Brexit, schmexit

This morning, on a rare foray into facebook, I read a British friend’s post about his sadness about Brexit. He talked about how upset he was to lose his citizenship of the EU, one of the most important collaborations in the world (in his opinion).

I’ve followed the UK position fairly obsessively over the past two years, watching the soap opera play out on BBC Radio 4. And my friend is right, it is sad – also dysfunctional, self-punishing, illogical.

Living in Brussels gives you a close-up of the EU, in all its idealism and its dysfunction. Brussels isn’t without its own problems. But it’s clear that the UK’s political administration is pretty imperfect too. And the EU’s true goal – to prevent conflict within the continent – remains a truly important one.

Image credit: Furfur, via Wikipedia

Image credit: Furfur, via Wikipedia

Last time I took the Eurostar, as the train pulled into King’s Cross St. Pancras, I looked up at the station’s magnificent ceiling, and at Tracy Emin’s neon pink scrawl–apparently a message of love for Europe–and felt the loss of Brexit. Even if the UK suffers more than other parties in this mess, it’s not a zero-sum game, and with Brexit, we’re all of us going to miss out.

The strange case of Dr. Jan Karbaat

The Karbaat case has attracted significant media attention.

The case has attracted significant media attention.

On Wednesday of this week I went to Rotterdam to cover  the verdict being given in the trial of Dr. Jan Karbaat, a Dutch fertility doctor who’s suspected of using his own sperm on patients.

I’ve been following the donor-conceived community for months now and of all the stories to emerge–astonishing, unjust, dramatic, or plain sad–this one is the most outrageous.  When Karbaat wanted to obtain sperm for a patient he would simply go to another room, returning with a fresh sample. In reports, women have spoken of feeling violated now that it seems like the samples most likely came from the doctor himself. At the trial I talked to one mother who said he had conducted the inseminations so aggressively that she requested another physician.

It seems likely that Karbaat did many, many things that were unethical over the course of his long career, but this particular trial was about whether his DNA could be released, allowing people who think they may be descended from him to confirm whether that’s the case. The judge’s verdict was yes. She placed the rights of the now adult children to know about their origins over those of the late doctor to privacy. (Because the doctor wasn’t officially a sperm donor, however, the judge made clear that this doesn’t set a precedent for other donor-conceived people seeking info about their dads.) It’s just one step in a bigger series of cases. The next, the donor children’s lawyer, Tim Bueters, said, will be a request for compensation.

In the meantime, many questions remain open: Karbaat also sent donations abroad, so does this mean he could have descendants elsewhere in Europe? How does this compare with practices among fertility specialists in general during that era (1960s-2010’s)?

Let’s just say that the story won’t end here.

(I covered the case for RTE’s Drivetime, and you can hear the report here.)

The forgotten princess

Today I read a shocking story in the New York Times about Sheikha Latifa, a 32-year-old Emirati princess who has simply disappeared after trying, and almost succeeding, to flee. A previous attempt to escape, when she was just a teenager, had led to three years in solitary confinement, so this time, as she set sail with a friend across the Indian ocean she knew the risks were high. She had almost reached India when her father’s henchmen apprehended her and there has been little news of her since. (A detailed account of her flight is currently on Wikipedia.)

800px-Dubai_marina_WikipediaSheikha Latifa’s story gives just a tiny glimpse of the injustices that must be taking place across the UAE–a country hardly renowned for its record on human rights. I can’t pretend to be familiar with the vastly complex politics of the country, but I do know that Dubai is a glittering destination for tourists, drawn by promises of beaches (aren’t they artificial?) and lavish shopping  malls.

Latifa’s story may be a little like Jamal Khashoggi’s, a single tale whose horror captures our imaginations out of millions of other terrible injustices. When I watched her Youtube goodbye video (to be published only if something terrible happened), I was struck by her normality. She seemed totally sympathetic, and yes, just like me.

What’s additionally shocking here is that Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and High Commissioner for Human Rights at the UN somehow managed to get bamboozled (hoodwinked?) into visiting the family, being photographed with Latifa and bolstering their story. In the pics, Latifa’s face looks puffy, her eyes glazed. Robinson says that she was clearly a “troubled young woman.” What on earth does that mean? And why hadn’t Robinson investigated further before her visit? Robinson is an activist for women’s rights, and her participation in this photo-op granted approval to the Emirati royal family’s account. For someone in her position, it is a terrible gaffe.

The New York Times piece ends on a sinister note. Several of the people the journalist had been talking to became fearful and abruptly stopped responding to messages. The implication is that Latifa may now be dead. I guess that won’t stop holidaymakers from enjoying Dubai’s beaches, but I hope some people will watch Latifa’s eloquent and entirely credible testimony and think about the powers that worked against her.