Assisted suicide in prison?
The prison suicide of Harold Shipman, a British doctor who became one of the worst serial killers of all time, has resulted in a surprising campaign to promote more suicides.

Britain's Inspectorate of Prisons says that the suicide rates in U.K. jails are about two a week, and some pundits want to see it climb even higher.

Much of the controversy stems from British Home Secretary David Blunkett's response to Shipman's death. "You wake up and you receive a phone call—Shipman's topped himself," he said last week. "You have just got to think for a minute: is it too early to open a bottle? And then you discover that everybody's very upset that he's done it."

But knowing that you'll spend the rest of your life in a cell is "a horrifying way for any human being to die, whatever they may have done," Mark Leech writes in Sunday's Independent. "For 'whole life' prisoners who have no hope there has to be a more humane way out of life, where intent can be independently verified and clarity of thought confirmed, where individuals can say their 'goodbyes' and with dignity check out of a life they no longer have the will to live."

Harry MacKenney, who was given a "whole life" sentence before being cleared of murder, made the same argument in widely quoted remarks to Leech's ConVerse Monthly Prison News. "The 20-odd people who are in the position that I was in ought to be given a way out by the State instead of festering in prison year after year only to die a horrible death at the end of ripped bedsheets dangling from their cell bars," he said. "I had reached such depths of absolute despair that I was prepared to sacrifice the whole of my future rather than spend one more day in prison but I did not have the courage to go through with it. If I had been given a handful of tablets or an injection I would definitely have taken my own life. Death is a fairer place than being locked away for life."

Tim Lott is less direct in a Guardian op-ed, but he praises Shipman and suicide bombers for "maintaining a sense of selfhood" in their deaths. "Suicide is an assertion that you will survive as an identity even if you can't survive as a body. … Suicide is the ultimate act of will and, as such, always appeals to those who are overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness."

Ultimately, Lott doesn't embrace suicide as a "humane way out of life," like Leech, but he concludes, "suicides aren't all weird, or wicked, or tragic, or cowardly. They're just like us—only more so."

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Fortunately, there are those on the other side, who say that prison suicides aren't causing enough outrage. "In an age obsessed with reasons for violence, children hanging themselves in prisons where they should never be causes no ripple," Mary Riddell writes in The Observer. "Nor do the deaths, highlighted by Mind, of psychiatric patients in custody."

Christianity Today has published several articles on suicide, including a biblical analysis, a profile of a suicide prevention ministry, and an article by Lew Smedes on whether suicide is unforgivable.

Will NCAA bust Arkansas quarterback for supporting evangelist?
The web site of Arkansas evangelist Phil Smith may have included a violation of NCAA guidelines before it was pulled from the Internet, reports The Morning News of Springdale, Arkansas. (The story was picked up by the Associated Press.)

"We'd like you to know that a weekend evangelistic program featuring evangelist Phil Smith and Razorbacks football star Matt Jones is available to you," said a November 15 posting on the ministry's web site. "Phil Smith met Matt Jones while leading a Bible study in his home for the church youth group. When Phil recently responded to the call of God to focus his life exclusively on evangelism, Matt wanted to be a part of the work God was doing through Phil. The two have developed a strong bond in the past several years and they have begun to work together to reach young people for Jesus."

Using the quarterback (who also plays basketball) to promote the ministry may constitute NCAA violations, especially if Jones received any compensation. The NCAA is investigating, but Smith says there's no problem.

"This is a young man that goes to school," he told the paper. "He gives back to his community and doesn't receive any money for it. We're not asking for any money for it. It's a sponsorship. I'm not trying to get rich like some televangelist."

Smith told the paper he'd be willing to remove references to Jones from the site, and now the whole site is gone. But thanks to Google's cache, several of the pages are still available, including the references to Jones and a bio of Smith.

More articles

More on life ethics:

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Conservative Episcopalians meet:

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Anglican homosexuality debate:

  • Synod to hold gay debate | The Church of England is to debate homosexuality at its general synod in London next month, six months after the furore over the aborted appointment of its first openly gay, though celibate, bishop, Jeffrey John (The Guardian, London)

  • Book challenges gay sex ban | Church of England liberals are to intensify the debate over homosexuality at the General Synod next month by circulating a book by Canon Jeffrey John to promote their cause (The Telegraph, London)

  • Church to explore law on 'gay marriages' | The Church of England has been asked to look into the possibility of legal recognition for "gay marriages" in proposals before the General Synod (PA, U.K.)


Bush's marriage initiative:

  • Two fronts: Promoting marriage, fighting poverty | If healthy marriages and families are socially desirable, it remains unclear what sorts of programs might help foster them (The New York Times)

  • Marriage counseling? Try Erma Bombeck | The cynical little devil in my head says President Bush's marriage initiative carries a political calculation that adds up to 3 million. Votes, that is (Myriam Marquez, The Orlando Sentinel)

  • Marriage proposal | The state has an interest in marriage because stable partnerships lessen the need for state-funded social and welfare programs. But putting the federal government into a condescending parental role is a misuse of taxpayer money (Editorial, Salt Lake Tribune)

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  • Heartless marriage plans | The whole idea of encouraging poor people to get married and stay married through classes and counseling sessions ignores the main reason that stable wedlock is rare in inner cities: the epidemics of joblessness and incarceration that have stripped those communities of what social scientists call "marriageable" men (Editorial, The New York Times)

Faith-based initiative:

  • Bush orders cash flow to faith-based programs | President Bush ordered the Justice Department to begin releasing $3.7 billion aimed at helping religious charities and faith-based programs to aid victims of crime, prevent child victimization and make schools safer (The Washington Times)

  • White House staffers to speak at seminary | Rebecca Rees Dummermuth, associate director for legal affairs in the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, and Timothy Goeglein, special assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Public Liaison, will speak at Concordia Theological Seminary (The Journal Gazette, Ft. Wayne, Ind.)


Grand Canyon creation book/verses:

  • A Grand Canyon schism | A bookstore is a citadel of ideas, much like a library, and the lifeblood of a free society is the publication of those ideas, no matter how bizarre they might seem. Conversely, religious plaques quoting verses from the Bible's Book of Psalms do not belong in public spaces no matter how lyrical or ecumenical they might seem (Editorial, The Boston Globe)

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France headscarf ban:

  • Catholics feel heat from Muslim veil row-cardinal | A French cardinal said on Thursday Catholics were feeling the heat from anti-religious militants in France as politicians stir up old passions by debating a planned ban on the Muslim veil in public schools (Reuters)

  • Nuns defend habits in row over Islam scarf ban | Roman Catholic nuns have accused Germany's president of comparing their religious clothing to the "oppressive" headscarf worn by Islamic women (The Daily Telegraph, London)

  • Thousands protest France head-scarf ban | From Baghdad and Beirut to London and Stockholm, protesters on Saturday condemned the law as an attack on religious freedom (Associated Press)

  • French Muslims protest rule against head scarves | The battle over the proposed law to ban religious symbols from French public schools spilled into streets on Saturday as Muslim demonstrators in capitals around the world voiced their opposition to what they say is a denial of religious freedom (The New York Times)

  • French move to ban headscarf veils a deeper conflict | This must be seen in terms of a challenge facing all Western countries in an age of mass population movement and the mixing of cultures and their attendant value systems that goes with it (Chris McGillion, The Sydney Morning Herald)

  • French MPs reappraise plan to outlaw veils | Schools ban forms focus for discontent (The Guardian, London)

  • Veiled threats | In France, secularism is as enshrined in culture as any faith. But when the state bans headscarves and skullcaps from schools, is religion under attack … or simply put in its rightful place? (Neil Mackay, Sunday Herald, Glasgow)

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More on religious freedom in France:

  • Judgment day for French village's cross | In a country where public religious shrines and wayside calvaries are counted in tens of thousands, Dominique Michau's metal cross in the middle of an isolated potato field should have been little more than a local curiosity (The Observer, London)

  • French priest convicted for slur on Muslims | An 82-year-old French priest was fined 800 euros (990 dollars) Monday for uttering derogatory remarks about the Holy Quran (AFP)

Persecution in India:

  • 1 killed, over dozen injured in communal violence in Madhya Pradesh | Trouble began with sequel the rape and murder of a nine-year-old Christian girl (PTI, India)

  • VHP slams Mother Teresa, conversions | VHP's central secretary Mohan Joshi accused the Christian missionaries of indulging in large number of conversions in the country (The Hindu, India)

  • Christians urge President to intervene in Jhabua clashes | Clashes between two communities in the predominantly tribal district of Jhabua has evoked sharp reaction from the Catholic Diocese of Indore who has urged President APJ Abdul Kalam to intervene and prevent loss of lives and properties there (Hindustan Times, India)

  • Jhabua fuels VHP anti-conversion mission | The rape of a nine-year-old in a mission school has become the rallying point for Sangh organisations to up the ante against Christian groups here. The local VHP chief sat on a dharna outside the school, demanding the expulsion of all missionaries from the district (The Indian Express)

Martin Luther King Jr.:

  • Books cite religion's role in U.S. civil-rights victory | Though modern historians often filter out religious influences, there's no question that Christian faith played a formative role in three remarkably swift and nonviolent events: the overthrow of European communism, and the downfall of South African apartheid and of America's racial segregation (Associated Press)

  • Forged in the pulpit | New biography studies the intersection of King's faith and mission (The Dallas Morning News)

  • Bono honored by King Jr.'s widow | 1984 hit, "Pride (In the Name of Love)," was about the civil rights leader (Associated Press)

Desmond Tutu ordains daughter:

  • South African Nobelist ordains daughter | Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work against the racial apartheid in his native South Africa, ordained his daughter Saturday as an Anglican priest (Associated Press)

  • The ties that inspire | Mpho Tutu tried to ignore the call, but her heart kept on listening (The Washington Post)

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  • Pope calls Christian divisions 'painful' | Pope John Paul II implored Christians on Sunday to overcome the "painful trial" of their divisions, aggravated by such issues as the election of a gay Episcopal bishop and the hostility between Catholic and Orthodox faithful in eastern Europe (Associated Press)

  • Catholic priest, author critically hurt in traffic accident at OIA | Benedict Groeschel is a familiar figure to viewers on the EWTN Global Catholic Network, where he has appeared for the past 20 years (The Orlando Sentinel)

  • Update: Author-priest hit by car still critical (The Orlando Sentinel)

  • No bishop has gone as far as Burke | Days after hearing the Vatican would send him to St. Louis -but before the papal announcement of his appointment - Archbishop-elect Raymond Burke notified his La Crosse, Wis. diocesan priests to refuse communion to three pro-abortion rights Catholic Wisconsin state legislators (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

  • Mugabe, Aristide: Two controversial Catholics | They are both Catholics and have conducted their politics with such a breath-taking lack of propriety they have raised eyebrows, if not hackles, among many Catholics, including the Vatican (Mbaiso, The Daily News, Zimbabwe)

  • L.I. bishop meets priests critical of his leadership | Bishop William F. Murphy called the meeting "very helpful" and said it explored "areas of agreement about the direction of the diocese and also differences of opinion." (The New York Times)

  • Top court reserves judgment on Catholic Church liability | The Supreme Court of Canada reserved judgment late Wednesday in a case that could open the Roman Catholic Church to liability for sexual abuse committed by its priests (CBC, Canada)

  • Archbishop starts Round 2 of war with BBC | The Most Rev Vincent Nichols, who criticized the BBC in September for its "anti-Catholic bias", said that the organization had a lot to learn from the way the Church had dealt with child abuse cases (The Telegraph, London)

Austrian beatification:

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Eastern Orthodox:

  • Macedonia's renegade bishop arrested | Macedonian authorities on 11 January arrested renegade Orthodox Bishop Jovan after police raided his apartment, where he had been holding secret Sunday masses with monks and nuns loyal to the Serbian Orthodox Church (Transitions Online: Balkan Reconstruction Report, Prague, Czech Republic)

  • Orthodox leader to honor Fidel Castro | The spiritual leader of the world's 300 million Orthodox Christians will honor Fidel Castro with a church order in recognition of Cuba's construction of a new cathedral, regional church leaders said (Associated Press)

  • Brisk baptism | Starting in the wee hours of Monday, Russian Orthodox believers celebrated Epiphany in rivers and lakes around the country, where priests blessed the waters through cross-shaped holes in the ice (The Moscow Times)

  • Israel recognizes Greek Orthodox patriarch … two years on | Israel's long-standing refusal to endorse Irineos, describing him as the "candidate of the Palestinians," caused deep animosity in the Greek Orthodox church, which has the largest Christian community in the Holy Land (AFP)

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