Friday, September 29, 2006

Belief in Human Exceptionalism Called "Un Evolutionary"

I haven't read any of Richard Dawkins' many jeremiads against faith, and don't plan to as I am not particularly concerned with issues of atheism vs. religious or spiritual belief. However, I must take note of something he wrote in his blog (which he modestly touts is "a clear thinking oasis") criticizing opponents of ESCR (and by implication, research cloning) based on the idea that we should reject human exceptionalism.

Dawkins sarcastically decries ethical objections to ESCR as "partly a mystical reverence for humanness, as though all cells of Homo sapiens are suffused with a divine essence, some sort of sacred juice called Homsap, which no other species possesses. Such a notion is fundamentally un-evolutionary." He then describes in highly emotional terms why we should care much more about the painful killing of animals than we do the destruction human embryos--as if the two concerns were mutually exclusive.

In fact, we don't decry the infliction of gratuitous suffering on animals because of any evolutionary imperative, but rather, because we have moved as a species well beyond behaving based on purely Darwinstic impulses. Indeed, it seems to me that it is distinctly un-evolutionary--in the Dawkins sense of a meaningless, purposeless universe--for us to give much of a damn about other species. (Elephants care very much whether a lion tries to kill one of the herd's calves, for example, but are quite indifferent when the same lion stalks a zebra.)

We are different. We evolved into or were created to be moral beings--it doesn't much matter which or whether we arose from a combination of the two. In this regard, we are a truly exceptional species, giving us both unique moral value and unique moral responsibilities.

The best way in my mind to support human exceptionalism--and the great good that flows therefrom--is to concomitantly embrace intrinsic human worth, a belief that is embraced by the equality/sanctity of human life ethic. But equality of human life is opposed by advocates like Dawkins, as in the quoted blog entry, who advocate personhood theory in which any being's moral value is equivalent to its level of awareness or consciousness. But the implications of personhood theory are truly horrific since, as I have written before, it would open the door to odious practices such as fetal farming and strip mining people diagnosed as permanently unconscious for their organs.

Some materialistic Darwinists also claim--I don't know whether Dawkins does--that because we share so many genes with other life forms, we have no greater or lesser worth than they. This kind of thinking, if widely accepted and adopted, is also un-evolutionary because it would force us to cease making the welfare of humans as our primary imperative. I mean if we have to give equal consideration to a mouse as to a child, imagine the human harm and suffering that would go unalleviated.

In summary, because we are human--not elephant, not dog, not field mouse--we do and should concern ourselves with the suffering of cows. We do and should worry about the environment. And we do and should care very much about the intrinsic value of every member of the human family--whether nascent, healthy, ill, disabled, or elderly.

HT: AJOB blog

Thursday, September 28, 2006

"Thriving" Trade in China From Selling Prisoners' Organs

The BBC reports that China is continuing its policy of selling the organs of executed prisoners--only with the "consent" of the prisoners, of course. But there aren't enough executions in China, or procurements from those who die by other means, to explain all of the organs being sold there. So, where do the surplus organs come from? The story of harvesting Falun Gong, to me, remains the best hypothesis. This issue demands an international investigation.

The Politicization of Science Continues

The mutation of science from a fact deriving and disseminating enterprise and into a political one, continues unabated. Now, a "pro science" political action committee has been created, allegedly nonpartisan, to promote candidates "who respect evidence and understand the importance of using scientific and engineering advice in making public policy."

Baloney. Most of the debates we have over "science," aren't really scientific. They lie instead in the realms of values, ethics, philosophy, and religion. Take the embryonic stem cell debate, as just one example. This is primarily an ethical debate, whether federal taxpayers should pay for the destruction of and research upon embryos. That isn't a controversy science can answer scientifically. Science's contribution should be to describe honestly and candidly what is involved, what they hope to achieve, and the problems they face. Scientists are of course free to assert that destroying an embryo for research isn't unethical, and to lobby for funding, but those activities do not lie in the realm of science, and thus, should be given precisely as much and as little weight as anyone else's opinions about ethics and morality.

The fight over Plan B birth control, an issue about which I am not engaged as a public advocate, is another example. The complaint from "the scientists" has been that the FDA has been slow to approve the use of the "day after" birth control pill without a prescription. But as I understand it (and I only have general knowledge about this dispute), the primary controversy was not over whether Plan B is an effective contraceptive or over its safety--both science issues--but rather, involved whether minors should be permitted to purchase this product without parental knowledge or consent. Sorry, but that issue has little to do with science. It is a dispute over values, the rights of parents to know whether their kids are being medicated, whether the right of autonomy in this area should extend to minors, etc.

So, when these scientists say they want to support candidates who will accept the advice of scientists, what I think they really mean is that the values of "the scientists" should prevail in public policy controversies involving scientific issues. In other words, this PAC continues the process of devolving science into a mere special interest. And in the end, that is very bad for science.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Vivid Illustration of How Medicine Has Changed



This movie clip form the 1950s (Not As A Stranger) depicts Robert Mitchum as a doctor, trying to save the life of an elderly patient another doctor has written off as not worth treating. Mitchum discovers the patient has typhoid fever and saves the day.

Today, the scene would be written completely in the opposite manner. The "do nothing" doctor would be depicted as the hero and the aggressive doctor denigrated as either religious or fanatic. The patient would have Alzheimer's and the sympathy of the audience would be clearly directed on permitting death rather than saving life.

My, how times have changed.

HT: Jerri Ward and Bobby Schindler

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Note to Internet Explorer Users

I am being told that the entry about the "Post It" note is badly framed for Internet Explorer users. This is because that program has divided the picture of the note from the headline. To see the picture and text of the post, please scroll down. Thanks, and sorry for any inconvenience. (It looks fine on Firefox.)

Lethal Injection: "Death with Dignity" or "Cruel and Unusual Punishment?"

I don't get into the death penalty here at Secondhand Smoke, but I find this confluence of issues so paradoxical. In the Netherlands, the preferred method of euthanasia is to inject the suicidal person with strong drugs to put them in a deep sleep. Then, a lethal drug is administered that paralyzes the muscles and stops the heart. This is called "death with dignity" by euthanasia supporters.

This is very close to the method used for lethal injection in California, which is now under attack in the courts, not because it kills--the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that capital punishment is not unconstitutional--but because it supposedly causes suffering to the point that, the argument goes, executing by lethal injection is unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.

So, I guess this means that if the executed murderer wants to die it is cruel and unusual death with dignity.

Monday, September 25, 2006

A "Post-It Note" About Amendment 2 Worth Reading

 

Concept and artistic credit: Rebecca Taylor Posted by Picasa

Italy Says *Basta* to Euthanasia

Early attempts to legalize euthansia in Italy are apparently going to go nowhere under the new ruling party. One of the leaders of the parliament has stated firmly that "Reason forbids us to give to the state the power to decide if and when life must end even if the state is asked to do it by the person who is interested in it." Bravo!

PETA Makes Itself Ridiculous

PETA is (I believe) the world's largest and richest animal rights/liberation organization. They key to PETA's success has been its clever strategy of suckering people into thinking it is merely a benign "be nice to animals" organization, when in fact, it is radically committed to the misanthropic ideology of animal liberation. I believe many people support PETA because they don't fully understand that PETA's leaders and most radical followers believe fervently in an absolute moral equality between fauna and people. Hence, to animal liberationists of this stripe, cattle ranching is as odious as slavery and medical research using animals is Mengele.

Too many people don't take PETA sufficiently seriously because some of its protest tactics are whacky and funny, such as the "running of the nudes" to protest the running of the bulls in Spain. But sometimes, its leaders forget that the world doesn't think like they do, and they drop their masks long enough for all to see the lunacy beneath. This story is one such case. Apparently, PETA includes insects in its quest for moral equality between humans and all animals. The group is protesting Six Flags Halloween "eat a roach" contest as "gratuitously cruel" to the cockroaches.

This is not a big deal in the scheme of things. But sometimes small deals cast needed light upon areas of important concern. Protesting the eating of insects demonstrates that PETA is essentially a ridiculous organization that should be relegated to the fringes of society rather than being treated as a serious organization with a respectable point of view.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Secondhand Smoke is International

I just installed (more honestly, my good bud Colin installed) software that lets me track traffic here at SHS. I discovered to my great delight that we have readers from all over the world. In the last two days, not only have people visited from all over the USA, but also from Canada, India, New Zealand, Philippines, Australia, People's Republic of China, and the UK. I am most humbled and grateful.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Embryonic Stem Cells From Dead Embryos

Contrary to the major international front page splash over Advanced Cell Technology's embryonic stem cell non breakthrough, this story, which could be a bonafide major advance in solving the ethical dilemma surrounding ESCR, only received minor media coverage. Why? In my view, because it would not undermine President Bush's embryonic stem cell funding policy--and that is the prism through which the media judges how to report stem cell stories.

Nonetheless, it appears that researchers have been able to derive viable ESC lines from dead embryos. If so, there would be no problem garnering federal funding, either under the Bush policy or the Dickey Amendment, since the research would not involve the destruction of embryos. (When I was at a bioethics conference in Rome last year, some of scientists involved with this idea presented their concept. I was impressed.)

If the ESCR ethical dilemma has indeed been worked out, it is worth at least as much attention as the ACT embryonic stem cell non breakthrough. But again, it doesn't hurt Bush's policy so the media perceives it as less news worthy. Also, don't expect the scientific community to jump and cheer. They are after more than full funding of ESCR. They want their values to control the culture.

Here is the link to the original paper. (HT LifeEthics.org.)

We will see where it goes from here.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Kansas City Star Continues Shameful Biased Reporting About Cloning Amendment

This is so ironic: The Kansas City Star, the most biased and inaccurate mainstream media outlet reporting today about embryonic stem cells and cloning--even worse than the New York Time and that is saying a lot--has this story seeking to demonstrate that opponents' ads against Amendment 2 are inaccurate. Needless to say, the alleged corrective is filled with errors and pro-cloning advocacy jargon. (I will be commenting on the italicized sections quoted below, my comments in bold.)

"The ad uses language and definitions used by opponents of Amendment 2, but the ad is probably misleading to most of the public. The ballot measure does allow the cloning of cells in the laboratory to grow stem cells. To clone means to copy. The goal is to copy the cells of the patient. The cloned cell begins to divide and creates stem cells."

This is pure junk biology out of the proponents' play book, who would undoubtedly pay the KC Star to run stories like this but don't have to because they are so already in the tank! Somatic cell nuclear transfer is a form of asexual reproduction. It is known commonly as cloning. It doesn't clone a cell--which is a totally different procedure--it creates a cloned embryo. The embryo is developed (in theory since it hasn't been done) for a week and destroyed for its stem cells. The Star reporters and editors know this and don't care.

"At the same time, Amendment 2 makes it a crime to try to create a human baby through cloning. Currently, there is no prohibition on cloning a human."

Right. And Amendment 2 would explicitly legalize human cloning, requiring that the cloned embryo not be implanted in a woman's womb.

"No treatments have resulted from research on early stem cells, which were first isolated only eight years ago. Research since then has been hamstrung by opponents who say taking stem cells destroys human life. The vast majority of scientists say that cures and treatments could come from all types of research, but research on early stem cells provides the greatest potential.

The term "early stem cells" is an advocacy term created by the proponents of Amendment 2. It is used instead of the scientifically accurate "embryonic stem cells" because the campaign's focus groups probably found that using "embryonic" causes support to drop. ESCR does take human life because an embryo is a human organism. That is science, and it can be attested to by referring to any major embryology text book. Opponents have not "hamstrung" the research, they have supported President Bush's limitations on taxpayer funding.

The vast majority of scientists make a lot of claims that cannot be demonstrated scientifically. Nor are they "objective." The published science tells a far different story, but the Star isn't interested in these facts.

The Star, continues to play Ginger Rogers to the pro-cloners Fred Astaire, repeatedly committing journalistic malpractice as they go. Bottom line: The paper's "corrective" is inaccurate and misleading to most of the public.

Big Biotech's Pro Cloning Strategy

Big Biotech is mounting a clever--it should be, considering the tens of millions being spent on its propaganda campaign--strategy to keep research cloning legal. Here's how the gambit would work: Pour millions of campaign and advocacy dollars into conservative states to induce voters to pass laws or constitutional amendments protecting any research allowed by federal law. Promote these laws by, 1)Hyping the potential for CURES! CURES! CURES!, 2) Obfuscating the biology of the issue, such as redefining the term cloning so that an explicit legalization of cloning can pose as a ban, and 3) Sponsoring spurious studies that promise hundreds of billions in economic benefit to the state if the amendment will only be passed. And work the ever-compliant media to set aside any skepticism in pursuit of the cause of science. (Well, that isn't work, actually, it is a given.)

Then, at the federal level, simply impede any effort to create reasonable regulatory prohibitions against human cloning.

The model is Amendment 2 in Missouri. But I am now hearing from people in Nebraska who have noticed the early rumblings of a similar campaign likely to be mounted there. And polling was just published in Georgia that seems geared clearly toward these same ends.

This makes Missouri the key. If Amendment 2 is defeated, Big Biotech and its propagandists will have to go back to the drawing board. If it passes, watch for the game plan to repeated throughout Red State America.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Ralph Waldo Emerson on the Purpose of Government

I am reading this month's Atlantic and an essay Emerson wrote in April 1862 is excerpted. I was struck that Emerson's perspective, written to applaud Lincoln's move toward emancipation, remains relevant and germane to the controversies of our own time.

"The end of all political struggle," he wrote, "is to establish morality as the basis of all legislation. It is not free institutions, it is not a republic, it is not a democracy, that is the end--no, but only the means. Morality is the object of government."

Now I am a firm believer that, for better or for worse, the means usually become the ends. Hence, I do not believe you can achieve beneficent and moral ends through immoral or unethical means. In contrast, proper means do not guarantee proper ends--but it least they offer the potential. Thus, it seems to me that if the means involve participation in the function of free institutions, our ends have at least a chance of being moral.

Which, of course raises an obvious question: What does "morality" mean any more? Still, we should be optimistic. In Emerson's day people were willing to kill and die by the hundreds of thousands to protect their power to use human beings as non person slaves. So, maybe we should count our blessings.

Human Embryonic Stem Cell Advance Done Years Ago with ASCs

The media is touting Advanced Cell Technology's claim to have helped improve the vision of rats using human ES cells. If true--with ACT and Robert Lanza always verify given all of the lies that they have told--it is an advance in ESCR.

But it is worth noting that rat adult stem cells have previously done the same thing, and these successful experiments are a few years old. Naturally, those studies received barely any mention in the MSM because they would not serve to undermine President Bush's stem cell funding policy. And that is the point to remember: The MSM's first and almost foremost agenda in reporting stories about stem cell research and cloning is to undermine the Bush policy. That is the prism through which stories will be hyped, presented, downplayed, or ignored.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

More Proof that Assisted Suicide Isn't About Terminal Illness

The Swiss prove the point oft made here, in testimony before government bodies, and in my articles on the subject, that assisted suicide isn't really about a "safety valve" for the dying for whom nothing can be done to alleviate suffering--the usual sound bite of domestic PAS advocates.

But Swiss suicide ideologues are much more candid about the ultimate destination toward which assisted suicide consciousness would lead us. They have asked a judge in Switzerland to approve their facilitating the suicides of depressed people who are not otherwise ill. Some are shocked by this, but shouldn't be. The Dutch have long permitted euthanasia for depressed people who are not otherwise ill.

Permitting near death on demand is the logical consequence of euthanasia ideology: The two weight-bearing pillars of euthanasia advocacy are an almost absolute notion of personal autonomy and the belief that killing is an acceptable answer to human suffering. This being so, in the end, what does terminal illness have to do with the so-called "right to die." Other than being a useful political argument; not a thing.

ESCR Booster Shovels the Bull

Big Biotech is shoveling tens of millions into a propaganda campaign to convince the American people to embrace ESCR and human research cloning. Toward these ends, a new book is being published by an academic house called The Stem Cell Wars, by Eve Herold, Director of Public Policy Research and Education at the Genetics Policy Institute--an ESCR boosting think tank. If the answers Herold gives in this publicity Q and A interview are any indication, the book is going to be (unsurprisingly) filled with junk biology and bold assertions that are either inaccurate or scientifically unverified. I don't want this entry to get too long so I won't hit every point I could. But the entire interview is rife with spin. Here are a few examples with my comments in bold:

On why ESCR is supposedly better than adult stem cell research: "There has been a lot of research on adult stem cells, and rightly so, because they do seem to have some healing potential. And they've been very successful at treating some blood diseases. The problem is that they're quite limited compared to embryonic stem cells. So far, scientists have found that adult stem cells can give rise to only a limited number of other cell types. On the other hand, embryonic stem cells are the 'master' cells of the human body. They are pluripotent, meaning that can give rise to any of the body's 200 cell types, so they can treat many more diseases."

Ah, the usual crapola about ASCs. But readers of this blog know that adult stem cells are at least multi-potent, meaning they can become many types of tissue, and are already treating more than 70 human maladies in early human trials, including heart disease, MS, spinal cord injury, cancer, etc. (Human trials do not, of course guarantee that the therapies will work. But ES cells are in zero human trials.) Meanwhile, we don't know that ES cells are pluripotent and "can give rise to any of the body's 200 cell types" because it hasn't yet been done. In science, such affirmative assertions are inappropriate until the matter has been proved. So far with ES cells they get bunches of cells of different kinds in a dish and therefore have to tweeze them out, not the same thing at all. (I know of one cell type that has been able to be derived from ES cells on demand.) Moreover, even though mouse ES cells have been around for more than 20 years, they still haven't been able to use them to effectively treat a single condition.

Herold speaks admiringly of Hwang's cloning technology: "One thing I did learn from touring his lab is that the Koreans really were making strides in cloning technology, or at least were well positioned to do so. Their claimed specialty in the way of gently removing the nucleus from an egg cell, which is less damaging than earlier methods, was real. I saw this being done in front of my eyes (on a magnified video monitor) in Dr. Hwang's lab, when a researcher took an egg cell, poked a hole into its outer membrane, and then gently squeezed it until the nucleus popped out. Before this method was developed, researchers would suction the nucleus out, which inevitably removed some of the cell's cytoplasm, or the material floating around outside of the nucleus. There's a reason for that cytoplasm to be there, and keeping as much of it intact as possible probably contributed to the lab's great success in cloning animals."

Read my lips: It didn't work! Hwang went through more than 2000 eggs using his technique and was unable to create one cloned embryo.

How SCNT works: "Any time you transplant cells into a patient's body, they have to be genetically matched, just as transplanted organs do. Otherwise, there is a risk of rejection. Therapeutic cloning is the only way known to create embryonic stem cells that are a sure match for the patient. It involves taking an egg and removing its nucleus, as I described before, and then fusing the egg with an adult cell, usually a skin cell taken from a patient. The nucleus of the skin cell, which contains the patient's DNA, then becomes the nucleus of the egg cell. The egg is activated to begin dividing and as it does so, it creates embryonic stem cells that carry the patient's DNA. This means that brand new, pluripotent, 'master' stem cells are being created that are the best possible match for that patient."

No, it does not create embryonic stem cells. It creates an embryo from which ES cells can--in theory--be derived. Remember, this hasn't yet been done, either. I would also point out, since Herold won't tell you, that an even bigger problem with ES cells is that they cause deadly tumors in animal models--which makes them unsafe for human use. Even if cloning were to solve the rejection issue, it does nothing to address the tumor formation problem.

Herold pretends to be boosting science with her book and interview. But she is really undermining science by disseminating scientifically inaccurate information to win a political debate. If her book is anything like her publicity interview, it is a massive spin job proving once again that science is devolving into a special interest willing to use lobbyists' techniques of spin and obfuscation to win a political debate in order to garner billions in public funding.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Details about James Kelly "Muffling" Incident

I have been asked to provide more details of the incident, mentioned in a previous entry, in which James Kelly was forcefully prevented from telling Christopher Reeve about advances in spinal cord injury research using adult stem cells. I am happy to oblige. Here is Kelly's account of the incident from a column linked below for the Seoul Times:

"Later that year I debated the practicality of cloning with Reeve at the New York Academy of Sciences. At Reeve's request I tried to tell him of an adult bone marrow clinical trial for ALS and SCI in Turin, Italy. But as I began to speak I was physically muzzled from behind by the scientific moderator of the debate. While I struggled to pull his hands from my mouth, fifty reporters looked on in stunned silence and Reeve's handlers quickly wheeled him from the room.

Not a word of this reached the public and Reeve remained in the dark."

For those interested, the entire column, which is about adult stem cell research, it is well worth reading.

Oh Hum: More Adult Stem Cell Good News

These stories are ubiquitous but I report them here from time to time because it is worth keeping in mind that adult stem cell research is moving forward at a very nice pace in human patients. First, Australian researchers are reporting in early studies that adult stem cells can indeed help treat heart disease, with improvements in the 20-60% range. These findings reflect other reports. And children with a form of brain cancer have enjoyed much better results than normal treatments when their own bone marrow stem cells are added to the regimen.

The number of patients is small, and much more needs to be learned, but there is no doubt that this is all very good news.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Why a Man With Paraplegia Rejects ESCR

James Kelly is an activist friend of mine who is solidly against ESCR and human cloning. Years ago he was in a terrible automobile accident that left him paralyzed--and he has devoted himself ever since to seeking a method of treatment that will help him walk again. He once supported ESCR, and even wrote President Bush urging full federal funding. But the more he researched the issue, the more he came to believe that ESCR may be more hype than hope. He soon "changed sides" as it were and now argues that money invested in ESCR is that much less money available for the non embryonic areas of research where he believes his best chances of effective treatment are to be found. He even debated the late Christopher Reeve about this matter, and has an interesting story to tell about that encounter in which someone placed his hand over Kelly's mouth after the debate to keep him from telling Reeve about adult embryonic stem cell successes in spinal cord injury research.

In the wake of the Hwang scandal, the Seoul Times retained his services as a biotech columnist. He now has this very interesting article out in Human Events. Readers of Secondhand Smoke, I give you James Kelly.

Michigan Futile Care Case in Court

For years I have been predicting that futile care treatment withdrawals will become the next big bioethics agenda issue to roil the public and involve the courts. Now, the futile care imposers are beginning to roll out the agenda. This Michigan case may be one. Emmie-Rose Yannella, a prematurely born infant with an often fatal medical condition in which bowel tissue dies, is being denied wanted life-sustaining treatments.

Doctors at the University of Michigan Medical Center predicted that the child would only live for a few days--two weeks ago. Now, the ethics committee has determined that the baby will be denied blood transfusions and sustenance containing fat and nutrition, replacing it with a sugar and salt solution, because to do otherwise will "only delay" the date of death. But isn't delaying death a proper purpose of medicine? And haven't the doctors' predictions already been proved to have been mistaken?

If you read the story, it is striking how vague the parties are about how the decision to unilaterally withhold treatment was made. But such life and death decision cannot be allowed to be so apparently ad hoc or based solely on secret internal administrative deliberations.

If the treatment is physiologically inappropriate or useless, let the doctors tell a judge. But if their decision to overrule the parents is based on their values--the treatment should be ordered continued. In any event, it would seem that due process of law would require a public process, the right of the patient/family to representation, an accurate record to that it can be determined the bases upon which the refusal of wanted treatment decision was made, and a right to appeal. In other words, transparency, the very thing futilitarians seemed bent upon refusing to permit.

This may be another case that the proposed Nebraska Humane Care Amendment would partially prevent. It would not impact the blood transfusion issue, but it probably would prevent sustenance from being denied from the child if it could nourish the baby and if the intent behind the removal is to cause death.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Texas Futile Care Law on Defensive

This is a good and fair article from the Chicago Tribune (one of the fairest of the MSM in my view), about the growing challenge to Texas's futile care law. The push back the story reports against the abandonment of patients under futile care theory in Texas is very encouraging. (Attorney Jerri Ward, who is quoted in the story, is leading the legal charge against the Texas law.)

One of the things I most object to about futile care theory is the twisting of the concept of extending life--which is what these patients want--into what is often called "merely extending the dying process." (When you think about it, you could say that about giving insulin to a diabetic--it is extending the dying rather than saving life, but that would be just as ridiculous.)

Futilitarians are not monsters who want to "kill" people. But they are profoundly misguided: They think they are doing the patients a favor, but are really imposing their values upon a patient and family--which they would never dream of doing of the patient rejected life-sustaining treatment. Moreover--and this is important--dying isn't dead: It is living. If doctors and bioethics committees are given the right to refuse wanted life-sustaining treatment--including tube-supplied sustenance--based on their judgments about the quality of a patient's life, then the most fundamental purpose of medicine has been subverted.

Preventing such unilateral withdrawals--at least as it relates to the provision of food and water--is the primary purpose of the Nebraska Humane Care Amendment. It was found not to have enough valid signatures to qualify, but that may not be the end of the story. This decision by the Secretary of State is now in court and I am told it may still make Nebraska's November ballot. We'll know soon. Stay tuned.

Fan Mail From Some Flounder?

Good grief. Now the animal liberationist nuts are freeing halibut from fish farms. Well, stealing them actually. This isn't "mere" vandalism. It is felonious theft that is depriving honest and hard working entrepreneurs of the fruit of their labor merely because the crazies don't want people to eat fish.

Friday, September 15, 2006

I Told You So: Ellen Goodman Isn't Amused That UK PVS Patient Found to be Interactive

When the woman from the UK, diagnosed to be in a persistent vegetative state, was found to actually be interactive via a form of MRI, I predicted that proponents of the death culture would claim that rather than eschewing dehydration for such patients, their awareness would be found to be an even more urgent reason to "make the hard choice" and end their lives. Comes now Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman--predictably for those familiar with her body of work--to argue that consciousness should not be a bar to ending life.

Goodman is an archetype of a species of relativists who are ever wringing their hands about hard choices that lead to death and burbling on about how guidelines will protect vulnerable people from abuse, but somehow never manage to say no. I recall seeing an article of hers written in the late 80s, claiming that IVF doctors would never create excess embryos, we would never treat nascent human life as if they were no more valuable than salmon eggs, and urging that the technology go forward with society putting the IVF practitioners on notice that there are lines we will not permit to be crossed. (I wrote in more detail about this column in Consumer's Guide to a Brave New World.)

Of course, no lines were ever drawn, IVF doctors did create hundreds of thousands of excess embryos, and now Goodman leads the pack supporting their use as a mere natural resource to be exploited and used as so many crops in research.

I e-mailed her about her old column, noting that she had once said she would say no, but hadn't managed to do so yet. She responded politely that her "lines have changed." Of course they did because they were never real. Her old soothing words were never about creating real ethical boundaries, just offering a wary public false assurances.

Encouraging News Out of Missouri About Amendment 2

The more the proponents of Amendment 2 spend, about $16 million to date, almost all from James Stowers of the Stowers Institute, who is determined to buy a constitutional amendment, the worse the measure does. This poll of likely voters shows it with 52% yes, down from above 60% when the initiative first qualified for the ballot. True, it is above 50%, but realize the opponents, which have much less money, have not started their media buys yet. And, the proponents have been so dishonest, it could be that the voters of the "Show Me" state will turn their backs on the amendment in disgust. They certainly should.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Coming Soon: The Secondhand Smoke Podcast

Stay tuned. It will take me a little while to figure out the technology, but, with the help of my good friends at the Discovery Institute, I am hoping to have a weekly podcast up and running within a few weeks.

Never Underestimate The Ingenuity of Scientists

A woman has been fitted with an artificial arm that she can control with her thoughts. Outstanding achievement. As my friend Bill Hurlbut always tells me, "Never underestimate the creativity and ingenuity of scientists." Which, of course, is why we need proper moral and ethical parameters beyond which science should not stray.

Oh, for those transhumanists out there: This isn't transhumanism. It isn't enhancement. It isn't "post human." It is proper therapy that I am sure we all hope can someday be made available to anyone who needs it.

Bone Marrow Stem Cell Research Moving Forward

I complain so much about bad media, I feel duty-bound to point out when a good story is printed--either because it is accurate about ES cells, or because it reports progress being made steadiy with adult stem cells.

This story in the SF Chronicle, byline Sabin Russell, is an example of the latter category. Russell reports that progress is being made at UC Berkeley using a form of bone marrow stem cell, and transforming them into other types of tissues. There is a long way to go before this procedure is ready for prime time--if it ever will be--but obviously, this is good news.

Of course, it should be noted that this kind of encouraging experimentation will almost certainly not be funded by Proposition 71 money. That money is reserved for now for human cloning research and ESCR. Adult stem cell researchers need not apply.

(Full Disclosure: My wife is a columnist at the Chronicle.)

An End to Creating Excess Embryos in IVF?

Jennifer Lahl has this piece up over at The Human Future. Dutch physicians have apparently pioneered a new IVF method with good efficiency rates--using only one egg! This means that women do not have to undergo hyper-ovulation, the potentially dangerous procedure in which women receive huge doses of hormones so that they will release 10-15 eggs. Women can die in rare cases from the procedure.

Let us hope this procedure becomes the norm. It would permit families with fertility troubles to have babies. It would do away with the ethical problem of having to store "excess embryos," which many scientists now see as so many harvestable crops, and it would be safer for the women undergoing treatment. A true, win, win, win.

Source: Human Reproduction 2006; 21: 2375-83

Media Continue to Report ACT Non- Breakthrough as if it Actually Happened

Embryonic stem cell science is devolving into pure spin and hype--and the media are happy to play along. This story from Reuters describes an agreement between the mendacious Advanced Cell Technology and an embryonic stem cell distributing non profit company, WiCell Research Institute, to distribute ES cell lines derived from ACT's "new method" that does not destroy embryo--so long as the Feds agree to fund it.

AP had a similar report, picked up in today's San Jose Mercury News.

Repeat after me: There is no new method. There may never be a new method. At this point, it is a fiction.

ACT is so beyond the pale now it hardly rates a comment. But this journalistic malpractice must stop. Reuters and the AP owe their readers more than merely regurgitating press releases. Good journalism would require telling readers that the supposed new technique doesn't yet exist. Instead, in the version of AP story I linked above, the new method was treated merely as a fact. Reuters readers are told that opponents have "reservations about the method the company had devised and even some supporters of the research have expressed some doubts," but no details are given.

Pulitzer is rolling over in his grave.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Now Scientists Want to Buy Eggs for Cloning Research

Cloning commoditizes human life. In research cloning, it creates human life for the purpose of destroying and harvesting it like a corn crop. In reproductive cloning--the same process but a different use of the human life created by SCNT--a baby is born that has been "made to order."

Anti cloning advocates have also warned that since each cloning attempt requires a human egg, that "asexual reproduction" will result in the instrumentalization of women for their eggs. To prevent that, a coalition of pro life feminists and pro choice feminists started Keep Your Hands Off Our Ovaries to fight against treating women as so many egg purveyors--particularly since egg procurement can cause physical harm to women, and in a few cases, even kill them.

And now it is starting. The LA Times is reporting that would-be human cloners are frustrated by an egg dearth and want to purchase eggs since they are having a tough time getting a sufficient supply to permit their cloning research to go ahead full bore. (Our friend Dr. Lanza is quoted. I guess lying to the press about research successes doesn't disqualify one to be a source.)

Happily, the law generally stops egg purchasing for research purposes--for now--as do many voluntary protocols. Part of this is, ironically, apparently due to Proposition 71, which bars egg purchasing and sets the ethical standard for the world since everyone wants to have access to all that money we Californians are going to borrow to pay them to do human cloning. And now, despite the risks to women, the scientists want to garner thousands of eggs through purchase and sale. But they should think about that very carefully: If one woman dies from such a transaction, and two UK women have died recently having eggs procured, the cloning enterprise will suffer a profound blow.

This article didn't just appear by accident. The reporter was almost surely approached by someone in (or who represents) the biotech sector with the story idea, and she ran with it. Mark my words, the Times article is the opening salvo in Big Biotech's next move: Doing away with the ban on egg sales for medical research. Don't say you weren't warned.

More Evidence That Science is Becoming a Mere Special Interest

This story about NIH scientists who received money from drug companies improperly, but who faced no serious consequences, is illuminating. Science is becoming, and in some cases, has already become a mere special interest grubbing for public money, political advantage, and control of public policy. And, it uses all of the tools of the political world; spin, deception, personal attack, dissembling, the power of big money to buy laws, etc., to achieve its objectives.

Meanwhile, at the university level, science academics are often in bed with big business--corrupting the ideal of the university as a place dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge.

All of this is corroding the very soul of science and sapping it of its once well deserved presumption of credibility. The media continues to pretend that "the scientists" are objective and dispassionate. But to an increasing degree, this is no longer so. In the end, that isn't good for science or society.

Will MO Stem Cell Science Exhibits be Accurate? Not Likely

The Missouri science establishment is going all out to pass the human cloning legalization initiative, Amendment 2. Now, science museums have announced they will present stem cell displays that "contains information consistent with that presented by the scientific community to the public."

If that is true, there will be an awful lot of junk science on display. Readers of Secondhand Smoke know that "the scientists" often misstate the science of stem cells and cloning when presenting information to the public. Among the worst of these have been "the scientists" engaged in promoting Amendment 2, some of whom I have personally witnessed presenting wildly deceptive and inaccurate presentations.

For example, I was present when Dr. Steven Teitelbaum, a pro-cloning advocate of Amendment 2, falsely told a committee of the Missouri legislature that adult stem cells are merely "unipotent," meaning that blood stem cells can only make blood, fat stem cells only make fat, etc. This was pure bunk, since it has long been known that adult stem cells are at least multi-potent, meaning they can become several types of tissues, and a few may even be pluripotent.

Oh, not coincidentally, Dr. Titelebaum will be presenting on stem cells at one of these museums. No. I am not holding out much hope for scientific accuracy to be on display at these stem cell exhibits.

Montana Doctor Sentenced to Jail for Euthanasia

A doctor who lethally injected an elderly stroke patient has been sentenced to jail for negligent homicide, in a plea bargain in which he was originally charged with murder. This case shows that not all euthanasia or assisted suicides in this country are winked at, as some would claim.

The doctor has also been convicted of bank robbery.

Three SHAC Terrorists Jailed

Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC) animal liberation terrorists, who engaged in "tertiary targeting" against people for working for companies that dared to do business with Huntingdon Life Sciences are going to jail for 4-6 years. Good. But don't expect these wild ideologues to be deterred. These people are fanatics. The only remedy is increased pressure by law enforcement and the strengthening of laws against terrorism and intimidation against animal using industries and companies that provide these companies services and products.

Once Again Missouri Media Totally Ignorant About SCNT

The only question I have about the Missouri media is whether they are intentionally ignorant about the scientific facts of human cloning, or they just don't care.

The latest example of such journalistic malpractice comes in a St. Louis Post Dispatch column by Sylvester Brown, Jr.. Brown writes about a political candidate named Cynthia Kramer, who is supporting Amendment 2--an initiative to create a state constitutional right to conduct human cloning research in MO--as having had her leukemia put into remission, by stem cells, he writes, created through SCNT. He writes: "When Kramer's cancer went into remission in 2002, she had her healthy cells harvested through a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer. After doctors transplanted those cells, the cancer again went into remission."

I don't know whether to laugh or cry at such a bold assertion of an utter falsehood. Scientists have never harvested embryonic stem cells from cloned embryos to date, and certainly hadn't done so in 2002. In fact, the procedure he describes is a classic adult stem cell procedure using bone marrow, a method often used with great success in treating leukemia. Good grief, where were this man's editors?

I ask again: Can't the media ever get this story factually right? Shame on Mr. Brown and his editors for foisting such misinformation upon the MO electorate during a heated and crucial campaign.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

U.K. National Health Service Imploding?

This is a distrubing turn of events: The NHS is so broke it is going to be closing whole departments in hospitals around the country, including many maternity wards. I am of the belief that we have to find a way to improve access to health care for Americans. But the socialized system, epitomized by the NHS, sure doesn't seem to be the way to go.

Are Turkeys Morally Equal to People?

Apparently so, according to animal liberationist guru, Gary Francione. Over at the First Things blog, I discuss this and other aspects of Francione's ideology. I also point out that, in my view, Francione, while profoundly misguided, is a man worthy of respect based on his integrity and promotion of peaceful advocacy. I conclude my post with these words:

"I just wish Francione would turn his considerable talents and intellect to solving more urgent problems involving human injustices and oppression. Of course, from his point of view, that is precisely what he is doing, since he doesn't recognize any moral distinction between humans and fauna. But at least he promotes his agenda with intellectual honesty, skill, and a total eschewing of violence and threats. That's more than you can say about many of his co-believers. The animal-liberation movement could use a lot more leaders like Gary Francione."

Monday, September 11, 2006

Did Lanza Engage in Science Fraud?

As I have deconstructed the great ACT deception about its embryonic stem cell experiment, I have worked off the following assumptions: The paper published in Nature was bonafide, but that the PR that ACT attempted to generate about its experiment was profoundly misleading, as was Nature's initial press release. The media, wanting desperately to undermine President Bush's ESCR funding policy, took one look at the releases and were off and running without reading the actual paper.

This was different from the Hwang cloning fraud, I have stated in numerous radio interviews, because Lanza did not write a fraudulent paper, but misled the public about what was actually in the paper. In contrast, Hwang engaged in fraud up and down the line.

But now, it seems that Lanza may have left crucial data out of the Nature paper itself that would have undermined the premise that ACT's "technique" could create ES cell lines from single cells without destroying the embryo. If so, should Lanza and ACT ever be permitted to publish in prestigious journals again? And will the media finally learn that "the scientists" cannot necessarily be trusted to tell them the objective truth?

HT--AJOB blog.

Hemlock Society Founder Suggests His How to Commit Suicide Book to Mentally Ill

Derek Humphry, the founder of the Hemlock Society, has written a little essay that demonstrates the utter amorality of the euthanasia movement. For example, he states that he is contacted by the mentally ill several times a week with requests for help with suicide. What does Hummphry do?

"I talk things over with them, always decline actually to help, urge them to seek further treatments (they've usually had lots already), but mention that my paperback book "Final Exit" has been in bookstores and libraries worldwide for 15 years....I gently tell such troubled people that I don't think anybody is going to help them to die -- it's just too much to ask -- and if they are still determined to leave this world they must handle it themselves. Some do, most don't so far as I can tell, at least, not until later on."

Among the many people who have made themselves dead following Humphry's suicide primer: Teenagers. Swell guy.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

"Chimps Lack Standing to Sue"

A little sanity from Texas. PETA tried to have chimpanzees named as party plaintiffs in a lawsuit about the proper care of primates. Before you laugh, this is a major goal of the animal liberation movement. Indeed, in Brazil, a chimp was awarded an injunction in his own name.

The point of this is to blur the crucial distinction between animals and humans. Having animals able to sue in their own names would open the door to animal rights radicals suing the heck out of all animal using industries, using the clueless animals as a front to further the liberationists' desires.

"The Hard Cell," ACT Wrap Up

I have a piece in today's Daily Standard, which is intended as a follow up to my piece two weeks ago in the Weekly Standard. I recap the incorrect reporting about ACT's embryonic stem cell non-breakthrough, point out that the walk back on the story has been much more subdued than the original reporting, and reach three conclusions about the entire debacle.

"1. Advanced Cell Technology has no credibility: As I wrote in the Weekly Standard, this is at least the fourth time that ACT has generated profoundly misleading media stories about its supposed scientific breakthroughs--only to have them discredited or revealed as substantially overblown. This time, however, some of the world's most widely read journalists were deceived into writing bad stories because ACT and Nature issued misleading press releases. Journalists don't like to be made fools. Thus, it is doubtful that ACT will ever again enjoy the kind of free publicity it has been able to generate in the past by hyping the results of its experiments.

"2. The media is utterly obsessed with overturning President Bush's embryonic stem cell federal funding policy: Why did this arcane science story receive such high-profile and ubiquitous coverage? And why have many of these same outlets been so subdued in walking the now discredited story back? One reason and one reason only: ACT's supposed breakthrough was perceived as undermining President Bush's embryonic stem cell funding restrictions.

Most of the Fourth Estate fervently believes that President Bush's stem cell policy is responsible for undermining science and depriving sick people of cures. This is the prism through which all stories about stem cell research are analyzed. Thus, stories that would seem to support the wisdom of Bush's policy--such as the many advances in adult stem cell research in human studies--are underplayed or ignored, while embryonic stem cell-boosting news is often hyped to the hilt. With this as the context, the media's exaggerated coverage, and subsequent refusal to adequately correct the record, becomes easy to understand.

"3. Science is in danger of devolving into a special interest: ACT's deception has cast klieg lights on a cancer that is corroding the foundation of science: As Big Biotech and its politicized allies among the science intelligentsia seek desperately to destroy the Bush funding policy in order to garner hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars, scientists are acting increasingly like special interest lobbyists who are more than willing to twist the truth to gain access to the public trough. This intense politicization of science threatens to erode the public's trust in the entire science sector."

I then conclude: "Ethics aside, Lanza's published paper incrementally advanced scientific knowledge by proving that under the right circumstances, embryonic stem cells could be derived from very early embryos. This is not the same thing as generating stem cells without destroying embryos, a feat that has not yet been--and may never be--accomplished. But incremental experiments do not make international headlines or substantially undermine President Bush's stem cell funding policy. And thus was a journalistic debacle born."

Spot On Analysis About ACT: Follow the money

I didn't blog this, but I wish I had: Nancy Reyes, over at Finestkind Clinic and fish market, has a perfect and succinct analysis of what ACT has been about. Follow the money, she says.

"It's about money money money...by moving an office branch to California, ACT will be able to get money from that state's stem cell initiative, and by misstating their stem cells did not kill embryos, they will get money from the feds, and by hyping their experiment in the press, they will get money from investors...

Not bad for a story full of lies."

Nice work, Nancy!

Media Continue to Misreport ACT Story

This is so typical: The San Francisco Business Times has a three paragraph story about ACT garnering $13 million in the wake of its hyped ESCR experiment. First, the story states that ACT is an Alameda, California company. In actuality, it is a Worcester, MA company that opened a California office in the hope of grabbing some Proposition 71 money. (Hopefully, this strategy will be in vain. But if the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine tries to give borrowed California money to ACT, just watch the lawsuits fly.)

Second, the reporter writes about ACT getting in trouble with Senators Arlen Specter and Tom Harkin for misleading the public about its experiment, stating that "though the method Advanced Cell reported uses just one cell from an embryo, thus leaving it free to develop, the tests it used actually destroyed embryos."

This is false, too. The actual experiment did not use just one cell from the embryo, but 4-7 cells kept in close proximity so they could communicate with each other. Absent the communication, it may well be that no stem cells would have been derived.

Two mistakes in three short paragraphs; unfortunately par for the course on this issue. Well, at least the reporter got the money part right.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Senate Bill Introduced to Fight Animal Rights Terrorism

This is good. Senators James Inhofe (R-OK) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA, have introduced the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, to strengthen current laws to better help law enforcement fight animal rights terrorism. I haven't read the statute yet, but if it is limited to animal using industries, it is inadequate to the threat these extremists pose. The bill need to also protect non animal using people and companies that do business with animal industries--insurers, bookkeepers, construction companies, and other providers of services and products--who are often targeted too in a pernicious tactic known as tertiary targeting.

The bill is too late in the session to go far. But come the next Congress, I trust this legislation will be reintroduced. I'll write more about this as I know more and do all I can to assist in its passage.

A Little More Humility About PVS, If You Please

Whilst we are contemplating what it means that a woman diagnosed as PVS is actually cognitive, as determined by MRI tests, let us not forget this very interesting development from a few months ago. Remember, when Ambien apparently aroused three PVS patients in S. Africa, permitting them to interact so long as the drug's effect lasted?

I have no idea how all of this will turn out. But this much I do know: What we don't know about cognitive disabilities should make doctors and bioethicists a little more humble and definitely more reluctant to deprive these helpless people of food and water.

Did Nitschke Kill Animals or People in Perfecting the "Peaceful Pill?"

My last blog entry was about the notorious Philip Nitschke introducing his "peaceful pill" suicide concoction at the World Federation of Right to Die Societies bi-annual convention. I almost missed this little factoid in the news report about his appearance. "After a year of trials, the group has synthesized the barbiturate [in the suicide pill] into crystalline form. It is being tested for contaminants in an Australian laboratory. Once they get the assay results later this month, the barbiturate -- named the Peanut Project (peanut is an American street name for barbiturates) -- should be ready for use, Nitschke said." (My emphasis.)

Excuse me: But how does one conduct "trials" of a suicide pill? Did Nitschke kill animals with the concoction? Did he give it to people? I repeat: How does one test a suicide pill? Can someone explain to me why journalists so often fail to ask the most obvious questions?

Euthanasia Radicals Show Their True Colors in Canada

Euthanasia radicals are always trying to pretend that all they want is access to assisted suicide for the terminally ill in unbearable pain for whom nothing can be done to alleviate suffering. This is a false premise, of course. But it is not the true agenda of the movement, which is really about eventually getting to the place of near death on demand.

Proof of this assertion can be found in the ongoing World Federation of Right to Die Societies Convention in Toronto. One of the prime presenters at the conference is Australian physician and euthanasia absolutist Philip Nitschke, who was paid thousands of dollars by the Hemlock Society (now merged into the euphemistically named Compassion and Choices) to develop the "peaceful pill," a suicide concoction that is designed to allow ready access to suicide for those who live in countries where assisted suicide and euthanasia are illegal. (Nitschke now says that the peaceful pill resulted from elderly people pooling their resources to help create it. But he has worked on the project, funded by euthanasia advocates, for years.)

How radical is Nitschke? He has supported suicide for "troubled teens," and has urged that the peaceful pill be available in supermarkets. (For proof, see this Q and A interview with Nitschke from 2001.)

Euthanasia ideologues often try to distance themselves from Nitschke, and for obvious reasons. If the public got a true whiff of the ultimate agenda, the euthanasia political movement would be doomed.

But the truth is that Nitschke is widely liked and respected within the movement. That is why he is always invited to speak at high visibility euthanasia conventions such as at Toronto, where he is introducing his peaceful pill to the attendees.

The moral of the story: Don't listen to what these advocates say. Watch out who they hang out with. After all, we are known by the friends we keep.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Terri Schiavo and the "Unconscious" Interactive Patient

I can't let it go: I just can't.

A lot of people thought about poor Terri when it was revealed that a British patient diagnosed as PVS was clearly interactive, based on MRI testing. That brought to many people's minds, mine included, the request of Terri's folks that she receive a test that would measure brain function rather than mere structure. This was refused adamantly by Judge Greer.

I have been checking to see if the test used on the British woman would have been usable with Terri. The answer is no. The test in the British case was a form of MRI. Terri couldn't have an MRI because the strong magnetic field generated by the test would not have been safe due to the fact she had electrodes implanted in her brain from an experimental procedure she received early in her disability.

However, she could have had a PET scan, which uses radiation to measure function. This was the test the Schindlers requested. Which raises the question of whether a PET scan could have provided the same kind of details about Terri that were revealed about the British patient from the MRI. So, I have been asking doctors I know to find out.

One doctor, a neurologist, told me the PET would indeed have been able to measure the extent of Terri's brain function. But a different doctor, a brilliant man with 5 board certified specialties, but not in neurology, told me that while the PET could have measured function, it couldn't have delivered the kind of sophisticated results that were described in the UK case. Based on what both these physicians have told me, it seems that some measure of function could have been measured, but not the kind of quick snapshots of specific brain centers firing when the UK patient was asked, for example, to imagine herself playing a game of tennis.

Still, the bottom line is that while Terri was lying in the bed waiting for the appeals courts to deliver her death warrant, it would have done no harm to give her a PET scan to see what could be seen. Nor would it have harmed anyone for Judge Greer to have permitted very respected rehabilitation therapists, who believed they could have helped Terri relearn how to swallow on her own, to give it a try. Judge Greer's adamant refusal to permit a PET scan and therapy is inexplicable--if,that is, he wanted the fullest record possible before the helpless woman he was duty-bound to protect was dehydrated to death.

Gallup Poll on Assisted Suicide Shows How Language Affects Results

This is interesting, but not for the reasons proponents might claim. Gallup asked this question:

When a person has a disease that cannot be cured do you think that a doctor should be allowed by law to end the patient's life by some painless means if the patient and his family request it?

69% said yes, and 27% said no. Of course, it is clear that proponents didn't think this out very well. First, it says nothing about pain or suffering, which is always waved as the bloody flag to scare people into supporting killing as an answer to human suffering. Moreover, since arthritis isn't curable, diabetes isn't curable, many disabilities aren't curable, asymptomatic HIV isn't curable, etc., this would open medicalized killing up to tens of millions of patients in the USA alone. I doubt whether majorities really want such a broad assisted suicide license.

Of more interest is this poll question which uses the term "suicide:"

When a person has a disease that cannot be cured and is living in severe pain, do you think doctors should or should not be allowed by law to assist the patient commit suicide if the patient requests it?

Even though the pollsters threw in the element of severe pain, which is not in the previous question, the yes vote plunges to 58%. The key word that changed the result, almost surely, is "suicide," which is an accurate and descriptive term for what is being discussed. And this is why the pro PAS talking points insist that this accurate word never be used in discussing the issue. They prefer euphemisms because that is the only way they can sell the death agenda.

One final thought: These polls are actually less supportive of legalizing PAS than they used to be. And, if people's attention were directed to their seeming support in both polling questions for legalizing assisted suicide for disabled and chronically ill people, I have no doubt that support would plunge. Moreover, other reputable polls show support for PAS under 50%, for example.

The best polls are elections, and with the exception of Oregon, every time this issue has come before voters, the legalization measures lost because people were forced to look more deeply at the issue than polls such as the Gallup questions require. When they did they rejected assisted suicide legalization.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Fumento Wipes the Floor with Mendacious ACT

In his usual excellent fashion, Michael Fumento has taken the blade of truth and eviscerated the mendacious Advanced Cell Technology. He hits a few points I have not here at Secondhand Smoke, and they are definitely worth recounting:

Whereas I have focused primarily on the MSM's bias, he delves into Nature's ideological agenda: "Nature has long boosted embryonic stem cell (ESC) technology generally and the lifting of federal funding restrictions specifically, as has its American counterpart Science. Their eagerness to run anything promoting this view recently led to Science being forced to withdraw not one but two 'ESC miracle breakthrough' articles."

He damningly describes an apparent photographic deception by Lanza that I had not known about: "The ACT researchers' letter left the embryos' fate ambiguous, but an accompanying figure showed a photo of a biopsied embryo at a later stage of development--one Lanza's embryos never reached."

And he ridicules a ludicrous Ronald Green quote that I had not seen: "But ACT propagandist, er, uh, ethicist Ronald Green leapt to the company's defense. 'The approach does not harm embryos; the experiment did,' Green insisted. (Right. And 'I didn't kill the victim;' the shooter said, 'the bullets did!')"

Fumento also includes more links than I have in my posts about this debacle. So check it out. You'll be glad you did.

"Vegetative" Patient May Have Awareness

Sophisticated brain scans of a woman diagnosed to be in a persistent vegetative state has revealed startling levels of activity. Indeed, it may indicate that she is aware.

The description of the patient in question is startlingly similar to Terri Schiavo: "Scientists don't even agree on whether the woman had some real awareness--she seemed to follow, mentally, certain commands--or if her brain was responding more automatically to speech."

And here is some more important information from the story: "First, they checked that she could process speech. Upon being told 'there was milk and sugar in the coffee,' the fMRI showed brain regions reacting the same in the woman and in healthy volunteers.

"Then came the big test. Owen told the woman to perform a mental task--to imagine herself playing tennis and walking through her house. Motor-control regions of her brain lit up like they did in the healthy people he compared with her."

These were the very kinds of tests that the Schindlers begged Judge Greer to permit to be given to Terri Schiavo, in the hope that a scan that measured function, would demonstrate more activity than tests that had been done measuring brain structure. Even though the tests would have caused her no possible harm, and might have found she had more awareness than most of the experts thought, Greer refused. And Terri was dehydrated to death.

Caveat: We must be very careful here. One apparently aware vegetative patient does not mean that other or all such patients are similarly cognitive. But it seems to me that this case provides a very urgent reason to find out, and find out fast. People are being dehydrated to death as you read these words because they are deemed non persons due to perceived permanent loss of any awareness. If that isn't so, if many or most of these people are aware, we had better find out.

Postscript: Oh, and here's a small prediction: If we do find out that many PVS patients are actually aware, look for dehydration advocates to claim that the patients' awareness provides an even more urgent reason to go forward with dehydrations, e.g., in order to put them out of the misery of being profoundly disabled.

Another Potential "Alternative Source" for Stem Cells

As the ACT mendacity continues to roil the biotech debate, a former scientist at the company, Jose Cibelli, has achieved an advance that might one day lead to the ability to revert normal body cells into an embryonic state. (I once debated Cibelli and found him to be a thoroughly nice guy.) Cibelli, who once did much of the cloning work at ACT but left for Michigan where all human cloning is outlawed, is looking for the genes that controls cell differentiation. His hope is to find one transforms early embryo cells into stem cells. If he does, he hopes to be able to apply it to normal body cells and revert them to the stem cell state.

As I stated in a piece I wrote last week, we should never underestimate the imaginative ability of scientists. Keeping a proper moral parameter around stem cell research may lead to amazing discoveries.

ACT's Robert Lanza Has Betrayed Science

This is a partial transcript of a podcast aired by Nature. It is an interview with Robert Lanza, of Advanced Cell Technology. (You can hear it for yourself, here.) In it, he clearly claims to have taken one cell from an embryo and derived ES cells without destroying the embryo--when of course all the embryos were destroyed and most of the cells used to create the stem cell lines.

This can no longer be interpreted as bad writing or the use of vague verbiage. This amounts to active misrepresentation of the result of an experiment--aimed at an audience made up primarily of scientists. Such dishonesty must never be forgotten:

First, to introduce the podcast, Lanza tells the listener what he claims to have accomplished (all italics are my emphasis):

"Robert Lanza: What we have done, for the first time is to actually create human embryonic stem cells, without destroying the embryo itself."

This is false, of course. During the interview, an earlier statement by Lanza is played that describes--I assume accurately--how the researcher's team had previously derived mouse ES cells using one cell taken from an early embryo:

"Robert Lanza: We have shown that you can generate embryonic stem cells, using a method that does not interfere with the developmental potential of the embryo, and we have actually done this in the mouse model. It will take up to a year, or possibly longer before we can repeat this in humans. Of course we won't know for sure, until we do the experiments."

Then, the interview pivots to the current human experimentation that made so much "news," and Lanza clearly states that his team accomplished the same breakthrough in humans that they did previously in mice--when they absolutely did not:

"Chris Smith: He collected single cells from early stage mouse embryos, and then used those cells to produce pools of stem cells, but most importantly the donor embryos weren't harmed in the process, and the same trick could be used with cells collected from early human embryos, for the purposes of PGD, or pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. Well, that work has now been completed, and earlier this week Robert told me what he's found.

Robert Lanza: We have shown that we can not only generate stem cells without destroying the embryo, but that the remaining embryo also has the potential to go on to create a healthy hatching blastocyst.

Chris Smith: How is that achieved, Robert?

Robert Lanza: Well, what we're actually doing is removing a single cell from an eight-cell stage embryo, and then we actually culture that cell in the Petri dish, and are actually able, though various manipulations, to create stable embryonic stem cell lines."...

Chris Smith: And do they appease President Bush's objection to the fact that you're destroying life, to create or further life, with traditional technology?

Robert Lanza: Well, as you know, the president objects to the fact that you would be sacrificing one life to save another, and in this instance there is no harm to the embryo that we're biopsying.

As we all now know, this is pure balderdash, and seemingly an intentional and material misrepresentation of what the experiment accomplished. Shame on Robert Lanza.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Lanza Lied; Embryos Died

This seems to be irrefutable proof that ACT mounted an intentional campaign of lying and deception about its embryonic stem cell non-breakthrough. According to a story newly published in Nature, in an August 23 podcast, ACT's chief scientist Robert Lanza stated, "What we have done, for the first time, is to actually create human embryonic stem cells without destroying the embryo itself." That was flat-out, unequivocally, and unarguably false. And Lanza knew it.

Nature describes the researcher's defense: "Lanza says he never intended to say more than that he had proved a principle, and that he is surprised by the reaction to the paper." Does the man live in Never-Never Land? Read the many blog entries I have devoted here at Secondhand Smoke to this deception, in which I quote from ACT's own press materials. They don't speak of merely proving a principle or state that "in theory" an ES cell line can be derived without destroying embryos. The statements, as Lanza's quoted above, either directly lie about what the company did or strongly imply that a new procedure has been created allowing for non destructive embryonic stem cell research.

So, why am I devoting so much time to this? A primary reason is that ACT's deception casts a klieg light on a cancer that is sapping the life out of the practice of science: As Big Biotech and its allies seek desperately to destroy the Bush funding policy in order to garner hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars, they are acting increasingly like a crass special interest willing to twist the truth to get access to the public trough. Ironically, since these special pleaders claim to be defending science, these major deceptions--and the many lesser examples of misleading advocacy by many in the science intelligentsia--are profoundly anti-science. Indeed, when science is reduced to chucking spin in the name of boosting science, it is akin to the oxymoronic statement made during Vietnam that a village was "destroyed in order to save it."

ACT's Bioethics Adviser Fails to Slip Off the Non Credibility Hook

I am told that Ronald Green is now saying he was misquoted when the Washington Post quoted him as stating about Advanced Cell Technology's embryonic stem cell non-breakthrough, "You can honestly say this cell line is from an embryo that was in no way harmed or destroyed."

I very much doubt it, since the reporter was Rick Weiss, who is very pro ESCR but also a good journalist. Besides, take a gander at this statement issued over Green's signature, which brags that oversight over the experiment was provided by the company's ethics advisory board and then describes the experiment as obtaining ES cells from single cells taken from still-viable embryos:

"The researchers then developed a method of producing stem cell lines by extracting and biopsying single cells (blastomeres) from these embryos. This technique, which leaves the embryos developmentally viable, offers a promising new way of ethically deriving human embryonic stem cell (hESC) lines for research and clinical therapies. It also offers an approach that could overcome the legal and political barriers that have severely limited federal funding for hESC research." (My emphasis.)

And then there's this little bit of deceptive prose:"Right now, many stem cell lines for research and clinical use can ethically be derived from embryos undergoing PGD [pre-implantation genetic diagnosis]. Because a cell must be taken from these embryos for the testing procedure, the use of these cells to develop a stem cell line presents no additional risk to the embryo. Many people will regard this as an ethically acceptable way of deriving new stem cell lines that are urgently needed for research.

"Research on stem cells derived in this manner may also be suitable for federal funding. Current U.S. law prohibits funding for 'research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death . . .' Since the procedure of single cell blastomere biopsy does not itself harm or destroy embryos, there is reason to believe that informed legal opinion will permit the use of stem cells derived in this way." (Emphasis added.)

Gee, it sure seems that ACT's ethics advisory board is telling the world that the company derived embryonic stem cells without destroying embryos, when its researchers did no such thing--just like Green's "misquote."

Keep digging ACT representatives. You are just getting ACT and yourselves into an ever-deepening credibility hole.

ACT Continues to Deceive

So, Advanced Cell Technology issued a press release today about its Dr. Robert Lanza testifying before a senate subcommittee about his great stem cell non-breakthrough. And despite being caught red-handed hyping the result of the experiment, the company's PR team continues to spin the story like a gyroscope.

Of course, the press release conveniently omitted the part where an angry Senator Arlen Specter took Lanza and it bioethics adviser Ronald Green to the woodshed for deceiving the world. Instead, the press release quotes the company's CEO as stating: "We believe our technology offers a significant forward step in the field of regenerative medicine and adds to the array of available technologies. Since Dr. Lanza testified here last year, we have progressed from applying the single-cell derivation technique from the mouse to the human."

There is no new "our technology" yet that removes one cell from a human embryo that survives and develops from it an embryonic stem cell line and indeed, such a method may never be developed. Nor have ACT scientists applied the "single-cell derivation technique" in humans. They destroyed all the embryos, then took most of their cells, kept them in close communication, which may be necessary to the development of the ES cell lines, and derived two stem cell lines from a total of 91 cells. (Details here.)

This is hardly what ACT's CEO states in the company press release. Indeed, the company continues to strongly imply its scientists accomplished something that they did not do successfully. Shameful.

Lanza and Company Lambasted by Senator Arlen Specter for Stem Cell Hype

The ACT hype is coming back to haunt the company and should (but won't) embarrass the company's willing accomplices in the media. Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), a strong supporter of ESCR and human cloning research, lambasted Dr. Robert Lanza of ACT for misleading the public in a committee hearing today. And yet, Lanza continues to attempt to mount a pathetic defense. From the Reuters story reporting the confrontation:

"Specter said the study's claims to provide an ethical alternative to destroying embryos 'dramatic albeit false.'

"'This technique has been used throughout the world for years and years,' retorted Lanza. 'Everything I said is absolutely correct and accurate.'

"Later he told reporters he was confused by the questioning he received from Specter at the hearing of the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services subcommittee. 'It is not fair. It is not right,' Lanza said. 'I know for a fact that removing the cell does not impact the embryo.'

The italicized sentence is a classic and obvious bait and switch. Whether an early embryo can survive the removal of one cell is not controversial. The snake oil Lanza tried to sell was that his research team had created embryonic stem cell lines from such a single cell without destroying the embryo from which it was extracted--when they did no such thing. Lanza and ACT have been caught in bald deception that grabbed the attention of the world. And their reputations, justifiably, will never be the same.

ACT Brouhaha Proves Success of Bush Stem Cell Policy

I was asked by To The Source, a weekly on-line news letter with a decidedly "Judeo/Christian" bent that is distributed to more than 100,000 subscribers, to write about the Advanced Cell Technology hype and what it all means. Here is the result. I argue that the intense focus on obtaining pluripotent stem cells without harming embryos validates President Bush's federal funding approach. I conclude:

"So this is the bottom line: We should never underestimate the imagination and capability of scientists to solve difficult scientific problems. That is why it is crucial that we maintain proper ethical parameters around stem cell research. So long as we continue to insist that nascent human lives matter morally, there seems little doubt that inspired scientists will be able to develop a powerful and beneficial stem cell sector without undermining the intrinsic value of human life."

The newsletter also contains an interesting interview with Dr. William Hurlbut about his altered nuclear transfer (ANT) project. Check it out.

A Scientist Describes Why Adult Stem Cells May Be Best

Good for the Milwaukee Journal for publishing this column by Jean Peduzzi-Nelson, a medical professor at Wayne State University. Her point is that most of the advances coming in stem cell research are of the non embryonic variety.

Peduzzi-Nelson also effectively punctures the reigning presumption that embryonic stem cells offer the "best hope" for cures. In the section quoted below, for example, she points out why pluripotency, the ability to be morphed into every type of cell, is not a necessary component of creating a vibrant regenerative medical sector. "The 'potential of embryonic stem cells to possibly form every cell type' in the body is amazing but is of little clinical relevance," she writes. "As long as a stem/progenitor cell [adult stem cell] is capable of forming the cell types needed for a particular injury or disease, the capability to form every cell type is a moot point." In other words, assume a patient needs heart cells: If fat, bone marrow, and/or blood stem cells can generate them--as they appear capable of doing--embryonic stem cells would be unnecessary for use in this form of regenerative heart medicine.

This doesn't deal with the issue of basic research. But the Bush-approved cell lines permit basic research at this time and there may well be alternatives in the future for this purpose, too.

President Bush is to be lauded for his stem cell funding policy. It did not impose his moral views on the entire country, in keeping with federalism, and it kept the ethical importance of using nascent human life as a crop at the forefront. As a result, we may just find a way to have our cake and eat it to by developing a vibrant stem cell sector that stays within crucial moral boundaries.

The Logic of Euthanasia Consciousness: Euthanizing Prisoners

This story is a perfect example of how euthanasia advocacy leads toward a pro-suicide mindset. A UK prison reformer advocates that prisoners who are depressed about their confinement have access to euthanasia. ""We have one life, it is our own life and prisoners should be able to end it with dignity if that is what they want," Mark Leech, editor of the Prisons Handbook, told The Mirror.

"There will have to be checks and balances. I would like to see a high court judge involved. The court would have to be convinced he knew exactly what he was doing, that his mental state was fine, his decision was irreversible, that this was his life and this was what he wanted to do. We have one life, it is our own life and prisoners should be able to end it with dignity if that is what they want."

This is not as dumb as it may appear upon first reflection. Indeed, Leech's advocacy is a logical conclusion to be drawn from accepting the premises of euthanasia advocacy: If individual autonomy is near-absolute, as euthanasia ideologues contend, and if killing is an acceptable answer to human suffering, why not permit the depressed and confined to end it all? Such are the moral cliffs off of which we will fall once we swallow the intellectual hemlock of euthanasia consciousness.

WI Candidate for Governor Tries Cynical Ploy to Deflect Criticism of his Stem Cell Views

I often criticize people who disagree with me in the biotechnology debates for misleading the public and playing political games. Integrity now compels me to point out that Wisconsin Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Green is cynically attempting to harness all the hype surrounding Advanced Cell Technology's non- breakthrough in embryonic stem cell research to deflect criticism for his support as a congressman for President Bush's funding policy.

Green, has promised that if elected he will invest $25 million of state money toward perfecting the approach that ACT's experiment indicate might be possible, e.g., take one cell from an early embryo and derive ES cell lines without destroying the organism. Green says that if the experiments work, he would urge President Bush to allow federal funding for research from such stem cell lines, and claims that the money invested in the technique would put WI at the center of stem cell science.

This is dumb--and disingenuous. The ACT approach, even if it would work, is unlikely to materially change the state of science during the remainder of President Bush's term. Moreover, even if it could be made to work, it would probably still violate the Dickey Amendment that since 1996 has prevented federal funding of research that destroys or harms embryos. Third, if WI is going to invest tens of millions of taxpayer dollars into stem cell research, there are certainly a lot of places it could be better spent, including more promising avenues of alternative sources of stem cells.

But these other areas didn't make international headlines. Hence, Green is actually trying to boost his chances of election by harnessing the hype from ACT's embryonic stem cell non-breakthrough and thereby deflect attention from his voting record in order to fool the voters of Wisconsin into believing he could support embryonic stem cell research.

Green has stood against treating human embryos as mere instrumentalities by supporting President Bush's funding policy. He should now stand proudly behind this view. Moreover, the voters have a right to judge his suitability for governor with a clear view of his positions on stem cell research. Instead, he has attempted a cynical ploy that will not win him any votes from those who oppose his stem cell stance, but which has the potential to alienate those who support it.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Animal Rights Activists Offer Reward for Arrest of Researchers

There is an ongoing harassment and intimidation campaign to intimidate UCLA scientists away from conducting medical research with primates. One researcher has already been scared off. Another had an incendiary device left on his doorstep, which may have accidentally been left at the wrong house. Happily, it didn't go off but the death to the researcher and his family was unmistakable. The FBI has offered a reward for the arrest and conviction of these criminals.

Now, as if to establish some sick moral equivalence between terrorist activity and legal and necessary animal research, liberationists are offering a reward for the arrest of researchers for animal cruelty.

When you toss aside human exceptionalism, as the animal liberationist movement does, you lose your moral compass. But society needs to support these scientists and protect them from harm. Researchers are not criminals and liberation terrorists are not so many modern-day Wilberforces.

Is Euthanasia a Feminist Issue?

Some radical feminists have supported euthanasia as a women's issue since the days of the Suffragettes. I comment on this in today's First Things blog, which deals with a story out of the UK that was covered here at Secondhand Smoke a few weeks ago. (You may have to scroll down.)

Apparently You Can Deceive the Media and Still Be Deemed Credible--If You Are on the Right Side

I frequently criticize the media in this blog and in my other work because we need a vibrant and accurate 4th Estate for democracy to thrive. And that is precisely what we don't have today in some of the most pressing cultural and moral issues of the day.

Here's just another small example of why the media cannot be counted upon any longer to provide reliable and objective information: When ACT misled the world by claiming it had created embryonic stem cell lines using one cell from an embryo that survived, its bioethics adviser, Ronald Green, either lied or spoke out of total ignorance when he told the Washington Post, "You can honestly say this cell line is from an embryo that was in no way harmed or destroyed."

That was flat-out wrong. Yet, Green is again quoted by the AP, as if he is he remains a credible source. "'I think the degree of protest here is the result of the importance of this breakthrough,' said Ronald Green, chairman of Advanced Cell Technology's ethics advisory board and a professor of religion at Dartmouth College. 'If the president were to turn around tomorrow and authorize stem cell lines produced in this way, in two years' time we could have three to four hundred stem cells lines.'"

The procedure may not be able to be done at all, Green actively misled the media previously about what ACT had done, and yet, he is allowed to opine that if only Bush would change his funding policy this procedure would lead to the creation of hundreds of stem cell lines without destroying a single embryo. (Wait: Wasn't a big deal made by the media that this non breakthrough would comply with the Bush policy because it would not destroy embryos?)

I would write that this is unbelievable, but alas, it is all too predictable. The only message one can take from Green continuing to be treated by the MSM as a reliable source is that it is okay to mislead reporters--if you are on the side of the issue that the media wants to support.

Wall Street Journal Reports ACT Hyped Research

Now the Wall Street Journal has reported that the ACT big stem cell breakthrough was nothing of the kind. There is no link, so here is an abridged version, with a few of my comments in bold:

"Controversy continues to build over a claim that biotechnology researchers produced stem cells without harming embryos, as outside scientists question whether a fundamental element of the reported experiment undercuts the central contention of the research." (Not just "scientists," but never mind.)

"Almost two weeks ago, Advanced Cell Technology Inc., of Alameda, Calif.,announced that its scientists had produced stem cells "using an approach that does not harm embryos." ACT is actually based in Massachusetts, but opened a California office, I believe, to try and grab some of that Proposition 71 money, which requires that the recipients--whether private industry or university, be from California.

"Advanced Cell's share price soared the day its research was published in the journal Nature, as media outlets around the world reported that the company's scientists had derived new stem-cell lines in an embryo-safe way. Nature itself erroneously hyped the report with an embargoed press release inaccurately describing the researchers as using single cells extracted from embryos that remained intact. The publication issued subsequent press releases correcting the first."

Advanced Cell officials say they haven't misled investors or anyone else about their research." Then how do they explain their own misleading press release and the head of their bioethics advisory board telling the Washington Post, "You can honestly say this cell line is from an embryo that was in no way harmed or destroyed."

"Responding to the first round of doubts, Robert Lanza, Advanced Cell's vice president for research and the lead author of the Nature paper," said that he "continues to maintain that the results--they successfully derived two new stem-cell lines from multiple individual cells extracted from early stage embryos--prove it is possible to produce stem cells without harming embryos." Ah, but saying something is possible, is not the same thing as actually doing it, which is what ACT and Nature first claimed had been done.

"Some outside researchers say that method, requiring scientists to extract more than one cell from embryos that consist of so few cells to begin with, could undermine Advanced Cell's conclusions that embryos wouldn't be harmed and a single-cell extraction would suffice. 'One of the flaws in this paper is that it draws conclusions that they don't really have the data to prove,' said Barry Behr, a Stanford University embryologist and director of the university's IVF laboratories. 'The sort of leaps of faith here are a little too big to leap.'" This is precisely what critics like Richard Doerflinger and I said almost two weeks ago.

"But many stem-cell scientists remain skeptical of Advanced Cell's claims. 'The really unfortunate thing about that paper is that they really didn't do the experiment' that garnered all the media attention, says Jeanne Loring, a stem-cell researcher at the Burnham Institute in La Jolla, Calif. 'There are going to be questions at every step of the process until they do the experiment or someone else does'"

So, this is the bottom line. The ACT "breakthrough" has been thoroughly discredited, not just by cloning and ESCR critics, but by scientists who support the stem cell agenda. This should be, as they say, case closed. But you watch: It won't be. Many in the media will still report the breakthrough as if it happened, perhaps throwing in the term "controversial," making it all seem as if the critical analysis of the paper is merely a matter of opinion.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

How Media Falsehoods Become Postmodern Reality

Ramesh Ponnuru's book Party of Death is reviewed in today's New York Times. The reviewer Jonathan Rauch, predictably, discounts the book, claiming that for people in the middle of the abortion debate, it doesn't have much to say. I don't agree with that opinion, as my own review of Ponnuru's book makes clear.

But our disagreement about the merits of Ponnuru's book is not what this blog entry is about. I write about Ruach's review because it is a classic example of the power of media to create an alternative reality by misstating the facts about important stories, which over time, due to the sheer power of repetition, has the effect of literally rewriting history.

Specifically, Rauch presents a fictionalized scenario about the Terri Schiavo case. According to Rauch: "If human life is 'inviolable," then why should it matter whether a hopelessly vegetative patient--someone like Terri Schiavo--left instructions not to be fed? Surely, from Ponnuru's perspective, the doctors caring for her cannot ethically conspire to starve her to death even if she would prefer to die."

The ethics of this matter definitely need clarifying, but let's not discuss that for now. What I am interested in here is the material misstatement of fact. Notice how easily the lie slides by--that Terri "left instructions not to be fed." She did no such thing. Not even Michael Schiavo claimed she said not to give her food and water if she became profoundly brain injured.

At most, she made vague statements, mostly in very casual settings, about not wanting tubes and machines. But if these statements were actually made--remember it was only Michael Schiavo and his family that said so--she made the statements at a time before feeding tubes were being routinely removed from people with profound cognitive impairments. Thus, it was highly unlikely that she ever considered being dehydrated to death. Indeed, the casual statements, if they were made, came before the landmark Cruzan case that opened the floodgates to dehydrating the cognitively impaired. (I trust Rauch and his editors were merely ignorant about this and did not intentionally mislead readers, which ironically, proves my point.)

Such media malpractice is epidemic. And it has led me to the reluctant conclusion that for most of today's mainstream media, facts don't matter. What counts is the narrative; the desired story line. In such a postmodernist milieu--as in Schiavo-- fiction quickly becomes fact and myth is transformed into history. No wonder respect for journalism is at an all time low.

Podcasting About Euthanasia in Australia

The computer age is amazing. I did an interview to Australia a few months ago, and this podcast is now available to anyone in the world who has on-line access. The issue is euthanasia and assisted suicide. Check it out.

Haleigh Poutre Continues to Improve

Last year, doctors wrote 12-year old Haleigh Poutre off as good as dead after she was beaten nearly to death, allegedly by her adoptive mother and step father. After only one week, they assumed she was in a PVS and urged the State of Massachusetts to dehydrate Haleigh to death. The State Supreme Court approved a few months later. Then, just before the dehydration was to commence, it became clear that Haleigh was not even unconscious and the dehydration was called off. At the time, I wrote about Haleigh's case here.

Since then, Haleigh has continued to improve, apparently, and now is even speaking a few words. But this is no thanks to the doctors or the courts, which are duty-bound to protect helpless children like Haleigh from harm, and failed her utterly.

This situation came very close to being an injustice of the most profound kind, and we would never have known it. One way to stop such cases in the future would be to pass laws like the proposed Nebraska Humane Care Amendment, that apparently barely failed to qualify for November's ballot. Had Massachusetts had such a law in place, doctors would have had no basis to urge the State to cut off her food and water based on projections of a poor quality of life, and the Department of Public Social Services could not have agreed. The courts would have had to refuse the dehydration request since it would have been designed to cause her death by withholding sustenance.

Protecting helpless children like Haleigh Poutre: Could there be a more important task for society? Laws similar to the Nebraska Humane Care Amendment could accomplish that worthy goal. And that is why those of us who were involved with the Amendment will continue work diligently toward creating such humane public policies throughout the country and internationally.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

NYT Takes a Half Step Back from ACT Stem Cell Deception

The New York Times mildly reported today about the fact that ACT did not create embryonic stem cells without destroying embryos. Lanza is in full dissembling mode, claiming that he had not read the Nature press release before it went out. For some reason, Nicolas Wade, the Times reporter, fails to point out that the ACT press release was also thoroughly deceptive. Did Lanza not read his own company's press release, too?

Here is another fault with the Times story: Wade reports, "But the revised statement [by Nature] said other researchers, as he had noted, could use his technique to derive stem cells from cells removed in P.G.D [pre-implantation genetic diagnosis]."

So, they are still deceiving. It is, in fact, not known whether one cell taken from an 8-10 cell embryo could be used to derive an ES cell line. Other researchers have already tried to do it with two cells and failed, for example. At most, it would be accurate to state that scientists "hope" it could be done or "theorize" it could be done. To say assertively that "other researchers could use this technique" is bad science, and to let that assertion hang in the air as if it is a given, was negligent journalism.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Nat Hentoff Makes Some Important Points About Schiavo

Nat Hentoff is a friend of mine, and it is a great honor to be able to make that claim. For decades he has stood steadfastly for individual rights and civil liberties. When he writes about the sanctity and equality of human life, he has no peer--as in this reminder of the great wrong done to Terri Schiavo, which Hentoff calls evocatively, "the longest execution in American history."

For those who are ignorant enough to believe that only the "religious right" stood for Terri's right to life, Hentoff notes that this was not really a "right to die" case but "a disability rights case," a fact oft ignored by the media. And as for Hentoff: He is a proud atheist who understands the crucial and profound importance of every human life having equal moral value simply and merely because it is human.

Somebody Called "Punkass" Hates my Starbuck's Coffee Cup

I seem to have stirred up some angry--I don't know how to label them, nihilists? anarchists?--by claiming on my Starbuck's coffee cup ("The Way I See It" campaign, scroll to Cup # 127) that the question of the 21st Century is whether all human life will be considered equal simply and merely because it is human. My apology on behalf of intrinsic human value has some bloggers worrying about theocracy and digging into my other work, as in this blog, which creates other fictional cups based on some of the things I have written, which I take it, he also doesn't like. I am flattered, I guess. But for some reason, these bloggers don't (can't?) grapple with my ideas, so they rant about creationism and theocracy--as if only religious people believe in human equality. Oh, well. As they might say: Whatever.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE Backs Off Advanced Cell Technology Story

Now the Chicago Tribune is backing off the story of the big embryonic stem cell research breakthrough that wasn't. And get this: Advanced Cell Technology's "ethicist," Ronald Green, who told the Washington Post, "You can honestly say this cell line is from an embryo that was in no way harmed or destroyed," a flat-out false statement, now tells the Tribune, "The approach does not harm embryos; the experiment did."

Ha! That's hugely different from what he said earlier. Moreover, the "approach" has not yet been done.

Maybe next time, Advanced Cell Technology breaks into the news, the MSM will learn not to trust the company's hype or Ronald Green's dissembling. But don't hold your breath.