Page 8, 18th May 2007

18th May 2007
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Page 8, 18th May 2007 — `We'll get nowhere by sounding harsh'
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`We'll get nowhere by sounding harsh'

Joanna Bogle talks to the pro-life doctor about the young, sex education and how disastrous government policies have fed a growing recognition of the need for change

Visiting Dr Trevor Stammers's medical surgery in a busy south London suburb is a villagey, neighbourly sort of experience. A plaque by the door announces that the building was opened a few years ago by the doctors who started the practice back in the 1950s. Inside, the NHS bureaucratic atmosphere was distinctly softened by a mother reading aloud to her child and a genial receptionist who responded with a nice smile when I said I wasn't there for a consultation, but had come to see Dr Stammers for a newspaper interview. "Oh, yes he mentioned you'd be along. Have a seat. Would you like a cup of tea?"

Dr Stammers has become a wellknown speaker at pro-life events. A practising Christian he attends a Baptist church he is the author of books and newspaper features highlighting the grave issues facing Britain's families. Fighting trends within his own profession as well as in Britain generally, he has consistently called for a fresh approach on matters connected with abortion, sexual health and the distribution of contraceptives to teenagers. He's been denounced by people in the medical establishment despite being made a member of the Royal College of General Practitioners for his work on sexual health and has faced challenging media debates and considerable controversy.

But he sees that light appears to be dawning. The previous day he had been at the House of Commons meeting fellow supporters of the Early Day Motion put down by the MP Angela Watkinson, which noted the failure of Government policies on teenage pregnancy and suggested that it's time to change.

"I remember 20 years ago being vilified for calling for more parental involvement in sex education," said Dr Stammers. "Now even the Family Planning Association says that parents are central to any successful venture in that field. I get invited to speak at graduate schools, at' teaching hospitals and, yes, there is some growing recognition of a need for change."

The figures speak for themselves. Sexually transmitted diseases among adolescents are now at epidemic proportions (currently, a range of new local high street posters beg teenagers to get treatment for their chlamydia). In 2005 there were 7,462 pregnant children under the age of 15 a rise from 7,181 in 2004. One survey indicated that some 40 per cent of under 16-year-olds are sexually active. Government poli cies continue to centre on giving these children contraceptive drugs and abortion advice. These policies are central to the problem, and challenging them is now crucial. Mrs Watkinson's Early Day Motion "calls for greater action from the Government to involve parents and to moderate its policy, requiring schools and others involved in sex education and contraceptive provision to encourage young people to withstand peer pressure and to understand the dangers of early sexual activity".

"Even official reports are effectively admitting that we are in a mess," says Dr Stammers, who is seated in his consulting room, surrounded by medical paraphernalia and shelves of medical books.

"The Teenage Pregnancy Unit has swallowed millions of pounds how can we say that it is working? They are trying to suck the medical profession into an Alice in Wonderland world of jargon where words have lost their real meaning."

He believes it is crucial to speak out with charity and a sense of justice. "A lot of people, men and women, are compromised because of their own involvement in abortion. We'll never get anywhere by sounding harsh for Christians, there always has to be this message that Christ loves them."

He admires the Catholic Church for its stance on these issues and admits to a sense of disappointment when, contemplating joining an Anglican church, he was distressed by the liberal and undecided line taken by its leaders.

Invited to speak at large numbers of colleges, schools and youth groups each year, Dr Stammers said he was convinced it was possible to communicate a fresh message to the young. "I have many times spoken to sixth-formers and received a storm of applause," he said. "It is perfectly possible to promote a message that `saved sex' is the right way forward.

"I believe there is scope for a properly designed and thought-out programme which promotes this idea."

He is wary of glib assertions about the huge success of "abstinence programmes" as sponsored in America. "Surveys have shown that of course large numbers of young people who sign up to abstinence pledges do not keep them. But, overall, they can delay the first sexual experience by up to three years well, that's something. But we've got to be realistic: the pressures and temptations for the young are huge."

A first step, clearly, is to stop the harm that is currently being done by the public funding of forms of sex education that effectively promote the idea that it is normal and natural for teenagers to have sexual partners.

It is also crucial for Christians to work together and to hold on to a sense of realism and hope. Facts, as Dr Stammers kept emphasising, support the stance he takes.

Turning to issues of personal faith, he speaks with caution: this is no Bible-thumping debater. He noted, however, that doctors do come to understand the importance of people's spiritual lives, and the way their faith enables them to understand and cope with the various problems and difficulties faced in life. "I'm a great believer in taking a spiritual history. People want to talk, and a lot can emerge when you ask something like: `Do you have a faith that helps you at a time like this?' " What about the link between Christianity and physical healing? He is wary of many claims made, and feels that people can get caught up in things that promise more than they can deliver.

"In any case, I think that to start with lots of talk about healing is to miss the point in a sense," he said. "One of the purposes of prayer is not so much to have my requests fulfilled, but to draw nearer to God and listen to Him, to place everything with Him."

He'd obviously like to go further with this aspect of the conversation: we've already veered a bit into talking about John Paul II and Benedict XVI and their respective personalities, and about the Regensburg speech, and more. We started to go on to linked issues: the theology of marriage, the history and traditions of Christian teaching in this area... but patients with afternoon appointments were beginning to trickle into the waiting room. Dr Stammers exuded a sense of cheerful energy. He finished his coffee and was ready for the next activity. In addition to his care for his patients, there are lectures, books and his own academic work.

And the future beckons: he is optimistic about the debates and discussions that will take place over the next few years, and without minimising the odds stacked against us, sees that those who recognise the wrong stance taken by successive governments will be vindicated. If he's looking for a motto, it would probably be Magna est veritas et prevalebit (Truth is mighty, and it shall prevail).




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