News Roundup

Adopted children must have right to contact with their birth families, conference told

Adopted children must have the right to contact with their birth families, leading advocates for children’s rights have told a conference hosted by the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI) in Dublin on Thursday.

Tanya Ward, chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said it was now time to look at “post-adoption supports” including legislating for open- and semi-open adoptions. These were crucial to provide adopted children with opportunities to know all they needed to feel secure in their identities. Semi-open adoption is where birth families have ongoing contact with the adoptive families, and open adoption is where there can be contact between the adopted child and their birth family – if the child wants it.

Norah Gibbons, chairwoman of Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, said the traditional “clean break” adoptions, where all contact with the birth family was severed, could be damaging for children. She said it could be hugely beneficial for children to meet their birth parents and “get an explanation” as to why they were in care.


Eighth Amendment committee to vote on December 13th

The Oireachtas abortion committee will vote on December 13th, on whether the amendment should be repealed in full and what law, if any, would replace it. It will then publish a “brief” report on December 20th making its recommendations to the Oireachtas. The committee had previously voted to not retain the Amendment in its current form though they had not specified how it should be changed, whether it should be repealed entirely or what might replace it.

Separately, on Thursday, the committee discussed the possibility of contraception being made entirely free to the general public and the Chairman of the committee said it was “doable”, after hearing evidence on the proposal. Senator Catherine Noone had asked Dr Tony Holohan, chief medical officer at the Department of Health, whether the provision of free contraception was possible. Committing his department to examining the feasibility of providing such a service, he said “in broad terms, it would not be expensive”.


Norwegian court to health authority: stop violating conscience rights of doctors

The Appeal Court in Norway has ruled that doctors have the right to practice medicine in accordance with their conscience. The case arose from a doctor who was fired from her job for refusing to insert intrauterine devices (IUDs), which can act as abortifacients. She said to do so would contradict her Christian faith. When she was hired in 2010, Dr. Katarzyna Jachimowicz clearly stated her objection to the use of the intrauterine coil, which did not present a problem to her employer at that time. However, while Norwegian law allows doctors to conscientiously object to abortion, the country introduced a new rule in January 2015 prohibiting doctors from refusing to provide any method of birth control, including those which can cause abortion. Doctors are therefore able to object to abortion, whilst being coerced to perform other procedures which can have the same result. The Appeal Court in Norway has now sided with Dr Jachimowicz.

Robert Clarke, Director of European Advocacy for ADF International, who fought the case on behalf of the doctor said: “The notion that her employer could not accommodate her deeply held convictions seems absurd, especially since there is a lack of medical doctors in Norway. This judgment sends a clear message to the Norwegian authorities that conscience is a fundamental right under the European Convention on Human Rights, which must be protected.”


GPs will prescribe abortion pills if 8th amendment is repealed

The Department of Health is reviewing the possibility of GPs distributing pills that induce abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy if the pro-life 8th amendment is repealed. That nurses or GPs might offer such drugs has been mooted by memberof the Oireachtas abortion committee and the Department of Health has said the matter would be kept “under review” if the law changed. Tony Holohan, the chief medical officer, wrote to the committee saying: “Although no medicines indicated for the termination of pregnancy are currently authorised in Ireland, no immediate service provision issues are identified relating to the prescription and supply of medicines for this purpose.”

Separately, the HSE has said that the State would need to hire more than 50 sonographers before every pregnant woman could have a 20-week foetal anomaly scan. Currently, they are offered in only six of Ireland’s 19 maternity hospitals. In the UK and elsewhere a large majority of babies found to have a ‘foetal abnormality’ such as Down Syndrome are aborted.



Marriage reduces risk of dementia, study suggests

Researchers have unearthed evidence that far fewer married people experience dementia than single people. Experts conducted an analysis of 15 studies which held data on dementia and marital status involving more than 800,000 people from Europe, North and South America, and Asia. Their study, published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, concluded that lifelong singletons have a 42% elevated risk of dementia compared with married couples. Those who have been widowed had a 20% increased risk compared with married people, they found, but no elevated risk was found among divorcees compared with those who were still married. Commenting on the study, Dr Laura Phipps of Alzheimer’s Research UK, said there is compelling research showing married people generally live longer and enjoy better health, with many different factors likely to be contributing to that link. “Spouses may help to encourage healthy habits, look out for their partner’s health and provide important social support. Research suggests that social interaction can help to build cognitive reserve – a mental resilience that allows people to function for longer with a disease like Alzheimer’s before showing symptoms,” she said.


Oireachtas abortion committee urged ‘not to make’ foetal abnormalities list

A witness appearing before the Oireachtas committee examining the Eighth amendment has asked that any potential legislation enabling abortion where there is a serious disability would not make a list of conditions that would qualify. Dr Peter Thompson, a consultant in foetal medicine at Birmingham Women and Children’s Hospital, will say in his opening statement: “With regard to this I would urge you not to make a list, as with the ever changing progress in medicine, conditions would need to be added and removed from the list on a regular basis”. In the UK, 90pc of babies who are diagnosed in the womb to have Down Syndrome are aborted.

He will also “strongly advise” the committee against “being prescriptive and using the term lethal abnormality”.

“The problem is there is no agreed definition as to what lethal actually means, is it that all foetuses with that condition die before birth, that they die either before birth or in the neonatal period despite supportive therapy, a baby that usually dies in one of these two periods of time or is it that it has been noted that there is an association between the condition and death.”


Iraqi Bishop Urges US Aid for Frontline Community

An Iraqi Archbishop is appealing for urgent aid to help the almost 20,000 Iraqi Christian families — around 100,000 people — driven from their homes, but largely overlooked by the International community.

“This is a just case,” Bashar Warda, the Chaldean Archbishop of Arbil, told AFP of his people. “They are persecuted, they are marginalised and they are in need. Iraqis of all religions, of course, suffered greatly under Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship and the conflicts that followed his overthrow in 2003. But smaller minorities, like the Christians and their neighbors the Yazidi, were targeted by extremists in the latest round of bloodletting. The Islamic State group, the latest incarnation of Sunni Muslim violent extremism, unleashed what US officials have branded a genocidal campaign. For Warda and his supporters in US-based charity and church movements, it is thus only fair to ask Washington to treat their case differently. Iraq’s Kurds have an autonomous region and militia that shielded them and the minority refugees they sheltered from the recent violence. The country’s Arab Shiite majority is the focus of the Baghdad government’s rebuilding efforts and receives aid from nearby Iran. And even the Sunni Arabs, some of whom fell under the Islamic State’s sway, will be able to count on some support from wealthy Gulf countries. But the Christians — and the Yazidis — will be on their own, Warda warns, unless foreign donors step up to the plate.


Study links family breakdown with teen mental health problems

A new study shows that marriage and family breakdown have a big impact on teenage mental health problems. The paper by Harry Benson, Research Director of the Marriage Foundation and Professor Steve McKay at the University of Lincoln used the data of the UK Millennium Cohort Study that surveyed some 12,000 mothers soon after their children were born—most in 2000 and 2001—again several times thereafter, and most recently when their children reached age 14. The authors found that, among intact married families, 20% of 14-year-olds exhibit a high level of mental health problems, compared to 27% among intact cohabiting families. Among divorced families, 32% of 14-year-olds exhibit mental health problems, compared to 38% of teens that age among separated cohabiting families. The authors noted a difference between married and cohabiting parents, whether or not they stay together, and an even bigger gap depends on whether they stay together. Commenting on the findings, they said that, even after taking mothers’ marital status, happiness, and background into account, not having a father in the house remains the number one predictor of teenage mental health problems in the UK.


UK Girl Guides to allow trans-boys to shower with girls

The UK Girl Guides latest official rules instructs guide leaders to allow members who are biologically male but now identify as female to share changing rooms, toilets, showers and sleeping quarters with girls when away on excursions. The updated rules, which apply to members aged from five to 25, allow female-identifying boys to “share accommodation with other young members if they wish”. The new guidance, issued on the group’s UK website, says that “the use of gendered facilities,” including showers, toilets and changing rooms, “can cause anxiety,” and adds: “Members are allowed to use the facilities of the gender they self-identify as.”

Julie Bentley, Girlguiding Chief Executive, said that the organisation is following the requirements set out in the Equality Act 2010, which states that organisations providing single-sex services must treat people according to their acquired gender.  Ms Bentley added: “In line with our values of inclusion, we welcome any young person who self-identifies as a girl or young woman.”

David Davies, Conservative MP for Monmouth in South Wales, told The Mail on Sunday: “If transgender girls who are physically male are going to be sharing facilities, it’s going to make some girls threatened and uncomfortable and the Guides shouldn’t be doing that.”


Group inciting deadly ‘blasphemy’ protests in Pakistan force resignation of Law Minister

An Islamist group which has been clashing violently with Pakistani security forces for weeks over a blasphemy dispute has called off protests after forcing the law minister to resign. The violence in Islamabad left at least seven people dead and hundreds wounded and had spread to other major cities across the country including Karachi and Lahore. The protesting Islamists, from the hardline Tehreek-i-Labaik Ya Rasool Allah Party, wanted the law minister to be sacked for omitting a reference to the Prophet Muhammad in a new version of the electoral oath. The wording of the oath has since been restored to its original formula and the minister in charge apologised saying it was a clerical error.

The oath row follows a series of recent blasphemy and persecution cases against Christians. In August, a Pakistani Christian boy was sentenced to death after he was arrested and charged with burning pages of the Quran. In October, a Christian boy was reportedly beaten to death by police in Pakistan on Monday in an apparent revenge attack after the boy was in a fight with a Muslim classmate who tried to bully him into renouncing Christianity. The case follows the killing of another Christian student in August, when Sharoon Masih was beaten to death by at least one Muslim classmate during school hours in Punjab’s Vehari district. The plight of Christians in Pakistan was highlighted in an Amnesty International report taking aim at the country’s blasphemy laws last year. The ‘As good as dead’ report said religious minorities are often the target of false blasphemy accusations and that Pakistan’s blasphemy laws are actually ’emboldening vigilantes’ who are prepared to threaten or even kill those accused.