RATIONALIST INTERNATIONAL

Bulletin # 96 (15 May 2002)

http://www.rationalistinternational.net

IN THIS ISSUE

UK: Diane Pretty's death

"Exposed at home, Indian godmen go West": Sanal Edamaruku to speak at World Skeptics Conference

USA: No party in Cardinal Law's garden this year

USA Amnesty sees Human Rights violations in Guantanamo Bay

Germany: Vaccination via vegetables

UK: Under cover missionaries in Muslim countries

India: Human sacrifice to appease the goddess

Thailand: School for Black Magic

 

UK: Diane Pretty's death

Diane Pretty, the brave woman, who fought till the last moment of her life for her right to die in dignity, is no more. But the way she died was not exactly what she had wished for. "Diane had to go through the one thing she had foreseen and she was afraid of going through and there was nothing I could do to help", her husband Brian, who had campaigned tirelessly at her side, said in a statement. The 43-year-old terminally ill euthanasia campaigner, paralyzed from her neck down by motor neuron disease and unable to speak during her last months, died on 11 May, suffering severe pain and breathing problems. Her death was described as "horrific".

Two weeks before her death, Diane Pretty lost the final round of her legal fight in a landmark decision by the European Court of Human Rights. The judges ruled that Britain had violated none of Diane Pretty's rights. The highest British court had denied to guarantee immunity for her husband Brian, whom she wanted to help her to commit suicide. Assisting a suicide is a crime in Britain, punishable with up to 14 years imprisonment.

On 12 May, BBC broadcast a Panorama documentary about the terrible last six weeks of Diane Pretty's life. It was considered to hold the documentary back out of respect to the family, but Brian Pretty wished it to be shown. The confrontation with Diane's fate, which she had sought so hard to avoid in the courts, is expected to strengthen the pro-euthanasia movement in Britain.

Before her death, Diane Pretty had launched a petition for a change in British law. Pro-euthanasia organizations, asking people to sign the petition in memory of her, are optimistic about its success. Opinion polls suggest that 85 per cent of Britons are in favor of a right to decide about one's own death.

Up to now, the Netherlands are the only country, which has legalized euthanasia for hopelessly ill people who express the wish to die. There are efforts in Belgium, France and some Scandinavian countries to follow the Dutch model.

[See related articles in Bulletin # 93 ]

 

Exposed at home, Indian godmen go West: Sanal Edamaruku to speak at World Skeptics Conference

Sanal Edamaruku Sanal Edamaruku, President of Rationalist International, is scheduled as a speaker in the forthcoming Skeptic World Conference in Burbank, California. The conference is hosted by CSICOP, an international organization founded by Prof. Paul Kurtz to study paranormal claims.

Under the title "Exposed at home, Indian godmen go West", Sanal Edamaruku will shed light on an alarming phenomenon, which could be called the globalization of traditional Indian superstition.

Do you remember? In summer 1997, a certain Tapasvi shot into prominence in Delhi, claiming he was able to cure any disease with his healing touch and the right mantra. Among his many influential admirers was the health minister, who helped his master establish a Mantra Healing Center at a medical college in India's capital. Sanal Edamaruku and the Indian Rationalist Association unleashed a powerful public campaign against this, and within one month, the health minister's chair was shaking and the Mantra Healing Center was closed down. Tapasvi vanished silently. But he resurrected. In March 2002, he was back in flourishing business - this time in New York!

India is no longer a paradise for gurus and godmen. Thanks to the Indian Rationalists, they are challenged and exposed, wherever they try to demonstrate their "miraculous" powers. Even big shots like Sai Baba, enjoying highest political protection and ruling enormous financial empires, are going low profile in India, after their trademark tricks are publicly exposed. Many godmen have run out of business after an encounter with the "guru busters". They all find a comfortable haven in the West, where exotic miracle men meet with much curiosity and little knowledge and resistance. Skilled in adapting themselves to the needs and wishes of their new victims, many of them are extremely successful and have started wielding enormous public influence. They sell the new "art of living", lecture politicians and top finance managers, speak in the UN and even try to sneak into the humanist movement. How could we counter the "globalization" of Indian godmen?

Sanal Edamaruku's speech, "Exposed at home, Indian godmen go West" is on 23 June (Sunday) forenoon at the Hilton, Burbank Airport and Convention Center.

 

USA: No party in Cardinal Law's garden this year

This time, Boston's Rich and Famous have to do without the highlight among the social events of the year. Cardinal Bernard Law's annual garden party will not take place. Every year in early June, Law would open his residence for a high profile fundraising event for Catholic Charities, the largest private social service agency in Massachusetts. He would sit in his garden under a tent and make himself patiently and ever smilingly available for hundreds of wealthy donors, who queue for hours with their checks to be photographed with him.

Public anger towards the church hierarchy about the sexual abuse scandals is running high, especially in Boston, where according to the words of Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly "decades of unreported crimes against children" have come to light during investigations against John Geoghan and other former priests, who had been protected throughout by the church authorities.

Cardinal Law, who has meantime made history as the first ever cardinal, who had to deposit in front of court, had to cancel his garden party this year. Last year, the event brought in flopping 1.4 million US Dollars. This year without it, Catholic Charities will have a deficit of the same amount. This makes the already visible financial crisis of the Boston Archdiocese a perfect catastrophe. The first 170 of the 1.400 employees of Catholic Charities had to be laid off. More may have to follow. The fallout of the sexual abuse scandals is not the only problem; the agency has to cope with. Additionally there are some already fully served social programs under state contract, with the state failed to pay for. "This is killing us", said the speaker of the Charities.

Not only the Boston Archdiocese is suffering from donors' boycott. Sex abuse scandals in Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York and Palm Beach, Florida have shown similar results. Most alarming is, however, that American Catholics are the biggest donors to the Vatican! They use to pour millions of dollars into the Pope's coffers every year. The scandals, rocking the church in the United States, threaten to severely affect the Vatican finances. It may have been this insight that caused the Vatican's sudden concern and prompted the Pope to call the US cardinals for an extraordinary meeting to the Vatican.

 

USA: Amnesty sees Human Rights violations in Guantanamo Bay

AIn a memorandum sent to the US government, the London based human rights organization Amnesty International accuses the US of human rights violations in connection with the treatment of Al Qaeda and Taliban suspects at the US military base at Guantanamo Bay in eastern Cuba. The treatment of the prisoners was described as "cruel" and "degrading". Moreover, the memorandum criticized the violation of international law and standards. The detainees were for example refused access to legal counsel. The Guantanamo Bay Camp, which is holding more than 300 prisoners from 33 countries, had been inspected by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

[See also the article Farewell - Fairplay by Paul Kurtz in Bulletin # 94]

 

Bahrain: Granting political rights to women

Bahrain has become the first state in the conservative Gulf region to grant women political equality. In its first election for 27 years, women enjoyed the right to vote and to stand for office according to the Constitution of the Arab monarchy. Women activists reported, however, about extreme difficulties for women candidates to organize support and successfully challenge their male competitors.

 

Germany: Vaccination via vegetables

Scientists at Giessen University have opened a new era in the field of vaccination. The days of immunization via antigen injection may be numbered. A team of plant specialists and virologists has succeeded in implanting the gene for the hepatitis B surface antigen, which is normally used in vaccine, into carrots. Eating the vegetable means getting immunized. The pre-clinical testing phase has already begun.

The current vaccination against hepatitis B is expensive in production of the vaccine and needs a lot of medical equipment and personal, since it has to be administered via three injections. The extremely cheap and easy-to-handle new method of vaccination may help to eradicate hepatitis B and other diseases worldwide.

 

UK: Under cover missionaries in Muslim countries

CFor nearly two decades their existence had been almost unknown. Now a report in London's Sunday Times discovered Frontiers, an organization with more than 600 missionaries working secretly in 40 Muslim countries or regions. They are camouflaged as teachers and medical aid workers, because proselytizing is banned in most of these countries. Frontiers' officials refused to give interviews to Sunday Times, because "the coverage would likely decrease our ability to work in some or many sensitive locations", they said. After two decades of very low profile work and modest success, Frontiers is now hoping for good gains in the aftermath of 11 September.

Founded 1983 in the USA, Frontiers has its base since ten years in Britain, in Buckinghamshire. They are sending groups of up to twelve under cover missionaries after a brief training to places in north Africa, west and central Asia and to the Indian subcontinent to fish secretly for Muslim souls.

 

India: Human sacrifice to appease the goddess

In Rajmahal, a village in the newly formed Indian state Jharkhand (in an area formerly belonging to Bihar), the 16-year-old Manju has been killed by her neighbors. The local "holy man" and blacksmith Khudu Karmakar, with the help of his disciples, strangulated the girl and sacrificed her performing religious rituals to appease the local goddess. In the tribal religions prevalent in the area, various local faces of the Hindu goddess Kali are worshipped, who is a revengeful and blood thirsty mother goddess. The victim Manju did not belong to the tribal community.

 

Thailand: School for Black Magic

In Sarai Nong, a little village in Thailand, 90 kilometer northeast from Bangkok, a very special new school has opened. Hundreds of students have already registered, most of them coming from the neighboring villages, some from far off places. For a small fee or even free of cost, they are taught magic verses here and the art of warding off ghosts; they learn to brew love potions and to apply tattoos, which are believed to make your skin bullet proof. The school is run by Guru Ram Raksajith, who is determined to pass his spells to a new generation of magicians. Black magic, he feels, is an intellectual heritage in danger to die out, and he wants to do his bit to save it.

This missionary zeal grew in Raksajith during the past six years. After spending some time in jail, he was stopped for five years by court order from practicing magic. The ban ended in November. He had been condemned for using a baby's corpse for the preparation of his special love potion. If he has meantime changed his recipe, is not known.

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Honorary Associates: Dr. Pieter Admiraal (The Netherlands), Prof. Mike Archer (Australia), Katsuaki Asai (Japan), Sir Hermann Bondi (UK), Prof. Colin Blakemore (UK), Prof. Vern Bullough (USA), Dr Bill Cooke (New Zealand), Dr. Helena Cronin (UK), Prof. Richard Dawkins (UK), Joseph Edamaruku (India), Prof. Antony Flew (UK), Jim Herrick (UK), Christopher Hitchens (USA), Ellen Johnson (USA), Prof. Paul Kurtz (USA), Lavanam (India), Dr. Richard Leakey (Kenya), Iain Middleton (New Zealand), Dr. Henry Morgentaler (Canada), Dr. Taslima Nasreen (Bangladesh), Steinar Nilsen (Norway), Prof. Jean-Claude Pecker (France), James Randi (USA), Prof. Ajoy Roy (Bangladesh), Dr G N Jyoti Shankar (deceased, USA), Barbara Smoker (UK), Prof. Harry Stopes-Roe (UK), Prof. Rob Tielman (The Netherlands), David Tribe (Australia), Barry Williams (Australia) and Prof. Lewis Wolpert (UK).

Sanal Edamaruku, President of Rationalist International, can be contacted at Edamaruku@rationalistinternational.net