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The Children Act – my verdict

Her Honour Lady Justice Elspeth will present her findings on the case in the novel by Ian McEwan

 

No need to rise (thanks for being willing).

 

The son of a Jehovah’s witness couple is deemed a minor by the law and therefore his and his parent’s wishes can be overruled by the court, where the court feels that the welfare of the statutory child is at stake, as per section 1 (a) of The Children Act (1989).

 

Adam is three months off being 18 and has leukaemia. He is advised by Edith Cavell Hospital that he needs an urgent blood transfusion to save his life. Indeed, this court has been called at short notice today because the consultant haematologist states that after tomorrow, Adam’s chances of living are small.

 

A blood transfusion is against the beliefs of the family, including Adam, and is therefore being refused. Adam is well aware that he will likely die, and so his are family and community.

 

We have heard about the deeply held beliefs of the Henry family.

We have heard the consultant’s view of the likely suffering and unpleasant death that will befall Adam if he continues without the transfusion.

 

We have heard the precedents of previous judges who allow for statutory minors to make their own decisions, and we have deliberated whether Adam passes this non statutory test of being capable – ie that of being “Gillick competent”; whether it is better for the court and hospital to intervene, and what is the meaning of ‘welfare’. No-one has framed welfare as a developmental or spiritual path. This is a significant oversight in my view.

 

We have noted that Adam’s church circle is narrow. We have considered whether Adam has been able to make his own commitment and decision; and if he is aware of the kind of death he will suffer. Lady Justice Maye has suggested to intervene would be saving the boy from himself and his religion, though she states that the court must have no view on religions or the afterlife. However, it surely does and that has affected the ruling.

 

It appears that no-one in the court shares a view with the Henrys about God and death; Mr Carter the consultant states his Anglicanism, yet he saw Jehovah Witnesses – a related and derivative faith – as a cult.

 

As judge, I am presented with but two options: either I force Adam to have the transfusion, and he will live; or I let him have his apparent wishes, and he dies horribly.

 

But we have not considered other options, nor taken apart the beliefs on both sides.

 

Mr Carter is used to being consulted with, but not in consulting others. It is his dearly held belief, bolstered by a world he is entrenched in, as are truly many of us in the legal world, living in gated nearby communities, socialising with our own, reinforcing the ideas we have long held and rarely having them challenged. As we rise to the top of our profession, we are in a position to distil these beliefs into others, and have less to influence us from above.

So my first point is that a Jehovah’s Witness is no more in a bubble world than many of us, including those who seek a ruling against the Jehovah’s Witnesses here today.

 

Secondly, those who would have me find against the Henry family are of a rational bent, if not an atheistic one. Mr Berner QC, representative of the hospital, may I ask if you have any form of faith or spirituality? Mr Carter, is your Anglicanism one based on prevalent modern science and rationalism, or do you believe in an intervening God who can heal though means other than hospitals? Do you believe in any other kind of medicine save allopathic – that is, your own medicine? I thought as much.

 

You see, we have an issue, that most people involved in this case do not see the world as Adam’s family do. It is assumed that I too would be on the rational side, as Lady Justice Maye was, whose decision I am reconsidering.

 

Although we say that courts do not comment on faith, they do, for we quote Lord Justice Purchas who claims that religions are allowed as long as they are “legally and socially acceptable” and more colourfully and emotively, Lord Justice Scarman precludes those that are “immoral and socially obnoxious”. Could those quotes not be used to crush dissent? For faith is a powerful impetus for civil disobedience, believing in a higher power and cause than earthly authorities, which of course means secular law. For those invested in status quo and their own hegemony, religions are an anathema at best and a threat at worst. Although of course, religions can be used for hegemony and status quo keeping and we must consider if the beliefs in this case are a case in point.

 

Mr Carter, may I ask, what is at stake for you? What do you gain from carrying out a transfusion – money or a commission for example? We are aware that procedures carry a fee for medical staff, and could the drugs involved also be influenced by the profit seeking companies that made them?

 

Mr Carter, how and why does the death of Adam affect you? Is it something you would be upset by – surely not as much as the parents here, and his other loved ones? Do you really care about the affect it would have on your staff?

Is death a failure for you – personally, professionally, on your statistics?

In your view, is death the worst that can happen?

 

And Mr and Mrs Henry – is death the worst for you? Of course not, you believe you go to paradise, reunited with loved ones and God. But how do you feel about the actual loss?

 

I have another thought on a crucial matter that has been erstwhile omitted: the transfusion is deemed necessary because of the drugs being administered for Adam’s anaemia. So these drugs have such a serious side effect that they require an intrusive, risky and to some, taboo procedure to correct it? And we have heard from the family’s counsel that transfusions are not always successful or safe, something that Mr Carter nor Mr Berner has taken seriously.

 

Whilst we heard about the beliefs of the family, no-one articulated that actually several ancient mandates, including the Bible’s Levitical injunctions, are actually often shown to be wisdom that the modern world might be wise to listen to. Aren’t Jews without many of the illnesses that befall their all meats and all animal parts eating counterparts? Perhaps we don’t think enough about life stuff and its sacredness; and only in a world where blood is no more than the oil of the body could we think of swapping it and other parts with those of others?

And I note how those who refuse or query are seen as outdated, cranky, if not dangerous.

 

Her Ladyship is observing all this.

 

So my first conclusion is – why has no alternative healing been considered, such as faith healing, or non allopathic methods, such as herbal and energy based medicines?

I understand that these can be miraculously effective, even from a scientific view.

What else has the allopathic world got in its medicine chest?

 

Also, I rule that an urgent enquiry and temporary ban be put into place on these anti anaemia drugs which are clearly so harmful. I must say that I am shamed that no other person on this case has flagged up or shown alarm on this matter.

 

My next main area is that of the minor’s choice. We arbitrarily place a legal coming of age, now quite late considering history and culture. Adam would be a man already in many other times and places. We have a set standard threshold that is measurable – that quantitative, rational, empirical based mindset again – and not one that is based upon a person’s maturity and insight. We know that Adam has both of those.

 

We claim to care for the welfare of children, but yet there is a great conundrum:

To force bodily acts and fluids on another is assault; to do so, even consensually under the age of 16 is automatically seen as rape by the law.

 

And yet – up to the age of 18, law can support medicine in doing so, against the wishes of the person concerned and their next of kin.

 

What kind of parent are we, the establishment, on behalf of our nation’s young people?

 

We are giving alarming ‘facts’ – I must empathise the inverted commas around the word – about the urgency of the procedure, the death that will befall Adam without it, the likelihood of success. But have we really had those statements scrutinised? Are we allowing the pressure from the hospital to let us overlook the paucity of strong evidence, the manipulation of the arguments against the Henrys’ view, or attempted to uncover underlying motives and views of those against the family’s wishes?

 

I am of the mind that state nor institution has the power over the body and fate of another, and that this should never be supported in law. The transfusion would be a medical rape with much in common with a sexual one, both physically and psychologically damaging.

 

We must urgently consider what else might help Adam.

 

I also state that death, for many believers, is not the end or the ultimate worst. The ancient Mayans called death “an act of creation”, part of life’s cycle. We assume in science that a long life is our rightful life, and any other is a cheat, a failure, a tragedy; death is a nuisance and an error to bat away for as long as possible. This is an immature view of death, forgetting the spiritual and personal development’s role in life, for those who die and those who witness and grieve.

 

I must here return to a line of enquiry that Lady Justice Maye took, which is if the Henry’s beliefs are helpful or harmful; are they freely held or enforced? Is this truly standing up for one’s beliefs and going home to God, or a more sinister and unnecessary martyring?

Is this God speaking, or your church’s elders? I note that the suggestions about alternative healing have been mine, not the Kingdom Hall’s. They have not spoken of faith or natural healing; it is assumed that death is the outcome of obedience to God’s mandate against blood transfusion. I have not heard anyone suggest that God might save Adam without the transfusion. The Almighty seems to concur with the more science based consultants here. Might that be a fault in the defence’s counsel, or does it belie something significant about the religion – and this branch of it as relating to the Henry family?

 

I do find something concerning and significant here, and as much as my own beliefs may be largely inappropriate to the case (and yet still drive my ruling), I would like to share that I am well aware, both personally and with the knowledge of the faiths of others, that the kind of God being presented is not one that many believers would recognise. To critique the Jehovah’s Witnesses, or even this particular branch and its leaders, is not the remit of this court; but I do note that powerful leaders seem to pressure the Henrys into this view, and I wonder how loving and wise a leaders they can be if they impose an obedience that could be fatal and yet offer no succour save the next world – not much succour for Adam’s parents – and no alternative to the transfusion; not even the laying on of hands or anointing of oil common in other Christian circles.

 

The Henrys are asked to put Adam’s life into someone’s hands – God’s or Mr Carter’s; God may work through the transfusion and the elders may be at work through the supposed will of God. I trust my ruling is aware of both and finds a third way.

 

Thus I summarise my ruling:

 

I require that alternative healing for Adam be urgently sought – tonight – if the Henrys choose it; and that no procedure can be forced on animal or human without their and their next of kin’s consent. I will convene a party to propose changes to the laws.

I would like Mr Carter to be invited to be involved in the alternative healing. I make clear that a rejection of transfusion is not a rejection of him or a sleight on his work.

 

I recommend a greater working between allopathic and so called alternative medicine, particularly regarding non intrusive and less profit driven forms of medicine, including energy and faith healing. This may be an area for the Jehovah’s Witnesses to consider.

 

I also recommend a query into the statutory age limit – for were this case three months later, we would not be here today.

 

As said, I declare the need for the urgent recalling and investigation into the drugs and procedures, and further research into transfusion, not just is efficacy but its safety, and the research into alternatives.

 

It is very much my hope that Adam will live, and that he might enjoy a wider view and circle than he has thus far – and that so might all of us, for a small, self serving view is all too common. I admire the courage of all the Henrys and their steadfastness, but I might suggest that their God is less exacting than their pastors.

 

Case dismissed. You may rise this time.

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Justice for Animals

Stop using the death sentence, and euthanasia instead of medical care

It is unhelpful that the Bible has influenced our culture to believe that we are ahead of the animals and have, to quote that unfortunate Genesis phrase, dominion over them. Whereas ecological people of all beliefs have questioned how we can use this passage to subordinate the rest of the earth and how a good God would ask that of us (especially when doing so puts us all in danger), there are ways in which we carry out this traditional King James understanding, regardless of whether we take much heed of the Bible.

Whereas experimentation, battery farming, and hurting animals is usually seen as disgusting, we are in a culture where animals can be killed at human whim. An unwanted litter? Too many pets at the rescue centre? Can’t afford to keep or pay the vet’s bills? I was alarmed to hear that if a horse breaks its legs, it’s shot. No braces or operations. We often hear so called animal lovers speaking about not being cruel by allowing something to continue to suffer. Yet only once have I heard someone claim that they felt the cat itself said it was time to release it. The decision is entirely the humans’.

When I say the human, I don’t always mean its owner. I have often heard of someone taking their animal to the vets to come back with a corpse.

We are obsessed with property, so that not only does every piece of land (as well as buildings) have to belong to someone, but so do the animals. If it’s domesticated, it comes under our jurisdiction with rules imposed on animals about tags, passports and behaviours – which can lead to their termination.

The Green party – of which I am not a member – is all for mending what’s broken and not being so quick to discard. I’d like us to take that to animals too.

The other fear is that how we treat animals is not far off how we see each other. Do we start ‘euthanizing’ people we can no longer afford to look after, state or privately? We also kill animals for disorders and traits that in humans we have fought so hard to have accepted and de-stigmatised.

Do we bring back in the death penalty for not only murder but violence – absolutely not!

The notion is that animals don’t have souls. Not long ago, it was believed that women didn’t either – it was still being debated within 100 years (as well as other ethnicities). We also assess which life forms are intelligent – probably ones we can get to do something for us – and which are crushable bugs and vermin. We have laws that say certain rodents must be reported and killed, whereas others can be our pets. Note that some keep as pets the very creatures that others fear.

There are those who claim they can talk to animals. Critters apparently do not use language and communicate as we do, but they do feel. We are poor at communing with anything that doesn’t think and behave as we do. Some deride this notion, especially that an insect or similar can have feelings. We’re brought up to crush slugs, spiders, flies and wasps (though not hurt bees, even though they sting too). We are told to fear wolves and be glad that there are no longer wild in parts of the world. We are told that animals naturally have pecking orders and live in packs and can never be our friends unless we become its master. If a domesticated animal shows a sign of behaving in a way we are threatened by, it must die.

If there is disease or even fear of disease, animals must be killed by law. I am incensed when I recall that marksman broke into a woman’s home to shot her sheep during a British supposed epidemic.

Without trial of the animal, we put creatures we believe have no views or say to often immediate death. If we do not comply, then we are punished.

I find it sickening that so many of our societies try to control so much of our lives – and now those of our fellow creatures, always against their interests.

Societies that live close to nature often have better understanding and relationships with animals.

Killing animals who have attacked is lacking in forgiveness and a very fear based solution. Rather than kill animals who are violent, they should be sent to a whisperer to find out

1 – why…. often violence is a product of violence, worse if it is human abuse that leads to a victims’ execution.

2 – to retrain them.

I doubt that (m)any of animals killings are necessary.

Why do we not let animals die naturally anymore?

Money should never dictate the health or support of any being. I visited a former workhouse this weekend and I thought of what I wrote early in the new year on Dickens, and how timely he feels – and how frightening that is.

Often resources are possible – we all know where the missing money is – in the pockets of the powerful few. It’s also not cheap to have animals killed and buried.

Rather than scorning those who claim to speak with animals, listen to them; and start listening to creatures and respecting them.

Is it not human fault that we breed more domestic animals than we can feed? In the wild, they would not have to rely on us to get their food, and sadly nature would take those that did not survive. And that does not mean we have the right to interfere with their bodies to keep the birthrate down.

Rules about animals should be no more than needed; not lord over them or be controlling of humans who wish to have animals in their lives, whilst ensuring responsible stewardship. I don’t want more enforcement of having to go on training courses for pet owners, but perhaps training should be encouraged – and of the partnership, not mastery variety.

I also call for a change in law to stop forcing the death of animals; and for a change of the expectation that people put animals down when there are often other solutions. And rather than dismissing them, that people who claim psychic powers with animals are listened to. It sounds like a gift that enhances animals’ and humans’ lives – and that these supposed lesser creatures have a lot to teach us.

See also my Hubpage http://elspeth-r.hubpages.com/hub/Dont-cull-badgers-DO-chip-Dogs?!

PS I now have a suggestion for ex bailiffs (as they should all be changing their jobs, as per my previous post on Justice in Banking) that they can be enforcement officers for animal cruelty rescue.

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Policing protesters

Police heavy handedness is all too common a feature of our broadsheets. Today’s Independent and Guardian reported how protesters in the spring at a London department store were held for many hours and had their homes searched under the terrorism act; over 100 people face trial. There is rightly an outcry from many quarters. I am alarmed and angered that the reasoning is wasting of ‘court time and resources’ as one MP put it, or police time. What matters is that the freedom to peacefully protest is being taken away; and that bullying tactics make this not a free country. This is abuse of power, of law, and an assault to liberty.

Protesting againsta company’s tax evasion is nothing to do with terrorism. That should be tightened to a very slim definition of those using death or the threat of death to make a political point – such as bombings, hostage holding, siege by gunpoint. It is not for people camping out in a commercial premises who had no intention of harming anyone. The phrase ‘national security’ needs to be tightened to mean the above or foreign invasion. The MI5’s other remit, of threats to the economy, should be scrubbed as economy is not part of our national security and comes across as being more concerned about finance than liberty of its citizens.

When, like so many other countries, we are faced with insupportable cuts to deal with a so called debt caused by greedy and irresponsible financiers and our own government’s mistakes, we do not want our already heavy taxes being spent on taking away free comfortable livin. It makes one wonder what other  will be eroded. We want the right to speak up against losses to pension, student support, and all the other services that are suffering. And anything else that matters to us. Conflating demonstration with terrorism means the means to speak out is receding. That is not democracy, it is tyranny.

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I Love You Phillip Morris

The trailer and DVD packaging suggests a laughathon but this is misleading. Those wanting a lighthearted, feel good escape movie will be confronted by some heavy material, including heart break and terminal illness – dying is in the first scene. And those not wanting a silly buddy movie will be wrongly put off a true story which is touching and has some important issues.

It’s those issues that make me write.

The DVD extras make no mention of a campaign to release Steven Jay Russell, who has been in prison in solitary confinement for 13 years. His crime officially is for being a repeat offending con man and escapee. However, being in Texas and under Bush’s presidency, the film hints that the real reason for this severity might be his homosexuality.

Russell says ‘nobody gets hurt.’ In fictional con movie The Brothers Bloom, another Steven says ‘the best tricks are where everyone gets what they want’. The crimes committed are mostly impersonation. Although never trained as a lawyer, Steven Russell performed very well as one. He says in the film to the judge that he didn’t want to see his client – ‘a humble woman’ – roughbeaten by the slick serial litigator for the other side. The judge saw his point – and so do I.

Reading this week about the early King Henrys of England, it emerges that the power of law came from this era – something still in force in England and therefore arguably taken to America by settlers. Many of us internationally feel angry with finance and government at present. The other pillar, law – a ‘service’ many of us can’t afford – is in cahoots with other pillars to enforce a system that often isn’t just. Law should be about justice and protecting the innocent, but so often it’s an expensive form of bullying and is more concerned about property than right. That Steven used it for his own ends is what many people do anyway. He wanted to release his partner from prison – who had served on a minor offence, so he impersonated those who had the power release Phillip. He helped the ‘humble woman’ win her case.

But mostly Steven was motivated by love. It was often twisted into materialism where Steven believed money and gifts buy happiness and that obvious status symbols are our birthright and the signs of success. His partners – Phillip at least – didn’t need that life to believe Steven loved him or treated him well, and it ultimately led to over a decade of separation. Steven made money by putting large amounts of his company’s money in high interest accounts whilst it sat there between transactions. That to me that is acumen, not a crime. It didn’t seem to be hurting anyone – unlike the financial problems of now. He lived the life of investment bankers – and yet very few of those have suffered, especially not those at the top. Instead, their country has bailed them out with public money. Although Steven took a large cut from that fund, it was interest that wasn’t being made without his resourcefulness and the company benefitted as well as him. What would have been better was to have told the board rather than do it secretly – although one asks if the board would have let him keep any of it and if they alone would have benefitted from his idea instead. It seems the fierce punishments for fraud really relates to the value put on money and possession.

Another real life conman was portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me if You Can. His reward was to be head hunted for a new career that utilised his gall, not punished for it. Why is Steven Russell so different? One wonders if what really upsets the establishment is not the innocent people are duped but that their precious professions are tainted by unqualified outsiders who can ape them and do just as well. It is not that I condone con artistry – and was shocked at his feigning AIDS – but that the punishment for Steven is far too high. He has not harmed anyone. The watershed at end of the film might have changed him, as he realises that that high lifestyle is not necessary and that being a conman hides from being his real self. Instead of being able to put that into practice, he has been locked away for all but one hour each day since 1998, separated from Phillip and the rest of the world.

 His sentence is a ridiculous 144 years – the number beloved of Jehovah’s witnesses and the book of Revelations – more than most serial killers and sexual abusers.

This is disproportionate punishment and is another misuse of public money as well as warped justice.

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