Update On Life Issues - February 2005
Sexually-Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
The massive rise in the number of people contracting STDs continues. At least 0.75 million men and women are now infected each year in the UK. This figure includes boys and girls, some as young as 11, who are being treated for gonorrhoea, syphilis, genital warts, and so on.
And, of course, there is that commonest of STDs, chlamydia. One of the most startling figures to emerge recently is that 1 in 5 men in their twenties is now infected with chlamydia. This is the disease that is usually unknowingly passed on from sexual partner to sexual partner. In men, it is a disease of little consequence – in women, it is far more serious because it can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease and eventually infertility.
And the Government’s response to this massive health crisis? More sex education and more condoms. And what sort of sex education? Try experimenting with other sexual acts rather than sexual intercourse – this is the feeble and unhelpful message in a new leaflet for teenagers from Brook, the Government-sponsored agency.
Our Government will still not countenance the only real answer – it continues to scoff at the very idea of abstinence teaching. Yet could the tide be changing, just a teeny-weeny bit?
Listen to what the well-known UK journalist, India Knight, concluded recently, ‘I’m beginning to think that chucking free condoms about and giving children sex education classes at an earlier and earlier age is very possibly the cause of the problem, and not the remedy.’ And, ‘Anyway, given that the liberal, here’s-some-more-information model has failed so dismally, there might well be something to be said for scrapping sex education and encouraging abstinence. It has worked in America.’
And from across the Atlantic come these welcome words, from of all people, Senator Hillary Clinton, ‘Research shows that the primary reason that teenage girls abstain is because of their religious and moral values. We should embrace this, and support programs that reinforce the idea that abstinence at a young age is not just the smart thing to do, it is the right thing to do.’
Such words are nothing but radical and heartening – when prominent members of the chattering classes begins to doubt the wisdom of embedded public policies, then hope arises.
The Department of Health has recently launched a campaign, in conjunction with the National Gamete Donation Trust (no, I didn’t know there was such a body either!) called, ‘Give Life, Give Hope’. Basically, they want your sperm and ova.
Now that gamete donors can no longer remain anonymous, the inevitable has happened – the source has dried up. After all, what medical student is now going to donate knowing that in 18 years time, half a dozen teenagers might be knocking on his door claiming their coming-of-age presents from ‘Dad’?
But there is something much more ominous here. The whole enterprise of assisted reproductive techniques (ARTs) has become so deeply entrenched and accepted in our society, that it is now becoming increasingly difficult for Christians and the ‘morally sensitive’ to object to such practices.
A good example of this dilemma occurs in one of the latest public consultations conducted by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) entitled, ‘Tomorrow’s Children’. It is concerned with the welfare of children born as a result of ARTs. But how can we participate in such consultations when we object to the fundamental premise of IVF and similar techniques?
Stem Cell Technology
The confusion (deliberate or otherwise) between embryonic versus adult stem cell technology continues. The media persists in portraying us (meaning, those with religious or moral scruples) as being against all stem cell research, lock, stock and barrel. This is a travesty of the truth – we are all in favour of adult stem cell treatments, but we object to destroying human embryos.
And the reasons for supporting this sort of medicine look more and more sensible. Currently, there are fifty-six human diseases being treated with adult stem cells, obtained from sources such as adult body cells and umbilical cord blood. How many diseases are being treated with embryonic stem cells? None! Indeed, all the US embryonic stem cell lines have recently been reported to be contaminated by molecules from mice cells that were used to grow them. In other words, they are probably useless.
Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill
The House of Lords’ select committee for this Bill (commonly known as the Joffe Bill) has finished taking oral evidence. Its members have also travelled to Oregon, Holland and Switzerland to see how others commit euthanasia. Their Report is expected in March 2005. The committee is split and it seems that a neutral Report is most likely – this is unlike the House of Lords’ Report in 1994, which unanimously opposed the legalisation of euthanasia.
Though there is little fear that the Report will result in immediate legalisation, it will undoubtedly send out the ‘wrong’ message, and it will leave it to a future Parliament to decide.
Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD)
Licensing of PGD is to become easier, according to the HFEA. And because there have been no critics of this proposed move, the HFEA has concluded that people no longer fear that this is a path to ‘designer babies’. This is yet another example of the HFEA making decisions on the hoof, without consultation, without any debate.
Several years ago, the HFEA were unsure about the ethics of using PGD. In March 2000, the FIEC’s Social Issues Team made a submission to the HFEA opposing PGD, primarily because it inevitably results in the deliberate destruction of human embryos, and because it is motivated by a eugenic view of the disabled.
At that time, the HFEA concluded that PGD could be used only for very severe cases of genetic illness. Nevertheless, it resolutely refused permission for the production of so-called ‘saviour siblings’. Then, a little later, it decided to grant such permission. Now PGD will be permissible for less serious conditions. Next, perhaps in a few months, there will be a free-for-all, PGD will become entirely unregulated. Who says slippery slopes do not exist?
Here again is that recurring problem
How can we engage with decision-makers whose policies we find anathema? There are three basic strategies to reconsider.
1] There is an inward strategy. We will stick to our guns. Our arguments and practices are principled. Christians derive their non-negotiable ethics from the Book. We will not be seduced by situation ethics, secular humanism, and their like. We may suffer as a consequence – so be it.
2] There is an outward strategy. We will continue to counter worldviews and practices that we consider to be wrong. We will continue to devise and support actions that are right. We do believe in right and wrong, we do believe in truth and error. We will not be seduced by any postmodernist worldview.
3] There is a practical strategy. We will continue to be salt and light. There will be occasions when concerted action is called for. These are one-offs – if the first boat is missed, there is no going back. The protest against legalising euthanasia is an obvious example looming on the horizon. Then there are other occasions when the required action is ongoing. Caring for the dying, supporting the hospice movement and palliative medicine are such examples.
When these three strategies are practised, and mixed with prayer, then the social issues climate in our country will be quite different. Imagine the difference if just 1 in 10 Christians sought to achieve this.
17 February 2005.