Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

4 years after broaching the topic on Sunday Morning Live, the BBC today once again went for this discussion on their Sunday Morning Live Show.

There was nothing new to bring to the table, other than once again, it was an opportunity to berate the Catholic Church for not bringing her teaching ‘up to date’ (the truths of Christ and His Church are timeless, they do not blow the way of the prevailing wind) and for people to argue why contraception is so desperately needed while representatives of the Church defend themselves.

The BBC rang me about the show earlier in the week, but thanks to having appeared only two weeks previously where I discussed abortion, and a previous appearance on this subject, I was out of the running but was heartily glad to be able to recommend Obianuju Ekeocha and Clare Short, who the BBC decided to run with. It’s great to see real-life Catholics who love the Church defend these issues, and it’s pretty hard for anyone to disagree with an African woman who has on the ground knowledge and experience of these issues and who is in the process of filming a documentary about this very subject.

You never get much time to be able to put forward your points in any real detail, however I would note the following which didn’t come up in debate.

1) In a recent Com Res Poll in the UK 65% of respondents strongly opposed UK overseas aid money going towards the provision of abortion overseas. The teaching of the Catholic Church has absolutely nothing to do with this.  The UK has not been a Catholic country for over 500 years.

2) Melinda Gates has expressed a hope that the Catholic Church will change her position on contraception, however what she omits is that the term ‘birth control’ is now being used to cover both provision of contraception and abortion. While most people might think of birth control as being to do with contraception, the reality is that the term is used to encompass abortion. This was admitted by Ann Furedi, CEO of BPAS, the UK’s largest abortion clinic, who only last week said that over 50% of their clients who present for abortion were using some form of contraception and that abortion must be considered as a form of birth control. 

3) Therefore if we are talking about introducing birth control into Africa, this also means provision of abortion, out of which providers are sure to make a pretty penny, especially if they are funded by the likes of Melinda Gates, government-funded direct aid and NGO’s. Abortion clinics will claim that they are providing birth control both in the form of abortions and devices to prevent pregnancies but as in the UK, the bulk of their profits will come from abortion provision.

4) If well over 50% of women who have an abortion are already attempting to use some form of contraception, then clearly it is failing, therefore by introducing this into Africa to meet some form of pre-determined need, you are, very conveniently, creating abortion demand, by setting up an unrealistic expectation about prevention of pregnancy and potentially encouraging women to expose themselves to more risk. Are women in Africa properly informed about the potential failure rate of various devices, or indeed any potential health risks?

5) There is absolutely no point in providing contraception, unless you are going to provide basic infrastructure, such as food, clean water and sanitation, skilled birth attendants (for those women who do want to have as many children as they choose), medication, roads, telecommunications, education and opportunities. Stopping a woman from having lots of babies doesn’t mean that the next day that she is going to go out and smash the glass ceiling, particularly if she’s neither got the skills or education to apply for a job, roads to travel on, someone to look after any existing children and presuming any such jobs exist. From this outsider’s perspective, this looks to be all about stopping poor African women from breeding as a matter of first importance without actually giving women the tools that they need to improve their lives.

6) What provision is being put in place for African women who may have fertility or other reproductive health issues which prevent them from conceiving, aside from an exploitative IVF, only available for the super-rich?

In the UK, where we have abundant access to contraception, over 185,000 abortions take place every year, mainly due to social reasons and a strain of antibiotic resistant gonorrhoea is rapidly spreading across the country.

Neither of these things are happening because people are ignorant that sex can result in pregnancy or infection, but because people mistakenly believe that they can reduce the risks to almost zero and even if the worst happens, there’s always a cure, either in the form of abortion or medicine. Believing that you have to be ignorant or foolish to experience unplanned pregnancy or contract an STI, is a far more comfortable narrative than the idea that sexual libertinism is inherently unsafe and exposes you to unnecessary risk.

The only reason that people are so desperate for the Church to change her teachings in this area is to validate their own beliefs and lifestyle and to stop people from being influenced by their religious beliefs when choosing not to adopt contraception.

The acid test here, is given the recent advance in technology which allows for women to track their basal temperature and other fertility markers, and predict with a high degree of accuracy their fertile periods, does Melinda Gates and co consider this a valid form of avoiding pregnancy, and will they be making it available for women in Africa, in order that they can make a genuinely informed choice? We know that many women experience gruelling side effects and are unable to tolerate synthetic contraception. Is this being explained to them and what provision is made to monitor the long term health of women on contraceptives, especially if they don’t have easy access to a clinic? And if African women are not being offered ways of naturally monitoring their fertility, especially as they are the most environmentally friendly method, why is this?

Who could have the most to gain from shovelling pills, synthetic hormones and various pharma devices (which may or may not work) with little oversight or supervision, into poor women in the developing world? Just like who has the most to gain from promoting and weaning African infants onto powdered infant formula? The answer in both cases, is certainly not women and children themselves and we should be thankful that the Catholic church has no part in it.

Read Full Post »

Barber's shop pole

The story of when I was given sex-education has passed into our family’s folk-lore. I still remember it extremely well. I was in the fourth form, or Year 4 in today’s money, (aged 8 going on 9), when a letter came home from school, that we were going to be taught about the birds and the bees, by the headmaster, together with a note about the explanatory material.

In 1982 or it may have been 1983, (I can’t remember which precise term this took place, although I do remember it was most definitely Form 4, I can still recall the desk I was sitting at), this was a big thing. Especially in an independent preparatory school in the heart of a quiet ancient Essex market town. The school was a single-form entry, the ethos was that of muscular Christianity, the pupil intake consisted mainly of children of local wealthy farming families and the headmaster made liberal use of the slipper on naughty schoolboys.

The headmaster who despite being the proprietor of a decidedly middle-class private school and the son of peer of the realm, appeared to nurture progressive, left-wing views and suddenly out of the blue decided to take it upon himself to teach the fourth-form sex ed.

What do I remember from it? Horrible cross-section drawings of a man and a woman engaged in the marital act, together with diagrams of male and female reproductive parts, which I found to be boring and meaningless. In fact, I found the whole thing so dull, that I coloured in the A4 cross-section diagram of male reproductive parts, which was supposed to be labelled, in pink and green diagonal stripes, resembling the pattern of a barber’s pole!

Freud would have had a field day, but oh how my parents roared with laughter when I brought the booklet home, in order for them to be able to see the material we were covering for themselves and ‘support’ the curriculum. Instead of the embarrassing baby photographs, for the past 30 years they have regaled friends and family with the story of the time that Caroline coloured in the diagram of a man’s willy in garish barbershop stripes.

Parents like talking about these things, not to embarrass us, but because they like to wistfully recall the time before we had put away child-like things. They remember with fondness and no doubt, rose-tinted glasses, the innocence of our childhood. These stories are only embarrassing to those who are desperately trying to cultivate an image of sophistication or coolness and the story of that time that you stuck a pea up your nose which had to be removed by the GP (yep, me again) is a reminder of one’s base humanity and that like the rest of us, you were born, have bodily functions, and will one day die. Nobody seriously judges the adult on the basis of some barely remembered childhood escapades.

My parents like telling this tale because it is inherently funny. The 8 year old more interested in treating the picture of the male organ as a piece of colouring rather than deriving any educational benefit from it and who had no idea that colouring it in could be seen as inappropriate. I vaguely remember doing it as well. I think it was because I found the whole thing deadly boring.

The idea of men and women ‘doing it’ was utterly repellant, there was no way, thought my 8 year old self, would I entertain the idea of one of the boys in my class ever doing that, not even when I was grown up – it looked painful! And of course, no kind of context was provided, that the couple might be in love, would be married, that the love meant that they’d want to have a baby together, no, it was the sheer mechanics of the thing. Being the youngest child of two only children, I had no first cousins and very little experience of younger children or babies, wasn’t that fussed about them and certainly not enough to suddenly decide to do ‘that’ with a boy. It just seemed so cold and revolting.

At the same time as being taught about reproduction however, we were also taught the word ‘gay’. It meant, said our headmaster earnestly, that a man or a woman may sometimes fall in love with each other, instead of with the opposite sex. People who were gay ‘could not help it’, it was not funny, no laughing matter, they should not be mocked and should be treated the same way as everybody else.

That was something we took on board, along with the previous warning we’d had about the amount of trouble we would be in, if following episodes of Blue Peter, we were overheard calling anybody a ‘spastic, spas’ or ‘Joey’ in the playground with accompanying hand gestures. You’d be in very big trouble indeed!!

Now all this was fair enough, though from what I remember, outlawing specific terms of insults in the playground, just made them more exciting for the really naughty children (usually boys) who were trying to push boundaries. They’d still use the words, but in the wooded area behind the school hall, where the teachers didn’t bother to patrol, not because they wanted to be ‘able-ist’ or homophobic or whatever, but because they got a frisson out of being naughty. The only effect banning words had, was to encourage children to snitch on each other. Sometimes this would be genuine; you’d get the child who understood why the term ‘Joey’ was really wrong, but sometimes, one child would misreport another, just to get them into trouble. It’s been a feature of playgrounds since time immemorial.

I remember thinking that it was wrong to mock people because they fell in love with those of the same sex, but I thought that was primarily about adults. Aged 8, the word ‘gay’ wasn’t really milling around the playground as to the best of my knowledge, sex wasn’t something we were thinking about. Not even in 1982/3. The contents of the sex ed lesson were universally received with an ‘eurgh’ by a class who were too shocked to say much about it to each other. I’m not aware that we had any pupil (though we are culturally obliged to call even 4 year olds, the adult term, ‘students’ these days) who was gay, but neither did we have any pupils who were ‘going out’ with anyone either. Children being sexually interested in each other, just wasn’t a thing. Kiss-chase was something you did to wind the boys up, just as they would run after you with plastic spiders!

When we revisited sex ed in Year 6, aged 10-11 it was met with much hilarity, still due to embarrassment. My little friend Rebecca kept talking about the “scrotchum” instead of the ‘scrotum’ when labelling her diagram and we racked our brains as to what one of these was, still not fully understanding. We had ‘the period talk’ and for a while discussion about sanitary products prevailed and we wondered who had a mum who wouldn’t talk about these things, like the grim-faced snappily silent mother of the booklet, and breathed a sigh of relief that we’d still be able to go swimming and play netball.

Can I say that aside from knowing not to be unkind about people who were gay (or had cerebral palsy) that my primary school sex education was especially necessary or relevant? Did it help equip me ‘morally, culturally, spiritually and socially’? Does it stand as a shining example of why we so apparently need high quality sex-ed in primary schools today? Does it explain why pupils specifically need to be taught that some people are ‘born in the wrong body’ (a statement with no scientific evidence behind it) and why 4 year olds need to be encouraged to believe that changing your sex is as easy as deciding that you’d prefer to wear a dress and that being male and female is all about the toys you wish to play with and the various superheroes or children’s characters you like and dislike?

Does the fact that Savannah has two daddies or that Kacey-Eve only has a mum, mean that children need to be taught about adult sexuality in depth in order to be ‘safe’, or will a simple ‘be kind, be nice, be loving and respectful to everybody, including to those different to you’, no longer suffice?

My pink and green diagonally striped ‘barber’s pole’ is as sound a metaphor as any, when we’re talking about the usefulness of primary school sex ed.

Read Full Post »

The Catholic Education Service (CES)  have denied that their anti-homophobic bullying guidelines document was funded by any outside organisation, in attempt to quell the storm which is gathering on the Catholic blogosphere and on social media.

However, that does not let them off the hook entirely because in the email circulated to Diocesan Schools Commissioners and Directors of Education which accompanied the document, Marie Stafford, Assistant Director of the Catholic Education Service states the following:

“The CES has received funding to cover the printing and distribution of a hard copy for each school. Each diocese will receive a copy for each of its schools to distribute as it sees fit. If you do not want to receive hard copies for your schools, please let me know before Friday 19th May 2017.”

Therefore the question remains, who provided the funds for the distribution of the document?  The statement from the CES which says  “The document is a collaboration between the CES and St Mary’s and no external funding has been received for it”,  is ambiguous. It could be interpreted as a reference to the commissioning and production of the document, but not its distribution.

This 40 page glossy colour document designed to be sent to 2,245 Catholic schools educating over 845,000 children contains ideology contrary to Catholic teaching, and was lifted directly from organisations who would gladly cheer from the sidelines if Catholic schools whose RE teachings did not promote their notions of ‘equal love’, were forced to close. The fact that Stonewall and LGBT Youth Scotland are applauding the document ought to be ringing serious alarm bells.

More leaks than a porcupine’s raincoat:

Another misconception is that the document was ‘leaked’ as it was forwarded and circulated amongst bloggers between Cornwall and Cumbria. The ‘leak’ is to some extent irrelevant, but there has been no wrongdoing on the part of those who determined that this guidance was scandalous, required wider advance circulation and that action needed to be taken. The original email was neither marked confidential, nor was it placed  under embargo and a date was given for when it was going to be put in the public domain by being posted on the CES website. All that was being asked was how many copies would be required, because someone had given a donation, to cover printing and postage costs. The question remains, who, and why? And why were parents not consulted, seeing as they are the primary educators? Why was Paul Barber’s response about the sensitive nature of the document quite so defensive when it was shortly going to be put into the public domain. Or was it that the directors of the CES were hoping for the document to be uploaded and circulated without attracting the ire or attention of any bloggers who would be certain to object?

I have an admission to make in that when I received the document, it took me a brief  5 minute search to discover that huge chunks of toolkits and resources distributed by Stonewall and LGBTYouth Scotland had been copied and pasted verbatim without even bothering to change the names of the fictitious individuals cited in the case studies and examples. This piece of work were it to be submitted by an undergraduate, would not have passed even the most basic plagiarism checking software and was resonant of the antics of the former star of liberal journalism, Johann Hari who was exposed for similar practices and thus fell from grace  back in 2011. Why did the CES document not feel it necessary to cite or explain that it had employed material from other organisations as ‘best practice’?

Mandatory reporting of incidents could have potentially serious consequences for pupils, schools and Catholic education as a whole:

This guidance contains inadequate definitions of bullying which could have potentially very serious consequences for both Catholic education as a whole along with individual pupils whose playground banter could see a false accusation of homophobic bullying placed on their record for the duration of their school career.

Local Education Authorities, such as Brighton and Hove are already requiring schools to submit reports of homophobic bullying to them; we can be sure that whatever statistics Catholic schools do send, will be wilfully misinterpreted to suit the agenda of the LGBT lobby groups. A low reported figure will mean ‘under-reporting’ needing yet more training and guidelines (all provided by Stonewall for a professional fee);  a high figure will be interpreted in much the same way, together with cant about how harmful Catholic teaching is perceived to be and why it must be outlawed from educational establishments.

We can see that this has already happened to some extent when we examine the reasons behind the production of these guidelines.

Our survey says “uh-oh”:

The CES states that it commissioned this guidance on homophobic bullying from the Catholic university of St Mary’s in Twickenham, whose logo appears on every single page. St Mary’s carried out a survey of Catholic schools regarding homophobic bullying on behalf of the CES in 2015, whereupon only 5% gave a positive answer, when asked whether or not they were using specific materials to combat homophobic bullying.

Not getting the answer they required, the CES then carried out a second survey in which their involvement was made explicit in order to encourage participation and again received a desultory response . Only 12% of Catholic secondary schools replied. This reluctance of schools to respond to detailed questioning on specific homophobia-based bullying policies has been interpreted as meaning that they require both formal authority and guidance, or are confused and fearful about how to approach the subject, when there could be a whole host of other perfectly valid reasons for their reluctance, such as being too busy to bother with yet another piece of pointless paperwork. Or feeling that their anti-bullying policies were already so robust as not to actually need guidelines on a specific victim group.

The CES may believe that they have no other choice than to utilise Stonewall’s standard jargon, but they fail to realise that by doing so, they are further validating and entrenching values which are inimical to those of the Catholic church.

Compare and contrast:

Let me cite just one example. A friend of mine who now home-schools her children, describes the London Catholic school that her children formerly attended as a cultural melting pot, one which truly represented the diversity that is Catholicism. It was in fact, one of the reasons which inspired her to select it. A new head was appointed whose particular bugbear was, understandably, racism. The head had attended several courses all designed to eliminate racism and was up to speed with all the latest guidelines and procedures that schools are supposed to adopt. Her first remark on entering the school was that she couldn’t believe quite how low the recorded incidences of racist bullying were in the school, given it’s diversity. She felt sure that there must be some under-reporting. Clearly, the significant contribution of the Catholic ethos had escaped her.

Not long after she had begun, someone overhead a Year 5 boy who was himself an immigrant tell another student, who was from Serbia, that his country’s football team was going to lose when their two countries went head to head in a football match later that evening. “Serbia sucks!” was the phrase which was used.

The next thing that happened was that the head burst into the boy’s classroom mid-lesson, forced him to stand up, where she gave him a very thorough verbal dressing down for racism in front of the whole class. If that wasn’t humiliating enough, she informed him that what he had done constituted a criminal offence, that she was going to inform the police and that this incidence of racist bullying was going to remain on his school record for the entirety of his school career, it would she said, follow him to secondary school.

The boy ended up being put into isolation as punishment, the police were called and declined to take action on account of the fact that the child was only 9, obviously sensing that this was not to be taken seriously. It is not then, such a leap to imagine similar serious consequences for the child, who was stupid enough to refer to another child’s trainers or whatever as ‘gay’. A child falsely accused and stigmatised in such a way, could suffer significant emotional injury and trauma such that it adversely affects the rest of their education.

What should concern us in the example cited in the CES document, is not the use of the word ‘gay’ as a perjorative (though I would personally choose to explain to children that it is an unacceptable and offensive term) but that the child is being picked on because he cannot afford to buy the same trainers as the ‘in-crowd’. This would appear to have been totally overlooked and is infinitely more disturbing than the derogatory term chosen. Poverty-phobia has been relegated in favour of the trendier homo or bi-phobia, which is always the danger when you start pitting specific victim groups against each other.

Child protection and grooming:

There is also an extremely worrying issue of child protection which nobody seems to have mentioned. Nowhere in the anti-homophobic bullying guidelines is the point made that a child ought to feel free to turn down sexual advances of a friend, teacher (or indeed anyone) of the same sex, without it constituting homophobia. Nobody would attack a girl if she decided to distance herself from a male friend because he had made a pass at her, and the same principles need to apply to same-sex friendships. If Peter feels uncomfortable because Paul has made sexual overtures towards him and therefore decides to avoid being in Paul’s company because he feels awkward, it does not make him a homophobe. There is a very real danger that children could feel pressured into abusive situations because they are terrified of being stigmatised and labelled, just as there is a similar danger that children may not feel able to openly state their disagreement with some of the specious examples of homophobic attitudes cited in the classroom. Most teens are anxious to fit in with the group and nobody will want to be labelled the bigot or hateful one, even if in their hearts they believe that dad turning off the television when he feels he is being bombarded with LGBT propaganda, is not inherently homophobic.

Children are not sophisticated adults:

What has to be remembered is that children are by their very nature, emotionally immature and socially underdeveloped and will often express things in ways which are clumsy and inappropriate. Our role as adults should be to gently guide and correct errors with love, and in a holistic way, getting to the root of the issue, rather than with a superficial authoritarian fist which encourages them to police each other’s speech. What matters is not so much the insult used, but the attitude which underlies it. If a classmate comes out as ‘bi’, then other children are bound to be curious and have questions about it; teenagers do invariably spend hours pondering and discussing sex in often the most unhelpful of ways. If we want them to have healthy attitudes, then we need to allow for freedom of expression, in order that we can then engage with anything which we feel they need to reflect upon further, instead of telling them what they must think. If needs to be remembered that in these  lesson plans children are being instructed in terms of how to close down their critical faculties and being told that they must uncritically accept sexual behaviour and values which do not conform to their own.

The Christian content:

To be fair the document is not devoid of Christian teaching, it devotes an entire section to what it means to be made in the image of God and makes reference to many magisterial sources, such as Evangelium Vitae. While rightly using human dignity as a backdrop to hammer home the unacceptability of bullying, the document’s main weakness is that it uncritically accepts and validates secular notions of what constitutes homophobia along with false statements about sexuality and gender identity.

At the heart of the dismay is a failure to specifically outline and refer to Catholic teaching regarding relationships and marriage which would provide valuable context for vulnerable pupils and teachers Instead of being invited to consider Scripture, teaching and tradition, the tweets of Pope Francis, which thanks to the 140 character limit of the medium are superficial, are used as a resource. It is assumed that those within  Catholic schools will already be aware of doctrine and thus they are presented with secular assumptions about sexual relationships together with vague Christian themes of mercy, acceptance, non-judgementalism and forgiveness.

Same-sex relationships are now enshrined as a British value, political litmus test and then we have the Equalities Act:

What doesn’t help matters is that this document follows hot on the heels of a fevered few weeks in British politics, where Christian politicians such as Prime Minister Theresa May and leader of the Liberal Democrat party Tim Farron have been forced to air their religious consciences and asked their views on sexuality. Both they, and other high-profile church-attending politicians have repeatedly stated that they don’t believe sexual activity between two people of the same sex as constituting a sin. This has now become a litmus test for political and social respectability with acceptance of same-sex relationships being frequently referred to as a ‘British value’ to which faith schools must conform and to which the CES refers.

The challenge for the CES is to demonstrate that they are complying with the UK Equalities Act which holds LGBT status as a protected characteristic, but they need to remember that so too is freedom of religion and therefore Catholic schools should be able to confidently proclaim God’s  plan or mankind. The document could still have jumped through the various legal hoops to demonstrate that Catholic schools are  complying with legislation designed to address homophobia, while at the same time engaging children and teachers with the beautiful vision of relationships proposed by the Church. The CES/St Mary’s (and it’s not clear who was responsible for the authorship of the document) did not need to copy large chunks of Stonewall propaganda and ought to have made an attempt to defend Catholic values.

Slippery slope innit?:

Even if one is liberal on the subject of same-sex relationships or sex outside of marriage, most parents, including non-Christian ones are deeply concerned about the recent trend to normalise transgenderism and indoctrinate young children into believing that biological sex is irrelevant, that gender is simply a matter of feelings and therefore if you feel that you were born in the wrong body, you can simply change into your desired sex, with a little bit of help from the doctors. These specific guidelines may only address homophobia and bi-phobia, but given Stonewall’s recent push to promote and advance the cause of transgenderism, then it is only a matter of time, before this will seep into a revised version of the guidelines.

Do the bishops really endorse this?:

One also has to wonder what the bishops make of all this. Back in 2006, when he was in charge of the CES, Cardinal Nichols stated that there was no need for specific guidelines on homophobia, telling the Commons education committee that a ‘robust policy on bullying of all kinds was the “best way forward”.

On the 2nd March 2017, Bishop Mark Davies of Shrewsbury diocese delivered a homily during a Mass for  education officials in which he warned that Catholic schools may increasingly become ‘the focus of ideological groups demanding the acceptance of their agenda’ using the superficially worthy values of equality, respect and the prevention of bullying and unjust discrimination. He also reminded the congregation that “we have no need of false notions of equality which can insist that right and wrong, truth and error are cultural constructs, and that being male or female are interchangeable personal choices.”

In an address to the International Child Catholic Bureau in 2014, Pope Francis denounced educational experimentation upon children who “are not guinea pigs”, noting that “the horrors of the manipulation of education that we have experienced in the great genodical dictatorships of the twentieth century have not disappeared.”

Homophobic bullying in our schools should be identified a source of shame, but so too are all other forms of bullying which undermine the dignity of the person. What Catholic schools really need is guidance and support in terms of how to remain faithful to Church teaching at a time when it is in opposition to the current zeitgeist. Sadly, this document is not that and has proved to be a wasted opportunity as well as a potential source of scandal and confusion. Very serious questions remain about the content, authorship and funding for distribution of this document and whether or not the CES may actually have overstepped it’s remit, which is after all, to serve the cause of Catholic education and educators rather than override and undermine the basic truths of Christ.

Read Full Post »

grotto-tuam

A makeshift grotto on the former site of the home at Tuam, erected over 30 years ago after bodies were first discovered.

In 2014 following the headlines which read that the bodies of almost 800 babies and children had been cast into a septic tank in a mother and baby home run by the Bon Secours sister in Tuam, Ireland, I wrote a series of blogposts.

https://carolinefarrow.com/2014/06/04/tuam-childrens-home-salting-the-earth/

https://carolinefarrow.com/2014/06/07/tuam-breaking-800-babies-were-not-dumped/

https://carolinefarrow.com/2014/06/13/lessons-from-tuam-an-essay/

My aim was not to spin the facts or deny any allegations of abuse, but simply to forensically attempt to uncover the true story of what had happened. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe that nuns could behave in such an appalling fashion, clearly they were capable of all sorts of heinous acts of cruelty and abuse, it’s just that the narrative of them wilfully starving, abusing or neglecting babies and children to death before cruelly dumping their bodies in a septic tank did not ring true. Gradually, a more nuanced and historically accurate picture began to emerge, though still undeniably tragic.

A story of young girls in poverty abandoned by society, in poor health, giving birth to sickly babies unable to withstand the rigours and deprivation of institutional life. A story of a children’s home in a poor state of repair, served by Tuam’s oldest doctor, desperately short of cash and resources, with the council and local population unwilling to put their hands in their pockets. A story of children subject to epidemics of measles, influenza and gastroenteritis in crowded conditions, a time before antibiotics as well as poor diet and perennial low temperatures. An analysis of the death certificates indicates that the causes of death were rarely from one single determining factor – a lot of the children had had underlying ill-health or conditions since birth and some had been born with abnormalities.

Gradually media outlets began to amend, correct and withdraw their stories, rowing back on some of the claims, and Spiked online (which is in no way a right-wing or Catholic publication) published this powerful analysis

Today, the Commission on Mother and Baby Homes in Ireland, has released a statement saying that following some trial excavations of the site, significant numbers of human remains have been found.

“Test trenches were dug revealing two large structures. One structure appears to be a large sewage containment system or septic tank that had been decommissioned and filled with rubble and debris and then covered with top soil. The second structure is a long structure which is divided into 20 chambers.”

It has not been ascertained what the purpose of this structure is, it appears to be for the containment and treatment of sewage and water but it’s not been determined whether or not it was ever used for this purpose. 17 out of the 20 chambers appear to contain human remains, some of which were recovered for forensic tests. The remains are those of children aged between 35 weeks gestation and 2-3 years of age.

The commission is shocked and saddened and the remains will now be interred respectfully and appropriately, assuming that they were not in the first place.

As my blog posts garnered over 100,000 hits, I have taken a lot of flak, as it is perceived that I was one of the deniers. A second wave of hysteria and outrage about the babies at Tuam now appears to be sweeping Ireland, with many claiming vindication, which is a baffling sentiment. There ought to be nothing to celebrate over the discovery of several deceased infants.

I am prepared to stand by my original posts, because I did not deny the existence of remains on the property, nor that children had died of natural causes, I simply questioned the narrative of babies being deliberately and callously tossed like rubbish into a septic tank.

Interestingly in one post, I quoted a letter from Dr Finbar McCormick from the school of Geography, Archeology and Palaeoecology at Queen’s University, Belfast. Dr McCormick posited that the children could actually have been buried in a purpose-built burial shaft which were common, as was the practice of burying stillborn children or those who died shortly after birth, in a communal unmarked area inside the maternity hospital. The practice of returning infants back to the family for burial is a very recent tradition.

Anecdotally I know of a number of similar cases whereby children were put in the coffins of unrelated adults by funeral directors (which apparently was commonplace in some UK funeral directors until the ‘60s and in Ireland until the 1980’s), I’ve been talking to several women about miscarriage and stillbirth recently who have told heartbreaking stories of their stillborn children being removed from them straightaway and buried in an unknown place, and even in my own family, my father discovered only last year that he had an older brother who died at the age of two, who is buried in an unknown grave somewhere.  There are mass children’s burial grounds throughout Ireland and plenty of mass graves from non-Catholic institutions, such as workhouses, in the UK.

So, the outrage about the unmarked mass grave, while understandable may be misplaced. They are not a historical anomaly and were at various points, the norm.  It is not proof of an uncaring or un-Christian attitude and we do not know that the deceased were accorded absolutely no rites or respect.

Secondly, while the commission has noted that the structure containing the remains appeared to be a septic tank, it might not ever actually have been used as one, and they are not clear as to its purpose. I’m no engineer, but 20 chambers seems rather a large amount. Dr McCormick’s suggestion that the septic tank could be a burial vault and should be treated as such until proved otherwise, still seems to hold true. The commission have only said what the structure appears to be, but aren’t entirely sure, neither do they know if it was ever used.

In his blogpost which appears to row back from some of his original claims, journalist Philip Boucher-Hayes, quotes an eyewitness called Julia Devaney who was firstly a resident of the Tuam home and later an employee. She recalled assisting the sisters in carrying the bodies of deceased babies through a tunnel which led to a burial vault. A vault accessed by a tunnel, as Boucher-Hayes notes, could not be a septic tank. This vault was in the same place (Plot A) as another witness, Mary Moriarty had fallen into while playing, when the ground subsided. Moriarty says that she and her neighbours investigated further  and discovered a large underground vault with shelves from floor to ceiling neatly  stacked with about 100 swaddled infant bodies.

So as yet we have two structures found. One a septic tank with no human remains which was clearly decommissioned. The second consists of 20 chambers, at least 17 of which contain human remains, many of which are children under 2, dating from the ‘50s. Which tallies with the eyewitness account of a vault with shelves from walls to ceiling containing deceased infants, and could well be the vault which was accessible from a tunnel, which another witness recalls being in use in the 1950’s.

There is nothing then as yet to suggest that the remains of these children were maltreated or buried without the due accord and respect. It may not have been the way that we would wish for them to be buried today, but neither is this indicative of anything sinister.

Just as it is perfectly possible that these poor children were simply tossed into a septic tank (though I note that critics are now beginning to concede that the tank was disused and claim that it doesn’t matter whether or not it was filled with sewage), it’s also more than feasible that the vault was styled in a similar way to the catacombs. Placing bodies on shelves in a vault hardly seems like egregious disregard. Archive evidence demonstrates that the home did put in a tender for coffins, therefore it may only have been the infants who were buried tightly wrapped in swaddling. Again, not what we might wish for a child, but not necessarily indicative of anything nasty. And neither do we know whether or not some or all of the vault was consecrated, because it would surely need to be if older babies and children were interred there.

As the commission has noted, the news is not any great surprise – they had been excavating a known burial site.

Historian Catherine Corless deserves respect and vindication because her main aim has not been to propagate a sensationalist anti-Catholic narrative, but because she has always believed that bodies were buried on this site and that they ought to be properly accounted for and given the respect and memorial they deserve, not least because as she recollects from her own time at school with children of the home, they were often treated with contempt and disdain.

There may well be 798 bodies underneath the site, a fact that nobody has ever sought to deny, including the locals. Though this is far from established fact. There was a septic tank in use for the first 12 years of the home, during which period 206 children died. Where were their bodies placed if the second structure was in use servicing the first? Or was the second structure used right from the outset! How many is a ‘significant number’?

Is this definitive proof of evil-doing by a group of nuns who are unable to defend themselves or explain what their burial practices were? Justice is not best served by supposition and assumption and neither should these deceased children be politicised. Particularly not when those weaponising them, are using this to whip up hatred of the Catholic Church to use in the forthcoming referendum on Abortion. I wonder what many of those proudly displaying their ‘Repeal the Eighth’ avatar while venting their fury over the babies in the septic tank, would make of the incineration of aborted babies’ remains in hospital incinerators for energy?

Read Full Post »

humpty-dumpty

Donald Trump’s decision to lift the guidelines issued by the Obama government allowing transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice, has caused much consternation and wailing about the rights of transgender students.

However, when you look at the impact of lifting this guidance, it’s hard to see what there was for people to get quite so het up about. Firstly, the original guidelines had absolutely no legal force whatsoever therefore as ever, the decision seems to be indicative of Trump’s usual style; it’s enough to please his supporters and establish his conservative credentials but doesn’t change a lot in practical terms.

For example, when the original guidance from Obama was issued the state of Texas put a temporary hold on it after 13 states sued. What the lifting of the guidance has done, is introduce a sensible level of subsidiarity noting that this is an issue best dealt with at a local level.

Tellingly for concerned Catholics, the American Bishops’ Conference, the USCCB has applauded and welcomed Trump’s decision on this issue, expressing their gratitude. They note that it’s an extremely sensitive situation, best dealt with care and compassion at a local level, respecting the privacy and safety concerns of all students.

Father James Martin SJ doesn’t appear to agree with them and in response issued a series of tweets, implying that to deny transgender students the rights to choose whichever bathroom or changing room they choose is not Christ-like, it further marginalises people, infringes on their basic dignity and asking ‘where’s the harm’?

Along with a number of other Catholic women, I responded to him in pretty gentle terms as a mother of 5. We asked where is the care and compassion for the dignity of vulnerable women and girls who don’t actually want to share their intimate spaces with non-biological females?

As a result, my Twitter-feed has been filled up with an eye-watering amount of expletive-ridden abuse and invective. I am a terrible person, a bad mother, evil, lacking in all compassion, who needs to educate herself, ugly, my genitals are deformed from having 5 children, I must die in a fire, commit suicide, hopefully my family will hate  me and so on and so forth. The sheer level and bombardment of hate, is dizzying. I’ve been at the end of Twitter storms before, but this takes it to a whole new level.

It’s not only the violent abuse itself which is so frightening, but the level of delusion that it’s based upon.

The insults are all variations on a theme so I’m just going to offer a response to each one.

Adopting a realistic attitude

Nobody with any common sense or compassion minds an adult who has fully transitioned, using a public loo designated for women, provided that they do so in the same way as any other woman, i.e. unobtrusively and not drawing attention to their trans status in a way that makes other women around them feel uncomfortable. Most trans women I know, already do this.

Most women don’t actually take much note of who else is going into their toilets, which in many ways makes them more vulnerable, because we don’t expect to see men in there. If you can pass as a woman on first glance, chances are nobody will really object.

However, what women are objecting to, and rightly so, is the idea that anyone who decides to state that they identify as a woman for whatever reason, regardless of their manner of attire, can use women’s facilities. It’s not acceptable for someone who is so clearly obviously male, to think that their feelings entitle them to intrude upon women’s spaces. Plus, there is the issue of whether or not sexual predators might take advantage of relaxed laws, as has happened on past occasions. Part of the reason for enforcing legislation is to ensure that people feel safe and to discourage criminal activity.

Years ago, in the era before mobile phones, I was once followed home after getting off the bus and the only way to shake off the man, was to go into a public ladies’ and raise the alarm. The threat of being accosted by someone for entering a woman-only space proved enough of a deterrent.

What happens in ladies’ loos

It’s typically a place where women can feel safe, away from the male-gaze. On my Twitter stream, women have told me about having to rinse through clothing or underwear in the sink, following an unexpected menstrual leak. Women feel safe asking the person in the cubicle next door to pass them some paper for example, or perhaps asking a kindly stranger if they can help out with sanitary products in an emergency.  Some women may also be dealing with an unexpected miscarriage, the physical aftermath of one, or other difficult gynaecological issues.

Few women want to deal with personal and intimate matters such as these, in front of male prying eyes. I remember once, as a student, men routing through my bag, finding my sanitary products, covering them in poultry blood and draping them all over my car windscreen and putting them back in my bag, as a prank. On the whole, women  tend to adopt a far more sympathetic, sensitive and pragmatic approach to the indignities of the menstrual cycle than men.

Another thing that frequently happens in public conveniences, is that locks on the doors are often loose or faulty thanks to repeated use. Elderly people sometimes have difficulty in securing them shut. I’ve been burst in upon or accidentally opened the door on others, a number of times. Any mother who has taken a small child into the cubicle with them, has likely had the experience of the child opening the door prematurely, while still attending to herself. I’ve also had children who have been fearful about closing or locking the toilet doors and have sat there innocently on the loo with their pants down. Nobody wants men in that situation either. It’s the whole male gaze issue again. Women are far less likely to stare at, sexually objectivise, or mock someone who inadvertently exposes themselves, but most likely will act with camaraderie and support. Men are more often than not  too embarrassed to tell you if you have your skirt tucked into your knickers or are trailing a bit of toilet paper and women are less likely to experience mortification when informed discreetly by another woman.

Inadvertent indecent exposure is not a myth, but an unfortunate fairly regular occurrence. Those who claim that people aren’t going round deliberately exposing themselves, willfully miss the point.

The situation in schools

We aren’t just talking about toilet cubicles, although many critics seem to lack an understanding that going to the loo in public, isn’t always just a mishap-free straightforward walk in, walk out of the stall, affair. Neither do all cubicles afford total privacy.

In schools, you have a different situation of often anxious and very self-conscious girls changing in front of each other, which could well involve stripping naked and showers.

Teen girls

I’m going to talk about my daughter briefly, given that I raised her dignity as a concern and everybody thinks I have taught her to be fearful of men.

Here’s the deal – until yesterday, she hadn’t even heard of transgenderism. But at the age of 12, she has gone from a child who happily ran about naked in the house without a care in the world, to, over the last few years, establishing her own boundaries and needs. Bathroom and bedroom doors are shut and locked, if she is caught unawares, she will instantly cover herself, which has not stemmed from any kind of adult prompting. It happens to most children.

Likewise whereas previously, she wouldn’t mind chancing upon male adult family members in the bathroom, now she is embarrassed. It’s all pretty normal textbook stuff.

Teen girls are often made anxious about the onset of puberty and various bodily changes. The role of the parent is to reassure, to soothe, to offer frequent support and comfort that all of this seems daunting but is perfectly natural. And also to assist and guide when it comes to personal and sanitary care. Above all to act as gatekeeper for a child to protect them at sensitive moments from tactless or curious siblings.

So when you’ve got a child who doesn’t actually want to see male genitals and is made uncomfortable by them, it’s not unreasonable to want to keep them out of female changing rooms at school. Why do we have to desensitise vulnerable young girls to looking at male private parts? Similarly why do we have to accustom young girls to their bodies being scrutinised by curious men (who are normally thought of in terms of having a penis).

A teen ‘trans girl’ isn’t biologically a girl and may not have decided whether or not to fully transition, so no matter feminine the hair and face, they will have the body of a male.

It’s not a case of educating oneself, it’s more a case that here is someone with different body parts which may make teenage girls uncomfortable. Again, it’s an instinctual awareness of the male gaze – because one thing that teen girls do tend to do, is sneak surreptitious glances at each other, mainly to compare your own development with your peers. The one question on the mind of every teenage girl, is ‘am I normal?’ I remember feeling reassured when I noticed that other girls were doing the same thing physically as myself and things like bras and pubic hair and later on periods, ceased to be such a big deal.

A trans girl is going to have more curiosity than most and also, there’s the issue that their appearance may trigger body anxiety in other girls, because men tend to have an entirely different look, owing to a different skeleton and physiognomy. Girls attempting to emulate the adrongynous look of their trans peers or normalising their shape as a glamorous ideal, is never going to end well.

Incidentally all local government authorities have a standard policy that mixed sex siblings shouldn’t be sharing bedrooms over the age of 10.

My experience of being a mother to a teen girl

So yesterday, when I was Skype-ing my daughter (who’s away skiing on half term at the moment), I said to her that I had been talking about her. Mainly what a great time she appears to be having.

I asked her how she’d feel if she had to share changing rooms and loos with boys. She laughed and said that would never happen because she’s at a girls’ school. OK, I said but what about the previous school you went to which was co-ed. “I wouldn’t like it” she said. “Why not, out of interest”, I asked. “I don’t know, I just wouldn’t, it wouldn’t feel right, I don’t want to have to see boys and I don’t want them seeing me”.

OK fine, I said, but what if you had a boy who felt he was born in the wrong body wanting to share your changing rooms and loos. Her face was an absolute picture. “What do you mean” she asked. “How can you be born in the wrong body”. Some people believe they are, I said. “But how does that happen, she said, I don’t understand, it doesn’t make any sense”.

I then went onto explain about how girls are supposed to like pink and clothes and make-up etc, which again my daughter found bizarre, not being into any typical girls’ pursuits. How some girls liked to play cricket and football and some boys liked to play with dolls and that made them feel like they were the opposite sex, because they identified better with them. Fortunately my daughter is level-headed and sensible enough not to think that because she isn’t into all the stereotypical feminine stuff, that perhaps she might be a boy, or genderqueer but you can certainly see how the idea can be suggested to children.

We then went into how people manage to actually become the other sex and hormone therapy. Which then prompted a question about whether or not pills changed private parts. No, they don’t, people have surgery. “That’s just gross” she said, “I can’t think about that, it’s really disgusting, can we change the subject now, I’m really freaked out”.

Sure, I said, but say you had a boy, who really felt that he was girl, who didn’t want to use the boys in case he was picked on and physically bullied, would you be happy to have them in your changing room? No, not really she said, I’d feel sorry for them, but I’d still be uncomfortable with it if I’m honest. Couldn’t they use a staff room or something?

Thinking about it later, I reflected, how am I supposed to de-sensitise a child to feel happy and comfortable and nonplussed about seeing male genitals and surely such a thing is abusive? I have no rational scientific explanation for the phenomenon of people being born in the wrong bodies, it seems evident that gender dysphoria is a mental condition which current medical thinking treats by radically altering the body.

Later on, after people implored that I cared not one iota for the safety of trans children who couldn’t use the bathroom of their choice, I reflected that there’s an interesting piece of sexism going on here. People assume that trans girls won’t be safe in boys’ bathrooms, but they seem to forget that girls are more than capable of ganging up on and bullying, even to the point of physical violence, those whom they deem other, or outside of the in social crowd.

Issues of safety

As Matt Walsh points out, despite the statistics which demonstrates assaults do happen, women’s concerns shouldn’t be dismissed as inconsequential or irrational whinging.

What about those women who have been raped, or victims of sexual assualt, don’t they have a right to safety and privacy?

What about the older generation, most of whom are deeply uncomfortable about allowing any man who identifies as a woman into public loos. Are their fears irrelevant mainly on account of their age?It’s often elderly women who struggle to lock doors with arthritic fumbling fingers and who are deeply self-conscious of various bodily functions that don’t work as well as they used to.

Where is the empathy for the needs of vulnerable women in all of this? Not least those of our elderly sisters?

Balancing of needs and rights

Nobody is saying that transgender people don’t have specific needs or aren’t vulnerable, but why are their needs deemed to be more important than those of women? Why does this have to be some sort of victim top-trumps, why can’t appropriate, unisex provision be made, if necessary designating or building unisex facilities for those who want them.

A fad?

Friends in teaching are telling me of an explosion of teens, identifying as the opposite sex, including one report of 4 girls in the same form who all came out as trans in the same week. Another GP friend of mine who works in teen mental health, said that they couldn’t believe the volume of cases presenting, 99% of which were not believed to be genuine.

There’s plenty of resources, in terms of how children get sucked into this culture, and a wealth of information, a google on ‘gender critical’ will throw up all kinds of resources. 4thwavenow and Gender critical dad are two such excellent sites. In particular, this is a compelling story of a girl who believed she was a boy, and then reconciled herself with her identity, from the point of view of her mother. There are also some interesting stats out there about the percentages of those identified with gender dysphoria who don’t end up transitioning.

Finally

What was telling about the amount of abuse I received was the sheer violence and aggression, not to mention the machismo, one person bet me $10,000 to see whether or not my IQ was larger than theirs. Which was a frankly bizarre and very male-orientated competitive response.

The vast majority of abuse was either from transwomen or men. That’s right, men, telling me, why I had to accept men in female intimate spaces and mocking the idea that people feel vulnerable in loos, that exposure can inadvertently take place and generally failing to understand the whole concept of the male gaze and the nitty-gritty of what often goes on in public bathrooms, along with the unspoken bonds which unite women.

That people want to sexualise my children or accuse them of voyeurism or sex crimes if they are accidental victims of indecent exposure, or if they accidentally expose themselves, speaks volumes. As does their need to instantly cast any objectors into the role of sexual pervert and hold them up for public ridicule.

As ever, these people scream hatred and bigot, and yet the biggest irony is, that they want to force people to uncritically accept their unscientific ideology that if you feel like the opposite sex, then you definitely are that sex. Regardless of whether or not you have corrective surgery or take hormones.

Here’s the thing though. Just as I cannot control or force these people who claim that I am physically ugly, or unintelligent or whatever, to think otherwise, neither can they control how others think of them. Trying to force someone how to think, trying to impose your ideology on them, either by legislation or social shaming, making them too frightened to express their views for fear of abuse, well, that’s bigotry!

Take a look at my mentions on Twitter. They are quite the education. At one point they were coming one per second. I tried to bat them off with a witty response, I mean, suggesting that a troublesome woman should be burnt is hardly original is it? The hate was very one-sided and you have to feel nothing but pity for people who are so troubled that they want to do inflict physical, verbal or emotional damage on you, taking time to craft the most spiteful sentiments designed to wound.

To date I have muted over 237 people. Which was actually an interesting exercise in perspective. These activists may shout loudly and ensure their voices are the loudest to be heard, but lets be clear, even if I had blocked even double that number – say 500, then that’s hardly staggering proportion of people, or indicative of majority views on this. It’s nothing more than a noisy self-sustaining bubble, designed to drown out the mainstream.

Unbelievable though isn’t it? That in 2017, women are still having to fight to the right for separate public conveniences, free of men. Or that denying that born males are actually females, or vice versa and that due to some unexplained metaphysical and evolutionary miracle, which transcends scientific explanation, people can be born in the wrong bodies, releases such outrage. Even more extraordinary and some might say scandalous, that such abuse can be given succour by the words of a Catholic priest, because without a doubt, every single vile and vicious tweet many of which stemmed from California, where Father James Martin resides, supported his position. Some of them even copied him in.

Read Full Post »

398da10300000578-3855638-image-a-34_1476972817707

A number of mainstream media outlets are reporting on the tragic case of a Sicilian woman, Valentina Milluzzo who became pregnant with twins following IVF treatment and then died after miscarrying them.

Scant detail has been reported, but according to reports, Mrs Milluzzo was admitted to the Cannizzaro hospital in Catania, Sicily, after falling ill and going into labour at just 19 weeks in pregnancy, on September 29 where she remained in a stable condition for a couple of weeks.

On October 15 her condition worsened and one baby was then stillborn, Mrs Milluzzo’s condition then rapidly deteriorated, her family then asked for the other baby to be aborted, doctors refused supposedly on the grounds of conscientious objection, then it appears that the other baby was miscarried, shortly after which poor Valentina Miluzzo died too.

The various media reports seem muddled. In the Daily Mail the family’s lawyer allegedly reported that one of the unborn twins was suffering from from a ‘breathing complication’. This doesn’t stack up because a baby in utero does not actually breathe through their nose and mouth, but rather exchanges oxygen and carbon dioxide with the mother through the placenta and umbilical cord. Clearly there was some kind of complication causing foetal distress which may have led to the miscarriage, but ‘breathing difficulty’ seems to be an overly-simplistic term. That said, this could simply be a translation error. But in any event the account in the Daily Mail, has the doctor refusing to abort both babies.

The BBC has a similar account, namely the doctor apparently refused to intervene to abort both babies after one got into difficulty, but the Guardian claims that having given birth to one stillborn baby, poor Valentina was in agony for 12 hours with the doctors refusing to intervene on the grounds that the other baby was still alive. The family begged for the doctors to abort the other child to save her life, the doctors refused and shortly afterwards the baby was born dead and Mrs Milluzzo died of septic shock.

The Guardian of course carries a photograph of pro-life nuns, just in case you hadn’t got with the programme about these evil Catholic types. It also runs a load of irrelevant copy with implied supposition about the recent decline in abortions in Italy being due to a shortage of doctors willing to perform them and whether or not Italy actually has enough people to carry out abortions because, shock horror, there’s a high rate of conscientious objectors. A decline in abortions, can never be seen as positive news now can it, and what this unsubtle inference fails to mention is Italy’s catastrophically declining birth rate. Maybe, just maybe, fewer women are getting pregnant and those who do actually want to keep their babies?!

First off, nobody should be blamed or jump to conclusions because the fact is that we do not know what happened. Of course the family would have been enormously distressed by the way events unfolded and one cannot blame them for wishing medics to take whatever action necessary to save the life of their beloved wife and daughter.

But in this situation, when we have the very sketchiest of facts, it is a revolting political opportunism that wishes to capitalise on a terrible tragedy of a woman, who is not yet buried, to claim, as the profiteers at International Planned Parenthood Federation (who  make money from abortion) have done, that the right of medics to conscientiously object to abortion, puts women at risk and must be removed. Medics are not disrespecting the law, they are acting in accordance with it. Italian law in common with other European laws, allows for abortion in certain specific prescribed circumstances, and also allows doctors who feel that their remit is to save lives not end them, to opt out. Freedom of conscience ought to take primacy. Nobody should be coerced by the law into carrying out acts which they find to be morally abhorrent.

In the case of a woman who has achieved a much-wanted pregnancy via IVF, one can well understand the reticence of doctors to abort the child, if there was a chance that they might survive. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, in the case of miscarriage, the best clinical approach is to conservatively manage a miscarriage, which negates the risks and complications of surgery. It’s not clear how aborting the surviving twin would actually have saved her life – an unborn baby is not some kind of toxin, poisoning a woman’s system from within.

There seem to be several terrible parallels with the case of Savita Halappanavar going on here. Both women would appear to have died of septic shock. The HSE inquiry ruled that Mrs Halapannaver died of sepsis which went undiagnosed for too long. An abortion would not have saved her life, but prompt administration of antibiotics could well have done, though sepsis does require extremely swift diagnosis and intervention.

Dr Sam Coulter-Smith, master of the Rotunda hospital in Dublin commented that Ireland’s pro-life laws had little to do with Mrs Hlappanavar’s death and echoed the view of most gynaecologists saying

 “I think most of us who work in obstetrics and gynaecology, there may be individual differences, but the majority would be of the view that if the health is such a risk that there is a risk of death and we are dealing with a foetus that is not viable, there is only one answer to that question, we bring the pregnancy to an end.”

Here are the known facts. At 22 weeks, Mrs Milluzzo’s much-wanted child was viable and potentially had a chance of life. Abortion is not on the protocols of treatment for pregnant women with sepsis. Patients and family wishes must of course be taken into account, but the fact that they may have been understandably begging for a course of treatment which they believed was the best chance of saving this woman’s life, does not mean that aborting the baby was the correct medical solution. Wishing to save both the life of the baby and the mother, if at all possible, does not mean that the doctors were negligent, uncaring or adopting a rigourist approach.

The hospital is strongly disputing the family’s account. They have said the following:

“There was no conscientious objection on behalf of the doctor that intervened in this case because there was no voluntary termination of the pregnancy, but (the miscarriage) was forced by the grave circumstances…I rule out that a doctor could have told the family what they say he told them.”

Italian law forbids doctors to withhold life-saving treatment when a mother’s life is at risk. This has been reiterated by a national association of Catholic doctors who said that when a mother’s life is at risk, doctors must do whatever is necessary to save it.

Regardless of what may or may have been said to the family by the doctor (and I think we also have to allow for misunderstandings, especially in such a traumatic situation) there is nothing as yet, which demonstrates that doctors wilfully refused to save the life of a dying pregnant woman and sacrificed her for the sake of her unborn child. We do not have enough evidence and we should not speculate or seek to vilify the doctors, who were the ones actually dealing with the situation and who had the medical knowledge to ascertain the best course of action. Presumably when Mrs Milluzzo went into hospital she was hoping that the doctors would do everything possible to save her children. The request for an abortion was a response to ease suffering and save her life when her condition deteriorated, but chances are that by this stage it was already too late.

There are always two sides to every story, what happened to innocent until proven guilty?

But sadly, that won’t stop the pro-choice bandwagon from using this story as further proof of the uncaring pro-lifers forcing women to die for the sake of their unborn children and trying to remove the conscience rights of doctors, even though tragic cases such as these are very few and far between. With an absence of backstreet butchery upon which to hang the need for compassion, any maternal death with any possible tenuous link to abortion must be milked to ensure every drop of righteous indignation and anger is directed at those who wish to protect the lives of the unborn, who must be portrayed as uncaring misogynists. Especially if they happen to be doctors.

Valentina Milluzzo was a beautiful woman with everything to look forward to. May she and her babies rest in peace.

Read Full Post »

If you follow my Twitter feed, you’ll know that my personal view is that Britain ought to vote to leave the EU in Thursday’s referendum. The most compelling case, from a Catholic perspective is presented here, by Tim Stanley. There is also another highly persuasive video from Toby Young of the Spectator.

However, a friend of mine, Dr Rupert Beale, is passionately in favour of remaining in the EU and has asked me to host a guest blog proposing an alternate view. In the interests of impartiality I am delighted to do so.

Wherever you stand on Britain’s membership of the EU, I would urge voters to exercise their democratic right to participate in Thursday’s referendum, remembering the millions of servicemen and woman who have given their lives in order for you to enjoy this privilege. We cannot complain about the result, unless we have taken part.

Over to Dr Beale:

Our earthly rulers falter, our people drift and die;

The walls of gold entomb us, the swords of scorn divide.

I had intended this to be a riposte to the various arguments with a Catholic flavour in favour of the UK leaving the EU, but the words of G.K. Chesterton’s hymn have been swirling round my brain of late. I fear that what I might have written would have been scornful. There’s been quite enough of that.

What I ask of all people of good conscience who believe that the EU is not a good thing is this: please do not vote for us to leave.

Many people were upset by the death of Jo Cox despite never having met her. I cannot imagine the shock and anguish that her husband must be feeling. Somehow he found the strength to issue a very dignified and fitting tribute to his wife. One poignant sentence stands out for me: “She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her.”

It is love for one another that defines us as Christians. A love that imitates Christ’s universal and self-sacrificial love. That is why we defend all human lives, and why we do not try to make different categories of worth between persons – all are infinitely loved by an infinite God. Value to us is the dignity and flourishing of persons; it is not a number of pounds in a bank, even if it’s the Bank of England.  People to us are equal: born or unborn, young and vigorous or old and dying. They are not different in value for being British or French, Romanian or Bangladeshi.

We can have a debate about the European Union. It’s a human political institution, with all the usual faults. I have argued that Britain benefits from membership (it certainly does in narrow monetary terms). I have also argued that British political influence has been a good thing in the EU as regards an area that’s personally important to me: scientific research. This scientific excellence fostered by the EU promotes economic growth, as well as the health and wellbeing of Britons, Europeans and all humanity. These, we should agree, are good things. Furthermore, it’s very hard to see how the UK could get a better deal outside the EU.

The EU is not an unalloyed ode to joy. There is a point of view that the loss of sovereignty entailed by (for example) allowing an international court primacy over a British court is intolerable. Some believe that the EU is remote and less accountable than it should be. The original noble ideals of the predecessor to the EU – which were couched in rather specifically Christian terms – have to some extent been betrayed.

Personally, I do not see that voluntary submission to the judgements of international courts (not confined to the EU of course) is a regrettable loss of sovereignty, but I think you can have a reasonable debate about it.  There is also a very uncomfortable argument that it is in fact Britain that’s bad for the EU (our influence is by no means always for the best).

The EU is a collection of 28 separate nation states, one of which is our own decidedly imperfect one. I agree that the EU has done and continues to do things which go against the high ideals of its founders – but imperfection is to be expected, whatever mechanisms are in place to help smooth relationships between our different countries.

Whatever you think about the EU, it cannot be emphasised enough that the merits or otherwise of the EU are not on the ballot paper. What’s on the ballot paper is leaving the EU. The wider context of this vote is not the impassioned but usually polite discourse between committed Christians. The context is fear of immigrants, lies about money, distrust of foreigners, distrust of economists, distrust of politicians, distrust of journalists, distrust of ‘experts’ – distrust of everybody.

The context is also a national political debate in which we have the love of money played off against the fear of immigrants. Across continental Europe, the context is many national parties that wish their particular country to break off from the EU (and most of those parties make our own Far Right seem pretty tame).

The context is also the recent horrible killing of an MP doing her job. The suspect has given his name in court as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain”. Inevitably, the motives and state of mind of the suspect have been subject to speculation, and that speculation has varied depending on the particular views of the speculator.

It’s illustrative of the poverty of the national debate that this terrible tragedy is being used to score points. It’s Jo Cox’s husband’s words that we should take to heart, and not give way to hatred. That means no hatred of foreigners, and it means no hatred of politicians either – even if they are guilty of rabble-rousing and xenophobia (as some most assuredly are).

The secular debate around the EU referendum has been conducted in terms which are too often bound by entombing walls of gold and the love of money. They are also being conducted in a way that suggests people – some people at any rate – can be cast adrift.

From all that terror teaches, from lies of tongue and pen,

From all the easy speeches that comfort cruel men;

From sale and profanation of honour and the sword;

From sleep and from damnation, deliver us, good Lord!

In a sea of lies and half-truths there is one particular depth of mendacity that I wish to plunge into: the claim that £350m a week can be spent on the NHS if we leave. It is worse than a deliberate lie. It is specially designed to be a lie, because the Leave camp’s spin-doctors have realised that if they lie about it, it will be talked about a lot.

The counter-argument is that the real figure is lower: £136m. This is great for the Leave camp: it still sounds like a large number, and cements the broader untruth that the EU costs us money in the minds of voters. The demographic they are especially targeting – older Labour voters – is tickled by the promise to spend all that money on the NHS. They have told us a small lie to make us believe a bigger one – what clever fellows those spin-doctors are!

Mendacity is not the special vice of the Leave campaign. It has long ago infected our whole political discourse. If all truth is relative, a lie can surely be a legitimate tool used in pursuit of a political goal. In those circumstances, where to tell a lie is neither considered wicked nor shameful – and is in fact admired for its ability to shift public opinion – it is little wonder that people have lost trust.

Truth and truth-telling are essential to Christian values. Of course, there is nowadays little or no reference to Christianity in public life. But truth-telling is important to secular humanists and people of other faiths too. Can we not replace Christian values with ‘Enlightenment’ values? I don’t see much evidence of that happening.

The secular debate – even if conducted in terms that don’t abandon the concept of truth altogether – is dominated by narrow self-interest. Will Britain be better off? Will I be better off? Will we be able to keep the foreigners out? It’s not exactly the universal brotherhood of man. The Enlightenment owes far more of a debt to Christianity than is generally admitted. The philosopher that atheists don’t much like to talk about is Nietzsche. Right now, it’s his abyss that’s staring into us.

I could see myself voting for Brexit under certain circumstances. For example, if it became a condition of our continued membership that we join the Euro (this would by law be subject to a referendum). The procedure there would be for an elected government to carefully build global alliances and put us in a position to negotiate an orderly withdrawal (we have no such alliance in place, and all our trading partners, allies and EU neighbours are against us leaving). We would need to ensure that any exit did not produce a severe economic shock.

At present, we have no credible scenario to achieve a successful negotiated settlement, and a substantial economic shock is certain if we leave. (I accept that some economists believe we could recover in a decade or so, while others don’t – but that there will be an initial shock is agreed by all.) A severe economic shock to Britain and to the EU at this time would give rise to the perfect conditions for bigotry and hatred to flourish. This we must not allow.

If you, like me, believe on balance that Britain is good for the EU and the EU is good for Britain I expect you will vote to remain. If we do vote to leave, we give succour to the very worst elements of our national politics and the national politics of the other EU members, and we must endure the national humiliation that will follow as best we can.

Take not thy thunder from us, but take away our pride.

 

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »