FaithWorld

Swiss to tighten assisted suicide rules, maybe even ban it

Undertakers remove body of assisted suicide from Dignitas office in Zurich, 20 Jan 2003/Sebastian Derungs (Photo: Undertakers remove body of an assisted suicide from Dignitas office in Zurich, 20 Jan 2003/Sebastian Derungs)

Switzerland is looking to change the law on assisted suicide to make sure it is only used as a last resort by the terminally ill.  “We have no interest, as a country, in being attractive for suicide tourism,” Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf told a news conference in the capital Berne.

A rise in the number of foreigners seeking to end their lives in Switzerland, and a study last year showing that more and more people seeking assisted suicides in the country do not suffer from a terminal illness, have provoked heated debate.

The cabinet — which is divided on the emotive issue — sent two proposals into the legislative process for consultation, which will last until March 1: one for tighter regulation and the other for an outright ban.

Switzerland’s two main right-to-die groups, Exit and Dignitas, both said they opposed the government proposals and would seek a referendum on the topic if needed.

Read the full story here.

What do you think? Should assisted suicide be liberalised, restricted or banned altogether?

Global report shows abortion rates falling

abortionA new study into global abortion rates was released on Tuesday by the U.S.-based Guttmacher Institute, a think-tank which studies sexual and reproductive health.

Here are some of the main findings:

* ABORTION TRENDS:

– The rate of safe abortions dropped between 1995 and 2003 to 15 from 20 per 1,000 women aged 15-44, but unsafe abortions declined only slightly — to 14 from 15 per 1,000 women aged 15-44. The overall rate fell to 29 from 35 per 1,000 women.

– Globally around 70,000 women die each year from the effects of unsafe abortions, a figure that has barely changed in the last 10 years. An estimated 8 million women annually experience complications and need medical treatment, but only 5 million actually get that care.

Will Orthodox Jews say good-bye to Sabbath elevators?

jerusalem-cropped (Photo: Posters for protest in Jerusalem against parking lot open on Sabbath, 8 July 2009/Baz Ratner)

In a move that may literally take the breath away from many of the world’s Orthodox Jews, a group of Israel’s top rabbis recently ruled that riding in what for decades have been designated as “Shabbat (Sabbath) elevators,” is  against Jewish law. This decision — already been opposed by other leading rabbis – could force many Jews who live in apartment buildings to sweat their way up staircases once a week.

The Jewish Sabbath, or Shabbat, is meant to be a day of rest. Observant Jews refrain from working, traveling in vehicles, spending money and from using electricity.

Reuters photoIn modern times, it’s tough to imagine going 24 hours without using anything electric. So gadgets have been invented to allow the use of certain appliances without physically turning them on. Like timers for lights, called Shabbat clocks. Or special cookers for stove tops. Or elevators for Shabbat.

Bumps on the road towards a burqa ban in France

burqa-libraryRemember all the talk about France banning the burqa and niqab Muslim veils for women a few months ago? That project is now in the parliamentary inquiry phase, a six-month fact-finding mission expected to wind up late this year and produce a draft bill to outlaw them. That’s the way France handled it in 2003 when it wanted to stop Muslim girls from wearing headscarves to state schools. But the process seems more complex this time around. There’s less passion and more hesitation in the debate. A smooth progression from the inquiry to the ban and to its implementation no longer looks assured. (Photo: Woman in a niqab outside a public library in Ronchin, northern France, 9 Aug 2009/Farid Alouache)

To get a feel for the debate, I dropped by the panel’s latest open hearing late on Tuesday and listened to the arguments being made. Five mayors from suburbs with Muslim minorities were due to speak to the panel, which is led by a Communist deputy named André Gerin who makes no bones about his view that a ban is needed. Mayors like these men play a key role in an issue like this, because they are on the front lines dealing with social change and are taken seriously when they clamour for change. Several are also deputies in the National Assembly – France allows them to occupy multiple offices – so they can easily lobby at the national level for something they want.

Sitting alone at the press table in the committee room, I soon saw why the drive towards a ban seems to be hitting some bumps. The mayors don’t know what they want. All think something has to be done, but most are worried that an outright ban wouldn’t work. Here’s my news story on the session.

Artist takes on censorship, porn law amid Indonesia restrictions

suwageIndonesian artist Agus Suwage knows what it is like to run up against the religious conservatives. Four years ago, he was hauled into parliament, where lawmakers accused him of blasphemy and of producing pornography dressed up as art. Today, facing an even more restrictive climate in Indonesia, Suwage refuses to be silenced and has made those restrictions the focus of his art.

His latest exhibition, which opened at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute this month, highlights what he sees as a growing conservatism in majority Muslim but officially secular Indonesia. Many of the works probably could not be shown at a big public exhibition space in Indonesia following the passage of a controversial anti-pornography law last year.

“There are more important things to address in law than pornography, like education. But everyone wants to win a political point and on this issue the politics come easily,” Suwage told Reuters in an interview.

Britain muddles through with assisted suicide guidelines

purdyPressure is growing in Europe for some form of legalised euthanasia but few governments have gone as far as the Benelux countries in allowing assisted suicide in clearly defined cases. The mix of growing public support for ending lives of the terminally ill or brain dead but continued prohibitions on it in the law has led to some long and hard-fought legal battles in Italy (Eluana Englaro) and in France (Vincent Humbert). (Photo: Multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy, whose case prompted Britain’s new guidelines, 2 June 2009/Stephen Hird)

It has also created a legal and ethical twilight zone where for compassionate reasons the law did not really punish the doctors, nurses or relatives who helped someone die. In France, this became clear in a number of court cases where the person accused of assisted suicide were convicted but got only a short suspended sentence. In Britain, a frequently used way to get around the law has been the so-called “suicide tourism” route to the Dignitas suicide group in Zurich.

Pressed by the Law Lords to clarify British policy, the Director of Public Prosecutions in London has issued guidelines indicating when someone who helps another person to commit suicide might face legal action. At first glace, this may seem like a clarification. But it still leaves enough questions out there to leave the issue shrouded in uncertainty. The reception in London has been mixed. Some commentators say this strikes a sensible balance but others think it’s not enough and parliament has to debate and legislate on it.

Graying Britain looks to assisted suicide reform

nitschkeIt used to be an issue just for the terminally ill. Now as populations around the world age, governments are increasingly being confronted with the taboo idea of dying as something people can volunteer to do.

“The demand for the option, if not the practice, is growing rapidly,” said Dr. Philip Nitschke, 61, founder and director of the pro-euthanasia group Exit International. (Photo: Dr. Nitschke shows his ‘suicide kit,’ 7 May 2009/Stefan Wermuth)

The Australian doctor — nicknamed Dr Death for his work on suicide — is traveling the world to teach people how to end their lives safely with a suicide drug-testing kit.

France opts for legislative juggling to allow Islamic finance

assemblee-nationaleEager to attract Middle East investment but uneasy about linking faith and finance, the French parliament has opted for some legislative sleight-of-hand to pass a law allowing the issuance of interest-free Islamic “sukuk” bonds. The move is part of France’s two-year drive to create a new European hub for Islamic finance, whose value globally is estimated at $1 trillion. But instead of introducing a separate bill, which would attract attention to it, the governing UMP party tucked the proposed change of French trust law into a larger bill on financing reform for small and medium-sized companies. And it chose to do this by introducing it as an amendment in the second reading of the bill — the one that usually gets fewer headlines. (Photo: French National Assembly, 15 Sept 2009/Charles Platiau)

Sounds confusing? That seems to be exactly what the legislators wanted. As my colleague Tamora Vidaillet wrote here in an earlier post entitled “France courts Islamic finance, as long as it’s not too obvious,” bankers, politicians and goverment officials are clearly uneasy about promoting Islamic finance in France. “There is a clear sense of apprehension over how Islamic finance would fit into French society, where the policy of laïcité – the strict separation of church and state — tries to keep anything religious out of the public sphere as much as possible,” she wrote. “Many admit that French companies and banks may hesitate to do anything that uses the label Islamic as this could highlight sensitivities over social and cultural divides.”

The opposition Socialist Party opposed and attacked the change. “We are introducing Islamic law into the French legal framework. This deeply shocks us, it is unacceptable.” said Socialist MP Henri Emmanuelli. “When Muslims are rich, we try to attract them. When they’re poor, we expel them.”

New French law bars Scientology dissolution even if convicted

scientology (Photo: Scientology members demonstrate against a 1999 fraud trial in Marseille. Their banner says:”Scientology: 40 years in France. A new religion that will always be there.”)

A new French law means the Church of Scientology cannot be dissolved in France even if it is convicted of fraud, it has emerged during a trial of the organisation.  A prosecutor has recommended that a Paris court dissolve the church’s French branch, which has been charged with fraud after complaints by former members who say they gave huge sums to the church for spiritual classes and “purification packs”.

The Church of Scientology’s French arm denies fraud.

Whatever the ruling, under a legislative reform passed just before the start of the trial in May, it is no longer possible to punish a fraudulent organisation with dissolution.  The legal snag was discovered by the Inter-ministerial Unit to Monitor and Fight Cults. Georges Fenech, head of the unit, demanded on Monday that the legal power to dissolve an organisation be reinstated.

Even if the law is changed again, it cannot be applied retroactively to the Scientology trial, which was held in May and June, with the ruling expected in late October. Registered as a religion in the United States, with celebrity members such as actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta, Scientology enjoys no such legal protection in France.

Indonesian province moves closer to death by stoning law

bandar-aceh-mosqueMuslims who commit adultery in Indonesia’s Aceh province may be stoned to death under a controversial new sharia law passed by the local parliament on Monday.  Aceh is the only province in predominantly Muslim Indonesia to use sharia for its legal code, introduced as part of an autonomy deal in 2002.

The “qanun jinayat”, or sharia law for crimes, covers adultery, consumption of alcohol, rape and homosexuality, according to the draft seen by Reuters. Adultery is punishable by stoning to death, while other punishments include caning, gold fines and imprisonment.

The new law could come into force as soon as next month. See the full story here.