Saturday, May 31, 2008

Police harassment

Last night we were visited twice by the police at the porch we sleep in at night, at 9.10pm and 1.50am, and if I count a visit from the night before, well, that is three times then – that could probably qualify as police harassment. (Pursuant to Article 34 of the European Convention on Human Rights, Declan has already sent an email letter to the Registrar of the European Court of Human Rights (see blog of 13 May "Letter to the European Court under Article 34") and has also sent the Registrar a copy of his email letter to the Prime Minister Gordon Brown (see blog of 17 May "Letter to the British Prime Minister") – Article 34 establishes a duty on Convention states not to subject applicants to any improper indirect acts or contacts designed to dissuade or discourage applicants from pursuing a Convention remedy.)

The first of these visits was at 11.30pm on Thursday, when we were woken by a police officer to be asked if we were doing ok. Having ascertained our names, she told us to go back to sleep and left. The second, at 9.10pm last night, lasted thirty minutes. PC 136A, PC 474A and PC 525A of Wood Street Police Station informed us that we were not going to be asked to pack up and leave due to this (mysterious) police "cleaning" the City of London of rough sleepers; so the two questions I had prepared did not really apply (see previous blog). We don't look rough sleepers, we were told, and surely we would want to be part of the mainstream once again. We didn't put ourselves in this porch by free choice, Declan said, adding that the Department for Work and Pensions unlawfully put us to the street over a year and a half ago when they terminated our benefits in the middle of judicial review proceedings because he didn't sign on two days before he was due to do so (see paragraph 3 of Declan's application to the European Court of Human Rights, submitted on 8 September 2007, for a brief account of the reason for benefits).

Declan explained that his case in the European Court was filed under Article 8 (the right to respect for his private and family life) and Article 13 (which provides for the right for an effective remedy before national authorities for violations of rights under the Convention), and that the Court may well have invited the Government to set out its observations on the merits and admissibility of the case – in December Declan received a letter from the Court turning down his request of 8 September for priority, but informing him that his application would be examined possibly before the end of January; we remain in the dark about the outcome, however. Declan also mentioned a loophole in the law relating to jobseeker’s allowance (paragraphs 57 - 62 of Declan’s application). Philip Leach in Taking a Case to the European Court of Human Rights states that, more often than not, it is the quality of the domestic law, or even the absence of legal regulation, which leads to violations of Article 8 of the Convention.

PC 525A said that the case could take up to seven years – are we going to be in the street that long? So Declan told him about his petition to the United Nations; that it has been signed by 519 scientists, including 22 Nobel laureates; and that we are in the process of trying to raise £4,000 to run an international campaign in support of the petition - with some of the money we would rent the most basic place imaginable (see blog of 26 March “We are seeking to raise £4,000”).

It was a “welfare” visit - or so my ticket states – the outcome “Satisfactory words of advice”. The advice must have come from PC 474A when she said that we are not entitled to sleep in the street and therefore can be moved at any time and even arrested. Her Police Review magazine may beg to differ: in the April 2007 issue an article entitled “Rough Sleepers” states that “people have the right to sleep in the streets if they want to”, and in this respect the police “need to comply with the Human Rights Act 1998”. Curiously, the May issue of The Pavement, a free magazine for London’s homeless, says that shopkeepers in the big tourist area of the Strand (Westminster area) are abandoning the Whitehall Safer Neighbourhood [police] Team’s “No sleeping” signs on their shop fronts, claiming that they are no longer effective so “we prefer to call the police if we have any problems or incidents”. (We, by the way, sleep in the porch of an office building, bed down at 9.00pm, get up at 4.30am, and don’t drink or smoke – hardly material for a complaint.)

Our third visit, at 1.50am last night, was from PC 601B. As we are already well acquainted (see previous blog), she gets straight to the point: we have to pack up and leave right away due to, yep, police "cleaning" the City of London of rough sleepers. When I show her the two “welfare” tickets we were given only a few hours earlier, she says “OK”, and off she goes. No tickets.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Stem cells and morality

The police didn't wake us up in the middle of the night over the holiday weekend to tell us to pack our bags and leave the porch right away due to police "cleaning" the City of London of rough sleepers – we have been sleeping in this porch since being forced to become rough sleepers on 3 November 2006. As I wrote in the previous blog, the first time we were told to pack up and leave was on 9 May (see blog "Letter to the Mayor of London"), and after that, on 17 May (see blog "Letter to the British Prime Minister"). On the first occasion, PC 698B told us the "cleaning" would carry on for a month, so we may very well be visited again. (Sleeping in the porch is still eventful though. For example: this morning, for the first time in a year and a half, the cleaner – who since mid-April has been going in and out through the porch door every weekday morning between 4.00am and 5.15am (we get up at 4.30am) – cleaned the outside of the door while we were packing to leave; on Sunday night somebody threw a cigarette butt, burning a hole in my sleeping bag; and on Saturday night someone parked their car a few feet away, blasting music for forty-five minutes.)

Declan would like to send the Registrar of the European Court of Human Rights more compelling evidence of a violation of Article 34 of the European Convention on Human Rights (see blog of 13 May "Letter to the European Court under Article 34") - Article 34 establishes a duty on Convention states not to subject applicants to any improper indirect acts or contacts designed to dissuade or discourage applicants from pursuing a Convention remedy. So, I would have two questions for the police officer(s): (a) could the ticket we each ought to be issued state that the reason for the encounter is the "cleaning" of rough sleepers from the City of London (on 9 May, PC 698B didn't even issue us tickets; on 17 May, PC 601B wrote that the reason for the encounter was "welfare" – although since when did being told at 1.50am on a Friday night to pack your bags and leave the porch you are sleeping in constitute "welfare"?); and (b) could the tickets state that refusal to leave carries a power of arrest (PC 698B told us to leave or he would arrest us; PC 601B told us we wouldn't be arrested if we didn't leave and wrote on each of our tickets "ATP" for Allowed To Proceed).

Sperm Swimming Towards EggSperm Swimming Towards Egg

The New Statesman this week carries a story entitled "Lisa Jardine on life and death", with the subheadline: "The new chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority did not seek a fight, but she is ready. Christians, she says, have no monopoly on morality." In April Jardine, the Centenary Professor of Renaissance Studies at Queen Mary, University of London, former Booker Prize chair, councillor of the Royal Institution and prolific broadcaster, writer and commentator, became chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the regulatory body tasked with overseeing the areas covered by the new Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill (see blog of 20 May "UK parliament backs human-animal embryo research").

The article says that Jardine didn't even have time to settle into the role before the attacks began. Hybrid embryos, "saviour siblings", the role of fathers in IVF and amendments on abortion limits all provided plenty of issues on which temperatures could, and did, rise. At the end of March, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, head of the Catholic Church in Scotland, condemned the bill's proposals on human-animal embryo research as "a public government endorsement of experiments of Frankenstein proportion", and the Anglican Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, said that all denominations of Christians, as well as Jews and Muslims, should object to what he called "species-bending".

Commenting on the Catholic view on hybrid embryos, which will not be allowed to live beyond 14 days, but whose creation the Church still considers to be an intolerable meddling with human life, Jardine says: "It was only relatively recently that the date at which the soul enters the embryo was moved back to fertilisation. St Augustine believed that it happened when the baby kicked in the womb - 17 weeks - and that suited for a very long time. This isn't conscience, this is Church ruling." (The New Statesman article adds that Pope Pius IX removed the distinction between "unformed" and "formed" foetuses in 1869; prior to that, a number of theologians, including Thomas Aquinas as well as Augustine, accepted that "ensoulment" occurred later than conception.)

So when does Jardine think that this mysterious, key stage of life, whatever one calls it, begins? "I think I need consciousness - I've a little bit of a philosophical temperament - and we're a hell of a way from consciousness at 14 days." She adds: "The moment of fertilisation is not a very helpful moment to begin talking about the sanctity of human life. As a woman who's had a long childbearing life, I know perfectly well that any number of embryos were swept away. Maybe [some] naturally, but some of them weren't. Sometimes I'd jumped up and down in the hope that I wasn't pregnant, you know?"

Jardine says she was surprised at the churches' reaction to hybrid embryos for research. When it was put to her by the New Statesman that for many religions - and especially today, when hardline or more strictly orthodox faiths are gaining ground - to obey conscience is not about deciding whether to follow edicts from the pulpit but simply to follow those edicts, Jardine replied: "I think it's not correct for any church to suggest that they have a monopoly on conscience. There is a debate to be had, a serious debate, about conscience." (Also in this week's New Statesman is philosopher Julian Baggini on deciding ethical issues. "When it comes to specific matters of morality, the idea that religious convictions need respect, not interrogation and defence, is absurd," he writes. "The world's major religious texts have nothing to say about stem cells, not least because those words do not appear in any of them. It may be a matter of faith that Christ rose from the dead, but Christians have to defend anything they say about the first stages of life.")

Lisa Jardine has her own answer to the citadels of faith. "My church is education," she says. "It's no accident that I work in the period 1500-1700, which is the time when mass education altered the face of Europe for the better. Individual conscience is something you can't have unless you've been taught the autonomy of decision-making. I have to believe that education will take people beyond regulatory religion. That's why I go on teaching. I still teach because I believe every single person you educate, you help take moral decisions for themselves, rather than be told the rules. I have to believe it."

In a recent article for The New Republic entitled “The Stupidity of Dignity” (see previous blog), Steven Pinker, world-renowned thinker and Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University - and an honorary associate of NAC and early signatory of Declan’s petition to the UN on therapeutic cloning – poses the question: “How did the United States, the world's scientific powerhouse, reach a point at which it grapples with the ethical challenges of twenty-first-century biomedicine using Bible stories, Catholic doctrine, and woolly rabbinical allegory? Part of the answer, Pinker says, lies with the “outsize influence” of Leon Kass, the founding director of the President’s Council on Bioethics, who came to prominence in the 1970s with his moralistic condemnation of in vitro fertilization and, in 2001, convinced President Bush to outlaw federally funded research that used new embryonic stem cell lines.

“Kass packed it [the Council] with conservative scholars and pundits, advocates of religious (particularly Catholic) principles in the public sphere, and writers with a paper trail of skittishness toward biomedical advances, together with a smattering of scientists (mostly with a reputation for being religious or politically conservative),” Pinker writes. “After several members opposed Kass on embryonic stem-cell research, on therapeutic cloning (which Kass was in favor of criminalizing), and on the distortions of science that kept finding their way into Council reports, Kass fired two of them (biologist Elizabeth Blackburn and philosopher William May) and replaced them with Christian-affiliated scholars.”

It’s hard not to conclude that for the Catholic Church in Britain, in the short term at least, life under Kass might be very different to life under Jardine.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Stupidity of Dignity

It has been a week now since we were visited by PC 601B at the porch we sleep in at night and told to leave – it was 1.50am – due to police “cleaning” the City of London of rough sleepers. We stayed in the porch though because she told us we wouldn’t be arrested if we did so. When PC 698B visited us on 9 May he wasn’t so accommodating and informed us he would arrest us if we didn’t pack up and leave right away – it was 2.20am – despite Declan having been diagnosed in the Royal London Hospital with a sprained ankle only hours before. Pursuant to Article 34 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), Declan has written to Prime Minister Gordon Brown (see blog of 17 May “Letter to the British Prime Minister”) and the Registrar of the European Court of Human Rights (see blog of 13 May “Letter to the European Court under Article 34”).

Article 34 of the ECHR establishes a duty on Convention states not to subject applicants to any improper indirect acts or contacts designed to dissuade or discourage applicants from pursuing a Convention remedy. Between one thing and another, in particular the homeless on Declan’s case, especially in the Sisters of Mercy Dellow Centre and the Manna Centre (whose building is provided rent-free by the Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark), we are now more convinced than ever that the European Court has invited the Government to set out its observations on the merits and admissibility of Declan’s case – in December Declan received a letter from the Court turning down his request of 8 September for priority, but informing him that his application, also of 8 September, would be examined possibly before the end of January.

Human Dignity and Bioethics

On 1 March, President George W Bush’s Council on Bioethics released a 555-page report, entitled “Human Dignity and Bioethics: Essays Commissioned by the President’s Council on Bioethics”, a volume of 28 essays and commentaries by Council members and invited contributors. The Council, created in 2001 by President Bush, is a panel of scholars charged with advising the president and exploring policy issues related to the ethics of biomedical innovation, including drugs that would enhance cognition, genetic manipulation of animals or humans, therapies that could extend the lifespan and embryonic stem cells and therapeutic cloning that could furnish replacements for diseased tissue and organs.

Steven Pinker, world-renowned thinker and Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University (and an honorary associate of NAC and early signatory of Declan’s petition to the UN on therapeutic cloning), was one of three people invited by the Council to a panel discussion on 7 March devoted to the subject of human dignity. In a subsequent article for The New Republic, entitled “The Stupidity of Dignity”, Pinker writes that the Dignity report “reveals a great deal about the approach to bioethics represented by the Council”, adding: “And what it reveals should alarm anyone concerned with American biomedicine and its promise to improve human welfare. For this government-sponsored bioethics does not want medical practice to maximize health and flourishing; it considers that quest to be a bad thing, not a good thing.”

According to Pinker, a majority of the contributors, 12 out of the 23, were selected from institutions with an explicitly Christian and almost entirely Catholic mission statement, and that of the remaining 11 contributors four are known for their advocacy of a greater role of religion in public life. “Conspicuous by their absence are several fields of expertise that one might have thought would have something to offer any discussion of dignity and biomedicine,” Pinker writes. “None of the contributors is a life scientist - or a psychologist, an anthropologist, a sociologist, or a historian.”

The volume finds room for seven essays that “align their arguments with Judeo-Christian doctrine”, writes Pinker. “We read passages that assume the divine authorship of the Bible, that accept the literal truth of the miracles narrated in Genesis (such as the notion that the biblical patriarchs lived up to 900 years), that claim that divine revelation is a source of truth, that argue for the existence of an immaterial soul separate from the physiology of the brain, and that assert that the Old Testament is the only grounds for morality (for example, the article by Leon Kass [the Council’s founding director] claims that respect for human life is rooted in Genesis 9:6, in which God instructs the survivors of his Flood in the code of vendetta: ‘Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed, for in the image of God was man made’).”

Pinker argues that the concept of dignity is natural ground on which to build an obstructionist bioethics. “An alleged breach of dignity provides a way for third parties to pass judgment on actions that are knowingly and willingly chosen by the affected individuals,” he writes. “It thus offers a moralistic justification for expanded government regulation of science, medicine, and private life. And the Church’s franchise to guide people in the most profound events of their lives - birth, death, and reproduction - is in danger of being undermined when biomedicine scrambles the rules. It’s not surprising, then, that ‘dignity’ is a recurring theme in Catholic doctrine: The word appears more than 100 times in the 1997 edition of the Catechism and is a leitmotif in the Vatican’s recent pronouncements on biomedicine.”

According to Pinker, many members of the President’s Council are repelled by a number of biomedical advances – examples brought up in the volume: drugs that enhance cognitive functioning, anti-aging research that promises to extend the human lifespan, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, somatic cell nuclear transfer, surrogacy, in vitro fertilization and other reproductive technologies, cloning, a market in organs for donation, and many others – but realise that they can’t rule them out with the consensus ethics of autonomy, human rights, or respect for persons. Hence, the appeal to dignity. The problem, Pinker argues, is that, for one thing, dignity is, as just about all the essays acknowledge, a “squishy” concept (ambiguous, slippery, and vague). It has much of its basis in religious doctrine. And for these two reasons, it has not provided the kind of consensus definition of the kind that would be necessary in a democracy.

The concept, writes Pinker, is a source of obvious contradictions: “We read that slavery and degradation are morally wrong because they take someone’s dignity away. But we also read that nothing you can do to a person, including enslaving or degrading him, can take his dignity away. We read that dignity reflects excellence, striving, and conscience, so that only some people achieve it by dint of effort and character. We also read that everyone, no matter how lazy, evil, or mentally impaired, has dignity in full measure. Several essayists play the genocide card and claim that the horrors of the twentieth century are what you get when you fail to hold dignity sacrosanct. But one hardly needs the notion of ‘dignity’ to say why it’s wrong to gas six million Jews or to send Russian dissidents to the gulag.”

Pinker explains that dignity has three features that undermine any possibility of using it as a foundation for bioethics: dignity is relative (we chuckle at the photographs of Victorians in starched collars and wool suits hiking in the woods on a sweltering day); dignity is fungible (modern medicine is a gauntlet of indignities); and dignity is often harmful (think of the Salman Rushdie fatwa). In his article, Pinker mentions the bioethicist Ruth Macklin who, fed up with loose talk about dignity intended to squelch research and therapy, argued in a 2003 editorial “Dignity Is a Useless Concept” that bioethics has done just fine with the principle of personal autonomy - the idea that, because all humans have the same minimum capacity to suffer, prosper, reason, and choose, no human has the right to impinge on the life, body, or freedom of another. Once you recognise the principle of autonomy, Macklin argued, “dignity” adds nothing. (In his presentation to the Council on 7 March, Pinker pointed out that in the index to the Dignity report there are 15 page references to Macklin, more than anyone else except Kant with 35, the Bible with 34, and Aristotle with 21, and yet the volume does not have an essay by her or anyone else who would defend her obviously important viewpoint. Everyone else is replying to it.)

Pinker concludes: “Worst of all, theocon bioethics flaunts a callousness toward the billions of non-geriatric people, born and unborn, whose lives or health could be saved by biomedical advances. Even if progress were delayed a mere decade by moratoria, red tape, and funding taboos (to say nothing of the threat of criminal prosecution), millions of people with degenerative diseases and failing organs would needlessly suffer and die. And that would be the biggest affront to human dignity of all.”

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

UK parliament backs human-animal embryo research

British scientists will be allowed to research devastating diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s using human-animal embryos after the House of Commons rejected a ban yesterday. An amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill that would have outlawed the creation of "human admixed embryos" for medical research was defeated in a free vote by 336 votes to 176, a majority of 160, preserving what Prime Minister Gordon Brown regarded as a central element of the legislation.

“Across-party
Across-party bid to ban hybrid embryos rejected

Gordon Brown, whose one-year-old son Fraser has cystic fibrosis and could benefit from embryo research, wrote in a piece published in The Observer last Sunday:

Around the world, researchers now face a severe shortage of embryonic stem cells. They argue that the safest way to maintain progress is to make use of animal eggs from which the animal genetic material is almost entirely removed, then a human cell nucleus added, to make them compatible for research on human diseases. If these 'human admixed embryos' survive for a few days, stem cells may be collected from them and grown in culture. The embryos are then destroyed. By permitting the use of this technique, we may be able to bring to an end the critical limiting factor in stem cell research: the lack of human eggs from which to create embryos and collect stem cells.

The main kinds of admixed embryo permitted by the Bill are “cytoplasmic hybrids” or “cybrids”, which are made by moving a human nucleus into an empty animal egg. These are genetically 99.9 per cent human. A second amendment, which would have banned the creation of "true hybrids" made by fertilising an animal egg with human sperm, or vice-versa, and are 50 per cent human, was also defeated yesterday by 286 votes to 223, a majority of 63. As well as true hybrids, the legislation allows chimeras that combine human and animal cells, and transgenic human embryos that include a little animal DNA.

It is legal to culture admixed embryos up to 14 days and illegal to transfer them to a human or animal womb.

Conservative leader David Cameron praised MPs' vote not to ban animal-human embryos. He told GMTV: "I have got a son with epilepsy and cerebral palsy. When I look at how he suffers ... and if we can do anything to stop him suffering and stop other children suffering, should we not try?"

Three Roman Catholic members of the Cabinet were among a series of ministers who backed a ban. Ruth Kelly, the Transport Secretary, Des Browne, the Defence Secretary and Paul Murphy, the Welsh Secretary, all backed calls for a full ban on hybrid embryos. MPs opposed to the proposals said the hybrid embryos were morally unacceptable and offered no guarantee of a medical breakthrough.

Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris argued: “The outrageous allegation has been made that there have been no treatments despite conducting [embryonic stem cell research] for decades. That is simply not the case. Adult stem cells have featured in clinical trials since the 1950s and it would therefore be a shock if we did not have therapies as a result. The first human embryonic stem cell lines were derived in the UK by Stephen Minger’s group at King’s college in 2003. The first ES cells worldwide were created only in 1998. Since it takes 15 years to get a molecule into patients, it is not surprising that it will take some years yet to experience the clinical benefits of the research. Arguing that it has not been done in five years, so it should therefore be thrown out, is preposterous and the worst argument that I have heard from opponents of the research.”

The most immediate implication of the Commons vote will be to allow teams at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne and King’s College London, which already hold licences to create cybrids, to continue their research. Though they were cleared to start these experiments by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority in January, their licences would have been rescinded had MPs voted for a ban.

The decision will also encourage a third team, which plans to use admixed embryos to study motor neuron disease, to apply for a licence. Professor Chris Shaw, head of the Department of Clinical Neurosciences at King's College London (and a signatory to Declan’s petition to the UN on therapeutic cloning), who leads the group, said: “It will allow us to forge ahead on all fronts in our attempts to understand and develop therapies for a huge range of currently incurable diseases. Cures may be some years off, but this vote does mean we can use hybrid embryos, in addition to adult stem cells, in our search to understand what causes Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and motor neuron disease.”

Professor Robin Lovell-Badge, head of genetics at the National Institute For Medical Research in London (and another signatory of Declan’s petition), said the vote would aid understanding of embryonic development and of genetic disease. “This understanding will ultimately give us the best chance of developing therapies for these diseases, for infertility and for a range of other medical conditions.”

Simon Denegri, chief executive of the Association for Medical Research Charities, said: “MPs have clearly listened to the strong arguments put forward by medical research charities, patient groups and scientists of the importance of this research to advancing our understanding of diseases and conditions that affect hundreds of thousands of people in the UK.”

The Times today carries an analysis by Science Editor Mark Henderson under the title “Benefits are years off, but it’s a victory for scientific freedom”. Henderson says:

As cybrids are supported by all the country’s leading scientific institutions, a ban would have suggested that this considered consensus matters less to Parliament than the vocal concerns of a religious minority … The vote is significant for another reason: it will encourage scientists to speak out more about their research. The Government intended to ban cybrids, but changed its mind when stem cell experts such as Stephen Minger [a signatory of Declan’s petition] and Lyle Armstrong [another signatory of the petition] took time to say what they planned to do, and why.

Catholic leaders were unified in their unhappiness over the Bill. In a joint statement, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor and Cardinal Sean Brady said: "Not nearly enough time has been given to discussing these issues and these questions require answers before and not after legislation. Other emerging techniques hold potential for good, without creating and destroying human embryos." Phyllis Bowman of Right to Life said: “The ignoramuses have voted to waste money that will achieve nothing.”

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Letter to the British Prime Minister

Last night at 1.50am we received our second visit by the police to the porch we sleep in at night (and in which we have been sleeping since being forced to become rough sleepers on 3 November 2006) in respect of this mysterious policy to “clean” the City of London of rough sleepers – and I say “mysterious” because there is no mention of it anywhere, not even on the ticket PC 601B issued each of us before leaving. Initially we were again told we would be arrested if we did not leave, but subsequently we were told we wouldn’t be arrested if we decided not to leave, so we stayed put because … where are we supposed to go at 2.00am carrying all our bags and with barely enough money to get by for the weekend?

The police seem determined to get us out of the porch by hook or crook (for the first visit see blog of 9 May “Letter to the Mayor of London”). Which might explain why PC 601B would also say that the police have received a complaint that we block the porch door: we bed down at 9.00pm and get up at 4.30am, and for over a year and a half have never had a complaint against us of any kind. Well, this “complaint” seems to me to smack of the same good timing as PC 698B ordering us at 2.20am on 9 May to leave the porch or be arrested within hours of Declan being diagnosed with, err, a sprained ankle – his Certificate of Attendance from the Royal London Hospital also states that he was "advised to rest, elevate and ice ankle".

Writing to the Mayor of London and the Registrar of the European Court of Human Rights (see blog of 13 May “Letter to the European Court under Article 34”) doesn’t seem to have done much good, so this afternoon Declan wrote to Prime Minister Gordon Brown. After all, Article 34 of the European Convention on Human Rights establishes a duty on Convention states not to hinder the effective exercise of the right to apply to the European Court of Human Rights.

This is the letter via Email the PM Form, which was confirmed as received:

Subject: Heavey v. the United Kingdom (Application no. 22541/07)

Dear Prime Minister

I am writing to bring to your attention a submission I made to the European Court of Human Rights on 12 May 2008 in the above case, citing a violation of Article 34 of the European Convention on Human Rights. (Article 34 establishes a duty on Convention states not to subject applicants to any improper indirect acts or contacts designed to dissuade or discourage applicants from pursuing a Convention remedy.)

I will forward to you by registered post a copy of my email letter of 12 May to the Registrar of the European Court of Human Rights, Mr Erik Fribergh, together with attachments: (i) copy of my email letter of 9 May 2008 (and attachment) to the Mayor of London, Mr Boris Johnson, in respect of an order from PC 698B of Bishopsgate Police Station on the night of 8 May instructing my wife and I to either leave the porch we were sleeping in or be arrested due to police "cleaning" the City of London of rough sleepers, and (ii) copy of my Certificate of Attendance of 8 May from the Royal London Hospital stating that I had a sprained ankle and was advised to “rest elevate and ice ankle”.

I can confirm that my most recent letter from the Court is a letter of 22 November 2007, reference ECHR-LEO.1R CO/PHA/gz, signed for the Registrar by Legal Secretary C Ovey, stating: "I acknowledge receipt of your letter of 22 September 2007 and enclosures. With reference to your request for priority under Rule 41 of the Rules of Court, I can inform you that the Court will examine your application shortly, possibly by the end of January 2008. It would therefore appear unnecessary to consider your request."

I can also confirm that, in addition to the order from PC 698B of Bishopsgate Police Station on the night of 8 May that my wife and I leave the porch we were sleeping in or be arrested, last night at 1.50am we were woken by PC 601B of Snowhill Police Station and told to leave the same porch or be arrested – again, due to police “cleaning” the City of London of rough sleepers – although the police officer subsequently informed us that we would not be arrested if we did not leave, so we stayed. PC 601B also informed us a complaint has been made that we block the porch door, which we deny. (We have been sleeping in this porch without any complaint against us for over a year and a half – we were forced to become rough sleepers on 3 November 2006. We bed down at 9.00pm and get up at 4.30am, save Saturday and Sunday when we get up at 6.30am.)

As stated in my letter to Mayor Johnson of 9 May, there is no mention in any newspaper, homeless organisation website, or in london.gov.uk that there is any kind of police operation – or that one is going to be undertaken or has ever been undertaken – to expel rough sleepers from the City of London. This morning the Manna Centre, a day care centre for homeless people, made no mention of it.

I should also point out that the tickets PC 601B issued my wife and I state that the reason for the encounter was “Welfare” and the outcome “ATP” (Allowed To Proceed). Further, all our contacts are within walking distance of the porch, and we have never found a more suitable place to sleep.

In relation to our ongoing efforts to get ourselves off the street, my wife and I are in the process of trying to raise £4,000 to run a campaign in support of my petition to the United Nations on therapeutic cloning and the use of stem cells for research and for the treatment of disease, which since 22 October 2007 has been signed by 519 scientists and academics, including 22 Nobel laureates.

Please would you acknowledge receipt.

Yours sincerely
Declan Heavey

cc Mr Boris Johnson, Mayor of London (together with attachments herein referred to)
Mr Erik Fribergh, Registrar of the European Court of Human Rights (together with attachments and copy of the two tickets issued by PC 601B herein referred to)

Friday, May 16, 2008

More racially aggravated harassment in the Dellow Centre

Life as a rough sleeper is never boring. This afternoon Declan had to send another email letter to the head of the Catholic Church in Britain, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor (Abhreception@rcdow.org.uk), in his capacity as the Archbishop of the Diocese of Westminster, regarding the Sisters of Mercy Dellow Centre:

Subject: Sisters of Mercy Dellow Centre

Dear Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor

I refer to my email letters to you of 21 and 28 April regarding the above, to which I did not receive acknowledgement.

I wish to confirm that, pursuant to sections 2 (causing harassment) and 4 (fear of violence) of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, this morning at 11.00am at Brick Lane police station I submitted the following memo for the attention of the crime investigation officer to be allocated to the case (crime reference number 4212667/08):


[In the Dellow Centre’s men's washroom] I'm well out of the shower. "Are you finished with the showers?" the suspect asks. I ignore him (history of threatening and abusive behaviour - reckon he is just looking for trouble). "What are you doing in my country, you bastard?" "What are you doing here?" he repeats, demanding an answer. I ignore him again, and quickly get my things together to leave under a barrage of racial and threatening abuse. Washed in the park this morning in event I might have to vacate the washroom at a moment's notice. When I passed the suspect in the canteen, he fakes a head-butt at me to within an inch of my face.

Postscript: With regard to the Dellow Centre's [warning] letter to the suspect, I stated that would be up to the centre, but that I would be reporting the matter to the police.


I further confirm that the police officer who opened the file in this case for "racially aggravated harassment" informed my wife and I that an investigation officer would visit the Dellow Centre this afternoon, and that if the suspect harasses or puts either one of us in fear of violence in the Manna Centre (whose building is provided rent-free by the Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark) this weekend 8.30am - 12.00noon, we should report him to the local police station. (On 11 April in the Manna Centre the suspect indirectly informed my wife that she would be found one morning with a knife in her back, and last Saturday in the same centre he provocatively (and without any provocation) blocked her passage on her way back to her chair.)

Please would you acknowledge receipt.

Yours sincerely
Declan Heavey
Chain no. 69828

cc Ms Jo Ansell, CEO of Providence Row Charity (of which the Dellow Centre is a part)


”Embryos
Embryos frozen during the process of IVF.

Today’s Times has published a letter from sixteen scientists under the title “Stem-cell therapy is no miracle cure: Scientists from around the world express a note of caution on stem-cell therapy”. The letter states that “given the current state of more conventional embryonic stem-cell research, of adult stem-cell research, and of induced pluripotent stem-cell research, there is no demonstrable scientific or medical case for insisting on creating, without any clear scientific precedent, a wide spectrum of human-non-human hybrid entities or ‘human admixed embryos’.” (Last Monday British MPs voted to allow controversial plans to update human embryology laws to continue to their next Parliamentary stage, despite deep splits among MPs. The main battle will come this coming Monday at Committee Stage, when MPs will have a free vote on the part of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill - a flagship bill of government - relating to research using “admixed” cytoplasmic hybrid embryos.)

Prime Minister Gordon Brown – whose youngest son has cystic fibrosis, a condition that could one day benefit from embryo research – has called on MPs to back the use of hybrid embryos for research.

The Medical Research Council, the Royal Society, the Wellcome Trust and the Academy of Medical Sciences also support the research. In a briefing document (reported by the BBC on 15 January), the four research institutions spell out why they see hybrid embryos as so important: "This research has massive potential to provide treatments for serious debilitating disorders ranging from developmental abnormalities in young children, to stroke, cancer, HIV/Aids, diabetes and Parkinson's disease, as well as better and safer treatment for infertile couples." The Association of Medical Research Charities and the Genetic Interest Group, which between them represent more than 200 patient charities, said the research "could greatly increase our understanding of serious medical conditions affecting millions", and have written to all MPs urging them to support the bill. The UK National Stem Cell Network Steering Committee, which organised a three-day conference in Edinburgh last month attended by the world's leading researchers in stem cells, has called for MPs “to enshrine tight regulations in the HFE Bill but to ensure that all types of derivation remain open to researchers.”

Critics, including pro-life groups and Catholic leaders, have branded hybrid embryos "Frankenstein science". The Catholic church has been accused by the government’s fertility watchdog of using “fatal” dogma to oppose all forms of research on embryos and most IVF treatment. Lisa Jardine, chairwoman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, points out that the church, unlike other religions, had an “insoluble problem” in its fundamental opposition to the destruction of any human embryos, regardless of their stage of development. In an article in the Sunday Times of 11 May, Jardine is quoted as saying:

There is a fatal impediment in Catholicism to all discussion of research on embryos that involves the destruction of embryos at whatever stage. This is not clear to the public in my view. The Catholic church is opposed to hybrid embryos, but then it is opposed to all embryonic research. The public hasn’t taken this on board. For the most part, people don’t realise how fundamental this [stance] is.

Jardine says that once the public understands why scientists wish to create hybrid embryos they approve of the research. She is right: a poll for the Times revealed on 10 April that the creation of human-animal embryos enjoys broad public approval, with 50 per cent backing new laws that would permit it and only 30 per cent opposed.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Letter to the European Court under Article 34

Yesterday evening Declan sent an email letter under Article 34 of the European Convention on Human Rights to the Registrar of the European Court of Human Rights, Erik Fribergh. Article 34 establishes a duty on Convention states not to hinder the effective exercise of the right to apply to the European Court – complaints of intimidation have frequently been made in cases against Turkey and a number have been upheld. We believe that being ordered by a police officer in the middle of the night to leave the porch we were sleeping in (and in which we had been sleeping – and still are, by the way – since being forced to become rough sleepers on 3 November 2006) or be arrested due to police "cleaning" the City of London of rough sleepers, and within hours of Declan being diagnosed with a sprained ankle, speaks ominously of things to come.

For the record, this is the email letter to the Registrar (the letter to the Mayor of London to which Declan refers can be read in the previous blog, and its attachment, a letter of 21 April to the head of the Catholic Church in Britain, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, regarding the Sisters of Mercy Dellow Centre, can be read here):

Subject: Heavey v. the United Kingdom (Application no. 22541/07)

Dear Mr Fribergh

I refer to your letter of 22 November 2007, reference ECHR-LEO.1R CO/PHA/gz, signed for the Registrar by Legal Secretary C Ovey, stating: "I acknowledge receipt of your letter of 22 September 2007 and enclosures. With reference to your request for priority under Rule 41 of the Rules of Court, I can inform you that the Court will examine your application shortly, possibly by the end of January 2008. It would therefore appear unnecessary to consider your request."

Please find attached: (i) copy of my email letter of 9 May 2008 (and attachment) to the Mayor of London, Mr Boris Johnson, in respect of an order from PC 698B of Bishopsgate Police Station on the night of 8 May instructing my wife and I to either leave the porch we were sleeping in or be arrested due to police "cleaning" the City of London of rough sleepers, and (ii) copy of my Certificate of Attendance of 8 May from the Royal London Hospital stating that I had a sprained ankle and was "advised to rest, elevate and ice ankle".

With particular reference to the police officer's order on the night of 8 May instructing my wife and I to either leave the City of London or be arrested, within hours of me spraining my ankle, I wish to draw to the Court's attention a violation of Article 34 (formally Article 25) of the European Convention on Human Rights, and request that the Court take this matter up with the respondent Government.

Article 34 establishes a duty on Convention states not to hinder the effective exercise of the right to apply to the European Court of Human Rights. The Court has frequently emphasised that it is of the utmost importance for the effective operation of the system of individual petition that applicants or potential applicants should be able to communicate freely with the Court. Article 34 states that:


The Court may receive applications from any person, non-governmental organisation or group of individuals claiming to be the victim of a violation by one of the High Contracting Parties of the rights set forth in the Convention or the protocols thereto. The High Contracting Parties undertake not to hinder in any way the effective exercise of this right.


Under Article 34, applicants must not be subjected to any form of pressure from the authorities to modify or withdraw their complaints. "Pressure" includes direct coercion and flagrant acts of intimidation (of applicants, potential applicants, their families and legal representatives), but also any improper indirect acts or contacts designed to dissuade or discourage applicants from pursuing a Convention remedy.

In the case of Kurt v Turkey (No. 24276/94, 25.5.98, (1999) 26 EHRR 373), the Court found there had been improper pressure in violation of former Article 25, after the applicant alleged that she had been pressurised by the authorities to withdraw her application to the Commission.

In assessing the degree of interference, the Court will take account of the vulnerability of the complainant and his or her susceptibility to influence exerted by the authorities, including any legitimate fear of reprisals. In this regard, I beg to point out that my request for priority of 8 September 2007 states:


Since 3 November 2006 the applicant and his wife have been sleeping rough in the porch of an office building in the heart of London's business district. On 22 November, the Dellow Centre recorded on the applicant's wife's registration form that St Mungo's, London's largest homelessness organisation, had informed the Centre that neither the applicant nor his wife could be referred to a hostel "due to not being on any benefits" [having had to go on state benefits in July 2005, the Department for Work and Pensions ceased the applicant's and his wife's allowance entitlement on 27 September 2006 because the applicant did not "sign on" two days before he was due to do so on 29 September].


I can confirm that my care of address, the Dellow Centre, has received no correspondence from the Court subsequent to your letter of 22 November.

Please would you acknowledge receipt.

Yours sincerely
Declan Heavey


MPs debate embryology laws
Video: MPs debate embryology laws

British MPs voted yesterday to allow controversial plans to update human embryology laws to continue to their next Parliamentary stage, despite deep splits among MPs. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill was given its second reading by 340 votes to 78, a majority of 262. The government, faced with the prospect of a rebellion by Roman Roman Catholic ministers, has promised Labour MPs a free vote on the most contentious issues. These include the creation of cytoplasmic hybrid embryos.

On 12 May the Guardian reported under the title “What's in the bill”:

The bill allows the creation of so-called "admixed" cytoplasmic hybrid embryos. Scientists want to inject DNA from the nucleus of adult human cells into a hollowed out cow or rabbit egg. The resulting tiny ball of cells would have 99% human DNA and would not be allowed to develop beyond 14 days in the lab. It could not be implanted into the womb of a human or animal but would be used to create stem cells for research without having to use human eggs. The minority of religious groups who believe human life begins when sperm and egg meet say the research violates the sanctity of human life.

The main battle will come next Monday at Committee Stage, when MPs will have a free vote on the part of the Bill relating to research using cytoplasmic hybrid embryos.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Letter to the Mayor of London

At 2.20am this morning PC 698B of Bishopsgate Police Station woke us in the porch we sleep in at night. Police are "cleaning" the City of London of rough sleepers and we either leave the porch immediately or we will be arrested, he informed us. We can come back to the porch after a month but until then we will be told to move beyond the City's boundaries or be arrested (a judge will then either impose a fine or jail us, we were further informed). We have been sleeping in the porch since being forced to become rough sleepers on 3 November 2006 and there has never been a complaint against us but that didn't cut any ice, neither the citing of entitlements under the Human Rights Act 1998 – his parting words were how nice Spain is (although I became an Irish citizen before we left Dublin in 2003, I am from Madrid).

The timing wasn't the best because earlier in the evening Declan was told in the Royal London Hospital that he had sprained his ankle (having been given two painkilling tablets, he was transferred from the hospital's Walk-in Centre to its Accident & Emergency Department in a wheelchair). The Certificate of Attendance also states that he was "advised to rest, elevate and ice ankle" – but I am afraid PC 698B must not have seen any impediment. So we had no choice but to leave about 3.00am, Declan dragging his left foot with the aid of his umbrella. As I have stated before (see, for example, blog of 26 March "We are seeking to raise £4,000"), we don't know of any other place we can go so we have no choice but to return to the porch tonight and if we are threatened with arrest again, well, we will just have to get up and walk.

In the seventeen months that we have been rough sleepers, we have never heard that the police would arrest somebody just for sleeping in the street, except of course if you are also intoxicated, causing trouble, or harassing people. So Declan has written to Boris Johnson, Mayor of London covering the City of London, with responsibility for police (the email letter is presented below). Incidentally, there is no mention in any newspaper, by any homeless organisation, or in london.gov.uk that there is any kind of police operation – or that one is going to be undertaken or has ever been undertaken – to expel rough sleepers from the City of London. There was no mention either of any such Nazi ideal this morning in the Sisters of Mercy Dellow Centre (according to their website, the Dellow focuses its efforts on helping anyone who needs them in the City of London and the East End). In fact, things were like any other Friday, opening at 8.30am for those who are verified rough sleepers, and at 9.30pm for everyone else.

Today, the BBC reports in an article titled "'Respect atheists', says cardinal" that the head of the Catholic Church in Britain, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, has urged Christians to treat atheists and agnostics with "deep esteem". I see. Declan and I must be the exceptions then.

This is Declan's email letter to the Mayor of London (johnsonb@parliament.uk):

Subject: The "cleaning" of the City of London of rough sleepers

Dear Mr Johnson

I am writing to you in your capacity as the Mayor of London covering the City of London, with responsibility for police. My wife and I have been sleeping in a porch in the City of London since 3 November 2006. Rough sleepers, as no doubt you are aware, are protected under the Human Rights Act 1998.

Please find attached a copy of my letter of 21 April to the head of the Catholic Church in Britain, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, regarding the Sisters of Mercy Dellow Centre. This letter explains the circumstances under which my wife and I were forced to become rough sleepers (our case is currently before the European Court of Human Rights) and our on-going efforts to get ourselves off the street (in short, by raising £4,000 to run a campaign in support of my petition to the United Nations on therapeutic cloning, which since 22 October has been signed by 518 scientists and academics, including 22 Nobel laureates).

I wish to draw to your attention that last night at 2.20am my wife and I were woken by PC 698B of Bishopsgate Police Station and ordered to leave the porch immediately or be arrested – due to police “cleaning” the City of London of rough sleepers, and despite that earlier in the evening I attended the Royal London Hospital with a sprained ankle. We were further informed by PC 698B that we can come back to the porch after a month but until then we will be told to move beyond the City's boundaries or be arrested.

I beg to point out that there is no mention in any newspaper, by any homeless organisation, or in london.gov.uk that there is any kind of police operation – or that one is going to be undertaken or has ever been undertaken – to expel rough sleepers from the City of London. And there was no mention of it this morning in the Dellow Centre, which focuses its efforts on helping the homeless in the City of London and the East End.

I should point out that all our contacts are within walking distance of the porch, and we have never found a more suitable place to sleep.

Yours sincerely
Declan Heavey