e-Newsletter March 2016



In this issue:

Launch of HAI Strategic Plan 2016-2020
First Sunday Meeting – 6 March: Altruism in Action – Donating Your Body to Medical Science
Report of First Sunday Meeting 7 February: Altruism in Action –  Organ Donation
Report of Darwin Day 12 February 2016
Report from the Interbelief Dialogue Day at MIC
News Bytes
Chaplaincy News
Local Humanist Groups
Contributions from Members
Living Wills

Launch of HAI Strategic Plan 2016-2020

The HAI Strategic Plan will be launched by HAI Chair, Siobhán Walls, at the First Sunday Meeting in the Ashling Hotel, Dublin on 6 March. The plan will be available for download from the HAI website, and printed copies will also be available at a cost of €5.sTRATEGIC pLAN

First Sunday Meeting – 6 March: Altruism in Action – Donating Your Body to Medical ScienceSliderBodyDonation




Altruism is a key feature of the humanist outlook, a practical expression of the key quality of compassion. What more generous form of altruism could there be than donation of your own organs (as we discussed at last month’s meeting) or, indeed, your body, after death?

Our joint speakers at the March meeting in the Ashling Hotel, Dublin 8 at 4pm on Sunday 6th are Philomena McAteer and Siobhán Ward who job-share the post of Chief Technical Officer in the Department of Anatomy, Trinity College. Their role is to manage all aspects of the donation of bodies to the Medical School, from initial contacts with potential donors to receiving and processing the bodies and liaising sympathetically with the families of the donor at all stages of the process.

They have developed the process over the last few decades from a rather impersonal approach to a holistic model involving the donor, the family and the students who benefit directly from the gift. Along the way they acquired Masters’ degrees in Bereavement Studies, to enhance their skills and authority.

They featured in a 2015 RTÉ documentary, A Parting Gift, which dealt with all aspects of donation, including the responses of donor families and medical students. The documentary was nominated for an IFTA and for a Prix Europa award in Berlin.

Siobhán Ward and Philomena McAteer will cover all aspects of donation from first enquiry to memorial ritual; from working with the dead to how human bodies are used in medical education. The Donor Programme at Trinity College Dublin includes what happens when a donor dies and the support for the family. They will also cover the attitude of students and staff to working with human bodies.

For further Information: contact Alan Tuffery Mobile 086 162 6988 Email [email protected]

Report of First Sunday Meeting 7 February: Altruism in Action –  Organ Donation 

Speaker Colin White, National Projects Manager, Irish Kidney AssociationSíle Headen, the incoming Chair of HAI, chaired the meeting which was attended by about 50 members and visitors. The topic of organ donation fits with the humanist quality of compassion. Altruism is doing good for others without thought of reward for oneself: ‘to live for others’, as Auguste Comte, an 19th-century French philosopher, put it. Organ donation is an excellent example of altruism because it usually involves the gift of life to a total stranger.Patients with kidney failure are usually treated with dialysis which is very time-consuming; haemodialysis requires the patient to visit hospital up to three times a week. In Ireland, there are about 1800 patients using dialysis, most on haemodialysis. Dialysis is expensive (about €70,000 per year for each patient) and disruptive to normal life and has undesirable side-effects. Transplants are much more cost-effective and give a much higher quality of life.Donation by living donors is possible but extremely limited in Ireland largely due to restrictions intended to prevent a trade in organs from living donors. Usually living donations are only permitted for those with a close emotional attachment to the recipient.

Deceased donations are also quite rare because it is necessary for the donor to die in an Intensive Care Unit if organs are to be preserved. The window for donation is also a matter of hours. Recipients require long-term immunosuppression treatment.
Colin White gave a powerful example of the results of donation. One patient had received a heart-lung transplant and had donated her own heart to another, making a ‘ripple effect’ from the original deceased donor.  She went on to have two children, so the effects of the donations have reached another generation.

The consent of next-of–kin is not formally required for organ donation, but in practice, their opposition will not be over-ruled. This emphasises the importance of potential donors discussing their wishes with their next-of-kin. The consent of next-of-kin is a serious limiting factor in opt-out systems of donor recruitment. Specialist transplant teams in hospital have improved the acceptance rate of donation. Donor cards are readily available via IKA (there is an app: Organ Donor ecard).

In Ireland the number of donors is disappointingly small: only 80-90 annually with almost 250 recipients. However, there is a pool of about 600 waiting for transplants. (Some patients on dialysis are not suitable for transplants.)

The discussion featured personal accounts of experiences (direct and indirect) of transplants and some of the possible bars to becoming a donor, such as lifestyle and history of medication. While some organs may not be useable, others may be perfectly useable. The absence of a national register of potential doors is a serious drawback, but so far the HSE seems disinclined to get involved. (UK has a register which allows people to indicate Yes or No for donation.) Corneas are not accepted in Ireland because of concerns over blood-borne viruses. Pancreatic transplantation has ceased because the only surgeon has not been replaced.

Irish Kidney Association — www.ika.ie

– Alan Tuffery

 Report of Darwin Day 12 February 2016SliderDARWIN2016#2

A common theme of climate change has featured in the HAI Darwin Day lecture for the last two years and is also the theme of the All-Ireland Humanist Summer School in August (http://humanism.ie/events/summer-school/. In the 2015 Darwin Day Lecture, Prof. Pete Coxon discussed the relation of Darwin and his ideas to modern developments in Geography, particularly the study of glaciers. And this year, Fraser Mitchell examined Darwin’s contribution to Botany and the influence of his ideas. Prof. Mitchell used four individuals, who either influenced Darwin or who carry on his work, to illustrate the formation and influence of his ideas.When Darwin went to Cambridge, ostensibly to study for the Church, he found the lectures of Robert Henslow, the most influential botanist of his day, vastly more congenial. He spent so much time ‘botanising’ with Henslow that he became known as ‘The Man Who Walks with Henslow’. Indeed, it was Henslow who recommended Darwin as the ‘naturalist’ on HMS Beagle (1831-1836). When Darwin asked Henslow what plants he should collect and send back, Henslow replied, ‘Everything’! Henslow arranged for the plants to be sent on to the relevant experts, one of whom was WH Harvey in the Trinity College Herbarium which now holds many of Darwin’s original type-specimens, that is, the definitive specimens, with which all others must be directly compared for identification. Many of these specimens bear Darwin’s signature and notes.Darwin published six major books on plants and along with his son, Francis, conducted some elegant experiments on the effects of light on the direction of growth of seedlings. His succession of neat experiments, with stepwise modification according the results in true scientific manner demonstrated that it was something moving back from the growing tip that caused the seedling to curve towards the light. This was the first indication of plant hormones. Darwin also published his negative results, as when the vibration from bassoon-playing failed to elicit a response from the touch-sensitive, insect-trapping plant, Mimosa pudica. His work on cowslips was pivotal in establishing that cross-pollination resulted in much more vigorous plants than self-pollination. This work is the basis for current work in the Botany Department on the effects of hedgerows and bees for pollination on yields of oilseed rape. Similarly, his observations with John Hooker, Director of Kew Gardens, was crucial in establish the fact that mixed plantings of grasses produce greater yields than monocultures often favoured today. Workers in Trinity College collaborate worldwide in complex, elegant and important experiments to determine the interaction of species diversity, climate and nutrients on yields. Darwin’s view of plants as part of a complex ecological systems is key to modern understanding.

Kathy Willis, the current Scientific Director of Kew Gardens, continues to work in this ecological tradition (see her Plants: Roots to Riches series on BBC Radio 4), but now in the urgent context of global warming. As matters stand, it is unlikely that emissions will be reduced enough to keep global warming below the notional 2ºC which might be manageable. Removing CO2 from the atmosphere is going to be essential and the more fanciful methods proposed may or may not work and their consequences are unpredictable.
Plants will be part of the solution because they remove CO2. More efficient and cleaner agricultural practices along with genetic engineering will be critical to both removing CO2 from the atmosphere and increasing food production.

Prof. Mitchell did not miss the chance to point out that funding for botanical research is generally being cut — including at Kew — which seems dangerously shortsighted. However, the rising generation understands the ecological approach and our responsibility for our planet and the need for serious ecological studies. He felt sure that Darwin would approve of this general acceptance of his ideas.

The discussion was wide-ranging, covering the influence of Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, who was an early proponent of the mutability of species, the rate of species loss and the potential loss of remedies from plants, to the dangers of invasive species which have no local enemies and therefore spread unchecked.

– Alan Tuffery

 Report from the Interbelief Dialogue Day at MICInterbelief Dialogue




On February 17th, Tina Storey attended the first Interbelief Dialogue Day in Contemporary Ireland on behalf of the HAI. It was hosted by Mary Immaculate College (MIC) in Limerick. At least 16 different belief systems were represented, with secularists also represented by Peter O’Hara of Midwest Humanists and Jane Donnelly and Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland. The forum was open to all, with a steady stream of MIC students trickling in and out throughout the day.The aim of the seminar was to promote dialogue between those of different belief systems; to increase understanding among them, reduce stereotypes and assumptions that may lead to conflict; and to feed back into the consultation process for a new primary education module “Education in Religion and Beliefs (ERB), and Ethics” which is currently being developed by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA). The NCCA did not reply when asked why it did not use the “Learn Together” model of multi-denominational religious and ethical education which has served the Educate Together schools for more than 40 years. The public is invited to participate in the consultation process of the for the ERB and Ethics programme via the NCCA’s website – the process will close on March 31st.The main Lime Tree theatre hosted a series of lectures throughout the day, with parallel dialogue sessions conducted in the afternoon between members of different belief systems.

Sr. Mary O’Sullivan of the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer at Oświęcim (Auschwitz) gave some helpful advice on how to create a meaningful dialogue:

  • Create a place of trust
  • Welcome
  • Begin with listening, not words
  • Open our hearts to let the other in
  • Dignity
  • Speak about one’s self, not the other
  • Respect the otherness of the other
  • Respect the wounds of the other
  • Their story should become part of our world.

Tomi Reichental gave a heart-rending lecture detailing his childhood as a Jew in Slovakia who ended up at age 9 in the hellish camp at Bergen-Belsen. 35 members of his family were murdered by the Nazis. His message to us was that anyone can become a victim; a perpetrator; or a bystander. Ireland stood by in 1939 when the pogroms began. Now that there is a humanitarian crisis in Syria, are we going to stand by?

Dr. Julia Ipgrave spoke about her research on inter-religious education in the UK and France. Religion is more than a faith or belief – it is bound up in notions of identity, community and tradition. Side-by-side interactions in the community (for example playing or working together) are more constructive than face-to-face interactions, such as dialogue or lectures.

Dr. James Carr spoke about the growing problem of harassment and discrimination against the diverse population of Muslims in Ireland today. Several speakers touched on the concept of “race” versus ethnicity – we are all part of a single human race. There were too many excellent speakers, activities and discussions to mention here, but the day was a great success.

The most energetic group was SARI, Sport Against Racism in Ireland. Their “Hijabs and Hat Tricks” programme has encouraged young women from different religious and ethnic backgrounds to get involved in a soccer team, “Diverse City”. They gave a short presentation and played an exhibition match against the MIC team. Ken McHugh of SARI commented on the demographic of the students at MIC, which was predominantly white Irish: Children need to see diversity and positive role models in the teachers in their classrooms.

– Tina Storey


HAI Stand at the GPO

The next outing of the new HAI stand at the GPO will take place on Saturday, 19 March from 12 pm to 2 pm. All members who would like to lend their support would be most welcome!


News Bytes

Petition to Make “Honour” Killings Illegal in Pakistan Avaaz has a campaign to pressurise Pakistan to remove a loophole in the law which permits so-called “honour” killings. 

Irish Times
Letter on national schools and religion by Rob Sadleir

We don’t need no free-market education by Stephen O’Brien

Lorraine Courtney reflects on sexism in Irish politics

Ireland on brink of change as church power wanes : Harriet Sherwood visited Ireland recently, and interviewed HAI Director Terry Flynn as part of her research.

Peter Tatchell explains why he has changed his mind on the gay cake row

National Secular Society (UK)
Students Launch Right to Debate Campaign

The Pool (UK)
Best-selling Irish author, Louise O’Neill, reflects on her troubled relationship with Catholicism


Chaplaincy News

At its February meeting, the HAI Chaplaincy committee had two visitors from HumaNi, Ruth Yeo and Iain DeBoys, to discuss coordinating closer links with Chaplaincy North and South, particularly in the area of training and mutual support. It has yet to be decided whether such North-South coordination will take place. Also visiting the meeting were Joe Rigby and Lucy Halpin, who presented their proposal for a Parents’ Humanist Group. Their idea is to arrange monthly meetings in a child-friendly environment for parents to have discussions on issues such as raising your child without religion, alternatives to baptism, first communion and other religious ceremonies, and to offer community and support to the non-religious. The idea for the group met approval from the committee, and shall be passed to the Board for approval. The Chaplaincy committee continues to develop contacts within chaplaincy services in universities, hospitals, and prisons, with the ultimate aim of gaining acceptance of its volunteers in these institutions. Members of the chaplaincy committee are scheduled to attend a meeting with the HSE chaplaincy team in April.

– Oisín Carey


South Dublin Humanist Community

The next meeting will be held on 14th March at the Royal Marine Hotel, Dun Laoghaire at 7.30 pm  for an 8.00 pm start. The topic is Education Equality Post Election, with guest April Duff, Chair of Education Equality.   A contribution of €5 is requested on the night to cover the cost of the room.  Please email or text Brian Whiteside if you plan to attend as he needs to manage numbers. Contact:  [email protected] 086-384 8940.

Monthly meetings are held on the third Wednesday of every month in the Reference Room, Waterford City Library, Lady lane at 6.00 p.m.  Contact Teresa Graham on [email protected] for details of further meetings.

West Cork

For details of the next meeting and to register your attendance please email [email protected]

Monthly meetings are held in the Cobbler’s Bar of the Wyatt Hotel at the Octagon in Westport at 12 o’clock on the second Sunday of every month.  The group has a facebook page. Contact Séamus O’Connell on 087 245 35 36 or email [email protected] for further details.

North-West Humanists have changed their meeting place to Café Paradiso @Carrick Cineplex (behind Supermac’s), Sligo Road,Carrick on Shannon,Co. Roscommon.

The meeting time has been slightly extended, now 2.30pm to 5pm, still on the third Sunday of every month. The new venue is comfortable and quiet, with quality tea, coffee, snacks (including popcorn!) and a selection of wines. It is closer to the train station than the town-centre. For more information, directions and enquiries, please e-mail [email protected], text or phone 086 8820445.

Members from Laois, Offaly, Carlow, Kilkenny and Kildare meet on the second Friday of the month at 8.00 p.m. in the Kilford Arms, John Street, Kilkenny.  Contact Fachtna Roe on [email protected] for further details.  Please note change of location!

Details of Cork Humanists’ meetings are on http://corkhumanists.weebly.com/ or you can contact Geraldine O’Neill on 086 812 8892.

North Coast Humanists meet every second Tuesday of the month at 6. 30 pm in the foyer of Lodge Hotel, Coleraine. New faces are welcome. For more information, contact: [email protected]com  or 07818036404.

The Mid-West Humanists group includes people from Limerick, Clare, and Tipperary who meet on the third Wednesday of each month at 20:00 in Limerick – the Absolute Hotel, Sir Harry’s Mall, Limerick. Meeting notice at www.midwesthumanists.com. For more information contact Peter O’Hara on 086 8155102 or email [email protected].

Serving Humanists in Galway and surrounding areas, Humanists West meet in Galway city on the last Sunday of each month. Please note the change of venue: we are now meeting in the Anno Santo Hotel, Threadneedle Road, Salthill, Galway. The meetings start at 12 noon. For more information contact Garry O’Lochlainn on [email protected] or 087 2222726

Contribution From Members
If you have constructive comments or feedback on this e-Newsletter, Board meetings, the organisation in general, and/or are able to contribute to the goals of the HAI in any way, please let us know.And if you have news items or links you would like to share with other HAI members, please send them for possible inclusion in the e-Newsletter by the 27th of the month.

We would very much welcome your contributions!

The email address is [email protected]

Humanist Association of Ireland  •  34B Royal Terrace West  •  Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin Irelandhttp://humanism.ie