A trip to Oxford is always a delight for me. There are so many happy memories that come flooding back as soon as the bus reaches St Clements. Today saw the SPUC University Students' Conference which was held at the Catholic Chaplaincy. I was asked to speak on "Bioethics and the Philosophy of the Pro-Life Movement." I chose to focus particularly on the British philosophical tradition and trace the influences, especially of utilitarianism and the mistaken concept of liberty which have led to our present moral and legal mess in which the sanctity of human life is trampled upon. I looked briefly at some of the more pressing bioethical questions such as the personhood of the embryo and the morality of artificial reproduction. I spoke a little on the focus of Pope John Paul and Pope Benedict on the question of rationality in moral debate; the Church being now the leading promoter of human reason in such matters as opposed to basing morality on sentiment or popular consensus.
Anthony McCarthy of the Linacre Centre gave a fine summary of the state of the law on euthanasia, drawing lessons especially from Holland and exploring questions such as acts and omissions and the misuse of the principle of double effect.
Alison Davies spoke in the afternoon, giving a cogent and persuasive description of the way in which disabled people are treated in our legislation as though they are less worthy of life than others who are assumed to be "perfect." Although I have heard the statistics before, it was striking to be reminded that 95% of people with spina bifida and 90% of people with Downs Syndrome are killed before birth in our country.
Richard Marsden (Bashing Secularism) shared his experience of practical pro-life work at university and the discussion that followed was very helpful in sharing ideas for action. The "Freshers Fair" was identified as a key opportunity for students to publicise pro-life work and build the pro-life presence at university. There was some sensible discussion of how best to deal with the sometimes violent opposition that pro-life students face. Ideas were shared about how to engage in the intellectual debate on pro-life issues and how to encourage Muslim students to become involved in pro-life work.
Off the top of my head, I can remember meeting students from Oxford, Cambridge, Durham, Glasgow, Dundee, Dover and Hull. I was very glad to have been able to join them and to spend the day at this most encouraging conference.