Thursday, October 20, 2005
"Though ignored in the US press, this past week saw the culmination of more than a decade of negotiations on a document that could prove one of the keys to the human future...This past week, UNESCO's General Conference unanimously approved the Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights. While the details of the document are mostly unexciting...the very fact of its endorsement shows that every nation now has the biopolicy agenda on its radar screen. And while for the US statements of this kind may not be very influential, for many smaller countries and most of the developing world they have huge significance. Many nations will use the declaration as the basis of national policies...
There are some very good things in the statement. For example, there is a near-perfect clause on the question of cultural relativism, which is an issue that often dogs our discussions. People claim that because the world is diverse, because it has many religions and cultures, who are we to criticize others? Here is Article 12: The importance of cultural diversity and pluralism should be given due regard. However, such considerations are not to be invoked to infringe upon human dignity, human rights, and fundamental freedoms, nor upon the principles set out in this declaration, nor to limit their scope. In other words, no one doubts that the world is full of diverse and plural approaches, but "human dignity, human rights, and fundamental freedoms" are the bottom line.
And what about the "freedom of science"? We hear a lot from the boosters of "therapeutic cloning" that science should be left to the scientists; you are welcome to ethics, but keep it to yourself. Listen to one of the aims of the declaration: To recognize the importance of freedom of scientific research and the benefits derived from scientific and technological developments, while stressing the need that such research and developments occur within the framework of ethical principles set out in this declaration and that they respect human dignity, human rights, and fundamental freedoms. And this, from Article 3 on human dignity: The interests and welfare of the individual should have priority over the sole interest of science or society.
Rising real estate prices have created a circus-like atmosphere in parts of China. Real estate fairs are mobbed, land speculation is rampant and some poor farmers dream about converting their wheat fields into the next Beverly Hills. Indeed, prices have risen so fast over the last few years and the pace of building has been so furious here and in other large cities that the government and some leading economists have been warning about a huge property bubble in China.
The Netherlands has a reputation for tolerance, with its liberal laws on drug use, euthanasia and gay marriage. However, it is now set to become the first country in Europe to ban the burkha. Interior Minister Rita Verdonk reportedly said that the "time for cosy tea-drinking" with Muslim groups is over. The government says that the ban is a security measure.
If school's have holidays for Christian festivals, should other religions get their special days recognised? Several schools in the US are going the other direction to avoid the problem - they are taking away all religious holidays.
In a new book, "The Criminalization of Christianity", author and radio host Janet Folger makes a bold prediction: If Christians don't stand up for their First Amendment rights, it won't be long before speaking out becomes a crime. "We know that Christianity is criminalized in Muslim countries all over the globe. And in communist countries, we expect that. In fact, we know that research shows there's approximately 160,000 Christians that are killed every year for their faith. What you don't expect is for it to be in free countries. You don't expect it to be in Europe and in America. But yet it is."
The likely appointment of a lesbian as the new head of one of New Zealand's largest churches is threatening to tear it apart. The Rev Diana Tana, who has publicly stated she is in a lesbian relationship, looks set to be appointed president of the Methodist Church next month, as no other nominations have been received. But some conservatives say thousands of members will quit the church if her induction goes ahead. The church is already believed to have lost several thousand members after it decided in 1997 to allow gay priests to be ordained.