I’m happy to report that there’s quite a lot of good news this week:
• The U.K. government recommends that primary school religious education classes should teach about “secular beliefs such as humanism and atheism”, in addition to learning about major world religions like Christianity, Buddhism and Islam. This is just one more symptom of how far ahead of us our European friends are in some respects – can you imagine the religious right frenzy that would ensue if a U.S. politician recommended teaching about atheism in public high schools?
• In a story that made me especially happy, Andrew Wakefield, the pseudoscientific doctor who’s almost single-handedly responsible for the anti-vaccination movement, was found to have seriously abused his trust as a medical practitioner by a U.K. ethics panel. According to the ruling, Wakefield ordered unnecessary and invasive tests on autistic children (including spinal taps and colonoscopies), without securing proper ethical approval, in the paper that claimed a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. He also failed to disclose major conflicts of interest (he was being paid by trial lawyers looking to file claims against vaccine manufacturers). The General Medical Council ruled that Wakefield was “dishonest, irresponsible and showed callous disregard for the distress and pain” of the children, and is still evaluating a charge of professional misconduct that could lead to Wakefield’s losing his license to practice medicine.
• And lastly, I’m glad to report that Scott Roeder, the Christian terrorist who shot and killed Dr. George Tiller, was convicted of first-degree murder by a Kansas jury this week. The judge rejected the defense’s ludicrous request that the jury be allowed to consider voluntary manslaughter, and they returned the verdict after just 37 minutes of deliberation. Roeder faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison, the most fitting punishment for a cold-blooded and vicious killer like himself.
Although the cause of justice was served, this verdict can’t undo the damage; Dr. Tiller’s clinic will be closing for good, which means in a way that Roeder got exactly what he wanted. Still, the verdict sends a message that anti-choice zealots cannot commit these crimes with impunity. It may not be enough to discourage future acts of terrorism against abortion providers, but at least we have assurance that the rule of law is still operative in America.