Thursday, November 30, 2006

Gary Francione on Peter Singer and "Vivisection"

Animal rights law professor and vegan activist Gary Francione has now weighed in at some length in his Blog about Peter Singer and his support for invasive brain research using monkeys. It is very hard hitting, and, it seems to me, hits a home run regarding amoral Singer-style utilitarianism:

"If you read what Peter Singer has been writing for 30 years now, it is absolutely clear that he regards the use of nonhumans--and humans--in vivisection as morally permissible. Indeed, Singer explicitly rejects animal rights and the abolition of animal exploitation; he does not regard eating animals or animal products as per se morally wrong; he maintains we can be 'conscientious omnivores;' he claims that we can have 'mutually satisfying' sexual relationships with animals, and he claims that it is morally permissible to kill disabled infants.

"In short, rather than asking 'can you believe what Singer has said?,' it is more appropriate to ask: Can someone please explain how Singer got to be the 'father of the modern animal rights movement'?"


There is much more about Singer in the post, some of which I knew (killing infants, sex with animals) and some of which that I didn't (the permissibility of being a conscientious omnivore), and it is all worth reading.

I disagree with Francione completely about animal rights. For example, human beings are omnivores, and so its seems to me that eating meat is both nutritious and natural. But I respect him and his totally justified disdain for the "ethics" of Peter Singer.

"PETA a Cult" And Other Singer Monkey Research Fallout

I thought it was pretty significant that Peter Singer endorsed research on monkeys, and very invasive research at that--brain experiments. But the American media ignored the story, so I decided to kick up a little dust.

I was quite impressed with Gary Francione, who I interviewed by e-mail. He is a man of principle, integrity, and courage, calling PETA a "cult" and Singer "the leader of the cult." (I have heard stories!) Others who left the animal rights movement have called PETA a cult, but Francione is as solid an animal rightist as it gets, and for him to denigrate PETA in this way, to me, is significant.

My analysis points to the animal rights movement fracturing over ideology and tactics, and Singer's apostasy, I think, will further that process. Here's my conclusion:"...given Singer's prominence, his pro-research statement will surely undermine the general liberationist meme that animal experimentation is useless, as well as cruel, and hence an equivalent evil to the research conducted by Mengele in the concentration camps. Better still, his apostasy should exacerbate the movement's ongoing splintering, a development most earnestly to be wished. After all, the less effective animal-rights/liberation advocacy is, the less likely we will ever perceive human beings as merely another animal in the forest.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Transhumanists and "Human Dignity"

Oxford professor Nick Bostrom, one of the leading lights of the transhumanist movement, has a new paper out ("In Defense of Post Human Dignity") in which he argues that there is no need to fear the post human future if we all agree that all forms of post humanity have equal dignity. Here is how he puts it:

"Transhumanists...see human and posthuman dignity as compatible and complementary. They insist that dignity, in its modern sense, consists in what we are and what we have the potential to become, not in our pedigree or our causal origin. What we are is not a function solely of our DNA but also of our technological and social context. Human nature in this broader sense is dynamic, partially human-made, and improvable. Our current extended phenotypes (and the lives that we lead) are markedly different from those of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. We read and write; we wear clothes; we live in cities; we earn money and buy food from the supermarket; we call people on the telephone, watch television, read newspapers, drive cars, file taxes, vote in national elections; women give birth in hospitals; life-expectancy is three times longer than in the Pleistocene; we know that the Earth is round and that stars are large gas clouds lit from inside by nuclear fusion, and that the universe is approximately 13.7 billion years old and enormously big. In the eyes of a hunter-gatherer, we might already appear 'posthuman'. Yet these radical extensions of human capabilities--some of them biological, others external--have not divested us of moral status or dehumanized us in the sense of making us generally unworthy and base. Similarly, should we or our descendants one day succeed in becoming what relative to current standards we may refer to as posthuman, this need not entail a loss dignity either."

Nicely written, but inapt. There is no fundamental difference between the ancestors Bostrom references and ourselves. They were us, fully human despite their far lower levels of technology. Indeed, their achievement of taming fire is just as impressive as our making it to the moon. And I would match the cave drawings in France with the greatest art in the Louvre.

But let's not get into that for now. My primary problem with transhumanism is the arrogant presumption that parents should be able to design their offspring to order, as if children were a Dell computer or a pedigree dog. What a concept. Parenting would become about fulfilling the parents' yearnings through their child rather than (ideally) accepting the child that comes, whoever he or she is, with unconditional love and assisting our child to mature and develop into the person they want to be.

I know, I know. Parents make their children take piano lessons, and some argue that genetically altering them to be musical is little different. But genetic alterations would be set in stone, as it were, and would pass down the generations. A kid can always quit piano lessons and start to work on cars. Would one ever be able to escape the yearnings set in motion by raw biology caused by genetic engineering or other transhumanist enhancements?

The bottom line is this: Transhumanism exhibits a combination of solipsism and obsession with control, bad enough when it involves oneself, but definitely wrong, in my book, when imposed on another. Or to put it another way, if Charlie modified his features to look like Catman, I would feel badly for him, but Charlie would only be affecting himself. But Charlie should not be allowed to manufacture Kitten Boy, because he had an affinity for cats. That would not be parenting, but slave mastering.

Some of my other comments about transhumanism, can be found here and here.

Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act is Now Law

With little fanfare, President Bush signed into law the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, making it easier to punish animal liberation thugs who engage in "tertiary targeting." Still, as I said in this recent blog entry, the real contest will be in the ideological sphere, particularly among the young. We should promote ever improving methods for treating animals humanely, but should not transform them into the moral equivalents of people.

Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cells Morphed into Lung Tissue

This is wonderful news and demonstrates the great potential for morally uncontentious stem cell research. But don't expect the media or politicians to notice. There is campaign money in them thar embryonic stem cell hills. Big Biotech has spent many tens of millions in propagandizing the country and it's payback time!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A "Genetic Bill of Rights"

A Genetic Bill of Rights--From Lori Andrews, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, who chaired the federal ethics advisory committee to the Human Genome Project.

* You should have the right to refuse genetic testing and not to disclose genetic information, except in criminal cases in which there is individualized suspicion.

* You should not be discriminated against by insurers, employers, schools, courts, mortgage lenders or other institutions based on genetic tests.

* If you undergo genetic testing, you should have the right to control who receives the results.

* Your genes should not be used in research without your consent, even if your tissue sample has been made anonymous.

* Your genes should not be patented.


Makes sense to me. Yet, apparently 20% of our genes are owned by companies holding patents, which is having a chilling effect in medical testing.

"Face Transplant" a Success

Apparently the first patient to receive a "face transplant" is doing well. Good. I never understood what all the fuss was about anyway. If we can transplant livers and kidneys from cadavers, why not facial flesh?

New Podcast: A Critique of "Personhood Theory"

My new podcast is now available. In it, I discuss the dangers of personhood theory and its potential lethal consequences. If you are of a mind, check it out.

Of Peter Singer, Love, and a Beautiful Child with Down Syndrome

There was a wonderful article published in the Times of London by a father and the parenting of a child with Down syndrome. I thought of writing about it here at Secondhand Smoke, but thought the best place for it would be over at the First Things blog. It is out today.

In the article, among other matters, I compare the unconditional love of a father with the sterile utilitarian "ethics" of Peter Singer. And I conclude: "What a stark difference between the attitudes of these two men toward the weakest and most vulnerable among us, a difference that can be described literally as the distinction between loving and killing. And indeed, for those familiar with Singer's writing, it is striking how often he writes of satisfying personal desires and how rarely he writes of sacrifice and love. Which, when you think about it, provides vivid clarity about the stakes we face in the ongoing contest for societal dominance between the sanctity/equality of life ethic and Singer's proposed 'quality of life' ethic: The former opens the door to the potential for unconditional love, while the latter presumes the power to coolly dismiss some of us from life based on defective workmanship. The choice we make about these contrasting paths will determine whether we remain a moral society committed to the pursuit of universal human rights."

Monday, November 27, 2006

Again With the "Human Zoo Exhibits"

We have seen this before in the UK, and now in Australia: Humans exhibited in zoos as if we were merely another animal in the forest. But we are not mere animals. We are the exceptional species, human beings, unlike any other known species in the universe. We are moral beings, meaning that we have moved beyond the tooth and claw of the Darwinian world and into a way of living that is not constrained by the merely natural, but has in many (albeit, not all) ways, transcended it.

The idea behind these ridiculous exhibits is to make us more ecologically responsible. I believe the reverse is more likely. We will be ecologically responsible only insofar as we accept our exceptional status. If all we are is another animal, we have no greater duty "to the planet" than do elephants, mice, lions, or sharks. And while we are, of course, animals in a biological sense, these attempts to convince people that we just fauna can become very destructive. If that is all we come to perceive ourselves to be, that is precisely how we will act.

Swiss Publish Meaningless Assisted Suicide Guidelines

One of the great and terrible jokes about assisted suicide/euthanasia is the old platitude that "guidelines" will protect against abuse. They don't, of course. They are not even there to effectively constrain assisted suicide. Rather, in my view, they primarily exist to allow people to believe that the killing is under control.

The Swiss National Ethics Advisory Commission has now pursued this strategy by publishing guidelines intended to regulate their legally permissive assisted suicide policy. (It is worth noting that unlike the Netherlands, doctors are not permitted to assist suicide in their professional capacity--which at least makes sense since killing is not a medical procedure.) Among the "guidelines" are:
1. Adults must have mental capacity, meaning, apparently, that they can understand the circumstances that gave rise to their suicidal ideation. "Adults in possession of their mental faculties are generally best able to bear witness to and judge their own situation. They can tell whether their suffering is intolerable."
2. The desire for suicide must be based on "illness", which "is to be understood in a broad sense," for exampling including "suffering arising from a accident or a sever disability." Note that this doesn't mean terminal disease, demonstrating once again that assisted suicide/euthanasia is not about "last resort" actions to alleviate suffering in the imminently dying.
3. The desire to die is enduring and consistent and not based on impulse, in the opinion of the "person carrying out the assessment," which apparently doesn't even have to be mental health professional. Nor is there even a minimal requirement that the suicidal person be seen by a mental health professional and/or engage in suicide prevention therapy.
4. The desire for suicide has arisen in the absence of external pressure, as if the "assessor" will be able to tell. It is worth noting that a similar Oregon guideline did not protect Kate Cheney.
5. All other options have been considered. What can one say but, yadda, yadda, yadda.
6. Repeated personal contacts between the assistors and the suicidal patient. This is meant to stop suicide tourism. It won't.

These guidelines don't have the force of law, and even if they did, they would not be effectively enforced. Moreover, they seek to legitimize the concept of "rational suicide." As such, they constitute the utter abandonment of suicidal people.

Paralyzed Stem Cell Activist Speaks Out

James Kelly, as regular readers of Secondhand Smoke know, is paralyzed from an auto accident and has become one of the nation's foremost and dedicated activist promoting stem cell research: Adult stem cell research. Kelly has researched the matter quite thoroughly. As reported in this extensive analysis of the recent election in National Review Online, when challenged to be "pro science," Kelly responded that he is "pro cures."

I find it amazing--but not surprising--that the media fawns over embryonic stem cell activists with serious afflictions and disabilities, but generally ignore the Jim Kellys of the world. After all, we live in a culture where only "the victims" supposedly have true moral authority to take positions on such issues. But, of course, that is only true if one toes the Establishment line. Kelly takes a heterodox view and that makes him, I guess, not an authentic victim.

He closes his interesting piece with this important point: "When the NIH refuses to fund credible clinical trials using adult stem cells or cord blood to save Americans from suffering from stroke, spinal cord injury, ALS, diabetes, or Parkinson's Disease, the public needs to hear of it. If Americans can be shown that their health is being sacrificed, that their hopes are being exploited, and their trust has been betrayed to promote biotech financial goals, stem cell issues will become conservative and pro-life political strengths, rather than weaknesses.

"In urging conservatives to take a hard-line approach to stem cells issues it might be said that I'm being selfish--that I suggest this course because I hope to walk again, because I want countless millions with diseases and disabilities to see their hopes fulfilled, because I don't want others to needlessly suffer. If anyone were to say that, he'd be right."

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Peter Singer Supports Using Monkeys in Some Medical Experiments

I am sure he would rather use humans with profound cognitive capacities, but at least Peter Singer has acknowledged that great good can come from medical research using animals--and monkeys, no less. (The experiments involved surgical procedures to help Parkinson's patients, among other conditions.)

This is interesting news, and no doubt flows from Singer's utilitarianism. As I understand Singer's beliefs, he doesn't believe in the concept of "rights"--either human or animal--but rather, in promoting "interests." Thus, since an infant has no right to life and in Singer's view is not yet a person because he or she is not self aware and cannot value their own existence, this means that parents can have their baby painlessly killed if that would better promote the interests of the family. (Singer uses the example of a baby with a disability to illustrate his thesis, but the existence of disability is actually not relevant, since it is the purported non personhood of the baby that makes him or her killable.) However, persons can value their lives, and thus have an interest in living, and so cannot be similarly killed.

It will be interesting to see how Singer squares his belief in monkey personhood with their use in sometimes lethal medical experiments. I suspect it will go along these lines: In utilitarianism, even persons don't have rights, and hence, sometimes the interests of the majority (or their happiness) can overcome the interests (or happiness) of the minority--permitting the latter to be used instrumentally for the former's benefit. And indeed, the Parkinson's researcher told Singer that 40,000 human patients have been helped through the use of 100 monkeys, to which Singer stated, "Well, I think if you put a case like that, clearly I would have to agree that was a justifiable experiment."

Animal liberationists, however, tend not to be amoral utilitarians like Singer, but fervent ideologues who believe that the ability to feel pain is what brings moral value. (In this view, since a cow can feel pain and a human can feel pain, they are morally equivalent, and hence, cattle ranching is as odious as slavery.) And I have been wondering if this would eventually lead to a conflict between Singer's personhood approach and the 'painience," or similar rights-oriented views of other liberationists. And indeed, as I discussed in a First Things blog entry, Gary Francione has decried Singer as an "animal welfarist" rather than an animal liberationist--a view that will certainly be reinforced with Singer's new comments. Meanwhile, the purists are beginning to weigh in.

Singer's acknowledging that animal research offers bona fide scientific benefits completely undermines the animal rights meme that such experiments are useless, as well as cruel, and hence, the worst of evils. This could splinter the animal rights movement.

What a Crock!

The Alliance for Medical Research, which has loose affiliations with Baylor College of Medicine, put out a video, "Regenerative Medicine: Pathway to Cures," which I demonstrated conclusively is thoroughly mendacious, propagandistic, and permeated with junk biology. Here is how the Alliance describes their work: "Our leadership is devoted to providing ethically-balanced, truthful facts about the science in question. Right now, that's Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research." Right, and 2 +2 is 5. What a crock.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

I Retract My Claim that Richard Dawkins Supports Eugenics

Well, it seems that my post on Dawkins supporting eugenics was linked over at the Richard Dawkins official WEB site. In a comment to the post, Dawkins explains that the piece in the Herald was excerpted from an article he wrote in another forum. (It would have been nice if the Herald had explained that.) This means that Dawkins did not write the "Eugenics May Not Be Bad" headline, which is what caught my eye originally. Without that headline as a guide to interpreting his comment, his words take on a different tone.

Dawkins argues that the propriety of genetically enhancing progeny should be debated and states that scientists of the 1920s and 1930s--e.g., eugenics supporters--would not have found the idea particularly dangerous. He muses that today, in contrast, we are afraid to even discuss genetically enhancing our progeny because of Hitler. He notes we breed animals for certain attributes and wonders why it wouldn't be acceptable to do the same to humans. He also suggests, without identifying them, that there are good arguments that could persuade him to oppose enhancement and suggests that the issue be tabled for debate. (Dawkins reaffirmed his quoted words, but does not elaborate about whether he opposes or supports genetically enhancing progeny.)

Without the headline as a guide, in good conscience I must retract my assertion that Dawkins supports eugenics. I suspect he would, since he apparently does not believe that human life has intrinsic value simply based on being human--the denial of which is also a fundamental premise of eugenics. But I don't know that he would.

Still, it strikes me that debating a new eugenics through genetic engineering is about as respectable as debating a new racism through genetic engineering. A regime of genetic enhancing progeny would be a form of "positive eugenics," of the kind originally pushed by Francis Galton. Eugenics is intrinsicly wrong in my view because it presumes the right to determine which humans are better and which worse based upon traits, talents, and characteristics. Making genetic engineering for enhancements respectable would eventually lead to oppression and exploitation of those deemed to have inferior traits and characteristics--just as the original positive eugenics led directly to America's "negative eugenics" sterilization program, and Germany's racial hygene attrocity.

Post Script: Here is a rich irony, considering Dawkins' crusade to destroy religious belief (which is not an issue we discuss here at Secondhand Smoke). The primary supporters of eugenics in the first third to half of the 20th Century were scientists, the self described "free thinkers," political progressives, and religious liberals. The opponents of eugenics were primarily, although certainly not exclusively, overt religionists of a decidedly orthodox persuasion. At least as to the that issue, the religionsts had it right.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Alliance for Medical Research: "Science and Spin"

My piece in the Daily Standard is out today deconstructing the ridiculous piece of propaganda drivel: "Regenerative Medicine: Pathway to Cures" produced by the Houston-based Alliance for Medical Research.

Science depends on intellectual integrity to be, well, science. Pathway to Cures is anti-science because it is profoundly deceptive; in the words it uses, the hyped claims it makes, and it apparent resort to outside fabrication, e.g., chimpanzees have been "cured" with human embryonic stem cells.

What is sad is that I am not the one who should be up in arms about this: "The scientists" should be, because when a supposedly scientific "educational" video is actually mere propaganda, the endeavor of science itself is harmed. It is time for the leaders of the scientific community to begin insisting on accuracy and integrity in debating the various political disputes we have over science and research policy issues. If they don't, in the end the worst casualty will be science itself.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

My Frustrating Appearance on BBC World Service: "World Have Your Say"

The show is World Have Your Say. The topic was animal rights. The guests, in addition to me, were a member of the Dutch Animal Rights Party, a Brit vegan, someone defending European farming practices, and a German man whose perspective I never quite got.

The show was something of a frustrating experience. It wasn't so much that I didn't really get to say very much because they had so many guests and permitted the Dutch Animal Rights Party representative to pretty much filibuster. But the discussion never left the periphery, and thus, the crucial issue in this debate was never addressed: The distinction between animal rights and animal welfare. Nor, were we able to discuss the tremendous human harm that would follow from the animal rights agenda prevailing.

I was planning to read this quote from PETA's infamous Holocaust on Your Plate Campaign to illustrate what is so wrong and misanthropic about animal rights/liberation. I think it is important because it blows past the smoke and mirrors game they often play when on the radio, pretending to be for animal welfare, and gets right the crux of what is so poisonous about animal liberation ideology:

"Like the Jews murdered in concentration camps, animals are terrorized when they are housed in cramped, filthy warehouses and rounded up for shipment to slaughter. The leather sofa and handbag are the modern equivalent of the lampshades made from skins of the people killed in death camps."

So, to the liberationist, any of the readers here at Secondhand Smoke who wear leather shoes are akin to the SS Camp Guards. People who think this way have no right to preach morality to anyone.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

We Are Drowning in Anti-Science Junk Biology

And here we have been told that Republicans engage in phony science: In Texas, a report is about to come out about cloning and stem cell research. But three Democrats refuse to sign and have leaked to the press that it states that SCNT cloning creates an embryo or an embryo-like entity. Gasp! Accurate science in the cloning debate: We mustn't have that!

Here is what these legislators told a reporter for the Houston Chronicle: "The three don't like a part of the report that addresses what happens if the technique 'creates an embryo by replacing the original DNA in the egg and yields embryonic stem cells.'

"In a letter to Swinford, the three Democrats said the discussion equates the technique 'with embryonic stem cell research and all of the moral, ethical and existential questions surrounding that scientific investigation. In truth, SCNT holds the best hope to avoid the moral implications of stem cell research, because, at present, a human SCNT cell cannot become human life.'

"While saying the process 'was used to create a sheep clone nearly a decade ago,' the three added that 'there is no peer-reviewed, scientifically verifiable process that claims to use a human SCNT cell implanted into a woman's womb to create a human life.'"

What utter hogwash! Of course there are no peer reviewed studies showing that an "SCNT cell" (!!!) has been implanted since cloned embryos have only barely been created to date. Moreover, the idea that once cloned human embryos can be created, it can't lead to reproductive cloning is balderdash.

Here is the truth: SCNT creates an embryo "asexually," which, if all goes well, acts like any other embryo. Don't take my word for it. Hearken to the writing of four adamant supporters of research cloning: Robert P. Lanza, Arthur Caplan, Lee M. Silver, Jose B. Cibelli, who write in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 284, 3175-3179: "CRNT [cell replacement through nuclear transfer, a.k.a. therapeutic cloning] requires the deliberate creation and disaggregation of a human embryo."

They go on to state: "It is true that the techniques developed in CRNT research can prepare the way scientifically and technically for efforts at reproductive cloning."

The Democrats in the story were regurgitating crap propaganda of the kind disseminated by the Alliance for Medical Research. We are being drowned in junk biology as an intentional tactic to win a political debate. But this is intellectually dishonest, and profoundly so--which is anti science.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Peter Singer: Use Brain Damaged Humans Instead of Chimpanzees in HIV Research

There he goes again: I missed this at the time, but last May, Princeton University's Peter Singer urged in an on-line periodical that brain damaged human beings be used in HIV research rather than chimpanzees. From the story "An Ethical Man:" "'HIV research using chimps has not been very helpful as they don't seem to get the disease in the same way humans do,' Singer explains. 'So I don't think it's right and it's causing a lot of suffering and distress to beings who are sensitive animals--social animals who should be living in social groups and who suffer being in isolation and confined and that's wrong. If we need beings very like us to do this on, we should perhaps [turn to] the families of people who tragically have been brain-damaged and have no hope of recovery from persistent vegetative state who are totally beyond suffering because they are beyond consciousness."

Well, I guess we should just dump the Nuremberg Code in the shredder and tear up the rules regarding ethical human subjects of medical research. Singer rejects human exceptionalism and embraces personhood theory, and so the cognitively devasated are reduced to so many guinea pigs. And while we're at it, why not include unwanted infants in medical experimentation since they, like they too are not considered persons in Singer's view. This is precisely where rejecting the belief in human exceptionalism and universal human equal moral worth leads us.

An "ethical man" my left nostril.

Animal Rights Party to Elect Members to Dutch Parliament

Anti-humanity is on the march in the Netherlands. On one hand they permit the increasing killing of sick, disabled, and depressed human beings, but are on the verge of supporting the Animal Rights Party to the extent that these radicals will find representation in the Parliament. The goal of the ARP? A constitutional amendment guaranteeing animals to freedom from pain, fear and stress caused by humans. The party leader compared the movement to the cause to end human slavery.

Can you imagine the justified uproar if someone defended slavery based on Africans having the same moral worth an animals? But, in a sense, the animal liberationists are saying the same thing; that all humans are akin to animals. In other words, they deny a hierarchy of moral worth, meaning we are just another animal in the forest. And if that ever becomes our self-perception, that is precisely how we will act.

How Predictable: Richard Dawkins Supports Eugenics

Richard Dawkins, the proselytizer for atheistic materialism, apparently supports human breeding programs. This is what Dawkins wrote in "Eugenics May Not Be Bad" from the 11/19/06 edition of Scotland's Sunday Herald:

"IN the 1920s and 1930s, scientists from both the political left and right would not have found the idea of designer babies particularly dangerous--though of course they would not have used that phrase. Today, I suspect that the idea is too dangerous for comfortable discussion, and my conjecture is that Adolf Hitler is responsible for the change.

"Nobody wants to be caught agreeing with that monster, even in a single particular. The specter of Hitler has led some scientists to stray from 'ought' to 'is' and deny that breeding for human qualities is even possible. But if you can breed cattle for milk yield, horses for running speed, and dogs for herding skill, why on Earth should it be impossible to breed humans for mathematical, musical or athletic ability? Objections such as 'these are not one-dimensional abilities' apply equally to cows, horses and dogs and never stopped anybody in practice.

"I wonder whether, some 60 years after Hitler's death, we might at least venture to ask what the moral difference is between breeding for musical ability and forcing a child to take music lessons. Or why it is acceptable to train fast runners and high jumpers but not to breed them. I can think of some answers, and they are good ones, which would probably end up persuading me. But hasn't the time come when we should stop being frightened even to put the question?"


Dawkins never fails to unimpress. Hitler was not the problem with eugenics--he was the product of it. Indeed, the fundamental premise of eugenics holds that some human beings have greater value and worth than other human beings, based on their capacities or innate characteristics. Once eugenics consciousness is accepted, who matters and who matters less becomes a matter of raw political power. Moreover, once this pernicious idea is accepted, it becomes easy to justify exploiting and oppressing those now deemed unter menchen.

The antidote to such thinking is human exceptionalism and its corollary that each and every human being has equal moral worth simply and merely because they are human. Without this profound understanding--which is the philosophy of the United States--we will never achieve universal human rights. Just ask Nat Hentoff, the great civil libertarian and proud atheist who stands forthrightly for equal human moral worth.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Pleasantly Surprising News Out of the UK

Well, this is nice. A UK judge has refused to permit an unnamed patient diagnosed with persistent vegetative state to be dehydrated to death at the request of her family who believe it would be better for her to "die with dignity" than live with serious disabilities. Instead, he has ordered that she be administered a drug that usually aids sleep, but which has been found in one study to actually awaken seemingly unconscious patients. The woman's solicitor (equivalent to an American guardian ad litem), appointed to represent her interests in the litigation, was quoted as saying that he believed "no stone should remain unturned" in an effort to save her life. The judge also ruled that the attempt would be limited to three days and would stop if it appeared that the woman was unduly suffering.

These are hard and heartbreaking cases. But I am proud of the solicitor for treating his ward as the fully human and fully equal person that she is.

Here is a story in the Telegraph about Louis Viljoen, who was diagnosed as PVS and was awakened by the sleeping concoction (used in Ambien).

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire/ Your Nose is Longer Than a Telephone Wire

Regenerative Medicine: Pathways to Cure

This propaganda video, produced by the Alliance for Medical Research, is so filled with lies and junk biology that it has to be denigrated as anti-science. I intend to write about this at greater length, but among the whoppers foisted in viewers in this propaganda video, we learn that chimpanzees have been "cured" of Parkinson's using embryonic stem cells (I would have heard of this, if it had been published in a medical journal), that doctors "will be able to cure" quadriplegia and other diseases (not hope to be able to treat effectively), and that embryonic stem cells are better than adult stem cells because they are "less of a problem when it comes to immune rejection," (which would be hard since in most experimental adult stem cell research the patient's own adult stem cells are used in the treatment, meaning there is no immune rejection).

This is a shameless scandal that the media should be picking apart. They won't, of course, because the media isn't much interested in exposing when "their side" doesn't tell the truth. More importantly, the science community should come down on the Alliance for its outrageous hyping and deceptions. If people ever come to believe they can't trust "the scientists" to be straight with them, the enterprise of science will suffer the most.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

"It Can't Happen Here."

Perhaps the most dangerous sentence ever uttered.

UN Head Urges World to Regulate Biotechnology--Yadda, Yadda, Yadda

Excuse my cynicism, but UN Head Kofi Annan's urging that the international community regulate biotechnology seems like so much hot air to me. Of course, he is right: We should regulate biotechnology. But based on how the "international community" does business these days, how effective would such regulations be?

One problem is that there is utterly no consensus on what should be regulated, and even if there were, what would the international community do to dissenting states? Look at the cloning issue: By a 3-1 margin, the General Assembly called upon member states to outlaw all human cloning "inasmuch as they are incompatible with human dignity and the protection of human life." Well, that and six bits will buy you a cup of coffee. This was an important ethical declaration--albeit, like almost all UN actions, nonbinding--which gets us to the heart of the problem. Dissenting countries, like the UK and China, just shrugged their shoulders and kept on cloning.

And here is another problem with the kind of international regulation that Annan is calling for: It depends on consensus and thus becomes quickly shackled to the lowest common denominator. This point was brought home to me a few years ago when I was in Portugal debating euthanasia at a Fulbright Commission bioethics conference. At the farewell dinner, I got into a rather heated discussion with a UN technocrat who also spoke at the event (about cloning). He was very agitated with me, and accused me of not believing in "dialogue." I was taken aback. "How can you say that?" I asked. "I flew 6,000 miles to be here. I sat next to people with whom I profoundly disagree. I was cordial and collegial. I did not raise my voice. I engaged in no ad hominem. I backed up my assertions with evidence. Now it's up to the audience to decide whether they agree with me or not."

"But you do not believe in dialogue," he repeated testily. "You only care about what you believe."

That's when I got it: To the internationalist way of thinking, it isn't the actual policy that is important. Rather, it is maintaining consensus and comity. Thus my protagonist believed that I should have been willing to accommodate some euthanasia legality. In that way, supporters would have the satisfaction of knowing that euthanasia is available in at least a few circumstances, while opponents would have the satisfaction of knowing that legal restrictions limit the actual practice of euthanasia to some degree. Hence, a supposed end to conflict. The problem, of course, is that there would be legalized euthanasia. Moreover, once killing was explicitly sanctioned by international accord as an acceptable answer to the problem of human suffering, then the force of logic would quickly take the world down the slippery slope to an ever-widening permissiveness.

The same paradigm would operate in international biotechnology regulation. Because the world is divided about what is proper and what is not, the result would be to sanction some unethical biotechnology, cloning, for example, leading in slow motion to an eventual anything goes policy and the Brave New World.

So, by all means, let's do our best to create meaningful international regulations over biotechnology. But don't expect them to do any good until and unless the "world consensus" is willing to actually place some areas of research permanently off limits and to enforce these agreements with meaningful consequences if they are violated.

I have full confidence that we will do that--right after we save the poor people in Darfur.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Benefit of Doubt Increasingly Shifting Toward Death in UK

The Lord Chancellor has warned UK doctors that if they violate advance directives refusing treatment, they could go to jail. Now, I certainly believe it is important to respect a patient's desires in this regard; but jail? There are an awful lot of areas of ambiguity in these matters and the threat of jail certainly pushes decision making toward a decision for death.

Moreover, the sacrosanct nature of advance directives isn't a two way street. In the UK, if a patient wants to continue to receive life support, has stated so in an advance directive, and is either unconscious or unable to communicate further, no jail threats against doctors for "pulling the plug." Indeed, the Leslie Burke case gave doctors that very power. (We see the same paradigm at work here in the USA with the encroachment of Futile Care Theory on patient autonomy.)

So, in the UK, violate an advance directive causing a patient to live, and face jail. Violate an advance directive leading to a patient's death, and it is merely medical ethics.

Beware of Overseas Stem Cell Quackery

A New Zealand woman who went to China to get fetal tissue therapies for her ALS (motor neuron disease) has died. Allegedly, there was an early improvement and then she slipped back into the disease. This reminds me of the Korean umbilical cord blood patient who apparently got onto her feet after years of paralysis, only to see the treatment benefit short lived and then to suffer an infection upon a second therapy attempt.

For all of the hype about cures, it seems to me that much of this will be about alleviating symptoms. Which is a great thing. But we also have to be patient. Regenerative medicine needs to be worked through experimentally in animal studies and, when ready, controlled human experiments. Rushing into treatments before they have shown reasonable safety and efficacy could leave the patient worse off than before.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

MEDIA MATTERS Supports Infanticide?

I am not quite sure how and why I got embroiled in this hit by the left wing media watchdog group, Media Matters, against radio and television talk show host Glenn Beck. But I did, compelling me to respond.

Apparently Beck criticized Hillary Clinton for suggesting that the issue of national health care is back on the political table, and did so in the context of the Anglican Church's position supporting the withdrawing life-sustaining treatment from some prematurely born infants, which some media mistakenly reported as endorsing euthanasia. I didn't see the segment, but apparently Beck compared the Anglican Church's position to the killing of Baby Knauer, who I have called "the first victim of the Holocaust," since his infanticide opened the door to the murder of 250,000 disabled infants and adults in Germany during World War II.

This is how Media Matters put it: "Beck said the [Church of England] report was 'a very slippery slope' and compared it to the case of 'Baby Knauer,' a blind and physically deformed infant who Beck claimed 'was allowed to die' in Nazi Germany and whom Beck, echoing Discovery Institute senior fellow Wesley J. Smith, described as 'the first victim of the Holocaust.' Beck then juxtaposed Hitler's decision to create 'a panel of expert referees, which judged the infants and found out which ones were eligible for death'" (Where I am mentioned, Media Matters links this column I wrote for the Weekly Standard last March, criticizing Dutch plans to legalize eugenic infanticide.)

Where to begin? First, Baby Knauer wasn't "allowed to die," he was murdered at the request of his parents, who had petitioned Chancellor Hitler to permit their son to be killed by doctors. Hitler granted the request and had the murder personally supervised by one of his own physicians, Karl Brandt. (Brandt would later be hanged at Nuremberg, in part for his participation in the German euthanasia program.) Source: The Nazi Doctors by Robert Jay Lifton.

Second, the German infanticide pogrom did indeed, as Beck said, involve panels of so-called experts who sorted through the medical records of disabled infants deciding which ones deserved the "healing treatment" of being killed.

Third: The doctors who committed most of the infanticides were not doing so because of Nazi orders, but rather, because they enthusiastically accepted eugenics theory.

Finally, I would never compare Hillary Clinton's health care proposal and political views to anything that came out of Nazi Germany.

So, why involve me in MM's beef with Beck? No doubt it was to bring up the name of the dreaded Discovery Institute as a way of, (in the minds of Media Matter's editors), damning Beck. (We wear their scorn as a badge of honor!)

But talk about shallow thinking among the minions of Media Matters: Please read my original piece. In it, I differentiate the current Dutch plan for legalized infanticide from the Nazi pogrom of 1939-1945, but point out that the Dutch plan is no different in kind or degree from the murder of Baby Knauer--meaning that Media Matters: A. Agrees that it was right to murder Baby Knauer, and thus sees disabled infants as being part of a killable class. B. Is utterly ignorant of history, C. Didn't read my Weekly Standard column even though they linked it, or D. All of the above.

I choose D.

Say No to Infanticide Before It is Too Late

I have a column in the NRO today, warning that infanticide promotion is no longer limited to the Peter Singers of the world but is becoming an Establishment project. And that is very bad news for profoundly disabled and catastrophically ill babies.

Here is the heart of the piece: Arguments about infanticide as necessary to alleviate suffering, I opine, "are really a veneer for the real issues, which are money and commitment. Disabled infants are expensive to care for, particularly if they don't die young, and they require all sorts of attention. The nub of the issue isn't about our supposed inability to alleviate the suffering of infants--a false supposition--but rather, about our not wanting to spend the financial and emotional resources it would take to do so."

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, editor-in-chief of First Things, once said famously and accurately, "Thousands of ethicists and bioethicists, as they are called, professionally guide the unthinkable on its passage through the debatable on its way to becoming the justifiable until it is finally established as the unexceptional." We see that process unfolding right in front of our very noses in the infanticide controversy.

Adult Stem Cells Help Dogs With Muscular Dystrophy

Here's some more good news on the adult stem cell front: Dogs with muscular dystrophy were radically improved with injections of their own adult stem cells. From the story: "Sharon Hesterlee, vice president of translational research at the Muscular Dystrophy Association, called the result one of the most exciting she's seen in her eight years with the organization. Her group helped pay for the work."

Two points, actually three: 1) We continue to see the necessity of using animals in medical research, 2) Effective treatments in dogs don't necessarily mean the treatment will work in people, but it is sure a good sign, and finally a point I often make about stories such as this, 3) Can you imagine the headlines if dogs had dramatically improved motor skills due to embryonic stem cells? Instead, we get a small, inside-the-paper wire service report.

Still, the news blockade is beginning to leak!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Bioethics Think Tank Rejects Infanticide

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics, an independent United Kingdom bioethics think tank, has issued its recommended guidelines for the treatment of prematurely born infants. The very good news is that it rejected infanticide out of hand: "The Council has concluded that the active ending of life of newborn babies should not be allowed, no matter how serious their condition. The professional obligation of doctors is to preserve life where they can. If doctors were to be permitted actively to end the lives of seriously ill newborn babies, there is a risk that the relationship between parents and doctors would be negatively affected. It would also be very difficult to identify an upper age limit beyond which actively ending life would not be allowed." Bioethicists being bioethicists, I guess they couldn't just say it would be morally wrong.

The Council also suggested that infants born at 22 weeks gestation or earlier not be given intensive care unless as part of medical experiments. At age 23 weeks, it urges that no intensive care be given unless insisted upon by the parents and doctors agree. At 24 weeks and above, the provision of intensive care would be the norm.

I am not comfortable with such guidelines in that each patient should be evaluated and treated as an individual, not as part of a group. Of course, knowing the odds of survival at any given stage would be part of that agonizing decision making process. I also worry that futile care theory could seep into this process and that infants would be denied treatment because they would be disabled.

Still, it could have been worse.

Scientism on the March

So, a new think tank, with the eye-glazing name Center for Inquiry-Transnational, has been started to promote public policy based on "science," instead of religion. (Naturally, it got a big play in the Washington Post.) But this is nonsensical. Science is a method of obtaining and applying information. In that sense, it is amoral. It cannot tell us right from wrong, good from evil, or indeed, set policy priorities.

Scientism, however, can. Scientism is akin to religious belief in that it presumes that science is the only legitimate source of Truth. As such, it has its own views of right and wrong, and indeed, heresy and apostasy. (Just try to be a scientist with a heterodox view on issues such as cloning or global warming and you will feel like you are facing the Inquisition.)

What the Center for Inquiry-Transnational is really after is the supplanting of Judeo/Christian values as the primary basis of public policy with the utilitarian mindset of religious/philosophical scientism. This actually undermines science by co-opting the justifiable respect people have for the method and mutating it into a controversial ideology, which as part of its dogma, denies the intrinsic value of human life simply and merely because it is human.

Adult Stem Cell Successes Finally in the News

This is how I see it: Generally speaking, people want treatments for terrible diseases and injuries. They also are queasy about embryonic stem cell research and disapprove of cloning for any reason. But the yearning for cures trumps most people's ethical concerns about ESCR, so long as they believe that scientists are using "leftover" IVF embryos that "are going to be destroyed anyway." If they are told clearly that SCNT is cloning, they oppose it even for cures--which is why tens of millions in propaganda dollars is being spent annually to hide the ball that somatic cell nuclear transfer is indeed cloning--as was done with Amendment 2. Still, most folk would prefer that treatments and cures come from adult stem cells, and thus the shamans of scientism also downplay the potential for adult/umbilical cord blood stem cell therapies.

Big Biotech's political strategy requires a compliant media that will willingly parrot the party line. This permits the power of repetition to steadly seep the desired political message into the public's consciousnesses--even for those who don't follow the stem cell debate closely. So far, the American media has gone enthusiastically along.

The key to breaking this political pincer has been for adult/umbilical cord blood stem cells to advance so far that the media news blockade becomes untenable. There are early indications that this may be finally beginning to happen. In recent days, we have seen small stories on how scientists have spurred the growth of adult brain stem cells in mice offering hope for neurological diseases, how a patient's own adult stem cells might treat heart disease, how mouse bone marrow stem cells might help diabetes by morphing into insulin creating cells, and how stem cells found in amniotic fluid might help treat gestating fetuses with developmental defects.

This is just a trickle of what could be reported, and many of these articles are run overseas where ESCR is less controversial--pointing to the political nature of U.S. coverage. But, it's a start. Let's hope these ethical stem cell breakthroughs keep on coming to the point that even the New York Times will start reporting on the successes as a regular part of its news coverage.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

First Podcast Now Available

He talks! If you want to hear my first Brave New Bioethics podcast, hit this link. If you want to subscribe so that you receive them whenever they come out, simply hit this link and follow the instructions. Thank you for your interest in Secondhand Smoke and my views.

Can Seaweed Prevent Tumors Caused by Embryonic Stem Cells?

Science is reporting that one of the seemingly intractable problems facing ESCR has been the propensity of embryonic stem cells to cause tumors, may have been solved. Researchers in Australia believe they may have found a way to prevent tumor formation by encompassing the cells in seaweed extract, which animal studies seem to show prevents tumor formation.

If true, it is a remarkably imaginative approach. But that does not solve the moral problem. Tumorless embryonic stem cells remain ethically contentious since extracting them involves treating a nascent human organism like a crop to be sown and harvested. Moreover, there is good evidence that the "leftover IVF embryos that are going to be destroyed anyway," will not be the primary source of ES cells in the future. The real agenda of Big Biotech and its university business partners/ideological allies is human cloning--first to obtain cloned embryonic stem cells, and later, for the sophisticated development of cloned later-stage embryos and fetuses using artificial wombs.

Lest you think I am alarmist, Missouri's Amendment 2 permits embryos to be implanted, so long as the gestation does not enter the fetal stage of gestation (which begins at 8 weeks). New Jersey goes even further, permitting outright fetal farming up to and including the moment just prior to birth. Both of these measures could have easily prevented any implantation--but did not do so. Surely, this is not an accidental lapse.

Meanwhile, the federal fetal farming ban only prohibits implantation of embryos for research purposes in women or animal uteruses. That's fine. But, I have always believed the fetal farming would be primarily conducted in artificial wombs, since such contraptions would permit easy access to the growing embryo/fetus for experimentation. P.S. Artificial wombs should be available for human use within ten years.

Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cells Turned into Lung Tissue

Some researchers have suggested that umbilical cord blood stem cells might be as pluripotent as researchers theorize embryonic stem cells to be, that is, that they can be transformed into any kind of cell. Both theories remain unproven since it hasn't yet been done yet with any kind of stem cell. But here is some evidence of the versatility of UBC stem cells. They were morphed into lung tissue that already looks to be usable for drug testing and research, and someday, hopefully, for medical treatments. And remember, just a few weeks ago, UK scientists announced that UCB stem cells were used to create small sections of liver tissue, as well. That's real progress.

I credit President Bush for at least some of the focus and success we are seeing from non embyonic sources. Remember, back in 2001, political-scientists were saying the real action was embryonic. That did not prove to be true, and perhaps some of these wonderful advances were made because Bush kept the ethics of these matters forefront, allowing resources and energy to be invested that might otherwise have been diverted by the stampede to do ESCR.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act Passes House

At least this is an issue about which most of our leaders can agree: Stopping animal rights terrorism. All except Dennis Kucinich, that is. He apparently doesn't know the difference between peaceful protest and threats to kill, bombing, identity theft, vandalism, physical attack, and the other myriad forms of "free speech" in which animal liberation terrorists engage.

Now that tertiary targeting has been targeted--the bill will soon be law--the real work begins. This fight is ideological. People have to be convinced that there is a huge difference between promoting animal welfare and asserting animal rights. If that crucial job can be accomplished, the liberationists will lose their financial base and their cover of hiding behind animal welfare-type actions. Let the education begin.

"I Destroyed Myself," Destitute Organ Seller Laments

Organ sales also reduce human life to a commodity, a growing problem in several areas of society. And it has real consequences. This story explains vividly why it should be against the law. Poor Pakistanis were exploited for their organs and now live in ill health. Libertarians and others who see "the marketplace" as a splendid way to ease the organ shortage are among the "buying" class. For the destitute, the money goes fast and the health consequences last a lifetime.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Should Suicide by Self Starvation be Prevented?

I received a very nice letter from a reader of Secondhand Smoke that I thought I would share with y'all to see what you think: She wrote in part: "I am curious to know what your stance on self-starvation is, since someone recently accused you of being a "hypocrite" (I really disagree with that judgement) for believing that self-starvation is not suicide. Unfortunately, I'm having a little trouble navigating your blog to find articles that reflect your opinion. What would you recommend I read to have your opinion best represented in this matter?"

This is the relevant part of my response: "I don't recall ever discussing self-starvation. Unless the person means that I think people have a right to refuse tube feeding if they become incapacitated. My position is I don't support that morally, but I would not try to prevent it legally, assuming the person has put it in writing. In that case, the person would die of natural processes, not self starvation. If an elderly person stops eating as the body shuts down due to old age and the dying process, that too is natural and not self starvation, when he or she refuses to eat. If that person does not want a feeding tube, I would respect that desire since a feeding tube is surgery, and they are not refusing to eat due to mental illness.

"Self-starvation as a form of suicide would be different. It used to be done in Roman times. This is something of a first impression for me, but if a person is depressed and wishes to self starve to death, otherwise having the capacity to eat and drink, I think that that person's life should be saved just like we would if he or she were going to jump off a bridge. And I don't think that would require a feeding tube or that kind of surgery. It would require a legal finding that the person is beyond a reasonable doubt a threat to themselves. Under such conditions, the state can hospitalize the suicidal person for treatment. I see no reason why that would not also apply to self starvation suicide...

"I guess your friend thinks I am a hypocrite because I am not a vitalist, that is, I don't think that everything has to be done on every occasion, no matter how much suffering it causes, to keep people alive. I don't see it as hypocrisy, though. People have a right to personal autonomy, that is, the right to refuse unwanted medical interventions. For example, Pope JP II did not have everything done that could be done to extend his life, and I think he was a very ethical man." (And I should have added, that JP II certainly didn't commit suicide.)


The floor is open to anyone who wishes to comment. Thanks.

Media Confusion About Proposed Baby Euthanasia in the UK

The Sunday Times has a story about the Church of England supposedly endorsing infant euthanasia in the wake of the proposal to permit infanticide of severely disabled babies. As you can imagine, that caught my eye! But upon reading the story, it appears that the Church has ratified the right to withdraw life-sustaining treatment in some circumstances, which is a different matter altogether.

Thankfully, the Christian Medical Fellowship, part of the diverse coalition known as Care Not Killing that helped prevent the legalization of assisted suicide in the UK this year, was not confused. Dr. Peter Saunders, who I have met and who knows these issues cold, made the right point in The Guardian: "If it's an underlying condition that's causing the death and you're withholding the treatment because you believe that that treatment's burden far outweighs any benefit it can bring, then it might be quite appropriate."

Withholding life-sustaining treatment is not the same thing at all as active killing, a distinction that The Economist editorial writers understood when it unfortunately endorsed infanticide as a respectable issue worthy of being debated: "Withholding or withdrawing treatment is already legal in some situations--if the child will remain severely impaired, or is brain-dead or suffering unbearable pain, for example. Active euthanasia would allow doctors to go further by, for instance, using morphine to hasten the end of a brief, pain-filled life, if the parents agreed."

The Times needs to do better. As we have seen so many times in the embryonic stem cell/cloning controversy, it is crucial for the media to keep the terms and definitions straight when discussing ethically contentious issues. Proper moral analysis requires people to draw crucial distinctions. This cannot possibly be done without accurate and clear information, the providing of which is part of the essential role media play in democratic societies.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

INVESTOR'S BUSINESS DAILY Gets It

This editorial from Investor's Business Daily is right on the money. Tremeondous progress is being made in adult/umbilical cord blood stem cells (which is why it gets more private funding), all but ignored by the media in their obsession to defeat the "heartless right wing Bible thumpers." Good for IBD for seeing through the cloning obfuscation.

Will Saletan Nails it Again

The inestimable Will Saletan writes in Slate about the late election and biotechnology. One need not agree with everything he asserts to know that the following is not only brilliantly written, but it is unquestionably true:

"Meanwhile, the technology grows more complicated. Stem cells from leftover embryos are only the beginning. To cure people reliably, you have to move on to cloning. To avoid cloning, you have to devise alternatives, such as reprogramming adult cells so that any cell in your body could become an embryo. To eradicate diseases with today's technology, you'd have to screen embryos and flush the ones with bad genes. With tomorrow's technology, you'll be able to re-engineer them. Each of these advances saves life at the price of dissolving it. We're taking ourselves apart.

"We're so not ready for this. But we can't stop ourselves. So, we try to simplify the oncoming technologies, treating them like issues we already know..."

Saletan closes with: "So, hold on to your hats. A new kind of issue has arrived. It's moral, it's economic, and it's life and death. Biotechnology is here to stay, even if humanity, as we know it, isn't."

That's why he deserves, and I hope makes, the big bucks.

Human Adult Stem Cells Help Mice With Type 2 Diabetes

Yes, once more we find that adult stem cells have great therapeutic potential, this time with Type 2 diabetes. But, we must not let such stories distract us from the orders laid down by our great science lords: Must...give...embryonic...researchers...blank...funding...check. Must...give...embryonic...researchers...blank...funding...check. Must...give...embryonic...researchers...blank...funding...check. Must...give...embryonic...researchers.........

This is How Baby Killing Begins

Now, The Economist has editorialized that it is "brave" for UK doctors to want to open the door to infanticide for disabled babies. Why kill disabled babies, according to the magazine's editorial writers? "Take the case of Charlotte Wyatt, born at 26 weeks in 2003 with severe disabilities. Her doctors wanted to withhold treatment but her parents argued successfully that she should be kept alive. Now the parents have separated and Charlotte is up for adoption. Disabled children are nine times more likely than others to end up in the care of the state."

By all means, we mustn't require the state to care for the weakest and most vulnerable among us. But I wonder if the editorialists know the company they are keeping. Such attitudes are virtually identical to those expressed by Alfred Hocke and Karl Binding in their 1920 book Permission to Destroy Life Unworthy of Life, seen as crucial by historians of the Holocaust in creating the medical culture that led to Germany's murderous eugenic infanticide pogrom.

Never Again? I guess for some, it is, "Never say never." (I will be writing more on this story soon.)

Friday, November 10, 2006

"Biopolitical Times:" A Blog Worth Visiting

For those yearning for or worried about the emerging Brave New World, the Center for Genetics and Society, a left-leaning think tank that grapples with the ethical issues involving biotechnology, has a new blog. Check it out.

Belgian Euthanasia Cases: Going Up!

Belgium fits the typical pattern: Once euthanasia is legalized, the law tells the society it is not only legal, but right, and "use" increases. There are now 37 reported cases each month. And of course, all cases are not reported. Studies show this repeatedly. For example, in the Netherlands, about half of the euthanasia cases are not reported as required by law. Of course, nothing is ever done about it.

But, you ask, what about Oregon? As I have written, nobody really knows what is happening in Oregon since the reporting system depends entirely on self reporting by death doctors, who are about as likely to admit breaking the law as they are to tell the IRS they cheated on their taxes. Moreover, Oregon is being used as a political tool to try and seduce the rest of the country into accepting assisted suicide. And, it is mostly being carried out by doctors affiliated with or who assist Compassion and Choices in facilitating assisted suicides. Since any slippage as happens in Belgium and the Netherlands would redound to opponents' of assisted suicide benefit, the lid is kept on tight. Still, abuses have come to light, such as the Michael Freeland and Kate Cheney cases.

But mark my words, if assisted suicide is ever legalized here and widely accepted by the populace, the same fall off the moral cliff will happen here that has happened in the Netherlands and Belgium (where the very first euthanasia violated the so-called protective guidelines).

Be a Subscriber to "Brave New Bioethics"

My podcast, Brave New Bioethics, launches next week. I will link them here as they are released. But if you would like to subscribe and receive them via cyberspace as they come out, please do so by hitting this link and following the subscription instructions.

The price is right: It's free. Of course, that does bring to mind the old adage; you get what you pay for!

John Derbyshire Resorts to Straw Man Arguments Against Human Exceptionalism

John Derbyshire has responded in The Corner to my First Things blog entry chastising him for rejecting human exceptionalism along with his faith. He has every right to do so, of course. But he doesn't have the right to mischaracterize my arguments. He claims I grant humans a special place because we are "chosen and gifted by God." I never wrote any such thing--ever. My position is entirely secularly based. Read my piece and Derbyshire's disengenuous response and you will see that I am right.

Here are my core arguments in defense of human exceptionalism from the First Things entry, which, of course, were not intended to be complete: "What I think Derbyshire lost along with his faith is the realization that human beings are much more than the mere sum of our parts and functions. We, unlike any other species, have taken a bold step outside the Darwinian realm of genetic impulse, instinct, and reflex. We are moral and intellectual beings with the ability to create, civilize, project over time, and transcend.
...
"Recognizing our special status is essential, in my view, to the creation of a better world. Take, for example, our moral impulse to prevent cruelty to animals. This is certainly not genetically determined. Indeed, it seems to me that preventing cruelty to animals is distinctly un-evolutionary--in the purely materialistic sense of that term. Why should we even concern ourselves with what happens to other species so long as it does not harm us? Elephants care very much whether a lion tries to kill one of the herd's calves but are quite indifferent when the same lion rends the zebra. It takes a special and exceptional species to care enough about 'the other' that we will sometimes even protect them from human harm when it makes our own lives more difficult. (For example, California sea lions are protected in law despite the fact that they compete fiercely against us in exploiting the salmon fishery.)
...
"The idea that we are just part of nature and nothing to celebrate is gaining traction in these nihilistic times. But beyond the esoteric, there are practical reasons to reject Derbyshire's perspective. The way we act often depends on how we perceive ourselves. If we are nothing special, Jefferson's assertion that all men are created equal--by which he means we have equal moral worth--becomes essentially untenable. Indeed, if we are nothing special, we are thrust back into a purely materialistic Darwinian world of tooth and claw, where might makes right. And that opens the door to all the evils that have plagued human history. Indeed, understanding that there is such a thing as evil action proves we are special in the known universe. Thankfully, one need not have faith to understand that.
"

Not a word about God. Loss of faith should not also mean the loss of intellectual honesty.

Politicized Science Undermining Adult Stem Cell Research?

This is the second story I have seen in the last two weeks along these lines. Apparently, the political-scientists' intentional blurring of "stem cell research" with "embryonic stem cell research," is chilling the way forward in areas that are not ethically contentious. If these advocates were truly "pro science" they would pointedly avoid such confusion not intentionally sow it, and then such problems would not arise.

Stories like this reinforce my view that many ESCR/SCNT advocates are not "pro science," but rather, seek to alter fundamental cultural values. In other words, they are ideological advocates and the embryonic stem cell/cloning issue is about more than a simple dispute about the extent and terms of federal funding.

HT: Rebecca Taylor (again)

Amendment 2 Would Permit Later-Stage Embryo Farming

I received an e-mail from a reader of Secondhand Smoke, gently chastising me for assuming that the amendment would not permit reproductive cloning. Her actual fear is that A. 2 would permit fetal farming, as the New Jersey law does. As we shall see, she was wrong about the fetal farming, but right that the principle would allow gestation of cloned embryos beyond the time it could be maintained in a Petri dish:

I rechecked the language, and here is the pertinent section:

"'Clone or attempt to clone a human being' means to implant in a uterus or attempt to implant in a uterus anything other than the product of fertilization of an egg of a human female by a sperm of a human male for the purpose of initiating a pregnancy that could result in the creation of a human fetus, or the birth of a human being."

This wording would not permit fetal farming, but it would permit later-stage embryo farming since embryology textbooks state clearly that the fetal stage of human development begins at 8 weeks. Before that, the developing human is called an embryo.

This isn't just pipe smoking, either. Some scientists believe that embryonic germ cells, which come into being at 6 weeks, could be used without tumor foundation. Plus, if an artificial womb comes on line, which is expected within 10 years, that could only maintain the embryo for a month or two, under A. 2., it would be perfectly acceptable to implant a cloned embryo in the artificial environment for study, evaluation, and tissue harvesting. Since the authors of A. 2 could just as easily have refused to permit the cloned embryo to be maintained in any environment beyond 14 days, one must assume that this definition is purposeful and that they foresee conducting such experiments once the technology allows.

Thanks to my correspondent for focusing my attention on this important matter.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Wisdom of the Coming Womb Transplant

Doctors are preparing to implant a uterus into a woman in the hope that she can have children. But is this ethical and wise? Usually, organs are transplanted to save lives, which is worth the risk of dying in surgery and having to spend a lifetime taking immune-suppressing drugs. But this is an entirely elective procedure that is putting the patient's life at risk (and perhaps her baby's if she becomes pregnant), and may cause the woman great harm in coming years. Yes, she wants the chance to have natural children, and is willing to take the risk. But is that is all that is necessary to make a serious surgery ethical? Does patient mere desire trump a doctor's obligation to do no harm?

Repeal Amendment 2!

Is it possible that voters in Missouri will be given the opportunity to repeal Amendment 2? Perhaps so. Opponents of human cloning, now a Missouri state constitutional right, are apparently contemplating another vote to seek to repeal Amendment 2.

I think this is a legitimate approach. Amendment 2 was written to assure voters it outlawed the "cloning of a human being," when it actually legalized it. The authors did this by redefining cloning in a scientifically inaccurate manner. Moreover, I am convinced that the precipitous drop in support over the last two weeks of the campaign for Amendment 2 resulted from the message that the bill actually legalized cloning finally breaking through the news blockade in the wake of Michael J. Fox's deceptive ad against Senator Jim Talent.

An initiative that accurately described somatic cell nuclear transfer as cloning, and seeks to ban the procedure in humans, is worth pursuing. (This is not the same thing at all as banning any kind of stem cell research.) Indeed, I hope that approach can be taken up in other states. Perhaps then, we can have a true debate about human cloning based on accurate science and a clear analysis of the ethical issues that are involved.

Terri Schiavo's Brother Strikes Back

The Tampa Tribune continues to lash out at the family of Terri Schiavo, accusing the Schindlers in this editorial of engaging in "vitriol" and acting in a "caustic" manner for having had the temerity to try and save her life. In this letter to the editor, Bobby Schindler, Terri's brother, strikes back:

"Touch Of Sarcasm

I'm writing in response to your Nov. 2 editorial "Crist Did Speak Out On Schiavo, And His Restraint Was Welcome" (Our Opinion).

How foolish it was - I'm sorry, "vitriolic" - for my family to seek out those in government that could have possibly helped our efforts to bring Terri home in order to care for her. Clearly, my family was wrong to petition our government for redress of just grievances (other than the courts of "truth and justice," naturally), trying to protect my sister's rights as an innocent, disabled woman guilty of nothing more than becoming an inconvenience.

Perhaps then, so it doesn't appear that my family is continuing our "caustic" ways by helping others with disabilities similar to Terri, we should direct our energy to those truly deserving of our attention - defending all those serial killers, rapists and murderers on death row.

Undoubtedly, this most decent act of humanity by my family would receive your paper's ringing endorsement.

BOBBY SCHINDLER"

Sarcasm, like humor, is effective when there is an element of truth in it--and this is very effective sarcasm. If what happened to the Schindlers happened to your family--with the media distorting the facts and cheering the side that wanted your loved one dead all along the way--you'd be sarcastic, too.

Fetal Farming of Mouse Cell Experiment Potential Ignored

The Washington Post reporter, Robert Weiss, tries mightily to turn this story, about cells from infant mice being implanted into other mice and partially restoring sight, as an embryonic stem cell-boosting report. He even quotes the discredited Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology, who lied so egregiously about having created ES cell lines from single embryo cells that did not destroy embryos--meaning, I guess, that if you are on the "right" side of this debate, the media will trust you no matter how many times you have misled them.

But the real story here, is that the best way to get the particular immature cells in humans would not be through ES cells, which may never work, but rather, either from infants being killed in eugenic infanticide or fetal farming. I am not being alarmist. The mainstreaming of infanticide is growing, with a UK medical school actually calling for legalization. (I will be writing more on this soon.) I can hear the arguments now: If we are going to kill them anyway, why not get benefit from their tissues?

Secondly, New Jersey has explicitly legalized cloned fetal farming already--even before it can be done technologically.

Am I being paranoid? I think not. The arguments we hear today for transforming some humans into natural resources strongly support both suggestions above. Besides, you know the old saying, just because you are paranoid that doesn't mean they are not really after you.

Embryonic Stem Cell News and Inaccuracies

This story on Fox News, about the discussions at a stem cell conference is interesting--and typically, mostly inaccurate. First, the Japanese scientist who reverted skin cells to embryonic stem cells--a perfectly ethical procedure--also reported that they cause tumors in mice, just as do embryonic stem cells derived from embryos. Could it be that the immaturity of these cells, mixed with their potential pluripotency, means that they have an intrinsic propensity to cause tumors except in their "normal" environment, that is, in the developing embryo? And is this problem intractable? Only time will tell.

Robert Lanza apparently repeated his lie that he can take a single cell from an early embryo and transform it into an ES cell. It has been proven that he hasn't done that yet, and still the media treat him as a credible source. (See also this story in the Washington Post, in which a non embryonic stem cell advance is treated as a potential embryonic stem cell advance, about which I also posted.) This can only be because they desperately want him to be credible.

Finally, the discussion of the "embryo" that can't implant, is a botched description of the Altered Nuclear Transfer (ANT) procedure. But the point of ANT is not to make an embryo that can't implant, it is to create a cell system that is never an embryo in the first place. Indeed, Bill Hurlbut, my friend who is the primary proponent of ANT, does not and would not support the creation of such "disabled" embryos.

I never cease to be amazed at how bad most media reporting is about the stem cell debate.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Media Boosterism About Cloning Won't Be Enough: Taxpayers Will Have to Pony Up

The MO election is over, the cloners have won, and yet the in-the-tank Missouri media continues its boosterism and shilling. This giddy little story, from the St. Louis Post Dispatch, byline Rachel Melcer, is pure hype. It's Boom Time, folks! Why thanks to Amendment 2, private companies are now going to be pouring into MO ready to do research and pay taxes!

Oh, well, there is the one little problem: There won't be any commercial use for human cloning and the products derived therefrom for, maybe, decades--if ever. I mean, it hasn't really been done yet, at least not to the point they could get embryonic stem cells from the cloned embryos. And there is that nasty little egg dearth cloners all over the world are grousing about, making it hard for them to even begin concocting their nascent human creations. Moreover, by the time they do perfect the technology--if they ever can--ethical biotechnological research will have already reached the marketplace and filled many of the commercial and medical niches that are anticipated for cloned embryonic stem cells.

Oh yes, and then there is this: With so few private investors willing to pour the billions needed to pursue cloning research into private cloning companies, it won't be long before Missouri voters will be told they have to pay for it. Otherwise, how can the Show Me State compete with California, which is pouring $3 billion into human cloning and embryonic stem cell research? After all, why should a company pay to move to MO, when they can be paid to move to CA--and get better weather, besides?

In any event, now the cloners have to produce. But it won't be easy, and it will be very expensive. The only trouble is: When the crash comes, and I think it will, it won't be their money that is lost. It will be the taxpayers'.

Coming Soon: Podcast and Radio Commentary

As promised, my podcast--which will be called Brave New Bioethics--will soon be available here, and at the Discovery Institute Website. I have recorded the first episode and will post it when it has been fully engineered.

And here's a coming attraction: If all goes as expected, I will soon be presenting a weekly syndicated radio commentary called BioScience Views. More about that soon. Thanks all for your support of Secondhand Smoke.

Amendment 2: No Mandate!

Spending $30 million and still barely eking out a victory that was founded in pure deception; if the Amendment 2 forces thought opponents would just go away, they were mistaken. The political struggle continues to maintain ethics and morality in biotechnology.

The Wisdom of Leon Kass

I wish I had been able to attend this lecture at Princeton, presented by Leon Kass. I only have read the brief story about the talk in the Princtonian, which I linked above, but even that brief synopsis reveals the classic Kass wisdom. He warns against "turning medicine into messiah" and the need to ensure that the quest for scientific progress does not devolve from pursuing "full human flourishing" into a hatred of imperfection and outright persecution of those who don't meet eugenic requirements. And it is true: We see it in the weeding out of embryos and fetuses that are deemed "defective," in the advocacy for infanticide, for the depersonalization of the cognitively impaired.

I will try and get a copy of the lecture and post some excerpts. It is always best not to summarize Leon Kass, but to quote him.

Derek Humphry is Right: Assisted Suicide is Assisted Suicide

Derek Humphry is the co-founder with his late former wife Ann Wickett, of the Hemlock Society. Humphry is a suicide ideologue, author of the how-to-commit-suicide guide Final Exit, who is utterly indifferent that his book has been found next to the bodies of teenage suicide victims.

But Humphry is not mealy-mouthed. He doesn't try to hide his agenda behind mealy-mouthed euphemisms such as "death with dignity" or "aid in dying." In this regard, he had this letter published in today's Register Guard:

"As the author of four books on the right to choose to die, including "Final Exit," I find the vacillation by the Department of Human Services (Register-Guard, Oct. 23) on how to describe the lawful act of a physician helping a terminally ill person to die by handing them a lethal overdose, which they can choose to drink (or not), an affront to the English language.

"'Physician' means a licensed M.D.; 'assisted' means helping; and 'suicide'means deliberately ending life.

"The department's cop-out choice of the words "death with dignity" is wildly ambiguous and means anything you want. Let's stick to the English language and in this matter call a spade a spade.

DEREK HUMPHRY"

Indeed.

After Election: Where Do We Stand?

The election last night was not primarily about the issues dealt with here at Secondhand Smoke. But there will be an impact. Only time will tell what they are, but here are a few of my initial thoughts.

1. Human Cloning, the status quo will hold: The U.S. Senate will still not be able to pass a comprehensive cloning ban because of filibuster rights in the Senate. Some anti-cloning votes were lost last night in the election, but at least one was gained. Bernie Sanders, the socialist elected as an Independent in Vermont, for example, voted to ban all human cloning whilst in the House of Representatives. (This proves that these issues don't follow the usual Left/Right paradigm.) I don't know the positions of the other new senators. But I predict that the current impasse will continue, meaning no explicit cloning authorization, either. Even if the pro cloning side wins a vote to legally license research cloning, Bush will veto. So, I predict no federal action on cloning this session of Congress. Alas.

2. ESCR Federal Funding. The Congress will pass bills to overturn Bush's federal funding limitations. He will veto. Status quo will continue unless the pro ESCR forces find a way to get the bill into a veto proof format with other issues.

3. Assisted Suicide: No chance to pass a law outlawing the use of federally controlled substances in assisted suicide. But there wasn't much of one anyway due to filibuster potential in the U.S. Senate.

4. I think great strides can be made in the following areas:
-- Ban the purchase and sale of eggs for use in biotechnological research.
-- Promote better pain control.
-- Ease some of the restrictive rules governing hospice to explicitly permit tube-supplied food and water if that is what the patient desires.
-- Hold back the attempts to legalize assisted suicide in the states.
-- Prevent PVS from being redefined as "dead."
-- Hold the line against Futile Care Theory.

The struggle over the intrinsic value of human life could not be more important. We cannot afford to allow our disappointments to disable our will.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Amendment 2 Narrowly Passes

It was close, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, as they say. Amendment 2 passed with about 51% of the vote.

It's hard to fight against $30 million. But the no campaign proved that people do not like cloning for any purpose, which is why the proponents deceived voters into thinking they were not legalizing it with a yes vote. And, they worry about egg harvesting and the Brave New World that biotechnologists plan for us.

This fight over cloning is going to be long and hard. It does not end in Missouri. I believe that the hubris of the forces of unfettered research will eventually bring down their Brave New World agenda around their ears. But that might take awhile. People yearn to have serious illnesses ameliorated. The siren song of ESCR and research cloning hits a deep cord.

The question becomes, how far are people willing to permit biotechnologists to go in treating human life like a crop if they believe it will lead to CURES! CURES! CURES!I don't know the answer. And if ESCR disappoints, as I expect it will, how will they react when these same scientists urge that they be permitted to engage in fetal farming and/or the harvesting patients in PVS? These agendas are already being promoted in some quarters. Again, I don't know.

Still, the struggle is worth making, the intrinsic value of all human life is worth fighting for. The close election over Amendment 2, while disheartening, is not any reason to assume the game is over. In fact, it has only just begun.

Human Breeding Experiments Didn't Work

I love this story in the New York Times that traces the fate of children born from Nazi Germany's Lebensborn program, intended to breed a Master Race, and reports where they are today. Here's a brief background: Back when the old scientific consensus supported eugenics, there were two approaches taken to improve the human stock. The first was "positive" eugenics, by which the "fit" were encouraged to breed and multiply abundantly. At the same time, "negative eugenics," prevented the "unfit" from procreating at all. Negative eugenics led to 65,000 forced sterilizations in the USA, sanctioned by the U.S. Supreme Court in Buck v. Bell (1927), in which Oliver Wendell Holmes infamously wrote, "Three generations of idiots is enough."

The Times reports on the results of Germany's positive eugenics policy, in which Aryan-looking women were impregnated by Aryan-looking men (most often, SS officers), toward the end of creating a new Master Race. It turns out that these Lebenborn children ended up as good and decent people--but certainly no indications of their being uber menchen. Indeed, most are deeply ashamed of the circumstances surrounding their conceptions.

I bring this up both because it is an interesting story and because of the relevance of the history of eugenics to us today: First, the scientific consensus is often proved wrong. Second, and more importantly, great harm can be caused when science is transformed into quasi-religion and policies pursued as dogma. Third, we always go badly off the rails when we create hierarchies of human worth. Fourth, eugenics is back--with teeth--due to the potential of genetic engineering, making the consequences that flowed from its first incarnation well worth pondering.

It may be a cliche, but it remains true, nevertheless: We forget the lessons of history at our own peril. If eugenics thinking is allowed out of its cage, it will again lead to the kind of evil that results whenever we reject the principle that human life has equal moral value simply and merely because it is human.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Human/Cow Cloned Embryos Coming?

First UK scientists wanted to create human/rabbit cloned embryos. Now, UK scientists are applying to create mostly human/tiny bit cow cloned embryos, revealing vividly the current anything goes mindset that permeates the science/biotech sector. Rather than allowing society to work through the ethics of these issues, rather than help society do this by providing accurate, frank, and candid information, political-scientists obfuscate as their colleagues press the pedal to the metal in their experiments. At some point, their hubris will create a very bad backlash. When and if that happens, they will be the ones who acted "anti-science" by making it appear as if the science sector wants to dominate society rather than serve it.

By the way, for you Missouri voters, this is caused by the human egg dearth. Since these scientists can't get enough human cells, and since they admit it will take hundreds of eggs to produce one cloned embryonic stem cell line (if that few and if it can be done at all), realize that nothing in Amendment 2 would prevent researchers from trying the same thing in the Show Me State when and if MO scientists experience their own egg dearth.

Classic Case of Media Stem Cell Ignorance

So, I am watching CNN and it runs a segment on Missouri's Amendment 2 and embryonic stem cell research. Then, Bill Schneider, CNN's big political analyst comes on to say confidently that based on his discussions with people, second only to Iraq, the stem cell issue is most urgently on voters' minds--polling doesn't show this, by the way--and that it could impact the Missouri Senate race (although he wouldn't say which way).

Then, the beauty of live television and the unscripted question: The host asked, "Embryonic stem cell research is legal in Missouri, right?" Schneider got the flustered, deer in the headlight look of the "expert" who is suddenly exposed as not knowing what he is talking about. "I, I don't know," he stammered.

Hey, Bill, if you paid attention to all points of view in the debate rather than just the politically correct side, you would know that the answer is an emphatic yes! If one moment captured a larger media truth, that was it. Classic.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Forgetting the Lessons of History: The Push For Eugenic Infanticide Marches On

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecology is calling for society to permit eugenic infanticide. The problem, according to these "ethicists" is that some very disabled babies survive. We can't have that. "A very disabled child can mean a disabled family," the report urges. And this might prevent abortions (!!) because parents would be willing to see a difficult pregnancy through in the knowledge that if it doesn't turn out well, they always have the option of a post birth abortion.

Apparently a bioethics think tank is looking into the issue. Oh joy. Maybe they'll recommend that the babies be used in medical experiments and organ harvesting since they are going to be thrown out anyway.

Of course, the Dutch have leapt to support the idea. According to two studies in the Lancet, neonatologists and pediatricians already kill about 8% of all infants who die in the Netherlands,a sorry figure that another Lancet study shows that Flanders now equals.

Doctors and bioethicists are reviving the concept of life unworthy of life. Oh, they don't term it so crassly. But what we say isn't what counts: It is what we do. How fast people who should know better have forgotten the lessons of history.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Amendment 2: Under 50% in Private Poll

Robert Novak, the syndicated columnist, is also one of the best political reporters around. He is conservative, but calls them as he sees them. (For example, he predicts that the Republicans will lose their majority in the House of Representatives.)

Novak's current column sees trouble ahead for Amendment 2: "NO TO CLONING? The stem cell research amendment to the Missouri Constitution, which would protect government funding for a procedure used for human cloning, is slipping in private Republican polls and may fail. The surveys show that Amendment Two, backed by such establishment Republicans as Gov. Matt Blunt and former Sen. John Danforth, is now supported by 49 percent to 43 percent opposed. Generally, ballot propositions must poll above 50 percent to be approved Election Day. Polls taken in September reflected support for the amendment at 59 percent."

It is going to be close, but just maybe Amendment 2 will go down. If so, it will help tremendously in ongoing efforts to create proper ethical parameters around biotechnology.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Sooner or Later, Everyone Will be "Anti-Science"

This is growing wearisome;condemning those who may disagree with the science elite about certain policies as "anti-science." Now, Prime Minister Tony Blair is doing it. Disagree with his view on GM foods: Anti-science! I have nothing against GM foods in principle, but is it anti-science to worry about their effect on the environment? Oppose nuclear power plants: Anti-Science! But the issue here is safety. Surely, one can have doubts about nuclear power and not be anti-science. Ditto, human cloning, an ethical issue, and global warming, which deals with scientific interpretations and proper policy correctives.

But this is the thing: Eventually, everyone will be denigrated as anti-science because whether it is nano-tech, cloning, global warming, genetic engineering, the amount of taxpayer funding for research, etc., at some point, everyone will disagree with at least one of the science intelligentsia's political goals. And then, the epithet will lose whatever potency it may have.

Does James Stowers Have a Vested Interest in Passage of Amendment 2?

In radio interviews and my writing, I have decried the power of Stowers money in promoting Amendment 2. Billionaire and altruistic endower of the Stowers Institute, a medical research facility, James Stowers has personally paid for almost all the initiative campaign's $28 million dollar budget. "My joke has been: What do you get the billionaire who has everything? Why, his own state constitutional amendment."

When asked if Mr. Stowers is "in this" for the money, I have always said that I thought it to be an unfair charge. He's a billionaire and a philanthropist. How much more money does he need?

But now, it is being reported that Stowers-controlled private companies could benefit substantially from the passage of Amendment 2. This, is being reported on-line by Fox News:

"The Stowers Institute has also formed the BioMed Valley Partnership, which includes a for-profit arm, BioMed Valley Discoveries Inc., set up to 'patent, develop and market the discoveries of the Stowers Institute' and its partners to medical and pharmaceutical companies such as Merck or Pfizer. The BioMed Valley Partnership includes Kansas University and the University of Missouri-Kansas City, whose researchers cede their intellectual property rights to BioMed Valley Discoveries in exchange for large endowments. Although Stowers officials claim that the conglomerate's current business plan requires that profits be plowed back into Stowers Institute activities, this plan could be changed by its board of directors at any time. BioMed Valley Discoveries could go public at any time and possibly create billions of dollars in value, much of it generated by the tax dollars provided by Amendment 2 that would finance research at Stowers Institute. Stowers’ investment company could potentially be an early investor."

That's good reporting, and the voters have a right to know this information. (Where is the KC Star on this?) I still think the Stowers believe they are doing the right thing from an altruistic perspective. But it may also be that they hope to do well by doing good.

Thomas Sowell on Media Bias

Thomas Sowell makes several good points about media bias in this NRO column. His assertions, at least as to the issues we deal with here at Secondhand Smoke, are very well taken. I have concluded that media are like a high school clique. They often seem to decide the story first and then fit the facts to their perception. Once the story line is determined, facts that belie their take--even very important and pertinent facts--are often ignored or barely mentioned. Then, reporters who may come late to the story rely on the earlier reports and hence, regurgitate the skewed story line, until error often becomes perceived fact. As a consequence, a materially false impression is left for people who don't follow these matters closely. All they hear are mantras, to wit:

--Embryonic stem cells offer the "best hope" when the published science seems to rebut that claim. Look at the complete refusal to mention the artificial liver made from umbilical cord blood stem cells. That didn't fit the template, so it is ignored.

--Michael Schiavo was just Terri's "husband," strongly implying he had remained loyal to her throughout her disability, when, in fact, he had two children by another woman with whom he was engaged, meaning that he had abandoned the marriage.

--Jack Kevorkian is still referred to as the retired doctor who assisted "terminally ill" patients in suicide, even though from the very beginning of his reign of death, most of the people he helped kill were not terminally ill.

This is not good for media, because it alienates many customers who turn away out of distrust and disgust. (Not coincidentally, the circulation rates are dropping like stones at most major newspapers.) More importantly, the mass journalistic malpractice to which we are so often subjected is bad for democracy because it inhibits a free people from basing their decisions on complete and accurate data.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

As Expected, American Media Maintain News Blockade on Artificial Liver

Well, I won my bet with myself, although there was little chance I would lose: As expected, the American media has utterly ignored the story that UK scientists have transformed umbilical cord blood stem cells into "mini livers," not working livers, mind you, but liver tissue the size of a dime that can be used in drug testing and, hopefully, will one day be developed into a therapy for liver disease. Indian media reported it. So did Australian news. There was even a small report in Turkey.

Sadly, the research breakthrough just wasn't up to rigorous US media standards since the scientists didn't use the right kind of stem cells.

But they shouldn't lose hope! They still have time to receive American media acclaim. All they have to do is go back to the lab and do it again--only this time with mouse embryonic stem cells. Then, the New York Times is sure to put their pictures on the front page.

How Not to Run a Nationalized Health System

Charges are being leveled at the NHS in the UK for failing to properly care for men with prostate cancer. The issues are money, access to the proper multi-disciplinary health team, and who should pay for treatments.

I raise this issue because it is the kind of thing that will happen if we hearken to the siren song of many USA bioethicists, and formally ration health care. Rationing, in my view, is a polite word for medical discrimination against those who need health care most. Moreover, in a rationed system, disease groups would be fighting each other for pieces of the limited pie. Diseases with strong political advocacy groups behind them would do well, e.g., HIV, breast cancer, etc. Those without the political muscle would probably fare more poorly.

We do have to find ways to bring a much broader swath of people into the health care system in the USA. This is a matter of growing urgency. To avoid rationing, I think it will best be done with a mixed system of private insurance with public backup for catastrophic diseases, and a pool for the hard to insure. We need to permit nationwide underwriting to permit greater spreading of the risk.

What we definitely do not need is a system like the NHS in the UK. What a disaster.

Protect Poor Women: Vote Against Amendment 2

Amendment 2 Hurts Girls

An effective ad urging Missouri voters to "protect our daughters" from exploitation for their eggs by voting no to the human cloning legalizing Amendment 2.

Defending Human Exceptionalism Against Derbyshire's Loss of Faith

John Derbyshire, the NRO writer, had a very interesting article a few days ago describing his loss of Christian faith. I would not have commented upon this piece except for his attempt to tear down human exceptionalism along with his faith.

It is my strong belief that according human beings a special and unique status is essential to the betterment of the world. I explain why Derbyshire is wrong in this First Things blog entry.

PETA Kitten Killers to Go on Trial

The trial against Andrew Benjamin Cook and Adria Joy Hinkle People, both PETA employees, for killing dogs and cats they picked up at local animal shelters before dumping the bodies into trash dumpsters, will begin on November 13. I think this is an important case because it will show that PETA isn't just about inducing people to be nicer to animals. It seeks to end all human use of animals--including eventually as pets. Indeed, PETA picks up stray animals and euthanizes most of them--including apparently, clearly adoptable animals. (They do adopt some out.) Thus, it is not surprising that Cook and Hinkle were charged with killing kittens as well as ill or injured animals.

11/3/06 UPDATE: The case was continued unexpectedly on the judge's own motion until January. Apparently the judge worried that the case would slip into the Thanksgiving/Christmas holidays.

There They Go Again: Scientists and Engineers for America's Hack Political Advocacy

The SEA, which claims to be "pro science" but which is merely a garden variety special interest lobbying organization, has issued a list of questions its "members" should ask people to get them to vote for Democrat, er, I mean "pro science" candidates. (I put "members" in quotes because you can join merely by signing up for e-mail alerts.) What is a hoot is that the group, which decries supposed government dishonesty about scientific questions, isn't honest itself. For example:

Question 2 asks: "Do you support lifting the President's ban on the use of federal funding for embryonic stem cell research given appropriate ethical guidelines?" Of course, there is no "ban" on federal funding of ESCR. Indeed, last year the NIH gave about $50 million for human embryonic stem cell research and tens of millions more for animal studies.

Question 3: "Should emergency contraception as recommended by FDA scientific staff and advisory committees be available over the counter for all women of childbearing age?" Women, can already receive the contraception without a prescription. But underage girls, cannot. What the SEA deceptively obscures by using the term "women of childbearing age" is that they clearly support giving 11 or 12 year-old girls open access to Plan B, since girls that young can get pregnant. In any event, whether a girl should have access to Plan B is not a question that "science" can answer.

Most of the other questions are aimed at grabbing a blank federal check with which to pay scientists to conduct research--which is the true purpose of the SEA--or deal with political policy issues about which reasonable people can differ. Thus question 8 asks, "Should the United States ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and stop all work on new nuclear weapons?" Again, one can answer the question either way and not be anti science.

The SEA is a hack political action committee masking as a mere booster of promoting good science in government decision making. But by profoundly misleading people in the name of promoting science, it actually corrodes science while providing a vivid demonstration that science is devolving--or we might say, is being unintelligently designed--into a mere, money-grubbing special interest.

Einstein is rolling over in his grave.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Elephants See Themselves in the Mirror: So What?

This video supposedly depicts and elephant seeing himself in the mirror, particularly the parts where he appears to touch where a plus sign was painted on his head. I'll have to take the scientists' word for it that this is what is happening.

The next question becomes: Even if true, so what? We already know that elephants are highly intelligent and that they even mourn their dead. They are remarkable animals.

Some would say this means they are self aware and thus should be elevated to full personhood status, which would accord them what we now properly call human rights. I disagree. I think that self awareness, if true, might be pertinent in making animal welfare determinations about the proper care and handling of these wonderful animals. But they remain animals and seeing themselves in a mirror, even if true, should not elevate them to quasi-human status.

Michael J. Fox Deceptive Ads Wrapup

I know this is getting old, but I wrote a wrap up piece for the Center for Bioethics and Culture newsletter about the Fox ads. I think it is a pretty good summary. Check it out.

Big Biotech's Pitch for Corporate Welfare

Big Biotech Breakfast

There is more truth to this anti Amendment 2 commercial than its supporters would care to admit. Private investers are generally shunning cloning and ESCR. That is why Big Biotech and its business and ideological fellow travelers at major universities demand a blank check in federal and state funding--and denigrate anyone who disagrees as "anti science."

Missouri voters: Don't be fooled, don't be bought. Vote no on Amendment 2. You'll be glad you did.

(I agree with this message, but I think the image of the scientists zapping the monkey with electricity was gratuitous and unfair.)