper on ‘three parent embryos for mitochondrial disease’ which was strongly critical of this new technology on both theological and scientific grounds.

This followed submissions that we made on the issue to both the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and the Nuffield Council. We have more recently made similar points to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

We have also argued previously that the techniques involved are unsafe, unethical and unnecessary (see hereherehere and here).

Sunday, 23 February 2014

The greatest gift of a Christian leader to his people is his own personal holiness – a reflection on John Owen

If you have not yet discovered John Piper’s biographies then I heartily recommend them. They can all be downloaded free of charge from the Desiring God website and are great for car or train journeys, walks and runs. 

I’ve just listened again today, during a long run, to John Piper’s biography on John Owen, ‘The Chief Design of My Life: Mortification and Universal Holiness’.

John Owen (1616 – 1683) was an English Nonconformist church leader, theologian, and academic administrator at the University of Oxford. 

He was also briefly a member of parliament for the University, sitting in the First Protectorate Parliament of 1654 to 1655 under Oliver Cromwell.

He also chaired the committee which in 1658 drew up the Savoy Declaration, the statement of faith that became the foundation document for the Congregational Churches. So Owen takes me right back to my childhood roots.

His influence on subsequent church leaders has been immense and yet most people today—even pastors and theologians—don't know much about him. 

Owen was born in England in 1616, the same year that William Shakespeare died and four years before the Pilgrims set sail for New England. This is virtually in the middle of the great Puritan century (roughly 1560 to 1660).

Puritanism was at heart a spiritual movement, passionately concerned with God and godliness. It began in England with William Tyndale the Bible translator, Luther's contemporary, and was essentially a movement for church reform, pastoral renewal and evangelism, and spiritual revival.

Owen was born in the middle of this movement and became its greatest pastor-theologian as the movement ended almost simultaneously with his death in 1683. He was also responsible for the publication of John Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’, the best-selling book in history outside the Bible.

Piper’s whole study is worthy of careful study (or listening) but I was particularly struck today by his comments on Owen’s guiding passion, his quest for personal holiness. The following notes are abridged from Piper.

The words of Owen which come closest to giving us the heart and aim of his life are found in the preface to the little book: Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers which was based on sermons that he preached to the students and academic community at Oxford:

‘I hope I may own in sincerity that my heart's desire unto God, and the chief design of my life ... are, that mortification and universal holiness may be promoted in my own and in the hearts and ways of others, to the glory of God, that so the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ may be adorned in all things.’

Even in his political messages—the sermons to Parliament—the theme was repeatedly holiness. He based this on the Old Testament patter— that ‘the people of Israel were at the height of their fortunes when their leaders were godly’. So the key issue for him was that the legislature be made up of holy people.

This humility opened Owen's soul to the greatest visions of Christ in the Scriptures. And he believed with all his heart the truth of 2 Corinthians 3:18 that by contemplating the glory of Christ ‘we may be gradually transformed into the same glory’. And that is nothing other than holiness.

Owen grew in knowledge of God by obeying what he knew already. In other words Owen recognized that holiness was not merely the goal of all true learning; it is also the means of more true learning. 

This elevated holiness even higher in his life: it was the aim of his life and, in large measure, the means of getting there.

Thus Owen kept the streams of the fountain of truth open by making personal obedience the effect of all that he learned, and the means of more. Owen passionately pursued a personal communion with God.

J I Packer says that the Puritans differ from evangelicals today because with them:

‘ ... communion with God was a great thing, to evangelicals today it is a comparatively small  thing. The Puritans were concerned about communion with God in a way that we are not. The measure of our unconcern is the little that we say about it. When Christians meet, they talk to each other about their Christian work and Christian interests, their Christian acquaintances, the state of the churches, and the problems of theology—but rarely of their daily experience of God.’ 

From Owen’s writings, and from the testimony of others, it seems fair to say that the aim of personal holiness in all of life, and the mortifying of all known sin really was the labour not only of his teaching but of his own personal life.

This was the conviction that controlled him:

A man preacheth that sermon only well unto others which preacheth itself in his own soul. And he that doth not feed on and thrive in the digestion of the food which he provides for others will scarce make it savoury unto them; yea, he knows not but the food he hath provided may be poison, unless he have really tasted of it himself. If the word do not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us .’

Saturday, 22 February 2014

66 babies born alive after abortion in one year in Britain raise questions for parliamentarians

The problem of how to deal with babies born alive after abortion has been highlighted by a question asked at the Council of Europe.

The Committee of Ministers has been asked to act ‘in order to guarantee that foetuses who survive abortions are not deprived of the medical treatment that they are entitled to - as human persons born alive - according to the European Convention on Human Rights’.

The question is highly relevant in view of a story in the Daily Mail which claimed that 66 babies survived NHS termination attempts in one year alone.

The figure came from the CEMACH 2007 Perinatal Mortality report which covers the year 2005. It carries the said figures on page 28. I quote:

‘Sixty-six of the 2,235 neonatal deaths notiļ¬ed in England and Wales followed legal termination (predominantly on account of congenital anomalies) of the pregnancy ie. born showing signs of life and dying during the neonatal period. Sixteen were born at 22 weeks’ gestation or later and death occurred between 1 and 270 minutes after birth (median: 66 minutes). The remaining 50 fetuses were born before 22 weeks’ gestation and death occurred between 0 and 615 minutes after birth (median: 55 minutes).’

I have checked the CEMACH reports for 2009 and 2011 (covering 2007 and 2009 respectively) and found no similar reference, but in the latter a diagram on page 51 (figure 6.2) does say that figures of early neonatal deaths following termination of pregnancy have been (deliberately) excluded.  The strong implication is that they are still happening, but just not being reported.

An article in Prolife Ireland this week reports that the problem also exists in other countries, including Sweden and Italy, where in 2010 a 22 week ‘foetus’ was found alive 20 hours after being aborted. The baby was then placed in intensive care, where he died the next day. It further reports:

‘Another child in Florence survived three full days after having been aborted. Such events are happening everywhere that late term abortions are allowed, but are rarely reported and made public…. To prevent these situations, Norway decided at the beginning of January to prohibit abortion completely after 22 weeks, the threshold of viability outside the uterus as determined by the World Health Organisation.’

The Committee of Ministers will provide a written response to this question in the coming weeks.
But given that abortion is legal up until 24 weeks in Britain, it seems inconceivable that babies are not still being born alive after abortion here. But clearly whoever knows the facts is keeping quiet.

Perhaps someone should ask some questions in the Westminster parliament too.

Steve Chalke says he wants to draw people to Jesus but his teaching on the Bible risks leading them away

Christianity magazine and Premier Radio have controversially this week given Steve Chalke (pictured) a platform to propagate his views on the Bible.

But the deafening silence from evangelicals (and effusive welcome from others) that has greeted his call (see also here) for a ‘global conversation’ on how we interpret God’s Word is further evidence that many no longer see him as a credible Christian voice 

As Steve Holmes ably argues, we have been having a global debate about the interpretation of the Bible for almost 2,000 years, and there is nothing earth-shattering or even new in what Chalke says.

Few would dispute the fact that Chalke has done, and continues to do, a great deal of good. But many will see his latest article on the Bible as just a further dangerous step down the slippery slope to embracing a new liberalism, following logically from his earlier rejection of penal substitution and his embracing of gay partnerships.

Chalke does nonetheless give voice to the inner doubts with which some Christians struggle and for that reason it is important that we deal in our pulpits and Bible studies with the issues that he raises.

In other words, the able defences of biblical authority with which most evangelical preachers and apologists are already well familiar, need to be made more accessible to ordinary Christians in the pew.

This is because Chalke, though critical of what he sees as Richard Dawkins’ ‘rather superficial and juvenile conclusions’, now risks unwittingly giving credence to the new atheism he rejects, by recycling some of the tired arguments of Dawkins and others as grounds for his own loss of confidence in biblical authority.

His popularity, combined with his undoubted ability to connect with people, in this age of celebrity, I believe poses a real danger. This is made worse by the fact that Chalke continues to insist that he is still an evangelical and that many evangelicals seem reluctant to distance themselves from his teaching.

Now that many young Christians on the front line are encountering the new atheism it is important to ensure that they are adequately equipped to deal not just with Dawkins and his ilk from outside the camp, but also with the arguments of Chalke from within it.

So what are the issues that have led Chalke to abandon an evangelical position?

Interestingly he touches only very briefly on these in the version of his article that appears in Christianity magazine. One has to read his longer article on the Oasis website to see which biblical teaching he no longer feels comfortable with. Here, I believe, we find his real reasons for no longer professing in full the Christian faith taught by Jesus and the Apostles.

Chalke sums up his objections up by referring to the ‘brutality, violence, genocide and punitive legislation contained in the Old Testament’ and the ‘oppressive and discriminatory teaching’ in the New Testament.

The following list of the biblical teaching which Chalke rejects should not surprise. I have made a short comment about each item in italics but reams have already been written more ably by others about each.

1. Sex between two people of the same sex is morally wrong

Chalke wants to endorse ‘faithful’ same-sex partnerships and so rejects the clear biblical teaching that sex is made only for a life-long, monogamous, heterosexual relationship called marriage.

2. The slaughter of the Canaanites in the Old Testament

Chalke seems not to understand the lessons this incident is meant to teach us about the seriousness of sin and the justice, mercy and grace of God.

3. The provision for slavery in the Old Testament

Chalke again seems not to be uncomfortable with the Old Testament’s acceptance of bonded servants (a better option for indebted people than imprisonment or unemployment) and prisoners of war and seems not to be aware that kidnapping a person (real slavery) was actually a capital offence, regarded as seriously in the Old Testament as murder and/or adultery (Deuteronomy 24:7)

4. God created the universe in six consecutive 24 hour periods (Genesis 1)

Many evangelicals dispute that the biblical texts can only be read in this unambiguous way. But Chalke seems either unaware, or unwilling to acknowledge the existence, of the different positions defended by serious evangelicals on the creation narrative from both scripture and history. John Lennox’s ‘Seven days that divide the world’ is a good overview of the various arguments.

5. Disabled people were not able to become priests in Israel (Leviticus 21:16-23)

Chalke accuses the Bible of discriminating against disabled people but the Bible is very clear elsewhere that all human beings are equally made in the image of God and equally precious to him. It actually teaches that disabled people deserve special respect and protection (Leviticus 19:14; 2 Samuel 9). The Levitical passage above is to be seen in its context as pointing to the perfection of Christ as our great high priest, in the same way that animals sacrificed in the temple pointed to him by being ‘without blemish’. It is not endorsing discrimination.

6. The man stoned for gathering sticks on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36)

Like many Old Testament stories this incident teaches us about the serious of sin and the importance of taking God’s commands seriously. Old Testament stories are there to teach us about God’s holiness. They are warnings to us, not endorsements to apply their punishments today (1 Corinthians 10:1-13).

7. The varying accounts of who inspired David’s census – God or Satan (2 Samuel 24:1 & 1 Chronicles 21:1)

Chalke asks ‘Can both accounts be right?’ but most commentators see no difficulty here. Satan was acting under God’s sovereignty and with his permission, in the same way that he was allowed to test Job or sift Peter. Chalke is either unaware of this or has deliberately chosen not to say it. He should perhaps read Jay Smith’s ‘101 cleared up contradictions in the Bible’ where this and 100 other commonly cited alleged contradictions are explained.

8. The role of women in the church (1 Timothy 2:11-15)

Chalke again seems unwilling to grapple with texts like this in the context of the rest of the testimony of Scripture about the role of women. There is a huge evangelical literature on this text and others. Is he genuinely unable to see his way here, or is he just being lazy? 

Chalke’s underlying motivation seems to be to remove, or to reinterpret, biblical teachings that he thinks will put people off embracing Christianity. He wants to make the Christian faith more ‘attractive’, ‘relevant’, ‘inclusive’ and ‘welcoming’.

The problem with this is that in so doing he is both undermining people’s confidence in the authority of Scripture, which Jesus himself upheld, and also modifying the Gospel.

Chalke has fashioned for himself an alternative Gospel which cherry picks from Scripture the beliefs he wants and discards those which he finds inconvenient.

He claims that this is in order to draw people to Christ – the real Word of God – but I can’t help wondering if he is simply responding to the temptation of choosing a message which will help him avoid being attacked. 

In embracing popular contemporary causes like gay marriage and avoiding speaking out on areas where Scripture is under attack Chalke risks emasculating the Gospel.

On the one hand he is endorsing a practice (same sex erotic behaviour) which the Bible clearly teaches will result in exclusion from the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

On the other, he is wanting to excise passages from the Scriptures which teach of God’s holiness, justice and judgement. But understanding these matters is an essential prerequisite to understanding grace and mercy and indeed the true message of the cross.

Jesus Christ put his stamp of authority on the Old Testament and commissioned the writing of the New Testament through the apostles by the Holy Spirit.

In saying that the Bible is not the Word of God Chalke is denying something that Jesus himself taught. He can't have it both ways. He can't claim to follow Christ and yet reject Christ's teaching.

Chalke is walking a dangerous road. In his passion to draw people in to Christ, he risks leading them away. 

For a brief review of Jesus’ view of the Bible see here.

Other coverage and commentary

Huffington Post 
Christianity Today
Brian McLaren    

Friday, 21 February 2014

RCGP maintains its strong opposition to any change in the law to allow ‘assisted dying’

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has today soundly rejected any change to its long opposition to the legalisation of assisted suicide or euthanasia (see RCGP full report and analysis of responses and Pulse report).

The change had been proposed by former chairman Clare Gerada and led to an extensive consultation last autumn but members have overwhelmingly rejected the move.

Overall 77% of individual responses opposed any change.

In a letter to members today, current chair Maureen Baker, wrote:

‘We have just finished debating the results of the College-wide consultation on whether, as a College, we should change our collective stance on assisted dying. I can confirm that Council has resolved to maintain the College’s position of opposition to a change in the law on assisted dying.

Council decided last February that consultation with our membership was necessary as, since 2005 when the position was last debated, we have welcomed many new members to the College and views could have changed. 

Any change in the law to permit assisted dying would have a huge impact on our profession and this was one of the most comprehensive consultations of membership that we have ever undertaken, with over 1,700 responses.

Thank you to everyone who exercised their right to voice an opinion on this – it is imperative that our membership has the opportunity to inform Council debates on key policy issues.’

This is a highly welcome move and will send a strong signal to legislators in a year when new bills seeking to legalise assisted suicide are being debated in both Westminster and Scotland.

The recent legalisation of euthanasia for children in Belgium and the huge increase in the number of cases of euthanasia for people with mental illness in the Netherlands have sent shockwaves throughout the world and have underlined how difficult it is to stop incremental extension once any weakening of the law is allowed.

Any change in the law to allow assisted suicide or euthanasia would place pressure on vulnerable people to end their lives for fear of being a financial, emotional or care burden upon others. This would especially affect people who are disabled, elderly, sick or depressed.

Persistent requests for euthanasia are extremely rare if people are properly cared for so our priority must be to ensure that good care addressing people's physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs is accessible to all.

The present law making assisted suicide and euthanasia illegal is clear and right and does not need changing. The penalties it holds in reserve act as a strong deterrent to exploitation and abuse whilst giving discretion to prosecutors and judges in hard cases.

The RCGP has wisely resolved to maintain its position of opposition to a change in the law to allow assisted suicide or euthanasia recognising that any change in the law would have a huge impact on the profession.

It is highly significant that this was one of the most comprehensive consultations of the RCGP membership that has ever been undertaken, with over 1,700 responses.

The RCGP decision reflects the fact that the vast majority of UK doctors are opposed to legalising euthanasia along with the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Physicians, the Association for Palliative Medicine, the British Geriatric Society and the World Medical Association.

The WMA last affirmed its strong opposition last year. 

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Three out of every ten human deaths in the UK occur as a result of ‘medical intervention’ before birth

In 2012 there were 499,331 deaths registered in England and Wales, 54,937 in Scotland and 14,756 in Northern Ireland – a total of 569,024 human deaths.

In the same year there were 185,122 abortions carried out on women resident in England and Wales, 1,330 on women from other parts of the UK (including 905 from Northern Ireland) and 12,447 in Scotland – a total of 198,899 human deaths.

According to the answer given to a parliamentary question asked by Lord Alton yesterday, there were 166,631 human embryos that were allowed to perish in the UK in 2012 – a total of 166,631 human deaths. These are 'excess' embryos created in a laboratory by IVF technology that are thrown away.

In addition there are about 250,000 miscarriages in the UK every year – a total of 250,000 human deaths.

So that’s a total of 1,184,554 human deaths in the UK in 2012 – 569,024 registered deaths, 250,000 miscarriages, 198,899 aborted babies, and 166,631 embryos allowed to perish.

Of this total number of human deaths over half (52%) were human beings who were never born, and of these 365,530 (31%) were human lives ended by doctors before birth (abortions and embryos allowed to perish).  

Each of this latter group were human beings that no one wanted and that a doctor, or other health professional, acted to destroy.

Abortion and embryo disposal are against the Hippocratic Oath, against the Declaration of Geneva, against the International Code of Medical Ethics and against the Judeo-Christian ethic on which the laws of our country were originally based.

In 1947 the British Medical Association called abortion 'the greatest crime'.

But it is now so commonplace in Britain that we don’t even bother to mention it as a cause of human death despite the fact that every abortion stops a human heart beating.

The fact that the deaths of human beings are excluded from official death statistics is a symptom of how far we have fallen.

There is no one in the UK more innocent, more vulnerable and killed in greater numbers than the pre-born baby.

And there is no more dangerous place for a human being than the womb... or a petri dish. 

The slaughter of the Canaanites – was it justified?

One consequence of preaching through the Bible book by book, as our church does, is that you can’t escape considering the difficult passages.

And so last Sunday we considered Joshua, chapters 8-12. That’s the bit that deals with the slaughter of the Canaanites.

In Joshua 8 Israel attacks the city of Ai and kills ‘12,000 men and women…’, ‘ all the people of Ai’.

In chapter 10 Joshua kills five Amorite kings – from Jerusalem, Hebron, Jarmuth, Lachish, and Eglon – and hangs their bodies on five trees before throwing them into a cave.

Then he proceeds to destroy the cities of Makkedah, Libnah, Gezer, Lachish, Eglon, Hebron and Debir, on each occasion leaving ‘no survivors’.

The accounts of similar military victories continue throughout chapter 11 and 12, which end with a list of 31 Kings West of the Jordan who (along with the residents of their cities) Joshua put to the sword.

Two summaries of these battles within these chapters leave us in no doubt that it was God himself who ordered this destruction:

‘So Joshua struck at the whole land: the highlands, the arid southern plains, the lowlands, the slopes, and all their kings. He left no survivors. He wiped out everything that breathed as something reserved for God, exactly as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded.’ (Joshua 10:40)

‘So Joshua took the whole land, exactly as the Lord had promised Moses. Joshua gave it as a legacy to Israel according to their tribal shares. Then the land had a rest from war.’ (Joshua 11:23)

So the inescapable conclusion is that the Bible teaches both that these cities were wiped out with no survivors left and that it was God who authorised it.

Many people say that they could never believe in nor worship a god who would authorise these sorts of ‘atrocities’. Richard Dawkins, in his book ‘the God Delusion’ describes the god of the Old Testament as a ‘control freak, ethnic cleanser and malevolent bully’.

But it is not just atheists who reject these passages. Steve Chalke, in an article published in Christianity magazine last week (longer version here), cites these incidents as one of the reasons that he no longer believes that the Bible is the Word of God.

So how do evangelicals, who believe that the Bible is literally ‘God-breathed’, explain these scriptures?

We were reminded last week that the story of the Canaanite conquests gives us one mistake to avoid and three characteristics of God to understand.

We should first avoid thinking that the Canaanites were innocent and neutral.

On 16 October 1946 a man called John Clarence Woods killed ten men and got off scot free. Woods was a United States Army Master Sergeant who, with Joseph Malta, carried out the executions of ten former top leaders of the German Third Reich after they were sentenced to death at the Nuremberg Trials. These men were directly responsible for the horrors of the Nazi holocaust.

Was Woods a mass murderer? Some might say so, but many would say he was just an instrument of justice doing what justice decreed had to be done. At the time it was argued that these men deserved to die. 

The Bible argues that the Canaanites also deserved to die. Leviticus 18 and Deuteronomy 18:9-13 outline the ‘detestable ways’ of the Canaanites - sorcery, witchcraft, idolatry, every kind of sexual immorality and child sacrifice on an industrialised scale. In the eyes of God these were sins equivalent in severity to those of the authors of the Nazi holocaust.

This tells us first that God is a god of justice. He does not tolerate evil for ever but stamps it out. On this occasion it involved wiping these nations off the face of the earth. The instrument he used was the nation of Israel. This does not mean that Israel was good and these nations bad. The Bible makes that abundantly clear in passages like Deuteronomy 7:1-11 and 9:1-6.

‘It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the Lord your God will drive them out before you’ (Deuteronomy 9:5).

Israel was simply the means God used to execute his justice. John Woods was not perfect either. But he was the means of justice when it came to the Nazis. It is not a virtue to tolerate evil. Justice must be done and someone acting under authority has to administer it.

Second it shows us God’s patience. The Canaanites ‘detestable ways’ were not some momentary departure from a life of virtue but an established pattern that had persisted unchanged for centuries without any indication of coming to an end. Thousands of innocent children had been slaughtered and the real cause of this was these nations’ idolatry. God had delayed his judgement for this period giving them every opportunity to change, but they had opted not to. In fact his extreme patience had led him to leave his own people Israel as slaves in Egypt for over 400 years out of mercy to the Canaanites. As he said to Abraham hundreds of years earlier:

”Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and ill-treated there… In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure”. (Genesis 15:13-16)

Third it displays God’s grace in that he gives us what we do not deserve. Just as God delayed judgement on the Canaanites out of mercy, so also he gave Israel the land of Canaan which they did not deserve. And with Israel he preserved some of the Canaanites, like the prostitute Rahab from Jericho, who ended up being absorbed into the Israelite nation and becoming a human ancestor of Jesus Christ himself (Matthew 1:5). That’s grace!

So the slaughter of the Canaanites was not ethnic cleansing motivated by racial discrimination. It was rather the careful, fair, settled action of a God of justice, patience and grace.  

But we also need to be clear that the slaughter of the Canaanites was a one-off event never to be repeated. The usual pattern Israel was to follow in war (Deuteronomy 20:1-20) was to make their enemies an offer of peace (20:10). War ensued only if this was rejected. The slaughter of the Canaanites is not justification for some kind of Jewish, let alone Christian, jihad.

If war is ever judged necessary it must be waged justly. And Christians as individuals are called to love their enemies, to pray for those who persecute them and to carry the Gospel of peace. This passage is absolutely no precedent for genocide nor a justification for people claiming a divine right to similar actions today. Jesus told his disciples to put away their swords.

Finally, if we look at this story in the wider context of salvation history (the big story of the Bible) it begins to make sense.

In reality none of us is innocent. All human beings are sinners who fall short of God’s standards and deserve his judgement (Romans 3:23). Justice must be done, but God’s mercy (delaying judgement) and grace (giving us what we do not deserve) lead him to look for a better way that both deals with sin and also preserves us.

If you can see any justification at all in the slaughter of the Canaanites then you are starting to understand something of the seriousness of sin and the justice, mercy and grace of God - key starting points for considering what is the real heart of the Christian faith.

But that is to bring us back to the deeper question of why Jesus Christ had to die on a Roman cross, a question that I deal with elsewhere on this blog

Sunday, 16 February 2014

C of E Bishops say church members should ‘welcome’ ‘married’ same-sex couples into the church community

‘Those same sex couples who choose to marry should be welcomed into the life of the worshipping community and not be subjected to questioning about their lifestyle.’ Neither should they 'be denied access to the sacraments'.

This extraordinary statement is embedded deep within paragraph 18 in the ‘statement of Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage’ issued by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York on behalf of the House of Bishops of the Church of England this week.

The document, however, also concludes (in bold) that the House of Bishops is not ‘willing for those who are in a same sex marriage to be ordained to any of the three orders of ministry’ (paragraph 27).

In addition it considers that ‘it would not be appropriate conduct for someone in holy orders to enter into a same sex marriage, given the need for clergy to model the Church's teaching in their lives’ (27).

However in the same breath it also says that ‘The Church of England has a long tradition of tolerating conscientious dissent and of seeking to avoid drawing lines too firmly’ (28).

So, in other words, laity who enter into same sex marriages (which must be outside the church as the church will not currently conduct marriage services for such couples) are to be ‘welcomed’ but clergy are to 'accept and minister the discipline of this Church and respect authority duly exercised within it' (28) by not conducting same sex marriages or entering into them themselves.

But it is not at all clear what will happen to those clergy who refuse to toe the line. Just how far will their 'conscientious dissent' be tolerated? Time will tell.

John Bingham, Social and Religious Affairs editor of the Daily Telegraph, who reviewed the document last week has called it a ‘masterclass in doublespeak, obfuscation and internal contradiction’.

The Christian blogger Cranmer has said that the document ‘is theologically bungling and spiritually vacuous’ and makes the obvious point that ‘it is not what Canon Law prohibits in theory but how the bishops handle disobedience in practice which will determine and define the Church's theology on same-sex marriage’.

It will surely only be a matter of time before some clergy begin to test this inconsistency by ‘marrying’ in a registry office and then turning up to minister at church or taking their challenge to the courts.

The future seems clear. Some members of the church will progressively push the boundaries and argue, in the interests of equality and consistency, that first clergy and ultimately Bishops should be granted the same degree of ‘conscentious dissent’ given to the laity. And it will be very difficult for the Bishops, having already made the concessions they have, to hold the line.

St Paul took a different view. He warns in his first letter to the Corinthians (6:9,10) that ‘participants in same-sex intercourse’ will not ‘inherit God’s Kingdom’.

He places these people in the same category as those who are ‘sexually immoral, worship false gods, adulterers, thieves, greedy, drunks, abusive people, and swindlers’.

He urges the church in Corinth to deal with these cases itself and not to involve the courts and makes it very clear in the previous chapter (1 Corinthians 5) that those who claim to be believers (call themselves ‘brother’ or ‘sister’) and behave this way are to be expelled from the church.

If we think that this is implying that the church should not welcome sinners we have misunderstood Paul completely. He actually exhorts the church to ‘associate’ with those ‘in the outside world’ who are ‘sinners’ (5:9-12) and not to judge them.

After all this is what Jesus himself did and many of the Corinthian church members once participated in these practices themselves (6:11).

But this is not what the Church of England Bishops are saying. They are saying that those who call themselves believers and continue in these above activities should be ‘welcomed into the life of the worshipping community’ and 'should not be denied access to the sacraments' (baptism and communion).

This distinction between the way unbelievers and people who claim to be believers are to be treated is the crucial distinction.

Furthermore it highlights precisely how the Church of England no longer follows the Apostles’ teaching. 

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Behind the headlines: information and misinformation in pregnancy counselling

The pro-abortion organisation, Education For Choice (EFC) which is a project within the sexual health charity, Brook, who themselves work closely with the Family Planning Association to promote abortion, has produced a new report based on its own mystery shopping of some independent pregnancy counselling centres, mainly linked to LIFE and Care Confidential

Their findings have been reported by the Daily Telegraph, with calls to clamp down on independent counselling clinics and talk of scandalous misinformation being given out.

Crisis pregnancy counselling must always be professional and evidence-based. The use of bad science and research is wrong. Counselling clinics must provide women with unbiased information so that they can make fully informed decisions about their options.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at what the EFC report claims, and who is behind it.

The Daily Telegraph news report highlights cases of poor practice (a grand total of two!), and ignores all counselling or centres where there is very good independent advice and counselling offered ie. the overwhelming majority.

The EFC Report states several times that counselling centres should be transparent about their ethos, aims and motivation, which no one would take issue with.

We should therefore ask the same of centres such as the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) and Marie Stopes International (MSI) and other abortion clinics who offer their own counselling, while relying for their funding and thus operation from tax-payer funded abortion provision! It would be appropriate to have rather more transparency here too. It would also be interesting to see the sort of literature that is available on alternative options from these clinics and to see what women are really told, or not told (I return to this point later).

In fact, in past blogs (here and here) I have revealed how abortion providers – namely BPAS and MSI - are strongly driven by financial motivations and see success in increasing the number of abortions that they perform. They have a combined income of about £150 million per year, much of it from tax revenues (which is considerably more income than independent counselling clinics who offer a free service to women). They have business plan objectives and targets to increase the number of abortions that they perform. They also provide ‘counselling’ so it would be interesting to see what the Telegraph found if it ever ‘mystery shopped’ these clinics (perhaps the paper might consider this).

What is therefore not explained in the all the media coverage today is that women who are referred to BPAS or MSI for an NHS-funded abortion are denied access to any other source of independent counselling. These organisations depend on their income from providing and selling abortion and are not the appropriate place to provide pre-abortion counselling to vulnerable women who need support.

My second concern is that the EFC report attacks (very few) counselling centres for (some of) the medical claims they are making.  So the Report itself counters these with a few claims of its own:

·   Post abortion syndrome is a bogus medical disorder;
·   It is misleading to claim abortion may lead to depression or trauma;
·   There is no link with abortion and breast cancer;
·   There are no proven associations between induced abortion and subsequent pre-term birth;
·   And it criticises centres that suggest adoption is a loving or brave option to take.

All these points are highly contentious and disputable.

First, the evidence on a link between abortion and mental health, breast cancer and pre-term birth is widely documented.

There are well established mental health problems after abortion. The largest, most comprehensive and systematic review into the mental health outcomes of induced abortion, by the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges in 2011, found that abortion does not improve mental health outcomes for women with unplanned pregnancies and does not offer any greater protection from mental health problems. The Review also found that women who had mental health problems before abortion were at greater risk of mental health problems after abortion and that other factors are associated with increased rates of post-abortion mental health problems, such as a woman having a negative attitude towards abortions in general, being under pressure from her partner to have an abortion, or experiencing stressful life events.

Whilst the ‘jury remains out’ on the link between abortion and breast cancer the evidence certainly cannot be claimed to be non-existent as this new large meta-analysis shows. A total of 36 articles (two cohort studies and 34 case–control studies) covering 14 provinces in China were included in the review published just this month which concluded that induced abortion is significantly associated with an increased risk of breast cancer and that the risk of breast cancer increases as the number of abortions increases. Women at very least have a right to know that there is an ongoing debate.

There is a clear association between abortion and pre-term birth (see here too) which no serious authority now denies. In fact there are now 137 studies on the link including two well-designed meta-analyses from 2009. These show that after one abortion, risk for a future preterm birth before 37 weeks increases by 36 percent and risk for a future very preterm birth before 32 weeks increases by 64 percent. There are no meta-analyses that refute this association. The abortion-preterm birth link is settled science.

Second, informed consent for abortion should follow the principles accepted for any other treatment in the NHS. It is advised to inform the woman of any ‘material’ or ‘significant’ risks or unavoidable risks, even if small.

So if a woman is to be able to make an informed decision, she must be made aware of the medical opinion and research showing that abortion carries a possible breast cancer risk and an established preterm birth risk.

Third, a brief comment on the headline claim of the Telegraph, that abortion will make women child sex abusers. This was not actually stated or claimed by the woman being secretly filmed. 

Furthermore, this blog post here by one woman, Caroline Farrow, who has experienced the regret of an abortion and experienced a lack of any pre-abortion counselling or medical information from the abortion clinic she went to, comments directly on this headline claim, explaining exactly what was said, and why. Sometimes newspaper headlines distort and misrepresent the truth.

Fourth, helping women to consider the real alternatives of adoption and keeping the baby is simply enabling them to explore all options. There is currently only one baby adoption for every 2,235 abortions in Britain, a ratio seven times worse even than the US. With real choice and proper support for women this ratio could be vastly improved to the benefit of mothers, babies and childless couples.

Finally, every organisation that provides abortion counselling has an agenda of some sort or another, pro-life or pro-abortion. One cannot shut down organisations which are aiming to counsel women with crisis pregnancies simply because one or two are not providing what is deemed to be ‘acceptable’ medical interpretation, especially when that ‘evidence’ is disputed.

Taking this all from another perspective. Caroline Farrow puts it well when she concludes that:

The scandal is the attempt to deny that abortion can cause very real harm to women. The scandal is the attempt to close down debate on the harmful effects of abortion and deprive women of all the information they need.’

We need independent counselling clinics to be able to help women come to fully informed decisions about their next step and to know the risks, their options and their choices. Clinics must all provide women with accurate, unbiased, evidence-based information, away from the abortion clinic, with adequate unpressured time to make their decisions, which is what the majority of independent centres already freely offer.

It would be a tragedy if this kind of selective reporting by pro-abortion organisations were to prevent the good work that is being offered by the vast majority of independent centres.

This review was produced jointly with Philippa Taylor

Monday, 10 February 2014

Charles Simeon quizzes John Wesley on the tenets of Calvinism

I’ve just listened again today, during a long run on my day off after a fantastic CMF National Students' conference, to John Piper’s biography on Charles Simeon, ‘Brothers, We Must Not Mind a Little Suffering’ .

If you have not yet discovered Piper’s biographies then I heartily recommend them. They can all be downloaded free of charge from the Desiring God website and are great for car or train journeys, walks and runs. 

The following, extracted and adapted from Piper, is I hope a useful taster.

Charles Simeon (1759 – 1836) was an English evangelical clergyman who lived through the American Revolution, the French Revolution and not quite into the decade of the telegraph and the railroad.

Jonathan Edwards, the major figure of the Great Awakening in the US, died the year before Simeon was born but the Wesleys and Whitefield were still alive, and so the Methodist awakening was in full swing.

In his 54 years at Trinity Church, Cambrdige, Simeon became a powerful force for evangelicalism in the Church of England. His position at the university, with his constant influence on students preparing for the ministry, made him a great recruiter of young evangelicals for pulpits around the land. But not only around the land. He became the trusted advisor of the East India Company, and recommended most of the men who went out as chaplains, which is the way Anglicans could be missionaries to the East in those days.

Simeon had a great heart for missions. He was the spiritual father of the great Henry Martyn. He was the key spiritual influence in the founding of the Church Missionary Society, and was zealous in his labours for the British and Foreign Bible Society and the Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews. In fact, on his death bed he was dictating a message to be given to the Society about his deep humiliation that the church has not done more to gather in the Jewish people.

Probably most of all, Simeon exerted his influence through sustained Biblical preaching year after year. This was the central labour of his life. He lived to place into the hands of King William the Fourth in 1833 the completed 21 volumes of his collected sermons.

In this sermon Piper reports on a debate between Simeon and John Wesley on the subject of Calvinism.

Simeon did not want to be labelled a Calvinist or an Arminian. He wanted to be biblical through and through and give every text its due proportion, whether it sounded Arminian as it stands or Calvinistic. But he was known justifiably as an evangelical Calvinist and was uninhibited in his affirmation of what we would call ‘the doctrines of grace’.

However he had little sympathy for uncharitable Calvinists and did not let his passion for truth divide from others, believing that ‘kindness and concession are far better than vehement argumentation and uncharitable discussion’ (Horae Homileticae, Vol. 15, p. 357).

An example of how he lived out this counsel is seen in the way he conversed with the elderly John Wesley. He tells the story himself:

Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions. Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?

Yes, I do indeed.

And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?

Yes, solely through Christ.

But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?

No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.

Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?


What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother's arms?

Yes, altogether.

And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?

Yes, I have no hope but in Him.

Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree. (Moule, 79f)

Some matters on which Islam and Christianity are right (and atheism is wrong)

Both Christianity and Islam have been tremendously influential in world history. About one quarter of the world’s population at least nominally, would regard themselves as Christians. One in five would call themselves Muslims.

Yet for most of the last thirteen centuries the two religions have developed in parallel in separate parts of the world. Islam has mainly been centred in the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, Turkey, India and South East Asia (especially Indonesia and Malaysia). By contrast Christianity has been confined largely to Europe, North and South America, Africa and the former Soviet Union. And yet both have been, and still are, growing rapidly.

Now, perhaps for the first time in world history, Christians and Muslims can meet and exchange views in a way that they’ve never been able to before. This is especially possible in schools, university forums and on the internet where Muslim Christian dialogue is taking place on an unprecedented scale.

In many ways Muslims and Christians find themselves as co-belligerents in a common battle against the modern world. The West is now not Christian but rather post-Christian and post-modern. It’s characterised by an obsession with media technology (consumerism and entertainment), a radical relativism which asserts that we can all have our own private truth, an ego-centrism (which looks after number one) and a religious pluralism which asserts all religions are the same. This way of thinking has led to escapism and cynicism in society generally.

By contrast both Christianity and Islam find themselves running against this ideology. They share a concern for community, service and absolute truth: involvement rather than escapism, hope as opposed to cynicism. While postmodern society holds that man is simply a clever monkey, the product of matter, chance and time in a Godless universe, Muslims and Christians are together in asserting that man was made to enjoy a relationship with God.

There are obviously strong differences between the truth claims of Islam and Christianity – especially with regard to the person, words and work of Jesus Christ – but it’s also useful to map out our common ground. Here there are seven common strands clearly evident.

First, Islam and Christianity share a common ethical code, one which underlies respect for marriage, a belief in the sanctity of life, and a respect for property. The Ten Commandments of the Old Testament are very similar to Islamic ethics and as Christian doctors we find ourselves agreeing with Muslims on many ethical issues. For example members of the Christian Medical Fellowship work together with members of the Islamic Medical Association within Care Not Killing, which campaigns against the legalisation of euthanasia.

Second, Christianity and Islam share a common geography and history. The two religions date back to the Middle East and in particular come together in the person of Abraham and his two sons, Ishmael and Isaac.

Third, we share a belief in one God. This may seem a surprise to Muslim readers, but both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible assert God’s oneness. ‘The Lord is one’ says Deuteronomy 6:4. ‘There is One God…’ says 1 Timothy 2:5.

Fourth, we share a belief in prophets – men throughout history chosen as God’s mouthpiece who spoke God’s Word. Many of these prophets are shared in both religious traditions. For example: Moses who brought us the Torah (Taurat), David who brought us the Psalms (Zabur), and of course Jesus who preached the Gospel (Injil). There are several other biblical prophets who are also mentioned in the Qur’an.

Fifth, we share a belief in angels: heavenly beings who are used as God’s messengers throughout history. Gabriel in particular plays a prominent place in both religions. Muslims believe that Muhammad was visited by Gabriel and of course Christians believe that Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce the birth of Jesus Christ.

Sixth, we share a belief in Scriptural authority. We accept that God’s revelations throughout history have been recorded in books, and while we may disagree about the degree of divine inspiration of the various books in our religious traditions, we nonetheless both share a profound respect of the authority of ‘Scripture’.

Seventh and finally, we share a belief in the day of judgment. Both, Christians and Muslims, hold that on this day God will divide everyone who has lived on our planet into two groups; one group consigned to heaven (paradise) and the other group consigned to hell. While we differ on the criteria by which that judgment will be made, we nevertheless concur on the fact that there are only two possible destinations for human beings after death.

As a basis for dialogue aimed at establishing the truth, it is worthwhile first to acknowledge these convictions that are held in common by Christians and Muslims and are not shared by atheists - matters on which Islam and Christianity are right and atheism is wrong.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Where I take issue with some Catholic teaching about Mary

There is no doubt that Mary, the mother of Jesus, plays an important role in salvation history. Like John the Baptist, her coming is prophesied in the Old Testament (Isaiah 7:14; Micah 5:23). She is personally visited by the angel Gabriel at the time of Christ’s conception and is told that she is highly favoured by God (Luke 1:28).

She prophesies about Christ while he is still in the womb (Luke 1:46-55), and is given the responsibility by God of being the earthly mother of the Lord. It is no wonder that Elizabeth, is inspired by God's Spirit, to say of Mary ‘Blessed are you among women’! (Luke 1:42)

These are all biblical truths to be treasured and affirmed. However, some Catholic traditions have added to these facts, other statements which the Bible does not affirm. These add to Scripture, contradict other biblical teachings and both elevate Mary and subjugate Christ. Specifically:

1. Mary was born without sin

‘the mother of God entirely holy and free from all stain of sin' (Lumen Gentium 56); ' the Immaculate Virgin, preserved free from all guilt of original sin' (LG 59) 

The Bible nowhere states this. This contradicts the plain teaching of Scripture that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Proverbs 20:9; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:10-12, 23). It means also that Christ was not the ‘second Adam’ (Romans 5:12-19), but rather Mary was. It also implies that Christ’s death and resurrection were not necessary for Mary’s salvation (Romans 5:8). The doctrine is a mistaken deduction from the truth that Jesus was born without sin. In fact, Jesus’ sinlessness was not jeopardised by being the son of a sinner.

2. Mary remained a virgin

' the Mother of God, ever virgin' (LG 69)

The Bible does not say this. It rather implies that Joseph had sexual relations with Mary after Jesus’ birth (Matthew 1:25). This is consistent with the fact that Jesus had siblings (Mark 6:3, 12:46,47), and that there is no suggestion of Joseph being polygamous.

3. Mary is the mother of the church

We believe that the Holy Mother of God, the new Eve, Mother of the Church, continues in heaven to exercise her maternal role on behalf of the members of Christ' (New Universal Catechism 975

Mary is nowhere given this title in Scripture, and it places Mary on a par with God himself, the only one Christians may address as ‘father’ (Matthew 23:9). This is an unwarranted deduction from Jesus’ instructions to John at the time of the crucifixion (John 19:26,27). He makes it clear elsewhere that the term mother (as opposed to Mother of the Church) can justifiably be applied to other women disciples who do his will (Matthew 12:48-50).

4. We should pray to Mary

 the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix’ (New Universal Catechism 969); 'the Blessed Virgin has been honored with the title of ‘Mother of God,’ to whose protection the faithful fly in all their dangers and needs' (NUC 971)

Scripture tells us only to pray to God the Father (Matthew 6:9). Communication with the dead is elsewhere forbidden (Deuteronomy 18:11; Isaiah 8:19). Christ is the only mediator between God and man. The Hail Mary in which Mary is enjoined to ‘pray for us sinners’ presupposes that we ourselves cannot have the confidence to enter ‘the Most Holy Place’ by the blood of Jesus alone. This is simply not true (Hebrews 10:19-22).

5. The assumption of Mary

‘the Immaculate Virgin...  on the completion of her earthly sojourn, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory and exalted by the Lord as Queen of the universe’ (LG 59)

Again, there is no biblical record of this event occurring. The ‘assumptions’ of Enoch, Elijah and Moses are mentioned (Deuteronomy 34:6; Jude 9; 2Kings 2:11; Genesis 5:24) but not that of Mary.

These and other more fanciful claims such as the pre-existence and immaculate conception of Mary herself (ie Mary was also conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit), can mean that in practical terms she ends up occupying a place equal if not higher than that of Christ himself. In some Catholic traditions she even becomes the Wisdom of the early chapters of Proverbs and the Woman of Revelation 12.

Christ makes it clear that it is those who do the will of God who are truly blessed (Luke 11:27-28) and while Mary is without doubt included in this number, she is by no means unique in this regard. I am sure she would agree with me. 

Friday, 7 February 2014

Belgian Parliament on verge of fully legalising child euthanasia with final vote on 13 February

I have previously documented Belgium’s meteoric rise to become the euthanasia capital of Europe and its concomitant grisly descent down the slippery slope.

Now the country is moving to allow euthanasia for sick children.

The measure has already passed by 50 votes to 17 in Belgium’s upper house and only needs a vote in the lower house to pass fully into law.

The Belgian government announced yesterday that the debate on the child euthanasia bill, in the Chamber of Deputies, will occur on 12 February.

According to the Belgian media the vote will likely happen the next day, but possibly on the same day of the debate.

The bill is being fast tracked likely because a strong opposition to it is developing. 

A few weeks ago, a large protest was held in Brussels opposing the extension of euthanasia to children.

An English petition against the move has already gained over 56,000 signatures and other language versions of the petition are accessible on the home page of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition Europe website (Please add your signature).

Last week 38 Belgian paediatricians denounced the child euthanasia bill. The paediatricians stated that extending euthanasia to children was not necessary because:

1. Even the most complex medical cases can be solved in the current legal framework, with the means and expertise at our disposal. For whom is this legislation therefore designed?

2. Children in Belgium are not suffering. The palliative care teams for children are perfectly capable of achieving pain relief, both in hospital and at home.

3. A sensitive child may perceive the option of euthanasia as a solution or a duty, especially if the child feels that the parents can no longer bear to see him suffer.

4. In practice, there is no objective method for determining whether a child is gifted with the ability of discernment and judgment. So this is actually largely subjective and subject to other influences.

The paediatricians concluded: 

We believe that there is no urgency to pass this bill in the current legislature.

In a key demonstration of cross-continent opposition, parliamentarians from across Europe have now laid down a motion at the Council of Europe – best known for its focus on human rights – also denouncing this latest of alarming developments in the country’s law.

Written declaration no. 567, is entitled ‘Legalisation of euthanasia for children in Belgium’.

The Declaration states that extending euthanasia to children:

1. Betrays some of the most vulnerable children in Belgium by accepting that their lives may no longer have any inherent value or worth and that they should die

2. Mistakenly assumes that children are able give appropriate informed consent to euthanasia and that they can understand the grave meaning and complex consequences associated with such a decision

3. Promotes the unacceptable belief that a life can be unworthy of life which challenges the very basis of civilised society.

36 British MPs and Peers are members of the parliamentary assembly (18 principals and 18 substitutes – is your MP among them?) and thankfully seven have already signed the declaration. 

They are:

·         James CLAPPISON MP (C, Hertsmere)
·         David DAVIES MP (C, Monmouth)
·         Sir Edward LEIGH MP (C, Gainsborough)
·         Jeffrey DONALDSON MP (DUP, Lagan Valley)
·         Joe BENTON MP (L, Bootle)
·         David CRAUSBY MP (L, Bolton North East)
·         Sir Alan MEALE MP (L, Mansfield)

Care Not Killing, for which I act as Campaign Director, has covered this issue in context a number of times (see here, here, here and here)  and fully endorses the parliamentarians’ view that the move ‘betrays some of the most vulnerable children in Belgium by accepting that their lives may no longer have any inherent value or worth and that they should die... [and] promotes the unacceptable belief that a life can be unworthy of life which challenges the very basis of civilised society.

It is widely acknowledged that euthanasia is out of control in Belgium: a 500% increase in cases in ten years; one third involuntary; half not reported; euthanasia for blindness, anorexia and botched sex change operations; organ transplant euthanasia; plans to extend euthanasia to children and people with dementia. 

One commentator has said that Belgium has 'leaped head-first off a moral cliff'.

Belgium's law, which came into effect in 2002, permits euthanasia for those in a ‘medically hopeless’ situation due to a serious and incurable condition caused by injury or illness, with physical and/or psychological suffering which is constant and unbearable, and cannot be mitigated.

But it is clear that in practice the boundaries are continually migrating and the nation's moral conscience is shifting year on year. Call it incremental extension, mission creep or slippery slope - whatever - it is strongly in evidence in Belgium.

With the Falconer and MacDonald bills currently before the House of Lords and Scottish Parliament respectively Britain needs to take sober warning from events across the English Channel.

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