November 27, 2007
Aspartame: Sweet Little Lies, Sept 07 issue
How a popular artificial sweetener in all diet drinks,
“sugarless” gum, low-fat icecream and a host of “sugar-free” diet, fitness and drug products, is probably creating health problems for a good number of New Zealanders and Australians, argues campaigner CHRIS WHEELER
In 1987, a leading scientist issued a grim warning about the key ingredient in a wide range of food products: “I am a Pediatrician, a Professor of Pediatrics at Emory, and have spent 25 years in the biomedical science, trying to prevent mental retardation and birth defects caused by excess phenylalanine…I have considerable concern for the increased dissemination and consumption of the sweetener, aspartame, (1-methyl N-L-a-aspartyl-L- phenylalanine) in our world food supply.
“This artificial dipeptide is hydrolyzed by the intestinal tract to produce L-phenylalanine which in excess is a known neurotoxin. Normal humans do not metabolize phenylalanine as efficiently as do lower species such as rodents and thus most of the previous studies in Aspartame effects on rats are irrelevant to the question, ‘Does phenylalanine excess occur with Aspartame ingestion?’”
Professor Louis J. Elsas, II, M.D., Professor of Pediatrics, was testifying before the US Senate Committee of Labor and Human Resources on the subject, “Nutrasweet: Health and safety concerns”, November 3, 1987.
That was 20 years ago, and aspartame, or Additive 951, is still in use. As Elsas stressed at the time, the rat studies which were used to “prove” aspartame’s safety are inappropriate because human beings are not rats, a point which New Zealand and Australian food safety regulators, toxicologists, doctors and politicians still refuse to recognise. We, in possession of a bit more elementary commonsense, may choose to differ on the point of whether we are all being treated as the real laboratory rats by the time the sad – but also absurd – tale of aspartame is finally spelled out in these pages.
Rats are, of course, the basis of food safety science. We can’t afford to kill human beings in the course of supporting food industry profiteering. We use the poor rats – and dogs, cats, rabbits and monkeys – as part of our experiments that have seen some 80,000 toxic chemicals introduced for our “convenience” over the past 60 years by industry with often the barest attention paid to long-term health outcomes for actual human beings. Rats are – in a sense – our surrogate consumer advocates: they die on the Cross of science for our sins and bad science makes sinners of us all.
In the meantime it has often become difficult to find anyone in our immediate circle of friends who is really well, while a familiar pattern has developed of alarming new diseases and disorders developing at earlier and earlier ages alongside endemic infertility, an increased rate of birth defects and children and even babies falling sick with cancer – something previously unknown to our forefathers. But so familiar are we with the sea of synthetic chemicals washing around us we never attribute blame to them, in fact we even add them to our food to enhance flavour, “mouth feel”, smell, colour and, of course, sweetness – the thing we use aspartame for instead of ordinary old sugar or honey.
But what about our children?
Consider for a moment how many cities around New Zealand and Australia are opening new hospitals and setting up increased facilities especially for treating children who in ever-increasing numbers are going down with what used to be relatively rare adult diseases like diabetes, leukaemia, brain tumours and weird new diseases like autism and hyper-activity that turn tiny kids into monsters. Generations who had children before the 1950s would wonder why we so nonchalantly accept the huge toll of chronic disease in children that now exists, with so little comment and such apparent acceptance of the inevitable.
Meanwhile we carry on feeding ourselves and our children with the thousands of new convenience foods laden with a witch’s cauldron of chemical preservatives and additives, convinced by TV advertising and our faith in a vague common social mythology that neither our politicians, our health regulatory bureaucrats nor our complaisant food and beverage industries would deliberately poison us.
Worst of all, many of us are now feeding a new generation of human beings – our babies, our children and our pregnant selves – with a popular synthetic sweetener poison, aspartame/Additive 951 (also known as Nutrasweet, Equal, Spoonful, Benevia, Equal Measure, Canderel, etc), which has been reported in a long series of scientific, peer-reviewed studies as carrying the ability to maim, distort and disable intellectual and physical development from the foetal stage to adolescence.
In fact, over the 26 years that have passed since aspartame’s introduction into the world food chain we are now moving into generations of human beings whose parents and parents’ parents have been continuously exposed from breakfast to dinner-time to aspartame, monosodium glutamate and a baneful assemblage of human nervous system toxins that American neurosurgeon Dr Russell Blaylock has termed “excitotoxins”, chemical poisons that can over-excite the neural pathways to the point of nerve death. (1)
What is more, while we have finally accepted in our law courts and at a Government level that substances like Agent Orange, lead, and blue asbestos can medically disable particularly where long-term exposures are involved, we seem quite unable to extend that logic to the artificial dietary chemicals that we consume every day, year after year.
Little wonder then, that ill health and classrooms full of medicated children are part of normal, daily life and lunatic murders, road-rage, air-rage, depression and a steady media reportage of odd and irrational behaviour in people of all ages is just put down to “modern living.”
Unknown to most of us, and apparently ignored by the authorities we trust, aspartame use has been associated in the scientific literature with a huge list of medical and psychological disorders including irrational rage, headaches, numbness, fatigue, blurred vision and blindness, heart palpitations, brain lesions and tumours, memory loss, dizziness, muscle spasms, choking spasms, miscarriages, sexual dysfunction, irritability, anxiety attacks, vertigo, epileptic seizures, rashes, tachycardia, tinnitus, joint pain, nausea, mood alterations and depression, hearing loss, slurred speech, loss of taste, and insomnia, as well as eroding intelligence and short-term memory. It also helps trigger multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, chronic fatigue syndrome, Epstein Barr, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, mental retardation, lymphoma, and birth defects.
Since current Labour Party policy is recommending the use of diet products containing aspartame in our schools in order to counteract the growing obesity problem in our increasingly sedentary child population, we should pay attention to this recent warning from Professor Ralph G. Walton, M.D., Professor of Clinical Psychiatry, at the USA’s Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine:
To whom it may concern: Although undoubtedly well intentioned, any attempt to replace sugared beverages with aspartame containing diet products will, in my opinion, have a devastating impact on the health of our children and adolescents. The alarming increase in obesity, type II diabetes, and a wide variety of behavioural difficulties in our children is obviously attributable to multiple factors, but I am convinced that one powerful force in accentuating these problems is the ever increasing use of aspartame. Aspartame is a multipotential toxin and carcinogen. The dipeptide component of the molecule can alter brain chemistry, significantly changing the ratio of catecholamines to indolamines, with resultant lowering of seizure threshold, production of carbohydrate craving and in vulnerable individuals leading to panic, depressive and cognitive symptoms. The methyl ester component of aspartame is metabolized to methanol, which in turn is broken down into formic acid and formaldehyde. Methanol can lead to serious eye problems, formic acid and formaldehyde are potent carcinogens. The diet food industry and the F.D.A. (plus, also, our own NZFSA and FSANZ – ED) are fond of saying that aspartame is “the most studied product in history” with an outstanding safety record. In fact however virtually all of the studies in the medical literature attesting to its safety were funded by the industry, whereas independently funded studies, now numbering close to 100, identify one or more problems. It would be especially tragic if an attempt to improve the health of our children led to even greater exposure to this highly toxic product. Thank you for your attention to this urgent public health issue. Ralph G. Walton, M.D. Medical Director, Safe Harbor Behavioral Health Professor of Clinical Psychiatry, Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine Adjunct Professor Of Psychiatry Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine NOTE: Dr. Walton’s study on aspartame: “Adverse Reactions to Aspartame: Double-Blind Challenge in Patients from a Vulnerable Population,” is viewable on the website http://www.mindfully.org/Health/Aspartame-Adverse-Reactions-1993.htm and in the folder http://www.dorway.com/doctors.html#walton
Junk food addicts in Rotorua put a baby through a spin drier. Apart from “P” ("pure" methamphetamine), was Diet Coke involved? Aspartame reacts with methamphetamine to produce totally lunatic behaviour. The 2002 Lundy murders down in Palmerston North were committed by a husband and father, Mark Lundy, who slugged back over a litre of aspartame-containing beverages every day before finally murdering his wife and daughter. How many of the truckies and car drivers who regularly lose control of their vehicles on straight New Zealand roads or drive onto level crossings in front of approaching trains were consuming one or more of the aspartame products readily available on petrol stop counters? Airline pilots, using aspartame products to keep down their weight in a sedentary job, report suddenly experiencing dizziness and loss of spatial perception at critical points in landing planes filled with hundreds of the trusting public. Henri Paul, Princess Diana’s driver in that fatal Alma Tunnel car smash in Paris, was a heavy Diet Coke consumer and the medical drugs he was taking not only interact negatively with aspartame, but were prescribed in the first place to deal with symptoms probably caused by aspartame use. Tony Blair, George Bush and Bill Clinton all steadily consume Diet Coke according to the evidence of TV news clips. One could say Monica Lewinsky and the whole Iraqi bloodbath may have been influenced by the Clinton/Bush/Blair addiction to aspartame, a chemical closely connected to irrational behaviour.
Aspartame products like Diet Coke, Wrigleys gum, Lemsip, and Roche’s fizzy Vitamin B tabs are so constantly advertised on TV and present in our brainwashed lives that we take them for granted and never for a moment examine the hidden implications behind an additive our experts assure us is completely without blame.
And let’s not forget little Abby Cormack down in Wellington at this point. Her addiction to sugar-less Wrigley’s chewing gum with its direful health consequences occupied our media’s fleeting attention span for a few seconds in recent times. Of course the arrival of American anti-aspartame activist Betty Martini in support of Abby’s growing campaign wasn’t something our newspapers, particularly the NZ Herald, wanted to know about. The media, of course, can’t afford to rile Coca Cola or Wrigleys’ New Zealand representatives and their law hacks – their aspartame products bring in a huge advertising dollar.
In fact the one distinguishing feature of the short-lived anti-aspartame campaign last August/July (2007) was just how the New Zealand media steered clear of giving ANY space to the issue of what Kiwis could be doing to their health by making famous brand diet products containing a junk poison actually extracted from virtual raw sewage (genetically engineered E. coli bacteria are used to produce aspartame) part of their daily life.
The NZ Woman’s Weekly, which might be considered supportive of Kiwi women, even thought a story about aspartame hazards directed at women, who are the largest group consuming aspartame products, was somehow inappropriate given that their pages are usually devoted to much more serious issues like Paris Hilton’s stint in jail.
One shouldn’t expect the New Zealand Food Safety Authority (NZFSA) to take much interest in the issue. They refused to let Betty Martini speak (July 19) to their oddly-named Consumer Forum, which is stacked with people happy to act as a rubber stamp for Authority policy – policy which could be summed up under the rubric “Anything good for industry is good enough for the NZFSA.” Acting CEO Sandra Daly has herself confessed to using aspartame-containing products in firm belief in their virtue and the NZFSA vigorously defend the sweetener, convinced by all the shonky science from food industry junk “experts” and an American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) loaded down with ex-chemistry industry flakes that aspartame is the best thing since sliced bread. Regulatory authorities worldwide – even at the level of United Nations and European Union involvement – are hardly any better and seem to have a revolving door relationship with the chemical and food industries. Who else, after all, is going to give chemists and toxicologists the sort of salaries their university educations lead them to expect?
“Food is just chemicals” and “People are just chemicals” is the popular mythology inherent in a science and medical education these days, so why doubt aspartame, which, when all is said and done, never kills you straight away and is “just another chemical?”
Since I first became aware of problems being caused by aspartame back in 1990, I’ve been taken aback by the relaxed attitude of the science and medical community towards the whole chemical food additive and pesticide chemical residue issue as it relates to the human food chain. More alarming still is the manner in which ordinary people can put up with huge physical and mental damage from addiction to aspartame products like diet soft drinks without ever questioning the most obvious item(s) in their diet that could be causing the problem.
When I finally got to cross-examine Abby Cormack I was astounded to discover that sugar-free chewing gums were only the tip of the iceberg.
She’d been consuming aspartame products for a total of nine years and the gum was just the last straw to break the camel’s back and cause her total collapse into massive depression, muscular dysfunction, skin problems and other chronic symptoms that half a dozen medical specialists and numerous hospital visits could provide no answer to. Simply stopping her daily use of sugar-free gum produced an immediate initial cure. Now that she has been more than forty days free of ALL aspartame products practically all her medical symptoms have disappeared and Abby has become a leading New Zealand activist in a call from the Soil & Health Association, the Safe Food Campaign and the ADHD Association for a total ban on aspartame.
The whole aspartame issue becomes, in fact, a clear indication of the huge blind-spot we all collectively have towards the things we do every day and somehow it exposes a defect in our nature that even rats and other lower order species don’t appear to suffer from.
For unlike us, laboratory rats avoid aspartame wherever possible.
In fact when US corporate additive producer G. D. Searle (later Monsanto/Nutrasweet) and Food & Drug Administration (FDA) food additive regulators tried to force-feed the stuff to rats as part of the Mickey Mouse pseudo-science used to validate such additions to our diet worldwide, the rats – being much cleverer than us – carefully isolated the chemical grains of aspartame from the food it was mixed with and left the puzzled “scientists” and “experts” with neat little piles of the poison in the corner of their cages. Rats apparently don’t need experts to tell them what is safe. They rely on commonsense.
We are the laboratory rats!
Without a question of doubt, we are the real rats in the laboratory for a large number of food additive poisons in the food chain, but we are unlikely to be exposed to anything much more virulent and disabling than the scientifically established neurotoxin aspartame, (2) officially known as Additive E951 or 951 and technically defined as L-Aspartyl-l-phenylalanine methyl ester, 98%, aspartame CAS #22839-47-0, C14H18N2O5, which is now present as a sweetener in literally thousands of supermarket food and beverage products, as well as medicines and popular supplements. Patrol the shelves of your local supermarket, health shop and pharmacy and see for yourself. Look at the ingredient lists of your favourite foods and beverages and establish your own personal damage control.
Don’t expect much sympathy for your sudden interest in what goes into your food, least of all from our doctors, health authorities and politicians.
The only doctor in the whole of Oceania to stick her head over the parapets and condemn aspartame in public is Australian Sandra Cabot, in her Liver Cleansing Diet book series. And while Sue Dengate’s Australian food allergy activist group, the Food Intolerance Network (Website: www.fedupwithfoodadditives.info) covers a huge range of food additives and the problems they cause, aspartame only gets a mention among the huge list of other problem-causing chemical additives Sue has to deal with. Jenny Scott of the Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Association in Auckland and our long-standing health and organics campaign association, Soil & Health (publishers of “Organic NZ) are similarly stretched. Voluntary organisations simply lack the essential resources to carry out a job we actually employ the NZ Food Safety Authority and Food Standards
Australia New Zealand to carry out using our tax dollars.
In a society with citizens more concerned and knowledgeable about food safety, NZFSA and FSANZ wouldn’t last longer than the time it took to close down both offices and turn their collective staffs out onto the street. But we all currently seem to accept a vague social mythology that says both organizations are doing their job. Truth is, they are not. They rely solely on suspect data from the food industry and from official regulatory bodies like the FDA and European Union and United Nations food safety qangos, who defer to experts reliant on industry for employment and funding.
The simple fact is, paid employment defending the public’s interest in genuine, ethical food safety does not exist outside the odd Green-type political party as in Europe or New Zealand, where isolated politicians like our own Sue Kedgley are prepared to devote a large slice of their life to coming up to speed with the essential scientific and political background knowledge essential to understanding the nature of a chemical additive like aspartame.
The media, watchful for their industry advertisers, completely ignore the toxin and treat yours truly and the handful of food safety consumer activists like Jenny Scott, Meriel Watts, Alison White, Patricia Holborow and Sue Kedgley (the whole food safety issue is women-led), as obsessives with too much free time on our hands. It’s only the small band of phenylketonurics among us who pay attention to the only toxicity warning appearing on aspartame products – “PHENYLKETONURICS: Contains phenylalanine” or simply the term “phenylalanine”, which means nothing to the rest of us.
Phenylketonurics suffer from an inherited genetic disease known as phenylketonuria (PKU), a severe allergy to phenylalanine. They must be particularly careful about what they eat and normally follow a carefully tailored diet which excludes high protein foods. Their motivation comes from the fact that they can suffer permanent brain damage if exposed to the raw synthetic phenylalanine which comes as part of the complex aspartame molecule. For the rest of us it’s “just another additive” and “the Government wouldn’t allow that sort of thing if it was bad for us.”
Well, Governments regularly do some pretty stupid things, and remaining willfully ignorant about something you may be consuming every day which has a long history of fraud, shonky science, corrupt politics and health hazard is certainly not bliss – aspartame can kill and “death” is one of the outcomes underlined in court documents filed as part of major class action litigation against the aspartame-using food industry currently in progress in the USA. (3) About this course of events, however, the Australasian media has so far been completely silent. It’s a can of worms no one wants to open in this country where aspartame is in thousands of products and approved by Government edict.
The silence is also very much a phenomenon of our south Pacific isolation. Particularly since release of recent Italian data (4) on aspartame’s firm connection with cancer there has been growing involvement of Northern Hemisphere media in discussing
the issue. In fact ever since Professor Olney pointed to an increase in brain cancers in November 1996, drawing attention to a rising curve in brain tumours in the USA starting within a year of the introduction of aspartame/additive 951 in 1981, there has been growing concern in the science community over the continued presence of aspartame in popular diet beverages like Diet Coke and in Wrigley’s chewing gum and a host of Weightwatchers, fitness, health and diet products (read food and beverage labels for 951, “artificial sweetener” and/or “Phenylalanine” warnings).
This concern reached critical mass recently with the publication in peer-reviewed medical journals of two intensive studies by the Italian Ramazzini Foundation, in 2005 and 2007 (4), that demonstrated a clear connection between aspartame consumption and a variety of cancers including brain tumours – something that the very first research on aspartame in the 1970s indicated before aspartame approval became a political issue pushed through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) by the Ronald Reagan White House administration in payment for election campaign funding and support from the chemical industry (G.D.Searle and Monsanto in particular).
Of course in the normal, commonsense world where we, the ordinary public live, we should be able to say “Well, if there’s a problem over aspartame’s level of toxicity and other issues of potential hazard, we don’t want it in the food chain!” This is the sensible response. What nearly everyone in New Zealand – and certainly in NZFSA’s ironically-named Consumer Forum – doesn’t know, however, is how heavily politicised the whole issue of the original approval process for aspartame was under FDA governance.
Aspartame, as we have seen, is fully approved as part of our food chain by the combined regulatory agency, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) and our own NZFSA. FSANZ was formerly known under the rubric of ANZFA (Australia New Zealand Food Authority), but changed its name, according to popular Internet myth, because when you do a spell-check the suggested correction for ANZFA is always “unsafe”!
“Unsafe” is certainly the least of the criticisms one might make about Additive 951/aspartame. The synthetic sweetener rapidly breaks down in the human body into three chemicals hazardous to human health: – (1.) Aspartic acid, (around 40%); (2.) Phenylalanine, (around 50%); and (3.) Methanol (10%).
This breakdown process takes place spontaneously at a temperature of 30 degrees Celsius and happens immediately a diet product enters the human body (we operate normally at a temperature of 37 degrees).
Hence a can of Diet Coke exposed in those bins outside a service station on a hot day – a common sight anywhere in New Zealand and Australia – will already be laced with a cocktail of dangerous toxins as will any diabetic bakery and Weight Watchers product containing aspartame which has been heated in its processing. Any analytic laboratory can prove this point for you for a cost of less than $100.
The science behind methanol or “wood alcohol” toxicity is beyond debate. It’s something you learn about early in a chemistry training because it’s in every laboratory and is similar in some of its effects to ethanol, the ordinary drinking alcohol in all booze of whatever description. Easy access to methanol is a standing temptation at medical school and chemistry class parties, but it can blind you. Too much ethanol will normally only cause vomiting and loss of consciousness. Methanol is another story – it’s quickly absorbed through the stomach and small intestine mucosa and converted into formaldehyde, a severe poison and carcinogen. Then, via a process called aldehyde hydrogenase, it is converted to formic acid.
These two metabolites of methanol are toxic and cumulative. They can make you go blind and they can quickly kill you – which they do, often.
Anyone who consumes a litre or more of Diet Coke or some other aspartame-containing beverage per day is probably already near the limit for chronic methanol poisoning (6) and will be suffering muscle pain, headaches, migraines, sleep problems, dizziness and/or seizures, amongst other health problems. This is because aspartame breaks down extremely rapidly in a liquid form.
The well-known Hollywood actor, Michael J. Fox, sponsored by Diet Pepsi, has been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.
He received free supplies of the sponsoring diet product. Parkinson’s is a well-diagnosed outcome from excess aspartame consumption, as is Alzheimer’s. Fox denies a connection to his Pepsi consumption, but aspartame and Parkinson’s – and Pepsi sales – flourish on such denials.
At the present time, in North America, there have been a rash of court cases and coroners’ court hearings over sudden deaths from acute methanol poisoning, which we, with our knowledge here, can connect to the chronic aspartame product consumption of the victims. Similar cases are probably occurring all over New Zealand and Australia, but may easily be attributed to other causes such as a heart attack unless a careful autopsy is carried out and a history of aspartame use discovered.
As this story was going to press the ad hoc group of activists publicizing Betty Martini’s anti-aspartame speaking tour of New Zealand main centres were collating records on the dozens of New Zealanders who have been contacting us over the severe medical problems they have been suffering due to addictive consumption levels of aspartame products like diet drinks and sugar-free gum. In every case they were completely let down by our conservative medical profession, who appear to be almost completely oblivious to the medical conditions caused by aspartame and listed earlier.
It’s the same story – and even worse – in the home of aspartame.
Chuck Fleming’s wife, Diane, is currently serving a 50 year sentence down in Virginia, USA, for supposedly killing him with a methanol overdose.
Chuck was a fitness fanatic, body builder and basketball player who drank litres of aspartame-containing diet drinks every day as part of his fitness routine and suddenly dropped dead – hardly surprising under the circumstances. The autopsy showed chronic methanol poisoning, enlarged heart, fatty liver, pulmonary oedema, etc – all symptoms of aspartame abuse. Police indicted Diane for poisoning her husband even though she helped them try and find out why he died and passed a lie detector test with flying colours.
Says methanol expert Dr Woodrow Monte (presently in retirement down in Tim Shadbolt’s Invercargill) “When diet sodas and soft drinks, sweetened with aspartame, are used to replace fluid loss during exercise and physical exertion in hot climates, the intake of methanol can exceed 250 mg/day or 32 times the US Environmental Protection Agency’s recommended limit of consumption for this cumulative poison.” (6)
Dr. James Bowen, an authority on aspartame toxicity, explains that the heart muscle is very sensitive to methanol alcohol poisoning and any stress on the muscle from such a source often results in sudden death. He says: “The aspartame molecule is an alcohol poison about 20,000 times as toxic a poison as ethanol (regular old sipping, or beverage alcohol) on a per weight basis.” (7)
NZFSA and FSANZ, secure in their ivory towers down in Wellington, simply say “this can’t happen.”
Methanol’s hazard is exacerbated by the presence of the two amino-acids Aspartic acid (aspartate) and phenylalanine, in the break-down of aspartame in the human body. These two synthetic toxins (in their aspartame form) have a multiplying or synergistic role in methanol chemistry inside our bodies, a role which is still being studied and discussed in the scientific literature.
But again, their independent role as toxins is not subject of debate unless you are an “expert” under contract to the aspartame-using food industry or, perhaps, a food safety regulator working for FSANZ or the FDA.
Phenylalanine in its synthetic form causes the most pernicious problems among aspartame addicts (Yes! It’s highly addictive!).
The amino-acid lowers the epilepsy seizure threshold in the human brain and depletes serotonin, triggering manic depression, suicidal tendencies, panic attacks, anxiety, insomnia, mood swings, paranoia, hallucinations and irrational rage. Airline pilots have a standard direction within their own inner circles and publications advising them to stay well clear of all diet products containing aspartame, following some alarming aspartame-induced lapses of control and judgement at the controls of passenger jet aircraft which have resulted in pilot-deregistration. (8)
Regarding the serious issue of who is in control of your airline flight to Sydney, the pilot or a diet drink, Dr Russell Blaylock warns “Some of the more common complaints (from pilots using aspartame products) include, disorientation, difficulty thinking and concentrating, visual blurring or even monocular blindness, seizures and heart failure. It is well known that the ingredients in aspartame, as well as its breakdown products, have deleterious effects on the nervous system and retina. For example, phenylalanine is a precursor of the catecholamine neurotransmitters in the brain and elevated levels in the brain have been associated with seizures.
It should also be pointed out that these catecholamines are metabolized to form other excitotoxins and peroxide products that can lead to elevated free radical formation and lipid peroxidation within the neurons. Likewise, aspartic acid (an excitotoxin) acts as an excitatory neurotransmitter and can lower the seizure threshold making a seizure more likely. The additive effect of aspartic acid and phenylalanine would significantly increase the likelihood of a seizure, especially under hypoglycemic conditions. This would occur if a diet drink is substituted for a meal, or if one is on a stringent diet.” (9)
The confusion our regulators suffer over aspartame’s potential hazard lies in a very common area of ignorance suffered particularly by toxicologists, dieticians and, in fact, anyone with an elementary background in university-level chemistry – the sort of people who, in other words, end up as “experts” in our national and state regulatory system. Both aspartic acid/aspartate and phenylalanine are common amino-acids found in nature in foods as well as in the human body. They are protein building blocks and wherever they occur in nature and in our diet they are always combined and accompanied by a huge array of associated bio-chemicals and substances with which our digestive system and physiology is entirely familiar.
They NEVER appear as independent ISOLATED amino-acids as they do in their aspartame break-down form, and in a healthy human body their complex action in the functioning of our brains and nervous systems is carefully monitored by a huge cellular system of biological checks and balances.
Like anything that may be OK in moderation, this system is quite unable to deal with the flood of free aspartic acid, phenylalanine and methanol resulting from direct aspartame consumption.
The human body, being the glorious mechanism that it is, will try to compensate, but under the steady assault from a poison like diet soft drinks, will eventually weaken and sicken with any combination of over a thousand symptoms.
Dr H.J. Roberts, author of a leading text on the medical damage caused by aspartame, Aspartame Disease: An Ignored Epidemic, has become an acknowledged world expert on aspartame poisoning, its diagnosis and treatment at his Florida clinic. He now lists over 1,400 medical symptoms and disorders triggered by aspartame, collated from the thousands of patients who pass through his clinic’s doors. His book itself is based on the detailed case histories of 1,200 patients whose symptoms of disease disappeared when aspartame was removed from their diet. He estimates:
“Hundreds of thousands of consumers, more likely millions, currently suffer major reactions to products containing aspartame. Today, every physician probably encounters aspartame disease in everyday practice, especially among patients with illnesses that are undiagnosed or difficult to treat.” (10)
Consumption – and particularly HEAVY consumption – of aspartame-containing food and beverage products, is the equivalent in logic of tipping a can of petrol over your car’s efficiently working engine and setting the whole engine compartment on fire! Of course, petrol drives a car’s engine, but it must be in the right place under the correct controls. In flames, the car may continue to run for a little while longer, but the fire will eventually consume it and put it off the road for good.
What our bodies are not familiar with and what our bodies cannot cope with and remain healthy are the three artificially-created chemicals that result from the immediate break-down of aspartame as it passes the 30 degrees C threshold – aspartic acid, phenylalanine and methanol. But none of this fazes our health regulators.
FSANZ and NZFSA say methanol appears in many items of normal diet, like fruit, without causing damage. But natural items of diet with a methanol content invariably contain ethanol, which is a natural buffer against methanol poisoning. (6) Aspartame products contain no such buffer. Ethanol is not present in aspartame. Our regulators appear ignorant of this elementary fact.
FSANZ and NZFSA deny that aspartame toxins can pass over the blood/brain barrier – a crucial point in understanding how aspartame toxins circulating in the blood can cross into brain cells and interfere in brain chemistry. Their assertion is based on seriously out-of-date aspartame “science” held in their standard database and used to answer public queries. The problem is that this “science” is based on shonky data proven some years ago to be the work of paid science hacks working for the aspartame industry. (11) However, the very fact that all aspartame products must – in theory – carry the “PHENYLKETONURICS: Contains phenylalanine” warning gives the lie to this claim from our regulators.
The synthetic phenylalanine overdose contained in aspartame easily crosses the blood/brain barrier just as the ordinary ethanol alcohol in our booze does and just as the toxins in all the other recreational drugs we consume, like “P”, Ecstasy, heroin, cocaine, etc, do. Our drugs of choice, in fact, would lose their popularity straight away if this mystical “blood/brain barrier” wasn’t so easily breached in the first place.
Under detailed cross-examination NZFSA and FSANZ representatives invariably fudge these issues and display denial symptoms and ignorance of the most basic facts about this toxin.
And it’s not just our own poorly-educated regulators and the American FDA who approve the product.
Tens of thousands of tonnes of aspartame are poured into the world food chain with the full approval of the World Health Organisation, European Union, and in fact every regulatory agency from here to China – the country which is presently competing with the USA to become the top supplier of aspartame on the planet. It seems we all can’t get enough of aspartame.
Aspartame, of course, is highly addictive, just like our other legal drugs, nicotine and ethanol/alcohol. What better way of ensuring huge annual profits to the food and additive chemical industries than by inserting a guaranteed, legally permitted and “scientifically approved” additive like aspartame into our supermarket food chain?
But it doesn’t get the rat vote! And with that curious intelligence displayed by “lower” species everywhere, cockroaches won’t eat it, cats and dogs won’t eat it, ants won’t eat it and flies won’t eat it – but politicians, food regulators and medical professionals worldwide consider it safe enough for us, and dutifully out here in God’s Own Country many of us are consuming it in such large quantities that the products are among top-selling supermarket items and the food industry is laughing all the way to the bank.
“Hundreds of thousands of consumers, more likely millions, currently suffer major reactions to products containing aspartame. Today, every physician probably encounters aspartame disease in everyday practice, especially among patients with illnesses that are undiagnosed or difficult to treat”.
Many diet products contain aspartame, though it's health effects have been debated throughout the years. Get some health information on artificial sweeteners to see how they may cause serious health problems like diabetes and obesity.
Of course the main reason aspartame is approved in New Zealand is because aspartame is approved in the United States. Aspartame is a heavily politicised issue because it is a major American corporate profit base worth billions of dollars and, as every New Zealand adult should know by now, we usually bend over backwards to please Uncle Sam.
We may pretend to be anti-nuclear, but even George Bush knows that’s a snow job kept in circulation to fox the natives. The USA maintains a major US National Security Agency spy base down at Black Birch Stream near Blenheim and US Central Intelligence Agency planes involved in “renditioning” suspected “terrorists” to torture chambers in North Africa and Afghanistan have been spotted flying in and out of the US Deep Freeze programme’s Harewood, Christchurch air base.
Sucking up to the USA is good politics. Monsanto and the corporate chemical industry have helped put every American president in power since the 2nd World War and good relations with the USA means keeping American corporates happy and ensuring their products pass through our regulatory process virtually automatically providing they have the FDA stamp of approval. In that respect NZFSA’s present acting CEO, Sandra Daly is kept completely in the dark. FSANZ is in the same position.
The immediate former US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, is a central player in the aspartame approval drama, funnily enough, and the full story of what happened is like an episode out of The Sopranos, but I’ll try to keep it brief.
The scene opens on January 10, l977. FDA Chief legal Counsel Richard Merrill has been considering the huge list of violations of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, committed by G. D. Searle under the administration of former Ford White House Chief of Staff, Donald Rumsfeld.
Rumsfeld has been trying to get his pet project, the super-sweet chemical aspartame, through the FDA’s approval process for a new food product.
Approval of the product is worth billions of dollars to Searle and a huge bonus for Rumsfeld. The problem is, the FDA’s scientific team consider the sweetener is a dangerous poison with the potential to kill. Not only this, but they have amassed a pile of evidence that Searle, with Rumsfeld’s obvious approval, have gone through vital laboratory test reports on aspartame safety, eliminating evidence that the product maimed, disabled and killed test animals.
All the evidence for Searle malpractice has been assembled by the FDA’s Jerome Bressler into an important document – now known as the Bressler Report – that anyone can read (it’s on the official Federal record and available on www.dorway.com). As a consequence, a Richard Merrill writes a 33-page letter, recommending to U.S. Attorney Sam Skinner that a grand jury investigate Searle for “apparent violations of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, 21 U.S.C.331(e), Act 18 USC 1001, for “their willful and knowing failure to make reports to the Food and Drug Administration required by the Act 21, U.S.C. 355 (i) and for concealing material facts and making false statements in reports of animal studies conducted to establish the safety of (aspartame).” The legal machinery creaks into action, but the whole process is hampered by the fact that the corporate chemical industry pretty effectively controls Washington.
In the meantime it’s suddenly January 21, 1981, the day after Ronald Reagan, a former B-grade Hollywood actor takes office as U.S. President.
He’s sailed into the White House on a huge raft of election funding from corporate America and G. D. Searle in particular and the word is out that he will not forget his friends. Donald Rumsfeld is still G.D. Searle’s president and a firm Reagan favourite. Rumsfeld has been greasing Republican palms all round Washington for the past few years and telling the Searle sales force “he would call in all his markers and that no matter what, he would see to it that aspartame would be approved that year.” (5)
That same day G.D. Searle reapplied to the FDA for the approval of aspartame despite the fact that up-to-date this approval has been denied pending the prosecution of the company. No problem.
Reagan and Rumsfeld already have a staunch Republican hack ready for the job as new FDA Commissioner – Arthur Hayes, who in short order overrules the FDA’s own board of inquiry who have refused to approve aspartame and gives the product the FDA’s stamp of approval.
It’s well-known in Washington circles, however, that aspartame is not just any old political FDA approval, but is, in fact, a general signal to corporate America that Reagan means business and Big Business at that. The signal in particular, tells Big Business that from now on all the brakes are off, tricky regulations about silly things like public health and safety are gone for good and “Let’s get together and make money, boys!”
Arthur Hayes is quickly bored by his job at the FDA, at any rate, and before too long goes off to work for notorious PR flack firm Burson-Marsteller, who just coincidentally, you understand, happen to be retained by G.D. Searle! At about the same time, Federal attorney Sam Skinner – remember, he’s the one who’s been assigned to prosecute Searle for fraudulent tests in their original aspartame application? – gets “an offer he can’t refuse” from – Guess who! – Searle’s lawyers! – and goes off to work for them for a reputed $US1,000 per day, effectively sabotaging the whole Federal case and, of course, effectively ending any litigation threat against Searle for its deliberately falsified aspartame data.
The whole debauched exercise is the start of a long-standing criticism of US federal authorities – and the FDA in particular – that they have a “revolving door” relationship with G.D. Searle, Monsanto and the chemical industry in general. And, of course, as far as NZFSA and FSANZ is concerned this whole shoddy exercise just never happened. But it did, and it’s recorded in US Senate records. (5)
1. Russell L. Blaylock, M.D., “Excitotoxins; The Taste That Kills”,
Health Press, Santa Fe, N.M. 87504, 1994.
2. John W. Olney and others, “Increasing Brain Tumor Rates: Is There a Link to Aspartame?” Journal Of Neuropathology And Experimental Neurology Vol. 55, No. 11 (November 1996), pgs.
1115-1123. James Bowen, M.D. “Aspartame Murders Infants in violation of Title 18, Chapter 50A, Sec 1091-3 of the Domestic Genocide Code” see
3. The suits were filed in Shasta, Sonoma and Butte County, California early in 2004. They allege that the food companies committed fraud and breach of warranty by marketing products to the public such as diet Coke, diet Pepsi, sugar free gum, Flintstone’s vitamins, yoghurt and children’s aspirin with the full knowledge that aspartame, the sweetener in them, is neurotoxic. Defendants in the lawsuits include Coca-cola, PepsiCo, Bayer Corp., the Dannon Company, William Wrigley Jr. Company, Walmart, ConAgra Foods, Wyeth, Inc., The NutraSweet Company, and Altria Corp. (parent company of Kraft Foods and Philip Morris).
4. Morando Soffritti, Fiorella Belpoggi, Davide Degli Esposti, Luca Lambertini, Eva Tibaldi, and Anna Rigano, Cesare Maltoni Cancer Research Center, European Ramazzini Foundation of Oncology and Environmental Sciences, Bologna, Italy, “First Experimental Demonstration of the Multipotential Carcinogenic Effects of Aspartame Administered in the Feed to Sprague-Dawley Rats,” Environmental Health Perspectives, Volume 114, Number 3, March 2006;
5. Gordon, Gregory, 1987. “NutraSweet: Questions Swirl,” UPI Investigative Report, 10/12/87. Reprinted in US Senate report (1987, page 483-510).
6. Dr. Woodrow C. Monte, “Aspartame: Methanol and the Public Health,”
Journal of Applied Nutrition, Volume 36, 1984, No. 1, page 42-54.
7 See Dr James Bowen on www.dorway.com aspartame website.
8. “Aspartame – Not for the Dieting Pilot?” Aviation Safety Digest, Spring 1989; Hicks, M., “Nutrasweet … too good to be true?” General Aviation News, July 1989; “High on High”, Plane & Pilot, January 1990.
9. ASPARTAME AND PILOTS – Position paper by Russell Blaylock, M.D., neurosurgeon on www.dorway.com in section “Aviation Dr. Blaylock’s position paper on aspartame and pilots.” Also see http://www.russellblaylockmd.com.
10. Pat Thomas, “Aspartame – The Shocking Story of the World’s Bestselling Sweetener,” The Ecologist, Vol. 35, No.7, September 2005, pages 35 – 46.
11. Nisperos-Carriedo, Myrna O., Philip E. Shaw, 1990. “Comparison of Volatile Flavour Components in Fresh and Processed Orange Juices,” Journal of Agriculture & Food Chemistry, Volume 38, page 1048-1052.
CHECK THESE RESOURCES FOR FURTHER INFORMATION
For details of how to get aspartame out of your system check the Websites – www.dorway.com, www.wnho.net, and the Aspartame Toxicity Center, www.holisticmed.com/aspartame. A new video exposing the aspartame industry is “Sweet Misery: A Poisoned World”, available from Email: email@example.com, Tel (USA) – 520 – 624 -9710. Also see the medical text on aspartame: “Aspartame Disease: An Ignored Epidemic”, available online from www.sunsentpress.com or Tel (USA) 1 800 827 7991 H. J. Roberts, M.D. (along with other books and tapes). Dr Roberts’ book contains a chapter on trial lawyers and drug interactions since aspartame is a severely neurotoxic drug and class action litigation has already begun. See also books on aspartame by neurosurgeon Russell Blaylock, MD, “Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills”, and “Health & Nutrition Secrets To Save Your Life.” See websites above for details. The latter book tells aspartame victims what they have to avoid and why, and explains how a victim can re-build their immune system. Dr. Blaylock also has a book on Cancer Strategies.
With aspartame having caused so many tumours in original studies this is a helpful resource.
August 13, 2007
The Boy Racer Problem: March 05
OUT OF CONTROL
Horrific road smashes involving young drivers are increasingly dominating news coverage on both sides of the Tasman. In New Zealand, we’ve introduced ‘boy racer’ laws and extensive restrictions on young drivers, prompting calls for similar tough measures in Australia. But as PAUL HAM explains, the real cause of the problem may actually be the feminization of society.
The nannyish, knee-jerk campaign by the New South Wales government and Sydney’s Daily Telegraph to introduce new laws for P-plate drivers to stop them killing themselves is not only a bleak manifestation of the infantile element in modern Australian political thought, but a sad symptom of a society that fails to grasp the fact that laws will not stop young men from doing blindingly stupid, terrifyingly dangerous, or amazingly heroic things.
The problem is – as the sad case of Emile Dousset (more on this in a moment) and other young drivers’ shows – laws cannot stop the intrinsic anarchy of youth. The experience of history, which we seem to be in the process of rapidly forgetting, teaches that adults need to channel the male instincts, rather than throttle them with laws, if we are to have any hope of generating something worthwhile from our sons.
Strict schooling, parental discipline and national service were once the traditional conduits for controlling the errant young male. None is likely to return. The relentless surge of progressive education, which has destroyed a generation of young people’s minds, marches on. The reintroduction of national service is clearly unlikely – it would be electoral suicide, and too expensive. And there is barely a flicker of life in the old family punishment regime – crushed by the anti-spanking campaign and other lobbies that criminalize or socially stigmatise any form of effective parental child discipline.
So politicians have spotted a vote winning opportunity: we’ll do the job of the parents.
Encouraged by the supine complicity – or, in the weird case of some publications, a cheerleading press – the ruling political class has seen fit to barge into our homes and tell our children how to behave without ever asking us.
“If parents can’t control their kids, we’ll have to do it for them,” runs the thinking; cue the busy bodies in government, who are parking their tanks on the parental patch with bossy impunity.
And yet the politician who demands parental as well as political power is a tiny symptom of a profound delusion in the western body politic: Governments actually think they can play mum or dad in outlawing the oldest, most creative and destructive urge in the human species: a young man’s propensity to behave recklessly.
In this process, parents have become the mere finger-wagging appendages of a society that increasingly relies on the crudest form of dissuasion: the law. The punishment of our kiddies is being appropriated by state legislators who cynically applaud the introduction of laws to control youth because they suppose them to be “voter friendly”.
Hence the proposed shiny new proposals in Oz for curbs on P-Plate drivers, which go hand-in hand with our mania for age limits, anti-spanking laws, anti-drinking laws, anti-smoking laws, bicycle helmet laws, and prohibitions of all kinds of behaviours perceived to be dangerous.
PHOTO: NZ Herald
In this light the tragic case of Emile Dousset is instructive. His father Graeme is, by all accounts, a responsible, decent man who made it very clear to his son that the Nissan Skyline R34 GTR parked in the garage – a machine powered by a 2.6-litre, six-cylinder engine with a top speed of 251km/h - was off limits. Graeme repeatedly warned Emile that the car was not to be driven; he tried to educate his son about the dangers of speeding, and the importance of responsible driving.
Emile listened, but disobeyed his father, and set aside his dad’s reasoned appeal to good sense – the flight of any ordinary young man’s desire for a thrill. One night, while his father was overseas, Emile took the vehicle out for a spin in the town of Wyoming, NSW, where a 50km/h limit applies. The P-plater drove first to a service station and picked up two passengers, Carl Homer, 33, and Natasha Schyf, Homer’s pregnant 15-year old girlfriend. Both were impressed by the gleaming vehicle, and curious to see how young Emile would handle it.
At this point it is worth interceding to remark on the manner in which virtually every commentator chose to ignore the really disturbing story here: in impregnating a child, the 33-year old Homer was manifestly guilty at the very least of carnal knowledge – and possibly child abuse – a more insidious force in society than reckless driving. Few saw fit to remark on this rather unfortunate fact; one report nauseously praised the girl’s courage in rising to the challenge of pregnancy at so young an age. (Even as the Telegraph was studiously ignoring the details of Homer and Schyf’s relationship, it still managed to run – with a straight face – a story about a 37-year-old man accused of bedding a 15-year-old girl he met online. The headline? “Jailed for preying on girl.”)
But back to Emile. Perhaps in an effort to impress his passengers, he sped to a residential street popular amongst rev-heads. He then accelerated to somewhere between 180 and 200 km/h, struck a dip in the road, went airborne for 40m, and smashed into a telegraph pole. Stunned residents emerged from their homes to find the dead bodies of Emile and Carl flung on the nature strip; trapped in the split car was Natasha, who died with her unborn baby (whom she’d named William).
Emile has become another tragic statistic in the supposed “epidemic” of P-plate road victims. His case fed the portrayal of male youth of today as, at the very least, disobedient and reckless.
At worst, if the government and the media are correct, a spawn of half-formed, testosterone-fuelled yahoos are at this very moment rampaging across our fair land, smashing up their dads’ cars and their lives in brazen high-speed rallies; drinking themselves legless; or drugging themselves to the hilt.
That impression is plain wrong, of course; in the midst of the media hysteria over the epidemic of teen driver deaths came news that, rather than spiking skywards, fatal accidents involving P-plate drivers have fallen to their lowest levels in history, falling 30 percent from 1992 to 2002. And it’s not just young drivers who are getting safer: NSW closed 2004 with the lowest number of road fatalities overall since 1949, with a total of 522 deaths. To put these numbers it in context, NSW Health estimates that roughly a dozen times that figure die in the state every year due to smoking.
But the NSW government is not put off, and is instead trying to legislate against stupidity. For example, young people must now stay on their P-plates three times longer now than their parents were: they must progress from L plates to red beginners’ P plates to a P2 licence (green P plate) before they get their full licence – a three-year process, involving several tough hazard perception tests. No wonder P-plate drivers are in the spotlight for road accidents. If that regime doesn’t work, what will?
But the government wants to extend the regime, and Roads Minister Carl Scully has drawn up a paper of options to reduce P-plate driver fatalities: they include a proposed ban on fast or dangerous cars and raising the age limit for licence-holders. To be fair, even as he pursued this course, he recognized an insurmountable problem: only by banning cars will crashes be avoided, said a helpless Scully spokesman last November.
Never mind that this doomed experiment will be ignored: no self-respecting young larrikin will care much about a distant government bureaucrat droning on about the “P-Plate driver menace”; a curb on young drivers may even encourage speedsters onto the roads.
In earlier times, fathers were proud of the motive, if not the occasionally disastrous consequences, behind any healthy young son’s desire to show-off, or embrace dangerous situations. It is a biological inevitability. That is why young men volunteer for war: they, unlike women or older men, have an idea of themselves as bullet-proof. In a word, many young men reckon they’re unbreakable.
But this fact seems beyond the realm of comprehension of the legions of precious counselors, bossy journalists, government busy-bodies and tut-tutting feminists who are wheeled out with weary inevitability to bemoan the “youth of today” and their predilection to do very dangerous things every time a young person is killed or hurt.
If Lord Byron had lived today, no doubt swimming the Hellespont by “Club-footed Persons” would have been banned soon after he drowned. Sadly for the cosy modern world of health inspectors and safety first, the dashing young man who defies order and authority to express his peculiarly male urge to be the fastest or the strongest or a hero will always be with us – if in a suppressed or warped form.
That’s because we live in an age in which the female is in the ascendant, and manhood is seen as something awkward, smelly, yobbish or plain embarrassing. The male virtues of courage, mateship, loyalty and do-or-die heroism are either dead, or dying, stamped out by a fusillade of laws, restrictions, codes and feminist-driven contempt.
Indeed, this blokish larrikinism is regularly portrayed as a kind of mental illness and something to be ashamed of; the “male” in us is not quite “human”, rather something abnormal, even bestial. Men are inured to being presented as the buffoon or the idiot in endless films and TV shows; they seem to have swallowed the nonsense that they’re less intelligent than women.
Melbourne psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg reckons young males “do not have the neurological wiring that gives girls pause to think,” as he told journalist Kate Legge in the Australian recently. Having accepted this as a self-evident truth, Legge added: “This biological handicap is exacerbated by a lethal mixture of sloppy parenting and unprecedented commercial and peer pressure”.
It is worth weighing the meaning behind this extraordinary statement: young men are no longer merely stupid or loutish; they are actually biologically inferior to girls. “New research” or “experts” say so.
But surely a biological handicap must be qualified in terms of its effect on human behaviour? If the male “biological handicap” only results in rev-heads crashing their cars, or picking fights, then perhaps it is a handicap; if, however the male “handicap” produces young men willing to sacrifice their lives for their country at a time of war; or rush in fearlessly to save the life of someone in danger; or embark on daunting expeditions of discovery, then surely it is a gift?
Today’s society denies young men that accolade. They are simply mentally-challenged louts. One wonders how the nation would respond if we were invaded (as we nearly were in 1942) – perhaps we’d introduce a new law banning war?
Setting aside the absurd claim that the “commercial and peer pressure” on boys of today is “unprecedented” (e.g., how does one calculate this new precedent?), Carr-Gregg’s fundamental concern is that parents seem surprised when their boys misbehave: "I sit in my office gobsmacked at tales not out of place at a Roman orgy," he observes. "Parents don't seem to have a clue. One couple allowed their teenage son free range at home while they went to Noosa. He had a party. The house was trashed and the parents were astonished. These are intelligent professional people.”
Yet Carr-Gregg contradicts this admirable portrait of the modern young man’s party-organising abilities by claiming that today’s generation of boys “is the most vulnerable…we have ever seen”. On the one hand the little darlings are holding Roman orgies, the next they’re the vulnerable victims of a conspiracy of bad parenting, bad schools and ferocious marketing that “short-circuit”, in Legge’s phrase, a boy’s path to manhood.
In response, Carr-Gregg and legions of other psychologists, most of the media, and even feminist-mums are pressing for a return to more authoritarian styles of parenting and schooling. (Though, tellingly, they draw the line at anything possibly effective – like corporal punishment. They want carrots without sticks; they plead for the imposition of discipline without any disciplining force.)
But their plea, however welcome, is a little late. One groans wearily at this belated recognition of the failure of 30 years of progressive “liberal” education, whose seeds lay in the barren soil of the 1960s baby boomer era. It is now awfully clear that a child will not find his or her “inner creativity” without some instruction in the method of expressing it: i.e. lessons in grammar, ordered thinking, reason, logic, the rules of syntax etc.
Another fascinating reversal for these New Authoritarians is that they now acknowledge “gender difference”. “Risk-taking behaviour is unquestionably a gender issue on Australian roads,” writes Kate Legge, for example. “Young men have been found to score significantly higher than females when tested for impulsiveness and sensation-seeking,” she adds.
And research by Peter Palamara of the University of Western Australia's Injury Research Centre has found that young men are more likely to engage in risky driving when carrying a same-aged, same gender passenger. In other words, young men like showing off to their mates…what an extraordinary thing.
This identification of “gender difference” is an intriguing break with the past: throughout the 1970s, feminists were telling us that there is no such thing as gender difference. Men and women were the same, at least psychologically. (No wonder so many women burnt their bras in that wretched era, the high watermark of idiocy, during which the greatest insight of feminism was that “manhood” was a cultural phenomenon imposed on children; a little girl would naturally choose Ken over Barbie if only she was given the chance. Any parent knew – and knows - this to be utter rubbish.)
One consolation from the wreckage of the past – and of poor young Emile - is that at least many people are talking a similar language. Many people seem to have noticed that men and women are, er, different; and most people seem to agree that the progressive education and parenting models of the last 20-30 years have failed to produce well-adjusted young men. This seems an auspicious place to begin finding ways to channel male recklessness, aggression and risk-taking into something constructive.
August 12, 2007
Teenage pregnancy: March 07 issue
A Brave Story and a Bitter Pill
With teenage pregnancy affecting women since the beginning of time, the choice is ultimately one that is hers to make. But with a new offering of hope and the controversial discussion around the new ‘abortion pill’ RU-486, this is a topic where every angle needs to be discussed. MELODY TOWNS reports
Walking up the corridor, Bernadette moved slowly towards the pink Wendy’s t-shirt that clung to the growing physique of her boyfriend Dave. Dressed in an identical shirt, Bernie and Dave were on their lunchbreak from the ice-cream parlour where they both worked, but there was something different about this break and with each step Bernadette took, she knew that both their lives were about to be changed forever. “I saw him differently”, says Bernadette, “He was a 16 year old boy about to be told he was going to be a father”.
When Bernadette Black was just 16 years old she, like 25,000 other teenage girls in Australia each year, was faced with a decision that would ultimately affect the rest of her life. Raised in a strict middle class Catholic home, Bernadette had always been the ‘good girl’, the girl she describes as “someone that you thought that this could never happen to”. Little did Bernadette realise the consequences of losing her virginity when she slept with her boyfriend for the first time in his bedroom while his parents were out. She says, “I found myself in an emotional pull towards Dave and, as a result, Dave and I had sex. I didn’t think about the repercussions of having sex, like the possibility of falling pregnant. I just assumed it wouldn’t happen to me. So, we had sex and the condom broke…”
Bernadette’s story is not an unusual one. With teenage pregnancy occurring since the beginning of time, this is a story that many women could relate to, despite whatever decision they make regarding their pregnancy. But Bernadette, now 30, has written a book that may surprise many. A story of a teenage mother who decided to have her child and, despite all odds, aim to make a success of her life. While being objective in saying that she is not placing any judgement on any decision that a teenage mother may make, Bernadette says the aim of her story is to present another outcome, one that is positive and has never been offered.
When I meet Bernadette, I am overwhelmed. She bounces up to me, wraps her arms around me and with a big beaming smile welcomes me into the waterfront pavilion where, today, she is getting all the attention for all the right reasons. It is like we are best friends, but we have only just met, the genuineness in her greeting something that seems surreal in the networking world of small smiles and meet-and-greets.
It is her book launch, the day that she has been working towards since she was 16. She is there with her husband, three children, a few politicians and a huge crowd of support. The media flocks around her as she shares her heart with the world and the day that so many thought would never arrive, is unraveling a new story of hope for all to see.
It is just over 12 years since the day that Bernadette made a pact with herself, despite constant criticism, that she would firstly, be a great mum, secondly complete her education and thirdly write a book to offer some hope to other girls who may and who do find themselves in this situation and decide to have their babies.
She was sitting in a mothers’ group when Bernadette conceived her dream that would see her persevere against all odds. “At the group there were many girls that had no support, their parents had disowned them and their partners had left them. These girls literally had no hope. We asked in our mum’s group if there were any books available that would be able to show us that we could be great mums regardless of our age. The nurse who ran this group said that there were no books ever written like this.”
Acknowledging that she did have the support of her family and the stability of a middle class background, Bernadette says she feels most passionate about the girls who may not be so lucky. “The amount of judgemental attitudes that some people displayed to me in society was huge, and I was with my mum and dad, but for these girls all they see is no hope, so thankfully this book and hopefully my website with the collaboration of education and health care will be a resource for them that they haven’t had access to before”.
Despite her success, Bernadette, now a trained nurse, has had to walk the hard road and empathises with other girls in this situation. Endorsing motherhood, but not sugar-coating the reality of it, Bernadette openly shares the way that she had to deal with society’s reactions and their constant disapproval of her. “I was very vulnerable, especially only being 16. I used to keep my head down to avoid people’s prying eyes. I wanted to wear a sign saying that I would be a good mum but it wouldn’t have mattered.”
Leaving room for only the truth, Bernadette describes how she felt at this time in her book. She writes, “I remember shopping at Myers for some foundation, and the shop assistant noticed my growing belly. She looked at me in disgrace saying, “Babies having babies”. I felt so inadequate, so unable, so scared. Who was I kidding?”
Going to a Catholic school and growing up in a Catholic home also proved to be a paradox for Bernadette. Although she had the support of her family, many of her friends couldn’t understand her decision, a decision that she says had a lot to do with her own beliefs. Well-meaning friends told her that she was going to ruin her life and kept asking why she wouldn’t have an abortion? “I fleetingly thought about having an abortion certainly”, says Bernadette, “however after I contemplated it a little longer I thought, “No, I can take this on. I have to take responsibility now to care for this child”, and that’s when I decided I would be a great mother”.
Dave was a great support despite the lack of encouragement he received from his family. Described by Bernadette as being very respectful, Dave supported her choice despite the critics and is still a big part of his son Damien’s life today. She says, “Early on his family had said to him that it would be better if I did have an abortion, and that was a very difficult thing. His mother had said to me that if I made this decision, then both Dave and I would make nothing of our lives and have absolutely nothing to offer our baby. At the time I felt stripped bare, like I had no defence, but I would not compromise my decision”.
Now as a mother, Bernadette says that she understands Dave’s family a little more. As a mother to 13-year-old Damien, Bernadette understands just how frightening it must have been for Dave’s family to have their son come to them and tell them that his girlfriend was going to have a baby. “For them, they’d never seen a girl who had succeeded in having a baby when she was 16; they’d seen a lot of girls that we all see today-their situations around them are often negative and when you only see negative things, then obviously your outlook can also be negative”, explains Bernadette.
“Everyone has their own personal beliefs and stances. To date in Australia, you can find out about pro-life, abortions, adoptions, the mini pill and the ‘abortion pill’ RU-486. One option that has not been presented to young mothers is a story like mine that shows you can be a young mum, continue with your pregnancy, and also have a fantastic, successful life.
With the controversy surrounding RU-486, or the ‘abortion pill’, this is one side of teenage pregnancy that needs to be told. Not political, not religious, just an offering of hope to thousands of girls faced with this life changing decision daily throughout the world. With what seems a relatively “harmless” option to surgical abortion being an issue of continual controversy between Australian politicians, RU-486 is another kind of ‘emergency contraceptive’, that women in the US, Britain, Canada and Sweden have as an option.
While the Australian parliament argues over whether or not this pill should be approved, every mother has a right to know every option that they may choose when faced with the decision of having a baby. While Bernadette’s story is one of the first offerings of hope to teenage mothers who decide to keep their child, the introduction of RU-486, whether you agree with it or not, has side effects that also need to be discussed to mothers in more depth.
An American website, standupgirl.com, offers a resource for young mothers and teenage pregnancies to discuss all aspects of pregnancy from abortion to pro life. In an article posted by one of its members named only as Mary, the ‘abortion pill’ is discussed as being linked with the death of 10 women since it was approved in the year 2000. What many don’t know is that the ‘abortion pill’, is actually two pills. Not as simple as just popping it in your mouth and waiting for it to go away, the first pill, Mifepristone, is taken to kill the tiny foetus and then a few days later, Misoprostol is taken to induce labour and expel the remains. But, as Mary writes, “with two or three visits to the doctor, an ultrasound, and the possible removal of the dead foetus, it’s not private. It’s not just contraception and it’s definitely not harmless”.
A study by Ralph P. Miech MD, PhD, describes the relationship between the drugs and the ten deaths. He states, “The first drug blocks progesterone, the hormone that tells the placenta to provide nutrition and oxygen to the baby. This causes changes to the cervix that allow c. Sordelli to enter the cervical canal. C. Sordelli thrives in the low oxygen environment and derives nutrition from the decaying foetal tissue. Meanwhile, it’s disrupting the immune system, so that even the woman’s body now becomes vulnerable to bacterial attack. Her body cannot fight the bacteria, and c. Sordelli and its toxic wastes spread throughout the body, causing widespread shock and sometimes death”.
Accessible to any woman under seven weeks pregnant in the approved countries, Danco, the leading American distributor of the drug claims that the deaths were not specifically caused by taking these pills. Their argument is that it cannot be proven that the drugs directly cause death, due to the fact that septic shock caused by c. Sordelli is possible in other circumstances including childbirth and menstruation. But the standard of safety still remains a concern, as the cause of death may not be from the pill but from the toxic shock caused by the remaining foetus that is not completely expelled from the uterus.
Describing the abortion pill as a waking nightmare, Mary states that “perhaps worse than all the bodily effects of RU-486 is the psychological effect”. Linked to a higher suicide rate for depressed women, the ‘abortion pill’ leaves no one to clean up the mess except for the mother herself. A horrifying image is presented by abortiontv.com on their website, stating that a “woman may find herself sitting on her bathroom floor at two in the morning cradling her tiny child in her bloody fingers”. While this may be considered extreme, the fact that unlike a surgical abortion where the foetus may be expelled not intact but rather in shreds, is a haunting reminder that this, like any decision regarding teenage pregnancy, or any pregnancy in fact, is something that cannot be taken lightly.
Information regarding all aspects of pregnancy is vital to teenage girls placed in a situation where a decision needs to be made. Without placing judgement on whatever decision they do choose, all information does need to be made aware to them. Whether it is an abortion that they choose to have, an adoption or like Bernadette a decision to have her child, every girl has a right to make an informed choice regarding something that will not only affect her body, but her mind and her life forever.
As Australian celebrity Marcia Hines states in the forward of Bernadette’s book Brave Little Bear, “I do not condone teenage pregnancy, please understand this, but in life things do happen…and it happened to me. Luckily Bernadette and I had support and as with anything in life if you have support and self-belief you’re going to make it. But please don’t make life any harder than it already is, and your teenage life is a gift. (And so is motherhood at the right time). If I could I would not change a thing and I’m sure Bernadette wouldn’t either, but precautionary measures is what it’s all about. However if you do fall pregnant, remember that you are no longer a child, you are taking care of a child.”
In the heat of discussion about RU-486 and the offering of hope from one teenage mum who aims to help others, lets remember that it’s life we are talking about here, and what every girl needs from society is not a judgement but a soft place to fall and the support and self-belief to get back up again, whatever her choice.
Brave Little Bear is being used in the young mothers’ program in Tasmania Australia and is under review by each state’s education department in the school curriculum. With its website, www.bravelittlebear.com.au, a dedicated resource to helping young mothers, Bernadette hopes that the incidence of teenage pregnancy will be reduced, but for now she wants to help the girls who are there walking this journey today. “What I’d like in this country is for these levels, 25,000 teenage pregnancies a year – to decrease. This is like a long term plan, it generations down the future, but what needs to happen to stop that generational cycle is that these girls, as I said before, they might see around them that all there is, is negative feedback, or just their circumstances: if they can grab that light or just that one bit of hope, then their child may not have a child at 16”.
March 09, 2007
LOST IN THE MATRIX INVESTIGATE: JUN 03
From Donald Duck to Donald Dark, is a new breed of cartoon a threat to our childrens’ mental health? IAN WISHART brings together research from around the world that suggests violent cartoons and interactive games are turning kids into killers...
Once upon a time there were cartoon shows. You remember them, Mickey and Donald, Roadrunner and Wylie Coyote, even Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig. Bright, bold and usually hilarious, those early Warner Brothers and Walt Disney hit shows had generations of kids cackling over their Cornies on a Saturday morning. Sure, they were violent, but in a harmless, toony sort of way. Back in those days, a burglary in Auckland was front page news, murders were running as low as three or four per year, and wagging school was an occasional "treat", not an occupational choice. Youth suicide was virtually unheard of. In 1972, the suicide rate for 15 to 24 year old males was just 9 per 100,000 of them. Today it runs as high as 39 deaths per 100,000 in that age group.
For a long time, media watchdog groups have claimed a link between television violence and aggression in teenagers and adults. Now the international studies are lining up thick and fast - not only is there a link, but some experts believe television has declared psychological warfare on children and is literally training children to kill, as you’ll see shortly.
But first, a clue to the problem can be found in the spin surrounding it. For years, New Zealand TV executives have denied any link between TV violence and violence in society. "We reflect society, we don’t lead it," has been the industry position for more than two decades.
However, while both TVNZ and TV3 have endeavoured to comply with a viewing watershed of 8.30pm before screening adult material, a much bigger problem has slipped below the radar for most people: the huge increase in violence and the occult in childrens’ programmes, screened directly in childrens’ viewing hours.
Donald Duck has given way to Beast Wars, Digimon and the latest craze hitting New Zealand, Yu-Gi-Oh. What most of the groundbreaking new childrens’ cartoon shows have in common are two things: Japanese animation and extremely dark, violent, occult and brooding themes.
Yu-Gi-Oh has already hit the news headlines in New Zealand after alleged counterfeit playing cards associated with the programme as merchandise were seized at Auckland by customs agents at the request of the authorised importer..
How dark is Yu-Gi-Oh? Well, for a start, it is unashamedly religious programming aimed at children, although admittedly no religion you ever grew up with. Instead, 41 year old Kazuki Takahashi, the show’s creator, wanted to revive "ancient Egyptian mysticism" as the underlying force in his programme.
The show follows the adventures of a young boy named Yugi:
"When Yugi was growing up, his Grandfather gave him an ancient Egyptian artifact called the "Millenium Puzzle" to try and figure out. It is said that whosoever manages to solve this puzzle will be granted dark and mysterious powers. Yugi eventually was able to solve the Millenium Puzzle, and when he did, something amazing happened!
"When the Millennium Puzzle activates, Yugi is filled with its magical energies and becomes Yami Yugi, his much more powerful alter ego. Not only is Yami Yugi a master dueler, but he is full of confidence and courage."
In what must have been a merchandiser’s dream, Takahashi uses the artistic device of a magical card game that is played by Yugi and his friends, and, pf course, by tens of millions of children around the world who purchase the cards in bookshops and toystores.
"Duel Monsters is a card-battling game in which players pit different mystical creatures against one another in wild, magical duels! Packed with awesome monsters and mighty spell-cards, Yugi and his friends are totally obsessed with the game.
"But there’s more to this card game than meets the eye! Legend has it five thousand years ago, ancient Egyptian Pharaoahs used to play a magical game very similar to Duel Monsters. This ancient game involved magical ceremonies, which were used to foresee the future and ultimately, decide one’s destiny. They called it the Shadow Game, and the main difference back then was that the monsters were all real! With so many magical spells and ferocious creatures on the earth, it wasn’t long before the game got out of hand and threatened to destroy the entire world! Fortunately, a brave Pharaoh stepped in and averted this cataclysm with the help of seven powerful magical totems.
"Now, in present times, the game has been revived in the form of playing cards..."
And you can pretty much guess the rest. Yu-Gi-Oh has become an international obssession for kids everywhere.
Central to the show, and the card game, are the dark haunting characters and artwork typical of the Japanese comic style known as "Anime" (pronounced AH-nee-may). So popular has anime become in the US that several universities now offer lecture courses on the style and its origins. Wrote the Seattle Times recently:
"Anime often tackles such themes as death and betrayal, and the stories sometimes are so intense that they are edited for children in the United States.
"The animations are shown as television series or feature-length movies in Japan, where adults are as likely as children to be the core audience.
"The academic movement in the United States reflects the fact that so many students had already become anime aficionados on their own. As elsewhere in the country, the University of Washington and most colleges around the state have student-run anime clubs.
"While parents sometimes decry anime for its violence and gory graphics, anime fans argue that those more intense animations are geared toward adults, not kids.
"The craze borders on obsession for some. At Washington State University, a handful of students gather weekly to learn conversational Japanese simply to understand anime better. And diehards watch anime with subtitles instead of dubbed versions because they feel the dialects and the voice inflections get lost in translation."
So if shows like Yu-Gi-Oh are part of the staple television diet in Japan, perhaps there are some clues there as to the long term effects on society. Correspondent Michael Zielenziger reports Japanese youth culture is in deep depression:
TOKYO - Kenji has seldom left his bedroom in five years. On a good day, when he forces himself, he can almost get to the front door of his mother’s small Tokyo apartment before fear overtakes him.
"It requires a lot of courage just to go downstairs and get the mail," said the 34-year-old shut-in, who is thin as a twig and nearly as fragile. "I have two personalities: One who doesn’t want to go out and one who does. They are fighting with each other constantly."
Kenji’s self-imposed confinement is surprisingly common in Japan today, after a decade of economic and social decline that has produced many worrisome effects. At least 1 million young Japanese adults, the vast majority men, imprison themselves in their rooms for months or even years at a time, according to Tamaki Saito, the first therapist to write a book on the subject. They sleep during the daytime and pace their rooms at night, hardly ever leaving except for a quick run to the 7-Eleven, if they can manage that.
Counsellors and psychiatrists say Kenji’s reclusiveness, known in Japan as "hikikomori," is an illness that exists only in Japan and was unknown even there until a decade ago. Hikikomori sufferers shut themselves off from siblings and friends, even parents, whom they sometimes attack in violent outbursts.
Kenji’s behaviour is a symptom of Japan’s decline. A growing number of professional counsellors and other experts worry that the nation itself is becoming a lot like Kenji: isolated, apprehensive and unable to interact with the outside word.
"I fear that Japan, as a nation itself, is becoming hikikomori," says psychiatrist Satoru Saito, who treats shut-ins and counsels families in his Tokyo clinic. "It is a nation that does not like to communicate. So what these young adults are doing is a mirror of what they see around them in adult society."
Japan’s trains still run on time, its streets are safe and most people live comfortably. Handguns are illegal, drug problems do not permeate schools or streets, and random violence is virtually unknown.
Still, deep pessimism has infected many aspects of Japanese society:
- Japanese are killing themselves in record numbers, more than 31,000 per year, three times the number who die in traffic accidents. Their suicide rate is the highest among industrialized nations and is steadily climbing. The rate among workers in their 30s has risen nearly 45 percent since 1996.
- Japan’s birthrate is among the lowest in the industrial world and still declining, because young women are avoiding marriage and refusing to bear children. By 2005, Japan’s population will begin to shrink, a trend that demographers say will be nearly impossible to reverse. The labour force, likewise, will dwindle drastically.
- Alcohol consumption is declining across the globe, but not here. Though alcoholism is rampant and accepted as a release from work and social pressure, it is almost never discussed by opinion leaders or at the workplace.
- Japanese workers are increasingly dissatisfied with their lives, stressed out and depressed, and modern antidepressants have become legal only recently. A survey of 43 nations by the Pew Research Centre, released this month, found that Japanese are far more pessimistic about themselves and their children’s future than the people of any other relatively prosperous nation.
- The demise of Japan’s extended family structure is causing unprecedented strains. While divorce rates are low, couples are growing apart, living in sexless marriages, often in separate bedrooms. Stressed-out mothers force their children to study and go to "cram school" in order to pass competitive entrance exams to high school and college, while absentee fathers spend their time and energy at work.
"Whether it’s hikikomori, alcoholism or sexless couples, these are all different manifestations of the same problem," says Masahiro Yamada, a prominent sociologist. "These are all symptomatic of the social and psychological deadlock of Japanese society.
"When you look around at Japanese society, you see that more and more people have just given up."
Men such as Kenji appear desperate to fit into society. Yet when they pursue even modest individuality, they generate friction that leaves them burned out or too weak to cope.
Though Kenji seldom leaves home, he agreed to speak about his condition after twice begging off, tearfully explaining on the telephone, "I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I just can’t come." When he finally did agree to talk, he said it was the first time in five years that he had left his apartment or spoken to anyone except his mother.
After just two trips outside their apartment, he became angry and "unstable," his mother said. He since has retreated to his room again, and his mother refuses to let him come to the phone, speak to outsiders or be photographed.
Kenji once was a mischievous child who loved playing third base. But he remembers being suddenly "frozen out" by classmates at his Tokyo grade school at age 12, when they inexplicably stopped talking to him.
"First it was just the boys, but within a week it was the girls, too," he says. "I thought it would pass after the winter school vacation, but it didn’t change at all. Since I wasn’t a student who studied hard, without having any friends I couldn’t find a reason to go to school. It was too painful."
Today, some 20 years later, he talks about those events as if they had happened yesterday.
Articulate and thoughtful, now he spends his days reading newspapers, watching TV and thinking.
Psychiatrists describe hikikomori as a syndrome in which young adults, usually men in their 20s and 30s, shut themselves off from the world, away from friends, school or work, for six months or more. These individuals do not suffer from other known psychiatric illnesses such as schizophrenia, autism or panic disorder. Hikikomori is different from agoraphobia, which occurs in the United States, whose victims fear leaving home to visit an unsettled social environment but can mix with friends or relatives in their homes.
Stress and fatigue also trigger the social isolation. Dai Hasebe dropped out of junior high school after his parents enrolled him in a juku designed to help him pass the competitive high school entrance exams. In elementary school, the 12-year-old hadn’t gotten home until after 10 at night.
"After a while, I just got tired," says Hasebe, now 19, who has spent most of the past six years secluded in his parent’s three-room Tokyo apartment. "There was no particular incident," such as bullying or a harsh conversation with a teacher, that made him stop going to school, he said. "I was just relieved not to have a schedule."
Hasebe now wears shoulder-length hair and a moustache and whiles away each afternoon building scale models in his bedroom. He constructs Japanese Zero fighter planes and French helicopters, draws precise diagrams of military equipment and designed a sort of 21st-century fantasy gladiator, a silvery pterodactyl with a rocket launcher that stands sentry in the entryway of his family’s home. Hasebe hardly eats; his pants barely stay on his hips even when they’re tightly belted.
Dr. Kosuke Yamazaki, a professor of child psychiatry at the Tokai University School of Medicine, thinks hikikomori patients’ frustration is the leading cause of domestic violence in Japan, as lonely, isolated and troubled adult children lash out in a cry for help. "They behave like brutal tyrants," he said.
Many of his patients often expressed fear that they would kill their parents by accident. "They say they have a personality that sometimes rages out of control."
Masahisa Okuyama, whose son suffers from hikikomori, founded the KHJ support network, which now has 31 chapters across Japan. Its name is formed from the initials in Japanese for obsessive neurosis, persecution mania and personality disorder.
"Parents are also victims of this disease," explains Okuyama, a former advertising executive, who was beaten by his 27-year-old shut-in son. He abandoned the family’s suburban home for a small apartment out of fear that his son would kill him.
"He hates me, but the relationship between parent and child is so strong," Okuyama says. "He can kill me or I could kill him. Let’s face it, we’ve been dissolved as a family."
More than half the parents in one suburban group of 120 affected families say they’ve been attacked by their children. One woman pulled up her sleeve and revealed an ugly black-and-blue mark, the result of being assaulted by her son. Another woman sleeps in her car for fear that her son will beat her.
Around one table, a group of 11 parents discussed how best to reach out to their children. Most cooked dinner for their children and left food outside their bedroom doors. Some said their children left their rooms only when their parents went to bed. With tinges of guilt, many admitted that they found it difficult to communicate with their children when they were younger.
Kenji desperately wanted to find a way to rejoin society. "I sometimes look back and say, `How did I become like this?’" he said.
"When you are raised by a wolf you grow up a wolf," Kenji said. "You can’t go back into normal society. That’s how I feel. Teachers tell you, `You are free to grow up and become what you want.’ But adults can’t show us any example where that’s true."
While it would certainly be unfair to blame all of Japan’s growing social chaos on its dark, occult-obssessed youth television, it would also be a mistake to ignore its impact. And lest New Zealanders get too comfortable, it is worth remembering that New Zealand’s youth suicide rate is nearly four times higher than Japan’s.
Is Yu-Gi-Oh going to make it any better? Not if the names of some of its game cards are an indicator. The programme screens at 4.30pm in New Zealand, making it "prime time" accessible to all children. And according to international reports, children are lapping up television’s new obsession with the occult like there’s no tomorrow:
It was a report in the Times of London that first illustrated the extent of the problem. Journal-ist Daniel McGrory discovered the huge range of pagan TV programmes for kids was encouraging many to begin exploring paganism, and even satanism, by searching websites on the internet.
"Teachers’ groups are worried that nobody is monitoring the effect this fascination with the occult is having on its teenage followers. There are no official figures in Britain for victims driven to suicide, but experts have no doubt that some young people have suffered from the malign influence of satanic cults.
"It took 15 suicides in two years before the authorities in Saxony demanded an investigation. Here, teachers’ unions and experts say that the authorities do not take the menace seriously enough. They warn of the dangers to teenagers of dabbling unsupervised with sinister websites. Some of these describe in lurid detail how they should drink blood or carry out blood-letting to seal their pact with Satan. They also encourage impressionable teenagers to join in "chat rooms" to express how miserable they are," wrote McGrory.
"Parents are advised not to rely on Internet filters to prevent their children from accessing sites featuring satanism and witchcraft.
"For many young people interest was aroused, innocently enough, through television programmes such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in which a teenage girl does battle with all manner of satanic forces.
"In a recent survey of 2,600 children aged 11 to 16, more than half said that they were interested in the occult. The worry is that more than 15 per cent of those questioned by Mori said that they were worried about what they had discovered on the Web.
"The Association of Teachers and Lecturers wants schools to introduce classes advising young people of the risks of delving into the occult on the Internet. Peter Smith, the general secretary, said: "This goes beyond reading a Harry Potter story. This represents an extremely worrying trend among young people. Parents and teachers should educate children and young people about the dangers of dabbling in the occult before they become too deeply involved."
"Experts believe that there are now more than 1,000 cults operating in Britain and that their popularity has spread through the Internet. They are becoming adept at snaring young professionals through so-called self-help websites—for stopping smoking, losing weight, meeting a partner or playing the stock market.
"Ian Haworth, general secretary of the London-based Cult Information Centre, tours schools to dispel the idea that only vunerable youngsters fall prey to satanic cults. He says that recruiters are also active at college and university campuses, distributing free magazines that offer links to scores of Internet sites. "There is no doubt the Internet means that many more youngsters can dip into areas of the occult without realising what they are letting themselves into," he said.
In the case of Buffy, copycat psychosis appears to be the order of the day. In one celebrated case last year, a British teenager was arrested after becoming convinced that he, too, was a vampire, and beheading his elderly neighbour before drinking her blood. A young German couple were similarly found guilty of the ritual vampire murder of a man - they drank blood from his corpse before having sex in a coffin they’d purchased for the occasion.
Similar strong followings for Charmed and Sabrina the Teenage Witch are also making an impact. Britain’s Pagan Federation recently reported it was receiving more than a hundred calls a month from children and teenagers wanting to know more about joining an occult group.
Pagan Federation spokesman Andy Norfolk told journalists youngsters’ questions had become "much more mature" than those of the "how do I cast a spell?" variety, and tended to deal with "the religious aspects of witchcraft."
"We don’t get asked how to become a witch, but rather we get asked what a young witch should do.
"Many of those who write seem to have already found their spiritual path and wish to learn more."
Although the Pagan Federation denies actively recruiting children, it has appointed a "youth affairs" officer who also happens to be a school teacher, and its adult members have published a series of books for children, some available in New Zealand, with titles like The Young Witches’ Handbook, which includes spells for passing school exams or attracting a lover, or Spells for Teenage Witches, "a self-help book for young people".
In the US meanwhile, prominent newspapers like the Miami Herald have begun to investigate the rapidly plunging standards of broadcast television:
MIAMI - Fifty years ago, when a married Lucille Ball was having a baby on I Love Lucy, network censors wouldn’t allow use of the word "pregnant." This past year, on Friends, Rachel had a baby resulting from a one-night stand - and on the day it was due tried to speed up the delivery via a quickie sexual encounter with her male roommate.
Forty years ago, Ozzie and Harriet never had a scene of any kind take place in the Nelsons’ bedroom. This year, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a fistfight between Buffy and a vampire turned into roughhouse sex so violent that it literally knocked the house down around them.
Thirty years ago, network officials told singer Helen Reddy they would cancel her show unless she started wearing a bra. This year, contestants on Fear Factor were ordered to strip naked on camera to stay in the game.
Twenty years ago, an outraged NBC censor vetoed a Saturday Night Live sketch where Bill Murray and Gilda Radner’s nerdy characters put on a dopey high school nativity pageant: "You can’t give noogies to the Virgin Mary!" This year, Cameron Diaz hosted SNL and sang dirty children’s songs that purported to be about hirsute shellfish and rain-soaked kitty-cats.
It’s not puritan paranoia: This is not your father’s broadcast television. TV, once expected to be a polite guest in our living rooms, has turned into more of drunken party-crasher. Sex, violence and language that in earlier days would have triggered FCC threats and congressional investigations is now routine. Says show-biz historian and critic Michael Medved of TV standards: "I’m not sure I would use the word SHIFTING. I think the word COLLAPSING might be more appropriate."
You think he exaggerates?
Every week the CBS crime show CSI features mutilated corpses that would gag a maggot. Televised urination has become so routine that when FX’s The Shield had a cop whizzing on a suspect, producer Shawn Ryan bragged that "we shot it in a very tasteful way, as p——— scenes go."
That’s the sort of comment that outrages Laura Mahaney, vice president of the conservative Parents Television Council, which is lobbying advertisers to boycott The Shield. "What you’ve seen is a run to the bottom of the barrel, where the networks are seeing who can put the filthiest stuff on the fastest. You never would have seen references to oral sex or inferences of oral sex even five years ago. Now you do all the time, even on shows at 8 p.m ... It’s like a freight train run amok."
Whether you share Mahaney’s disgust, it’s hard to argue with her facts. A brief, chaste lesbian kiss on the 10 p.m. L.A. Law scandalized the country in 1991; this season, when lesbian witches on the 8 p.m. Buffy the Vampire Slayer levitated because the oral sex was especially good, it passed almost unnoticed.
Producers, network executives and other TV experts say there are several reasons television’s standards, which were relatively static for its first 40 years, have changed so dramatically over the past decade, but prime among them would have to be a disappearance of the will to fight the flood anymore.
Adds Medved: "There’s always been this sort of push-pull between Broadcasting Standards people and producers. Obviously people in the creative community want to test to see what they can do. There’s almost an element of gamesmanship to it. But what’s been happening in the past few years is that the creative people push, but on the other side, no one pushes back."
Critics argue it’s because the very people hired to be censors have themselves grown up on a sex and vio-lence TV diet and become inured to it, blind to what now surrounds them.
But while levitating nude witches engaging in oral sex on Buffy doesn’t make them bat an eyelid, those same TV censors are quick to leap on anything seen as non politically-correct. In the US, black comedian Arsenio Hall got a big laugh after cracking a black joke on the Tonight show, while one of David Letterman’s scriptwriters found herself censored for trying to tell a similar one-liner. An example in New Zealand this year was the ongoing furore over whether two Christian videos should be banned.
In a column for National Radio’s Mediawatch programme, commentator Karl du Fresne picked up the story:
"Those videos expressed views that were understandably unpopular with gay activists. One was that the gay activist lobby was demanding not just equal rights, but special rights; the other was that homosexuality was a factor in the spread of HIV and Aids.
"Neither of these, you might think, qualifies as an outrageous or even exceptional proposition. Yet the videos ended up before the Chief Censor, who considered them so potentially injurious to the public good that he imposed an R16 restriction. Not satisfied with that, a gay activist group appealed to the Film and Literature Board of Review, which declared the videos objectionable in anyone’s hands."
A court fight ensued, and eventually the Court of Appeal ruled that the videos should be cleared for release, but the Film Review Board then asked the Government to consider outlawing what it calls "hate speech".
In March, while most of New Zealand’s attention was on the Iraq crisis, a parliamentary select committe chaired by MP Diane Yates, released its own report on the issue, "and oddly enough," writes Du Fresne, "the main thrust is that the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act should be modified to encompass hate speech.
"That would mean politically incorrect opinions such as those expressed in the Living Word videos could be banned without the pesky Court of Appeal getting in the way. And the Chief Censor wouldn¹t have to bother himself with nitpicking, high-flown notions about freedom of expression.
"Interestingly enough, nowhere in the report is any attempt made to define "hate speech". It’s one of those wondrously loaded phrases, like "social justice", that can mean whatever the user wants it to mean. In the context of the committee’s report, it seems to mean anything that might offend a minority group.
"Presumably it would be left to the Chief Censor to define hate speech, and in so doing to determine what New Zealanders are allowed to say, see and hear. This places unprecedented and dangerous power in the hands of a bureaucrat and casts him in the role of a commissar in Soviet Russia. It also tugs the censorship laws in an entirely new direction, and one that I suspect Parliament never intended when it passed the Act in 1993."
Amid the irony that the chief target of censors may soon be the so-called "morals cam-paigners", rather than programme-makers, dark entertainment like Yu-Gi-Oh continues unchallenged to prep the pre-teen market with violent occultism while Buffy and Charmed do the trick for their older siblings.
One very harsh critic of the high-violence, high occult kids shows is Lt. Colonel David Grossman, a military pschologist who used to study methods of brainwashing US soldiers to make them better killing machines. Now he tours the US like a voice in the wilderness, warning that today’s television content and violent role-playing computer games are on a par with the best military technology in training kids to murder.
Grossman has studied social and crime trends in a range of countries, including New Zealand, and his diagnosis is grim.
"To understand the why behind outbreaks of this "virus of violence," we need to understand first the magnitude of the problem. The per capita murder rate doubled in the US between 1957—when the FBI started keeping track of the data - and 1992. A fuller picture of the problem, however, is indicated by the rate people are attempting to kill one another - the aggravated assault rate. That rate in America has gone from around 60 per 100,000 in 1957 to over 440 per 100,000 by the middle of this decade. As bad as this is, it would be much worse were it not for two major factors.
"First is the increase in the imprisonment rate of violent offenders. The prison population in America nearly quadrupled between 1975 and 1992. According to criminologist John J. DiIulio, "dozens of credible empirical analyses…leave no doubt that the increased use of prisons averted millions of serious crimes." If it were not for our tremendous imprisonment rate (the highest of any industrialized nation), the aggravated assault rate and the murder rate would undoubtedly be even higher.
"The second factor keeping the murder rate from being any worse is medical technology. According to the U.S. Army Medical Service Corps, a wound that would have killed nine out of ten soldiers in World War II, nine out of ten could have survived in Vietnam. Thus, by a very conservative estimate, if we had 1940-level medical technology today, the murder rate would be ten times higher than it is.
"The magnitude of the problem has been held down by the development of sophisticated lifesaving skills and techniques, such as helicopter medevacs, 911 operators, paramedics, cpr, trauma centers, and medicines.
"However, the crime rate is still at a phenomenally high level, and this is true worldwide. In Canada, according to their Center for Justice, per capita assaults increased almost fivefold between 1964 and 1993, attempted murder increased nearly sevenfold, and murders doubled. Similar trends can be seen in other countries in the per capita violent crime rates reported to Interpol between 1977 and 1993.
"In Australia and New Zealand, the assault rate increased approximately fourfold, and the murder rate nearly doubled in both nations. The assault rate tripled in Sweden, and approximately doubled in Belgium, Denmark, England-Wales, France, Hungary, Netherlands, and Scotland, while all these nations had an associated (but smaller) increase in murder.
"This virus of violence is occurring worldwide. The explanation for it has to be some new factor that is occurring in all of these countries. There are many factors involved, and none should be discounted: for example, the prevalence of guns in our society. But violence is rising in many nations with draconian gun laws. And though we should never downplay child abuse, poverty, or racism, there is only one new variable present in each of these countries, bearing the exact same fruit: media violence presented as entertainment for children."
Grossman’s identification of media violence as a catalyst for child violence is bourne out by confirmation that the two teenagers who committed the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado were addicted to the computer game Doom. It is worth noting that at the time Grossman was making these comments, back in 1998, the Columbine massacre had not yet happened. Grossman says the reason modern media violence is insidious is because it indoctrinates, glorifies and desensitises mass murder.
But haven’t we always had killing? Haven’t soldiers always gone into far more brutal battles than video can match? "Dur-ing World War II, U.S. Army Brig. Gen. S. L. A. Marshall had a team of researchers study what soldiers did in battle. For the first time in history, they asked individual soldiers what they did in battle. They discovered that only 15 to 20 percent of the individual riflemen could bring themselves to fire at an exposed enemy soldier," explains Grossman.
"That is the reality of the battlefield. Only a small percentage of soldiers are able and willing to participate. Men are willing to die, they are willing to sacrifice themselves for their nation; but they are not willing to kill. It is a phenomenal insight into human nature; but when the military became aware of that, they systematically went about the process of trying to fix this "problem."
"From the military perspective, a 15 percent firing rate among riflemen is like a 15 percent literacy rate among librarians. And fix it the military did. By the Korean War, around 55 percent of the soldiers were willing to fire to kill. And by Vietnam, the rate rose to over 90 percent.
"The method in this madness: Desensitization. How the military increases the killing rate of soldiers in combat is instructive, because our culture today is doing the same thing to our children. The training methods militaries use are brutalization, classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and role modeling. I will explain these in the military context and show how these same factors are contributing to the phenomenal increase of violence in our culture.
"Brutalization and desensitization are what happens at boot camp. From the moment you step off the bus you are physically and verbally abused: countless pushups, endless hours at attention or running with heavy loads, while carefully trained professionals take turns screaming at you. Your head is shaved, you are herded together naked and dressed alike, losing all individuality. This brutalization is designed to break down your existing mores and norms and to accept a new set of values that embrace destruction, violence, and death as a way of life. In the end, you are desensitized to violence and accept it as a normal and essential survival skill in your brutal new world.
"Something very similar to this desensitization toward violence is happening to our children through violence in the media—but instead of 18-year-olds, it begins at the age of 18 months when a child is first able to discern what is happening on television. At that age, a child can watch something happening on television and mimic that action. But it isn’t until children are six or seven years old that the part of the brain kicks in that lets them understand where information comes from. Even though young children have some understanding of what it means to pretend, they are developmentally unable to distinguish clearly between fantasy and reality.
"When young children see somebody shot, stabbed, raped, brutalized, degraded, or murdered on TV, to them it is as though it were actually happening. To have a child of three, four, or five watch a "splatter" movie, learning to relate to a character for the first 90 minutes and then in the last 30 minutes watch helplessly as that new friend is hunted and brutally murdered is the moral and psychological equivalent of introducing your child to a friend, letting her play with that friend, and then butchering that friend in front of your child’s eyes. And this happens to our children hundreds upon hundreds of times.
"Sure, they are told: "Hey, it’s all for fun. Look, this isn’t real, it’s just TV." And they nod their little heads and say okay. But they can’t tell the difference. Can you remember a point in your life or in your children’s lives when dreams, reality, and television were all jumbled together? That’s what it is like to be at that level of psychological development. That’s what the media are doing to them.
"The Journal of the American Medical Association published the definitive epidemiological study on the impact of TV violence. The research demonstrated what happened in numerous nations after television made its appearance as compared to nations and regions without TV. The two nations or regions being compared are demographically and ethnically identical; only one variable is different: the presence of television. In every nation, region, or city with television, there is an immediate explosion of violence on the playground, and within 15 years there is a doubling of the murder rate. Why 15 years? That is how long it takes for the brutalization of a three- to five-year-old to reach the "prime crime age." That is how long it takes for you to reap what you have sown when you brutalize and desensitize a three-year-old.
"Today the data linking violence in the media to violence in society are superior to those linking cancer and tobacco. Hundreds of sound scientific studies demonstrate the social impact of brutalization by the media. The Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that "the introduction of television in the 1950’s caused a subsequent doubling of the homicide rate, i.e., long-term childhood exposure to television is a causal factor behind approximately one half of the homicides committed in the United States, or approximately 10,000 homicides annually." The article went on to say that "…if, hypothetically, television technology had never been developed, there would today be 10,000 fewer homicides each year in the United States, 70,000 fewer rapes, and 700,000 fewer injurious assaults" (June 10, 1992).
"Classical conditioning is like the famous case of Pavlov’s dogs you learned about in Psychology 101: The dogs learned to associate the ringing of the bell with food, and, once conditioned, the dogs could not hear the bell without salivating.
"The Japanese were masters at using classical conditioning with their soldiers. Early in World War II, Chinese prisoners were placed in a ditch on their knees with their hands bound behind them. And one by one, a select few Japanese soldiers would go into the ditch and bayonet "their" prisoner to death. This is a horrific way to kill another human being. Up on the bank, countless other young soldiers would cheer them on in their violence. Comparatively few soldiers actually killed in these situations, but by making the others watch and cheer, the Japanese were able to use these kinds of atrocities to classically condition a very large audience to associate pleasure with human death and suffering. Immediately afterwards, the soldiers who had been spectators were treated to sake, the best meal they had had in months, and to so-called comfort girls. The result? They learned to associate committing violent acts with pleasure.
"The Japanese found these kinds of techniques to be extraordinarily effective at quickly enabling very large numbers of soldiers to commit atrocities in the years to come. Operant conditioning teaches you to kill, but classical conditioning is a subtle but powerful mechanism that teaches you to like it."
Operant conditioning, for the record, is rote learning to kill. Stimulus, reaction. Stimulus, reaction. In airforce training, it is flight simulator computer games - missile lock, fire. Training to operate purely on instinct and adrenalin. Something, says Grossman, that interactive computer games do so well with today’s kids.
So what sort of traction is the issue getting in New Zealand? We invited TVNZ chief executive Ian Fraser to comment, but there’s been no response. However, a working party is due to report back to the Government this September on whether children’s television is too violent.
Investigate approached the Broadcasting Standards Authority for comment on whether our programme standards covered protecting children from the occult.
"We’ve never really thought about it. No one’s ever complained," reported the BSA. Maybe no one’s ever realised they could.
additional reporting: Glenn Garvin, Michael Zielenziger, KRT
GRIPE JUICE: LIQUOR TAX FALLOUT INVESTIGATE: JUL 03
Imagine trying to cut the road toll by making it illegal to ride a bicycle. Then imagine trying to reduce teen alcohol consumption by putting a hefty new tax on port and sherry. Little wonder, as HAMISH CARNACHAN discovers, that the wine industry is becoming a whine industry as opposition to the tax grows
Bloodied, battered and intoxicated teenagers line the waiting room, which by 2am looks more like an army field hospital than an accident and emergency centre. Some temporarily tend to their own injuries with gauze dressings thrust at them by overworked nurses, others, passed out on a friend’s shoulder, will stay comfortably comatose until a frantic doctor finally gets a chance to wake them and examine their wounds.
It’s not too hard to find the fallout of youth binge drinking - venture out to any emergency ward late Friday or Saturday night and you’ll discover the bloody aftermath. Some will be less fortunate of course – they’ll end up in hospital proper with injuries more serious than superficial scrapes and cuts – but most will make it safely home and have nothing to nurse but a nasty hangover.
Still, the social and economic cost of such excesses is something to cause concern - a host of studies and statistics say so. But is hiking up the price of liquor the best way of tackling the matter and was the secrecy surrounding the Government’s latest move, the implementation of the so-called "teen-tax", warranted?
Well, the Government felt that way when, much like medical staff working late into the night, the legislative practitioners hurried an emergency operation through Parliament in an effort to stem the social haemorrhaging – or so they say.
In his capacity as acting Minister of Customs, Jim Anderton spearheaded the procedure to pass the Customs and Excise (Alcoholic Beverages) Amendment Bill. This has effectively increased the excise duty that the government charges on beverages containing more than 14 percent, but no more than 23 percent, of alcohol-by-volume.
Prior to Parliament ramming through the new law, unannounced, some ‘light spirits’ in the 14 to 23 percent alcohol-by-volume range were not charged for their actual content of alcohol. The Government argues that many manufacturers were using the loophole to sell products at the higher percentage end of the bracket whilst still benefiting from an arbitrarily low tax rate.
The new tax increase, says Anderton, is "to promote safer communities by discouraging underage teenagers and children from misusing alcohol".
Essentially, the ‘light spirits’ Anderton is hoping to target with his new law are the diluted versions of high-alcohol liquor like whiskey, gin and vodka – beverages the minister says are the biggest cause of grief for youths.
"The products that mainly fall into this category are the very cheap light spirits often used by young people," he says. "This is an important piece of legislation to address a serious challenge being faced by far too many New Zealand families.
"The drinking habits of too many young New Zealanders are of great concern. Recent surveys have shown an increase in the level of heavy drinking amongst the young. This trend is both dangerous and unacceptable to our society."
Last year the Alcohol Advisory Council (ALAC) commissioned Brian Easton to report on the impact of excise tax on alcohol. A central finding was that alcohol is one of a handful of products where the costs of production do not accurately reflect the overall costs to society of consumption.
"The excess social costs are substantial," states Easton. "The most comprehensive estimate suggests that alcohol misuse reduces effective GDP by 4 percent, may well reduce the effective size of the unmeasured (informal) economy by a similar amount, and has also reduced the welfare of New Zealanders via additional mortality and morbidity by 2 percent and the population of New Zealand by 0.8 percent.
"The excess social costs may be thought of as the economists’ equivalent of harm, in which case the objective of alcohol policy in economic terms is to reduce social costs. Reducing the gap between the prices on which individuals base their alcohol consumption decisions and the social cost to the economy will reduce harm, because individuals are less likely to partake of potentially harmful consumption."
Higher prices for alcohol are considered to impact on different consumers in different ways. While evidence suggests such moves have negligible influence on moderate, heavy and chronic drinkers, teenagers tend to reduce their drinking in the face of higher prices.
"It seems likely that there is less drinking in extended drinking sessions as the price rises," reports Easton.
Fair enough, one might conclude. So what’s got so many in the hospitality and liquor industries gagging then?
Quite simply, they are furious with the "haste and secrecy" surrounding the law change, and are questioning the Government’s social conscience in light of what they say is a fundamentally flawed notion. They are also critical that the move is as watered-down as the products the legislation is supposed to target - nothing more than another tax grab dressed up for public consumption.
While the Alcohol Advisory Committee-commissioned report places a clear emphasis on the social costs of alcohol, it is acknowledged that any measure of the toll the youth bracket imparts on the economy would be far from objective – it’s simply too tough to accurately calculate. If anything, health advocates argue that alcohol consumption should be reduced across the board, not forced upon any one group. The hospitality industry agrees.
"In many ways that’s what light spirits achieve by providing a lower alcohol spirit option," says Hospitality Association Chief Executive Bruce Robertson. "Light spirits provide an option for spirit drinkers to reduce their alcohol intake in the same way that low alcohol beers do for beer drinkers."
Calculating excise can be quite a complex business. Prior to Anderton’s changes, there were seven steps on the scale, depending on the beverage’s alcohol content. In the report, a graph of alcohol content against tax per litre shows a clear drop at the 23 percent mark – a point where the Government decided kids were getting "the best bang for their buck".
"The Bill puts into effect the recommendation in the Easton report relating to the excise duty on light spirits," explains Anderton in a statement released after the new law had been passed. "The change means that alcoholic beverages in the 14 to 23 percent alcohol range can be taxed according to their actual alcohol content, rather than all being levied as though they contain 18 percent alcohol by volume. The changes also mean that the products will be taxed at the higher rate – the same rate that full-strength spirits are taxed at. This will remove the tax advantage that the light spirits currently receive."
However, among other recommendations, Easton’s report suggests a decrease in the tax on higher alcohol spirits and yet the Government has chosen not to implement that. It’s this "selective" reckoning that has inspired talk of a tax grab.
Robertson acknowledges that the tax regime for alcohol is far from perfect and lacking in logic, but he says the Government has reached "new levels of absurdity" with this latest move.
In an article for Food and Beverage magazine Robertson highlights two key influences which, when combined, formed the trigger for the tax hike.
"The first was the formation, following the last election, of a Ministerial Taskforce on drugs and alcohol lead by Progressive Coalition Leader Jim Anderton…This taskforce has therefore been looking as to how they can and can be seen to be making progress to reduce problems associated with young people and alcohol and drugs.
"The other player has been the distilled spirits industry dominated by the overseas brand owners who have been perturbed to see the erosion of their market from ‘ready to drinks’ [RTDs] and the emergence of a light spirits category…one of their strategic objectives has been to remove or significantly dent the light spirits category. So it seems that submissions from this sector to ALAC have argued that as an effective harm minimisation measure light spirits should be taxed at a higher rate.
"The only real winners from these tax changes are the Government with greater revenue and the international full strength brand owners anticipating greater sales. The losers are all those involved in producing products between 14 and 23 percent, and in particular the consumers who enjoyed these products."
Figures suggest that revenue from excise duty on alcohol does not even cover the costs incurred by the public health sector in dealing with alcohol associated injuries and harm. Does that mean Robertson and others have a point when they suggest the new regime is merely a scheme to line government coffers? Probably not – on current consumption levels the new duty will only net treasury about $18 million. And if Anderton’s prediction is correct, an associated decrease in the drinking of light spirits will result in even less revenue being generated. He repeats that the aim is to reduce young drinkers’ demand for these alcoholic beverages.
"This will mean that young people will not be able to afford as much alcohol as they currently do. Their $10 pocket money won’t be able to buy them a bottle of gin. They’ll drink less alcohol, get less drunk, and cause less harm."
But caught in the crossfire are the producers and consumers of wine-based products – such as sherry and port. While distilled spirits, particularly light spirits, can be produced at low cost, the same cannot be said of fortified wines. Unfortunately for the latter, they fall within the magic 14 to 23 percent alcohol range and are now subject to the same excise duty.
Many small winemakers have made considerable investments in sherry and port production and because these types of wine typically need time to mature, wineries have substantial stocks on hand.
New Zealand Winegrowers, the industry body for the country’s winemakers and grape growers, says the change in the excise regime will have a striking impact in the market, making it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for winemakers to sell the stock they have on hand.
"The financial impact of this could be disastrous, especially for smaller companies," says Chairman Peter Hubscher.
Henderson-based Pleasant Valley Wines, the oldest family-owned winery in New Zealand, has been making port and sherry for over 100 years. Owner Stephan Yelas says that while the company has just celebrated a milestone in terms of its centenary, it is the end of an era because they are pulling the plug on fortified wine production.
"We’ll just run stocks out now because we can’t see any money left in it. There’s no margin for profit any longer," he says.
New Zealand makes 1.2 million litres of port and sherry each year. While that only amounts to about 2 percent of the country’s total wine production, a string of family businesses in the Henderson area, many of which have been established for a long period of time, base their income on fortified wines.
Pleasant Valley will survive through the sale of its mainstay table wines, but Yelas agrees with Hubscher that other companies in the region, particularly the boutique wineries that focus primarily on port and sherry production, are likely to find the new excise duty very tough for business.
Yelas says he found out about the new excise duty like everyone else - "on the news." So was he annoyed when he heard? He says not as angry as the customers, who it turns out are "100 percent the older pensioners".
Indeed, the biggest market for sherry and port in New Zealand is the older generation. And that is why many critics say the new legislation simply defies logic, given that it is supposed to target youth drinking. One cynical commentator wrote that it is rather like attacking the high teenage pregnancy rate by taxing Viagra, or restricting boy racers by increasing the duty on diesel.
Hubscher says the elderly are bound to find the price increase of approximately $5 to $6 per bottle very hard to swallow, especially since most of them are on fixed incomes.
"This inflicts unnecessary hardship on people who have been contributing to our country for many decades and who are not part of the problem the new law purports to address," he says.
One suggestion in the Easton report states: "In order to maintain realistic minimum levels for the price of alcohol, either the base excise duty rate for all alcohol has to be raised, or a differential between spirits needs to be introduced. This reports recommends the latter option."
Winegrowers CEO Philip Gregan says essentially this proposes that light spirits should be taxed higher than other alcoholic beverages that fall within the 14 to 23 percent alcohol range. He says this would have made more sense than the adopted approach.
"There’s a fundamental difference between fermented beverages and distilled beverages," says Gregan. "That’s been recognised in past excise regimes. To be consistent, that logic needed to be carried through here. They haven’t though and by incorporating fortified wines they’ve blurred the line between distilled and fermented beverages."
Anderton’s rationale is that "this is necessary to ensure that these products [fortified wines] do not become an alternative source of low-priced, higher alcohol content beverages…"
Gregan thinks that is absurd. "Kids don’t drink fortified wines. The whole marketing profile and flavour profile is wrong."
And this isn’t the only reason Winegrowers is disgruntled. While the Government claims to have pushed the Bill through Parliament under such urgency so as to prevent one company gaining an unfair advantage over its competitor, Hubscher says the complete lack of discussion was a clear breach of a promise made by Anderton three months earlier.
"To make matters worse, this ill-conceived policy was rushed through without consultation – consultation the industry was promised in writing on more than one occasion by Jim Anderton in February of this year. It is a serious injustice that this promise was not kept," says Hubscher.
Investigate asked Winegrowers for a copy of Anderton’s letters but the request was declined on the basis that "it’s not in the public domain". However, we did find the following excerpt on Winegrowers’ website in which Anderton advises: "If we are to find the solutions to the problems we are exploring then it is crucial that these should be ones upon which as many as possible of the stakeholders can reach agreement. If we don’t take this approach then I doubt that we will succeed in our endeavours."
It is important to note that while the Government has adopted approaches outlined in his report, calling Easton the villain, as some commentators have alluded to, may not be the most objective reaction. Featured in the paper are recommendations and examples to "assist public discussion". In fact, he highlights it as an imperative.
"That it is a political judgement suggests the need for a wide public debate on the appropriate excise duty rate," writes Easton.
But since Anderton’s February correspondence, Winegrowers says it has had no consultation with the Government about the matter.
"We are fully supportive of the Government’s commitment to resolve the issue of excessive drinking by young people," says Hubscher. "We also agree with Mr Anderton’s letter that consultation with stakeholders is central to successful policy outcomes. Like him, we believe that the new regime will fail in its objectives because he has not taken key stakeholders with him on this issue.
"The policy will put some small winemakers out of business. It will make no contribution to solving the youth drinking problem."
By using less juice or less soft drink in the mix, young drinkers will get much the same effect as before, says Hubscher, and he predicts that the producers of light spirits will simply change their products to have 13.9 percent alcohol to bypass the new rules.
Independent Liquor, New Zealand’s largest light spirits producer, has done exactly that. It has reformulated its range of drinks to have an alcohol content of 13.9 percent in a move reported to have been "unashamedly aimed at beating" the teen-tax.
And if concern about the social impact of youth drinking is the real issue, why has the Government not attacked teenagers’ "drink of preference" – the sickly-sweet, brightly coloured, lolly-water beverages referred to as alco-pops or RTDs?
"Light spirits are of greater concern at the moment than alco-pops as the price of light spirits currently allows young people to purchase a greater quantity of alcohol for a less amount of money," is Anderton’s reply.
There’s a clear consensus, spoken on talkback radio and voiced in the odd editorial – the new tax will prompt a short-term reduction in youth binge drinking but it is not a long-term solution.
"Government should be addressing the question ‘why do young people or indeed any New Zealanders binge drink?’" says Robertson. "Instead they have a simplistic view that the price they pay for alcohol is their major driver to binge and it will be fixed by increasing the price, and that’s simply not the case."
Groups opposing liquor advertising aimed at young people report that it is the commercials that have lead to more teen binge drinking. Given that the Herald recently revealed that liquor companies received "mate’s rates" from government-owned Television New Zealand, to encourage intense advertising, it is hardly surprising that people are struggling to understand the logic behind the latest move.
Robertson is one of many who argue that the Government would be concentrating on more fundamental questions if social interest was the priority. Others see it as a little contradictory that a ‘conscience vote’ in Parliament led to the lowering of the drinking age in the first place, and some say the lack of consultation was a flouting of the democratic process.
However, it is hard to argue with the underlying principle, or indeed the statistics, that teenage binge drinking is a serious concern, not just for the healthy development of that cohort, but also for society as whole. And yet, it is an issue that most agree necessitates action that actually hits the mark - a more measured response than the impromptu measures carried through a sleepy Parliament that night. Instead, says Robertson, "Government has used a sledge hammer and missed the target."
March 06, 2007
THE CIVIL UNIONS BILL INVESTIGATE: April 04
The Civil Union Bill is be-ing promoted as reasonable legislation, to rectify civil rules and regulations that allegedly discriminate against homosexuals and lesbians. Many New Zealanders, including senior politicians from other parties, are supportive, believing that the issue is about recognizing modern diversity and civil rights.
They would be probably unaware that overseas, particularly in Australia and America, certain gay activists and academics are telling gay communities that the real object is a social revolution to destroy the traditional family.
New social structures of marriage will enable sexual expression based on individuals, couples and groups. The latter is called "polyamory".
What’s polyamory? Well, that’s what this story is all about…as BERNARD MORAN reports:
How things change. Not too long ago, the idea of same-sex marriage seemed ridiculous. Now its proponents are on a roll across the western world, and it’s their adversaries, the "homophobic" defenders of traditional marriage, who are struggling to hold back the tide.
In retrospect, human rights legislation provided the essential platform for all that was to come. An end run can be taken around the mass of public disapproval, centuries of history and world-wide practice, through a successful appeal on the grounds of discrimination.
Especially when human rights legislation is amended by Parliament to ban discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation.
In April 1917, Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin arrived aboard a sealed train at Petrograd station. The epitome of the professional revolutionary, Lenin came armed with a political agenda Marxist Leninism, the will to carry it out, and a strategy to prevail over opposition.
Christchurch MP, Tim Barnett, the architect of the Civil Union Bill and legalised prostitution, arrived in New Zealand in 1991, armed with an agenda and strategy to advance gay rights.
His website profile (found on the web at www.timbarnett.org.nz) and interview in the gay paper Express (10th May, 2001), reveals a consummate, professional social revolutionary.
In his early 20s, Tim Barnett, involved with the British Labour party, worked as a voluntary sector manager, specializing in strategic and project development, marketing and media. From 1982-1989, he was co-organiser and then chairman of the National Association of Volunteer Bureaux.
His key appointment was as the founding Executive Director of the Stonewall (Lobby) Group 1989-1991.
To appreciate the expertise that Tim Barnett brings to the promotion of his Civil Union Bill, we need to take a closer look at what Stonewall represents. But first, here is how Stonewall got its name.
Robert Knight in his 1998 book, The Age of Consent: The Rise of Relativism and the corruption of Popular Culture (Spence Publishing Co, Dallas), writes on page 47:
"In 1969, the Stonewall rebellion signalled the beginning of the official Gay Liberation Movement. A New York bar catering to drag queens and ‘chicken hawks’ (homosexual men who seek underage male partners), the Stonewall Inn was also a haven for drug dealing. When the police began to question some of the patrons on June 27th, 1969, the bar patrons – many of them drag queens – responded by rioting.
"It was the first ‘mass resistance’ against the establishment by homosexuals, and it serves today as their sacred totem, with gay pride parades and numerous rites, held annually on the Stonewall anniversary. Few gay activists, most of whom deny that paedophilia plays any part in the homosexual ‘community’, acknowledge that Stonewall was known as a meeting place for paedophiles."
Investigate readers with PCs can key in www.stonewall.org.uk and see for themselves, how professional and effective Stonewall is in Britain.
Under a "Brief Overview of Stonewall", we read: "Stonewall was founded in 1989 by women and men who had been active in the struggle against Section 28 of the Local Government Act (more on that later). Their aim was to create a professional lobbying group that would prevent such attacks on lesbians, gay men and bisexuals ever occurring again – and to put the case for equality on the mainstream political agenda, by winning support within all political parties."
"Our lobbying work remains important today, but our activities have expanded considerably. We promote new research (for example on discrimination in the work place, homophobic violence and sex education) and have taken test legal cases that graphically challenge inequality (e.g. on the age of consent and lesbians and gays in the armed forces). We have also successfully mobilized thousands of individuals around the country to campaign on our behalf, most notably in the run up to the votes on the age of consent and Section 28 in Parliament."
Stonewall initiates policy development:
· "carrying out research, publishing briefings and working with government, trade unions, business, NGOs and policy institutions.."
· "Cultural and attitudinal change: challenging the underlying cultural and attitudinal values that allow discrimination to flourish. Changing cultures and attitudes to positively value diversity."
· "Lobbying for legal change: campaigning to ensure legislation is non-discriminatory and that the diversity and value of LGB (gay, lesbian and bi-sexual) life is appropriately recognized in our own laws."
Tim Barnett played a leading role in the bitter fight to repeal Section 28 of the 1982 British Education Act. A detailed account of the struggle was written by Stephen Green, head of the Conservative Party Family Association, in his book The Sexual Dead End (Broad View Books, London, 1992).
Section 28 forbade the promotion of homosexuality during sex education classes in United Kingdom schools.
Green describes (p 348-349) how "The Stonewall Group published a ‘Homosexuality Equality Bill’ based on a manifesto agreed by the Campaign for Homosexual Equality and the National Council for Civil Liberties. The central aim was the overturning of the idea that lesbian and gay sexuality is unlawful or immoral.
Draft legislation prepared for the Labour Party began by declaring: "That homosexual sex acts, whether between women or between men, are in no way inferior from the standpoint of public morality, or policy, or the public interest, to heterosexual sex acts."
"All three manifestos, the Labour, the Liberal Democrat and the Stonewall, believe that children should be taught in the classroom that homosexuality is equally as valid as heterosexuality."
The manifestos included a new offence of "incitement to hatred (or violence) on the grounds of sexual orientation." This measure would proscribe the ability of Christian churches and other religious faiths, to make public statements, or publicly oppose aspects of the homosexual agenda. More on this later.
Stonewall lobbied hard for the legal age for consent to be lowered to 16. Stephen Green commented that prosecutions would be unlikely for sex with 15 and 14 year-old boys, on the grounds that they would be considered borderline cases, because of the difficulty in proving that the accused knew the boys were underage.
Green writes that although Stonewall was then unsuccessful in repealing Section 28, its ability in public relations and marketing "Proud to be Gay", "transferred any stigma from homosexuals to the bigoted opposition. Homosexuals were no longer sick or perverted. What was sick, was the homophobic opposition to homosexuality."
Commenting on the homosexual agenda, Green wrote: "The homosexual movement simply measures all things, by the standard of whether or not, they promote homosexuality for the homosexual."
In 1991, Tim Barnett and his partner, the Very Reverend Jonathon Kirkpatrick arrived in New Zealand. The Reverend Kirkpatrick had been appointed Dean of St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral in Dunedin.
By 1991, Barnett was working for the AIDS Foundation in Christchurch, then coordinator for the Christchurch Community Law Centre and enjoying rapid progress within the Labour Party: chair of Christchurch Central Electoral Committee, then regional representative on the NZ Council of the Party.
Selected as the Labour candidate for Christchurch Central in August 1995, he became an MP in October 1996. Tim Barnett was soon in positions of power consistent with his Stonewall experience and agenda: Labour Spokesperson on Human Rights, Private Secretary to the Ministry of Justice on human rights issues, Chair of the Justice and Electoral Select Committee.
For their 10th May, 2001 issue, the gay newspaper Express invited Tim Barnett to outline his objectives for the future. Here are his key points:
· "We will not have a queer-friendly government forever. I believe there is a real urgency to completing the equal-rights agenda, so that moving backwards becomes totally unthinkable and untenable, so that over ensuing generations, attitudes can finally come right."
· "We know much more than most about what Government could do and is doing, and we have the luxury of being full-time stirrers."
· "As queer politicians, our mission is to deliver equal rights under the law, and ensure that the Government machine is working for our community."
Under "unfinished business", Mr Barnett listed his agenda:
· "Recognition of our relationships, offering the same rights that marriage confers (I am currently working on a civil union model).
· "Access to marriage as an additional option to civil union."
· "Comprehensive action to make all our school environments safe for young people coming out as queer. That should include access to counselling, protection from discrimination by staff, or fellow students – and inclusion of relevant studies in the curriculum."
· "Recognition in law of the existence and absolute unacceptability of homophobia (and other forms of hate), as a motivating factor in criminal acts."
Prime Minister Helen Clark told the Express newspaper (21 June, 2001) that although she had not seen a draft of the bill, "I did encourage Tim to take up the issue."
Given the Prime Ministerial green light, Tim Barnett established an advisory group of mainly gay people to develop a concept that would allow homosexual partnerships to be officially registered, without altering the status of marriage.
The group’s proposal applies to heterosexual and gay couples, who would be able to have their relationship registered and acquire similar rights to married couples.
Tim Barnett’s case is cogently argued in a comprehensive backgrounder on his website (www.timbarnett.org.nz). He approaches the issue from a human rights angle:
"In New Zealand, same-sex couples cannot legally get married, or access the rights that come with marriage. When a couple get married, they automatically receive over 100 different statutory entitlements. Because same-sex couples cannot get married, they cannot access these entitlements. This is discrimination."
"Generally, New Zealand’s laws do not recognize the existence of same-sex couples. Same-sex partners are not ‘next of kin’ or ‘family’, according to most of our laws. This can have a devastating impact on people’s lives."
"There are countless stories from all around New Zealand, of people experiencing horrific situations and hardship because of the current relationship laws and their effects. For example, there are many distressing stories of people not being able to see their partner in hospital, because they are not considered to be ‘family’. Because of these effects, it is important that New Zealand’s laws are changed, so that they do recognize the existence of same-sex couples."
"Because same-sex couples cannot legally get married, they do not have the choice of publicly expressing their commitment. The legal effect of this is that same-sex couples are considered ‘legal strangers’, even if they have lived together for twenty or more years. The social effect is that bisexual, lesbian and gay people are treated like second-class citizens, and their relationships are denied the dignity of being socially recognized. This has negative effects upon individuals’ health, self-esteem and relationship stability."
Tim Barnett explains that civil unions will be another form of relationship recognition that exists alongside marriage. "But unlike marriage, civil unions will be available for all couples. Civil unions won’t be based on religion, or other traditional ideas about ‘couples’."
"Civil unions will be a modern relationship model for the 21st century, with a secular (non-religious) basis. What they will mean socially will depend on us – society. We have the challenge of being pioneers and developing social meanings and status around ‘civil unions’."
Married couples have over a hundred statutory entitlements, conferring legal benefits, protections and obligations. De facto couples have over thirty, while same-sex couples have only nine.
According to Tim Barnett, the Government’s approach is to change each law on a case-by-case basis, as it updates old laws. It is "tagging on" relationship recognition to law reform issues like guardianship, adoption and property division. "But this is an unrealistic, inefficient and messy way to give same-sex couples equal rights. There are many minor or trivial laws that they won’t bother to amend just to include same-sex couples."
"What we propose in the Civil Union Bill is to change all the statute books in one go, by saying that every time the words ‘spouse’, ‘wife’, ‘husband’, or ‘de facto couple’ appear, they should be read to include same-sex couples. This will make sure that all the laws comply with the Bill of Rights Act, and the Government isn’t in breach of our human rights in terms of equal treatment. This is an efficient one-step law change that means we won’t have to argue for same-sex inclusion, every time a law is debated in Parliament."
On adoption, Tim Barnett argues that there is no objective data to suggest that same-sex parents are any better or worse than different-sex parents. Most recent, reliable studies have stated that same-sex parents are just as likely to be good parents as different-sex couples are. Under the Bill of Rights Act, the Government would need to demonstrate, using objective data or reasons, how it could justify excluding same-sex couples from adopting. We don’t think that they could."
The problem with Tim Barnett’s "recent, reliable studies", is that most have been carried out by same-sex people and tend to be self-serving. He overlooks the wealth of evidence indicating that fathers and mothers play vital roles in rearing children. Adopted children deserve to have the experience of both a father and a mother.
Example: an in-depth research project carried out in the 1990s, on teenagers reared by lesbian women. They confided to the researchers that they loved their mothers and their partners, but were profoundly disturbed and distressed by their sexual activities. Out of loyalty to their "parents", the children internalized their distress and never spoke of it.
How will couples register their civil union? The only legal requirement will be to sign a register at the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages and be issued with a certificate.
If couples separate for more than two years, they will be able to dissolve their civil union. The same "divorce rules" will apply as for marriage, meaning that there will be a two-year stand down between separation and dissolution. The Property Relationship Act of 2001, will cover how property is divided between civil union couples, if they separate or one dies.
David Benson-Pope, the new Associate Minister of Justice will introduce the two pieces of legislation into the House. The Civil Unions Bill is modeled on the Marriage Act, but substitutes the words "civil unions" for marriage and covers homosexual as well as heterosexual relationships.
The second, the Legal Recognition of Relationships Bill, will seek to amend 1,000 provisions in some 120 different pieces of legislation. The terms "marriage", "husband" and "wife", will disappear from the statute books and ensure that civil unions will have identical benefits to those who are married.
The stated purpose is to ensure that discrimination based on marital status is eliminated in compliance with the Human Rights Act. A similar right is contained in the NZ Bill of Rights Act.
The question remains that once the areas of discrimination have been eliminated, what happens to the idea of marriage itself.
Maggie Gallagher is the editor of MarriageDebate com and the co-author of "The Case for Marriage". In her article "What Marriage is For", published in The Weekly Standard (4th August, 2003), she writes:
"The problem with endorsing gay marriage is not that it would allow a handful of people to choose alternative family forms, but that it would require society at large to gut marriage of its central presumption about family, in order to accommodate a few adults’ desires."
"The debate over same-sex marriage then, is not some sideline discussion. It is the marriage debate. Either we win – or lose the central meaning of marriage. Same-sex marriage would enshrine in law a public judgment that the desire of adults for families of choice, outweighs the need of children for mothers and fathers. It would give sanction and approval to the creation of motherless or fatherless family as a deliberately chosen ‘good’. It would mean that the law was neutral as to whether children had mothers and fathers. Motherless and fatherless families would be deemed just fine."
"Redefining marriage so that it suits gays and lesbians, requires fundamentally changing our legal, public, and social conception of what marriage is, in ways that threaten its core public purpose."
What lies beyond civil unions and same-sex marriage?
In America, some gay-rights advocates are predicting that civil unions and same-sex marriage, have the scope to completely redefine marriage and its meaning.
For example, Patti Ettelbrick, former leader of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund says: "Being queer is more than setting up house, sleeping with a person of the same gender, and seeking state approval for doing so. Being queer means pushing the parameters of sex and sexuality, and in the process transforming the very fabric of society."
Michelangelo Signorile, homosexual activist and writer argues that the goal of homosexuality is to: "fight for same-sex marriage and its benefits and then, once granted, redefine the institution of marriage completely, to demand the right to marry, not as a way of adhering to society’s moral codes, but rather to debunk a myth and radically alter an archaic institution. The most subversive action lesbians and gay men can undertake, is to transform the notion of ‘family’ entirely."
Gay commentator Andrew Sullivan, has said that the "openness" in many gay relationships would in reality fortify heterosexual marriages by allowing straight couples to see that adultery doesn’t necessarily destroy a marriage. Once gay "marriage" is allowed, the faithful nature of traditional unions will be transformed for the better.
Which brings us to the concept of polyamory. Once civil unions and marriage between same-sex couples are legalized, it could be argued that limiting the relationship to two people is discriminatory. Since the procreation and rearing of children by a mother and father, is no longer recognized by the state as a preferred relationship, or for the greater good of society, there is no reason apart from convention to limit the union to two people.
Stanley Kurtz, writing in the Weekly Standard (August 4th, 2003) "Beyond Gay Marriage: the road to polyamory", predicts that marriage will be transformed into a variety of relationship contracts, linking two, three, or more individuals, in every conceivable combination of male and female. Polyamory is about group marriage, and already in the United States, a network of grass-roots organizations advocating legal recognition, is being supported by a powerful faction of family law specialists.
"Influential legal bodies in both the United States and Canada, have presented radical programs of marital reform. Some of these proposals go so far as to suggest the abolition of marriage."
Kurtz says that the modern polyamory movement took off in the mid-nineties, partly because of the growth of the Internet, but also in parallel and inspired by the rising gay marriage movement.
"Unlike classic polygamy, which features one man and several women, polyamory comprises a bewildering variety of sexual combinations. There are triads of one women and two men, heterosexual group marriages, groups in which all members are bisexual, lesbian groups and so forth. (For details, see Deborah Anapol’s "Polyamory: the New Love Without Limits", or look up the word polyamory on Google.)"
The flagship magazine of the polyamory-rights movement is Loving More, which advocates using the gay rights movement as a model.
However, as Kurtz reveals, there is a fundamental problem that just doesn’t seem to go away, and it’s called "jealousy". Apparently, polyamory websites are filled with chatter about jealousy. Inevitably, group marriages based on modern principles of companionate love, without religious rules and restraints, are unstable and children will pay the price.
"Once monogamy is defined out of marriage, it will be next to impossible to educate a new generation in what it takes to keep companionate marriage intact. State-sanctioned polyamory would spell the effective end of marriage. And that is what polyamory"s new and surprisingly influential defenders are aiming for."
"State-sanctioned polyamory is now the cutting-edge issue among scholars of family law. Promoting polyamory is the ideal way to "radically reorder society’s view of the family" says Paula Ettelbrick, policy director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force."
Quoting from a series of law professors, Kurtz notes they believe that legal and social hostility to polygamy and polyamory are decreasing, and that the increased openness of homosexual partnerships is slowly collapsing the taboo against polygamy and polyamory.
Part of the agenda is to render the distinction between traditional marriage and polyamory as "morally neutral".
Canada is further down the track than the USA. In 1997, the Canadian Parliament established the Law Commission of Canada to serve Parliament and the Justice Ministry, as an advisory body on legal reform. In December 2001, the Commission submitted a report entitled "Beyond Conjugality", which hinted at recommending the abolition of marriage. The authors admitted that the Canadian public may not be yet ready for such a step.
Tim Barnett is on record in Express magazine (10th May, 2001) as seeking "recognition in law of the existence and absolute unacceptability of homophobia (and other forms of hate) as a motivating factor in some criminal acts." His passion paid off when the Government adopted ‘hate crime’ provisions into law two years ago.
Canada provides a salutary lesson on what this can lead to when "sexual orientation" becomes part of the Human Rights Act. In the November, 2003 issue of Catholic World Report, there is a feature by John-Henry Westen entitled: "Religious Persecution Next? A new ‘hate crime law’ bars Christians from speaking out against homosexuality."
The Catholic Bishops of Canada were so alarmed by the implications that they issued a public statement: "What troubles us is the possibility that someone who finds the expression of the Catholic Church on sexual conduct too blunt, or too harsh, will invoke the Criminal Code to silence the teaching."
In Ottawa, a leading Catholic priest told a press conference: "Canadians are now seeing their precious country rushing into an era of ruthless religious persecution. They are witnessing their religious rights eroding before their eyes, and see Bill C-250 as the launch pad for a full attack on Canadian religious belief and institutions."
Other priests announced they were willing to go to jail, to remain faithful to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Toronto’s Cardinal Ambrozic warned that with the passing of C-250: "religion will soon need to be protected from the state. You risk your life for an absolute. There are things greater than us, for which we must be ready to die."
Sylvia MackEachern, editor of the Catholic publication the Orator, in a radio interview condemned the new AIDS curriculum intended for Catholic schools. She found herself under investigation by the Ottawa-Carleton Police Hate Crime Unit, and was let off with a caution.
WorldNetDaily carried a report on November 13th, 2003, about the Anglican Bishop of Chester, the Rt.Rev. Peter Forster, who was investigated by the Cheshire police for committing a "hate crime". In an interview with the Chester Chronicle, the Bishop said:
"Some people who are primarily homosexual can re-orientate themselves. I would encourage them to consider that as an option, but I would not set myself up as a specialist on the subject. That is in the area of psychiatric health."
The Times reported the Cheshire Chief Constable Peter Fahy, issued a public rebuke to the Bishop: "All public leaders in Cheshire need to give clear leadership on the issue of diversity."
After consulting with the Crown Prosecution Service, Cheshire police decided that the Bishop hadn’t committed a crime, according to a strict interpretation of the current law.
But this incident does serve as a warning to New Zealand church leaders who might criticize school sex education programmes that treat homosexual activity as equally valid and desirable as heterosexuality.
Prime Minister Helen Clark was interviewed at length by Express (11th February, 2004) and responded to this question:
Is the government worried about the level of homophobia shown by groups of the religious right like the Maxim Institute in New Zealand?
"We legislated against hate crimes. You just have to keep working over a long period of time on several values in society that does not condone that sort of attitude. I understand that over a long period of time, there has been a fundamentalist programme that runs on TV2 on a Sunday morning which is absolutely disgraceful. It is a very small minority point of view – and I think through continuing to set the tone of tolerance, acceptance and diversity, you just have to further marginalize such people. Hopefully one day, nobody will think that way."
Dr Michael Bassett, Minister of Health in the Lange Government and a historian, was interviewed by Leighton Smith on 24th February, 2004. He made this comment about Helen Clark and her inner circle:
"Their formative thinking was in the 1970s, and they have never learnt anything since. They impose their views on the bureaucrats, and they are in politics to force their 1970s views on the populace – and you’d better believe it."
Pope John Paul 11, once observed: "When absolute moral values are abandoned, then democracy becomes a matter of power and will."
But there is a potential solution to the Civil Union standoff: "Next-of-Kin" status.
In the United States, David Reardon of the Elliot Institute, has produced a concept that addresses the legitimate concerns of gay couples, and at the same time defends the traditional status of marriage and family.
Reardon’s proposal would allow any unmarried individual, regardless of sexual lifestyle, to designate the person who should handle their personal affairs, make health decisions when they are incapacitated, and have presumptive rights of visitation and inheritance, etc.
He argues: "A morally legitimate response to the legitimate concerns of homosexuals and other single persons, would be to pass legislation that allows easy designation or registration of a person’s chosen "next of kin", to whom all rights of visitation, power of attorney, etc, would attach. This legal designation of "next of kin", would override default transfer of these rights and duties to the closest blood relation, and thereby allow persons to designate any friend, "roommate", or professional advisor to be their most trusted confidant and beneficiary."
"This ‘next of kin’ designation avoids any insinuation that there is a ‘marriage’, or even a publicly recognized ‘union’ of the individuals. Yet at the same time, it gives single persons the right to establish a ‘family’ connection in a manner that is closely analogous to adoption. One might characterize the ‘next of kin’ designation as the adoption of a brother or sister to whom the legal rights of next-of-kin attach. The law could also provide for ‘next of kin’ certificates and ‘kinship severed’ (divorce) certificates."
Reardon acknowledges that most social engineer and gay activists will hate this solution precisely because it does solve the legitimate concerns of single persons. But by carefully addressing the legitimate problems they do raise, supporters of the traditional family can get out of their purely defensive posture and reframe the debate in ways that advance and protect the legitimate rights of both singles and married persons.
"In a society where families are often broken and dispersed, the right to designate a non-blood relation as ‘next of kin’ is a legitimate concern. When gay activists complain that next of kin designations are not enough, the response should be that they are sufficient to address the legitimate needs of all unmarried persons."
AROPAX NATION: A HARD HABIT TO BREAK, APR 2004
Are modern anti-depressants actually making people crazy? CLARE SWINNEY investigates the growing controversy over the side effects and withdrawal sympoms of the SSRIs:
Janet Frame touches on the association between doctors and patients in Faces In The Water, (1980) on page 28. ‘The doctor would pause sometimes to inquire, smiling in a friendly manner, but at the same time glancing hastily at his watch and perhaps wondering how in the hour before lunch he could possibly finish his rounds of all the women’s ward and get back to his office to deal with correspondence and interviews with demanding puzzled alarmed ashamed relatives.’ Although this was set in an asylum in New Zealand in between the First and Second World Wars, it bears a familiar flavour.
Propelled by a need for efficiency, psychiatry’s enthusiasm for symptomatic, push-button remedies, has led to life’s transient ‘symptoms’, such as forms of mild depression, to be clinically diagnosed and, once diagnosed, seemingly quickly alleviated, if not eliminated, by a pharmacological intervention. Many clinicians today consider it more practical, economical and speedier to prescribe medication than psychotherapy. But is dispensing tablets, such as the family of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), the best course of action for treating common ailments, such as mild to moderate depression? Or is it doing damage to those it is supposed to be helping?
Doctors have administered and prescribed a series of addictive drugs as sedatives for psychological distress since the early 1800’s, ascribing to the belief that they wouldn’t lead to dependence, and if they did, their patients were probably accountable in some way. Initially, there was opium and alcohol, then heroin, morphine and cocaine. Then in came the bromides, barbiturates and associated compounds. And an assortment of benzodiazepines ensued – including Librium and the iconic one, Valium, which was deceptively denoted ‘mother’s little helper.’
As a consequence of the relationships between governments, almighty drug companies, the medical profession and patients, it took over two decades of comprehensive use before benzodiazepines were accepted as addictive. When this occurred in the late 1980s, prescriptions for them went into sharp decline, but by then, thousands of addicts had been spawned worldwide, many for whom the sole motivation for continuing to take the drugs was that it was too distressing trying to cease using them. They were dependent upon them - in a similar manner some get hooked on drinking. It wasn’t an obvious addiction. Its effects were, for the most part, respectably concealed behind the white net curtains of suburbia. But the households were haunted.
A few weeks ago, an evening talkback show on Radio Pacific elicited calls from people who’d taken SSRIs, the antidepressants which soared in popularity when benzodiazepines lost favour. SSRI’s affect the brain’s ability to reabsorb serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain, which is supposed to affect mood, sleep and appetite. That night numerous people phoned the radio station. Said the program’s host: “We were inundated.” People related how difficult it was to come off SSRIs owing to a melange of atrocious withdrawal symptoms. Some divulging that they experienced anger, fierce rage and suicidal thoughts. A number regarded it as too difficult to give up, and regarded their medication as addictive.
Difficulties coming off the SSRIs are well documented. An Internet search of MEDLINEPlus using the search terms ‘SSRI’ and ‘withdrawal’ in combination drew out 278 entries and in Google, 51,900. Some experts stated that many patients, who go off the drugs, mistake their withdrawal symptoms for a return of the original symptoms they were using the drug to treat. They then commonly restart the medication. Other experts said that in many cases there may be a re-emergence of the symptoms people took the drug to alleviate, such as panic attacks for example, and that this was the deciding factor for some patients who restarted their SSRI medication.
Aropax, (paroxetine), which has a relatively intense impact and short duration of action, is associated with the most severe withdrawal reactions. It was approved for introduction into New Zealand in April 1992 and is now the most widely prescribed antidepressant in New Zealand - 209,054 prescriptions were written for it in 2003 alone. And this states Pharmac, the government-sponsored Pharmaceutical Management Agency of New Zealand, is in spite of it having come under scrutiny in Europe and North America, owing to reports linking it to an increased incidence of suicide and a heightened risk of dependence.
In 2003, the number of prescriptions for expensive antidepressants rose and cost taxpayers an additional $4.6 million from the year before. Clinicians’ preference for the SSRIs: Aropax, Fluox and Cipramil, over the old style of antidepressants, such as the tricyclics and monoamine oxidase inhibitors, accounted for most of this unwelcome gain.
One of the reasons for SSRIs popularity is that doctors do not regard SSRIs as addictive. Withdrawal from SSRI’s, such as Fluox and Aropax, can cause a range of unpleasant symptoms, such as dizziness, insomnia, virtual reality nightmares and headaches, but this in itself is not indicative of an addiction. According to Associate Prof Doug Sellman, a psychiatrist who specialises in addiction research at Christchurch, there is a crucial difference between a withdrawal syndrome associated with drugs taken for reward and attendant drug-seeking behaviour and a discontinuation syndrome from medications generally. He states: “There is no doubt that there is a discontinuation syndrome from SSRIs, such as Aropax, but not a withdrawal syndrome that will reignite drug-seeking behaviour.”
“Oh yeah?” responds Jane, one Auckland woman who tried to give up Aropax six weeks after starting. “By day five of climbing the walls, fighting the urge to kill yourself, fighting the urge to kill somebody else, feeling nauseous with the most horrific dreams I’ve ever experienced in my life – of course you go crawling back and start taking the drugs again! I suggest these doctors try taking these drugs themselves for a while, then try kicking the habit. Then you’d see their views change.”
Interestingly, a US clinician interviewed by Time magazine dismissed the link between SSRIs and suicides, saying a study of suicides failed to find evidence that an SSRI had been taken in the hours beforehand. But according to Jane and others, he missed the point - the suicidal thoughts come when you try to give up the drug, and you haven’t taken a pill.
Jane had gone to her doctor for exhaustion, and came away carrying a 20mg a day prescription for Aropax. When some of the side effects started to kick in after four weeks, she went back to the medic who decided to double Jane’s dose to 40mg a day. Things went from bad to worse - and the discovery that Aropax is one drug you can’t quit cold turkey.
“Once you’re on you can’t get off,” she says. “And that’s the most terrifying thing of all.”
The Diagnostic And Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Ed., (DSM IV), is the clinicians’ bible. Amongst other things it categorises 307 different types of depression, other mental illnesses, the personality disorders, and substance abuse problems. According to this guidebook, ‘addiction’ requires at least 3 of 7 criteria to be met, (p. 181).
Offers Dr Alistair Dunn, a GP, who specialises in the field of addiction: “A withdrawal syndrome is but 1 of those 7 criteria. I don’t think taking an SSRI, such as Aropax, fulfils any of the others. And I don’t regard it as addictive because it may in some cases, require careful tapering off. If medication for blood pressure is stopped abruptly, a rebound rise in blood pressure can result, or in other cases, a return of angina may occur. Therefore, it must be tapered off slowly. But that doesn’t make it addictive. Addiction does not equal withdrawal syndrome. It’s much more complex, involving effects across a wide range of domains in someone’s life.”
A DSM IV diagnosis of addiction requires evidence of outright abuse. One of the 7 criteria assigned is self-destructiveness manifested in drug-seeking behaviour, such as visiting multiple doctors or driving long distances. Obviously, this would be most unlikely to occur with an SSRI, given that physicians readily prescribe and actively encourage their use. Asserts Dr Dunn: “It can sometimes take a long time for a GP to convince a patient to try a medication, even when the need is obvious to the doctor and the benefits are significant.” Dunn seemed quite annoyed this article was being written. “What about the benefits of the medication and the harm of someone stopping it because they have read an article stating it’s an addictive drug,” he queries.
A review of the medical literature on the SSRI withdrawal syndrome by Tamam and Ozpoyraz, concludes that the best approach for a doctor in dealing with patients experiencing withdrawal symptoms is to educate them, reassuring them that it is a reversible condition, while reinstating the original SSRI, and further slowing the rate of tapering off the drug. (Source: Adv. Ther, 2002).
Anna De Jonge of Hamilton is the Liaison Officer for the Patients’ Rights Advocacy Waikato Inc, (PRAWI), a group of 570, that advocates having will power over pill power. PRAWI’s principal aim is to empower people with information and knowledge. And it, amongst other activities, assists victims of medical misadventure to make formal complaints. Says De Jonge, who is opposed to the use of the SSRI’s because she says they’ve been associated with “suicide, murder, self-harm and mental turmoil,” if in time SSRI’s turn out to be no improvement on latter-day antidepressants, this will be owing to and in spite of the minimisation of the risks of taking them. “If SSRI’s were in some regard, drugs of dependence, but not being categorised as such, it will increase the element of risk of self-harm using them, and their effectiveness will naturally be over-estimated,” maintains De Jonge.
Is their effectiveness being over-estimated? Effectiveness of numerous drugs is. Although it’s seems baffling given the drug industry’s culture of maximum possible sales for maximum possible profit, Dr Allen Roses, an employee of GlaxoSmithKline, (GSK), which is Britain’s largest drugs empire, publicly disclosed that most prescription medicines don’t work on most of those who take them. Amongst those working in the pharmaceutical industry, this was no secret. Seemingly paradoxically, Roses, worldwide Vice-President of genetics at GSK, stated late in 2003 that most drugs only work in 30-50% of people - a substantial proportion prescribed some of the most expensive drugs do not derive any benefit from them at all.
Could this be a reason why the SSRI, Prozac, which is the most widely prescribed antidepressant drug in history, made a fortune for the company, Eli Lilly, yet couldn’t save the CEO’s own spouse? In May 1994, Mrs Marilyn Tobias, the wife of Randall L Tobias, chief of Eli Lilly, committed suicide. Tobias told a magazine in 1995 that his wife was depressed and had tried Prozac.
Prozac was approved for use in New Zealand in February 1988. Eli Lilly’s www.prozac.com website states: “…since its introduction in 1986, Prozac has helped over 40 million patients worldwide, including those suffering from depression…”. Yet, as Charles Medawar, who has worked in consumer protection in the UK and held appointments with the World Health Organisation, pointed out “there has been no discernible effect on suicide rates, since the start of the new war on depression.” Suicide rates in the USA, where SSRIs have been most used, and in England, provided no evidence of any national dose-response. (Source: ‘The Antidepressant Web - Marketing Depression and Making Medicines Work,’ in International Journal of Risk and Safety in Medicine, 1997, p.23).
And now the 24,500 or so anti-depressant prescriptions provided for treating children and adolescents each year in New Zealand are under scrutiny as researchers look for a possible link between SSRIs and suicide. SSRIs are not registered for use here in children, but some doctors prescribe them to youngsters. In Britain, authorities have advised doctors not to prescribe the SSRIs Lustral, Cipramil, Cipralex, and Faverin to young depressed people as clinical trials found a higher rate of insomnia, agitation, weight loss, headache, tremor, loss of appetite, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts in children taking the drugs.
For years, drug manufacturers and regulators in the UK and US maintained that antidepressants would reduce the risk of suicide. Perhaps most notably, Dr David Healy, Director, North Wales Department of Psychological Medicine, a psychiatrist with an international reputation, having authored 12 books and over 120 peer-reviewed articles, strongly disputes this claim. Healy has examined many confidential internal drug company documents, to which he gained access in his capacity as an expert witness in a lawsuit against GSK. These internal documents, Healy states, show the results of the company’s own clinical trials testing the SSRI, paroxetine (Aropax). The evidence, he alleges, shows that rather than reducing the risk of suicide, the drug increases it. He told the BBC that the evidence indicates that roughly 1 in 60 people who go on this drug makes a suicide attempt, whereas only 1 in 550 on a placebo or sugar pill do. Dr Healy says both the drug company and the regulators in the UK and US knew this data for 13 years.
At the heart of the problem, Healy believes is that SSRIs cause akathisia, a syndrome involving motor restlessness, and it is this that causes some patients to commit suicide. GSK’s own studies, and Healy’s, show that SSRIs can cause 1 in 4 healthy volunteers to become agitated. Healy, who is also involved in legal action against Pfizer, following the suicide of the 13-year old American called Matthew Miller, who hanged himself after taking the SSRI sertraline for a week, carried out a trial in healthy human volunteers comparing sertraline with Pharmacia’s Edronax, which does not work on the serotonin system.
The results showed that one third did not respond well to sertraline at all. Of this third, 2 volunteers became acutely and seriously suicidal just being on a normal clinical dose for 2 weeks. They were absolutely normal people. Healy claimed that the archives of the 2 companies contained evidence supporting his own findings.
In excess of 30 studies on sertraline carried out before the drug was licensed, showed that 1 in 4 people taking the drug became agitated. The healthy volunteer studies carried out by the company showed that about 50% of patients suffered withdrawal problems when they came off the drug. Healy claimed this suggested that some patients had become physically dependent on the drug. But instead of warning patients and doctors, he said the company argued that the patients with problems coming off drugs were suffering a recurrence of depression and needed to resume medication.
It can be difficult to conceive of what could be going through someone’s mind when they consider suicide. According to 31-year old, Ashburton mother of two, Diane Blakemore, of how she felt while taking an SSRI: “My life was totally miserable. I wasn’t living - I was surviving. I had horrific nightmares, usually quite satanic. Irrational fears on the drug, were the norm too.
She continues: “I would lie on the couch, too lethargic to move and felt suicidal, as I was highly anxious and depressed. My whole body had inner shakes, I was sweating all over and I had headaches and unbearable muscle tension. My nervous system was overstimulated to the max.
“I felt suicidal because I felt like this and really didn’t like it. I didn’t know how to handle it. The doctor told me to keep taking the tablets, saying that these side effects would go away after 4 weeks. But they didn’t.
“I’d never had any of these symptoms prior to taking the drug. I recently had a bladder and uterine prolapse with terrible backache as a result of giving birth, which made me feel very tired. And as my child had colic, I had to walk the floor, and this walking made my backache worsen. The longer I was on my feet, whether I be sitting or standing later, the worse the pressure and resultant pain would be. And it affected my legs too, as they felt heavy. My backache would ease if I lay down and I took my body weight off my sacrum - so I knew it wasn’t a psychological problem. And I was aware that prolapses might cause this pressure pain. But unfortunately, I just did what the doctor told me and took the medication for the ‘chemical imbalance’ I was told I had.” In this case, the chemical imbalance her doctor referred to was a diagnosis of depression. Blakemore wrote to members of parliament in March 2004 regarding her experiences. In her opinion the medical profession is too ready to categorise behaviour as indicative of depression and far too disposed to prescribe antidepressants.
As with the withdrawal syndrome, problems such as Blakemore’s SSRI experiences have been documented, yet SSRI popularity continues to soar worldwide. For example, in the UK in 1992, 500,000 prescriptions were written for SSRIs. A decade later, the figure was 15 million. Likewise, in 1993 in New Zealand approximately 50,000 scripts were written for SSRI’s and by 2003, this mushroomed to almost 450,000.
Investigate asked GlaxoSmithKline how many packs of Aropax - a drug subsidised by the government - they sold in 2003, in New Zealand. Neil Jarvis, the sales manager responded: “Unfortunately the information you have requested cannot be provided. As you appreciate, sales data is confidential and is not readily available from a majority of pharma [sic] companies.” While GlaxoSmithKline regarded this as classified information, it is in the public arena that in 2003, doctors wrote 203,636 prescriptions for Aropax and that the Ministry of Health paid $19,269,716 for it. Pacific Pharmaceuticals, which supplies the Prozac equivalent, Fluox, a drug which is also subsidised by the government, told Investigate that the company sold 193,000 packs of capsules in New Zealand in 2003. Each pack contains 90 capsules.
In light of the show-stopping number of these drugs being sold each year, it is little wonder the Radio Pacific talkback session on SSRIs became deluged with callers a few weeks ago. When the BBC broadcast a show on SSRIs in the UK in late-2002, it also received a huge response from viewers - 1,374 e-mails and over 5,000 telephone calls. A published medical paper presents an analysis of these e-mails and finds that 17% rated paroxetine as “very positive to worth taking”, 48% rated paroxetine negatively, from not worth taking to severely disabling, and 35% were uncertain, giving no or insufficient evidence of having taken the drug.
Investigate went to a pharmacy to take photos of SSRI packs. The pharmacist, who does not wish to be named, regarded the number of people he knew who were taking it as “sad.” Although not being handed out like sweets by the medical profession, because of restrictions, he knew of people taking it because their friends were.
According to Dr Jay M. Pomerantz of Harvard University, since antidepressants have severe adverse side effects, most patients stop taking them before they might have any positive effect. Investigate found evidence that SSRIs aren’t being swallowed according to doctors’ orders. A near full pack of Aropax was found in a skip outside someone’s apartment. A friend handed me 35 Fluox tablets to take photos of, saying he didn’t ask his doctor for anything for depression, but was prescribed them. He took the medication for 15 days, before deciding it more prudent to address the cause of his unhappiness. In addition, there were packs of Prozac 20 located at a relation’s residence, abandoned in a kitchen drawer.
It is not difficult to fathom that the medical profession is eager to promote these drugs’ use.
The British government is now cracking down on reckless over-prescribing of SSRI drugs, which are depleting public health care budgets. New draft guidelines from the UK’s National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE), the British government agency that decides which drugs should be available through the National Health Service, state that antidepressants are not recommended for the initial treatment of mild depression in adults “because the risk–benefit ratio is poor.” NICE will publish guidelines for the treatment of depression in children in 2005.
Investigate asked Pharmac’s Medical Director, Dr Peter Moodie, if there were any plans to curtail the burgeoning sum being spent on SSRIs here. Moodie advised that a cheaper source of paroxetine was in the process of being sourced, as the patent for the drug had expired. However, he said it would take some time before a cheaper, generic equivalent to Aropax could be obtained, as its producer is fighting tooth and nail to keep its market share. He said it would help reduce costs to taxpayers if doctors were more prepared to look at the basic causes of depression, before reaching for a prescription pad.
Do SSRI’s work? They inhibit serotonin reuptake. They inhibit the action of receptors on cells near neurons, thus making the serotonin stay in the synapse longer and consequently activate the next neuron for a longer duration than would otherwise occur. However, it is merely hypothesised that depression and anxiety are related to abnormal levels of serotonin and altering its effectiveness with an SSRI may alleviate the symptoms.
Depression, which, as mentioned, falls into 307 categories in the DSM IV, is also believed to be associated with abnormal levels of other neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine and dopamine, which can, some experts say, be regulated by other drugs. A problem with prescribing the ‘right’ drug to treat depression, is that there is no scientific way to prove that a person has a low or high level of a specific neurotransmitter - so finding the appropriate drug for someone is deemed to be on a trial basis.
Ironically, while doctors continue to give SSRIs the red carpet treatment, numerous studies have demonstrated that drugs are not required to treat depression. Placebos or dummy tablets, such as disguised sugar pills, can do just as good a job. Indeed, numerous reputable studies have found that patients may respond to placebos, in much the same way they respond to antidepressants. One such study, a major government-funded study in the US, found that neither Zoloft, nor St. John’s wort are any more effective than a placebo in patients with major depression. (See: JAMA, Vol. 287, No. 14, April 10, 2002).
Similarly, research by a team led by University of Connecticut psychologist, Irving Kirsch, did an analysis of clinical trial data submitted to the US FDA for the 6 most widely prescribed antidepressants in the US, that were approved between 1987 and 1999. Namely fluoxetine, paroxetine, sertraline, venlafaxine, nefazodone and citalopram.
The group found that 80% of the response to medication was duplicated in placebo control groups. Thus, those who received only the pretend pills felt better to about the same degree than those who took the SSRI drug did. The average difference in improvement was only 2 points on the Hamilton Depression Scale, which produces scores up to 50 or 62 points, depending on the version used. The difference was so small that it was obvious the people got well because they expected to.
Kirsch et al concluded that if the drug affect is as small as it appears when drug-placebo differences are estimated, then there is little justification for the clinical use of SSRIs. (Source: ‘The Emperor’s New Drugs: An Analysis of Antidepressant Medication Data Submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,’ published by American Psychological Association, 2002).
These studies raise very serious questions about whether SSRIs should be the treatment of choice for depression -questions that seem to be falling on deaf ears.
A placebo poses no risk and costs next to nothing, and research findings have demonstrated repeatedly that they work as well as antidepressant medication. So why do psychiatrists prescribe expensive SSRI drugs despite the serious risks and side effects? The risks associated with highly prescribed antidepressants can be severe: in some patients they produce suicidal thoughts.
Investigate asked Pharmac if the many studies that have shown a placebo is as effective in treating depression as an SSRI, have influenced any decisions Pharmac has made? Dr Moodie said: “No. We are aware of those papers. How quickly doctors prescribe SSRIs is up to good medical practice. If Pharmac perceives that there is something obviously going awry in the prescribing of various drugs, then there is a responsibility to promote responsible use.”
Aropax is repeatedly advertised in full-page ads in the New Ethicals Catalogue, a handbook used by GPs to select medications, as ‘more than just an antidepressant.’ Indeed, SSRI antidepressants are advertised and prescribed as safe for a myriad of complaints that have nothing to do with severe, clinical depression for which they were approved.
Dr. Pomerantz notes that “SSRIs in particular, have replaced benzodiazepines as the drugs of choice when the physician is at a loss for what to do to get a patient out of the office.” And: “If what we are seeing is a pattern of widespread antidepressant prescribing for a multitude of subsyndromal, amorphous, patient complaints, it suggests that antidepressants have become the modern-day sugar pill, or placebo. It is quite likely that antidepressants have largely replaced benzodiazepines in this regard.” (Source: Antidepressants Used as Placebos: Is That Good Practice? in Drug Benefit Trends 15 (8), 2003).
If antidepressants are being prescribed as a placebo, New Zealand taxpayers are paying the pharmaceutical companies a ridiculously high price. It is a joke and a telling one. We would be misguided blaming the drug industry for this state of affairs. Effective corporate monsters like GSK and Eli Lilly exist to make a profit for shareholders, not to help provide premium health care for people. Providing good health care is the job of the medical profession.
When Coming Off Antidepressants:
Work closely with your doctor.
Taper the medication. Experts agree that the best way to avoid withdrawal side effects is to wean off the medication. By reducing the dosage in small increments, the brain can adjust to the change in chemical balance and slowly adapt to living without the drug. For some people, experts say, this process may take up to a year.
Get psychotherapy or counselling. While drugs can often mask problems, therapy can help address underlying causes. Psychotherapy is far superior to medication in the long term.
Exercise. Even if you don’t feel like it. Force yourself to. There’s strong evidence exercise plays a major role in lifting one’s mood and reducing stress.
Eat a healthy diet.
Laugh. Laughter is one of the best medicines.
March 03, 2007
THE SUE BRADFORD INTERVIEW
THE INVESTIGATE INTERVIEW
RIGHTS TO SUE
The Green MP behind the smacking law change
INTRO: Sue Bradford is a driven woman. Quite happy to give the police a bit of biffo in days of yore, the activist-turned-MP wants a law change removing parental rights to smack. But in an interview with IAN WISHART, Bradford appears to approve of using reasonable force in some situations, and is now willing to look at a compromise position:
INVESTIGATE: When are you expecting the next round in the smacking debate?
A: The report back date to Parliament is at this stage August, but I suspect it might be put back a bit later because we’ve had over 1,700 submissions.
I haven’t done an analysis, but I do know there are a lot of substantive submissions from major organizations that are in favour of my bill. In terms of organizational submissions it’s looking very good for my side of the debate, in favour of repeal of s59, but of course there are hundreds of submissions from both sides of the debate.
Q: What led you to this, when did you first think, ‘I’ve got to do something about this’?
A: Soon after I came to Parliament. I hold the health, social services and children’s portfolios for the Green Party, and I was just getting a really strong message from groups that work with families and children and domestic violence as well, about the problem of violence against children in this country. It became very clear to me that repealing s59 was something that I might be able to do as an MP that might change things for the better for the children of this country.
So from very early on I wanted to do a private members bill, but in the first couple of years I didn’t because Brian Donnelly from NZ First had his bill in and you can’t have more than one bill on the same subject, so I figured that if Brian wanted to do it I’d just support him. But then he withdrew his bill, because he decided he wanted to go down the route of defining what constitutes ‘reasonable force’ against children, and I thought that was really shocking because I just don’t agree with those arguments at all – the more you define what reasonable force is, the more you’re actually legitimizing various forms of assault against children. And at that point once Brian did that, we wrote our own Green Party bill and put it in the ballot.
Q: In terms of background, you’ve got kids, right?
A: Yeah, I’ve had five children.
Q: Presumably along the way you’ve smacked them from time to time?
A: No, I’ve never hit them or smacked them. Not that I can recall, and I’m sure they’d tell me by now if they thought I was telling lies. I’ve asked them, but honestly I can’t remember ever doing it. It was never in my mind.
I didn’t know the psychology of child-rearing, but I just never wanted to because my children were just so precious to me. I just could not conceive of doing that, that there would be any useful point or that I wanted to.
Really to me, from the time you conceive your baby, and from the time it’s born, it’s out and as an adult my role is to nurture that child and look after it and love it. Hitting it? I just don’t get it. But that’s my personal view, I didn’t learn about the theory of it until later.
I had twins when I was 24, and then I had three more children later on. Of the second three, there’s two years between the first two and then five years between the second and the last one. But I was on the DPB with twins for the first three and a half years of their lives, and that’s not the easiest situation to be in. I was very depressed through some of that time and I know how hard it can be to have kids and to be trying to do your best, sometimes without a lot of money. And how you can get frustrated and angry about some of the things they do, from personal experience! But it’s just that there’s other ways of dealing with it than hitting them.
Q: What did you do?
A: There’s lots of different things that you do as a parent. Part of it for me is that if you think of them as your equal, and I still do, if it’s appropriate – and it depends on their age – you try and explain why you’re angry or why they shouldn’t do something. If you’re going into danger, like running into traffic, pull them away from danger.
Some people have made the argument that my bill, if passed, would mean that if someone pulls their kid away from danger that they would be arrested for assault. It’s a really nonsense argument, because no police or court would ever arrest or convict anyone if they were trying to save someone from danger.
Q: Yeah, you’re absolutely right, there’s a section of the Crimes Act that authorizes force in the defence of another or to rescue them, so that’s not an issue, but I do want to get back to your own kids –
A: I can remember putting them in their room, I can remember getting them to help clean stuff up when they’d made a mess. You can get them to do other things. Say they’re causing a scene somewhere in public, you try and get them away from the scene of the disaster so to speak, you’d try to remove them from where the trouble is rather than attacking them.
Q: How did you do it?
A: Well you’d take them physically away from where the problem is.
Q: Did they ever resist you, screech and complain?
A: There’s certainly been times, the one people talk about is the screaming in the supermarket. I’ve certainly had the screaming in the supermarket and the yelling for treats and all the rest of it. I think that must happen to all parents, but it’s how you deal with it, whether you hit them or swear at them cause they’re doing something. I think the best thing is to get them out of there as fast as possible.
Q: I think most mothers would be saying, ‘Yes, exactly,’, but I’m just trying to nut out in terms of your own kids that they were no better nor worse than anyone else’s.
A: No, I’m not saying they were angels at all, and I wasn’t some sort of trained childcare professional or anything like that, I was just trying to bring them up as best I could. The fundamental attitude I had was that from the minute I first knew I was having twins, and later had them, I just loved them so much I felt it was my job to look after and nurture them to the best of my abilities and to protect them from danger and bring them up as well as I could in doing that. The thought of being physically violent towards them in any way at all never crossed my mind.
Q: What about when the twins were scrapping amongst themselves –
A: Which they did a lot of!
Q: What did you do?
A: Well, you ask them to stop or, in a loud voice, tell them to stop, or you can separate them and put them in their room, although often that wouldn’t be a good thing. But mainly I remember trying to tell them ‘this is not a good idea because…’
Once they reach the age when they can have any reason at all – of course when they’re tiny they don’t have that – but kids gradually reach the age of reason and the sooner you start explaining things to them, the better.
To me, you don’t need to hit them or smack them to make the explanation.
Q: But what I’m trying to drill down to here is, when your children hit the terrible twos, and they can’t be reasoned with, they just ‘want, want, want’ now, ‘get out my way’, whatever, what did you do, how did you enforce the point.
A: Well it depends on the situation, you just deal with it at the time. As a parent you’re much physically bigger than they are, so for example if they won’t put their sweater on and you want them to put their sweater on, well you can physically put it on them. And if they won’t go into their bedrooms you can physically put them into their bedrooms. Yeah, when they’re that age you can physically manage them better than when they’re 14, but stages of child-rearing and what you can do are so different depending on age.
You can tell them not to do it. I certainly would have yelled quite often! You can put them in their room or take them away from situations. You can try and distract them.
Q: Let’s say you’re taking little ones into their room, and they’re kicking and screaming while you’re dragging them in, were you comfortable with that?
A: Yes, but, yes, but I mean, but when kids are little you do physically have to look after them and make sure they’re safe, and that’s part of a parent’s job. If safe means putting them in a cot or safe means putting them in their room, but that’s not hitting children, that’s just looking after them.
Q: I’ll come back to it, but I think most parents, like you, have yelped at their kids, but aren’t you worried that if a simple smack disappears as a form of discipline and parents feel they can’t do that, then they will simply take out their frustrations with much more verbal abuse of children in many ways?
A: Well that would be awful, and I think that verbal abuse, psychological abuse, is just as bad in many ways as physical abuse, and it can actually be worse sometimes – the psychological impacts of how parents can freeze out their children, or abuse their children or call them names, or be really denigrating and humiliating to their children verbally – that can actually have a worse effect in some cases than physical violence.
Repeal of s59 is only one small strand of what we need to do. A big part of this is actually putting sufficient resource into support for all the community and church groups and other organizations that help to train parents on different techniques of child-rearing that don’t involve either physical or psychological violence. And also into the organizations that provide support to families in trouble where the parent or parents are really desperate: ‘How can I bring up this kid, what can I do about this kid that’s causing me all these problems?’
At the same time as repealing s59 we have to give a lot more support to parents and families. It’s not something that stands alone.
But why s59 is the key is because it is saying is the State legitimizes a degree of violence unspecified against our children.
Q: Yeah, I understand the legal perspective you have of it. In terms of verbal abuse, I’ve seen kids who are browbeaten without a finger ever having been laid on them –
A: Reduced to a sense of nothingness –
Q: And their spirits are broken. Why can’t the law tackle that then?
A: I don’t know what the law can do about that particularly. It’s certainly something that should be tackled with education and training and support from parents, and I suppose broader public education campaigns as well.
Q: I’m going to play Devil’s advocate with you on the point: if, as I suspect, there are more cases of children being verbally abused and broken-hearted by that sort of thing than probably there are kids where smacking has turned into physical abuse –
A: I don’t know if you can say, I mean the statistics on abuse and neglect of our children are –
Q: Yeah, but I think the difference is, they’re not abused per se because there’s a decent pair of parents who smacked them. They’re abused because there are parents, or a parent, who just doesn’t care. And the parenting skills are just so poor, and the parent probably doesn’t know what the law is nor care.
A: That’s right, but the fact that we have a defence on our books of reasonable force, it adds to that culture that accepts violence, or that hitting children or smacking children is OK. For some parents, and you’re right – the less equipped a parent is to cope the more likely they are to do it – but for example the fathers or mothers who shake their babies to discipline them because they pissed on the floor, and then the baby is badly injured or died – even though there’s nothing about the law in that parent’s head, it’s an extension of our culture which we’ve had since settlement that says it’s actually a parent’s right to physically hit or beat or smack their child to try and get them to do what you as an adult want them to do.
It’s that thinking – so many kids are brought up in a family that believes that they should be smacked, beaten or hit when they are kids, they grow up with the idea of a parent’s right to beat, and when they have their babies it’s transmitted from generation to generation, and that cycle is what we’ve got to break.
Q: Were you ever smacked as a child?
A: Yeah, but not much.
Q: So it didn’t screw you up?
A: (Bursts out laughing) I have no idea! You’re the first one to ever ask me that question, and I really don’t know the answer!
Q: What I am going to ask you is the one you’ve probably been asked a million times, but it is a fair question and it is this: If we got down to the core of it you’d acknowledge that the real problem is not with the traditional two parent family who take a keen interest in the welfare of their kids, supporting them, loving them. It’s the sort of family you’d see in Once Were Warriors where some of the really nasty abuse is happening. Do you recognize that there is a fundamental difference between a smack on the backside or the hand that doesn’t extend into a full-on beating – and parents who are just criminals and beat the proverbial out of their children? You must, you would acknowledge there is a difference?
A: Of course. I mean there’s a whole spectrum of assault and violence, with murder at one end and a light smack at the other end. That spectrum is there all the time. Trying to repeal reasonable force is driven by the fact that in a number of court cases as you know people have gotten away with actually severely beating their children in my point of view.
Like the case in Timaru last year, and a number of other cases.
Q: Just querying that, did they actually use the s59 defence in that one?
A: Yes, yes, they did. I wasn’t actually in court but that’s my understanding. The woman who used a horse crop and a cane on a number of occasions on a 12 year old boy. That was the Timaru court case last year and it’s my understanding that s59 was used as a defence.
Q: Some of the blog sites have pointed out that it might more have centred on self-defence, that the kid was quite large and quite aggressive.
A: That may, I mean, I wasn’t in the court so I really don’t feel able to speak with authority on it. I know that was an element of the case, that that was part of the mother’s defence, but I’m pretty damn sure s59 was part of her defence as well.
Q: Obviously you are not looking to intentionally outlaw time out, or a parent who has to physically manhandle a child into a room, are you?
A: No, or who physically removes or saves a child from some danger. And just on that, I’m not seeking to outlaw smacking either, which is a myth that’s being driven up by my opponents. All I’m doing with my bill is seeking to repeal one clause of an Act.
If s59 was repealed, and say some mean person dobbed in a mother for lightly smacking her child – say that happened, which is the fear that’s being driven up –
Q: It’s happened overseas, yeah-
A: Yeah, and so the police come and investigate the mother who smacked her five year old child (if they come at all, because we know they’re already overworked) but they’re going to look and say well, how severe was that? What damage was done? What’s happened here? Which is what they’re supposed to do in everything they investigate.
I think, during the process of select committee hearings which we’re about to go into on this Bill, the one thing I really hope that as a select committee, if we want to get this Bill through, is that we can make very clear that it is not the intention of me or Parliament to suddenly have all the parents who lightly smack their children subject to arrest or imprisonment or anything like that. It’s not my intention, it’s not the intention of anyone I know, it’s not the intention of any other MP. It’s a myth.
Q: Did the Greens get any independent legal analysis on what the repeal of s59 would mean?
A: I’ve certainly talked with a number of lawyers over the past year and there will be a number of submissions dealing with this.
Q: Family lawyers, criminal lawyers? Which?
A: Both. I’ve talked to both.
Q: The reason I ask is because we’ve done a survey of top QCs on this point: because s59 is a repeal of a defence, then technically if there’s unwanted touching or a smack, it is technically an assault, just like two people on the street.
A: That’s a very good analogy, because in fact I’m asking for equity for children like what happens to adults now. If an adult is assaulted to the point that it’s a problem, the police always have to make that judgement about how severe that assault was. At the moment if the husband assaults his wife, he has no defence unless it is self-defence, whereas if he assaults his child he has a defence. And that’s inequity.
Q: But surely no normal jury would see the Delcelia Whittaker case as an ordinary smack.
A: No, not at all. It is a spectrum. But it does happen in all parts of society.
Q: Getting back to my question, the general consensus of the QCs is that physically putting a child in time out, or physically grabbing your child, is an assault in the same way as if you grab somebody on the street.
A: Which is a technical assault. That’s true, that’s absolutely true. But all that case law that currently exists would be applied, as it is now.
Q: In court, and I think the Louise Nicholas case proves the point, judges tell juries to consider the letter of the law. And if the letter is simply that it is an assault, the jury may have no option but to convict.
A: Yeah, but juries also make decisions on the facts of the case. To think that police would arrest and prosecute someone for lightly smacking their kid or putting them into a room for timeout, I think that would be ridiculous. But on the other hand if a 14 year old girl went to the police and said ‘Look, my father smacked me and I felt this was inappropriate and was really hurt and offended physically, sexually etc’, I think that would be a case to investigate.
But that’s why I find it so hard. This is the job of the police and the courts every day, to make those kinds of judgements: is this a mother, lightly smacking her child when they screamed in a supermarket, or is it something else going on here that’s worthy of the police attention and often other agencies as well.
Those judgements are what the poor bastards that work on the front lines of police, CYFS and the health services have to face constantly. That’s not going to change.
Q: Whilst one can see the heart behind it, is a simple repeal of s59 too blunt an instrument? Does there need to be some modification about appropriate force?
A: Some members of parliament are very keen to amend my Bill so that reasonable force is defined, and I’m sure there’ll be lots of submissions saying that. But once you start looking at that, what it’s saying is that you can hit a kid between this age and this age, you can beat them about the body, but not about the head, you can beat them with an open hand on the buttocks but not with an implement – to me, it gets really gruesome and it’s like defining methods of torture. If I did anything to a policeman I’d be arrested tomorrow – and that’s happened to me on more than one occasion. I could lightly assault a big beefy cop and go to jail, but if I do it to a child I’ve got every defence in the world.
Q: I’m flying a kite here, but don’t you really need to say somewhere in the Act itself, ‘No force is to be used on a child, except that this is not intended to suggest that a smack, or a session of time out is an offence’?
A: What you’re saying there Ian is where I think we need to go. How we do it…it’s going to be up to 121 MPs. I think it’s very likely going to be necessary to make it clear that that’s not the intention of the Bill.
Q: Perhaps in the introduction to the Act, or the definition of assault?
A: Well in some place. I have talked to lawyers about it, and I’m very supportive of doing it if it means the Bill can go through.
THE SMACKING DEBATE: QC'S OPINIONS
SUPERNANNY “BUSTED”Top QCs warn s59 repeal would make even ‘time out’ a crime
INTRO: It is now a matter of public record that repealing s59 of the Crimes Act will make parents technically guilty of assault if they smack their children, but Investigate has discovered something even the Bill’s supporters hadn’t considered: it will also open parents to prosecution if they physically put a child into time out. IAN WISHART interviewed leading Queens Counsel about the legal dangers of the anti-smacking Bill:
To say it is shaping up as one of the ‘social engineering’ fights of the Government’s third term would be an understatement. The Crimes (Abolition of Force as a Justification for Child Discipline) Amendment Bill promoted by Green MP Sue Bradford is pushing for a simple repeal of s59, the clause that gives parents a defence of “reasonable force” for the purposes of disciplining a child’s behaviour.
In a letter to the organization Family Integrity last year, police headquarters not only confirmed that even a simple smack would be an assault, but suggested that because the Crimes Act already has increased penalties for crimes against children, an assault on a child would be more serious than an assault on an adult, in police eyes.
But while commentators on both sides of the divide have discussed whether police would lay charges or not, no one has explored whether other forms of discipline could also run foul of the proposed new law.
To explore that specific issue, we asked a number of top QCs to comment on whether a parent who carried or dragged a resistant child to ‘time out’ would also be breaking the law:
STUART GRIEVE, QC:
I would be opposed to the [repeal of s59] because I think that the provision works entirely adequately as it is. If one puts political correctness to one side, and just deals with these cases on an objective and pragmatic basis, the law has stood the test of time and I would have thought most reasonable people would know full well when the line is crossed between reasonable discipline on the one hand, and crossing that line on the other.
So I would be opposed to it, and as one looks at the test now it is left to a jury to determine reasonableness. And being a fan of jury trials anyway, and being a fan of the commonsense of juries, that’s where I would leave it.
Q: What if a parent forcibly manhandles a 7 year old to another room to enforce time out. In your experience, could that be a prima facie assault?
A: Unquestionably! Not under the present statute of course, but those protections aside any unwanted touching, even threat of touching, can be an assault. It is so defined in the Crimes Act.
Q: What about the act of shutting a child in a bedroom or a garage for ten minutes to calm down. If the protection of reasonable force is removed, could that open a parent up to punishment for forcible detention?
A: Could do, I’d have to look at that more closely because that is a technical question, but it could do. If you remove the protection then you’re left with a child being a normal individual, and it would be no different from doing that to some stranger, I suppose.
Q: What advice would you give to law makers?
A: My advice would be ‘don’t repeal it’. I would be asking for examples where it doesn’t work well, or where it hasn’t worked.
Q: Do you have a fear that it could be used in marital break-ups, or as a reason to get CYFS involved in a family?
A: Well it could do. Although I don’t pretend to be a family lawyer I’m well aware of the fact that in these situations as you describe them, frequently false allegations are leveled, generally by women against males, and allegations of sexual abuse and that sort of thing in order to win custody battles and so forth. This will simply give them more ammunition.
GRANT ILLINGWORTH, QC
The thing that tends to mask the situation in the NZ environment is the fact that questions of assault as far as civil law are concerned have become less prominent because of the accident compensation legislation. As you will be aware, under the ACC legislation you can’t generally sue someone for personal injury caused by accident, and accident is widely defined to include situations in which you’re assaulted by somebody. So in New Zealand, even serious assaults don’t get before the courts except in quite unusual situations as a matter of civil liability.
Now, s59 is dealing only with criminal liability, and I suspect it is a lot more complicated than it appears on the surface, because taking away a criminal law defence doesn’t necessarily change the underlying civil law principles. So there are two layers that must be considered. One is the criminal layer, the other is the civil layer. And in order to sort that situation one would have to give it quite a bit of thought and work through the principles.
But to confine the analysis to the criminal law only, if you simply take away a defence of reasonable force then every touching of another person becomes an assault, and you then open up a vast area of potentially criminal conduct. You criminalize a whole lot of conduct which to normal people would be utterly ridiculous to criminalize in relation to the way you treat your kids.
So I think it is a very important step, and I think it is something that has serious, wide-ranging implications and something that has to be considered very very carefully indeed.
I think you do have to distinguish between civil and criminal. Conduct that is not regarded as criminal, or not pursued and charged as criminal, can be taken into account even now in a Family Court context. It doesn’t really matter to the Family Court whether you characterise something as criminal or not criminal, it’s a question of whether it represents proper treatment of the child. It’s going to the fundamental question of what is for the welfare of the child, what is in the child’s best interests. They’re looking at the situation through a different legal telescope.
I think the real problem is that arguably almost every form of physical contact with your children becomes an assault as a matter of the criminal law. If you take away s59, that’s the issue.
And if the child uses force against you, what force can you use against the child? That’s the real crunch issue. There may be lots of situations in which, very appropriately, a parent should avoid using force because it is unnecessary to do so. But there are some situations in which it is necessary and those situations would not necessarily fall within s48, which is the self defence provision.
That’s one area in which use of force in self defence and defence of another is justified and will remain justified. But if you think about it, children can use force against their parents, and the parents won’t be able to use force against the children, unless it is self defence.
S48 says ‘Everyone is justified in using, in the defence of himself or another, such force as in the circumstances he believes them to be it is reasonable to use.’ But it’s got to be in the defence of himself or another. It can’t simply be a child doing something naughty which involves the use of force, and preventing the child – for example – smashing up the living room.
It’s not the defence of yourself or the defence of another. If your child goes beserk and starts smashing the furniture you might not be allowed to touch him. And if that’s the result of revoking s59 – that you’re exposed to a criminal charge of assault if you restrain a child in those circumstances, then that’s completely nuts.
Q: Advice to the legislators as they consider this?
A: Obviously it will go to a select committee and they’ll have the task of going through the various scenarios that could arise if this measure is adopted. That’s the appropriate process, and the normal process when an important change is being considered.
But I think from my own part, having given it only a relatively short period of consideration, that simply to wipe out s59 could create some situations which are completely undesirable.
NICK DAVIDSON, QC
Q: The police are already on record as saying any smack would be a prima facie assault. Presumably that means that any physical contact for the purposes of discipline, such as a mother taking her child by the arm and forcing him into time out, would also be a prima facie assault?
A: Theoretically that must be right. It would come down to an exercise of discretion. But there could be savings in the legislation, such as safety of the child or removing a child from harm’s way. Where it get’s sticky is the very point you mentioned: if someone actually picks up a child and carts them off, because the difference between that and admonishing them, or hitting them, is so marginal as a matter of law I think it can only be dealt with by discretion. I think it’s a very significant point.
Someone who will simply not leave a situation where the parents are sitting outside in the car, waiting for the child to get in the car, and having difficulties because the child is refusing to get in the car, what’s a parent supposed to do? Leave the child on the side of the road, or pick them up and physically put them in the car?
Now if that’s not for their care and protection, what is it? There’s no defence to it.
And I think there’s a failure to recognize the difference between smacking as such, and physically taking, with some force, children – because they can be quite big at 11 or 12 and you might have to deal with them in that way.
To me the question is, if you cannot discipline a child physically, you remove the defence to what is otherwise an assault, the physical handling of a child of itself is not necessarily a discipline and would be treated like any other contact between two people. But in a relationship between parent and child there will often have to be physical interventions.
Now you could not possibly classify an assault as a deliberate application of force to a child, where that is to save the child, or take it to safety. You could not in my view possibly treat that as an assault where the child, for the child’s own sake, should be removed from one place to another. Where a child is out of control, for example.
So I think there must become a series of defences available where what is done is not for the purposes of inflicting force, but is a warrant to apply force for reasons which are for the good of the child.
Now we don’t really have that available to us in law, but if you take assault as an example: you step in to assault someone else to defend someone – that’s defence of another, and that’s a defence. You step in to save someone from committing suicide, that’s a defence. You step in to save someone from any act of self-harm, or the danger of walking across a road against traffic – that’s a defence.
The reason it’s a defence is that it’s not an intentional application of force except by the warrant that you have to do so for the good of that person. Now I think that will become the proper test in law – that where the force is applied for the good of that child, not as a discipline but in order to protect the child in some way, or deal with the child where the child is out of control, but not to inflict force for the sake of that, is the distinction to be drawn as a matter of law.
Q: Grant Illingworth feels that where there are going to be issues is where your child is out of control – not necessarily a danger to themselves or anyone else – but nevertheless –
A: Impossible to control!
A: I think that is exactly the point! The time out situation is the key, because if you narrow down all the examples that you mention, it comes down to this proposition: to protect the child? Absolute defence. To discipline the child? No. To take the child out of a situation where it is causing pandemonium? Questionable, because we don’t have a marked defence on the statute for that purpose. That’s why I think the law will develop a defence that, for the sake of the child as much as for the whole family, the child is removed from a situation where the child for example is just screaming its head off and is just so out of control they’re at a risk of harm.
The example you give, of trashing a house, is much more difficult, because the law in my view must allow a colour of right to prevent anyone doing that. You don’t have to stand by and watch your house being trashed by anybody. I think you’re entitled to protect your property, protect your person. What you can’t do is go beyond the bounds of what the law allows.
I think if you can say that the intentional application of force was warranted, not for the purposes of discipline but for the purposes of restraint, I think the law will have to recognize it as a defence. So what I’m anticipating is that the law will develop a colour of right, it will have to.
Q: What about where a toddler or seven year old is just being outright disobedient, defying boundaries and authority, and in need of discipline, but not in need of restraint for their own safety?
A: Assault has always had various defences of the kind we’ve just been through, and to me it is about marking a boundary about what is effectively a legitimate form of restraint.
I think the law would have to develop a defence, the same way colour of right developed, that what you were doing – a technical assault – was justified because of the circumstances that were presented to the parent.
Q: Courts or parliament?
A: I think the courts will probably be the right place to deal with it. I think a District Court judge familiar with dealing with assault issues generally will see how this fits into a pattern of defences to assault.
I mean, technically there are not many defences to assault. You don’t get charged with assault for taking someone in a headlock who’s threatening someone else, because that’s defence of another, but the trouble is those things don’t generally have application to children. We’re still talking about a form of restraint for a reason to do with the way people live in their homes. And there is the conundrum: how do you take the defences, and they’re well established, that apply outside and say it applies to the relationship between a parent and child inside a house?
I think you’ve hit it on the button. The crucial question is going to be, child hitting another child – grab the child and take it away, that’s not assault. Child causing pandemonium, screaming its head off and threatening its own stability. You couldn’t possibly be charged with assault for taking that child to another room provided it’s reasonable force. That’s not discipline, that’s control.
It’s the point at which it moves to discipline that I think the law has no answer at present. Because if you can’t smack a child, what can you do by way of discipline to say ‘you’re behaving very badly, I do not like your language, you’re going to go and sit in that room there!’
‘I’m not going!’
‘Right, I’m going to pick you up and put you in there’.
That’s technically an assault. What’s the warrant for it? We have no statutory defence to it.
On the other hand there is a tremendous amount of common sense in the police and the courts, so you’re not going to see thousands of parents prosecuted for this. But yes there will be test cases, and the law will evolve.
IN SUMMARY, MAIN LEGAL POINTS:
A simple smack would definitely be a prima facie assault.
Touching a child for any disciplinary purpose, such as forcing them into time out, would definitely be a prima facie assault.
Touching a child for the purposes of his or her own safety, or the safety of others, or the safety of property, would be authorized by s41 and s48 of the Crimes Act, and therefore not an assault
While police would have a ‘discretion’ as to whether to charge, in practice many police stations are already calling in CYF, who take a blanket “no smacking’ approach and would be within their powers to remove children from parents, even if insufficient evidence existed to convict.
January 29, 2007
The Case for ADHD: Jan 07 issue
THE CASE FOR ADHD
Claire Morrow examines the Attention Deficit controversy
Q: How many kids with ADHD does it take to change a light-bulb?
A: Let’s ride our bikes!
Of course children like to ride bikes (a great mystery), and they are rarely called upon to change light-bulbs. But what happens to the kids in the joke when they are old enough to change light-bulbs? “OK...here I am...I’m at the shop...I’m going to buy light-bulbs and milk...great...I can do this.” By some miracle the adult with ADHD has their bank card with them and it’s not maxed out.
Gleefully arriving home - stopping briefly at the neighbour’s to pick up the spare keys so they can let themselves in (stepping carefully around the pile of junk in the hallway) - with bread, eggs and all the things to fix that crack in the wall and...no light-bulbs.
Everyone has those “senior moments” from time to time, and most of us can say “oh, that happens to me too”. But for some people it happens...a lot. Too much. Even if you haven’t been paying attention, you could hardly have failed to notice that there is a condition called Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder. It is the most common psychiatric diagnosis in children (in adults, depression is the most common) and it receives the kind of media attention that your average cancer charity would kill for. Not normally positive media attention though. Not your Here-are-the-warning-signs-see-your-doctor-now-for-help- thanks-to the-miracle-of-science kind of publicity, as a general rule. More your bad-kids-or-bad-parents-you-be-the-judge kind of attention. Children do not have ADHD because their parents smack them, or don’t smack them, because dad’s not around, because they’re poor or because they eat too much sugar/wheat/dairy products.
True, the odd child who is badly behaved, impulsive and super-active may be misdiagnosed with ADHD when there are in fact “problems at home”. But a good, thorough assessment would rule that out. An ADHD diagnosis is usually made very, very carefully with the involvement of several specialists, teachers and parents. One cannot simply front up to the family doctor, complain about the child and get a pill to make it go away.
Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder is primarily a disorder of attention. It comes in 3 flavors - hyperactive, inattentive and mixed (one scoop of each). The primary symptoms revolve around the ability to focus, concentrate, remember, control impulses and do what needs to be done. Inattentive type (with the clumsy diagnostic label “Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder - without significant hyperactivity”) results in a daydreamer who may not be diagosed until later because their inattentive style is hard for them, but doesn’t disrupt the class. Hyperactive type...well, we know hyperactive when we see it. A hyperactive child is not merely a colossal pain in the backside to take care of (babysitters-won’t-return syndrome) - they need extra time, love, humour, consistency and attention from someone who understands them. And to be protected from themselves - because impulse control is poor, they are not deliberately doing foolish things, they are just so focused on getting their ball that the “don’t go on roads” bit drops out of their mind. Which is very normal at 2 and 3 years old, not so normal in an 8 or 10 year old. And these kids have to grow up.
Although it used to be thought that children grew out of ADHD, increasing numbers of adults are now being diagnosed with the condition. You do not catch ADD at 30, of course, it is a pervasive, perhaps lifelong neurological condition. Adults with ADHD are either people who were diagnosed as children or who - later in life - hit upon some hope-fully friendly person who said “Could you have ADD?”
You might get through school because your parents are supportive, and you are yourself very bright, even though you constantly lose the things you need for your assignments. Maybe even with good marks. But when you enter the less structured, less supported, more competitive environment of work or university, things start to fall apart. Many adults with ADHD have been under the impression for most of their lives that they are lazy, stupid, space cadets. If one of their children is diagnosed with ADHD suddenly the light-bulb (which they have finally re-membered to buy) goes on - “They can’t have ADHD...I was exactly the same as a child...still am like that...and I don’t...unless...?” (ding!).
Some people object to ADHD on religious grounds - Scientologists for example do not believe in psychiatry at all. Others are worried about “labeling” children. Children are smarter than you think, in that case. Labeling a child as “A wonderful, artistic sensitive lit-tle person who happens to have ADHD, a neurobiological condition which sometimes causes her to have problems that we can work out together” is a whole lot better than the labels a child will apply to themselves if they don’t have a clear understanding of why they have trouble in class, forget things, and ‘drift off”. You don’t want a label; “stupid”, “space cadet”, “thoughtless”, “lazy”, “bad”. If not enough information is given about what’s happen-ing and why, these are the labels children with ADHD come up with by themselves (with a little help from their friends).
Correctly diagnosed ADHD is caused by insufficient dopamine in the brain. That is all. The synapses in the brain need dopamine. If you have enough dopamine, then taking amphetamine will make you have too much and you will become edgy, difficult and anx-ious. Too little and you have ADHD. Stimulant medications such as amphetamines (and drugs such as ritalin are no more closely related to ice or speed, than codeine is related to heroin) increases the amount of dopamine in the brain - focus improves. At any age, Attention Deficit Disorder is managed, not cured. It can be managed through cognitive behavior therapy (using a day planner, timers, alarm and so forth), and some people find special diets help a little (if they have food intolerance in addition to their ADHD). There are (aren’t there always?) a great number of unproven treatments, exercise has proven to be fairly helpful. Newer medications are not as well established, but there are long-acting and non-controlled medication treatments now available. Medication, particularly the stimulants, far and away outperforms any other treatment. Just as no one expects the severe diabetic to control their sugar level without insulin, children and adults with ADHD have some control and can exert some effect on their behavior, but medication does have a significant place in treatment.
If you think you may be an adult with ADHD or you would just like to know more about the condition, you can find information and a self assessment scale at: http://www.addresources.org . As always; exercise more, and see your doctor if chronic lateness, underachievement and disorganization persist. Oh yes, make a list. Lists help a great deal. Light-bulbs.
January 26, 2007
Dioxin's Toxic Legacy: Jan 07 issue
A TOXIC LEGACY
UPI’s Christine Dell’amore profiles new research on Dioxin's reproductive dangers
New evidence on the effects of dioxin in the Vietnam-era herbicide Agent Orange suggests the chemical interferes with the reproductive systems of men. The research, led by Dr. Amit Gupta, is one of the first studies to find that men exposed to a type of dioxin called TCDD experience smaller prostate glands and lower testosterone levels -- even at minimal exposure to dioxin.
“Now we now know dioxins have an effect on the prostate, and it's somehow affecting normal development,” says Gupta, a urologist at UT Southwestern Medical School in Dallas.
The study, published in the November issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, also offers new insight into whether lower doses of dioxin are dangerous to human health. Previous studies have observed dioxin's effects only in highly exposed populations; some research has found a link between these populations and development of cancer.
However, because the study was not a true experiment, it's not known whether it was really dioxin that led to the effects.
Gupta and colleagues followed participants of the Air Force Health Study for more than 20 years, beginning in 1987. The study had two groups: About 1,200 ranch hands, or veterans who sprayed Agent Orange in Asia between 1962 and 1971, and a comparison group of about 2,400 Air Force veterans not involved in herbicide spraying during the war, says co-author Dr. Arnold Schecter, a professor of environmental sciences at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Dallas. The two groups were matched on age, race and military occupation.
The researchers examined the men in 1982, 1985, 1987, 1992, 1997 and 2002, recording their prostate and reproductive health. In 1987 the research team measured the level of TCDD dioxin in their blood.
As expected, the levels of TCDD -- the most toxic form of dioxin -- were higher in the ranch hand group than the comparison group, although both groups in the study experienced changes in their reproductive function. These higher levels were associated with a lower risk of diagnosis of a prostate condition called BPH, in which the prostate grows in size. TCDD somehow inhibits the prostate from growing, although scientists are unsure of the mechanism of how it happens, Gupta said.
Of course, most men would want to avoid BPH, since a larger prostate can create several uncomfortable side effects, such as frequent urination.
Yet dioxin's ability to thwart prostate growth isn't exactly cause to celebrate, says Gupta -- rather, it's a worrisome indication that dioxins are altering the reproductive system's natural course.
A reduction in testosterone due to dioxin can also cause several health problems, such as loss of muscle strength, infertility, drop in sexual function and depression.
Since the comparison group had exposures consistent with the exposures of the general American population in 1987, even lesser amounts of dioxin present in the United States may impact Americans who never stepped foot in Vietnam.
“Most of the 30 types of dioxin produced in the United States come from industrial processes such as waste incineration, chlorine bleaching of pulp and paper and other chemical processes. It's also a component of pesticides and herbicides, which move up the food chain from contaminated crops, to poultry and beef, to humans. Once inside the body, the chemical settles into the fat. That's why, sadly, human babies get dioxin from their mother's dioxin-laden milkfat,” says Gupta.
In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency -- which is close to issuing a new scientific reassessment of the health risks of dioxin and dioxin-like compounds exposure -- has successfully cut down on much of the dioxin pollution since the 1970s. In fact, quantifiable industrial emissions of dioxin in the United States have fallen more than 90 percent from 1987 levels, according to the EPA.
Since Gupta and colleagues used a 1987 marker of TCDD in their research, the risk could have gone down for the U.S. population exposed to dioxin.
In addition, it may be difficult to compare one type of dioxin -- TCDD -- to the effects of other types of the chemical. “In the case of Vietnam, where people were exposed almost exclusively to TCDD through Agent Orange, it's reasonable to attribute any irregularities in the reproductive system to that chemical,” says Dr. John Constable, a former surgeon at Harvard Medical School and one of the first Americans to study the effects of herbicides in Vietnam in the 1960s.
“But if someone has a ragbag of chemicals in their bodies, as Americans likely do, it's harder to parse out which dioxins really caused the abnormalities.”
Indeed, the number of male reproductive tract disorders, such as testicular cancer, has risen sharply over past decades. “Some scientists have suggested dioxins might be partially responsible for the spike,” the authors wrote. But there could be other endocrine disruptors at play, substances that have already been shown to alter reproductive processes in rat models.
“Although more research could help in nailing down some of the causes of dioxin, the government has decided to discontinue the Air Force Health Study,” Schecter says.
The next 20 years will answer the question as to how much damage Agent Orange did to our Vietnam vets, says Schecter. “With the program now out of existence, that's really most unfortunate for the health of our vets, and for anyone exposed to dioxins -- which is anyone in the industrial world.”