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Archive for May, 2014

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Ever-mindful of the ninth commandment along with the precept of spreading light not heat, I’ve been giving some serious thought and prayer as to whether or not to write more about the Drewitt-Barlow couple, since discovering some rather unsavoury facts about them and being urged to go public by various friends.

What concerned me about the abuse that they threw my way the other night, is that despite having had no contact with them for two years the accusations that Barrie flung at me had a somewhat familiar ring, almost as if someone was feeding him via DM – in particular I found it fascinating that he decided to begin tweeting Joe Kelly, the editor at the Universe in an attempt to get me sacked.

Why would this former self-identifying ‘practicing Church of England member’, Essex celebrity and LGBT activist within the space of a few minutes know exactly whom to contact? It very much tallies in with a pattern of behaviour experienced by another gay man who has frantically contacted any organisation with whom I might be connected, urging them to drop me. Barrie Drewitt-Barlow boasts that he is a member of the ‘mafia’, a promotional poster for his new series uses that as the strapline and the Facebook page for their new series, The Parent Makers, contains the following boast:

“Certain things can only happen, when the right people are involved. When Barrie speaks, people in the IVF world listen, if they don’t hes been known to half their business with just a few cutting comments” Julia & Harry, Ipswich, Intended Parents, with twins on the way!

“Its not WHAT you know, its WHO you know, THE PARENT MAKERS really are like a Mafia! 

 

One of the reasons I have wondered whether or not to exercise prudence is because Barrie Drewitt-Barlow seems to have a volatile temper, judging by the way he liberally scatters horrific abuse on Twitter, needing only a hair-trigger to set him off, and also by his petulant displays of temper, showcased on his TV show. Back in 2006, Drewitt-Barlow was fined £90, which his partner described as a ‘slap on the wrist’ for making death threats towards parents who  believed they had been defrauded by a private school they had set up in Spain. Just at the beginning of this month, he emailed someone who admittedly used some inflammatory and provocative language, emphasising his rich privileged lifestyle and boasting that ‘my vast wealth and contacts will crush anyone’. Having used my photograph to allege that I am a racist and another man’s photo to allege that he is a pedophile, Drewitt-Barlow laughs that he has the money to afford a legal battle. Clearly, this man feels as though he is immune from and above the law.

It’s not difficult to come to the conclusion that Barrie-Drewitt Barlow displays several narcissistic tendencies along with several chips on his shoulder, a look through his twitter feed shows a pattern of self-promotion, boasts and abuse, the key themes being attacking anyone whom he believes is inferior by virtue of their looks, breeding or social class. For someone concerned with helping people to become parents through surrogacy, he displays a disturbing eugenic mindset, even going so far as to attack a photograph of a young toddler as being ‘gross’ and destined for a career working in McDonalds.

One could easily laugh off this vain, self-indulgent man with delusions of grandeur were it not for the fact that there are 5 young children involved and that he represents the face of gay parenting in the UK.

This review written about a previous series, My Weird and Wonderful Family, makes the point that there is no law about ‘f-ing your kids up’, Larkin-style, notes that Barrie loves his kids, but highlights his focus upon physical appearance.

When asked how they chose their donors, Barry said: ‘We originally went for a combination of looks and intelligence’, before looking pointedly at his slightly chubby daughter and adding, ‘but this time we’ll go for looks alone’

One has to wonder how healthy an environment this is for a young teenage girl growing up without a mother and four male siblings, or indeed for any of his children. Viewed in this context, along with his social media output, Barrie’s yelling at his son for not being a ‘gorgeous, designer child’ seems less and less amusing.

In this interview with Joanna Moorhead in the Guardian, Tony states how important it is that their children are themselves, that they shouldn’t have to live a lie, being themselves is the most important thing of all.

An admirable sentiment, but one has to wonder how this is commensurate with their withholding the information regarding their genetic parentage from their children. Stating that “I’ve got Daddy’s nose and Dad’s eyes” is surely a blatant piece of self-deception. Furthermore Orlando’s defensive response to his father’s taunting, “I AM designer and I AM gorgeous’ but defiantly rejecting any concern about his curly hair, confirms that  has been conditioned that his  sense of worth is based around the superficial.

Every single parent attempts to model their child into their version or interpretation of a responsible human being, if I were foolhardy enough to allow the cameras into my home, there would be many mutterings about religious indoctrination from the liberal cognoscenti, and the perceived imposition of religious views upon our children. If I was filmed impatiently telling my child that they ought to be more prayerful or respectful when they careered around the bedroom during bedtime prayers, that this is a time to be silent and talk to God, there would be an outcry from various quarters and allegations of emotional abuse.

“At the school Christmas party, he stole the part of the Fairy Godmother from one of the kids, and felt up the headmaster. Barrie is a gaudy monster plucked from the dark recesses of a Tennessee Williams play, as acted by Lily Savage or Bette Davis.”

In my previous post I mused over the control that would-be parents exercise over a woman’s body, Barrie has confirmed this by insisting that his children are born by cesarian section which carries more risks for the mother than a natural delivery, because ‘childbirth is like something out of Freddy Kreuger.’ Furthermore the mothers have little to no contact with their children (I have seen her yes, said Aspen in a dull monotone , not wishing to elaborate further, on TV this week)- potentially leaving their daughter to navigate the minefield of female puberty and menstrual cycles with no close female relative and a dad who believes that the whole business pertaining to natural female reproduction is all rather ghastly. One wonders what his son who was naturally conceived before Barrie realised he was gay,  and kept a secret from him for some years, makes of it all – does he feel a keen sense of genetic inferiority?

As I said, I am aware that there are 5 vulnerable children involved here, so I don’t want to say too much about my perceptions of the situation, however by constantly hauling their children around TV studios and inviting the TV cameras into their homes, whether that be for a style make-over programme of their daughter’s bedroom, or for several reality series, the Drewitt-Barlows are inviting people to form an opinion. The children are being turned into celebrities, given a label that will follow them their whole life and having their privacy invaded  without being able to give their informed consent. Barrie openly discusses their daughter’s sexuality and muses over which child of theirs is most likely to be gay, concluding that it will probably be their two year old son, the  public projection of a niche adult sexuality onto a small infant being of questionable taste.

One has to ask how fair this is upon the children themselves: most established celebrities have agreements with the press to pixellate out their children’s faces and do their best to bring them up out of the glare of the spotlight. One might have thought that this was the most sensible option for a couple who are keen to trailblaze for the cause of gay parenting. especially when you have gone on record to state that you fear your children are at risk from kidnap and media intrusion. One might also question the wisdom of disclosing that your children attended the same school as another potential kidnap target, Brooklyn Beckham, who was also their friend.

Indeed a brief google of this couple, reveals an embarrassment of material from which to choose, from placing photographs of their children on gay dating websites (post civil partnership), being banned from running any company directorships in the UK, allegations of fraud, their children’s Christening (although Barrie now denounces the Church of England for its homophobia) and alleged dodgy dealings, (including Barrie’s leading a sex education class in which he asked the children to think about gay Nazis) leaving behind a string of defrauded and outraged parents in Spain.

On Barrie’s facebook page he talks about the haters and protestors who he has been warned will attend his marriage blessing to Tony, leading him to up security and eliciting expressions of sympathy with them against the hateful bigots.

Alan Craig, an evangelical Christian and grass-roots campaigner, describes the situation somewhat differently, explaining how their PR agent had emailed him with the following blurb. “We… actively invite protesters to turn up and be interviewed” “Clearly the event was to be an exercise in spin, hype and mirrors.”, he noted, although he still took the opportunity to turn up and peacefully propose his point of view.

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This couple are never quick to allege homophobia and how difficult it is to be gay, Barrie quoted it as justification for his abusive Twitter rant, they have cited it for the reason why they moved their children to a private school (although one notes that the flexi-boarding facilities must come in handy in terms of their frequent trips to the States and Australia promoting the surrogacy business), and put in a complaint to the border agency about their homophobic treatment, when agency officials, puzzled by the documentation, questioned the feasibility of both of the men being biological fathers to all of the children.

A few months ago, they called the police after an elderly man in the Maldon branch of Tescos called them ‘a couple of queer boys’. The insult is not to be applauded, but one might have thought that this pair who proudly talk of their background growing up on “Manchester’s roughest council estate” had grown a thicker skin?Screenshot 2014-05-29 12.34.16

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But it’s okay to falsely name and shame others as being pedophiles and racists?

On the one hand Barrie constantly talks about homophobia and having to fight for the right to drink in gay bars, how life is impossible for them as gay dads (not the best advert for gay couples considering becoming parents), yet on the other, he describes his early life as follows: “As a teenager, Barrie was outrageous, growing up through the 80’s in the city centre of Manchester , Barrie was able to express himself in the way he wanted too. Being gay was never an issue for him and he was, as they say, loud and proud!” In this clip (in which incidentally they joke with their children about who is the most loved parent and who they would live with in the case of divorce) Barrie says that he was able to express his sexuality from the age of 13.

The reason I am devoting time to this issue is because the Drewitt-Barlows are being held up by the mainstream media and press as exemplary gay parents and talk about leading the way in terms of changing public attitudes to gay parenting. A 2010 survey in the now defunct Pink Paper, discusses how they have changed attitudes. They have over 137,000 Twitter followers, their own TV series and get sympathetic plugs in the Independent and Daily Mail about ‘ethical surrogacy’. Just the other day, standing in for Lorraine Kelly, Kate Garroway gushed over them and stated how great it was that attitudes towards same-sex parenting and surrogacy have changed, and various LGBT activists fawn over them and encourage their vital work. “Beware the surrogacy cowboys” shout the headlines!

Rivka Edelman from English Manif pour Tous puts her own take on who might be being misled here. Surrogacy advocates baulk at the notion that this is all about designer babies, accessories, babies for sale or children as commodities, but when Barrie comes out with quotes such as “you get what you pay for” such as he did when speaking to Julie Bindel, it doesn’t incline one to sympathy.

Both on his Twitter feed and in this clip, Barrie talks about how this is only a process for the rich – partly because they use California, one of the few places in the world where commercial surrogacy is legal, although they continue to lobby for it in the UK. They are happy to pay thousands to genetically select the sex of their next baby, already having the name picked out, and advise clients who are looking to select particular physical attributes for their child. It’s hard to think of children as being anything other than a rich couples’ accessory, when clients stride in demanding a checklist.

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Equality for all?

Barrie claims to be a ‘clinical social worker’, a highly specialised role which requires a specific set of qualifications and experience. It is concerning that someone with an alleged professed interest in child welfare, is happy to behave in such an abusive fashion to other people. Throwing violent temper tantrums, smashing up cakes, throwing things at his partner and storming out of a restaurant when he hasn’t got his own way, doesn’t demonstrate that he is able to exercise self-control nor does it model good behaviour for his children. Nor is verbally abusing an employee, by getting close up in their face and swearing at them, the behaviour one would like to experience from one’s boss. It’s not really surprising that his PA called for me to be urinated upon – which Barrie then endorsed.

Given that the Drewitt-Barlows were refused permission to adopt and state a sketchy knowledge of the process, (here on the Lorraine show they say that an adoption panel is made up of a vicar, a policeman and a housewife who are typically prejudiced) and Barrie has been accused of lying about his qualifications as a nurse, what grounds does he use to justify the title of ‘clinical social worker’?

In the case of the Drewitt Barlow’s application to adopt, they claim that the panel recommended that they spent some time helping out with children with special needs as they did not have experience with children, before being approved to adopt. Barrie and Tony then went on a cruise around the Med to think about it, whereupon the idea of surrogacy popped into place. They felt that the panel were treating them as ‘second class citizens’ only fit to look after ‘third class citizens’ instead of a healthy child. My understanding of adoption panels is that their decisions are not binding and they come to their conclusions based upon the reports and suggestions of social workers. Furthermore they are not random individuals but have specific experience and knowledge in this area. The Drewitt-Barlows were not refused permission to adopt, but asked to get more experience, which seems reasonable.

When I first became aware of them, living in the next-door village, my reaction was not one of homophobia, but the image jarred. Two men, looking after babies? How would they know what to do? What if they dropped the baby? Shouldn’t there be a mother.  My own experience of motherhood has taught me that men are of course more than capable of looking after babies, but that mother and baby enjoy a unique and special bond. The image of two men and a baby may no longer be so disconcerting (at the time we were influenced by media films, such as Jack and Sarah, Three men and a baby which portrayed men and childcare in a pretty sexist fashion) but it isn’t unreasonable or homophobic to want some evidence of experience in childcare for two men seeking to take sole custody of a child.

Surely a social worker would know this? What kind of ‘social work’ does Barrie do? From what’s been offered to the public it seems to be little more than running a CRB and credit check as well as briefing people on what to expect on their ‘journey’.

Despite the accusations of bigotry, I am not opposed to gay couples being approved as foster carers or adopters, so long as they are able to pass the relevant checks and vetting. Any couple who wishes to put themselves through the sacrifice involved in adopting a child who will, in all likelihood have some issues or problems, should be applauded for their altruism and commitment. Ideally a child ought to have a loving mum and dad, we know that life doesn’t always work out that way for them, but rather than this being framed around the issue of ‘gay rights’ children’s rights always ought to be put first. If a gay couple can provide a loving, stable home for a child and can be matched with a suitable child (and being in a same sex home doesn’t conflict with a child’s culture) and the alternative is languishing in a care home, then we should not be blinded by ideology. That said, the Catholic care homes should not have been forced to close. Their criteria that children should always have the complementarity of both sexes parenting is entirely reasonable.

We know that there are gay parents out there doing a worthy and admirable job. Any sensible and reasonable advocates of same-sex parenting ought to kick this pair into touch as the face of gay parents in the media.

They scream at accusations of exploitation and yet their very language when referring to a potential donor, “we won’t use her again”, betrays this notion. Barrie endorses abortion and others’ rights over a woman’s body stating that prospective parents have a right to abort, recommending clauses are inserted into the legal documentation compelling the gestational mother to abort should the baby be diagnosed as having a disability.

When Barrie is filmed fantasising about being massaged by a pair of male masseurs, moaning in delight, spending several nights going out wining and dining, getting drunk with z-list celebs, writhing round with pole-dancers and talking about kissing other men, it plays into every single negative stereotype about gay men and relationships and whether this really is a situation which should be encouraged. I wonder what would happen to low-income heterosexual couple who were found to have posted photographs of their children on swingers’ websites, one of whom appeared to manifest an anger-management problem?

Still perhaps I should not be protesting so much, this TV series showing the process  and mindsets of the men who wish to promote surrogacy and gay equality could prove every to be social conservative’s dream.

One might imagine that I am a seasoned veteran when it comes to invective and yet there was something about the abuse that Barrie threw at me which really unsettled my peace of mind. I was not alone, others wrote to me expressing similar spiritual disquiet and offering prayer. Most significant was an email from a gay man who had always been loosely supportive of surrogacy but said that having witnessed this behaviour, it had really hammered home the true nature of the business. Like me, he was so disturbed by what he had witnessed, that he had trouble sleeping. Others on my Facebook have urged that the various media reports ought to be assembled and disseminated.

I await the threats and lawsuits.

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A few years ago, I critiqued Tony and Barrie Drewitt-Barlow, the ‘gay dads’ who have set up a surrogacy business, after being spammed  by them on Twitter for suggesting that surrogacy exploited women. The post received some interesting comments after the Drewitt-Barlows put it out there on Twitter, said I was a mad Catholic woman in need of their help and requested that people leave their views.

Their new TV show aired last night and so they appear to be trolling Twitter, appearing to generate controversy and publicity to raise their viewing figures. One of the criticisms of surrogacy is that it reduces children to commodities, but of course parents would never treat their children like consumer goods , let alone ridicule and humiliate them for their genetic inheritance and the way in which they were brought into the world.

When Barrie shouted this at his son, it was clearly a joke:

“I paid for a gorgeous designer child with straight hair, not some reject from an 80s pop band with curly frizz.’’

The clip of the series in which Barrie can be seen shouting this at his son, can be seen here. (Not suitable for children, contains strong language). It gives an insight into his character as well as some of the heartbreak faced by infertile couples and pretty much encapsulates every single objection to this clinical and commercial procuring of children.

I don’t want to give them publicity for their new show and I am aware that by writing about this, I am giving them exactly what they want, but these men, together with a friend who seems to be wishing to kick start a career as a celebrity, have tonight called for me to be crucified, suggested that I am urinated upon, said that I am a pervert, a racist and a homophobe, in an unsolicited and unprovoked attack.

Writing for the Conservative Woman website, Laura Keynes proposes similar arguments and critiques of surrogacy highlighting the familiar silence and dissonance of mainstream feminism on what, like gendercide, should be a pressing issue for all who profess female solidarity.

For those who can bear it, I’ve created a storify of the Drewitt-Barlow’s libellous accusations here. I hate writing these kinds of blogs, but a few people have said that I need to find a way of documenting exactly what is going on here.

I stand by the tweet made back in November 2013, which the Drewitt-Barlows dug up tonight to justify their attack. This ‘dating site’ for egg donors really is a tawdry look into the women-for-hire nature of these men’s surrogacy business. Their company website is equally chilling. It strongly suggests surrogacy in America, California in particular, where the Drewitt-Barlows made legal history in that they were able to get a court order naming them both as parents on their child’s birth certificate. They advise on how to file an Pre-Birth order, which removes any rights or hold over the gestational mother may have over the child, so that the minute the child is born “specialist arrangements can be put in place to ensure the transition goes as smoothly as possible”. In the case of the birth certificate for same-sex parents, the court issues a pre-birth judgement specifying that on the birth certificate, one name is put in the box for father, the other in the box for mother,  in a piece of mind-bending legal fiction. The ‘intended parents’ therefore have rights over the woman’s body in that her child is yet to be born. ‘Intended parents’ are advised to  file for and obtain this judgement once the woman has reached 20 weeks in her pregnancy, in order to ensure that she is not able to exercise any rights over her child or her name be automatically placed on the birth certificate, should he or she be born prematurely.

It’s all about getting the baby away from their gestational mother before she has any chance to change her mind. One also has to ask whether or not as legal ‘intended parents’ a couple may impose their wish of birth plan onto a woman? Who gets the final say when there are tough decisions to be made which could perhaps compromise the baby. Is she restricted in her choice of pain relief and disbarred from commonly used opiates such as pethidine, which cross the placenta and can make the newborn drowsy?

Barrie Drewitt-Barlow, is I gather, responsible for the @gaydads Twitter account, which has been issuing misogynistic, abusive and libellous tweets. The force of his unsolicited and unprovoked aggression, has knocked me for six, it’s bizarre that two men who are millionaires,  have a flourishing business,  five children, their own TV show and over 137,000 followers on Twitter want to squash a minor Catholic commentator in this way even writing to the Universe to suggest that I am dropped for being ‘evil’ and ‘homophobic’. Just to jog a few memories, this was the couple who threatened to sue the Church of England if they were not allowed to conduct a ‘gay wedding’.

According to the British Surrogacy Centre, Barrie is their lead ‘social worker’, having worked in clinical social work for over 10 years. A regular on day time TV shows such as This Morning and Lorraine, he is asked to take part in many TV debates regarding surrogacy and areas on same sex parenting.  Barrie has been a regular contributer to many top magazine and newspapers for many years now and has recently written his first book as a guide to Surrogacy.  As a social worker, Barrie’s aim at all times is the welfare of any children born through surrogacy and has at any one time up to 5 student social workers under him from Universities across the UK.”

And this ‘social worker’ is abusing a mum of four for her defective genes, supposed evilness, being a ‘troll’, a ‘bully’, a racist, a homophobe and getting his followers to hate on her and tweeting her editor to get her dropped from her weekly column all because she dares to publicly disagree with the nature of their business? He’s appearing on daytime television as an equality champion, social worker and expert in children’s welfare, but is quite happy to call for the crucifixion of a pervert evil mother, with his mate asking for her to be urinated on, a sentiment which he happily endorsed by re-tweeting to all his thousands of followers?

I’d love to know what a social worker would have to say to me if I were to even allude to a negative aspect of my daughter’s physical appearance on television.(She is totally perfect as she is and I wouldn’t dream of humiliating her in this way, she’s enough of a sensitive sausage as it is). I think we’d all know what would happen, they’d be whisked away from me quicker than you could say bigot. I’m more than a little bit scared, having been warned off saying anything about this couple, for my own personal welfare – a few have reminded me that we are dealing with very wealthy and very influential people here.

Orwell and Huxley are in my blood, I remember my dad discussing, Brave New World, Animal Farm and 1984 with me from an absurdly young age. I was brought up to believe that free speech and free expression are sacrosanct, that the press must be liberated from state-control and that everyone should have the right to speak their mind, no matter how unpopular their views. One of the difficulties that my father has with my Catholicism (him being a staunch Anglican) is that thanks to his influence I have always been a fierce individualist, always resisting the pressure of group-think. The same is still true, I became convinced of the truth of Catholicism, on the strength of the evidence and after some critical thinking and against some pretty fierce opposition. Again and again my dad emphasised that it does not matter what other people think of you, all that counts is being true to yourself and able to account for your own views. Mind you, my dad is probably every bit as foolhardy as I, on a family weekend to Canterbury back in 1983, as my sister and I were making a bee-line for Morelli’s the famous ice-cream parlour, a group of activists were standing outside forming an impromptu conga-line with some hastily scrawled placards and shouting “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, Out, Out, Out!” What did my dad do? Returned each chant with “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, In, In, In!”, while my mum looked on in fear in and dread, hissing “Stop it Ken, you’re going to get your teeth knocked down your throat”! I’m still rather proud of him for that, truth be told – though translated into the digital world, it would definitely constitute a definition of ‘trolling’.

I was brought up to believe that we lived in a truly free liberal and democratic society, as a child at the height of the Cold War, I really valued the freedoms that I believed that we had. Disillusionment is proving to be an increasingly difficult pill to swallow. What kind of a world are we living in when I’m scared for what might happen to my family and children as a result of being forthright about my views on the internet?

I guess I still haven’t fully internalised Matthew 10: 16-42. Tough times ahead.

 

 

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The appalling tragedy of Elliot Rodger, the troubled young man who went on a shooting spree claiming the lives of seven random young people near the University of California is already being claimed by the vocal media feminists who want to claim that it’s further proof of the patriarchy, which wishes to reppress, harm,  sexually violate and subjugate women. This is why women must be allowed to do whatever they like without consequence because as the dreadful case of this young man demonstrates, all men secretly hate women and want to take out their anger on them. The patriarchy must be fought because this one young man apparently hated all women and wanted to exact his revenge on them.

The reason for this rationale is that prior to carrying out this act of senseless slaughter, Elliot Rodger had apparently uploaded a video to YouTube in which he talked of his anger and frustration about still being a virgin at the age of 22, no girl had ever even kissed him and every single girl he was attracted to spurned his advances.

With the victims and killer barely cold, it’s rather distasteful to be claiming their deaths to advance any type of ideology, but it’s probably worth putting out a few thoughts to counter the feminist narrative that will permeate the papers and bandwidths over the next few days.

Elliot Rodger’s behaviour was clearly that of a psychotic and mentally disturbed individual. It certainly isn’t proof that all men hate women and wish to sexually dominate them. One of his statements alluded to the fact that he wanted to harm specifically blonde women, whom he referred to using an especially derogatory term. Is that indicative that blonde women have a harder time than other women? Do we need to combat blonde prejudice – look at the jokes pertaining to blonde women as being intellectually inferior! If I was attempting to claim this act as proof that something needs to be done about attitudes to blonde women, I would rightly be laughed off the planet. The guy had issues and according some press reports, high-functioning Asperger’s syndrome meaning that he had difficulty forming relationships.

If there is anything to be claimed from what has happened, it’s the issue of mental illness and young people, in particular diagnosing potential problems and intervening earlier. I’d also venture that the USA seem to have something of a problem in terms of gun controls. Why on earth did this young man who was known to the police department have access to lethal weapons capable of causing mass devastation?

Watching Elliot’s video is a surreal and rather chilling experience. This man was so detached from reality, the phrase ‘dead behind the eyes’ comes to mind. His face is soulless and expressionless, perhaps a symptom of his Asperger’s but he looked more like he was delivering a carefully rehearsed acting performance, albeit one that was wooden, cliched and hammy. You’d expect to see this sort of vignette in teen comedy horror film, not real life.

To blame the patriarchy is a glib response, one which misses the point. Elliot Rodgers’ sense of horror that he was a freak for still being a virgin at the age of 22, is one that is echoed by the press reports. Can you blame him, growing up in a culture that is preoccupied with priming young people for a life of sexual activity at an ever earlier age, not only via the usual media channels of  films, magazines, advertising, pop music but also by a sex education system which wants to tell 12 and 13 year olds that sex is a safe, fun enjoyable activity that should be entered into as soon as you feel ready.

In my parents’ day, 50 years ago, being a virgin at the age of 22 was perfectly respectable and nothing to be ashamed of, neither was virginity at any age. Why should people be thought of weird, stigmatised and seen as missing out on something, simply because of their choice not to get physically intimate with others? Sexual contact is not the be all and end all of relationships. Relationships are no less fulfilling on account of lacking a sexual element.

Rodgers’ attitude to sex seemed to be that it was his right, that he was missing out, that he should been able to experience lots of sex with attractive women, in the same way that he could go to bar and try out the different liquors on offer. His resentment stemmed from the fact that all of his peers were having sex, he seemed to have the message that everybody should be enjoying sex, it was his right or entitlement and that girls were having sexual relationships with lots of other people, but not with him. The root of his problem is that he could see girls all around him having sex, only not with him, despite his best efforts to behave like a gentleman. His drawing depicting the sexual revolution and what he wanted to do to enact his own revolution is not only chilling in that it lays bare his distorted vision, but like all self- deception intermingled is an element of truth. The effects of the sexual revolution don’t seem to have done much for either sex.

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To attribute what happened in California to a hatred or loathing of women dangerously misses the point.  Far more pertinent is the sexualisation of society leading to the idea of a right to sex, objectification of the other by both sexes and that conceit that young people should be at it night and day with each other like rabbits.

If we concede that sex is some kind of right or entitlement, (which certain UK health authorities do by permitting allowances to be spent on services provided by sex workers) then it could lead to severe repercussions by those who are mentally ill and face rejection. Sexually motivated crimes will always occur but society needs to be careful not to validate the sentiments of Elliot Rodger. His victims deserve better than having his crimes written off to being as a result of hatred of women. Had he been getting the sex he craved no-one would have had a problem with his attitude. The problem isn’t patriarchy, it’s seeing sex as a recreational activity which everyone has the right to access. Combined with psychosis and access to handguns, it was a tragedy waiting to happen.

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Confused identities

Possibly as a result of John Smeaton’s blog, Archbishop Peter Smith has clarified what I was intimating yesterday, namely that his statement was a specific response to the government in which he was making no wider comment about the morality or advisability of civil partnerships.

Ben Trovato makes an interesting and challenging point in terms of ‘gay identity’ but I would agree with Lazarus’ comment; the term ‘gay and lesbian’ is not necessarily a loaded one implying lifestyle or entire identity, I formerly understood it solely in terms of orientation and don’t have a problem with its usage in this context, although I understand that in today’s world the term gay or lesbian implies someone with an active romantic and sex life which is problematic, not to mention oxymoronic if it prefixes the word ‘Catholic’.

It’s difficult to know quite what the right word should be, I absorbed the phrase same-sex attraction after listening to numerous Catholic Answers podcasts and reading Jimmy Akin; intellectually I am persuaded that this should be the preferred term. That said, many of my same-sex attracted friends baulk at the phrase, they find it derogatory and loaded, others don’t like the term LGBT and therefore while ‘same-sex attracted’ is the most helpful in a Catholic context, basic courtesy dictates that if someone doesn’t like you referring to them using a certain word or phrase, then you really ought to avoid doing so, not least out of respect. Finding the correct terminology is a minefield, but gay and lesbian seems to be the most universal term.

There’s a delicate balance between rejecting the idea of an all-defining identity and yet being aware of and respecting other people’s sensitivities and dignity. So much is not about what you say, but how you make people feel and there needs to be some way of allowing people to feel comfortable, so if someone identifies to me as being ‘gay’, I’m certainly not going to correct them by barking “I think you’ll find it’s really same-sex attraction”! Precision and clarity are important, but language policing is a dangerous road to go down. Do we care that same-sex attraction perhaps sounds derogatory and signifies disproval? We need to speak the truth in love, but perhaps by respecting someone else’s choice of descriptor demonstrates love, which will then open them  up to the truth. In any event I’m not sure that using those words does necessarily cede ground or accept an implicit premise. We aren’t saying ‘yes we accept that you only define yourself as gay’, but accepting that same-sex attraction exists and that a person identifies as having it.

Archbishop Smith was writing a response to a secular authority trying to use plain English in the terms that would be easily understood, especially as civil partnerships and gay marriage are pertinent to those who would define themselves as gay and lesbian and for whom Archbishop Smith was trying to advocate. Had he replaced the words lesbian and gay with same-sex attracted it may not have been so effective. The sentence would have been rather clunky.

“Some same-sex attracted Catholics do not wish to enter into civil same-sex marriage because of their deeply held belief that marriage is between a man and a woman only, but still wish to have the legal rights that are contained in a civil partnership.”

I can’t get too riled about it, there are more important battles to be fought, especially as this was not a formal teaching document.

With that in mind, Ben’s response was cogently argued and he has a right to criticise a bishop as a private individual where he believes him to be error. He wasn’t uncharitable, I wouldn’t necessarily agree that this statement was proof of  a ‘shameful failure’ on the part of the  CBCEW but that’s about as strong as Ben ever gets and it certainly wasn’t nasty or personal in any way, nor did it cast aspersions on anyone’s authenticity as a Catholic.

Ben was highlighting an issue for Catholics to think about and this is kind of the purpose of blogging – to share material and put ideas out there. The Catholic blogosphere shouldn’t be just one shiny happy everything’s perfect in the garden place, but a place to disseminate and dissemble ideas. Neither, is it in any way orthodox to jump to the defence of bishops, simply because of the office they hold. To do that is clericalism at its worst. The office of holy orders should always be treated with respect, but it does not make one immune from criticism.

So I don’t agree with Ben on this one, (I’m sure he’ll get over it in time), just as many people won’t agree with me. Catholic or Christian blogging doesn’t mean that these types of public discussions shouldn’t take place, but that they should be conducted respectfully, if robustly.

Although John Smeaton was discussing civil partnerships as opposed to descriptors or implicit acceptance of an identity or agenda, I found Ben’s post far more thought-provoking as a wider-issue. I’m still mulling it over and oscillating at time of writing. This is what good commentary should do, namely challenge and stimulate.

I still maintain that had John written the same as Ben, it still shouldn’t have appeared on a Spuc-director blog and it seems that there is a general consensus that a private blog would be far more helpful in order to separate out his personal views from that of the organisation. Some of my  friends and family who are far more sympathetic to spuc than I am, felt that the post was counter-productive for both the Catholic church and pro-life and yet another unnecessary attack on good people of faith.

Domestic violence, poverty and adultery damage and undermine family life and pose a threat to the unborn. Perhaps SPUC doesn’t articulate these concerns because it feels that the public already perceive them to be immoral and damaging. Equally we don’t hear much about cohabitation which is in the same league as people in same-sex relationships, i.e. having sex outside of marriage. Maybe just maybe if we could hear more in these areas in relation to the unborn child, then the relentless  focus on Catholic politics and homosexuality wouldn’t make one’s teeth itch, quite so much?

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A few years ago I was riled into writing about SPUC in less than complimentary terms following some less than charitable remarks about Catholic Voices, the organisation of which I am proud to be a part, not being orthodox enough. Writing on his blog back in 2011, John Smeaton, Director of SPUC called for the voices of ‘real Catholics’ instead of our appeasing liberal heterodox ones.

Admittedly I was less than charitable in my reply, my irritation and indignation fuelled in part by pregnancy hormones. The accusations of heterodoxy and attacks upon Catholic Voices coming from John Smeaton, did cease, for which I think we are all grateful – after all when it came to the thorny topic of the redefinition of marriage, it was clear that we were all on the same side.

And when it comes to the aims of SPUC, I think we’re all on their side, we all wish for a successful pro-life lobby group in this country. It is very disappointing for ordinary Catholics in the pews that by and large our leadership seems to be quiet on the subject of abortion, with a few notable exceptions and that there seems to be no specifically Catholic pro-life organisation, which is why SPUC occupy a weird hybrid position, ostensibly being a secular lobby group and not a registered charity, with no official Catholic endorsement. To be fair to SPUC they are simply filling a gap.

SPUC has two problems, the first one being that in order to gain any serious political traction, any pro-life movement, be that in the realms of abortion or euthanasia should not be perceived as a purely religious movement. To use the cliche, if I had a penny for every time I’ve trotted out the phrase that life issues, including contraception and IVF for that matter, don’t actually require any sort of religious belief or recourse to theism to be valid ethical positions, neither do they fit into any sort of left/right-wing praxis, then I’d be a seriously rich woman by now.

One of the accusations trotted out by those angered by my original post was that my criticism came from self-interest, I had my eye on staging some sort of coup and emerging as a female pro-life leader. One of the reasons that I have absolutely no intention or desire to lead any sort of movement (aside from the fact I am not a natural leader and have never been comfortable in these sorts of positions and have more than enough on my plate at present) is because as a lesser-known Catholic, I’d never be able to move beyond the ‘religious agenda’ template. The future of pro-life in the political sphere in any event, needs to be able to bust the religious zealot/wingnut frame and led by someone who has kept below the radar.

LifeCharity has a Catholic founder and chairman in Jack Scarisbrick and admittedly employs practicing Christians of all denominations, but it also employs those of other faiths and none. It is this wholly secular, non-religious flavour of the organisation which has enabled it to make some inroads in terms of being invited to participate in policy forums. It is precisely Life’s lack of overt religiosity, it refuses to endorse or alternatively condemn 40 Days for Life for example which makes the pro-choice lobby spit with fury as the tired accusations and tropes simply don’t work. This is why organisations such as Education for Choice, do their damnest to undermine them in other fields, such as pregnancy counselling and education. It isn’t LIFE’s secular nature that protects them from such attacks, let’s face it, there’s a whole plethora of people whom it would suit, from professional lobby groups to big Pharma groups or anyone with any sort of financial interests in contraception and abortion, who want pro-lifers kicked out of schools and not being allowed anywhere near a woman with an unplanned pregnancy. The lack of religiosity makes the smear merchants’ job much harder as well as enabling LIFE to reach a wider audience who would perhaps be more willing to lay their prejudices about religious organisations aside and listen.

The second problem is that the UK Catholic church should have a dedicated pro-life movement throughout the country. It’s very hard for Catholics to donate to secular pro-life charities who make appeals in church, when they emphasize the non-religious nature of their work. Now there’s no reason why religion should come into fields such as crisis pregnancy counselling or sex education especially for the wider world, but neither should Catholicism be excluded, particularly when we are talking about Catholic schools or parishioners.

I’m proud to publicly state my support for 40 days for life (as has Pope Francis), I believe that respectful, dignified silent prayer vigils with specialist trained and experienced crisis pregnancy outreach workers are an excellent witness to the faith. But it’s very hard to support an organisation who comes into my church and says ‘we don’t stand outside the abortion clinics’ in lofty tones signifying disproval.

There is a need for a Catholic organisation not only to support prayer vigils, but to do all of the grass-roots and outreach work to change hearts and minds which is every bit as vital as the politics. SPUC are quite good at some of this. My father-in-law is a member and is always exercised into action by the literature that comes dropping through his letterbox at regular intervasl from SPUC. He made an appointment to see his MP about same-sex marriage on their advice, rang them up and had a ‘very long helpful conversation for at least half an hour with a girl from there’ which briefed him in terms of what to say and what to expect.

Thing is though, as I said before, I’m still not convinced that this was the best use of their time and resources, it’s fighting a battle on too many fronts. Too many members of the general public were baffled by SPUC’s response to same-sex marriage whose point was that anything that undermines marriage therefore leads to the collapse of family life which then results in social consequences such as abortion, was too sophisticated and nuanced to work effectively. Marriage had already been weakened over the past few decades, notably with the introduction of no-fault divorce – an adulterer’s charter, there are consequences for the unborn child in terms of trying to state that every couple has the right to marriage and children, but most people could not see beyond the straw-man argument of causation and asked how two men or women getting married would then cause a third party to have an abortion.

The work that SPUC did in terms of briefing my father-in-law, could and should have been done by a different agency. If we’d had a cohesive official Catholic life movement, then they would have been able to pick up the slack.

The trouble is that because John Smeaton seems to spend a disproportionate amount of time attacking the Catholic bishops and hierarchy on his blog along with LGBT issues, it doesn’t make the Catholic church inclined to work with him, further fuelling his annoyance and thus the cycle of recrimination continues and nothing gets done.

No doubt lots of people will say to me in the coms box, yeah Caroline, but John Smeaton was right to criticise the bishops because of xyz. Specifically on this issue of Archbishop Peter Smith’s statement asking the government not to automatically convert civil partnerships into marriage and abolish them, which John Smeaton has blogged about, I would have a slightly different take. Yes, the CDF did issue guidelines against civil partnerships back in 2003, identifying correctly that they would lead to the introduction of marriage. The Archbishop was however speaking in the context of 2014, when civil partnerships are a reality. His point was the same as it was back in their introduction in 2003, being that civil partnerships do afford some important legal protections for same-sex couples. You really would need to be an unreasonable bigot to deny people the right to live with whom they choose and to be able to have that person given a special legal status as a significant companion, regardless of whether or not they are having an intimate sexual relationship. It isn’t beyond the bounds of imagination to suggest that there could be some Catholics living a chaste life within a civil partnership who do not wish to see them become marriages.

After attacking the Archbishop for his perceived deviation from Catholic teaching about civil partnerships, John then goes into a long diatribe about the lack of condemnation for homosexuality or homosexual acts from Peter Smith and whether or not civil partnerships or gay marriages are deemed to be sexual in nature, quoting an Anglican barrister for support!

It frankly appears prurient and petty minded. We know that there are problems with the legal definition of gay marriage, sexual consummation is necessarily missing, but the Archbishop was neither promoting gay marriage nor encouraging people to have extra marital sex. Stating the legal protections of civil partnerships is not the same as encouraging people to enter them. Does an Archbishop really need to take every opportunity to specifically denounce and reiterate Catholic teaching on homosexual acts? Aren’t we all already more than aware of what the Church says about sex outside of marriage? Besides which the Catholic church welcomed the Wolfenden Report which led to the de-criminalisation of homosexuality in the UK and have also called for homosexuality to be de-criminalised throughout the world, as acts of private morality should not be subject to criminal sanctions.

People are rarely converted to Christianity simply by preaching; clever reasoned, compelling and logical arguments are all very well, but there also needs to be some element of personal encounter as St Paul demonstrates. I recently attended a session with the Catholic Labour MP Rob Flello, who entered the Commons as an atheist, where he talked movingly about a very personal encounter with Christ which led to his conversion.

Continually preaching about homosexuality or reiterating Catholic teaching on it does nothing to bring about the joy of Christ. Surely these discussions are best held on a one-to-one personal basis? In any event context is everything, at a time when Catholics are fighting to have our voices heard in the public square, denouncements of homosexual acts as immoral and disordered in a document concerned with protecting the legal rights of those in civil partnerships is not only irrelevant, but risks any remaining credibility or opportunity to be heard.

But to get back to the point, SPUC have done some good work and do number some good people in their organisation. It’s just a tragedy to see them continually arguing themselves into irrelevance and alienating themselves from official Catholic endorsement and support with their leader’s relentless focus upon homosexuality which is often picked up on by mainstream media, along with criticism of the Catholic bishops. I’m not saying that the bishops should be exempt from criticism where it is merited, but as ever it really isn’t the remit of a secular lobby group.

Catholics cannot deny the link between abortion and the deviation from God’s plan for human flourishing. Perhaps it’s time for the UK church to propose that case a lot better than in the past and then maybe SPUC can concentrate solely on how best they can fulfil their remit of specifically protecting the life of the unborn child, for which purpose they solicit donations and support.

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One example of female decision making in pregnancy

One example of female decision-making in pregnancy

Imagine if I rocked up to the doctor and said look “I’m really unhappy with the fact that after having four babies, I’ve got a few flabby bits, my breasts have lost some of their youthful perkiness and so I need you to refer me to a cosmetic surgeon as soon as possible as I just can’t cope with the body that I’ve got”.

Their response would register somewhere on the scale between amusement and exasperation, and even if I professed a suicidal intent or poor quality of life due to dissatisfaction with my post-childbirth figure, most likely they would advise other measures such as diet and exercise alongside psychological counselling to get to the root of the problem. The same would apply in the case of serious body or gender dysmorphia; no doctor would refer a patient for an amputation as an instant salve for a distorted body image or would straightaway prescribe hormonal treatment for a woman who believed she should have been born a male.

But what if in any of these cases the woman wailed “but I’m a woman, it’s my body and I know my body and healthcare needs better than you and your years of medical training. I know that I need this procedure now and the NHS needs to provide me with it”? The answer would still be a resounding no, although patient intuition, rationale and desires should never be excluded when forming a clinical judgement, the role of the doctor or medic should be to objectively examine the facts of the case and use their medical expertise and experience to determine the appropriate outcome, which will at times be at odds with what the patient was hoping for.

Factors such as gender, sexuality or race are only ever considerations, never the determining factor. You can’t just go to the doctor with a set of expectations which you believe should be met on the basis of your sex.

Yet this is precisely what BPAS, one of the UK’s largest abortion providers are aiming for with their ‘trust women’ campaign, expounded here by Clare Murphy one of their directors, which has the express purpose of formally liberalising the abortion law. When a decision involves fertility and reproduction, then the woman’s gender should take precedence in the decision, regardless of whether or not she may be misinformed in some way, or whether or not her decision is a sensible or even moral one.

The argument is slickly framed in the usual compassionate terms about women getting the care that they need and deserve and is superficially reasonable and appealing – a woman should be able to decide the course of action that is right for her, but the massive elephant in the room, is the unborn baby who as ever, is conspicuous by their absence.

If the decisions about reproduction didn’t involve an unborn child, no reasonable person would attempt to dictate to a woman what she should do with her body (although they could make a reasonable case as to whether or not the NHS ought to fund such decisions), but there is not simply one body involved in the case of pregnancy.

The simple fact of the matter is that an unborn child is not a part of the woman’s body, it has an entirely separate genetic code, often a separate blood type or race and crucially it is possible for a foetus to die while a mother lives and vice versa. This would not be possible if the mother and baby were one and the same. Even the late atheist Christopher Hitchens who was himself an abortion advocate admitted that embryology conceded morality, stating that an ‘uborn child, even when used in a politicized manner, is a material reality’.

The existence of an unborn child undermines the entire crux of this argument which is wholly centred around a woman’s body. ‘Trust me to make the decision as to whether or not to kill my unborn baby, because I’m a woman.’

I’d love to see how a similar campaign waged by males would play out. “Trust me as to whether or not I want to pay child support, or form a relationship with my child, I’m a male and therefore best placed to know whether or not I want to be a father. Only men can determine the extent to which they should be involved in their children’s lives”.

Perhaps the most disingenuous and ironic aspect of the campaign is the attempt to conflate decisions about childbirth with abortion when the aims and outcomes of both procedures are in direct contravention of each other. Murphy convincingly argues that “women should have access to unbiased, evidenced-based information about all their options, delivered in a way that seeks to inform, but not persuade a woman with all modes of delivery on the table”.

It sounds all very wonderful and idealistic, but the reality is that childbirth is a messy, unpredictable business with the potential for things to go disastrously wrong and therefore while women should be informed of their options, there are instances where certain scenarios should be off the table, especially when we are talking about a taxpayer-funded health care system and taking into account that there are two lives at stake.

When it comes to giving birth, it is important that a woman is in as comfortable and stress-free environment as possible, but the choice of surroundings or pain relief should never endanger her safety or that of her unborn baby. Unusually perhaps for a woman who has never managed to give birth without direct medical intervention, I am a big advocate of home births and natural births where at all possible and wary of the over-medicalisation of childbirth, which in my case has led to a cascade of cesarean sections.

But when, as in my case, a midwifery supervisor tells you that if you were to give birth at home, it’s likely that you would bleed to death due to a previous history of hemorrhage, and that she cannot sanction it, is that unbiased and not persuasive? Does that really leave all options on the table? What about when an obstetrician informs you that your baby is presenting in a transverse or oblique position and cannot therefore be born naturally without killing you both?

As every mother knows, you can do all the reading you like, be as informed as possible, but when it comes to childbirth you need to be flexible enough to rip up that treasured dream of floating in a pool of candlelit water and do whatever is necessary to get the child out as safely as possible.

If abortion is to be compared with birth, then the doctor’s assessment of best interests is paramount. The idea that a woman’s gender makes her judgement and decisions unimpeachable is infantalising dangerous baloney, which does women no favours whatsoever. Since when did being a women render one’s medical and moral judgement infallible? Where is the evidence demonstrating that being in possession of specific set of reproductive organs improves one’s critical thinking or decision making skills?

If it’s true that we might not always like or approve of certain reproductive decisions, whether childbirth or abortion related, then it is certainly legitimate to question whether or not the NHS funded by the taxpayer, ought to encourage and endorse them. We know for example, that all other things being equal, that a cesarean section is a much riskier, more complicated and costlier method of delivery than normal childbirth. An elective c-section ought not to be offered as a standard choice for women, unless there are compelling medical reasons which would make a natural delivery unsafe. Equally it is not the general public who should challenge a woman’s decision to home-deliver a complicated pregnancy, as Clare Murphy suggests, but rather her medical team.

The same goes with abortions. In a staggering admission, this director of BPAS says that there are women who might have abortions for reasons which are not quite good enough, but those decisions must still be respected, because it is the woman who has to bear the consequences of those choices. So it’s alright to stand on the sidelines and watch a woman take a disastrous decision because any negative repercussions and resulting suffering is hers alone? She’ll have to cope with it if it all goes wrong and we should make no attempt to interfere, in the same way that presumably we should not attempt to dissuade people from setting off on other destructive courses of actions. All that matters in life is that people have come to their own decisions about their bodies, even if they are bad ones?

In short then, a woman can abort a perfectly healthy baby until 24 weeks on whatever grounds she likes. such as the gender of the baby, or that she’s had an unexpected holiday invite, she wants to appear on the television or even because to continue with the pregnancy puts her at fear of violence or reprisals from her partner or family. A woman’s decision must always be trusted, supported, encouraged and paid for, even if it is born of dubious motives or self-interest. A woman aborting her healthy twins at 23 weeks  whom she’d previously decided to keep, because of family pressures, is the price we have to pay?

Even if the decision is blatantly flawed, unjust and terminates the life of another for no good reason (not that there ever can be a good reason to kill), society must turn a blind eye for the greater good of the (female) cause. Now where else have we seen this logic employed? It all sounds eerily familiar.

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This morning, I was invited back on to breakfast television to reprise the argument I made on the programme last year regarding the NICE guidelines which recommended that infertile couples should be given 3 cycles of IVF on the NHS.

Since then it transpires that over three quarters of NHS trusts are disregarding the guidance, leading NICE to issue even stronger advice forcing Clinical Commissioning Groups to implement their IVF guidelines, to end the ‘postcode lottery’ system which produces massive inequality in terms of how qualifying couples are treated.

In this instance inequality is not an inappropriate description of the situation. The NHS should provide an equal standard of care across the country – if it has determined that infertile couples should be afforded 3 cycles of IVF treatment then that should apply to you regardless of whether you live within affluent city suburbs, in a remote part of the country or on a run-down council estate.

If IVF is an accepted medical treatment on a par with chemotherapy for example, then it should not be withheld from anyone because their local health trust has decided that they cannot afford it and their priorities lie elsewhere.

The trouble is, of course, that whilst IVF is a medical treatment, opinion is massively and legitimately divided as to whether or not this ought to be funded by the NHS, given that infertility in and of itself is not a fatal, life-threatening or even life-limiting condition, unless one extends the medical definition of life-limiting to encompass quality of life issues.

That’s not to downplay the devastating effects of infertility which can undoubtedly cause emotional ill-health, but simply to note that an inability to conceive won’t actually kill you neither is there any research to prove that it might shorten your lifespan.

This certainly seems to be the view that various CCGs have taken faced with increasing budget constraints and difficult decisions as to where to channel their funds, and its one with which many of us will have sympathy. If the choice is between paying for drugs to extend the lifespan of a cancer patient, a hip operation or heart bypass for an elderly patient and whether or not to fund a form of therapy which could lead to a couple having a much wanted child, then for most right-thinking people, the choice is clear. Our priority should be with assisting the already-living and vulnerable rather than ignoring them in favour of creating their replacements.

As I pointed out last year, NICE guidelines have a habit of becoming quasi-legislation and thus last week former health secretary Andrew Lansley (responsible for the stealthy and undemocratic liberalisation of abortion law) has said that CCGs have a responsibility to obey NICE rules despite the fact that they are not actual pieces of legislation. Spot the inconsistency. In the eyes of Mr Lansley, NICE comes before the letter and spirit of the law.

So slowly but surely, British law has introduced and supported the notion that a child is something that every single person or couple should have a right to and for which the state  should pay. Consider the language of Sarah Norcross, co-chairman of the National Infertility Awareness Campaign who says “it’s high time that patients were allowed to access the treatment that they were entitled to”.

The ethics of entitlement and so-called equality therefore override any other considerations. If you are entitled to medical treatment on the NHS, then you should be given it regardless of other factors. If not being able to have a child is automatically designated as being a medical issue, because it takes clinical measures to achieve one, then it’s some kind of ‘ist’ or phobic to deny the treatment to someone, taking into account their lifestyle or individual circumstances. The needs of the adult are paramount, the needs of the child secondary – all that’s needed is love and the desire to access costly and gruelling treatment is sufficient evidence of suitability and should overcome all other considerations.

Apologies for beating the same allegedly homphobic drum, but recent HFEA stats show that there was a 36% increase in lesbian couples using IVF between 2010 and 2012. No matter how much sympathy one may or may not have for two women deciding to disregard a child’s right to a father, it’s not bigoted to ask whether or not this is really the sort of thing Bevan had in mind when he put in place the founding principles of the NHS? Should a single man or woman have the same right to access this treatment as married opposite gender couple? If resources are scarce, and IVF is going to be an accepted treatment, is it really so heinous to prioritise the married couple in a stable relationship who have been trying to conceive over a number years and have suffered a number of miscarriages over other scenarios? Or does the defining zeitgeist of equality mean that all situations and circumstances have to be treated equally regardless of merit? To say that one person may be more deserving of another, whether that be in the field of IVF or the even more controversial field of welfare and benefits, is today’s unspeakable heresy. In our relativistic world no one set of circumstances must ever be judged as being better or worse than another.

Another unpalatable fact that no-one seems to want to discuss when discussing the ethics of IVF on the NHS is the ethics of IVF itself. So when I attempted to point out that for every live birth that comes about due to IVF, another 30 embryos are created and that of the 4 million embryos created since 1991, only a tiny proportion have made it through to birth – this point was brushed aside. The discussion has to centre around the ethics of the treatment being made available for free, regardless of whether the treatment is in itself ethical.

I don’t know what is more frustrating, the entitlement culture, the disregard for the welfare of children or the wilful short-sightedness. Any other expensive treatment costing around £3.5K to £5K a time which had a less than 25% chance of success would not see NICE attempting to impose it upon CCGs as a matter of routine, especially when the treatment itself is so physically and emotionally demanding. It would instead be allocated according to individual circumstances.

As I said on the programme, it seems that we’ve got ourselves in something of a pickle with regards to fertility. On the one hand there’s couples crying out for IVF and the opportunity for a biological child of their own, on the other almost 200,000 abortions take place in the UK every year. Added to which abortion rates amongst women in their ‘30s and ‘40s are rising as women believe that they are no longer fertile.

It’s time for some joined-up social policy thinking on this issue. We know that with a little bit of training women can be trained to monitor and track their monthly cycles and pinpoint with a high degree of accuracy the fertile periods every month.

Women are given so many mixed messages and conflicting signals about their own fertility it’s not surprising that so many of us fail to navigate successfully through the reproductive minefield. Instead of teaching young women how to avoid pregnancy and that sex can be devoid of consequences how about teaching girls (and boys for that matter) the specifics of how to track female fertility. Instead of teaching them that fertility is an obstacle which must be suppressed via chemical hormones and abortion a useful and necessary back-up, why not help them to empower themselves in terms of learning the ebbs and flows of their own unique monthly cycle.

Armed with that information, they can then make the decisions which they feel are most appropriate, especially during the window of peak fertility. Tracking monthly cycles has another advantage in that it enables abnormal cycles or potential issues and barriers to conception to be identified and treated.

If the NHS is serious about wanting to tackle infertility, then instead of chucking money at what is a not very effective sticking plaster, a more pragmatic and cost-effective solution is to enable both women and medical practitioners to become specialists in natural female fertility instead of attempting to artificially suppress it until such time as it might be needed and then attempting to employ a costly treatment with a 75% chance of failure.

Even more radical, instead of teaching young girls that pregnancy is to be avoided until an indeterminate date in the distant future, how about education that focuses their minds on real family planning and the pros and cons of early versus late motherhood? How about going a step further and implementing far better childcare and maternity solutions and options for university students. While we’re at it why not chuck in cheap starter homes for young couples and measures to make life more attractive and conducive for young families?

Unfortunately the genie is out of the bottle when it comes to IVF and it would take a heart of stone not to sympathise with women like Jessica Hepburn who was interviewed alongside me earlier. What I wouldn’t do to be able to wave a wand and give her a baby and find a method that was successful, devoid of harmful physical side-effects and didn’t involve the destruction of life. Disagreeing with the use of technology does not extend to blaming or shaming those who want to avail themselves of it.

Heartbreaking, unexplained and untreatable cases of infertility cannot be completely eliminated, but with a bit more joined up thinking, the need for both IVF and at the other end of the spectrum abortion, could be drastically reduced.

Catholics reading this might be aware that today marks the start of a novena to Mary, Undoer of Knots. Dedicating it to couples facing the pain of infertility seems a good place to start.

 

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