Tuesday, February 24, 2009

British foster carers not told if babies are HIV positive 'to protect the child's human rights'

What about the human rights of others who suffer needless exposure to the virus?

Foster carers have been put at risk by not being told that the babies they are looking after could be HIV positive. Social workers decided that the human rights of a mother wanting to keep her child's status confidential were more important than protecting foster parents, it is claimed. In one case a foster mother, with three young children of her own, was given a new-born baby to look after and not told that he could have HIV. This exposed her, her husband and their children to risk of infection.

Baby J was born last November to a mother known to be HIV positive. During his birth doctors and nurses wore masks, goggles, boots, protective clothing and double sets of gloves to cut the risk of infection. His elder brother had already been taken into care, and social services did the same for Baby J when he was a few days old.

Midwife Tricia McDaid, who questioned social workers about the practice when she became aware of the case in Newham, East London, said: 'This is appalling. Both the babies, the foster carers and their families were put at risk as they were not told. 'The foster parents were asked to administer anti-viral drugs to combat the baby developing HIV but were not told what they were.' Mrs McDaid, 47, says that when she raised the issue with social services she was then moved from her job as a midwife in the community.

Although it is highly likely that babies who are born to HIV positive mothers will also be infected, it is not possible to know for sure until they are 18 months old. So as soon as he was born Baby J was given daily anti-viral drugs to boost his immunity. But crucially the foster family with whom he was placed were not told they were at risk of catching HIV. One of the three children was just two years old.

Mrs McDaid said: 'Newham takes the view that the foster parents don't need to know. 'This happens all the time and it's putting foster carers and their children at terrible risk. 'I was also told by the head of child protection at Newham Hospital that if the foster parents asked me what the drugs were for I would have to lie. 'In my opinion that is breaking the law and breaking the midwife and nursing code of conduct. It also puts the baby at risk as anyone administering drugs to a young baby needs to know exactly what they are and what dosage it should be. 'When I raised difficult questions with the council they ostracised me and tried to freeze me out as they didn't want this getting out.'

Mrs McDaid believes that the council is using Article Eight of the European Convention on Human Rights - the right to respect for one's private and family life - to protect the mother and child. She said: 'Putting the human right of the mother's confidentiality about her HIV status above the right of the foster carers to know is wrong. 'It's playing Russian roulette with people's lives.'

A Newham council spokesman said: 'Foster carers would normally be expected to be provided with full information, but we admit that this did not happen in this instance. 'The circumstances in this case are complex and we acknowledge that it could have been handled differently. 'Our procedures and protocols are now subject to revision. 'We are launching an investigation and we do not know if any other cases have occurred. 'The pan-London child protection procedures, which we are signed up to, contain guidelines that are primarily aimed at protecting children and ensuring children and their parents who may be HIV positive are not discriminated against.'


Open season on free speech in divided Britain

The right to speak your mind is under growing attack as society splits into ever more special-interest groups all too quick to take offence

It is becoming impossible to keep up with the number of groups and "communities" feeling offended nowadays. In the past week alone, Jews have been offended by Caryl Churchill's play Seven Jewish Children, and Irish and Muslims by Richard Bean's play England People Very Nice. The author Margaret Atwood has been offended by the Dubai literary festival's decision not to invite the obscure author of a novel about a gay sheikh, called The Gulf Between Us, and has pulled out of the event in protest.

As our society fragments into more and more special-interest groups - I'm sorry, I mean, as our society blossoms into an ever more vibrant and diverse "rainbow nation" - these competing groups find more and more reasons to feel offended, and to demand that the law protect them from feeling offended again. This is missing a fundamental point about a democratic state: the right to freedom of speech far outweighs the right not to feel offended. As George Orwell said, "If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear."

I criticised Seven Jewish Children last week in my review for this newspaper as a ludicrous, dishonest and grossly antiIsraeli rant. In response I have been accused of hating anything that "smells of Palestinians", of being "rabidly pro-Zionist", "lazy and stupid" and of having something called "a pan-European complex". The first two accusations are false, though I certainly have my moments of laziness and stupidity and am secretly rather proud of having a "pan-European complex".

So far, so good. Critics need to be fairly cheery and thick-skinned souls. As AA Gill put it, if you want to be loved, work with puppies. In one sense, though, Seven Jewish Children, with its outrageous portrait of modern Israel, along with all the criticism and counter-criticism surrounding it, has been quite heartening. Despite all the offence given and taken, nobody has suggested it should be banned. Even Howard Jacobson, who thought the play blatantly antisemitic, a "hate-fuelled little chamber piece" and "wantonly inflammatory", nevertheless remains strictly opposed to censorship.

Meanwhile Jacqui Smith, our dim housewife of a home secretary (is that allowed?), has been banning outspoken foreigners left, right and centre - although mostly right. First there was Geert Wilders, the unfathomably hypocritical Dutchman with the mad hairdo who insists on free speech and wants to ban the Koran.

And then last week, Smith banned Pastor Fred Phelps, the Kansas preacherman who was hoping to fly to England and picket The Laramie Project, a school play in Basingstoke. The play dramatises the true murder of, as Phelps puts it in his robust way, one of the "sodomite damned". In a rare outburst of theatre criticism, Phelps has dismissed the play as "a tawdry bit of banal fag melodrama". He hates Sweden, runs a website called God Hates Fags and believes that predatory homosexuals lurk behind every tree and bush. I suspect the pastor has unresolved issues.

What exactly is Smith trying to achieve by banning the nutter? Does she really think her own electorate are so stupid and easily led as to require protection from him? Does she really think that the good citizens of Basingstoke, if they should be exposed to Phelps in full rant, are suddenly going to think, "Golly, actually, you know, I think he might be right. Now he mentions it, I think God probably does hate fags"? There is no doubt that Phelps is full of hate, but that has never been a crime. And our tradition of freedom of speech exists precisely to allow such people to speak in public, so that we can make up our own minds.

Smith is wrong to ban Wilders and Phelps, just as Wilders in turn is wrong to want to ban the Koran. These busybodies have proven themselves enemies of free speech. Besides, there are so many better, more imaginative, more efficient and even more amusing ways of disarming the loonies than simply banning them. If Smith had thought about it for one minute, even she might have realised that the spectacle of Phelps shrieking, "God hates fags!" outside a school play in Basingstoke would not have constituted a serious threat to anyone, but on the contrary might have added considerably to the gaiety of the nation.

Our political leaders should toughen up a bit, and encourage some of the electorate to toughen up as well. There's nothing dumb about freedom of speech.


Deconstructing Darwin

Darwin seemed to have no natural enemies last week. It was the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth. His theory was blessed in every account we saw. Everyone was on his side. As a result his ideas reproduced and multiplied until they were in practically every newspaper.

Commentators saw Darwinism at work everywhere. In the current worldwide financial meltdown, for example, they thought they saw not the beneficent "invisible hand" of Adam Smith, but the bloody claw of natural selection. "It's the survival of the fittest at work," said one opinionist.

Ideas, like rats, need predators. Otherwise, they get out of hand. Seeing none to cull the weak parts of Darwin's pens‚e, we will do it ourselves.

There are two parts to Darwinism as it is popularly understood. One part is based on observation - at which Darwin was a master. The other is extrapolation - not so much on Darwin's part, but his followers. The problem is that the part that is probably correct is child-like and obvious. And the part that is more grown up is nothing more than empty guesswork. He notes that some animals are better suited to their environments than others. If a polar bear were suddenly born to a hog here in Nicaragua, it probably wouldn't last long. On the other hand, if a mutation produced a naked polar bear at the North Pole, it wouldn't stand much of a chance either. Both would probably perish, leaving no heirs or assigns.and thus removing from the gene pool whatever crazy aberration that created them. Some things survive and reproduce; some don't. The essence of Darwinism is nothing more than that simple-minded observation, as near as we can tell.

But the application of this notion far and wide is a threat to the intellectual eco-system. Because of it, people think they know a lot more than they actually know. To the question, why is the polar bear white, rather than black, they have a ready answer: because evolution made him white. But this is no answer at all.it just postpones thinking until the next question: why did evolution make him that way?

Then, the guesses begin: because he can blend into the snowy background and sneak up on seals. Oh. They tell us, for example, that he covers his nose - which is black - with his paw, so he can get closer without being spotted.

Smart bear. But you'd think if evolution could turn hi s whole body black it could whitewash his nose too. And what about the seals? Are they morons? You'd think those that couldn't tell the difference between a bear with his paw over his nose and an iceberg would have been weeded out by now. Besides, why aren't seals white?

Of course, the biologists and know-it-alls have their answers, but they are just putting 2 and 2 together in the clumsiest way. They really don't know why polar bears are white. All they know is that nature hasn't exterminated the white polar bears - yet.

Many of these deep thinkers also believe that Darwin proved that God didn't create man. Instead, man arose by the process of evolution, they say, one accidental step at a time. Man is the product of pure chance, they claim. As if God couldn't make it look like an accident, if He wanted!


National pride rallies the Australian fire survivors

Since our ancestors rapidly transformed a wilderness into a first world country, Australians have always been quietly proud of their ability to rise to any challenge, and that traditional pride is still a source of strength. The popular song "We Are Australian" is a very compressed history of Australians and the challenges they have risen to.

How well the early British settlers built a new country after their arrival in 1788 can be gathered from a report of 1828 in "The Australian" newspaper of the day. A ship arrived from England with smallpox on board, which was immediately notified to the appropriate authorities. The ship was sent to Neutral Bay in quarantine and the Sydney population warned. Thousands of people had cowpox vaccinations as a result. After official investigations, the ship was allowed to disembark on August 5th. So Sydney was a pretty sophisticated place by that time. A "visiting English gentleman" also writing in "The Australian" around that time was surprised to find Sydney comprised of substantial brick and stone buildings instead of the mud huts and log cabins he had expected. He found it "a bustling, elegant and extensive city" with shops as good as London's but with much cleaner air. So the early settlers (many of whom were convicts) had built well in just 40 years. I personally am descended from a convict who arrived on the ship just mentioned

"We Are Australian" plays at the memorial service in Melbourne, and in Whittlesea, two Salvos stand. Slowly, uncertainly, about 300 others around them rise to their feet and start clapping. At first it is in time to the song, but soon it is applause - for themselves, for everyone.

For most of the 90-minute service, Kinglake evacuees and Whittlesea residents have listened, mostly heads down. It is respectful and expected, but they seem more bowed by the weight of thoughts. Some weep at the sight of a wreath, others at pictures of a green valley shrouded in fog, not smoke.

But a change comes near the end of the broadcast. They hold hands and smile. Behind the seating, a new mum dances with her babe in arms. The strength has come from somewhere and everywhere, from each other, Melbourne and around Australia. It is strength to go on.

From 10am, mourners at the Whittlesea service trickle in gently. One girl wears a T-shirt with the message: "Together in strength we can rebuild Victoria". Some wear wrist bands that give access to the mountain and what's left there of Kinglake. Many Kinglake residents, though, are behind roadblocks at their own service on their mount. At Whittlesea, Australian flags fly from prams and are draped over shoulders.

About 400 plastic seats are under marquees beside portable party hire cool rooms. For a fortnight life has been makeshift like that. Walker Reserve, the cricket oval, is a mass of dust and dead grass. Two Sundays earlier it was a car park for emergency vehicles and refuge from the blazes. A smoke haze still hangs over the hills and fire helicopters fly overhead.

As the many tributes end, a wiry looking bloke with a beard strokes his wife's arm. Peter Petkovski, wife Lena and boys Ricky, Paul, Tony and Mark lost their Long Gully Rd, Flowerdale, home and much more. Mrs Petkovski can't bear yet to think of returning there. She says the service was overwhelming. "This has just made me stronger," she says.

Her husband can't bear the thought of not going back. "There's too much history. A lot of my friends died there. You can't throw that away," he said after the service.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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