Oxford Students for Life

Promoting a culture of life in the University and beyond

Month: October, 2013

Lord Alton – From the Womb to the Tomb: a Consistent Life Ethic

This evening Lord Alton, politician, peer, public speaker and pro-life activist, presented a talk for Oxford Students for Life, entitled ‘From the Womb to the Tomb: a Consistent Life Ethic’. The talk was a broad brushstroke treatment of many of the issues that our society campaigns passionately on – embryology, abortion, human cloning, assisted dying and euthanasia.

Lord Alton began his talk with a discussion on that seminal question as to where life begins, quoting leading embryologists, whose unbiased belief it is that life starts at conception. This led to a discussion on human cloning and human experimentation. The law allows experimentation on embryos up to fourteen day after conception (inadvertently admitting that something does begin at conception). However, Lord Alton argues that it is widely recognised by the scientific community that there is no scientific need for this experimentation. Where good science and good ethics go hand in hand, Lord Alton argues, we must celebrate. Yet human embryonic experimentation is neither good ethically nor scientifically. Lord Alton went on to quote C.S. Lewis, in whose fantastical science-fiction work That Hideous Strength argues prophetically for the progression and development in society of a kind of ‘technological brutalism.’ The mystery of life is gradually being turned into a commodity which we can manipulate as we please.

Lord Alton progressed to a discussion on abortion, including sex-selective abortion and abortion on the ground of disability. It was shocking even for those who knew the laws concerned abortion and disability to hear once more the horrific, lawful practice of the aborting of babies up to and during birth, because of disability, including a cleft palate or hare lip. 90% of unborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are now aborted, creating, Lord Alton argues, a culture of eugenics, in which anyone who does not pass the ‘perfection test of life’ is excluded. The physical and psychological damage of abortion on a woman’s health was also sensitively discussed, as well as the confusing plight of fathers within this equation.

Euthanasia is also an important issue where the dignity and preservation of life are in debate. Lord Alton discussed the legalisation of euthanasia in the Netherlands, among other places, highlighting the flaws in their practices and the dangers they create for public safety.

Lord Alton concluded his talk with a challenge from William Wilberforce: ‘We can no longer plead ignorance. We cannot turn aside.’ There is no option but to hear the voices of those who are most vulnerable in our society and to fight the battle on their behalf. Lord Alton emphasised the importance of the younger generation in defending life. Our challenge is to fight for life by raising awareness, engaging in debate, imparting knowledge, promoting the cause in the political arena, showing compassion, and intelligently championing the cause of the most vulnerable.

Thank you Lord Alton.




PREVIEW: Lord Alton at OSFL, this Wednesday

‘You can feel like that little boy in Robert Louis Stevenson’s book who says, ‘The world is so big and I’m so small I don’t like it at all’ and feel overawed, or you can say is there something specific I can do to try and make some small difference.’

Lord Alton is one of the most accomplished public speakers in Parliament, and there is perhaps no member of either House whose career has been shaped so much by life issues. Something of a quick starter, he became Britain’s youngest City Councillor at the age of 21, and seven years later entered the Commons as Britain’s youngest MP. (Some great vintage footage in this excellent BBC profile.) During the Thatcher years, he was one of the more prominent Liberals, serving as Home Affairs Spokesman and Chief Whip. Perhaps – who knows? – David Alton might have ended up in the Coalition Cabinet.

But by 1988, when the Liberal-SDP merger formed the Lib Dems, he was increasingly at odds with his party’s pro-abortion stance. He eventually left, but in 1997, refusing to break the habit, he became the youngest life peer in the Lords. Since then, he has worked, travelled and campaigned tirelessly on many causes, from child poverty and human trafficking abroad to social issues at home (he is Professor of Citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University).

His talk on Wednesday has a deliberately broad title: ‘From the Womb to the Tomb: A Consistent Life Ethic’. But you can expect it to be informed by vast political experience, and by the tenaciously-held principles which guide everything Lord Alton does. ‘Being pro-life,’ he insists, ‘means being pro-human rights, and being pro-human rights must surely mean being pro-life.’

More details of the talk on Facebook.
That BBC profile again.

‘The purpose of the law is to protect the vulnerable’: Robert Preston at OSFL last night

An assisted suicide law would threaten public safety, and doctors themselves don’t want it: so Robert Preston argued last night in Oxford Students for Life’s opening event of the academic year.


‘It is not safe to change the law’

As Preston explained, he got into the end-of-life debate more or less by accident. A civil servant for thirty years, he was asked to be Clerk to the parliamentary committee on the 2004 Assisted Dying Bill. Over time, he became convinced that ‘based on the evidence, it is not safe to change the law’. Preston does not think of himself as a campaigner: Living and Dying Well, the think-tank he directs, concentrates on hard facts and produces meticulously researched reports. The facts all point one way, he says: towards keeping the present law. ‘The purpose of the law is to protect society as a whole, to protect the vulnerable’.

Lord Falconer’s proposed reform would change the culture: it would invite weak, ill and depressed people to end their own lives. This is not just speculation. Since 1998, when Oregon passed similar legislation, its death-rate from assisted suicide has risen fivefold. Last year in the Netherlands, meanwhile, euthanasia accounted for 1 in 32 deaths; and there is now pressure for an end-of-life pill to be available in pharmacies. ‘There has been a complete change in culture,’ Preston said of the Dutch situation, which he has seen first-hand. The law ‘changes the public’s view of the act in question.’

This helps to explain why the medical profession firmly opposes assisted suicide. As Preston pointed out, the Royal College of Physicians have themselves intervened, writing to the Director of Public Prosecutions in 2009 to insist that doctors who assisted suicide should be prosecuted. The legal authorities have not imposed their view; rather, ‘This is the doctors’ professional body saying, ‘No, we shouldn’t be doing this.’’

‘Baby-boomers have had it all our own way’

This was a witty and fluent talk, which was well received by a large audience. It was especially pleasing to meet so many audience members who are still undecided on the issues, and came along with an open mind. Preston pointed out that the media debate focuses on the exceptions, not the norm: in the last 10 years, 1 in 50,000 British deaths have been at Dignitas, and each one has been a news story. The other 49,999 tend not to make headlines.

Preston ended with a provocative suggestion. It is strange, he noted, when palliative care has advanced so much in the last fifty years, that the voices for euthanasia have got louder. But his generation, he remarked, with all their prosperity, have grown accustomed to controlling every part of their lives. ‘Baby-boomers have had it all our own way, and we’re coming to the stage when we’re up against something we can’t have our own way.’ Whether the movement comes from compassion or from the desire for absolute autonomy, it should be resisted. ‘Would a law be safe? I doubt it.’

Freshers’ Fair

This week, at what feels to be the edge of winter, Michaelmas term at Oxford University is about to begin. Our fledgling society is in need of some new, enthusiastic members, so we head to our first freshers’ fair as Oxford Students for Life.

Freshers’ fair is a university run event in which hundreds of societies from the Student Newspapers to Salsa clubs, the famous Oxford Union to the Harry Potter Society, set up stalls and attempt to explain what they do and persuade new students to join up. It is a fantastic publicity event which we were so pleased to be a part of.

Our stall looked fantastic, even if we do say so ourselves… A banner, term cards, photographs of events, quotations and facts. However, we were nervous about the event. Many pro-life groups have experienced persecution and ridicule on such occasions at other universities. We were prepared for the worst, taking a great deal of care over the material which we presented on stall, ensuring that it was sensitive and appropriate, whilst being true to our cause.

The experience was an overwhelmingly positive; one of our committee members commented on how “open-minded” everyone was. There was hardly a moment in which we were not explaining the society, handing out term cards, or signing people up. It was obvious that the big issues surrounding the beginnings of life and the very end do really matter to people. Approximately we think to have had around two-hundred people sign up to our mailing list, which is utterly wonderful for a small and fledgling society like our own.

On a more negative note however, as unfortunately expected, we did experience a little hostility from the student union. It was insisted we immediately remove information leaflets on the charity LIFE, their helplines and counselling services. The main issue seemed to be with our description of LIFE’s counseling services as non-directive. It was argued that LIFE was a pro-life organization and that its counseling was in every way pointed in this direction. However, LIFE’s website states that their counseling services are entirely non-directive. LIFE does not purport to be a neutral organization, it is of course pro-life, however, as a registered BACP counseling service, its care must be non-directive by the regulations that this organisation enforces. We’ll be working in the future to ensure this issue doesn’t crop up again.

Freshers’ fair was exhausting and extremely challenging. However, it was also a wonderful success, and as our President, Molly, said, “The challenges were what made it interesting.” This was a fruitful first step in growing our society so that we may begin to make a real and lasting difference to the lives of the very youngest and the very oldest, in Oxford, and beyond.

by Amy


Tanni Grey-Thompson: Why people with disabilities fear assisted suicide

If you haven’t seen it, Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson’s Times article on the assisted suicide bill is a must-read. It’s behind the paywall, but there’s a version of the article here and Living and Dying Well have a follow-up-piece.

‘Those of us with disabilities,’ Grey-Thompson writes, ‘are all too familiar with the view that many in society take of us – that…our lives are less worth living than the lives of others.’ However good the intentions behind Lord Falconer’s bill, its implications are ‘chilling’: it opens the way to a society in which people’s lives are judged by someone else’s standard of usefulness. And even the wording of Lord Falconer’s report seems to admit this: it ‘tells me,’ Grey-Thompson says, ‘that I am not seen as a candidate for assisted suicide right now but I am in the waiting room’.

On Assisted Dying

Next week, OSFL will host Robert Preston (Director, Living and Dying Well) to speak on the ‘Assisted Dying’ debate. In preparation, here’s Alisha’s article on physician-assisted suicide, which discusses ‘assisted dying’ and the ethical issues surrounding it:



Chen Guangcheng’s Visit to the UK

Lord Alton characterised Chen Guangcheng as a man fired by an ‘innocent idealism’ and ‘righteous anger’. I would add gentle humility and unremitting bravery to the description. The ‘barefoot lawyer’, blind from infancy, was invited to Parliament on 20th May 2013 to receive the inaugural Westminster Award for the promotion of human life, human rights and human dignity. Although it was notable that no Cabinet member agreed to meet with him, Chen was unfazed. Parliament was all action that evening, with voting on important bills resulting in Chen’s hosts, Lord Alton and Fiona Bruce MP, having to leave hastily a number of times. Yet, somehow, the commotion and slight informality suited this unassuming man who began his address with a simple ‘Good evening, dear friends.’

Although Chen’s speech was a searing criticism of the brutal Chinese dictatorship that ‘robs people of their lives’, his indictment of the complicity of the West in allowing China to implement practices such as the one-child policy was evident. He claimed that we, in the West, are like florists who no longer smell the scent of flowers: we have become too accustomed to the sweet smell of freedom and take it for granted. In Western democracies, we forget the plight of our fellow humans around the world: the mothers forced to abort their children, no matter the stage of their pregnancy, the fathers, family members and neighbours tortured for not revealing those in breach of the one-child policy, the children left to die on the side of the road, in dustbins, for the simple reason that they are not the first-born, or perhaps not male. This is the world beyond the florist’s shop; a world in which the culture of respecting human life has been almost completely destroyed.

Telling the harrowing tale of a three year old left to starve to death in an apartment when her mother was arrested, the scratch marks from the little girl’s fingers left on the door through which she had tried to escape, Chen, and many members of the audience, were reduced to tears. This barbarity, he forcefully stated, is a direct result of the lack of respect for human life which we can see is evident from its earliest stage. Stories like this are just ‘the tip of the iceberg’ – an iceberg Chen wishes to expose so that we may no longer claim blindness to these atrocities, so that we refuse to bow down to such disrespect for life, so that we must act.

For a man who has endured torture and 4 years of house arrest, who has suffered the knowledge that his family are still being targeted by the Chinese Government, and who has witnessed the horrors that have been inflicted upon countless families by the one-child policy, Chen’s message was, surprisingly, one of unwavering hope. Through his translator Bob Fu, who had to flee China in order to have his second child, Chen lauded the limitless potential in each person that enables each of us to boldly decry the dictatorships that show utter disregard for the value of human life. Chen remains adamant that the perseverance and heightened awareness he exemplifies will win the battle. In his closing address, Chen extended his hands, a smile playing on his lips, calling the room, and the UK, to action: ‘The time has come. Let’s work together.’

by Jo

What will you do to help stop the brutality of the one-child policy and gendercide?

  1. Make Chen’s story known.
  2. Lobby Parliament that they stand up to the Chinese government and defend the value of human life at all stages.
  3. Call on the government to remove funding from UNFPA and IPPF which fund the one-child policy in China.
  4. Screen ‘It’s A Girl’ [We hope to screen this is Oxford in the upcoming terms] Image


Welcome to the official blog of Oxford Students for Life!

We will use this page to post pieces on our events, activities, and on news relating to life issues. We will also explain, discuss, and address questions about pro-life beliefs and arguments. Questions? Send us a message!