[SEB Guest Post] Schools deny girls cervical cancer jabs on religious grounds.

It’s been almost three years (!) since I’ve written a Guest Post for SEB, but a recent news story here in the UK prompted me to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and write something.

Over here in the UK, some religious schools have opted out of offering free HPV vaccines to their students. HPV – the Human Papillomavirus – is linked to as many as 70% of cases of cervical cancer and is therefore offered, free of charge, to girls aged 12 and 13. Around 1000 women die from cervical cancer each year, so this vaccine has the potential to save hundreds of lives. And normally, it is up to individual parents’ to opt their children out, but these schools have made the decision to opt out of the vaccine for all of their students.

The HPV vaccine is controversial – not because of any side effects, but because HPV is a sexually-transmitted infection. Consequently, some parents opt their children out as they do not want to encourage sexual promiscuity, or feel that because their religion forbids sexual intercourse before marriage that this is incompatible with their faith.

The key problem is that a number of these schools have not informed local doctors that they have chosen to opt out. Consequently, should a child’s parent actually want their child to have the vaccine, it is not subsequently being offered by their doctor and so some children may miss out.

What is laughable are some of the reasons given by the schools for opting out, such as:

“pupils follow strict Christian principles, marry within their own community and do not practise sex outside marriage”

Because we know how likely that is. Regular SEB readers will know that abstinence-only sex education is not effective and actually results in a higher rate of unprotected sex – and consequently puts both men and women at risk of contracting the virus. Although the vaccination programme only targets girls, men can carry the virus and it while it frequently results in no adverse symptoms, carriers are at a heightened risk of other cancers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has some handy information if you want to read more.

Should schools be allowed to put the health of their students at risk in this way, in the course of religious observance? And if so, should such schools be forced to make the effort to provide parents with the information they need to seek alternative sources of the vaccine?

Is public healthcare in Britain really that bad?

Obama’s plans for healthcare reform in the US are far from uncontroversial and many of those on the right side of the political spectrum have been coming up with various facts and figures to undermine his moves to widen access. One of the (perhaps unintended) targets of this has been Britain’s National Health Service (NHS), a ‘socialised’ health care system, and many claims have been made about its supposed failings. But are these claims really true? British newspaper The Guardian investigated the claims and came up with the facts:

The claim: Ted Kennedy, 77, would not be treated for his brain tumour if he was in Britain because he is too old – Charles Grassley, Republican senator from Iowa.

The response: Untrue, says the Department of Health. “There is no ban on anyone of any age receiving any treatment, ” said a spokesman. “Whether to prescribe drugs or recommend surgery is rightly a clinical decision taken on a case by case basis.”

The claim: In England, anyone over 59 years of age cannot receive heart repairs, stents or bypass because it is not covered as being too expensive and not needed – an anonymously authored, but widely circulated, email, largely sent to older voters

The response: Totally untrue. Growing numbers of patients over 65 with heart conditions are having surgery, including valve repairs and heart bypass surgery, says Professor Peter Weissberg, the British Heart Foundation’s (BHF) medical director. For example, the average age at which people have a bypass operation has risen from 58 in 1991 to 66 in 2008.

There are several more which reveal the true facts. It’s true that survival rates for breast and prostate cancers are lower in Britain than in the US, but whether that is due to the standard of treatment or care, or down to other factors (such as diet, exercise or genetic variations) isn’t explored. In any case, not one of the major British political parties promotes the abolition of the NHS, and barely any of the minor ones would abolish it either. While most Brits, politicians or otherwise, would happily spend half an hour telling you about how the NHS could be improved, you would find it hard to find anyone who would want to get rid of it altogether.

Fasting Muslim falls asleep while driving, dies.

For a month every year Muslims are supposed to fast (i.e. not eat any food) during daylight hours – this is known as Ramadan. Most cope with this fine (and if you’re ill you can eat food). But one guy from my home town, despite feeling rather tired, decided to drive. And fell asleep. Alas, he hit a lamp-post and later died in hospital.

Bradford Coroners Court was told Maurice Gent, 59, was fasting for the Muslim festival of Ramadan and was “feeling tired” at the time of the collision.

The court heard how Mr Gent, of Waterside, Bingley, was taken to Airedale General Hospital where he told Accident & Emergency staff he thought he had fallen asleep at the wheel.

Mr Gent, a civil servant, had complained of stomach pains in the ambulance. He was stable on arrival at hospital, but his condition started to deteriorate and he died of multiple organ failure on October 5, 2007 – six days after the collision.

Ramadan is actually getting earlier each year and this means that daylight hours will be getting longer, so it’ll be interesting to see if more accidents happen as a result of people fasting who really shouldn’t.

Archbishop of York gives the Pope a bottle of beer.

On official visits to meet the Pope, it is customary to provide a gift. Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister and recent Catholic convert, gave a painting of Cardinal Newman. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah presented him with a jeweled scimitar. So what did John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York (one of the highest ranking positions in the Anglican Church) give him? Beer.

When the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, met the pontiff he gave him the Holy Grail, a beer brewed in Masham, North Yorkshire.

It was the highlight of the archbishop’s first trip to Rome to celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and to cement cordial relations between the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches.

Following their 15-minute chat in the Basilica di San Paolo Fuori le Mura, believed to be the burial place of St Paul, Sentamu said: “I told the brewery I was meeting the Pope and they made a special brew for him. I heard he’d been given some Black Sheep ale and liked it. So I brought that and the Holy Grail.”

The gifts pleased the Pope, who is Bavarian by birth and prefers beer to wine and water. That the tipple was a one-off would have also suited a pontiff with designer flourishes. During a two-hour service, which was peppered with incense, chanting, coughing and ringtones, his ruby-red Prada loafers peeped out from under his ivory robes.

It’s perhaps slightly ironic that the beer is inspired by the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, as it was another of the Python films, Life of Brian, that brought out much angst from the Anglican and Catholic churches over claims of blasphemy. Holy Grail is produced by the Black Sheep Brewery not far from York and is available for mail order.

Father puts pins in son’s tongues because of God.

A Nigerian-born father of two boys, living in the UK, felt that since God had his tongue cut off in the Bible, he must inflict similar injuries on his sons. He put pins in their tongues and through their lips, cut their mouths with scalpel blades, and pressing one of the boy’s tongue with sharp pliers until it swelled and bled.

It went to court, and he was found guilty of three counts of child cruelty. He pleaded not guilty; his wife also pleaded not guilty to essentially turning a blind eye to the cruelty. They await sentencing and a verdict on further charges.

New British political leader doesn’t believe in God.

The Liberal Democrats, who are a left-wing party in the United Kingdom and rank third after the Conservatives and incumbent Labour Party, have elected a new leader named Nick Clegg. And, in a radio interview with BBC Radio 5 Live, he said that he didn’t believe in God:

New Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has answered “no” when asked on BBC radio if he believed in God.

The rapid-fire question and answer format on 5 Live meant the 40-year-old did not have the chance to elaborate.

He later said he had “enormous respect for people who have religious faith”, that his wife is Catholic and that his children are being brought up Catholic.

“However, I myself am not an active believer, but the last thing I would do when talking or thinking about religion is approach it with a closed heart or a closed mind.”

Both the current Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and the previous PM Tony Blair are Christian but they have said little about how their religion affects their roles as leader. Based on my personal knowledge it is rare for a politician to be an outspoken non-believer, especially a leader of a party, though some politicians are outspoken about their beliefs. There are a number of non-Christian members of parliament, including Jews, Muslims and Hindus.

Richard Dawkins says he’s a ‘cultural Christian’.

Professor Richard Dawkins, author of the book ‘The God Delusion’ and one of Britain’s most well-known atheists, has described himself as a ‘cultural Christian’. The comments come about after Mark Pritchard, an opposition member of Parliament, accused politically correct people of undermining Christmas and other Christian festivals.

Dawkin’s response was thus:

“I’m not one of those who wants to stop Christian traditions.

“This is historically a Christian country. I’m a cultural Christian in the same way many of my friends call themselves cultural Jews or cultural Muslims.

“So, yes, I like singing carols along with everybody else. I’m not one of those who wants to purge our society of our Christian history.

“If there’s any threat these sorts of things, I think you will find it comes from rival religions and not from atheists.”

Pritchard, meanwhile wants a parliamentary debate on “Christianophobia” and is complaining that ‘Christian heritage was being undermined by secular officials and public figures’.

Hindu gods get summons from court.

It’s not easy being a God. You’re omnipotent, so you have to be everywhere at once, and answering everyone’s prayers 24-hours a day, 7 days a week, with no rest. And just when it couldn’t get worse – you get summoned to a court in India:

A judge in India has summoned two Hindu gods, Ram and Hanuman, to help resolve a property dispute.

Judge Sunil Kumar Singh in the eastern state of Jharkhand has issued adverts in newspapers asking the gods to “appear before the court personally”. The gods have been asked to appear before the court on Tuesday, after the judge said that letters addressed to them had gone unanswered.

Apparently two temples have been built on land that is claimed to be owned by the temple priest, but the locals claim that the land belongs to the two gods.

We’ll have to see whether they show up in court or not.

Islamists call for the death of a British teacher over a teddy bear.

One of the big news stories over here in Britain at the moment is the jailing of a British schoolteacher in Sudan for ‘insulting Islam’. Her crime is that, during a classroom exercise, she asked her pupils to name a teddy bear, and the children chose the name ‘Muhammad’. As well as being the name of one of the pupils, Muhammad is also the name of the Muslim prophet and in Islam it is frowned upon (to say the least) to create idols or images of Muhammad – you may remember the furore surrounding the cartoons that some European newspapers published last year which depicted the prophet as a suicide bomber.

Though it’s obvious to most sane people that the teacher didn’t intend to cause offence when the bear was named (and she has apologised), complaints were made, she was arrested, and has now been jailed for 15 days and will be deported upon release.

That’s bad enough, but now at least a thousand of Sudanese people have demanded a tougher punishment – some going as far as demanding death by firing squad.

The reaction in the UK has been of almost universal condemnation – from Muslim leaders to politicians – and the government is trying to intervene where possible. But should the Sudanese judiciary give into the protesters’ demands, we could see a woman shot to death, over a teddy bear.

Man sees Allah’s name on a chapatti.

It’s not just Christians who find Jesus or the Virgin Mary on pieces of toast – a Muslim man from Bradford in England has found the arabic script for Allah, the Muslim God, on a chapatti.

He showed it to his stunned family and since then neighbours and members of the Muslim community have flocked to view it. All agree that the markings on the food appear to spell out the holy name.

Mr Iqbal said: “It was definitely an unusual event. A lot of religious leaders have come to check it and they have confirmed that it is very clearly the name of Allah in Arabic.

“In every other respect it is just a normal chapatti. This has never happened before. We left it as it is, it has gone a bit hard now but it is still clearly visible.”