Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Christmas break

I shall be having a wee break from blogging during the Christmas and New Year festivities. I wish everyone a very Happy Christmas and all the best for the coming New Year.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Neuroimaging as evidence?

Can technology be so advanced that our thoughts can be seen by other people? Apparently , brain scans using neuromagnetic resonance imaging can explicitly project unto a computer screen an individual’s thought patterns. The Scottish Universities Insight Institute has recently presented a report on the current applications of neuroimaging in a variety of fields. The Church of Scotland, through the Society, Religion and Technology Project, has been involved in the development of this report .

The fact that other people can see our thought patterns raises a number of questions; who will have access to the data from people’s brain scans? How will that data be interpreted? How will the interpretations of brain activities be used? The difficulty is that although this technology was developed for use in a clinical context it is now being used as evidence in criminal trials, although the technology has not yet been properly tested and tried in non-medical contexts. It is not unusual to have technologies applied outside the context for which they were originally developed, take the computer; it was intended to be used as a gigantic calculator. The difference here is that the application of neuroimaging as evidence in criminal cases has been introduced without proper legislative frameworks. There is a real danger that vulnerable groups could become victims to the misuse of brain imaging. Other areas of potential misuse are for insurance applications and pre-employment interviews.

This is why I wrote to MSPs urging them to support the motion proposed by Helen Eadie, MSP for a parliamentary debate on the legislative framework for the use of brain imaging.

Let us hope we can have a proper debate which incorporates not just scientists and lawyers, but ordinary folk as well.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Scottish contribution for Climate Change leadership

The Cancun Climate change conference has finished with what has been hailed by some, as the roaring of a chihuahua. It was good to see that the science behind climate change has stopped being disputed. There is global recognition that climate change “is one of the greatest challenges of our time” and that the need to engage in action to curb greenhouse gas emissions is urgent.

One of the primary objectives of the talks was to establish mechanisms by which developing countries could be helped in mitigating the effects of climate change. The agreement allows for the establishment of a climate fund managed by the UN, however, there are no specific cash promises attached. There is also agreement on the creation of a forestry programme dedicated to forestry conservation.

Much about the specifics of both agreements are still to be worked out. The details of the financial and technology transfer commitment of rich nations to contribute towards climate change mitigation in developing countries will be discussed at the next conference of the parties to be held in South Africa in 2011.

The Kirk is committed to helping congregations respond to climate change issues. the Moderator, the Right Reverend John Christie met David Cameron on the first day of the Conference in Mexico, urging him to fully engage with Cancun 2010. Although international development funding is primarily a UK Government responsibility we in Scotland can continue to set an example by reducing our own carbon footprint to meet the challenging targets of the Climate Change (Scotland) Act. This would be no mean achievement.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Is tax avoidance socially responsible?

Tax avoidance is getting on the nerves of people I certainly oppose violent actions against retailers but it is crucial to recognise that tax avoidance might be legal, but it is not an ethical business practice. I previously blogged on the fact that £9 in every £100 that should be paid in taxes goes missing people people and corporations are very efficient at avoiding tax.

The commissioning by the Coalition Government of a study into a General Anti Avoidance Rule (GAAR) is certainly a step in the right direction but overall, the deliberate choice of ethical practices as part and parcel of daily business practices by all our corporations is what we should be encouraging.

Corporations have a social responsibility to the communities where they operate. What they do, impacts at home and abroad. This is why the Church of Scotland is supporting Christian Aid’s Trace the Tax campaign highlighting the effects of tax avoidance on developing countries.

Adherence to tax legislation is of course compulsory, but corporate social responsibility goes beyond that. It is actually a new business model where becoming a part of the community is seen as a business opportunity. These ideas are not pie in the sky. Several companies such as Marks and Spencer’s or IPC Media (publishers of some of our favourite magazines) are actively involved in one or all of the main areas of corporate social responsibility : the environment, the marketplace, the workplace and the community.

A business model based on corporate social responsibility makes corporations intricately involved in the sustainability of the communities in which they do business. In the short term it might seem profitable and simpler to relocate corporate headquarters to a tax haven; however, in the long term such practices damage the sustainability of any economy. Damaging our economy by evading taxes undermines our economic recovery. That is surely bad business.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The plight of Pakistani Christians

Asia Bibi is a Pakistani Christian woman who was arrested in June 2009, accused of insulting the Prophet Muhammad by Muslim farm workers following a dispute over their different faiths. She was prosecuted under Section 295 of the Blasphemy Law in Pakistan and has spent the last year and a half in prison. On the 8th of November of this year, she was found guilty of blasphemy and sentenced to death. Since 1991 anyone found guilty under Section 295 (C) of the Pakistan Penal Code faces a mandatory death sentence.

The problem is that the Blasphemy Law in Pakistan is being abused to settle scores, exact revenge or inflame religious extremism. Within Pakistan itself, there are voices opposing the death sentence of Asia Bibi. Shabaz Bhatti, Federal Minister for Minorities, has been quoted saying, “She was wrongly sentenced to death.” Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab was quoted saying, "This is a disgraceful case, it is a disgraceful law. It has to be repealed."

The Church of Scotland has connections with the land that became Pakistan that go back to 1857. Our partnership with the Church of Pakistan continues to develop and deepen. Our partners in Pakistan have visited Asia in jail and have urged people to pray and lobby for her release. This is why, Andrew McLellan, the Convener of the World Mission Council and I have written to His Excellency Mr. Wajid Shamsul Hasan, the Pakistan High Commissioner urging the Government of Pakistan to release and pardon Asia Bibi and to ensure that she and are family are protected from those who would seek to take the law into their own hands.

The Church of Scotland also urges the Government of Pakistan to repeal the Blasphemy Law since it appears to be used to intimidate and terrorise minority faith communities in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. This goes against the traditions and teachings of Islam and is contrary to the culture of the majority of Pakistanis.

Friday, 3 December 2010

widening the debate on end of life issues

As the Church opposed the End of Life Assistance (Scotland) Bill which was rejected the day before yesterday in a free vote by the Scottish Parliament, I am pleased with the outcome of the debate. Our MSPs voted freely according to their conscience and their conscience dictated that the procedure to end life contained in the proposed legislation was not the way forward. Their vote reflected the views of medical practitioners, people with disabilities as well as other ordinary folk who campaigned arduously through their churches or voluntary organisations to let their voices be heard. The Bill was thoroughly examined with over 50 people giving evidence and contributing to a lively and informed debate. This was much to the credit of Margo MacDonald.

Although the Bill has been defeated, the examination of the issues around the end of life has only just begun. There is a need for us as a society to examine issues surrounding the meaning of “quality of life” particularly when physical pain and progressive illness occurs. We need to examine our own expectations surrounding the intrinsic value of human life; we also need to confront our frailty and our mortality. I shall be exploring some of these items in the upcoming edition of the Sunday Express. Those who supported Margo’s Bill need to know that their concerns have not been taken lightly.

As a society, we need to address the availability of resources to support the emotional, spiritual and physical needs of those reaching the end of their lives with dignity.

The Bill was defeated. Let the wider debate begin.