FaithWorld

Unanswered question about “suicide tourism” in Switzerland

Undertakers remove body of assisted suicide from Dignitas office in Zurich, 20 Jan 2003/Sebastian Derungs“Suicide tourism” in Switzerland exerts a morbid fascination on the media. The assisted suicide group Dignitas, which opened in 1998, is rarely out of the news, especially in Britain (here are some of the latest stories on Google). In a rare interview last March, its founder Ludwig Minelli said it had helped 840 people to die to date, 60% of them Germans.

Another “right to die” group, Exit, gets less attention abroad because it only deals with Swiss citizens. But it seems to be just as active, if not more so. Founded in 1982, it says it gets 150-180 requests for assisted suicide annually.

There have been several polls showing general public support for these groups — the latest one says 61 percent of the Swiss approve of assisted suicide. But until recently, there has not been any serious study of the people who seek these groups out. Are there patterns in the types of people or their reasons for ending their lives this way?

A new study by the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) has examined 229 official written requests for assisted suicide in Zurich in a search for any significant patterns. Most findings of the study, presented at a European Association of Centres of Medical Ethics (EACME) conference that ended at the weekend in Prague, are not surprising. The candidates cited reasons such as wanting to end suffering or avoiding being a burden on their families. No single motivation stood out as the most frequent.

Zurich building where Dignitas had clinic until recent move, 20 Jan 2003/Sebastian DerungsBut there was one statistic that did. Women made up 61.9% of the candidates for assisted suicide considered in the study (64.4% over the total in Zurich from 2001 to 2004) and men only 38.1% of those studied (or 35.6% of the overall total).

Will “The Jewel of Medina” create another Rushdie affair?

Proposed cover for The Jewel of MedinaAre we headed for another “Rushdie affair” over the yet-to-be-published novel The Jewel of Medina? First an American publisher withdrew its plan to publish the novel about A’isha, the child bride of the Prophet Mohammad, out of fear of a backlash from Islamist radicals. Then a British publisher announced he had bought the rights and would print the once feared historical novel“. Now comes the news that the publisher’s London office has been the target of an arson attack and police have arrested three men on suspicion of terrorism.

Some early signs are not encouraging. The Daily Telegraph quotes Anjem Choudhary, a radical cleric based in Ilford in east London, as saying: “It is clearly stipulated in Muslim law that any kind of attack on his honour carries the death penalty.” While his unbending interpretation of Muslim law is certainly debatable, his warning that publication of the novel could cause further protests is not.

On the other hand, Muslim Council of Britain spokesman Inayat Bunglawala wrote last week that the mood among British Muslims had changed since they clamoured for Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses to be banned. “Is this rethinking now widespread amongst British Muslims? Yes, my impression is that it certainly is with many now accepting that the Satanic Verses affair served to create (and for others reinforce) the unfortunate view that Muslims were backward, anti-intellectual, prone to violence and saw themselves as being somehow above the law,” he wrote.

Where does religion have its strongest foothold?

Indonesian Muslims pray at Jakarta’s Istiqlal Mosque during Ramadan, 5 Sept 2008/Supri SupriThe answer is Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population. At least that was the conclusion of the latest Pew Research Institute survey of attitudes about religion around the world — a look at 24 countries based on thousands of interviews. Indonesia came in first with 99 percent of the population rating religion as important or very important in their lives — and it topped everyone else in the “very important” slot at 95 percent. Beyond that 80 percent of those surveyed in Indonesia say they pray five times a day every day — adhering to one of the five pillars of Islam.

Indeed Islam is well represented in the top five countries where religion is valued in life — with Tanzania, Jordan, Pakistan and Nigeria following Indonesia.

At the bottom of the chart was France, where only 10 percent saw religion as very important and 60 percent said they never pray.

What’s the use of apologising to Darwin?

Charles DarwinThe Church of England has just issued an apology to Charles Darwin for opposing his theory of evolution when The Origin of Species first came out 150 years ago. The Roman Catholic Church says it sees no need to say “sorry” for its initial hostility to the same theory. But both are now reconciled to evolution as solid science and are getting active in presenting their view that it is not incompatible with Christian faith. Is one approach better than the other to get this message across?

Next year’s double anniversary — the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species — is one reason to speak up about evolution. Another is the fact that evolution has become an increasingly controversial public issue, especially in the United States, and the debate is dominated by mostly conservative Protestant creationists and “intelligent design” supporters on one side and agnostic/atheistic scientists on the other.

A first edition of The Origin of Species, 13 June 2008/Lucas JacksonThat debate is so entangled in U.S. politics — the latest chapter being the questions about Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s views on teaching creationism in schools — that a less polarised view has a hard time getting heard. Trying to walk a middle path can be a tricky business, too, as Rev Michael Reiss in Britain has learned. A biologist and Anglican priest, he has just had to resign as the Royal Society‘s director of education after causing an uproar among scientists by saying creationism could be discussed as a “world view” in science class. He wasn’t advocating it, but thought that simply telling students with creationist views that they were wrong would turn them off science completely.

“I’ll be at Lambeth telling my story…” — Gene Robinson

Bishop Gene Robinson, 7 March 2004/Brian SnyderBishop Gene Robinson hasn’t been invited to the Anglican Communion’s Lambeth Conference, which opens next week, but he’s sure to be in the news all the same. The openly gay Episcopal bishop, whose consecration in 2003 sparked a near-schism by traditionalist Anglicans from the Global South, plans to preach in churches, attend receptions and appear at a film premiere in Britain before, during and after Lambeth (details below). He also plans to blog at a site called Canterbury Tales from the Fringe. Extensive coverage seems guaranteed.

The absence of the Communion’s most critical conservatives should heighten Robinson’s media presence. Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, who led the rival GAFCON conference in Jerusalem last month, is boycotting the ten-yearly Lambeth Conference, as are four other traditionalist primates. So it seems unlikely that reporters there will hear headline-grabbing sound bites like accusations of apostasy against Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (as Akinola made at GAFCON) or charges that gay hit men might be ready to whack their critics (as Uganda’s Archbishop Henry Orombi said in a recent sermon).

Mike Conlon has blogged here about the effort to lower the Lambeth Conference’s profile, which could indirectly raise Robinson’s. The 1998 session was dominated by a divisive debate about homosexuality and voting on a resolution “rejecting homosexual practice as Lambeth 1998, 17 july 1998/Kieran Dohertyincompatible with Scripture.” That makes headlines. This time around, the organisers seem to have taken the wind out of the critics’ sails by drawing up an agenda with no voting rounds on it. “Everything they’ve suggested says there won’t be any voting of any kind at any point,” said Jim Naughton, spokesman for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.

Ex-diplomat Cardinal Tauran pulls no punches now

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, 25 Nov 2005/Jameson WuCardinal Jean-Louis Tauran has apparently left diplomacy behind in his past life. The cardinal is now the head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue, and as such, Pope Benedict’s point man for relations with all non-Christian religions except for Judaism.

From 1975 to 2003, Tauran was often a tight-lipped Vatican diplomat. He did his job so well he ended his previous life as Secretary for Relations with States, effectively the
Vatican’s foreign minister and number three position in the Secretariat of State.

When he left that job, the Frenchman was briefly Archivist of Holy Roman Church and kept a mostly low profile.

Lambeth Conference: News or Not?

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, 22 Feb 2008/Darren StaplesIt has been spoken of as a setting for schism. But could the Lambeth Conference — the worldwide Anglican Communion‘s once-a-decade global meeting beginning July 16 in England — be a bust when it comes to headline-making news?

That’s the way leaders of the U.S. Episcopal Church see it. There will be no grand pronouncements made or resolutions voted on, they say. The traditional Western parliamentary idea that produces winners and losers on debated issues has been scrapped for face-to-face meetings. Some of them have been baptized ”Indaba groups,” which Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has described as a Zulu term denoting “a meeting for purposeful discussion among equals.”

The Rev. Ian Douglas, a professor of World Christianity at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts who helped plan the meeting, recently told reporters at a briefing:

Dutch play probes “mercy killing” as euthanasia deaths fall

Alzheimer’s patient in Dutch nursing home, 7 May 2008/Michael Kooren“The Good Death,” a play about euthanasia, has brought the issue of “mercy killing” to Dutch theatres at a time when such deaths are falling. They dropped to 2,325, or 1.7 percent of all deaths in 2005, from 2.6 percent in 2001. Playing to packed houses throughout the Netherlands, which legalised euthanasia in 2002, the play shows the law has not removed the moral dilemma for many involved.

In fact, part of the reason for the drop in euthanasia deaths could be that agonised doctors are opting to give patients heavy sedation until they die, rather than putting an end to their lives. Even some patients who have asked for euthanasia are given continuous deep sedation instead. This feature by our Netherlands chief correspondent Emma Thomasson looks at the issues involved.

This raises the question of whether deep sedation, while being presented as palliative care that is ethically acceptable for many faiths, is not in fact “euthanasia lite.” Or at least whether it is being used as such. The British Medical Journal has suggested this in a report that prompted an editorial and a lively reader discussion. “Although the exact cause of this trend is unclear, there are indications that continuous deep sedation may in some cases be being used as a substitute for euthanasia,” a report in Science Daily said.

Abortion debate rages in Britain on 40th anniversary of law

23-week-old foetus in ultrasound scan, 23 April 2008/Create Health Clinic handoutBritain passed its law legalising abortion 40 years ago today. But the controversy has not died down. Parliament is again besieged by two camps of activists, one keen to stop what they say is murder and the other defending what they see as a women’s right. Judging it too difficult to have the law overturned, the anti-abortion camp aims to lower the 24-week limit for the termination of pregnancy to 20, 18 or even fewer weeks.

For more, read Kate Kelland’s feature here. We also have a factbox on abortion laws around the world and the story of a boy born at 22 weeks — probably the most premature baby to have survived in Britain — and now thriving.

The factbox shows a wide spectrum of legal positions, with differing rationales producing different conditions, especially on the time limits. Britain is clearly in a minority with its 24-week limit; many other countries set the bar at 12 weeks, with possible exceptions.

Catholics, sex, abortion, libel, a cardinal — what a story…

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor

UPDATE: The trial ended in stalemate on Feb. 29 and a retrial is due in a few months. Murphy-O’Connor was not called to testify.

The British papers are all over the story of the libel suit brought by former spokesman for London’s Cardinal Cormac Murphy- O’Connor against the Daily Mail. The tabloid wrote in 2006 that Austen Ivereigh, 41, had pressured one former girlfriend into having an abortion and wanted another to abort twins she was carrying (she later miscarried). He flatly denies the charges and accuses the Daily Mail of making him lose his job and his reputation. The story broke at a time when Ivereigh was an active Church campaigner against abortion.

The case opened in court on Monday and Ivereigh has been on the stand giving his side of the story. He admitted he did not always live up to Church teaching (on sex before marriage, for example) but strongly denied that he proposed abortion and insisted that he, as a practising Catholic, opposed it.