May 12, 2008

A malady with no treatment?

Tom Blackwell
National Post (Canada)
May 12, 2008

When a judge in Hamilton ordered a young cancer patient to undergo chemotherapy last week, she triggered a bitter confrontation between the child's parents and hospital staff.

By the end of it, the irate father was reportedly in handcuffs, and the Children's Aid Society, which requested the court order, criticized as draconian.

The dispute underlined a rare but emotional scenario confronted by child welfare authorities across the country: parents who clash with doctors over whether their children, often deathly ill, should receive medical treatment.

Some caregivers insist on home or natural remedies over those of medical science, while others turn down vaccinations they consider dangerous or decline blood transfusions on religious grounds.

At any moment throughout the country, there are probably eight to 10 such disputes underway, says Peter Dudding, executive director of the Child Welfare League of Canada.

And they present a unique challenge to everyone involved. Unlike the majority of child-welfare files, in which the parents are accused of blatant neglect or abuse, medical-treatment cases often involve loving, responsible guardians who believe they are acting in their children's best interests.

"It is one of those very difficult situations where a court-ordered intervention is going to be seen as a last resort," Mr. Dudding said. "In virtually every other respect," he said, "this is probably not a child in need of protection."

Earlier this year, a judge in the Toronto area ruled that a newborn must get a hepatitis-B vaccination, though his mother believed--contrary to most research -- that it might make him autistic.

Child-welfare officials obtained similar legal authority last year to allow sextuplets born to parents in Vancouver who are Jehovah's Witnesses to receive blood transfusions.

Last July, Quebec youth-protection officials were asked -- but refused -- to intervene in the case of a three-year-old cancer patient whose parents wanted him on a special diet of raw vegetables instead of chemotherapy.

The most celebrated case came in the late 1990s, when the family of a Saskatchewan 13-year-old, Tyrell Dueck, fought a long court battle for the right to seek alternative treatment in Mexico instead of chemotherapy for the boy's bone cancer.

In the recent Hamilton case, the Children's Aid Society was approached by the oncology department at Mc-Master Children's Hospital when a couple refused to let their 11-year-old son continue his chemotherapy. The side effects had been punishing, and the boy himself asked for the treatment to end.

Doctors, though, said he had a 40-50% chance of going into remission and leading a normal life if he kept receiving chemo, said Dominic Verticchio, the society's executive director. If he discontinued the therapy, he would die within six months, they believed.

The prognosis was confirmed by the head of oncology at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, Mr. Verticchio said. The society even had a psychiatrist determine if the boy was capable of deciding the matter on his own. He was not, the therapist concluded.

Unable to convince the parents, the organization went to court and obtained an order.

"It's a very difficult, emotionally trying situation for everyone involved," Mr. Verticchio said. "[But] there is a very good chance he can overcome this disease."

When the hospital tried to implement the order, though, the father objected, while the boy cried out repeatedly, "I don't want this." The father told local CHCH-TV that hospital security staff put him in handcuffs when he tried to call his lawyer.

Peter Kormos, an NDP MP, was quoted as calling the society's response "heavy-handed."

The father could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Dudding argued that child-welfare authorities have no choice but to intervene in such situations, since legislation requires them generally to act in the best interests of children -- and specifically to ensure they receive needed medical treatment.

Most common are cases involving Jehovah's Witnesses, who will often refuse blood transfusions on religious grounds.

Doctors also contact child welfare when parents insist on using natural health products or home remedies, while refusing medical treatment, said Jeanette Lewis of the Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies. Emergency departments sometimes call when parents take their children home before they get needed treatment, she said.

Usually, the authorities can negotiate an agreement between parents and doctors, but when they cannot, they resort to the courts, Ms. Lewis said.

"Witholding treatment is a form of neglect," she said.

May 4, 2008

A Fiery Theology Under Fire

Michael Powell
New York Times

May 4, 2008

BLACK liberation theology was a radical movement born of a competitive time.

Language, too, has defined the black church from slavery to liberation theology. Pastors, whether prophetic or fundamentalist, drew unambiguous inspiration from the diamond-hard words of the Old Testament, in which little store was placed in talk of man’s innate goodness. God might love, but He was a deity of forbidding judgments and punishments.

By the mid-1960s, the horns of Jericho seemed about to sound for the traditional black church in the United States. Martin Luther King Jr. was yielding to Malcolm X. Young black preachers embraced the Nation of Islam and black intellectuals sought warmth in the secular and Marxist-tinged fire of the black power movement.

As a young, black and decidedly liberal theologian, James H. Cone saw his faith imperiled.

“Christianity was seen as the white man’s religion,” he said. “I wanted to say: ‘No! The Christian Gospel is not the white man’s religion. It is a religion of liberation, a religion that says God created all people to be free.’ But I realized that for black people to be free, they must first love their blackness.”

Dr. Cone, a founding father of black liberation theology, allowed himself a chuckle. “You might say we took our Christianity from Martin and our emphasis on blackness from Malcolm,” he said.

Black liberation theology was, in a sense, a brilliant flanking maneuver. For a black audience, its theology spoke to the centrality of the slave and segregation experience, arguing that God had a special place in his heart for the black oppressed. These theologians held that liberation should come on earth rather than in the hereafter, and demanded that black pastors speak as prophetic militants, critiquing the nation’s white-run social structures.

Black liberation theology “gives special privilege to the oppressed,” said Gary Dorrien, a professor of social ethics at Union Theological Seminary in New York. “God is seen as a partisan, liberating force who gives special privilege to the poorest.”

The Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Senator Barack Obama’s former minister, is one of the foremost adherents of this theology. A man of capacious learning and ego, Mr. Wright stands condemned of late as a incendiary radical for his views that the American government may have created AIDS and that the Sept. 11 terror attacks were payback for the sins of American foreign policy.

But many black theologians (even those who take strong exception to Mr. Wright’s views and argue that black liberation theology is a politicized artifact of an earlier era) defend him and say that the news media and Obama’s foes have caricatured him and misunderstood the intentionally provocative role of a liberationist pastor. “Deep down in all of us is that Malcolm X who cries out in such strong language,” said Dr. Cone, who is a professor of systematic theology at Union Theological Seminary.

Perhaps so, but probably no more than a quarter of black pastors today describe their theology as liberationist, say many theologians who have studied the movement.

Bishop Harry Jackson, a Pentecostal who presides over a 3,000-member church in suburban Washington, D.C., stands at the far pole from Mr. Wright. He defines himself as ultraconservative on matters of theology and politics and allies himself with conservative Republicans. He preaches a Prosperity Gospel, which holds that God wants black Americans to experience material success without guilt.

Most black liberation theologians revile this philosophy. Still Mr. Jackson would not deny the powerful currents of liberation theology; even his congregants put their toes in those waters from time to time.

“Most black church members want to see their ministers involved in defending the race and improving civil rights,” Mr. Jackson said. “The anger and bitterness that bleeds through in Reverend Wright’s comments are something that many blacks can sympathize with, even if they don’t want to hear it in the pulpit.” Black liberation theology may have taken modern flower in the 1960s, but its roots (no less than those of more conservative black theologies) extend deep into America’s historical cellar and its legacy of slavery.

In that context, the revolutionary message of the Bible seems inescapable, most notably in the story of the Exodus. “If you read that God told the pharaoh to release the slaves, you’d have to be pretty dense not to see the connection,” said James A. Noel, a professor at the San Francisco Theological Seminary.

Slave masters kept a wary rein on worship, fearful blacks might find inspiration in the Bible’s insurrectionary content. Black worshipers sought refuge in ravines and woods, building the “invisible church” that became the modern black church in all of its manifestations.

“The black church has always existed along a continuum, from a focus on healing to a focus on liberation,” noted Dwight N. Hopkins, a professor of theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School. “The liberationists emphasize this earth and the more fundamentalist emphasize the resurrection and the life after.”

Language, too, has defined the black church from slavery to liberation theology. Pastors, whether prophetic or fundamentalist, drew unambiguous inspiration from the diamond-hard words of the Old Testament, in which little store was placed in talk of man’s innate goodness. God might love, but He was a deity of forbidding judgments and punishments.

“The Old Testament God is a God who addresses nations, and judges nations and holds them to account,” Professor Noel said. “The prophets are concerned about social sin and God judges nations for their unrighteousness.”

Nor can black liberation theology be divorced from its historical moment. Throughout the 1950s, black church leaders like Dr. King, often steeped in white liberal Protestantism, led the fight for civil rights. But as the struggle turned violent, as black leaders perished and riots swept American cities and revolutions upended third world nations, black religious leaders sought new answers.

Even as Dr. Cone and others such as the Rev. William A. Jones at Bethany Baptist in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, crafted a theology of black liberation, Catholic theologians in Central and South America crafted their own liberation theology, arguing that God placed the impoverished peasants closest to his heart.

There is little evidence that one liberationist talked to another; rather, these were cornstalks rising in a fertile and revolutionary field. “These were remarkable similar arguments, that oppressed people have their own way of hearing the Gospel,” said Dr. Dorrien of the Union Theological Seminary.

Each of these forms of liberation theology engendered a stern counterattack. Prominent Vatican theologians attacked the liberationists for flirting with Marxist doctrine, just as black critics have argued that a black liberation theology tends to be a political rather than theological construct.

Still, Mr. Wright heard the liberation gospel loud and clear.

He has confounded much of white America, not to mention his own congregant, Mr. Obama, these past few weeks. The Chicago pastor with the gleam in his eye and the multiple denunciations of America has stood for many as the very symbol of an outdated black militant.

His image has been fixed in large measure by remarks that replay in a seemingly endless loop on YouTube and on cable television. Those videotaped snippets have focused on his most provocative moments in long sermons, in particular, one in which he said: “The government gives them drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America’. No, no, no. God damn America.”

BUT one can hear strains of such language nearly every Sunday in black liberation churches, not to mention some more centrist congregations. There are few sins greater for a black pastor than to forget the suffering of the less fortunate. Dr. Hopkins, who is a member of Mr. Wright’s church, frames his pastor’s statements within this context. As Moses “damned” his own followers for worshiping the Golden Calf, Dr. Hopkins said, so Mr. Wright, in the language of the prophets, damned his own country.

“The judgment damnation is to turn the country back to love; it’s not to blow it up,” Dr. Hopkins said. “That’s what the Bible is about, people struggling, and growing weary, and prophets forcing them back to the path of righteousness.”

Dr. Cone, the black liberation theology theorist, has known Mr. Wright for decades and says he much admires his provocations. But when Mr. Wright opined recently that the United States government may have used AIDS as a form of biological warfare against black people (Mr. Wright notes, correctly, that the United States has tried biological warfare on foreign nations), Dr. Cone winced.

“I don’t believe that,” Dr. Cone says. “But I will say that when blacks look at what government has done to black people, the eugenics and the syphilis, it’s easy to get angry.”

May 1, 2008

9-year-old made first moves, sex-crimes defendant says

Sue Montgomery
Montreal Gazette

May 1, 2008

What I did was out of love, he insists. Child's mother approved of relationship and 'marriage,' accused tells court

Daniel Cormier, on trial for a series of morals charges, claims it was a precocious, sexually awakened 9-year-old girl who made the first moves on him, not the other way around.

"She was the one who initiated holding my hand or giving me a kiss," Cormier, who is 39 years older than the girl, told a police investigator in 2003. The girl's real name cannot be published.

"I never, ever forced anything," Cormier added. "I'm not a pedophile, I'm a Maria-phile," he said. (The girl's name has been changed.)

"I don't love children, I love Maria," he insisted on the videotaped interrogation, shown yesterday in Quebec Court. "I loved her at 9, at 11 and if she was 80 years old, I'd love her.

"The older she gets, the more I love her."

The girl began spending weekends at Cormier's apartment after he helped the girl's mother get off the street and kick her drug habit.

The mother has testified that Cormier was like a father figure and that she trusted him completely with her two daughters, who were 8 and 6 at the time.

Cormier, a self-described minister of a now-defunct downtown church, told Montreal police Det.-Lt. Alain Lépine that he wouldn't go into details about his sexual contact with the girl, because it was "sacred" and he wanted to protect her.

The girl "used every trick in the book to win me over," Cormier said, but everything he did with her was out of love and for her benefit.

"She was very sexually aware at 8 years old," he told police. "I don't know if she was abused before.

"She loved me a lot and had certain needs," he continued. "I'm convinced that what I did with her was for her and was good for her."

Cormier, who is defending himself, is on trial for sexual interference, invitation to sexual touching, sexual assault and two counts of sexual exploitation of two girls. Yesterday, he admitted he might use a lawyer to conduct his defence.

Cormier, 57, claims he legally married the girl when she was 10. When he told the girl's mother of his intentions to marry, she agreed.

The mother's consent, he said, could be taken two different ways. Either it was a former prostitute wanting to make money off her daughter, "or she was a woman who saw her daughter in love with an older man and a chance to have what (the mother) never had.

"This mother made the right decision because she chose what was best for her daughter."

Cormier said the other girl he is alleged to have sexually exploited wasn't like the girl he "married."

"She was a manipulator and a liar," he said.

"She said you put your hand on her vulva," Lépine told Cormier on the video.

"It's true that I put my hand on her stomach and said one day there'll be a baby in there," Cormier replied. "The body of a woman is damned sacred."

The trial continues today with the testimony of Cormier's so-called "wife."