Sinn Fein renews pledge to campaign for same-sex marriage – BelfastTelegraph.co.uk

Northern Ireland is the only part of the British Isles where same-sex marriage is still not an option – unlike the Republic of Ireland, England, Scotland or Wales. Within Northern Ireland, there is strong support from the public, and from the leading political parties – except for the DUP, which until their leader’s troubles over the heating fund scandal controlled the Stormont government, was able to block any progress through the Assembly. News that Sinn Fein, the leading opposition to the DUP and is to “actively” campaign for same-sex marriage is to be welcomed.

Sinn Fein has renewed its commitment to actively campaign for same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

 Signing a pledge to work to legislate for marriage equality party members Gerry Kelly, Caral Ni Chuilin and Megan Fearon said there is a growing demand for a change in law.
Sinn Fein's Caral Ni Chuilin, left, Gerry Kelly and Megan Fearon launch the party's marriage equality pledge in Belfast
Sinn Fein’s Caral Ni Chuilin, left, Gerry Kelly and Megan Fearon launch the party’s marriage equality pledge in Belfast

Sinn Fein and other parties have tried to force through new laws to lift the ban on gay marriage in five separate votes in the Stormont assembly.

Source: BelfastTelegraph.co.uk

One year on from GIST surgery: (2) Surgery

(Continuing from a previous post, here)

It came as a shock to me that the shrinkage had stopped. I am by nature an optimist, and after the early good response to medication, I rather assumed that this would continue indefinitely. It also didn’t help, the way the news was broken to me. Instead of being told so by a doctor in consultation, I had a phone call from the specialist nurse, who told me that the medication had “stopped working”, and that the surgeon had booked me in for a given date in September 2014. She said I should stop taking the medication In preparation for surgery, and she was booking appointments for some preparatory sessions.

I had several objections to this. The timing was awkward (I was due to be in Rome for a conference at the end of September), but more importantly, I objected strongly to such decisions being taken without any consultation. At this point for the first time, I thought seriously it might be wise finally to transfer to a specialist GIST centre. I’d been happy enough with RSCH as long as the treatment was fairly routine, and primarily about monitoring progress – but when it came to decisions about actual surgery, I wanted much more information. I wanted a second opinion. I told RSCH so, and prompted by a suggestion from Michael Sayers in our listserve group, arranged one with Dr Beatrice Seddon at University College Hospital, London.

When I met her, I was totally impressed at the thoroughness of her preparation for the meeting, how carefully she listened to my story and concerns, and the clarity and detail of her responses. I learned that it was not true that the medication had “stopped working”. It was no longer shrinking the tumour, but would still be effective in preventing regrowth. It was therefore a mistake to have stopped taking it, and I was told to resume. Based on the CT scans to date, she had called for a surgical opinion. This confirmed what I’d been told early on, that surgery would likely include removal of all or most of the stomach – and possibly also part of the pancreas and spleen.  The really difficult, delicate decision I was trying to resolve, was whether it would be wise to stay with RSCH for surgery – or should I transfer for ongoing treatment, and surgery, to a real specialist unit? My conclusion was that given the size of the tumour, at 15cm and therefore classified as still “large”, I wanted a specialist. Based on my very favourable experience of meeting her initially just for a second opinion, I then requested a formal transfer to her care. Ever since, I’ve been very pleased that I did.

One of the first things we did, was discuss a date for surgery. Unlike RSCH, she did not feel that this was urgent, provided we did not delay too long. Because it suited my schedule, we agreed on timing for some time around February. In the meantime, I would continue with 3-monthly consultations and scans. As the time approached, she called for a fuller surgical opinion, which again stated that I faced losing my stomach, pancreas and spleen – and also possibly part of the liver and diaphragm. Each surgical opinion seemed to be getting more dire!

By the time that the date came around, nearly eighteen months after I was first told that I would face such major surgery, I’d had ample time to get used to the idea. I was at least, resigned to the prospect. I checked into the Royal Free early on Tuesday 9th February. After some preliminary discussions with assorted staff, I was wheeled through for anaesthetic – and came to some hours later, thinking that if this was what it’s like without a stomach, it wasn’t any different to before. Apart from the discomfort of assorted tubes and cables hooked up to me, I was not in any particular pain – nor did I experience too much, throughout my stay in hospital.

I was in intensive care for short while. At some stage while there, I had a visit from one of my surgeons, who gave me the good news that they had taken out the stomach and spleen as expected – but nothing more. My memories of this time are blurred – one of the odder features of this recall, as that in my mind’s eye, during this discussion with the surgeon we were sitting in deck chairs on a bright green lawn: definitely not the case. After a short stay in IC, I was moved to a high – density ward instead. One of the first visits I had, was from a pain nurse, who told me not to hesitate to push the pain button whenever I wanted to, which would release pain medication from a store I was hooked up to. I’d also been advised on our listserve group, not to wait for pain to kick in before pressing the button, but to do so pre-emptively. There’s another reason this pain medication was useful. When I first used it, I experienced a strange, floating sensation. When I mentioned this to my surgeon on his second visit, he pointed out that as it is an opioid, its effects are hallucinogenic and soporific as well as just in pain relief. The “soporific” was what interested me. Apart from the discomfort of being stuck in bed with so many tubes and cables, my biggest problem was getting enough sleep at night, when we were constantly interrupted for blood pressure readings, medication and the like. I made a point, after nocturnal disturbance, to give myself a good dose of the pain medication – which quickly put me back to sleep. Just in case I was overdoing things, I checked with the pain nurse. He assured me that I was doing fine. It’s not possible to give oneself too much – the mechanism won’t allow it. He was also able to check a record of what I’d been dosing, and that turned out to be just about exactly what was recommended.

My only other continuing gripe was a permanent problem with dry mouth. I’d been expecting to have no solid food for a while after surgery, but what I was not expecting was that I’d also not be allowed anything to drink – nil by mouth. Initially, all I could get was a wet sponge to wet my lips. Later, I was allowed to take a sip of water, but had to spit it out without swallowing. I had to endure this nil by mouth routine for almost a week. When the day finally came that I was permitted something to drink, I was surprised to find that at the same time, I was allowed to eat “soft” food. Based on my reading and advice on our listserve group on life after gastrectomy, I’d expected to start out on a liquid diet, followed by smoothie type soft foods, semi-solids and then a very gradual return to proper solids. I was surprised to find on the lunch menu I was given, that the soft foods choices were far more solid than I’d expected – including a tuna/pasta bake, a bean casserole, and lasagne, which were three of my choices for two lunches and dinner.

For the first few days, I’d been confined entirely to bed, but soon enough physiotherapists began to call, helping to take short walks around the ward (with assorted tubes hooked up to a stand on wheels), and gave me a few exercises to do in bed. A week after admission, I finally had the tubes removed. Freed of all encumbrances, I found that I was able to walk easily enough around the ward, and more. The great joy at this point, was the ability to get to the toilet myself and take a proper shower.

Finally, late on Friday afternoon eight days after admission, I was discharged and was taken home, to a quiet bed without constant disturbance from nurses and other patients.

Some Albatross Same-sex Parents

A key part of the argument against homoerotic relationships, fundamental to the Catholic Magisterium, to the religious opposition more generally, and to the supporters of so-called “traditional” marriage, is that same sex relationships are somehow “unnatural”, “against natural law”. This claim is entirely without foundation. What these groups have in common, apart from their conclusion, is a total disregard for the evidence.  Some research into the Laysan albatross neatly illustrates this.  The disregard of the need for evidence does not only apply to claims for natural law: exactly the same charge can be made against Vatican claims that “homosexuals” are motivated solely by  -indulgence, and that homosexual “acts” lead one away from God – claims that likewise do not stand up to scrutiny. For now, though, I am concerned only about the problem as it applies to the argument from natural law
All albatrosses are large birds nesting in isolated colonies free from natural predators, which makes them easy to study (the birds are trusting and allow researchers to get up real close and personal). Much of their behaviour is well-known. For instance, in one colony at Kaena Point, Hawaii, there are about 120 breeding pairs, who gather for mating every November. They form long-term partnerships, and after copulation, lay a single egg, which they incubate in shifts, taking turns to leave the nests for weeks at a time to feed at sea. They form long-lasting, often life- long pairs, and were praised by former US first lady Laura Bush for their commitment to each other, and the example they offered as icons of monogamy. The obvious assumption that these monogamous pairs represent one male and one female in a neat nuclear family, though, turns out to be false. One third of the pairs are female couples, some of whom had nested together every year since right back to the start of data collection – 19 years.
Ornithologist Lindsay C Young  has been studying this albatross colony since 2003, as part of her doctoral dissertation.  She says that the discovery of so many female pairs forced her to question assumptions she didn’t even know she was making.  This in itself was something of a breakthrough: observations of same sex behaviour or relationships in the animal world are not new, but too often in the past, biologists have simply ignored them, or attempted to explain these observations as aberrations.
Joan Roughgarden quotes one notable scholar who claimed in 2000, at the end of a long and distinguished career,  that  “When animals have access to members of the the opposite sex, homosexuality is virtually unknown in nature, with some rare exceptions in primates”.
But just the previous year, Bruce Bagemihl had published a book reviewing published academic research into over three hundred vertebrate species which engage in same-sex courtship and genital contact. In some of these, homosexual activity is even more frequent than heterosexual intercourse.
In the case of the albatrosses though, the female pairs Young studied displayed same-sex relationships – not same-sex activity. They were female couples, conscientious parents, and engaged in just about all the activities together that other couples do – except for physical sexual intercourse. Instead, they would find a male albatross purely for copulation so that they could produce a fertilized egg.
As female pairs, these couples were physically capable of producing twice the number of eggs that other pairs could. Each bird is capable of producing only one egg each year, and so most nests hold only one egg. Yet obrsevers have frequently noted  that some nests contain two eggs, in what the biologists call a “supernormal clutch”. Early attempts at explanations speculated that perhaps some individual brds were after all capable of laying two eggs, or that some inexperienced younger females were inadvertently “dumping” their eggs in the wrong nests.. Harvey Fisher, he researcher who proposed this dumping hypothesis in 1968, after seven years of daily observations, justified his conclusion in part with the observation that “after all, promiscuity, polygamy and polyandry are unknown in this species”
It simply had not occurred to anyone to consider that the nest might hold two females.
That was until Brenda Zaun, a biologist studying Laysan albatrosses forty years later, observed that year after year, it was the same nests which yielded double eggs. When she sent feathers from a sample of the two-egg breeding pairs and sent them to Lindsay Young  for laboratory DNA sex testing, Young simply disbelieved the finding that every brd was female, and assumed she had erred in the testing procedure.
She repeated the tests, and got the same result.. To be sure, she then went back to the field and sexed every bird in the colony, and found that 39 of 125 nests were of female – female couples: 19 where double eggs ahd been seen, and an additional 20 with single eggs.
This example is not about “lesbian” birds, or about avian “homosexual” intercourse. However, it does illustrate how easily even professional observers have in the past mistakenly applied heterosexist assumptions to their observations, which have led to completely false assumptions. Testing these assumptions against evidence leads to  very different conclusions.
The albatross female couples also illustrate how in the natural world, procreation and pair–bonding can be quite distinct. Albatross pairs, including female couples are monogamous, mutually devoted couples and careful parents: but in some cases, the physical act of copulation is only about fertilizing an egg and nothing more.
Although these albatrosses do not show signs of sexual activity by the female couples, many other species do. Bagemihl listed over three hundred such species in 1999, Joan Roughgarden and, Vasey and Sommer, have since listed many more, across all branches of the animal kingdom.  The evidence is clear: in the animal kingdom, same sex relationships and homoerotic sexual activity are no less “natural” than left-handedness.
This does not in itself make homosexuality morally “right”, but it does show that “natural law” cannot be used to argue that they are wrong. On sexual ethics, the “law of nature” is simply neutral.
Sources:
Can Animals be Gay?” (New York Times)
Books:

Bagemihl, Bruce: Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (Stonewall Inn Editions) Roughgarden, Joan: Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People Sommer, Volker and Vasey, Paul: Homosexual Behaviour in Animals: An Evolutionary Perspective  Also See Additional QTC PostsThe Wildlife Rainbow Queer Bonobos: Sex As Conflict Resolution Lesbian Lizards Bisexual Snails Exclusive Heterosexuality Unnatural?

Snowbound: Day 5 Update

There is still no sign of a thaw, although we were spared the “heavy” fall that was forecast for last night.  This means that it is still possible reasonably easily to get about on foot (with care), and some cars at least are venturing out.  On the other hand, it’s still not plain sailing  driving into Haslemere.  Not all supplies are getting through to the local shops, and the advertising leaflets that I should have received on Friday to go with the local newspapers that I am supposedly delivering to individual distributors by Tuesday, have still not appeared – nor is there any sign when they will do so.   The “Haslemere Messenger“, I fear, could be delivered late this week.  But then, we’ve not had deliveries by Royal Mail since last Tuesday, either.

The skies today are grey and overcast, with every possibility of more snow yet to come.  Temperatures are not forecast to go above freezing for several more days, so we will not see the thaw even begin until mid-week.  Meanwhile, there is plenty for me to gawk at.  Until this week, I had never seen a proper icicle.  Now they are everywhere, including right outside our back door – and just look at how they have grown, from this:

Back door icicles, Friday

to this (the longest of these are now over 3 foot in length, and still growing)

Back Door Icicles, Saturday

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