Kia ora: The AGM and Seminar and most of the year’s formal events are over. We hope you all had a good Humanist year.

In this issue

Winner of the 2006 Eileen Bone Scholarship
First Winner of Eileen Bone Scholarship Completes Degree
Ray Carr Award presented to Frank Dungey
Ireland – Judge rules against frozen embryos right to life
South Africa passes Civil Union Bill
Films
o Who Killed The Electric Car? (2006)
Television
Pen & Teller & Myth busters

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Nikki Morgan

Winner of 2006 Eileen Bone Scholarship
Nikki Morgan, a final year student at Naenae College, is the 2006 winner of the Eileen Bone Scholarship. Next year she intends to study for a BA degree in Psychology and Philosophy at Victoria University of Wellington and hopes for a career as a family or clinical psychologist where she can make a difference. This year, Nikki was an active member of the Naenae College School Council and a school prefect, a role that involves mentoring of younger students. She has previously been a volunteer at the Lollipops Playland Holiday Programme and at Stokeswood retirement home.

Studying Biology, History, Classics, Statistics, and English, this year,Nikki has a good academic record at Naenae College and has previouslyreceived an Honours Award for Diligence and an Academic Merit award forHistory. Her final exams last year were made more difficult by theunfortunate death of her mother during the exams. Despite this, she managedto continue with the exams and obtained good results. This year she hasworked part time to save money to finance her university studies.

The Eileen Bone Award is an annual grant given to a final year student of Naenae College, Hutt City, Wellington, to enable the student to study at Victoria University of Wellington in the following year. The award was established in memory of a long standing Humanist Society Wellington member, the late Eileen Bone, a former teacher of English at Naenae College. The award is administered by the Humanist Society of New Zealand in conjunction with the Victoria University Foundation with funding from the Eileen Bone Trust.

First Winner of Eileen Bone Scholarship Completes Degree

The first Eileen Bone Scholarship was presented to Ruth Polaczuk to enable her to attend Victoria University of Wellington in 2004. She has now completed the requirements for her BA degree. Originally intending to major in English, she discovered at university that she had a talent for philosophy and has majored in that subject. She now hopes to pursue her interest in Australia. She is seen here (centre) earlier this month at the Naenae prize giving ceremony with her mother (left) and younger sister (right). Her younger sister was a recipient of a number of awards at the ceremony.

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Ray Carr award presented to Frank Dungey

The Ray Carr award for services to Humanism was awarded to Frank Dungey at the 2006 AGM of the Humanist Society of New Zealand. Frank, who was born in London in 1928, was a founding member and first secretary of the Wellington branch of the Humanist Society of New Zealand when it was founded in the early 1970s and served in this position until the early 1980s. In the mid 1970s, along with other interested members of the Humanist Society, he established a special interest subcommittee of the Humanist Society to look at Voluntary Euthanasia and also served as secretary of this subcommittee. This ultimately led to the formation of an independent Wellington based Voluntary Euthanasia Society (VES) in 1978. Frank served as secretary of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society from its inception until 2002. In 2004 the VES was amalgamated with another similarly named society, known as the Volunteer Euthanasia Society (Auckland), and Frank became the National Treasurer of the combined organisation.

In 1984, Frank attended the World Federation of Right to Die Societies conference in Nice and was asked to join the Board. He spent four years on the Board before being asked to become the Federation’s secretary and served in this position for another four years, and has since served as Treasurer for four years. Frank has been a regular attender at the biannual conferences of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies and has attended conferences in Nice, Bombay, San Francisco, Bath, Maastricht, Kyoto, Boston, Zurich, Brussels, and Toronto.

Frank Dungey is seen here receiving the Ray Carr award from Humanist Society of New Zealand president Kent Stevens.

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Ireland – Judge rules against frozen embryos right to life.
Nov. 16. Irish High Court Justice, Brian McGovern ruled that an embryo does not have its right to life guaranteed by the Irish constitution. The case has sparked significant public interest and debate in predominantly catholic Ireland where abortion is outlawed except where the mother’s life is endangered, couples can only divorce if they have lived apart for four out of five years, and the eighth amendment to the constitution guaranteed the “right to life of the unborn”.

In a significant ruling, Justice McGovern has ruled that frozen embryos resulting from infertility treatment deserve special respect but that the “right to life of the unborn”, guaranteed by the constitution, did not extend to them. Justice McGovern said, “I have come to the conclusion that the three frozen embryos are not `unborn’.” The case was complicated by the fact that existing legislation does not define “unborn”. “There has been no evidence … to establish that it was ever in the mind of the people voting on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution that `unborn’ meant anything other than a foetus or child within the womb,” he said. He acknowledged that there is disagreement about when life begins saying that he could not resolve the issue.,”Even within different religions, there can be disagreements as to when genetic material becomes a `human being’. But it is not the function of the courts to choose between competing religious and moral beliefs.” He added that it is now up to the politicians to decide how the legal status of an embryo resulting from IVF treatment might be established.

The ruling will be welcomed by those who have argued against the indefinite preservation of frozen embryos and for the use of surplus embryos for stem cell research, but there is another side to this case. An unnamed woman had asked the court to consider the case as part of her bid to have a child without the consent of her estranged husband using surplus embryos left over from earlier IVF treatment. She was married in 1992, had a son in 1997, but lost two thirds of her right ovary when a cyst was removed shortly afterward. Following IVF treatment she gave birth to a daughter in 2002. The couple separated four years ago but remain married. Her desire to use the surplus embryos to produce a third child were opposed by her husband and the fertility clinic. She argued that the constitutions “right to life of the unborn” should allow her to be implanted with the surplus embryos. The courts ruling will prevent her giving birth to a third child that is a full sibling of her first two children.

Mary Harney, Ireland’s Minister for Health and Children, said that her department would study Judge McGovern’s 88-page ruling as part of the government’s plans to regulate infertility treatment in Ireland.

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South Africa Passes Civil Union Bill
Nov. 15. South Africa has become the first African country to pass a Civil Union Bill giving same sex couples the right to marry. Pushed through the National Assembly by the ruling African National Congress, the bill, which gives same sex couples over the age of 18 the same rights as heterosexual couples, was overwhelming approved. It still has to be approved by the second house of parliament but this is expected to take place before the end of November. With the passing of the bill, South Africa joins countries such as Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Canada.

There was significant opposition however from religious groups and opposition parties. Protest marches were staged by religious groups in the run up to the vote.

In August, the South African Cabinet approved the bill after the highest court in the country ruled that it was unconstitutional to deny gay people the right to marry. Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told parliament that “When we attained our democracy [in 1994], we sought to distinguish ourselves from an unjust painful past, by declaring that never again shall it be that any South African will be discriminated against on the basis of colour, creed, culture, and sex”.

In a word of caution, Pierre de Vos, constitutional law professor at the University of the Western Cape said that the bill may present problems because it allows the marriage officer to refuse to conduct a marriage on religious grounds. “It makes a human rights issue an issue of conscience. This is just like saying that a marriage officer can refuse to marry an interracial couple,” said Vos.

The passing of this bill is a significant development in a continent where homosexuality is outlawed and repressed in most countries, and where Vatican influence has worked against the use of artificial contraception. This irrational opposition to artificial contraception, based originally on Gods injunction to Noah that he should go forth and multiply, has led to false claims that condoms will not prevent the spread of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) – a belief has been deliberately spread by Catholic agencies. The result has been the rapid spread of HIV and very high death rates from the resultant acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). A myth that sex with a virgin will prevent or cure AIDS has resulted in the rape of millions of young girls across the continent, and the spread of the virus to these unfortunate young girls. In South Africa, a revamp of an old medical and Socialist theory that disease is a result of poverty rather than bacteria or viruses, has led to a Catholic doctor pushing the theory that AIDS is a result of poverty and not HIV and that consequently condoms will not prevent the spread of the disease. Unfortunately, this bogus theory has gained the support of the president and government, and South Africa now has one of the highest death rates from AIDS in the world.

In a further extension of their opposition to artificial contraception and population control, Vatican agents sought to convince Islamic countries and Moslem clerics attending the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), from 5-13 September 1994 in Cairo, that the attempt to spread contraceptive use was really a plot by the developed nations to limit or exterminate those of other religions and races. This ultimately led in 2003 and 2004 to some Nigerian Moslem clerics telling people that the WHO polio vaccination programme, that had almost completely eliminated the disease, was really an attempt by Western powers and America in particular to sterilise women and spread AIDS. Some Nigerian State Governments, in Moslem States, outlawed the vaccination. The result was an outbreak of polio in these states in 2004 that quickly spread to neighbouring countries and as far as Indonesia.

In Africa, those who spread bogus theories and religiously inspired nonsense have been directly responsible for the terrible suffering and early deaths of millions of people, leaving behind millions of orphans, creating massive social problems, and exacerbating to the problem of poverty.

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Films
Who Killed the Electric Car? (2005)

This is a film, in some New Zealand theatres now, that conspiracy theorists will love. The General Motors EV1, a fully electric car, was designed and developed by General Motors in the early 1990s to meet California’s legal requirements for reduced vehicle emissions. It proved very popular with those who owned it. Why then did General Motors restrict production and refuse to sell the car to those who wanted to buy it? Only a limited number of carefully vetted people were allowed to lease and drive these vehicles, but they loved them and most wanted to buy them. Eight years later, General Motors, withdrew all the cars and scrapped them, despite protests. Was it really a plot by “Big Oil”, as the film suggests, to get rid of this potential threat to their profits as the film makers contend. The theory presented is that “Big Oil”, while there were still profits to be made from the sale of oil, did not want any electric cars on the road, or for people to know that there was an alternative to the internal combustion engine. So they used their influence to try and discredit the car and to have the California legislation changed.

Claim and counter claim have been made for these cars and the controversy has been stirred up again by this film. Electric cars, it is claimed by the supporters, use electricity generated in more efficient central electric power plants, where coal is burned, and, despite the transmission losses getting the power from the power plants to the homes where the cars are charged overnight, use less energy overall and produce less pollution. Others dispute these figures and claim that the pollution levels are similar.

So why was the car never sold to prospective buyers? The car it seems was designed before new crash-safety regulations were introduced and when it was put on the road in 1996 it did not comply with current regulations and required a temporary exemption from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This exemption required the cars to be withdrawn at the end of the trial period. Consequently, it could not be sold and production was limited. General Motors did not consider that the cost of a redesign to meet the regulations could be justified for the limited trial. One argument for the withdrawal of the vehicles was the unreliability of the batteries. The car was initially introduced with unreliable lead acid batteries, the same as the batteries used for starter motors, but these were later replaced with more modern and reliable batteries, similar to those used in modern cell phones and portable computers. It was also argued that people would not want the car because of its limited luggage capacity and limited range. This argument was discounted by those who used it and wanted to buy it. There are many more arguments for and against electric vehicles. In the end however, the consumers were not given the choice.

See the film if you can and make your own judgements but be aware that this film does not give you all the information or the detailed figures that might allow you to make a fully informed decision. Television

Those of a sceptical and enquiring mind might enjoy watching these two Television programmes.

Penn and Teller are two magicians and avowed atheists. They love to debunk all types of hocus pocus, including religious nonsense. In one programme they tackle the religious based Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) programme that claims to use religion to get alcoholics to dry out. They use AA’s own figures to show that AA’s claimed success rate of 5% is no greater a success than the rate for Alcoholics who simply decide to give up drinking on their own with no help.

Myth Busters is a programme dedicated to testing the validity of urban myths. Sometimes they confirm that the myth is in fact valid but many times they show that the myth just totally wrong. Did you know for instance that people are killed every year because they talk on the telephone during a lightening storm?

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The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) is the world umbrella organisation for humanist, ethical culture, rationalist, secularist and freethought groups. Based in London, it is an international NGO with Special Consultative Status with the UN (New York, Geneva, Vienna), General Consultative Status at UNICEF (New York) and the Council of Europe (Strasbourg), and it maintains operational relations with UNESCO (Paris). Its mission is to build and represent the global Humanist movement, to defend human rights and to promote humanist values world-wide. IHEU sponsors and runs the triennial Humanist World Congress.