News Roundup

US secular groups express concerns about Biden’s religious rhetoric

The leaders of secular-oriented advocacy organisations in the US are concerned with President Joe Biden’s religious rhetoric even as they celebrate his policies.

“So far, we’re delighted with the actions,” said Rachel Laser, head of of Americans United.

But Biden’s words that have rankled many in the secularist community, particularly his habit of infusing many important decisions and ceremonies with faith. His inaugural address, besides reprising language from his campaign about “the soul of America,” cited the Bible’s 30th psalm, invoked the fifth-century theologian Augustine — whom the president, a Catholic, called “a saint of my church” — and suggested faith is key to American unity.

In addition, Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-founder and co-president of the FFRF, said her inbox was “flooded with complaints” from her group’s members when, the day before his inauguration, Biden included Cardinal Wilton Gregory, the Catholic archbishop of Washington, in a ceremony commemorating the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have died due to the pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus.

She noted that at the ceremony, held at the Lincoln Memorial, a nurse from Michigan offered the Christian hymn “Amazing Grace.”

“For our membership, for nonreligious and non-Christian individuals, it was utterly spoiled,” Gaylor said of the service.

FFRF, which claims more than 30,000 members, sent a letter to Biden in the run-up to the inauguration asking him not to include a prayer in the proceedings.

Sarah Levin, program director for Secular Democrats of America, said that if prayer or invocation must be part of public celebrations — such as the interfaith prayer service held the day after the inauguration — secular voices should be included. “I worry that this administration’s idea of interfaith outreach may tend to exclude nonbelievers,” she said.


Palliative care experts warn of ‘deeply flawed’ assisted suicide Bill

Consultants in palliative medicine have expressed concern about the assisted suicide bill before the Oireachtas.

Dr Sarah McLean of St Vincent’s Private Hospital and Blackrock Clinic says the Bill is “deeply flawed” and lacks adequate safeguards. Without these protections, society’s most vulnerable risk being pressurised into seeking assisted suicide, she says.

The Bill’s definition of what constitutes a terminal illness is too broad, adds Dr McLean, a member of the Irish Palliative Medicine Consultants’ Association (IPMCA). “There’s no proper oversight or scrutiny.”

IPMCA chair Dr Feargal Twomey, a consultant in palliative medicine at Milford Hospice in Limerick, says “every clause” in the proposed legislation has “significant weaknesses” and that the Bill “is poorly constructed and leaves the population open to significant risk”.

“The Bill, as it stands, is very open to significant misuse and abuse and encompasses any person in Ireland who has any chronic condition,” says Dr Twomey, who is also the Royal College of Physicians Ireland (RCPI) spokesperson on physician-assisted dying and euthanasia.


Citizens’ Assembly reexamines constitutional protection of mothers in the home

There is “very little consensus” on what should replace the article in the Constitution about a mother’s role in the home, the Citizens’ Assembly has heard.

Gender equality is the theme of a series of meetings and the issue of Article 41.1 on the family was debated for the second time on Saturday.

The Constitutional Convention in 2013 recommended amending Article 41.2 to make it gender-neutral, and recognising the importance of care work and providing for a reasonable level of State support for carers.

Dr Laura Cahillane, a senior lecturer in the School of Law in Limerick, said the original Article 41.2 conferred no benefit and “quite possibly the replacement provision might have the same place”.

She said the original provision has no use in law. The implication that the article might confer some financial obligation towards women was never tested. It was only raised in one case, which was unsuccessful.


UK: Fury at ‘do not resuscitate’ notices given to Covid patients with learning disabilities

People with learning disabilities have been given ‘do not resuscitate’ orders during the second wave of the pandemic in the UK.

This comes in spite of widespread condemnation of the practice last year and an urgent investigation by the care watchdog.

Mencap said it had received reports in January from people with learning disabilities that they had been told they would not be resuscitated if they were taken ill with Covid-19.

The Care Quality Commission said in December that inappropriate Do Not Attempt Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (DNACPR) notices had caused potentially avoidable deaths last year.

DNACPRs are usually made for people who are too frail to benefit from CPR, but Mencap said some seem to have been issued for people simply because they had a learning disability. The CQC is due to publish a report on the practice within weeks.

The disclosure comes as campaigners put growing pressure on ministers to reconsider a decision not to give people with learning disabilities priority for vaccinations.


Abortion group wants to override conscience rights of health workers

The Abortion Rights Campaign is using a scheduled review of Ireland’s abortion legislation to campaign for even greater access to the procedure and override the conscience rights of medics.

Among other things, the lobby group want to end the 12-week limit for abortion on request, an end to the mandatory three-day waiting period; telemedicine (allowing people to order and take all abortion pills at home) to continue permanently after the pandemic emergency period ends; repeal of conscientious objection; a ban on protests or vigils outside centres where abortion takes place.

As part of the campaign, they have initiated an online survey to gather information from people who have had, or tried to have, an abortion in Ireland since January 2019, when abortion here was legalised. In 2019, 6,666 abortions took place here. The data gleaned from the survey will be used to influence the review.


Assisted suicide a ‘failure of care’ say bishops in submission

Assisted suicide reflects a “failure of compassion on the part of society” the Catholic bishops have warned in their submission to the Oireachtas committee reviewing legislation that, if passed, would legalise euthanasia.

Good palliative care not assisted suicide “offers terminally-ill people the best possibility of achieving ‘a dignified and peaceful end of life’,” the Church leaders said in the document.

They insist that assisted suicide “is a failure to respond to the challenge of caring for terminally-ill patients as they approach the end of their lives”.

The bishops also pointed to the fact that the legislation as drafted would “coerce the consciences of objecting healthcare providers in order to facilitate something they know to be gravely immoral and utterly incompatible with their vocation to heal.

“This burdening of conscience is unnecessary, disproportionate and seriously unjust,” the submission added.


UN watchdog raises concerns about Canada’s euthanasia bill 

A letter from three United Nations monitors, including Gerard Quinn, the special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, sent to the Canada’s Liberal government last week said a new euthanasia bill would have a potentially discriminatory impact on persons with disabilities and older people who are not at the end of their lives.

If adopted, the bill will violate the right of persons with disabilities to live that’s protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the letter said.

It would also “risk reinforcing (even unintentionally), ableist and ageist assumptions about the value or quality of life of persons with disabilities and older people with or without disabilities,” it continued.

Bill C-7, which passed in the House of Commons and is now being debated in the Senate, would allow Canadians to access so-called “medically assisted death” even if they’re not already facing “reasonably foreseeable” natural death.

The bill is in response to a 2019 Superior Court of Quebec ruling that found it unconstitutional to deny assisted suicide to people who aren’t already dying.

Commentator Fr. Matthew P. Schneider says the new law will push euthanasia on the disabled. “Canada has already had two particularly troublesome issues since approving ‘Medical Aid in Dying.’ First, the law was presented as assisted suicide, but 99.95% of cases were euthanasia. Second, they pointed out how killing off the sick saved millions of dollars, as if that is a good thing”.


Another Easter Mass ban ‘difficult to justify’, says bishop

It would be “difficult to justify” a ban on public worship again this year for Holy Week and Easter, according to Catholic Bishop of Meath Tom Deenihan.

“I think that it would be difficult to justify closing churches for Easter and quite unpopular,” he said as Covid-19 rates continue to fall and the vaccine is rolled-out.

Bishop Deenihan described the current restrictions as “understandable and necessary” saying they “enjoy public support” in the context of the number of cases.

Noting that public worship was not permitted last Easter, Bishop Deenihan said that “Priests and parishioners are now quite concerned that we will not be allowed to celebrate the Easter ceremonies this year either.

“As numbers decline and as vaccines are rolled out, particularly amongst those who are most vulnerable, that would be difficult to justify,” he said.

“Our churches are probably safer than shopping malls and supermarkets – there is less movement and more social distance. I think that it would be difficult to justify closing churches for Easter and quite unpopular,” he said. Easter Sunday falls on April 4 this year.


German town brought to court over abortion prayer prohibition

A pro-life group have taken a German town to Court over a ban on silent prayer on the streets.

The “40 Days for Life” group in Pforzheim, Germany were prohibited by the local authority from gathering to pray peacefully near a pre-abortion advisory center. The case will be heard in national court.

“I want to be there to pray, not for myself, but for the vulnerable women contemplating abortion, and for their unborn children,” says Pavica Vojnović, who with the support of human rights organization ADF International is seeking justice in court to restore her fundamental rights to freedom of religion, assembly and speech.

“This topic really touches my heart, as I know the pain of losing a child. Our society must offer better support to mothers in difficult situations. Every life is valuable and deserves protection. Surely a simple prayer for the vulnerable cannot be banned?”


Breastfeeding is now chestfeeding, Brighton’s NHS tells midwives

Midwives have been told to say “chestfeeding” instead of “breastfeeding” and to replace the term “mother” with “mother or birthing parent” as part of moves to be more trans-friendly.

Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust is the first in the country to formally implement a gender inclusive language policy for its maternity services department, which will now be known as “perinatal services”.

Staff have been instructed that “breastmilk” should be replaced with the phrases “human milk”, “breast/chestmilk” or “milk from the feeding mother or parent”.

Other changes include replacing the use of “woman” with “woman or person” and “father” with “parent”, “co-parent” or “second biological parent”, depending on the circumstances.