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c. 2000 Religion News Service

Fate of Conjoined Twins Sets Off Ethical, Moral Debate in Britain

(RNS) Conjoined 1-month-old twins are at the center of an ethical and moral debate in Britain after a judge ordered the twins to be separated so that one might live, even though the parents object to the procedure.

The two girls, born Aug. 8, are joined at the rump, and doctors say both will die within a year if they are not separated, according to The Washington Post. Doctors told the parents that if separated, one of the twins, “Mary,” will die, but the other, “Jodie,” could expect to live a healthy life.

The girls’ parents, who are Roman Catholic, do not want to separate the twins for religious reasons and said they would rather have both girls die rather than sacrifice one for the life of the other.

“We cannot begin to accept or contemplate that one of our children should die to enable the other to survive,” the parents wrote in a statement. “We have very strong feelings that neither of our children should receive any medical treatment. … We have faith in God and we are quite happy for God’s will to decide what happens to our two daughters.”

A British judge ruled last week the two daughters should be separated, but the parents have appealed the case to a higher court. At a hearing Wednesday (Sept. 6), the parents’ lawyer said her clients have an uphill struggle because British law weighs the child’s interest above that of the parents.

Meanwhile, the doctors could be charged with assault or murder when or if the operation results in the death of one of the girls. “The moment the knife goes into that united body … it is arguably in that second an assault,” said Lord Justice Ward at the hearing.

If the higher court decides against the parents in a ruling expected next week, the couple could appeal their case to the European High Court of Human Rights.

The case has touched off a swirl of medical and ethical hand-wringing as the courts, the church and the country’s small pro-life movement weigh in on the case. Archbishop Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the leader of Britain’s Catholic bishops, sided with the parents.

“There is a fundamental moral principle at stake,” Murphy-O’Connor said. “No one may commit a wrong action that good may come of it. The parents in this case have made clear that they love both their children equally, and cannot consent to one of them being killed to help the other. I believe this moral instinct is right.”

Kenyan Women Should Not Marry Husbands’ Relatives, Bishop Says

(RNS) An Anglican bishop in Kenya has asked women in his congregation to stop following a local custom in which widows marry one of their husbands’ male relatives.

Christian women should renounce the practice, known as “joter,” at their husbands’ funerals, Bishop Joseph Wasonga, of Nyanza Province in western Kenya, told his congregation during a recent service, Ecumenical News International reported.

If women did so, “joter would die a natural death,” said Wasonga. He labeled the practice _ traditional among some of the polygamous Luo people of his province _ “outdated and dangerous,” especially because of the province’s high HIV-AIDS infection rate.

Joter was originally designed to ensure proper care for widows and their children, said Wasonga. The widow’s new husband “assumed the role of father to the children and performed important tasks like giving daughters away in marriage,” he said, noting that sexual relationships between the women and their husbands’ male relatives was not the norm.

Wasonga also spoke against the “cleansing” ritual common after a husband’s death, in which a widow copulates with another man before she is given to her husband’s male relative.

Christian widows should “tell the truth about their post-funeral intentions instead of praising the Lord at the burial and going to the inheritor at night,” insisted Wasonga. He said the addition of the cleansing ritual to joter was a “recent adaptation.”

“The cleansing ritual involving the widow sleeping with another man was never a part of the old practice,” he said.

In separate news, a Roman Catholic bishop in Zambia called upon the Bemba-speaking population in his diocese to end ancient burial practices for some Bemba chiefs so that the Catholic Church can “conduct funeral services when a Bemba chief dies without any hindrance at all.”

Bishop Telephore Mpundu _ leader of northern Zambia’s Mpika-Mbala diocese, where the practices are most common _ said Bemba chiefs who had welcomed Catholicism should be exempt from the burial practices.

Those practices run counter to the formal “Christian nation” designation given Zambia nearly a decade ago, said Mpundu, insisting that “certain customs which are found not to be entirely suitable to the teachings and practices of the church” should be discarded.

But one Bemba chief from the outskirts of Mpika disagreed with Mpundu, and said the bishop’s comments could alienate other Bembas.

“This is part of our culture,” said Chikwanda. “These are some of the things that distinguish us from other people in Zambia, and indeed from other people elsewhere.”

He added: “The early Catholic missionaries who brought Christianity did not condemn the practice. It has been going on for all these years.”

NCC Tells Clinton to Lift Cuban Trade Embargo

(RNS) With less than six months remaining of President Clinton’s term in office, the leader of the National Council of Churches urged him to end the decades-old trade embargo against Cuba before his term comes to a close.

“If we wait until after the elections take place, a new administration will have to select new ambassadors and new persons in the State Department and prioritize their foreign policy,” said the Rev. Robert Edgar, general secretary of the NCC, the 51-year-old ecumenical agency of 35 Orthodox and Protestant churches. “Cuba will be placed on the back burner.”

Edgar and several other representatives from the council concluded a nearly weeklong tour of Cuba on Thursday (Sept. 7). They met with church and Cuban government officials and relatives of Elian Gonzalez, the 6-year-old boy who became the center of a lengthy custody battle when he was rescued off the coast of southern Florida last November after the boat carrying his mother and several other Cuban refugees capsized.

“As we met with the Gonzalez family, I was reminded that this is an appropriate moment for the United States to change over 40 years of hostility towards Cuba,” said Edgar. “We have to begin to take a new approach by lifting the sanctions.”

The sanctions against Cuba have only strengthened Castro’s government, said Edgar.

“It seems to me that conservatives as well as liberals who are concerned about Fidel Castro and the Cuban government’s policies would do better in lifting the sanctions than continuing policies that haven’t worked,” he said. “In fact they have backfired and made Castro stronger.”

Clinton should not hesitate to take advantage of a “window of opportunity between the election and the next presidential inauguration to change our policy and move in a new direction,” said Edgar.

“Lifting the embargo now is in the best interest of both the United States and the people of Cuba,” he said.

British Priests Ask Bishops for Guidance on Ecumenical Relations

(RNS) Catholic priests in England and Wales offered a strong reaffirmation of ecumenism in the wake of the controversial statement on salvation, “Dominus Iesus,” issued by the Vatican on Tuesday (Sept. 5).

The National Conference of Priests of England and Wales, which represents 5,500 priests in the two countries, held its annual conference for the first time in Wales. The priests asked the English and Welsh bishops “to give public assurance at this time that the Catholic Church is deeply committed to continuing dialogue with other Christians.”

Its resolution, which was almost unanimously adopted, recognized that the document was merely reaffirming Catholic teaching about the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as savior. But it went on to express its concern “that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith did not foresee the way certain sections of the media have reported the document, which has resulted in widespread confusion as to the Catholic Church’s commitment to ecumenism.”

While intended for Catholic theologians wrestling with religious “relativism,” the document has been criticized by non-Catholics for its claim that the Roman Catholic Church has a monopoly on salvation and that non-Catholic churches suffer from “defects.”

One priest, the Rev. David Williamson of St. Albans, reminded the conference that there was “no need whatsoever” for the hurt this document had caused, while the Rev. Simon McGurk of Belmont Abbey pointed to a “considerable degree of insensitivity” in many Vatican declarations.

The conference also asked the bishops “to make clear that the document does not undermine our respect for the many Christian bodies in this country and their fidelity to Christ, nor does it minimize the extent to which we are indebted to their many insights into gospel living.”

In another resolution, the conference expressed its “sorrow and sense of shame” over recent convictions of priests, nuns and brothers for the physical and sexual abuse of young persons and affirmed its desire to support these victims in appropriate ways.

“As a conference of priests, with delegates from every diocese in England and Wales, we welcome initiatives already being taken in our dioceses with regard to proper and adequate child protection which ensure genuine involvement of outside authorities, and we commit ourselves to their continuing implementation and review,” the resolution continued.

The priests also recognized the “real dangers” of false or misplaced accusations, “especially in the present climate of fear and horror of such criminal behavior,” but went on to recognize the need for “prudent and appropriate relationships” between clergy and those whom they served.

Quote of the Day: Charles Jacobs, president of the American Anti-Slavery Group

(RNS) “Slavery is the stepchild of the human rights movement.”

_ Charles Jacobs, president of the Boston-based American Anti-Slavery Group, speaking out against the slave trade in Sudan and Mauritania. Jacobs said Western nations are not doing enough to stop the practice, especially when it comes to children. He was quoted by the Associated Press.

DEA END RNS

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