Check Out New "Human Future" Biotech/Bioethics Blog
Jennifer Lahl, is the head of the Center for Bioethics and Culture. She has a new blog that is worth checking out. Here is the link.
This Blog considers assisted suicide/euthanasia, bioethics, human cloning, biotechnology, radical environmentalism, and the dangers of animal rights/liberation. My views expressed here, as in my books and other writings, reflect my understanding that the philosophy of human exceptionalism is the bedrock of universal human rights. Or, to put it another way: human life matters. (The opinions expressed here are my own and not necessarily those of any organization with which I am affiliated.)
Jennifer Lahl, is the head of the Center for Bioethics and Culture. She has a new blog that is worth checking out. Here is the link.
Terri Schiavo was supposedly dehydrated to death because she supposedly told Michael Schiavo that she would not want to be maintained in an incapacitated condition. The evidence of her "choice" was extremely weak but deemed sufficient enough for courts to justify their death orders.
But this was really a veneer. The real reason Terri died, in my view, was that her life was deemed not worthy to be lived.
Now in Houston, we have a case of a woman whose husband needs a feeding tube and ventilator support. She wants the care for him, but the hospitals are saying no, that his treatment is "futile," and therefore, they can cut him off from sustenance unilaterally based on their values. So much for "choice."
Welcome to the world of "futile care theory." I have been pounding the drum against this form of oppression for years. Expect this to be the next big public fight in bioethics. And expect the same papers that editorialized in favor of Michael Schiavo's right to decide his wife's fate to editorialize that in futile care situations, doctors know best.
You see, it isn't about choice. It is about certain categories of people no longer being welcomed in life.
The Council of Europe has rejected calls to permit euthanasia. Interesting, that this AP story was not reported widely in the U.S. I had to go to Pravda, for gosh sakes, to get the story. Not surprisingly, when the General Assembly called by a margin of almost 3-1 for member states to outlaw all forms of human cloning, that story was also ignored by the media.
The National Academy of Sciences has published voluntary guidelines to govern therapeutic cloning and embryonic stem cell research. Unsurprisingly, they don't offer much in the way of limitations. For example, the NAS would permit biotechnologists to create embryos--either naturally or through cloning--solely for the purpose of research. (Remember when ALL scientists wanted was access to leftover IVF embryos due to be destroyed anyway?) The only acts the NAS suggests not be done "at this time" are: 1) Research on embryos beyond 14 days of development or the development of the primitive streak; 2) Placing human embryonic stem cells into primate embryos or other species stem cells into human embryos; and 3) Permitting animals that have had human embryonic stem cells introduced into their systems to breed.
That's about it. Oh, there is talk of having Institutional Review Boards monitor the research and all that blather. But that is no protection at all since the IRBs would be made up of scientists and others committed to moving human cloning research forward.
The media didn't pay as much attention to these guidelines as they usually do in such cases. Perhaps even they know that this is just a PR gambit to give the appearance of control when the real watchwords of the day are "anything goes."
I recently learned, to my astonishment, that Dolly was not the first cloned mammal. Now, scientists are stating that since primates have not yet been cloned to birth, it will almost surely never happen with humans. What a crock. Monkeys have already been cloned to birth several times using the same cloning technique that Ian Wilmut utilized in making the first cloned sheep--two years before the birth of Dolly. This matters, as I demonstrate in this article published in the current issue of the Weekly Standard.
I am often asked if videos of my speeches are available. Here is the video stream of one I presented recently at Seattle University School of Law. The topic was: Bioethics: Creating a Disposable Caste of People. Please, tune in. And if you don't like it, remember the old saying: You get what you pay for.
Many still believe that the goal of the animal rights/liberation movement is to find more humane ways for humans to make proper use of animals. That would be a noble goal, but it is not what animal liberationists were really after. Rather than supporting animal welfare--which acknowledges the human right to make proper and humane use of animals for human betterment, but which also insists that humans fulfill our moral obligation as humans to do so in the most humane ways practicable--animal liberationists insist that humans have no moral right to make use of any animal for any reason. Thus, when they equate cattle ranching with human slavery and eating meat to the Holocaust, they mean it.
Following this anti-human philosophy would lead to great human harm in many areas, explicitly including the stunting of medical progress, as this column demonstrates.
Advocates for euthanasia like to call it the "ultimate civil right." But you won't find traditional civil rights organizations joining along. Indeed, those who really want assisted suicide tend to be well off folk who have no fear of being denied quality health care.
More proof of this point comes with the announced strong opposition by LULAC to California's A.B. 654, which would legalize assisted suicide. LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) is California's oldest Hispanic civil rights organization.
The media likes to depict opponents as almost exclusively members of the religious right. LULAC's rejection of assisted suicide is more proof of the shallow, two-dimensional nature of this depiction.
Howard Dean, head of the Democratic Party, says that Democrats will use Terri Schiavo's tragedy as a partisan club with which to hit Republicans in the 2006 election. I am not involved in partisan politics, but this strikes me as the worst sort of opportunism. Dean seems to have forgotten that the United States Senate gave its unanimous consent to the federal law seeking a de novo federal trial of the Schaivo facts. Last time I counted there 44 Democrats in the United States Senate. Moreover, Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) was a strong supporter, and the compromise legislation was brokered by Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada).
In the House of Representatives, the Democrat Caucus split on the bill about 50-50.
I have a minority position on the federal law and its debate. I supported the law. But I think both sides were principled and argued their points positively and in the best American tradition. The side favoring the legislation were, consistent with the rule of law and American ideals, seeking to protect the life of one, helpless, profoundly disabled woman. The side arguing against the legislation were defending judicial independence, federalism and our system of shared sovereignty, key components of American freedom. I believe both sides were motivated by principle and integrity.
I don't recall Howard Dean opposing the bill at the time. But if Dean and Democrats try to revise history and claim that the law was exclusively a Republican venture, then they will be branding themselves cynics and demagogues,who, when the heat was on, meekly went along. But later, when some polls showed that the move was unpopular, they claim federal intervention was an attempt to impose theocracy. Talk about political cowardice and cynicism!
The question now becomes whether Democrat supporters of the bill to save Terri's life will speak the truth about their principled involvement or allow Dean to perform a tap dance of demagoguery on Terri's grave.
California euthanasia ideologues are working overtime to legalize assisted suicide in the Golden State (A.B. 654). They often point to Oregon as the model for a "good law." In other places, I have often noted, as have many others, that the Oregon law is NOT working as hyped. However, here is a little statistic that Rita Marker researched, which demonstrates how ugly assisted suicide could become in CA. There are nearly twice as many people without health insurance in CA (6.5 m.), as there are total people in Oregon (3.5 m.). Given that assisted suicide would be the cheapest possible "medical treatment" around if it ever were legalized, and noting that many assisted suicide victims in Oregon reportedly "chose" to die so they will not burden their families, the implications for the poor and uninsured if assisted suicide becomes lawful in California are obvious.
The publicity from the Terri Schiavo case has apparently saved its first life. Apparently an ill elderly woman was consigned to dehydration by her grandchildren despite having an advance directive stating that she only wanted no feeding tube if she were in a persistent vegetative state. She wasn't in such a state and had a treatable heart condition. Yet, a hospice agreed to dehydrate her and she went without food or water for a week. Other relatives intervened and she is apparently safe, for now. But look at how easy some now find it to deprive the cognitively disabled and frail elderly of all food and water.
One of the least covered but fundamental problems associated with human cloning is the need to use human eggs--one egg for each cloning try. Obtaining eggs involves an onerous process known as super ovulation, in which a woman is administered high doses of hormones to induce her ovaries to release 10-15 eggs in her cycle instead of the usual one. The eggs are then obtained surgically, usually by inserting a needle through the vaginal wall. This can be a dangerous procedure, leading to potential side effects such as infection, sterility, and in a few cases such as this tragic example, death. No wonder many feminists oppose human cloning as a technology that could lead directly to the exploitation of women.
During the last ten-plus years, I have had the privilege of working closely with two giants in public advocacy. One is Ralph Nader, with whom I co-authored four books. The other is Rita Marker, the head of the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. Indeed, the powerful impact of Rita's book Deadly Compassion compelled me to begin my anti-euthanasia work.
In recent days, Rita has published two superb articles. The first, published in the San Francisco Chronicle, points out some of the many flaws of California Assembly Bill A.B. 654, the assisted suicide legalization bill that recently passed out of the Judiciary Committee. The second, dealing with advance directives, was published on National Review Online. Both are worth the read.
Last week's Nation, the left wing magazine on current events, hit a new low. The cover mocks Terri Schiavo by showing her being asked to smile to indicate yes when answering a series of questions, mostly meant to criticize her supporters, and her face not changing.
Not only is this to disparage a dead woman who was dehydrated to death because she had suffered a serious brain injury, it demonstrates that many on the Left really do consider people like Terri to be less than human, and hence, better off dead. What a disgrace.
Most of the media will ignore this Zogby poll, since it gets in the way of the story being painted of the government's efforts to save Terri Schiavo's life as a right wing vendetta. And polls by ABC and Time sure seem to have been written to obtain a desired result.
The Zogby poll isn't perfect either. To get a truly accurate picture, it should have mentioned the feeding tube more explicitly and the profound nature of Terri's cognitive disability. But I think it more accurately depicts the mixed attitudes of the American people on this issue than the other polls being relied upon to support the conventional media wisdom.
Even more than polls, however, remains the relative quiescence of the Democrat Party on this matter. If politicos were convinced this were a winning issue against Republicans, there would be no end of speechifying. But there were reasons that most Democrats in the Congress voted for the federal law. First, many believed it was the right thing to do, e.g., Sens. Joe Lieberman, Tom Harkin, etc. Second, the grass roots drove the matter in a truly democratic fashion.
The Dutch began euthanasia in 1973. It wasn't until circa 1990 that the killing agenda got around regularly to dispatching disabled and terminally ill infants. And it is only this year that there is a concerted effort to formally legalize eugenic infanticide in the Netherlands.
What took the Dutch more than 30 years, is happening in less than 5 in Belgium, which, a pending study in The Lancet shows, appears ready to move at the double quick toward the killing of seriously ill and disabled infants.
Such is the inescapable logic of euthanasia. Once killing is transformed from "bad" to "good" as a remedy for suffering, it doesn't take long before those who can't exercise the killing "choice" have it made for them.
Periodically, the Atlantic Monthly magazine publishes stories on biotech. These tend to be fawning puff pieces about the coming wonders of therapeutic cloning or, on occasion, warnings about the problems biotech is spawning for society.
There are two constants in these stories. First, they accept almost as a matter of course that all of the hyped promises of cloning and embryonic stem cell research will soon come to pass. No jaundiced eyes in the Atlantic Monthly! Second, they often get basic facts wrong.
"The Coming Death Shortage" by Charles C. Mann in the May 2005 edition keeps up the tradition. Mann assumes that embryonic stem cell research and other forms of biotech will, within this century, dramatically extend human life spans to the point that we may soon live in "a world of 200-year-olds."
Stories like this are so overblown they usually aren't worth a mention. However, Mann claims that "the Bush Administration" has placed "so many strictures on stem-cell research that scientists complain it has been effectively banned in this country." The scientists' lament is patently untrue. But this canard has been repeated so many times by ESCR advocates that it has been transformed into perceived wisdom.
Mann claims that the Bush policy has driven the science over to China, where ESCR is practiced so freely that Chinese scientists are now deluged with offers from eager American venture capitalists seeking to throw money into the research. "Sooner or later," Mann warns darkly, "in one nation or another, someone ...will cut a deal: frozen embryos for financial backing."
Well baloney. First, the only limits Bush placed on ESCR is on federal funding of stem cell lines created after 8/9/01. Indeed, the feds have poured tens of millions into ESCR under the Bush guidelines. Moreover, it is perfectly legal under federal law to engage in ESCR to scientists' hearts content. Geron Corp. in Menlo Park, CA, for example, is actively pursuing ESCR, and Harvard researchers recently created a new series of embryonic stem cell lines backed by private money.
This means that if venture capitalists were so hot to trot for ESCR, they wouldn't have to go to China: There are bounteous opportunities for them cut the frozen embryo deals right here.
That they are not doing so in large numbers, as has been frequently reported in the business press, is primarily because their due diligence convinces venture capitalists that ESCR and its close sibling, therapeutic cloning, are not likely to generate a profitable return any time soon. Not wanting to throw their money into a black hole, venture capitalists instead zip up their wallets.
That is why Big Biotech and its supporters in university life science institutes masterminded the raid on the California treasury known as Proposition 71. They knew that voters desperate for cures, unlike venture capitalists, wouldn't do the extended research necessary to uncover the hype and speculation that is the backbone of ESCR and cloning research advocacy.
This John Leo column begins to connect dots in urgent need of connecting.
Thus sayeth the New York Times: "The death of Pope John Paul II came at a time when Americans have been engaged in an unusual moment of national reflection about mortality. The long, bitter fight over the unknowing Terri Schiavo was a stark contrast to the passing of this pontiff, whose own mind was keenly aware of the gradual failure of his body. The pope would certainly never have wanted his own end to be a lesson in the transcendent importance of allowing humans to choose their own manner of death. But to some of us, that was the exact message of his dignified departure."
The Times editorialist doesn't explicitly refer to assisted suicide, but the phrase "choose their own manner of death" is an assisted suicide advocacy slogan, which given their past, untiring support for that agenda, can be only what was meant.
The Pope didn't choose the time and manner of his death. His illness did. The Pope did not request heroic measures to prevent the inevitable for a few extra days or weeks. This is not only substantially different from a husband deciding that the profoundly disabled but non-terminally ill wife he abandoned should die, but it also disproves the canard oft stated that the Catholic Church is vitalist in its philosophy. Indeed, John Paul's continued public ministry to the very end demonstrates his wholehearted belief in the intrinsic dignity and moral worth of all human life--regardless of suffering, illness, disability, or other subjective criteria.
But that profound understanding is way above the heads of the editorialists of the New York Times.
Apparently Michael Schiavo is in hiding because of death threats. Anyone who threatens violence dishonors the memory of Terri Schiavo and the noble struggle in which so many participated. Indeed, the Schindlers said explicitly to put away hate.
The Pope forgave his attempted assassin. Terri's sweet face was full of love. Such threats have no place at this time of great grief for the passing of a truly good man and an innocent, defenseless woman.
As promised, here is an article in the current edition of the Weekly Standard magazine containing some of my initial thoughts on legal reforms that could help protect the lives of devalued people like Terri Schiavo.
The article speaks for itself, but allow me to share just a few additional thoughts: Reporters have been asking me if the goal of new legislation would be to force patients to stay alive as long as possible and to do away with written advance directives that allow people to decide in advance what kind of care they want and don't want if they become incapacitated.
The reporters are following this line of inquiry after being told by some who seek to discredit the defenders of Terri's life that we want to dismantle the laws of informed consent and refusal. Of course, these charges are ridiculous. Indeed, at a time when many bioethicists promote "futile care theory" that would give doctors the right to refuse wanted life-sustaining treatment to patients one bioethicist once notoriously called "biologically tenacious", written advance directives are more important than ever TO ENSURE THAT REQUESTED CARE IS ACTUALLY RECEIVED.
Now, I readily admit that I don't believe that it is moral to remove feeding tubes from people based on quality of life assessments. But I am not the dictator and the society as a whole clearly has a different view. Nevertheless, if someone wants to die by dehydration in cases of severe brain injury, they owe it to their families and society to put that directive in writing. Absent that, every reasonable benefit of every doubt should go to providing food and water. Better to err on the side of life than a slow death by dehydration.
Ah, the Dutch. In their cold and sterile hands, there never would have been a public fight over Terri's life. The decision to stop the feeding tube wouldn't have been based on Terri's past-stated desires. It wouldn't have been based on what Michael Schiavo wanted. Nor, would Terri's folks have had a say. Instead, it would all have been up to the doctors.
The UK has a similar system in place as part of its system of socialized medicine. Indeed, a man with a Lou Gehrig's disease type condition was so terrified that he would be denied a feeding tube when he could no longer swallow, he sued for the right to receive food and water. He won in the trial court, but astoundingly, the government is appealing on the basis that with health care budgets so tight, the doctors should be the ones to make the call.
Now, lest we feel superior here in "choice central," that kind of pogrom, er, I mean program, is being prepared for us right here in the good ol' USA by the bioethics movement. It is called futile care theory, under which doctors (and health insurance executives?) are being empowered by hospital protocols to refuse WANTED life sustaining treatment if the patient's quality of life is seen as insufficient to warrant further care (other than palliation). In the event the family objects, an ethics committee decides. The way these protocols generally read, once the committee rules thumbs down on the treatment, the care can no longer be provided in the hospital, even if another doctor steps forward to provide it.
Futile care theory is just now beginning to be applied against actual patients. Time will tell whether the American people will accept this new game of "Doctor knows best."
Forgive me for posting a favorable review of my most recent book, Consumer's Guide to a Brave New World. I do so not because it is a good review--although in truth, it is highly unlikely that I would post a bad review in this space. No, I am posting this review from the Claremont Institute because this reviewer really captured the essence of what I strived to communicate in the book. And for that, I am most appreciative.
I was traveling when Terri Schiavo died, the victim of a bitter injustice. It was a very sad day for her family and a black mark on the history of American jurisprudence.
We can create a lasting legacy for Terri by acting legislatively to provide greater protections for people, who like Terri, are incapacitated and dependent on others for their care. This will require careful deliberation. We don't want to dismantle a system that permits people to declare ahead of time what medical interventions they might or might not want in the event the become incapacitated. Yet, at the same time, we must not permit casual conversations to be elevated to the level of a deliberate and well thought out written advance directive when removing feeding tubes. Ralph Nader and I have some initial thoughts. I will fill out some of these ideas more fully in next week's Weekly Standard.