Monthly Archives: May 2012

Time to think about dying ….

National Palliative Care Week is a good time to start thinking about death …

So, I went to Queensland Palliative Care’s Your Death, Your Choice community forum last weekend and, to tell the truth, for the first half of the morning I was a bit ‘pissed’ that the speakers all seemed to be skirting around the subject of voluntary euthanasia. That’s what I’d come to hear people talk about!

During the lunch break I had a friendly, but fairly intense chat with Dr Mark Deuble.  As our conversation progressed, I could tell he was incredibly irritated that I wanted to focus on VE, when he wanted to focus on the immediate, pressing needs of the palliative care sector.

To be honest, I was like some really annoying mosquito prattling on about what I saw as THE MOST IMPORTANT THING while he was trying to explain why (at least to him) it wasn’t.

I don’t think I made a very good impression. I’m sure the words, “What an incredibly annoying woman!” were muttered under his breath as I went back to my seat.

I told him I’d be writing an article on the forum. I imagine him thinking, “God, help us!”

Well, I may be annoying, but I’m not stupid or intractable.

During the afternoon session and long into the night I thought very carefully about Dr Deuble’s argument.

I can’t say I agree that VE shouldn’t be an issue until we’ve addressed the parlous state of palliative care in this country; but I can see his point. My argument would be that in those countries and jurisdictions where VE has been legalized, it helped shine a spotlight on palliative care and forced governments to pay far more attention to it than they had in the past. VE is good for palliative care.

But, I’ve already had my rant about euthanasia this week. So, when I sat down to write a less ranty article about palliative care and the Your Death, Your Choice forum, Dr Deuble was very much on my mind.

We may disagree on VE, but what absolutely shone through was that he was a caring and dedicated physician with an absolute burning passion to advocate for better end-of-life care for his patients. Dr Deuble spoke eloquently and from the heart and he made me take a broader view of the whole VE debate.

Don’t worry! I haven’t gone soft on VE. But it’s as if I’d been focused on Sydney and someone took me up in a plane and showed me New South Wales.  After I got over the fact that Dr Deuble didn’t agree with every single word I uttered, I kind of went, “Wow! I’ve actually never looked at it from that perspective!”  I thank him for that.

What Dr Deuble and the folks at Palliative Care Queensland need  (and I, suspect, Palliative Care advocacy groups in other states as well) is public support. They need us to contact our state pollies and say, “What are YOU doing to improve palliative care in this state?”

My article on the Your Death, Your Choice forum  was published on ABC’s Religion and Ethics portal today. I really hope Dr Deuble will like it and maybe think of me as somewhat less annoying.

I’ve sent a copy of my article to my local state member today and I’ve made an appointment to talk to him about it (and a few other things that are making me ranty) on Monday.

So, let me ask you a favour.  Read my article, and if you think Dr Deuble and I have made a fair case, think about forwarding the link to your local state member and asking what they’re doing to fix the problem.

National Palliative Care Week is a good time to start thinking about death …

Chrys Stevenson

An open letter to Geoff Bullock, Family Voice Australia – on voluntary euthanasia

Important note: This post refers to Geoff Bullock of Family Voice Australia. It does not refer to the Australian songwriter of the same name.

Dear Geoff

You may recall that at the recent Your Death, Your Choice forum in Maroochydore we had a particularly animated discussion on voluntary euthanasia, during which I promised to send you evidence of my claim that your pronouncement on involuntary euthanasia was not only false, but mischievous. (OK, I said ‘evil’, not mischievous.)

You may be surprised and discomfited that rather than replying to you privately, I have chosen to do so publicly. Let me explain my reasons.

I took some time to debate the ethics of this in my own mind. Ultimately, I determined that it was fair for the following reasons:

  1. You are not just a private citizen, you are a senior member of a political lobby group.
  2. In asking me to contact you, you did not hand me a private card – you handed me your political lobbyist’s business card.
  3. You made your statement in a public forum. It seems fair that my response should also be public.
  4. Writing, researching and editing this response has taken me three days – because I care about proper research and accuracy. I know intuitively that you will reject every piece of evidence presented to you in this letter or, if you deign to accept that I am right on this one point, you will scurry away to find other things from the Christian blog-o-sphere that seem to suggest that voluntary euthanasia is dangerous/evil/out-of-control/about to bring in Nazi-style eugenics/will result in little old ladies being knocked off for the inheritance, etc.

In other words, I know that writing to you privately is almost certainly a complete and utter waste of my time. I might borrow from the Bible and say ‘casting pearls before swine’ , but that would be unkind.

So, Geoff, this letter isn’t really for you. It’s to expose people like you and it’s to inform people who may come into contact with people like you that Christians are not always to be believed. They do not always represent “The Truth” as one might expect. In fact, sometimes, Christians stand up in public forums, misrepresent their level of expertise and spew out a great deal of absolute nonsense on subjects about which they know very little.

That is why I am writing this letter; not with any faint hope that you have any genuine interest in “The Truth”.

So, let’s get down to specifics. At the Your Death, Your Choice forum you stood up in a forum of around 200 people and declared that after voluntary euthanasia was legalized in The Netherlands, the rate of involuntary euthanasia increased.

When you were told by a number of experts that this was completely untrue, you insisted that you had researched this, giving the impression that you, yourself, were some kind of authority.

After the forum, you will recall that I challenged you. You see, Geoff I have researched the academic literature on voluntary euthanasia. I don’t claim to be an expert – that would take years – but I’ve spent months on it, researching, reading, writing, speaking to doctors and nurses and to those whose loved ones have suffered because people like you pollute the public debate with lies, misinformation and propaganda.

You may care to read some of my articles:

Activist Dead Wrong on Voluntary Euthanasia (written with Dr David Leaf)

The Debate on Assisted Dying: Distortion, Misinformation and the Influence of the Religious Lobby (for DWD NSW)

Take Control of Your Own Death Before It’s Too Late

I knew you had not done your research because:

a) what you were saying was bollocks and

b) I had actually read the reports whose findings you were so blatantly misrepresenting.

I promised I would send you the evidence which contradicts what you said at the forum and you assured me that you were only interested in “The Truth”. I doubt this is true, Geoff. I suspect that you are only interested in “The Truth” when it accords with your narrow, Biblical world-view. When it challenges that view, it seems you are quite happy to opt for the lies and misinformation which appear to support it.

Let me begin by telling you what Dutch academics, John Griffiths (Emeritus Professor of Sociology of Law), Heleen Weyers (Lecturer in Legal Theory) and Maurice Adams (Professor of Law) have to say about how academic research on voluntary euthanasia in The Netherlands is distorted by those with ideological agendas.

“Imprecision, exaggeration, suggestion and innuendo, misinterpretation and misrepresentation, ideological ipsedixitism, and downright lying and slander (not to speak of bad manners) have taken the place of careful analysis of the problem and consideration of the Dutch evidence.”

Make no mistake, they’re talking about you and yours. Yes, Geoff, unwittingly you identified yourself as one of those base religionists to whom ideology is more important than the facts. That’s how I picked you out as ‘religious’ at the Your Death, Your Choice forum. You checked all the boxes.

I hope you have the grace to be embarrassed by the fact you can be so easily identified as a fundamentalist Christian because your public pronouncements (and not just those at the YDYC forum) fit the description given above.

I didn’t even need to meet you to know you were a Christian, but you confirmed the type of Christianity even before you gave me your business card. Do you know how ?

When I asked you directly if you had done your research from a ‘religious’ perspective you spluttered, “I’m not going to tell you that! That’s irrelevant!”

Strange, isn’t it, that when I asked directly if you were coming from a religious perspective you repeatedly refused to confirm it. A bit like Peter’s denial of Jesus, isn’t it Geoff?

As several people have said to me, “Why didn’t he just say, ‘Yes, I’m a Christian, and that’s why the truth is important to me!’?”

But I know why. I’ve become very familiar with fundamentalist Christians trying to hide their religious affiliations in order to seem more authoritative. It’s why your political lobby group is called “Family Voice” instead of a more transparent “Christian Voice”. It’s why the Family First Party isn’t called the God First Party and it’s why Doctors for the Family isn’t called “Doctors willing to make shit up for Jesus”.

All those names would be far more accurate, but you guys aren’t about truth and accuracy are you, Geoff? It’s all about ‘spin’.

“Don’t make it obvious we’re coming from a religious perspective – no-one will believe us!”

Isn’t that a sorry indictment of the depths to which fundamentalism has brought Christianity?

The thing is, Geoff, you know and I know, the moment you admit you’re a Christian – especially a Christian of a certain conservative, fundamentalist type – your credibility is shot.

Why?

Because your lot are doing such a fabulous job of destroying the reputation of your religion by trying to prop up the unsupportable, widely debunked rationales for your narrow minded prejudices with a world-wide litany of: ‘“Imprecision, exaggeration, suggestion and innuendo, misinterpretation and misrepresentation, ideological ipsedixitism, and downright lying and slander (not to speak of bad manners)” – and not just on voluntary euthanasia!

Research, Geoff, is not reading Bill Muehlenberg’s blog and stopping by at a few other Christian websites.

You may not have picked this up when you were doing your unaccredited licentiate in theology (Th.L) at the Australian College of Theology, Geoff, but to call what you did, ‘research’ is either blatant misrepresentation or pitiful self-delusion. (I fear that, in your case, because you did seem like a very nice man, it’s the latter.)

Nevertheless, you are an adult in a position of authority and you have to take responsibility for your words. You also have to take responsibility for those you associate with.

Too often your co-religionists stand up and utter absolute rot and are never held to account. You, Geoff – nice as you may be – are today’s sacrificial lamb.

Christopher James Ryan MBBS, FRANZCP (note the post-nominals, Geoff – just a tad more authoritative than ThL, CDec) has this to say about the slippery slope meme you so artlessly invoked at the Your Death, Your Choice forum:

“The slippery slope does not try to argue its case by drawing conclusions from carefully constructed premises, nor does it rely upon a systematic review of empirical evidence. Any sort of formal argument for the slope’s predictions would be quickly bogged down in detail and uncertainty …

Those who make use of the slippery slope … do not concern themselves with [empirical evidence]. They do not need to because, the slippery slope is not really an argument at all.

Rather, it is a stern and knowing warning – an ethical “beware the Ides of March”.

The slippery slope is what Daniel Dennett has termed an intuition pump. Intuition pumps bypass the uncertain and exhausting path of convincing readers with careful and detailed argument in favour of a more easily travelled byway that speeds readers to a conclusion based upon their gut feeling. Intuition pumps replace argument with slogans and telling images. They are designed to convince readers of the truth of what they already suspected.

Although intuition pumps do not depend upon empirical evidence, they will utilise such facts as are available to further their cause.”

In simpler terms, the ‘slippery slope’ argument, much beloved of fundamentalist Christians, makes you look rather like Henny Penny in the children’s story.

“The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” she clucks frantically, and is soon joined in her panic by all her friends, who never think to ask if her interpretation of the ‘evidence’ is sound.

Of course, Henny Penny and her friends met a rather gruesome end. Gullibility is unsustainable in the long term.

This is a bit long-winded, I know, and it gets worse. But I really want you to understand what a very, very bad reputation you fundamentalist Christians have in the mainstream world where “The Truth” you say you so ardently seek is defined as ‘that which is’ not ‘that which one wants to believe’.

You are entitled to your own opinion, Geoff. You are not entitled to your own facts*. Facts are things which are independent of what you’d ‘like to believe’. They are not things which can or should be reformulated in order to be shoe-horned into your narrow ideology.

One of the academics at the conference sought me out after the forum and said to me, “You know, there are some people who will never be convinced by evidence.”

They had you summed up, too.

I said, “I know.”

Another expert on voluntary euthanasia emailed me, warning me about wasting my time on “fruitcakes you are never EVER going to convince.”

I said, “I know.”

They are both right. Sad to say, I could drive up to your house today with a semi-trailer full of academic research which confirms that, where voluntary euthanasia or physician assisted suicide has been legalised it is operating safely and efficiently with widespread community support (80 per cent in the Netherlands, for instance). I could bring with me a bus load of experts from medicine, science and academia to say– as the experts told you on Saturday – there is no ‘slippery slope’. You would still not believe what they told you, because it conflicts with your religious convictions.

Your ‘research’ into voluntary euthanasia was so poor that you didn’t even realise the ‘evidence’ you were parroting is a gross misrepresentation of a statistic from the Remmelink Report, published in 1991. You hadn’t even heard of Remmelink!

Remmelink has been superseded by two major research projects, commissioned by the Dutch government – both of which follow the format of Remmelink. I suspect you didn’t stumble across them in your research, either, Geoff.

But, first, let’s get our terms right.

You stated that your research showed that the incidence of involuntary euthanasia increased in The Netherlands after euthanasia was legalised. I suspect that what you were talking about was non-voluntary euthanasia also known as ‘euthanasia without explicit request’. Basic research would have clarified this for you, but you will find the two terms commonly used interchangeably on Christian websites.

Voluntary euthanasia means a patient has explicitly asked a doctor to help them end their life and that this request has been properly formalised with all the appropriate paperwork.

Non-voluntary euthanasia means that a doctor, almost always in consultation with her colleagues and the patient’s family, makes the sad decision that the best thing for the terminal patient is to hasten their death. This doesn’t mean the patient was never consulted about their wishes. It may simply mean that their wishes were not formally recorded and, at the time of their death, they were not in a position to confirm their request.

There is certainly an argument for tightening up administrative practices – but it is a long way from suggesting a patient has been killed against their will.

Have you ever considered why it might be impossible to gain the consent of the patient at the time a lethal dose of medication is administered?

Perhaps the disease has progressed too far, perhaps the patient is brain damaged, perhaps they suffer from some kind of ‘locked in’ syndrome like ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), or perhaps the patient is a child or a baby who cannot practically give consent for themselves. The patient may well have spoken to their family or doctor previously about their wishes, but if their wishes were not filled out on the appropriate forms, their death will be recorded as ‘without explicit request’.

Involuntary euthanasia occurs only when a terminal patient has explicitly said, “I do not want to receive assistance in dying” and the doctor proceeds to hasten their death against their will; or, when a doctor decides to kill someone whose death is not imminent and who has not expressed a wish to have their death hastened. In every country and jurisdiction where voluntary euthanasia is legal, this is, if proven, a criminal offence attracting a jail term.

The Remmelink Report, is the foundation report for research into euthanasia. Undertaken in 1990, it is, of course, now way out of date. But, as a document against which we can measure the trajectory of voluntary and non-voluntary euthanasia, it is invalauble.

It is important to note that the Remmelink study was undertaken before voluntary euthanasia was legalized in the Netherlands. (Up until then, voluntary euthanasia was tolerated under certain circumstances but was not yet legal.)

Even taking all this into account it is absolutely untrue to say that the Remmelink Commission found widespread involuntary or even non-voluntary euthanasia. In fact, the Remmelink Commission found no cases of involuntary euthanasia in the Netherlands during the period of their review. None. Not one.

It did find (and this is where all the Henny Pennys and Turkey-Lurkeys start clucking and gobbling!) 1000 cases where a doctor deliberately ended the life of a patient without a clear and explicit request from the patient. This represented 0.8 per cent of all deaths.

Yes, it’s a tiny, tiny percentage isn’t it? I wonder if you knew how small this figure was as a percentage of total deaths before you stood up and spruiked about all the research you’d done, Geoff?

But still, 1000 people killed against their will! That’s barbaric!

But this was not involuntary euthanasia, Geoff. It was non-voluntary euthanasia.

Ryan (1998) provides some important clarifying information on these 1000 cases of non-voluntary euthanasia (please remember, this figure is not current, it reflects the situation in The Netherlands two decades ago, before VE was fully legal):

“[Remmelink’s] detailed analysis of the instances of life terminating acts without explicit request revealed that in 59% of cases the physician did have information about the patient’s wishes through discussion with the patient and/or a previous request. In all other cases discussion with the patient was no longer possible. In 86% of cases life was shortened by a few hours or a day at most and no instances of involuntary euthanasia were discovered.

So, Geoff, while technicaly, 1000 deaths are categorized as ‘without explicit request’, the wishes of 590 of those patients were known to their physician. They were not killed against their wishes, they were euthanized in accordance with their wishes.

But what of the other 410?

Let’s jump forward to Agnes van der Heide’s (and colleagues) 2007 follow-up on Remmelink, because she clearly sets out how we might understand this category of euthanasia ‘without explicit request’.

Van der Heide tells us that, in 2007, requests were not received from 10.4 per cent of the patients because ‘they were unconscious’ and in 15.3 per cent of cases there were ‘other factors’ which made an explicit request impossible. A further 14.4 per cent of patients were unable to give consent because they were children or babies – their parents gave consent on their behalf. In 80.9 per cent of cases, the decision to hasten death was discussed with the patient’s relatives. In 65.3 per cent of cases, the decision was made in consultation with other health professionals.

In other words, Geoff, euthanasia ‘without explicit request’ does not mean involuntary euthanasia, nor does it necessarily even mean the patient was not consulted or that their views were not taken into account.

But, my goodness cry all the Henny Pennys! Why would someone’s family want to hasten the death of a loved one – unless, of course, there were nefarious motives. Rushing to reap the rewards of a rich aunt’s will, perhaps?

Sanctimoniously, Geoff, you, yourself have written on Bill Muehlenberg’s blog that ‘the sanctity of life is far more important than the quality of life’.

Have you ever seen how a cancer patient’s life might end, Geoff? Where is the sanctity in a beautiful young woman, in the final hours of her life, uncontrollably vomiting faeces from her mouth?

If it were your daughter or wife, would you be piously prattling about the wonderful ‘dignity’ and ‘sanctity’ of her last hours?

What would be most compassionate, Geoff; to leave her in her indignity, or for her loved ones and her doctor to consult and decide that the kindest thing to do, what she would have wanted, would be to hasten her inevitable and imminent death?

What of an old man with uncontrollable gangrene in his foot? Would you have been able to wax lyrical about the sanctity of his life as he lay in a palliative care ward for months begging to be released from his suffering as the gangrene, slowly and excruciatingly spread, rotting him to death?

If I was angry with you on Saturday, Geoff, I was not as angry as I should have been, because these are the kinds of people I was speaking up for. These are the kinds of people who continue to suffer because, what is more important to you and other anti-euthanasia lobbyists is that terminally ill patients, with their own views on what is right for them, should be required to abide by YOUR particular view of what is right and what is wrong. Who died and made you God, Geoff?

It’s not enough, for you, is it Geoff, that you could refuse to have your own death hastened?

No! God-like, you seek to push your views on to others – lobbying your little heart out without even stopping to think of the suffering your stance causes, or the possibility that you might be wrong. Without even bothering, I may add, to spend the time doing some accurate, unbiased research.

But, it is inconceivable to you that you may be wrong, there is no need for you to do any serious research into the rubbish you’ve read on Christian websites. You just take it as ‘read’.

As a senior member of a Christian lobby group I don’t doubt you’ve made similar representations to polticians on euthanasia, on abortion, on stem-cell research, on homosexuality – in the firm conviction that you’ve ‘researched’ them.

Sadly, like Henny Penny’s followers, they probably believed what you told them – a Christian wouldn’t lie or misrepresent their level of expertise, would they, Geoff?

Since Remmelink, there have been two, major, official and widely accepted peer-reviewed reports which you don’t seem to have stumbled across in your ‘research’ on voluntary euthanasia. They are:

Van der Maas et al (1996) “Euthanasia, Physician-Assisted Suicide, and Other Medical Practices Involving the End of Life in the Netherlands, 1990–1995”, New England Journal of Medicine.

And, as previously mentioned:

Van der Heide et al (2007), “End-of-Life Practices in the Netherlands under the Euthanasia Act”, New England Journal of Medicine.

Both of these are available on the internet for anybody who takes a modicum of interest in reading the actual key source documents for research into voluntary euthanasia in The Netherlands.

If you had bothered to read these reports, Geoff, you would have found that van der Maas makes it very clear that:

“Further scrutiny of the case histories in the interview study showed that decisions to end life without the patient’s request covered a wide range of situations, with a large group of patients having only a few hours or days to live, whereas a small number had a longer life expectancy but were evidently suffering greatly, with verbal contact no longer possible.

In other words, van der Maas and his colleagues didn’t just jump to the uninformed conclusion that you did. They took the time to ask, “What are the particular circumstances of these patients whose deaths were hastened without explicit request? Is there a reasonable explanation why this was done?”

Having done this, van der Maas and his researchers found no cause for alarm. The sky was not falling.

Not only that, when comparing the numbers of cases categorised as ‘without explicit request’ with the Remmelink Report, they found, “The frequency of cases in which life was ended without an explicit request by the patient has decreased somewhat since 1990.”

In the second follow-up report (2007), van der Heide confirms that deaths ‘without explicit request’ further decreased from 0.7 per cent in 2001 to 0.4 per cent in 2004 – a factor of almost 50 per cent.

Euthanasia ‘without explicit request’ did not rise after voluntary euthanasia was legalised in The Netherlands, Geoff, it was reduced, significantly. And all the clucking, and gobbling and quacking of fundamentalist Christians is not going to change that fact. It’s established (although you will never accept that because you just don’t want it to be true!)

This lays to rest the ‘slippery slope’ argument in terms of euthanasia ‘without explicit request’.

Van der Heide also found that, rather than escalating, the overall number of deaths due to voluntary euthanasia decreased slightly. Legalising euthanasia did not lead to an explosion of euthanasia deaths – either with or without explicit request.

I know this is long, and I apologise to my regular readers – but not to Geoff who has probably long, since left us. I must continue as there is more that needs to be said on this subject.

The charge is that legalising euthanasia is what leads to a high incidence of involuntary or non-voluntary euthanasia. It’s implied that legalising euthanasia is the causative factor; that whatever is happening prior to legalisation, will inevitably get worse afterwards. Again, studies have shown this charge to be completely unfounded.

A 1997 comparative study by Helga Kuhse et al found that, in Australia, 1.8 per cent of deaths were the result of voluntary euthanasia – the same rate as in the Netherlands. According to this study, euthanasia occurs at more or less the same rate whether it is legal or not.

While voluntary euthanasia was not yet formally legal in the Netherlands in 1997, the Dutch Supreme Court had ruled three years earlier that it was acceptable, provided doctors followed strict guidelines. So, the comparison here is between the Netherlands, which had a ‘high tolerance’ for voluntary euthanasia, and Australia, where it was then and is now, uncompromisingly illegal.

This (and other similar studies) tells us that, in countries where voluntary euthanasia is illegal, it is being performed anyway – with and without ‘explicit request’.

But, here is the difference that you and your fellow anti-euthanasia propagandists ignore, Geoff. Where voluntary euthanasia is not legal, it is being performed without regulation. You heard that for yourself at the Your Death, Your Choice forum. If you’re ‘in the know’ you can make a phone call to a doctor who ‘does that sort of thing’ (on the ‘sly’ of course) and get him to pop over and ‘oblige’. (Please note, I am not suggesting the obliging doctor would agree to this for just anyone. My point is that that because voluntary euthanasia is illegal, they have to make an assessment on only their own judgment.)

Is that really what you want, Geoff? Because that is what your opposition to regulated voluntary euthanasia is perpetuating.

Let’s continue.

Kuhse et al found that, in Australia, cases where the patient’s life was ended without their explicit request comprised 3.5% of all deaths – around 5 or 6 times the number in the Netherlands. Overall, they found, “Australia had a higher rate of intentional ending of life without the patient’s request than the Netherlands.”

Speaking of Kuhse’s research, Ryan confirms that:

“If the slippery slope were a reflection of reality, the rate of non-voluntary euthanasia in Australia should have been lower than that in the Netherlands. The results indicated that exactly the opposite was true. The rate of non-voluntary euthanasia in Australia was 3.5% (+_0.8%), far higher than the 0.8% and 0.7% reported in the two Dutch studies.”

And this holds for other countries as well. A comparative survey, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal explains that:

“Opponents of euthanasia often argue that legalizing the procedure will lead to a rise in the use of life-ending drugs without a patient’s explicit request, especially in vulnerable patient groups. Thus far, however, no indications of this have been found in studies of physician-assisted deaths before and after legalization in Belgium and the Netherlands. In Belgium, the percentage of deaths in which life-ending drugs were used remained stable, and the proportion without an explicit request from the patient decreased.

Other studies have shown that euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide and the use of life-ending drugs without explicit patient request are not confined to countries where physician-assisted death is legal.”

Let me just hammer this home Geoff (in case you’re still with me and didn’t stomp off disgusted at the point I said “making shit up for Jesus”).

Credible studies from expert researchers, published in mainstream academic journals, show the rate of non-voluntary euthanasia tends to be significantly higher in countries where it is illegal (e.g. Australia) than in the countries where laws were more liberal (e.g. The Netherlands and Belgium).

The myth that legalising euthanasia causes high rates of non-voluntary euthanasia has been thoroughly debunked; but, of course, that doesn’t stop anti-euthanasia propagandists from trotting it out as ‘evidence’ of the non-existent ‘slippery slope’.

Let me stress this point. Voluntary euthanasia is already happening in Australian hospitals and nursing homes. It happens unregulated, unsupervised and without reporting procedures. Is this what you want, Geoff?

“Do you know how many vials of morphine are ‘accidentally’ broken at 3am in the morning in Catholic nursing homes?” a GP asked me recently.

Legalization brings in stringent procedures and safeguards. It requires multiple checks to ensure that the patient is competent and not being coerced. Such rigour is not possible if the doctor or nurse has to administer the lethal injection alone, and in the dead of night, to avoid conviction.

Because politicians buy the misinformation put about by people like you, Geoff, people are being euthanised without any checks or balances – and often without their explicit request. Not because euthanasia is legal, but because it’s not legal!

Some, who aren’t confident they’ll find someone to euthanize them shoot themselves in the head, or hang themselves, or take an overdose of drugs at home – subjecting their family to criminal investigations.

That’s what happens without legalization. So, if compassion for human suffering and reducing the incidence of euthanasia ‘without explicit request’ is really your concern, may I suggest you should be campaigning for legalization because that is what will reduce both of those things.

But, that’s not your real concern, is it Geoff? No, your only concern is to push your narrow religious view onto the rest of us, through legislation, regardless of the consequences.

I have written a great deal on this. Much more than I expect you will read. But I promised you evidence and I always keep my promises. I promised you “The Truth” and I have supplied it; not a truth biased by ideology, but the kind of truth that comes from proper research and critical analysis.

What you represented at the Your Death, Your Choice forum, Geoff was ideologically biased delusion. Whether you knew that or not is really not important, because you have adopted this as a ‘way of thinking’ and that is your responsibility.

I can see from your comments on the internet, that you don’t confine your ideological bias to euthanasia. You make the same mistake in formulating your views and policies on abortion, homosexuality, same-sex parenting, stem-cell research and a host of other issues. Have you ‘researched’ them, too, Geoff?

What is important is that your ideological bias compels you to be dishonest. You have to get the facts to fit your world view.

If this only affected you, I’d say, “Fair enough.”

But it’s not “fair enough” because this kind of chicanery has real life consequences. It hurts people – badly. It ruins lives. It causes suicides. It is not based on a genuine desire to help people and make their lives better, it is based on a hubristic desire to prove that your Biblical world-view is right – no matter what the real truth might be.

Chrys Stevenson

If you’ve been moved or inspired by this article, please join the fight to legalize voluntary euthanasia in Australia.

The most effective thing you can do is join a lobby group in your own state or territory – you can find them here.

If you are independently wealthy, or happen to have a ‘little bit to play with’, please consider making a donation to any of these organisations.

If you are updating your will (I assume you have a will, don’t you???) please consider leaving a bequest to Dying with Dignity. It may not help you, but it may help your loved ones.

And, finally, it is important to note that I speak independently, and not on behalf of Dying with Dignity or Palliative Care Queensland which hosted the Your Death, Your Choice forum at which Mr Bullock and I clashed. My opinions are entirely my own.

However, I would urge you to also look at the magnificent work that Palliative Care organisations do in your state and understand that they are grossly underfunded – particularly in Queensland which, we were told, “is one of the worst places to die in Australia”. If you can manage a donation to Palliative Care, please do so. Here are the links.

*While I’d love to claim it as my own, the statement “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts” must be attributed to its originator, US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. (Thanks to Hilton Travis for finding the origin of the quote.)

In which I ‘dream’ about whether it might be safer for Wallace to head the ACL than the SAS ….

As I went to bed last night, I couldn’t help wondering what might have happened if Brigadier Jim Wallace applied the same logic to his military career as he does to assessing mainstream academic literature and writing submissions on same-sex marriage to the Australian Senate.  I’m not suggesting he did, of course – by all accounts Wallace was an excellent military commander.

Sadly, the intellectual rigour that must surely be required of an SAS commander seems to be entirely absent in Wallace’s assessment of expert analysis on issues relating to abortion, same-sex marriage, voluntary euthanasia and other issues of public morality.

As I drifted off to sleep, I began to imagine what if – what IF – Wallace had applied the same quality of reasoning to his military decisions as he applies to his work with the Australian Christian Lobby.  The following scenario came to mind:

The scene:  Australian troops are in a war zone. The enemy is somewhere ‘out there’ but, where? At command HQ, the Brigadier has already decided where the enemy attack will come from and has deployed his troops. Meanwhile, intelligence arrives …

“The intelligence is in, Sir – the enemy are encamped in a cave, just over that hill to the north and they’re advancing in this direction.”

“Impossible!”

“Impossible?”

“Yes. It’s impossible. The enemy is hiding in the jungle, just over that river to the south.”

“Yes, sir, I’m sure that’s a very good assumption, but, actually the intelligence tells us otherwise.”

“Nonsense!”

“Sir! It’s been confirmed!”

“No it hasn’t.”

“Sir, I am sorry to argue with a superior officer, but I have reports from a number of very credible sources that the enemy is to the north and advancing in this direction.”

“What ‘credible sources’?”

“French intelligence, the UN, US surveillance, the British … there’s a very broad expert consensus on this, sir!”

“They’re all wrong. They’re just making it up, because they don’t want me to win.“

“But … sir! There’s a huge amount of evidence that you’re … er …. wrong.”

“I can’t be wrong, soldier. I know what I know.”

“But … sir!”

“Oh, for pity’s sake. Give me those documents – I’ll show you why they’re wrong!”

The soldier hands over the intelligence.

“See?  See here?  It says, “It seems impossible that the enemy would be to the north …”.  Just as I told you! It’s impossible. Even the so-called ‘experts’ agree!”

“Um … but sir, that’s only HALF the sentence. The other half says, “but, here are the photographs which prove it.”

“Those photographs could have been taken anywhere!”

“But, sir, why would all these agencies make it up?”

“It’s a conspiracy. They’re all against me. They’re just biased.”

“And you have evidence to prove that the enemy is to our south, Sir?”

“Of course I have evidence you miserable little soldier!  Look! Here!  Just this morning I received this document from Ramsbottom and Fitch confirming the enemy is definitely to the south. Absolutely no doubt about it.”

“Ramsbottom and Fitch? Aren’t they the ones who told us the enemy was in the west that time we got clobbered from the east?”

“Well, yes. But it doesn’t mean they were wrong! It just means the enemy must have snuck up from the west and then sneakily scaled that impassable mountain range in order to make us look stupid. It certainly doesn’t mean I’m relying on false intelligence.”

“Oh. I see.”

“And sir – forgive me for being impertinent – but aren’t Ramsbottom and Fitch those guys who the leading expert on covert surveillance said (and I’m quoting from memory here), “… couldn’t find an enemy if one leapt up and hit them on the head?”

“He’s biased.”

“Ah. OK.”

“Look son, it’s not just Ramsbottom and Fitch. You don’t think I’m so stupid I’d risk my soldiers’ lives based on just one source of intelligence, do you?”

“Well, um … sir, I was hoping you wouldn’t!”

“Well, rest assured, son. I know what I’m doing.  Look!  I have this army manual written in the 2nd century BC  which says that the enemy always attacks from the south or the west, never from the north or the east – and it’s never wrong! Military strategy never changes, son. It’s timeless. You can’t argue with this book, let me tell you!”

“Yes, sir, but times have changed. People have changed. Our ideas about war have changed. And we have much better information about military strategy now than they had nearly 3,000 years ago!”

“Son, this book served my grandfather and my father and it has served me all my life. I’m not interested in any of that new-fangled crapola! This book is army tradition and I’ll rely on it until the day I die.”

“So, sir, let me get this straight.  All the information we have from the world’s leading sources of intelligence are wrong. All these experts, whose techniques are considered rigorous and whose opinions are considered highly credible by the vast majority of the military, are, in your opinion, just plain wrong. And you’re placing your faith in two completely discredited informants and a 3000 year old book.”

“Yep, that just about sums it up.”

“Because, all sources of modern, mainstream military information are biased?”

“Obviously! Except the ones that agree with me, of course. They’re all right.”

“So, it’s a conspiracy.”

“Transparently.”

“And, sir – forgive me, I’m having a little trouble working this out. You say you’re right, because there are bits of their intelligence which, taken out of context, seem to support what you’re saying (until you actually read the full reports) and because YOUR experts, Ramsbottom and Fitch who are considered completely clueless by most recognized experts hold a different view.”

“There you go, soldier! It’s a pretty simple concept, really, isn’t it? Good man!”

“But, sir … if you’re wrong, and the enemy is actually approaching from the north and not from the south, there’s going to be a massacre here when the enemy turns up! You’ve deployed everyone to defend the southern boundary! Think of all the needless suffering your stubborn refusal to accept mainstream intelligence might cause …”

“Poppycock. I can’t possibly be wrong. It’s inconceivable.  Look … see in this manual, chapter 32, paragraph 12 – it says I’m right!”

“Sir, I know I’m risking a charge of insubordination here, but I’ve actually read that paragraph and I don’t think it means what you think it means. In fact, I’ve read a lot of opinions from people who also think that’s a pretty good book who think you may have interpreted it wrong.”

“Ridiculous! I’ll let you into a secret, son. A ghost of a 2000 year old soldier whispers in my ear and tells me how to interpret that book. He’s always right, which means I’m always right.”

“So, you’re not even prepared to consider how much damage might be caused if you ignore all the experts?”

“No. What is important is that he’s right and I’m right.”

The conversation is interrupted by a terrible din as the enemy arrives from the north and begins killing indiscriminately.

“Sir! Sir! The enemy is here!  They’ve come in from the north and they’re killing everyone! We have no protection! You sent all our defences south!”

The commander, speaking from beneath his desk, replies, “Yes, yes, I know! We’re losing comprehensively, son, but what matters is that I was right – the enemy attacked from the south! I knew it all along. I was right!”

Hitchens, it seems was right. Religion poisons everything.

You know what? I take back the title of this blog post. Wallace’s ignorance is not ‘safe’ confined within the Australian Christian Lobby.  Here are just some of the casualties of the kind of unreasoned prejudice displayed by Wallace and the ACL in respect of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Make no mistake, this is a war and people are suffering and dying.

Chrys Stevenson

I Call “Bullshit” Mr Wallace – Doctors for the Family

“Oh, rooly?”

When I debunked the Doctors for the Family Senate submission on same-sex marriage yesterday, a large section was removed in the final edit.  I knew I’d regret it.

That section began, “No doubt, Jim Wallace of the Australian Christian Lobby will now come out to defend this tripe by citing Lerner and Nagai – as the ACL did so shamelessly in their own Senate submission.  So, let’s deal with that here …”

Oh, that I had left it in!

Today I’m in Brisbane helping an elderly aunt and not at my own desk. But, I’ve just received an email alert with a link to a Media Release from the ACL and I have had to drop everything and commandeer a computer – such is the bullshit contained within it.

It reads, in part:

 “Mr Wallace said so-called research used yesterday to build the case against Professor George and his colleagues’ pro man-woman marriage submission to the Senate was badly flawed in what was the usual public circus used to confuse and deny fact in this debate … Quantitative analysis experts Lerner and Nagai reviewed 49 studies supporting same-sex parenting, many of which were used by Dr Riggs, and found that all 49 contained serious methodological flaws.”

As Steve Martin’s Ruprecht says so eloquently in the movie Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, “Oh, rooly???”

First Wallace defends a submission that was so full of academic FAIL  it wouldn’t have merited a pass for a second year undergraduate.

And now, he tries to pass off Lerner and Nagai as credible academics? Puh-leeze!

Robert Lerner and Althea Nagai are well known in America as conservative ‘guns for hire’. They have no credibility whatsoever in the mainstream academic community.  Just like David Barton rewrites history for conservative tastes, Lerner and Nagai have found a nice littler earner in spinning statistics to prop up the rantings of the religious right.

When George Bush Jr. was busy stacking government advisory bodies with fundamentalists, who did he turn to to head the National Center for Education Statistics? Robert Lerner.

In 1995 Lerner wrote a book which criticized the ‘over emphasis’ on race, ethnicity and gender in the American history curriculum. He was particularly put out that, in an apparent sop to feminists, the curriculum highlighted the achievements of so many women when (obviously) the achievements of males had been far more significant.

In 1997 Lerner and Nagai were commissioned to write another right-wing conservative book.  Subsequently, American Elites was reviewed as follows in the prestigious American Journal of Sociology, September 1997:

“The samples can only be described as conceptually dubious and methodologically unsound … The methodology could not pass a first-year research methods course. No standard set of procedures were used in drawing the 12 elite samples. Something approaching stratified random sampling was used to draw several of the elite samples, but the business sample was drawn exclusively from seven corporations. Top-ranking bureaucrats were purposely sampled to draw equal numbers from “activist” and “traditional” agencies. The sample of religious leaders was collected using snowball methods, which somehow failed to qualify any Jews or Muslims as religious leaders.”

After the OJ Simpson trial, Lerner did a ‘study’ that purported to show that juries treated rape by African-Americans much more lightly than rape by caucasians. As someone who likes to criticize the methodological weaknesses of others’ research, it’s incredible that Lerner’s questionable conclusion was based on a mere five jury trials. Lerner’s paper, which was never published in a peer-reviewed journal, was nevertheless widely derided and criticized by mainstream reviewers as ‘junk science’. Ironic, isn’t it, that Lerner and Nagai have criticized studies of same-sex parenting of having ‘unrepresentative’ samples?

In 2001 Lerner and Nagai were commissioned by (anti-gay marriage) The Marriage Law Project to write a book. The result was  No Basis: What the Studies Don’t Tell Us About Same-Sex Parenting. In the book, as Wallace has pointed out,Lerner and Nagi argue  that not one conclusion from any of the dozens of studies on same-sex parenting are reliable. Not one.

Again, “Oh rooly?”

Research into same-sex parenting has been undertaken for at least two decades. The peer-reviewed journals in which academic papers are published require exceptionally high standards.  Methodology is one area which is closely examined before papers are published. This doesn’t mean, of course, there may not be methodological weaknesses in some studies – but it is highly unlikely – in fact, I would suggest, impossible – that this warrants dismissing all of them out of hand!

And, as the ACL point out in their own submission, it is not that this research has lacked scrutiny.

Steven Nock, from the University of Virginia, for instance, was highly critical of the literature on same-sex parenting, saying that it did not yet constitute a solid body of evidence. But, that was 10 years ago. Also, without being critical of Professor Nock, it is also worth noting that this statement was made within the context of a court case.

Yet, as Meezan and Rauch note, respected scholars, Judith Stacey and Timothy Biblarz, vigorously disputed Nock’s analysis, saying:

“. . . If the Court were to accept Professor Nock’s primary criticisms of these studies, it would have to dismiss virtually the entire Discipline of psychology.”

It would take more than Nock and Lerner and Nagai to discredit the whole existing body of academic literature on same-sex parenting.

Significantly, William Meezan and Jonathan Rauch, two gay academics, have also questioned whether there are flaws in the methodology relating to same-sex parenting. They conclude, that, ‘yes’, it appears there are some demographic gaps but – and this is important – their critical research supports the conclusion that:

“There is no scientific basis for concluding that lesbian mothers or gay fathers are unfit parents on the basis of their sexual orientation. . . . On the contrary, results of research suggest that lesbian and gay parents are as likely as heterosexual parents to provide supportive and healthy environments for their children. . . . Overall, results of research suggest that the development, adjustment, and well-being of children with lesbian and gay parents do not differ markedly from that of children with heterosexual parents.

Meezan and Rauch don’t shy away from criticizing the flaws in studies into same-sex parenting. But, they note that research techniques are improving all the time – and their paper was written seven years ago, in 2005.  Even then, they noted:

“More studies now use standardized instruments with acceptable reliability and validity. Recent studies are much more likely to match comparison groups closely and are also more likely to use statistical methods to control for differences both within and between the study groups.

We identified four studies-—all comparatively recent (dating from 1997)-—that we believe represent the state of the art, studies that are as rigorous as such research could today reasonably be expected to be. Their conclusions do not differ from those of the main body of research [Emphasis added.]

The ACL seems to accept Meezan and Rauch as credible, given that they quoted their research in their own submission. Strangely, they didn’t mention that despite accepting the imperfections in some of the existing research, they believe it is still sufficiently strong to support the mainstream consensus – that children with same-sex parents suffer no disadvantage.

Certainly, as in any area of scholarship, there is always room for improvement and it is only right that methodology in particular should come under close scrutiny – and it does.

But that scrutiny is provided through on-going peer review. And, despite this on-going process of peer-review the consensus remains the same – there is no danger or disadvantage to children from same-sex parents.

Wallace and his merry band of homophobes can argue until they’re blue in the face about ‘so-called’ research but as they have already admitted, they are ‘comprehensively losing’ the battle. And there’s a good reason for that; they’re wrong.

Mainstream science is on the side of same-sex marriage; not because mainstream science is ideologically biased towards homosexuals, but because that’s what the studies show – even after extensive scrutiny and peer-review.

Wallace, on the other hand, can only drag up a couple of mangy, discredited hacks for hire  like Lerner and Nagai to support his fast failing argument.

I call “bullshit”, Mr Wallace.

Chrys Stevenson

Doctors for the Family – Debunked

In a short but virulent Senate submission on same-sex marriage, the covert Christian group, Doctors for the Family, argues against same-sex marriage. Their objections can be reduced to two key points.

  • Children fare better when brought up by their two biological parents.
  • The ‘normalisation’ of homosexuality poses a risk to community health.

In support of the first contention, the submission cites Professor Patrick Parkinson’s “For Kid’s Sake” report and a scholarly article by Wendy Manning and Kathleen Lamb, “Adolescent well-being in co-habiting, married, and single-parent families”.  Defending the submission today on Radio National, Dunjey also cited the opinion of the American College of Pediatricians that same-sex parenting is detrimental to children and society.

Let us deal, first, with Professor Parkinson’s report.  Commissioned by the Australian Christian Lobby, “For Kid’s Sake” was released late last year. Immediately, Catholic Archbishop Barry Hickey, Beyond Blue’s Jeff Kennett and Catholic commentator, Angela Shanahan rushed to use  ‘evidence’ from the report in their tirades against same-sex marriage.

There was but one problem – the report says nothing about same-sex parenting.

Parkinson, clearly irritated by this misrepresentation of his work, pointed out that his report does not engage in any criticism about same-sex relationships of any kind.  In fact, the report recommends that government sponsored parent and marriage counselling be extended to gay couples.

Parkinson further confirmed that  reference to the high risk of child abuse from men living in family situations in which they share no biological relationship to the children, refers to the heterosexual male partners of women not homosexual couples.

In an article in the National Times, Parkinson clearly makes the point that the key risk factors for children are family breakdown, financial stress, domestic violence and sexual abuse from defacto [heterosexual] male partners living in the family home. He makes no mention whatsoever of same-sex marriage as a risk factor for children.

The crux of Parkinson’s argument is that children do best in stable, peaceful family environments with two married parents. The ‘problem’ with children living apart from one or more of their biological parents is that this is often associated with family breakdown, instability, economic pressures and strangers moving into the household.  This is not in the least bit equivalent to a same-sex couple in a committed relationship deciding to have a child.

The problem, as anyone who reads Parkinson’s report or similar studies will find, is not the lack of a ‘biological’ link between parent and child, but the circumstances which both precede and follow the breakdown of a heterosexual relationship.

As Rodney Croome has pointed out, those who are genuinely concerned about the welfare of children should consider Parkinson’s report an endorsement for same-sex marriage.  Parkinson clearly states that marriage is good for children. Marriage tends to create stability and economic security. He says  “the likelihood that a non-marital relationship with children will break down is many times higher than for marriages”. Given that homosexual couples already have children – and will continue to do so whether Doctors for the Family like it or not – it seems that the very best thing that can be done to ensure their welfare is to encourage same-sex parents to marry.

Parkinson has made it clear that his report should not be used as an attack on same-sex marriage. Is it not dishonest in the extreme for Doctors for the Family to suggest otherwise?

It’s ironic that, in their feigned  ‘concern’ for the children of gay partnerships, Doctors for the Family cite studies which raise concerns about the fidelity within and the longevity of same-sex relationships; yet, according to Parkinson – their own source –  the best way to address this is to encourage couples to marry; not make it impossible for them to do so!

Let me just hammer home the point  here; Parkinson’s “For Kid’s Sake” is about heterosexual parenting – he says so, himself. It says nothing about homosexual parenting (other than that gay couples and parents should be supported in the same way as heterosexuals). Using a reference to the report to support an argument against same-sex marriage is both unethical and intellectually dishonest.

The same can be said of Doctors for the Family’s reference to Manning and Lamb’s paper from the Journal of Marriage and Family. Doctors for the Family gives us half a sentence from this article in support of their argument against same-sex marriage:

“Adolescents in married, two-biological-parent families generally fare better…”  

But what does the article really say about same-sex parenting? Thanks to the State Library of Queensland’s database search and JStor I was able to access an online copy.

Manning and Lamb’s study focuses on a comparison between the children of heterosexual, married, biological parents living together and children in married (heterosexual) step-families and single mother families.  There is no mention whatsoever of homosexual parents.

Manning and Lamb found that children living in two-biological-parent families generally fare better, but, importantly, they concluded that  “most of these differences are explained by socioeconomic circumstances”.

Like Parkinson, Manning and Lamb identify a number of ‘risk factors’ for children. These include economic status, family stability, and the quality of parenting. Curiously, they find that the increasing social acceptability of [heterosexual] cohabitation has made for easier parenting and that ‘legal and social recognition’ of parental relationships is important for the stability and well-being of children.

Like Parkinson’s, Manning’s and Lamb’s findings appear to support the notion that children of same-sex parents will fare better if a) same-sex parenting becomes socially acceptable and b) same-sex couples are permitted to marry.  Yet, these are the very things to which Doctors for the Family are opposed.  One has to ask if their concern is genuinely with the children of these partnerships, or whether their opposition is based purely on their ideological bias.

There are two things to be said of Doctors for the Family’s use of Manning and Lamb’s research.

First, it is clearly a case of cynical and dishonest quote-mining. Like Parkinson’s study, Manning and Lamb say nothing abut same-sex parents; they did not include same-sex parents in their research.

Second, Manning and Lamb’s conclusion is not as simplistic as Doctors for the Family suggest with their half-sentence quotation. Being raised by two biological parents is not the determining factor for a child’s welfare; rather, it is the tendency for [heterosexual] step-parent families and single-mother families to be financially stressed.

I’m aware of no evidence which suggests that same-sex parents are subject to the same economic stressors as single parent or step-families. In fact, given the high cost of having a child via IVF or surrogacy, and the fact that the children of same-sex parents are more likely to be planned, it seems reasonable to assume that same-sex parents would generally be in a better financial position to raise children than many heterosexual couples.

And now, to Dr Dunjey’s use of ‘evidence’ from the American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) on Radio National this morning.  It sounds convincing, doesn’t it? The average reader – or perhaps the average politician – may be misled into believing that this is the peak body of pediatricians in the USA. That would be wrong – but you didn’t hear this clarification from Dr Dunjey.

The peak body of American pediatricians is the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The American College of Pediatricians is a break-away group, founded by religious conservatives in 2002 as a protest against the AAP’s support for adoption by gay couples.

Yes, that’s right, America’s mainstream group of 60,000 credible pediatricians support same-sex marriage. It is only a small, break-away group, driven by religious ideology, who oppose it. There’s is not the consensus view as Dr Dunjey dishonestly suggests – it is the minority view.

Let me repeat that. ACPeds’ religiously motivated view is contrary to  the position of the 60,000 pediatricians represented by the American Academy of Pediatrics and other mainstream medical and child welfare authorities, including the National Association of Social Workers. Indeed, as Dr Kerryn Phelps pointed out on Radio National this morning, the mainstream medical, psychological and scientific consensus is that “sexual orientation has no correlation with the ability to be a good parent and to raise healthy and well-adjusted children.

There’s an old saying which I like very much:  When you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. In this respect, Dr Dunjey should really have considered the shady reputation of the American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) before aligning with them.

Like it’s ideological counterpart, NARTH (the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality), ACPeds is notorious for mischaracterising and misrepresenting the work of legitimate researchers to advance their own agenda.

For example, in 2010, Dr Gary Remafedi from the University of Minnesota was shocked to find ACPeds citing his research to argue that schools should provide no support for gay students as they were likely to ‘grow out of it’.

“Most adolescents who experience same-sex attraction…no longer experience such attractions at age 25,” said ACPeds, quoting a 1992 study by Remafedi.

Except that’s not what Remafedi’s study said at all!:

“[Remafedi’s] work showed that kids who are confused about their sexuality eventually sort it out—meaning many of them accept being gay.

“What was so troubling was that these were fellow doctors, fellow pediatricians,” Remafedi says. “They knew better, and they have the same ethical responsibilities to their patients that I do, but they deliberately distorted my research for malicious purposes.”

“It’s obvious that they didn’t even read my research,” Remafedi says.” [Emphasis added.]

I might say the same of Doctors for the Family cherry-picking a quote from Manning’s and Lamb’s paper – a study not even remotely associated with homosexuality. Did they even bother to read it?

Remafedi is not the only researcher whose work has been “cherry-picked, manipulated, and misstated” by ACPeds.

In 2010, Francis S Collins, a Christian, and one of America’s most respected scientists, issued the following statement:

“It is disturbing for me to see special interest groups distort my scientific observations to make a point against homosexuality.  The American College of Pediatricians pulled language out of context from a book I wrote in 2006 to support an ideology that can cause unnecessary anguish and encourage prejudice. The information they present is misleading and incorrect, and it is particularly troubling that they are distributing it in a way that will confuse school children and their parents.” [Emphasis added.]

The paucity of Dunjey’s ‘evidence’ against same-sex marriage is only magnified when he resorts to using the discredited American College of Pediatrics in support of his argument!

Again, let me pause to make my point. By misrepresenting the work of Dr Patrick Parkinson and Manning and Lamb, in an apparent attempt to mislead the Australian Senate, Dr Dunjey and his Doctors for the Family follow in the fine tradition of the American College of Pediatricians – a similarly covert group of religious zealots. No wonder Dunjey appears to be so familiar with their work!

And now, let’s turn to the second point raised in Doctors for the Family’s easily debunked piece of political propaganda.

Quoting from an article from America’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Infectious Disease News, the Doctors for the Family submission suggests that ‘normalising’ homosexuality is likely to lead to increased rates of sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV/Aids and syphilis.

Yes, they’re stretching.

According to the vast majority of medical experts, homosexuality is not ‘a choice’. It follows, then, that recognising homosexuality as part of the normal spectrum of human sexuality will not lead to more people ‘choosing’ to become homosexual. It’s an argument built on an entirely false and unproven premise. But don’t just take my word for it!

In 1994, The American Psychological Association, which represents over 132,000 mental health professionals, released a “Statement on Homosexuality” which says, in part:

“Nor is homosexuality a matter of individual choice. Research suggests that the homosexual orientation is in place very early in the life cycle, possibly even before birth. It is found in about ten percent of the population, a figure which is surprisingly constant across cultures, irrespective of the different moral values and standards of a particular culture.

Contrary to what some imply, the incidence of homosexuality in a population does not appear to change with new moral codes or social mores. Research findings suggest that efforts to repair homosexuals are nothing more than social prejudice garbed in psychological accoutrements.” [Emphasis added.]

Similarly, the Australian Psychological Society’s website insists that homosexuality is neither a ‘choice’ nor a mental disorder.

In Born Gay: The Psychobiology of Sex Orientation (2005),  Glenn Wilson, a reader in personality at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, and Qazi Rahman, a psychobiologist at the University of East London state unequivocally that ‘the existing body of academic research leaves absolutely no room for parental or societal influence on this intimate trait’. [Emphasis added.]

In other words, social acceptance of homosexuality will have no effect whatsoever on the number of homosexuals.

Regardless of Dr Dunjey’s ill-informed and ideologically inspired idiocy, this is the consensus opinion of legitimate researchers and experts.

While Doctors for the Family cynically try to incite homophobia by referring to the high rates of HIV and syphilis in homosexuals who participate in male to male sex, they fail to cite the reason provided in the report from which they quote.  Dr Kevin Fenton, director of the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention explains:

“It is clear that we will not be able to stop the U.S. HIV epidemic until every affected community, along with health officials nationwide, prioritize the needs of gay and bisexual men with HIV prevention efforts.”

The problem he identifies is a lack of education and support. Given their very real concern about sexual health, are Doctors for the Family advocating sexual health programs for gay teens in Australian schools?

No? I wonder why not.

Promiscuity (whether heterosexual or gay) is obviously a factor which leads to the spread of STDs.  While it is obviously no guarantee, studies seem to suggest that marriage leads to greater relationship stability and fidelity. So, surely anyone who is genuinely concerned about stemming the spread of STDs in the homosexual community would be vigorously  promoting same-sex marriage!

Doctors for the Family have failed every academic protocol in promoting their fatally flawed submission to the Australian Senate. They have misrepresented the work of credible researchers, they have cherry-picked quotes to support their argument. They have failed to consider or disclose that the papers they cite are not relevant to their case and/or do not support their contentions. In a cynical attempt to convince Radio National listeners that the consensus of medical opinion is against same-sex marriage, Doctors for the Family convenor, Dr Lachlan Dunjey misleadingly quoted the opinion of the extremist right-wing American College of Pediatrics; while completely failing to mention the contrary majority view of the peak representative group, the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Further, as I showed in my previous post, Dunjey and his compatriots comprehensively failed to disclose the religious motives which underpin their opposition to same-sex marriage.  Dunjey, in particular, is culpable as he has a history of setting up Christian lobby groups, composed of fundamentalists and evangelists, while deceptively denying any religious agenda.

Trying to mislead the Australian Senate is a serious ethical matter. So is misrepresenting academic research and dissembling (if not outright lying) on national radio. Add to this the hypocrisy of exploiting the public’s trust in doctors in order to misrepresent a fundamentalist religious prejudice as a matter of scientific consensus. It’s a classic case of a tradition which is becoming all to routine in fundamentalist circles – lying for Jesus. I spoke about this at length in my recent address to Dying with Dignity (NSW).

The Australian Senate would be well advised to disregard this shameful piece of holy hogwash and make a note that, in future, any organisation headed by Dr Dunjey should be treated with extreme distrust.

Dr Dunjey, and those who are foolish or dishonest enough to add their names to his petitions, are a disgrace to academia, to the medical profession and to Christianity. They really should be ashamed.

Chrys Stevenson

Doctors for the Family’s hidden religious agenda

The internet is all a-twitter tonight with news that 150 Australian doctors, operating under the moniker Doctors for the Family  [Senate submission 229], oppose same-sex marriage on the basis that it would be detrimental, both to children and community health.

It all sounds so credible when this kind of nonsense comes from doctors; so credible and, regrettably, so familiar.

The fact is, I’ve exposed this lot of mendacious medicos before and there’s a certain sense of deja vu at having to front up and do it all again.

These people may have medical degrees but they are not speaking as scientists or medics; they are religious bigots using their professional credentials as a smokescreen for their despicable, discriminatory dogma.

So, here we go again.

Dr Lachlan Dunjey is the leader of the pack. Dunjey has priors. According to Dunjey, his anti-abortion ‘Liberty of Conscience in Medicine’ website and associated group, ‘Medicine with Morality’ have  “no religious or faith component”.

Bullshit.

As I showed in a previous blog post, “In Good Conscience?” the list of signatories at Liberty of Conscience in Medicine is chock-a-block with religious fundamentalists and evangelists.

Dunjey fails to disclose on both his Liberty of Conscience in Medicine website and his Doctors for the Family senate submission that he was Western Australia’s Christian Democratic Party candidate for the senate in 2004, along with his co-signatory, Dr Norman Gage. When not pretending to be ‘non-religious’ Dunjey describes himself as ‘a church musician of 40+ years’  and a ‘church elder’ at Morley Baptist Church, Western Australia.

Dunjey is also the former president of the Baptist Churches of Western Australia.

Strange, he considers none of this relevant as he rails against abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage.

Dr Kuruvilla George has also been in the news for appending his signature to this pestilent piece of pusillanimous propaganda. Dr George is Victoria’s deputy chief psychiatrist and (for now) a member of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.

After completing his medical training, Kuruvilla George worked in India as a missionary.

Dr George is known for arguing that psychiatrists should discuss their own spiritual beliefs with their patients.  To me, that seems dangerously close to exploiting a position of influence to evangelise emotionally vulnerable patients.

Psychologist, Dr John Mathai similarly argues for a ‘Biblio-centred model of therapy’. Yes, really. Psychiatric therapy based on scripture.

Dr Mathai’s ‘Christian perspective’ leads him to tout the benefits of ‘revelational therapy’.

“‘Revelational Therapy’, he says, “applies to the revelational gifts – the gifts of knowledge, wisdom and discernment as described in one of the books of the Bible, 1 Corinthians chapter 12. These are spiritual gifts that are imparted by the Holy Spirit as the need arises.”

But, of course, it is science, not the Holy Spirit which tells Dr Mathai that homosexuals should be treated as second-class citizens.  Who could doubt it?

Another signatory to the Doctors for the Family submission is Dr Teem-Wing (TW) Yip, a member of Kwatja-Etatha Lutheran Church in Central Australia. Helpfully, Dr Yip assists Pastor Basil Schild in the congregation’s ministry with Aboriginal people.

I wonder if Dr Yip knows her co-signatory, Dr Robert Pollnitz. Curiously enough, he’s the chairman of the Lutheran Church of Australia’s Commission on Social & Bioethical Questions and another signatory on Dr Dunjey’s senate submission against same-sex marriage. Quelle suprise!

Signatory, Dr Murray James-Wallace,  appears to be under the thrall of the notorious Danny Nalliah of Catch the Fire Ministries. You remember, Pastor Danny – he’s the guy who said the Black Saturday bushfires were God’s retribution for Victoria’s pro-choice abortion laws.

In a ‘confession’ that will horrify everyone but the religiously deluded, Dr James-Wallace writes of an incident which occurred while he was travelling with Nalliah in Israel.  As they left their hotel one morning,  a woman travelling with them exhibited all the symptoms of a heart attack.

Dr James-Wallace takes up the story:

“We are on the outskirts of Tiberius, I explain that clinically she requires a hospital. She could have had a heart attack, asystole or otherarrythmia, hypoglycaemia or a stroke or seizure. Danny says this is spiritual and has generational links to Freemasonry. John receives a word that this is an attack from Satan to end her life in Israel and that if she can get to Jordan the Lord will heal her.

I have 2 choices, professionally to pull rank and as the only qualified medical practitioner ‘order’ the bus to a hospital in Tiberius. Having witnessed the miraculous recovery of the lady from death to life in that she responded to a verbal command. I explained that this lady is very sick, she ought to go to hospital but ‘I place myself under the authority of the pastor and the Lord Jesus Christ.’

Yes, folks. You heard it right. Instead of honouring his medical training and getting this woman to a hospital, he defers to Pastor Danny Nalliah.

But, of course, we are meant to believe that Dr James-Wallace’s opposition to same-sex marriage is based entirely on scientific evidence – and has nothing whatsoever to do with his religious fundamentalism.

Bullshit!

Writing in Sight Magazine (a website covering local and global news from a Christian perspective), Senate submission signatory, Dr Yoke Mei Neoh, tells of being called to a double medical emergency on board a cruise ship.

“Of all times, it had to be now, God, is there a lesson here for me?” she wonders as she struggles to cope.

I remember signatory Dr Lucas (Luke) McLindon from my post on Liberty of Conscience in Medicine. It is rather alarming, but sadly not surprising, to hear that, “As a committed Catholic, at the end of the day” Dr McLindon’s “loyalties must lie with Scripture first and foremost …”

So, when it comes to science or religious propaganda which rules, Dr McLindon? No need to answer. I think we all get the picture.

Dr Elvis Seman is a member of the Catholic Medical Guild of St Luke. Dr Lucia Migliore explains their creed:

“As Catholic doctors, we should be foremost inviting Christ into our work, which completely changes the nature of what you are doing.” 

It certainly seems to change the nature of interpreting the medical and sociological research on homosexuality!

Catholic, Dr Joseph Santamaria is one of the signatories to the Canberra Declaration, a conservative Christian document inspired by the theocratic Manhattan Declaration.

Dr John Muirden is on the bioethics committee of the Uniting Church.

Dr Tanuja Martin and her husband Wayne were called as missionaries to Nepal because, “People are dying daily in countries without ever having had the opportunity to hear the gospel.”

(Some of us might think good nutrition and proper medical care were greater priorities.)

As with my post on Dr Dunjey’s Liberty of Conscience in Medicine I could go on and on, but I think I’ve made my point.

The submission from Doctors for the Family is no more than religious propaganda masquerading as medical knowledge.

I am delighted to see that the Australian Medical Association has rejected the specious claims made in the Doctors for the Family submission.  They are certainly far more qualified to do so than me.

The simple fact is, that the claims made in this deceptive piece of poorly disguised religious propaganda simply don’t hold up under academic scrutiny.

Of course, this group of homophobic medicos has as much right as anyone to state their views in a Senate submission – even if those views are fundamentally false. My objection is that, just like Medicine with Morality and Liberty in Conscience in Medicine, Doctors for the Family fails to disclose the religious agenda behind its propaganda.

If their Senate submission bore the name Christian Doctors for the Family, that, at least would be an honest representation.

I can’t help thinking that Dunjey’s proclivity for setting up Christian lobby groups which deny any link to religion reeks of Peter’s denial of Jesus.

Medicine with Morality, Liberty of Conscience in Medicine and now Doctors for the Family – three times they have denied Him.

It’s not a good look, Dr Dunjey. Not only are you and your cronies deceiving the Senate and the Australian people with your lack of transparency, your denialism fundamentally dishonours the tenets of the religion you purport to follow.

Chrys Stevenson

See also:  

Who are Doctors for the Family? – The Conscience Vote blog

The Doctors for the Family Senate Submission, Translated – Mike Stuchbery

Drs 4 Family “disingenuous” about their religious beliefs says critic – Dr Jennifer Wilson, No Place for Sheep

Ersatz science does not help inform debate about social policy – Dr Michael Vagg, The Conversation

Herald Sun falsely implies that “doctors” think gay marriage a “risk to kids” – Jeremy Sear, Pure Poison on Crikey

Julia Gillard’s De-Evolution on Gay Rights

In October 2004, when asked for his opinon on same-sex marriage, Barack Obama replied, “What I believe is that marriage is between a man and a woman … we have a set of traditions in place that, I think, need to be preserved …I don’t think marriage is a civil right.”

By 2010, the President had softened his stance, saying, “My feelings about this are constantly evolving. I struggle with this.”

In October 2011, when asked if he would extend his support for civil unions to same-sex marriage, he replied, “I’m still working on it,”

And, this week, a fully ‘evolved’ Obama said:

“I’ve been going through an evolution on this issue. I’ve always been adamant that gay and lesbian Americans should be treated fairly and equally. At a certain point I’ve just concluded that, for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

This is a courageous move for Obama. He leads one of the most religious countries on earth. He is facing a difficult election against an openly religious opponent. He is not an atheist – he is a Christian – and his views will not be popular with many of his religious supporters. And yet, despite the possible political consequences, he has decided to speak out for what he has come to believe is right and just.

In contrast, our own atheist Prime Minister, Julia Gillard says she opposes same-sex marriage. She confirmed today that she will not change her mind on this issue, despite Obama’s change of heart. It appears that, like the religious zealots of the fundamentalist Australian Christian Lobby, Gillard’s mind and heart are shut firmly against reason and compassion.

Unlike Obama, Gillard refuses to ‘evolve’. In fact, it appears that she has ‘de-evolved’.

When she was at university, Gillard was a staunch supporter of gay rights, as this old news clipping shows.

“If elected,” said the young Julia Gillard, “I will encourage action on women’s rights, anti-nuclear policy and homosexual rights.”

What happened?

Gillard’s objection to same-sex marriage cannot be religious. She is an atheist.

It cannot be the result of homophobia. Gillard appointed Penny Wong, an openly gay woman in a stable same-sex partnership, to the very senior cabinet position of Minister for Finance and Deregulation.

It cannot be a commitment to the ideal of traditional marriage. Gillard, herself, lives in a de-facto relationship with partner, Tim Mathieson.

Gillard has hinted that her Baptist upbringing influences her worldview. But, it was obviously not influential enough to convince her that God exists, or that living ‘in sin’ is wrong. Further, some Baptist clergy have openly spoken out in support of same-sex marriage. Gillard’s opposition is in line only with hard-line Christian fundamentalists, not with the majority of Australian Christians, or even, necessarily, Baptists.

Nor can Gillard’s stance be based on populism. The majority of Australians clearly support same-sex marriage. The Senate Inquiry into Marriage Equality received an unprecedented number of submissions and, despite the best efforts of conservative Christian lobbyists, 44,000 of the 75,000 submissions support same-sex marriage. Even the Australian Christian Lobby was forced to admit to their members that they were ‘comprehensively losing‘ the debate in the court of public opinion.

Gillard’s position cannot be based on some conception that marriage and religion are inextricably linked. Indeed, the secular nature of marriage in this country is illustrated by the fact that the majority of Australians (67 per cent in 2009) are married by civil celebrants.

Nor is her intransigence based on ALP policy. She is at odds with the majority Labor view on same-sex marriage.

Gillard has even recently conceded that the legalisation of same-sex marriage is inevitable – and still she remains opposed.

As far as I am aware, Gillard has articulated no clear argument for her opposition apart from a slightly robotic:

“My position flows from my strong conviction that the institution of marriage has come to have a particular meaning and standing in our culture and nation and that should continue unchanged.”

So, one has to ask – why has Obama ‘evolved’ on this issue while Gillard seems to have ‘de-evolved’?

Political commentator Paul Barry suggests that Gillard’s opposition to same-sex marriage “is not mysterious at all to those who understand the power of conservative Catholic South Australian senator Don Farrell, widely known as ‘The Pope’.”

Farrell was one of the core group of ‘faceless’ men who conspired against Rudd to install Gillard as prime miniter back in 2010. According to former ALP deputy leader, Ralph Clarke, Farrell “controls the pre-selection directly or indirectly of every MP in South Australia. If you want to get on, you get on with Don.”

In fact, according to Wikileaks, Senator Farrell had the ‘inside dope’ on Gillard’s leadership aspirations well before that fateful night in June 2010 when she rolled Rudd. A Wikileak cable suggests that Farrell told US embassy staff as early as June 2009 that Ms Gillard was gunning for Rudd’s job. That couldn’t have been ‘common knowledge’. Could it be that Farrell and Gillard were doing deals well in advance of the 2010 coup? And was a stance against gay marriage a part of that deal?

Farrell controlled the votes from South Australia and as a former leader of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees’ Association (SDA) he had tremendous influence over the votes of the union’s parliamentary wing. Votes controlled by Farrell were critical for Gillard to win the prime ministership in the party room. It’s not inconceivable that his support came at a price.

Gillard was never a member of the extreme right faction of the Labor party. She began her political career as part of Labor’s Socialist Left faction and later migrated to the centre. Yet now there are many, including Australian Marriage Equality national convenor, Alex Greenwich, who say that Gillard “appears to be captive of the extreme right of the Labor Party led by SDA union boss Joe de Bruyn”.

De Bruyn opposed the Rudd spill in 2010. But, when Gillard’s leadership position was challenged earlier this year, he supported Gillard. Is it possible that a commitment not to support same-sex marriage was part of some quiet back-room deal forged between Gillard, de Bruyn and Farrell?

If this is the case – and I freely admit this is mere speculation – it is likely that the ‘deal’ was based on de Bruyns personal power given that even his own union, the SDA, don’t seem to support his stance on gay marriage. Just this month, SDA Members for Equality spokesman Duncan Hart said he believes that most SDA members don’t agree with de Bruyn’s position.

“This is especially the case amongst retail workers, who are predominantly young and urban,” said Hart.

“It is farcical that our union leadership is so out of touch with members’ attitudes.”

And in supporting de Bruyn’s and Farrell’s view, Gillard has put herself at odds with the powerful Australian Workers’ Union. Prior to this year’s ALP conference, AWU leader Paul Howes described Labor’s opposition to gay marriage as “indefensible”. Even in terms of ‘placating the unions’ Gillard’s position makes no sense.

At the ALP’s National Conference in December last year, de Bruyn was not even able to hold his own right wing faction together on the issue of same-sex marriage. De Bruyn was booed and jeered by other party members as he spoke out against same-sex marriage at the conference.

Gillard’s continued opposition to same-sex marriage is contrary to the views of the majority of Australians, her own party, the majority of Australian Christians, the president of the United States, the new French president, Francois Hollande and even conservative British prime minister David Cameron. Her intransigence makes no sense in terms of her religious beliefs, her lifestyle choice or her previous passionate support for gay rights. Neither does it make political sense, given the widespread public support for legislative change.

The only conclusion I can draw is that Gillard sold out Australia’s queer community as part of a back room deal for political power. The only thing that makes sense to me is that Gillard is personally in debt to Farrell and de Bruyn and relies on their continuing support to shore up her increasingly shaky hold on the prime ministership.

How secular is a nation in which the prime minister is held captive to fundamentalist Catholic dogma? How democratic is this country when two men appear to control the prime minister’s stance on an issue which is so central to notions of justice, equality and human rights?

What does it say about the strength of our prime minister’s personal ethics if, in exchange for political power, she agreed to act as a ventriloquist’s dummy for religious zealots whose views represent neither her own beliefs nor those of the majority of her party?

Perhaps Gillard should consider that evolution favours those who can best adapt to changing environments. She, herself, has conceded that the political environment has changed with respect to same-sex marriage. And yet, it seems, while nimbler politicians are evolving, she has chosen to throw her lot in with dinosaurs like de Bruyn and Farrell – and we know how evolution deals with dinosaurs.

Chrys Stevenson

To help put pressure on the PM to change her position on same-sex marriage, please consider signing this petition, asking her to show the same kind of courageous leadership as Barack Obama.

Julia Gillard show leadership like Obama has – support #ISupportSameSexMarriage

Update 11 May 2012:  Crikey’s Jeremy Sear has now taken up this issue, asking the Canberra press gallery to start asking some of the questions raised in this post.