Sunday, December 31, 2006

Making "Gay" Sheep "Straight:" The Coming Political Wars Over Genetic Engineering

This story about the fuss being raised over experiments to turn "gay" sheep "straight" is a preview of coming attractions of the bitter arguments that will be unleashed if parents gain the power to biotechnologically mold their progeny to suit their own desires or values. According to the story:"The technique being developed by American researchers adjusts the hormonal balance in the brains of homosexual rams so that they are more inclined to mate with ewes. It raises the prospect that pregnant women could one day be offered a treatment to reduce or eliminate the chance that their offspring will be homosexual. Experts say that, in theory, the 'straightening' procedure on humans could be as simple as a hormone supplement for mothers-to-be, worn on the skin like an anti-smoking nicotine patch.

"The research, at Oregon State University in the city of Corvallis and at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, has caused an outcry. Martina Navratilova, the lesbian tennis player who won Wimbledon nine times, and scientists and gay rights campaigners in Britain have called for the project to be abandoned...

"Michael Bailey, a neurology professor at Northwestern University near Chicago, said: 'Allowing parents to select their children's sexual orientation would further a parent's freedom to raise the sort of children they want to raise.'"

The professor's quote is chilling because it indicates the way in which the tide is flowing. The right to have a child is mutating into the right to have the child we want. Children are to be manufactured to suit our needs more than we are to love them and fulfill their needs.

And I wonder if Navratilova will be branded as "anti science" because she worries that biotechnology could be used to eradicate homosexuality from the human condition? Probably not since such dismissive epithets are generally reserved for those seen as defending "traditional values." However, maybe her more politically correct complaint will open the eyes of would-be new eugenicists and transhumanists to the ethical chaos threatened by hubristically presuming the right to "seize control of human evolution."

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Happy New Year!

I am not a believer in New Year's Resolutions. It seems to me that if something is worth doing, it should just be done: No announcements necessary. And indeed, if we don't have the will power, ability, or luck to accomplish the goal, having made a formal resolution won't have made it any more likely to be completed.

So, I have no resolutions to share with you. All I can say as we enter 2007 is that I intend to continue advocating on behalf of human exceptionalism and the intrinsic moral value of all human life. One of the most enjoyable aspects of this work is Secondhand Smoke. I find myself ever on the lookout for stories that I think will interest this community. I love our interplay of ideas and appreciate the respect for differences that I think we have achieved. And the brain power and depth of consideration you all bring to your comments! Sometimes, it takes my breath away.

The coming year should be "interesting" (as in the old curse, may you live in interesting times), and so I am sure we will have much to discuss and debate. But until then, please accept my best wishes to each and every one of you and yours for a joyful and safe New Year.

Friday, December 29, 2006

AP Gets It Wrong. Again

You would think that the MSM could at least get the simple facts about euthanasia correct. But no. In this AP piece, the wire service purports to summarize euthanasia laws around the world. And, true to type, it is mostly rubbish:

"NETHERLANDS--Euthanasia was legalized in 2001, but the practice was common for at least a decade before that. Under the law, patients must be terminally ill, in unbearable pain and two doctors must agree there is no prospect for recovery.

BELGIUM--Legalized euthanasia under similar conditions as the Netherlands in 2002.

SWITZERLAND--Allows passive assistance to terminally ill people who have expressed a wish to die."

The Netherlands has allowed euthanasia since 1973. It does not require that people asking for euthanasia be terminally ill, and it never has. Indeed, the Dutch Supreme Court has explicitly approved assisted suicide for people who are depressed, but not otherwise physically ill. Nor does Switzerland require that the lay groups assisting suicide restrict their activities to the dying. Belgium does, but it isn't enforced. Indeed, the very first euthanasia death was of a disabled man with MS--and of course, nothing was done about it. (For more on euthanasia/assisted suicide in these countries, see this piece I wrote for the NRO in 2003).

"Voters in Oregon went further and approved the first physician-assisted suicide law in the U.S. in 1994, but it is now under legal challenge."

Uh, no it isn't, and it hasn't been since the mid-1990s. The recent Supreme Court ruling did not involve a direct challenge to the law, and in any event, has been decided in Oregon's favor. There are no legal cases pending about Oregon assisted suicide.


More Evidence That Embryo/Fetal Farming May Be in Our Biotech Future

Researchers seeking to use cellular treatments to relieve hemophilia have centered on tissues taken from rudimentary spleens of late stage pig embryos. The experimenters used the spleen cells to treat mice, and it appears to have worked. But note that this is not an embryonic stem cell experiment, but rather, research that used cells taken from gestated embryos: "Tissues taken too early, when they are still fairly undifferentiated, may form tumors, while those taken too late can be identified as foreign, causing the host to reject them. ...[T]he scientists fixed the ideal time for spleen transplantation at 42 days. Hemophiliac mice with spleen tissue transplanted from pig embryos at this time experienced completely normal blood clotting within a month or two of implantation."

While pig tissues into humans are a potential treatment modality from this research, which would present no moral issues, pig embryos may not be the only nascent life forms considered for such usage. "Although a number of problems would need to be surmounted before researchers could begin to think of applying the technique to humans, the Institute team's experiment is 'proof of principle'--evidence that transplanted embryonic tissue, whether human or pig, could one day help the body to overcome genetic diseases."

I am convinced that ESCR is merely the launching pad for a far wider use of human tissues and cells in medical experiments and therapies than scientists are currently letting on. Once (and if) artificial wombs are perfected, the same bioethicists and scientists who now tell us that an embryo in a Petri dish is not human life if it is not intended for implantation and birth, will tell us that an embryo gestated in an artificial environment for 6 weeks that is not intended for birth is also not really human. Or, personhood theory can be used to justify human sowing and reaping. Indeed, it seems to me that in the name of CURES! CURES! CURES! we will ultimately find ways to justify anything.

Death Obsession of Euthanasia Activists

Derek Humphry, the suicide guru and founder of the aptly named Hemlock Society (now the euphemistically called Compassion and Choices), has a post on his blog that, I think, illustrates the death obsession of most euthanasia activists. Humphry got famous writing how-to-commit-suicide books and is fascinated with suicide machines. Now, reacting to news about an elderly man in India who apparently willed himself to die, Humphry seems to suggest that "self-willed death" be considered a form of euthanasia to prevent "a glorification of natural death." This would be a misnomer, since if the phenomenon is real, nobody "killed" anyone. Be that as it may, I find it remarkable how no story about death escapes the rapt attention of these folk.

Radio Lookback at 2006 in Bioethics

I was interviewed by Lifebeat, a radio program affiliated, I think, with Michigan Right to Life. It is a brief look back to 2006 in which we mainly discuss the pending release of Jack Kevorkian and the passage in Missouri of the human cloning Amendment 2. If you are of a mind, check it out.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

"Ethic of Immortality " Sapping Our Humanity?

The January 07 issue of Christianity Today (no link available) has a fine editorial warning against what it calls an "ethic of immortality" that has "warped our culture's perspective" and that of the church. It quotes Leon Kass--always a good idea--as warning that a "new moral sensibility has developed...Anything is permitted if it saves life, cures disease, prevents death." (My emphasis.)

Can anyone deny it? CT notes that the ethic of immortality causes Christian and non Christian alike to support destroying nascent human life in ESCR. But it could just as easily have pointed out that many of the same arguments made on behalf of ESCR would justify exploiting living fetuses for their parts, and indeed, that New Jersey has already legalized cloned fetal farming. Moreover, many of our leading bioethicists support harvesting cognitively devastated patients or experimenting upon them before they are dead, while a thriving organ market exists in China--for those with the money to pay and the willingness to overlook from where and whom that quickly obtained liver or kidney may have come. And many transhumanists are even willing to cast their humanity aside in their quest for a corporeal near-immortality.

CT warns that our terror of death is distorting our ethics and moral values. Like the drowning man willing to push the lifeguard under the water to take one more breath, we are becoming increasingly willing to exploit the weak to benefit the strong.

Christianity Today is oriented to Christian perspectives, but I think this paragraph, aimed explicitly at church members is also applicable to the wider community: "We disparage the elderly when we let our media focus exclusively on the young, when visitation to nursing homes is replaced with more exciting mercy activities, when we fuss over young visitors with children but offer only polite handshakes to elderly couples, when we avoid the sick and dying. If the church learned to care for those on their final journey (rather than leaving it to the clergy), it would do much to reshape our attitudes toward the use of technology at the end of life."

Do I hear an, "Amen?"

Optimistic Update on Robert Schindler's Condition

Bobby Schindler reports some good news about his father: Bob has fully stabilized and he is being transferred today from the hospital to a rehabilitation center. Bob experienced no cognitive deficiencies from his strokes, but does need to work on regaining full physicality. The doctors are optimistic that he will do well.

Bobby wants everyone to know how much it has meant that so many people have sent cards and e-mails wishing Bob the best. They have made a real difference and lifted Bob's spirits tremendously. "Our family really appreciates the support and prayers we have received," Bobby told me. "It has all been very touching."

Bob still has a tough row to hoe, so keep those cards and letters coming. You can write a note of support to:

Robert Schindler, c/o
The Terri Schiavo Foundation
5562 Central Ave. # 2
St. Petersburg. FL

Greenpeace Versus Science/Industrial Complex

Here's some interesting news: Greenpeace has come out forcefully against the growing Science/Industrial Complex in Germany (which, by the way, has a more "conservative" ESCR policy than the USA). It sued to prevent a German scientist from patenting a process for turning an embryonic stem cell into a nerve cell. The court ruled that anything made from human tissue cannot be patented.

The idea that big corporations should be able to "own" genes and patent human tissues is absurd--and in my view dangerous. But there are two schools of thought. Both are ably presented in this article.

The position against patents: "Greenpeace said that such patents aren't intended to help research, but only to help make research profitable. 'We believe there should be a clear separation between research and patenting products. And the court decision affirmed this.'...'When medical treatments can be patented, there is a chance that treatments will be delayed or will cost more,' said Otmar Kloiber, Chairman of the World Medical Association. He cited a case a few years ago when a breast cancer-suppressing gene was patented. 'As soon as the patent went through, the price for the treatment skyrocketed so that some insurance companies in the US were no longer able to cover the cost of treatment.'

The position in favor of patents: "Daniel Besser, a stem cell researcher at the Max Delbruck Center in Berlin, takes a different approach. 'It also costs a lot to develop this technology,' said Besser. 'Which branch of the industry can be expected to invest billions in their research and then make the information available for everyone to use for free?'"

This whole issue kicks in my Naderite reflexes. I am very uncomfortable with any corporation or private person "owning" a human body part. The process by which, say a gene can be isolated, yes. The gene itself, no.

This also points the way toward stopping human cloning. If they can't get patents, they won't try to clone human organisms. In this regard, I see another opportunity for a left/right strange bedfellow political coalition that might just be effective in preventing the worst abuses of the coming biotech century.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Voting Still Open in the Year End Poll

Hit this link and then vote for the likeliest bioethics outcome for 2007. Of the five choices, so far, 44% of you think "Futile Care Theory will be upheld by a court, which will rule that doctors should decide when the time has come to die." I am not that pessimistic. I actually think there is a fair chance to defeat futile care theory. I voted with 30% of you who believe "President Bush's ESCR funding policy will be overturned." And I agree with all of you that there is no way "The Netherlands will be condemned in the UN for legalizing infanticide." It should be, but "should" and six bits will buy you a cup of coffee. (Actually, today it is more like twelve bits, twenty-four bits at Starbuck's.)

Animal Rights to get Hot in 2007

Alas: This UPI analysis has it right, I think. Animal liberationists are likely to target biotechnology and research firms to force an end to the use of animals in research. That this would be disastrous to human health and welfare matters not a whit to these zealots.

Supposedly, the expected increase in "underground" activity will be a reaction to the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act's passage into law, which supposedly stifles free speech. It explicitly does not do this, of course, as I have demonstrated here at Secondhand Smoke.

And here's a disturbing quote from always fanatical Jerry Valsak that shows the way the current is flowing: "There`s [sic] a lot of people willing to die for the cause."

Thanks to THE WEEK

The Week has named my piece in the Daily Standard on Jack Kevorkian to the "Best Columns: The U.S." in the December 29 edition. It includes a nice summary of what I wrote. (No link available.) My thanks and appreciation to The Week for the compliment.

Brave New Bioethics Podcast: The Truth About Kevorkian

Jack Kevorkian will soon be out of jail, and the current edition of Brave New Bioethics explores the infamous career of "Dr. Death," including his desire to open euthanasia clinics, his disdain for people with disabilities, and his desire to engage in human vivisection.

Not mentioned, but worth mentioning is that Kevorkian's preying on depressed, disabled people--to the general applause of society--led the disability rights movement to engage the issue with full vigor. They were like the cavalry riding to the rescue, effectively preventing assisted suicide from metastasizing beyond the borders of Oregon.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Cloning Opponent Denied Tenure at MIT

Dr. James Shirley, an adult stem cell scientist, has lost his appeal and will be denied tenure at MIT. Shirley, who is African-American, is charging racism. I can't comment about that, or whether Shirley's academic credentials would warrant tenure. But I can't help suspecting that his vocal opposition to all human cloning played a major part. You see, to oppose research cloning is deemed among the scientific intelligentsia and the adherents to philosophical scientism, to be "anti science."

We often hear scientists castigating the Catholic Church because of its stifling of Galileo all those years ago. The media often cluck-clucks about the Bush Administration's supposed suppression of scientific opinion on issues such as global warming. But there is mostly only silence about the intimidation mounted against scientists with heterodox views, who are threatened with denial of tenure, forced to teach "punishment" Freshman classes after years of teaching post graduates, not permitted to write book chapters, denied access to publishing in prestigious journals (one of the charges against Shirley is that he did not publish in the best journals), and otherwise discriminated against and marginalized for voicing minority views. This stifling of academic freedom is truly egregious--and it may be the unstated reason behind Shirley's ousting.

NHS Approaches Medical Discrimination

There is word out of the UK that obese people and smokers may be denied "priority" care in the UK under potential new NHS standards. The idea, of course, is to induce people into more healthy lifestyles, which in turn, will collectively ease the cost of health care.

This is rationing and it is purely political. And because it is overtly and explicitly political, you can bet that people with unhealthy life styles that are not disdained by the media and ruling classes--such as promiscuous people who may get HIV or another STD--won't be similarly punished for by denial of "priority" care (nor should they).

This gets to the heart of the unjustness of these kinds of schemes. Such political correctness can lead to people dying for want of medically appropriate treatment and it has absolutely no place in medicine or health care policy.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Merry Christmas to All!

Secondhand Smoke and Smokette have put up the Christmas lights and trimmed the tree. We look forward to a time of refreshment and the hope of the season with family and friends.

For those of you who celebrate Christmas, please accept my most heartfelt best wishes for a blessed and merry holiday to you and yours. For those who do not celebrate Christmas, please accept my most heartfelt best wishes to you and yours. And whether we celebrate the "reason for the season" or not, at least we can all agree that Scrooge found the key to the secret of life:

"Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.

"He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us!

"And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!"

Huntingdon Life Sciences Listed on NYSE

Fifteen months after being intimidated by animal rights/liberation thugs into not listing the parent company of Huntingdon Life Sciences, the New York Stock Exchange-Arca has done the right thing, and listed the company, permitting it to raise capital. Why the sudden show of backbone? Perhaps it was passage of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act that permitted greater law enforcement efforts against "tertiary targeting." The National Association for Biomedical Research is justifiably pleased, stating in a press release, that it "salutes the NYSE for standing on their convictions and supporting a legitimate business that is vital to the American research community."

Liberationists call Huntingdon "puppy killers" and have vowed to put the company out of business. If the lab has engaged in unlawful activities--and it has been cleared in investigations--it should be prosecuted or sued. But terrorism in the name of liberation is without any justification. Liberationists have every right to seek to persuade us to not use animals in research, which would cause tremendous human harm, but they have no right to resort to criminality to force society into agreeing with their radical views.

Adult Brain Stem Cells Help Regenerate Damaged Brains in Mice

This experiment determined that "adult stem cells in a specific region of the mouse brain have a built-in mechanism that allows the cells to participate in the repair and remodeling of damaged tissue in the region...'The results were very surprising,' says [Chay T.] Kuo. 'Our results show that neural stem cells in mice have the ability to sense damage in their environment that leads to their subsequent proliferation to help restore local tissue integrity. If we can figure out how this happens, and determine that it occurs in human neural stem cells, we may be able to increase the effect and harness it for therapeutic use.'"

Intriguingly, this is similar to the experiment conducted on Dennis Turner several years ago, which appeared to spark a remission from Parkinson's. A pea sized section of Turner's brain was removed, and neural stem cells isolated. They were proliferated in culture and returned to Turner's brain. Turner subsequently enjoyed an almost complete alleviation of symptoms and was able to dramatically reduce his level of medication. The effect--if that is what it was since one experimental success does not a cure make--lasted almost 4 years, after which symptoms began to return.

This much we know: There is great hope that a robust regenerative medicine sector can be developed for the alleviation of human suffering without having to resort to unethical means such as human cloning.

And this too: It demonstrates how utterly indispensible it is that animals continue to be used in medical research.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Elephant Ruled to be "On Par" With Humans

An Indian court has granted damages to the owner of an elephant killed in an auto accident because the pachyderm was "on par" with a human because it could obey commands and do tricks, etc.

Well, then the owner had better be charged with slavery, because you can't own humans but you can elephants.

I am not saying the owner should not have been compensated for his loss, but this gets awfully close to the idea of "wrongful death." Sure, it's India. But it is also a denial of human exceptionalism.

Wanted: Women Willing to Risk Death So Human Cloners Can do Research

Brave New Britain is at it again. Cloning researchers have been given the right to ask women to donate eggs for use in biotechnological experiments. Before now, egg procurement for research had to be done in association with fertility or other medical treatments.

Thousands of eggs will surely be needed, for, as one of the researchers admitted, it will probably take hundreds of eggs to obtain one cloned embryonic stem cell line. Of course, that is what Hwang Wu-suk said. But it turned out he used more than 2,000 eggs and got zero cloned embryos.

The thing is, egg donation is an onerous procedure that requires super ovulation, in which high doses of hormones are injected to stimulate the ovaries to release 10-15 eggs in a cycle, instead of just one. This can be dangerous. Side effects can include death, sterility, infection, pain, and illness.

But hey: It's all for a good cause. What's a few sick or perhaps the occasional dead woman when it's for the good of science (and a Nobel Prize might be at stake)?

Terri Schiavo's Father is Seriously Ill

Robert Schindler, Terri Schiavo's father, has had a stroke and is in a hospital intensive care unit. He is conscious. At present, the doctors are trying to stabilize his condition. Once that is done, he will be transferred to a rehabilitation center. His family, always a class act, is at his side and are hopeful for Bob's full recovery.

It's been a very tough couple of years for the Schindler family. Regardless of where one stands on the Terri Schiavo case, the Schindlers--Bob, Mary, Bobby, and Suzanne Vitadamo--deserve our best wishes and, for those of a mind, prayers, toward Bob's complete recovery and the family's well being in this difficult time.

Cards can be sent to:

Robert Schindler, c/o
The Terri Schiavo Foundation
5562 Central Ave. # 2
St. Petersburg. FL

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Crichton Warns of "New Body Snatchers"

Best selling author Michael Crichton warned in last Friday's Wall Street Journal (no link available) that people's cells and body substances are no longer necessarily their own, once removed from the body. Scientists can use your cells and blood to conduct research upon, and if they are fortunate, develop into medical products that will make them billions. And you have no right, apparently, to stop them or to share in the wealth that were, in part, generated by your body parts.

But what about the terms of consent agreements? Apparently, courts often refuse to enforce limiting terms put in to protect patients. This matter arose most recently in a case out of Washington University in Missouri. Prostate cancer patients had agreed to allow their tissues to be used in research. But, Crichton writes, a court refused to enforce the limitations in the consent forms they signed! "The decision surprised many. As a recipient of federal funds, Washington University was required to follow the federal regulations on informed consent for tissues received from patients. This included acknowledging in writing that the tissues would be used only for prostate research, that patients had the right to withdraw from the study at any time, and to have their tissue samples destroyed upon request.

"However, Judge Limbaugh ruled that patients had no such rights. In his view, the right to withdraw merely meant the right not to contribute more tissues. The right to have the tissues destroyed meant only that the samples would be used anonymously. The guarantee that tissues would only be used for prostate research could be ignored, and WU was free to use the tissues for any purpose whatever."
So once again, words become meaningless as definitions are changed to suit desired ends.

Crichton's conclusion illustrates the growing power of the Science-Industrial Complex, in which universities are becoming almost despotic in their drive to make fortunes through biological research unfettered by societal-desired ethical constraints. He writes: "Research universities around the country greeted the ruling with unseemly enthusiasm, and hastily joined forces to prevent a successful legal appeal. Although the National Institutes of Health and other federal centers conduct research under the federal guidelines, universities now claim that these rules are impossibly onerous and impede research. Unless researchers are allowed to do whatever they want, they warn patients, the flow of life-saving miracles will dry up.

"...For universities, perhaps the most damaging outcome may be the loss of confidence that patients feel in major centers of research and healing. There was a time when physicians were ranked just below Supreme Court justices. Those days are long gone. Our university hospitals and major medical centers still command respect. But the perception that they are businesses like any other is growing stronger every day. Except, they're not--they're non-profits, exempt from most of the rules and disclosures that are required of American businesses. In short, caveat patiens, keep copies of everything you sign, bring a lawyer to every medical appointment, and always, always watch your back."

Meanwhile, these warnings are generally ignored by the cheer leader media and lost amidst the torch parades in which everyone yells, "CURES! CURES! CURES!"

American Public Health Association Goes Postmodern

Facts don't matter any more, only narratives. And now this deconstruction of reality is infecting biology and medicine.

I have previously described here and in my other writing about how the term human embryo has been redefined from a scientific understanding, meaning the human organism from day one through the eighth week, into a political one--meaning that "it" (whatever it is) only becomes an embryo after implantation. This was done, as pro cloner and ESCR Princeton biologist Lee Silver wrote on page 39 of Remaking Eden, with a specific purpose in mind:"I'll let you in on a secret. The term pre-embryo has been embraced wholeheartedly by IVF parishioners for reasons that are political, not scientific. The new term is used to provide the illusion that there is something profoundly different between what nonmedical biologists still call a six-day old embryo and what we and everyone else calls a sixteen-day-old embryo."

And it works. The media goes along and soon an embryo is no longer an embryo, meaning that it is no longer a human organism, meaning it isn't human life, meaning we can use it like a corn crop.

Now, the American Public Health Association has agreed to assisted suicide advocates' insistence to redefine the descriptive and accurate term "assisted suicide" into the euphemistic and politicized "aid in dying." LB-06-02 End-of-Life Choices--Urges health educators, policy-makers, journalists and health care providers to recognize that the choice of a mentally competent, terminally ill person to choose to self-administer medications to bring about a peaceful death is not 'suicide,' nor is the prescribing of such medication by a physician 'assisted suicide.' Urges terms such as 'aid in dying' or 'patient-directed dying' be used to describe such a choice."

This is pure politics, of course. It isn't medicine. And it isn't health.

We are entering a Salvatore Dali surreal world. Words mean nothing other than what we want them to at the moment, and this is changeable from moment to moment. Clocks run backwards. Up is down and east is west. The moon is made of blue cheese, if that serves our purposes. And the basic institutions of society are being steadily corrupted.

Take This End-of-Year Poll

Which of the following hypotheticals do you believe is most likely to happen in 2007?
President Bush's ESCR funding policy will be overturned.
California and/or Washington State will legalize assisted suicide.
Adult stem cell therapies will restore mobility to paralyzed people.
The Netherlands will be condemned in the UN for legalizing infanticide.
Futile Care Theory will be upheld by a court, which will rule that doctors should decide when the time has come to die.
Free polls from

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

"Cloning Benefits Oversold"

"Cloning research 'clearly upsets the general public' yet it has limited potential for treating disease and adds little to scientific understanding of human biology, according to Professor Austin Smith of the University of Cambridge...'Its prominence is out of proportion to the significance of what's being done, and there are real question marks about whether it has any utility at all."

Gee, really? I guess that is why this article in the London Times will never be published in the New York Times.

Transhumanism on the March

A report out of the UK envisions robots someday having rights. From the Financial Times: "'If we make conscious robots they would want to have rights and they probably should,' said Henrik Christensen, director of the Centre of Robotics and Intelligent Machines at the Georgia Institute of Technology...Robots and machines are now classed as inanimate objects without rights or duties but if artificial intelligence becomes ubiquitous, the report argues, there may be calls for humans' rights to be extended to them. It is also logical that such rights are meted out with citizens’ duties, including voting, paying tax and compulsory military service. Mr Christensen said: 'Would it be acceptable to kick a robotic dog even though we shouldn't kick a normal one? There will be people who can't distinguish that so we need to have ethical rules to make sure we as humans interact with robots in an ethical manner so we do not move our boundaries of what is acceptable.'...'If granted full rights, states will be obligated to provide full social benefits to them including income support, housing and possibly robo-healthcare to fix the machines over time,' it [the report] says."

First, it would be incredibly foolish to create "conscious" machines. (I sentence all would-be conscious machine makers to watch every episode of Battlestar Gallactica.)

Second, can a machine really be conscious? We could probably make machines that could learn. But even so, wouldn't they still just be following human programming? Besides, we don't even know what consciousness is in human beings yet.

Third, and most importantly, this is the kind of speculation that the transhumanists want us to pursue. Because if machines can have "human" rights, it means that there is nothing particularly exceptional about being human. It means we will have to earn our rights, along with machines, by possessing requisite capacities. And that means the end of universal human rights.

We are out of our minds to follow this course. And it is a very dangerous game. Remember what I have been saying lately: The most dangerous sentence in the history of the world may be, "It can't happen here."

Feed Me! 3--Missouri

Now that Amendment 2 has passed--which did not include public funding because that would have made it harder to win--we now get to the whipsawing. Business leaders are urging Missouri lawmakers to get with it and improve the atmosphere for Big Biotech. If MO doesn't, they warn, why all the business will go to Kansas. This, of course, means public funding of life science departments and perhaps grants to private companies. But one is like the other since the life science departments all have business deals with private concerns. This is what Neal Munro of the National Journal calls the "Scientific-Industrial complex."

In a related story, the Greater St. Louis Area Chamber of Commerce wants 25% of the state's tobacco settlement money put into life sciences. This will, no doubt, at least partly include human cloning.

Oh, those promises you heard during the campaign that A. 2 wasn't about public financing? If you really believed them, you really haven't been paying attention to what is going on.

Post Script: MO slashed its Medicaid funding so deeply last year that feeding tubes became "optional" services. Before the state gives taxpayer money to Big Biotech, shouldn't it at least restore the cuts that were made in Medicaid?

More Bias from the KANSAS CITY STAR

The bias in the reportage about human cloning and stem cells has been complained about so frequently to KC Star reporters and editors that there is no question they know precisely what they are doing when they publish scientifically inaccurate reports such as the this one, byline Kit Wager.

The story concerns a pending attempt to amend Amendment 2 by banning all human cloning in MO. It contains all of the junk biology and euphemisms that have come to mark the terribly biased reporting by the KC Star on this issue, to wit:

"Just six weeks after Missouri voters approved constitutional protection for medical research, two lawmakers plan to propose a ban on a cutting-edge method of creating early stem cells." Early stem cells is an euphemistic advocacy term for embryonic stem cells. It was coined by the Amendment 2 supporters to avoid having to deal with the reality that ESCR destroys human embryos. And of course, the KC Star immediately jumped to play along.

"The initiative narrowly approved by voters protects all stem cell research allowed by federal law. It will allow a technique that grows stem cells by cloning a patient’s cells to repair diseased or damaged tissue." Sigh. Cells are not cloned in SCNT, a new embryo is created asexually. No one objects to cloning cells, which is a different technique.

"But the amendment expressly prohibits any attempt to implant cloned cells into a woman’s uterus in an effort to create a cloned baby." You could implant "cloned cells" for the next 100,000 years and never have a baby. But if you implanted cloned embryos, you could.

"About five days after the zygote begins to divide, it forms a ball of cells known as a blastocyst, which includes a mass of stem cells, which have the potential to become any kind of tissue in the body. The ball of cells becomes an embryo if it attaches to the wall of the uterus." This is the myth of the "pre embryo." Embryology textbooks will tell you that biologically, there is no such thing, that an embryo is an embryo from the zygote stage onward.

Allow me to quote from Human Embryology and Teratology, embryology text book on this matter: "The term 'pre embryo' is not used here for the following reasons: (1) It is ill defined...; (2) It is inaccurate...(3) It is unjustified because the accepted meaning of the word embryo includes all of the first 8 weeks; (4) It is equivocal because it may convey the erroneous idea that a new human organism is formed at only some considerable time after fertilization; and (5) it was introduced in 1985 largely for public policy reasons [politics]."

Wager's story isn't journalism, it is advocacy. I am sure he will get a raise.

Health Care Rationing "Unraveling" in Oregon

One of my pet peeves about Oregon is that it rations health care to the poor in its Medicaid program. I believe that rationing is merely a polite term for discriminating against the people who need health care the most. Be that as it may, the way the program works is that a list of more than 700 treatments is listed with the number covered depending on available finances. Thus, if there are 740 possible treatments, one year the coverage might extend to the first 640.

In practice, this meant that politics become deeply enmeshed in the process (for example coverage of late stage AIDS but not some curative treatments for late stage cancers). And of course, assisted suicide was listed as palliative care and given such a low number that it would always be covered. This meant that a Medicaid patient who needed a double organ transplant a few years ago was not covered for the procedure, but if this had led to his wanting assisted suicide, it would have been paid for. (The man received private donations for the transplants, but died before he could have them.) Also, from the beginning the number of covered services has shrunk steadily.

This report claims that the great experiment in health care rationing is failing. From "the unraveling" in the abstract: "Only about 24,000 enrollees remain in the state's Medicaid-expansion program, and it has been closed to new enrollment since 2004. Oregon's uninsurance rate has climbed to 17 percent--virtually the same level that prevailed in Oregon before OHP began operation in 1994. Moreover, no state general funds are used to pay for OHP Standard (now financed entirely from provider taxes and beneficiary premiums), a staggering retreat for a state that had been a national leader in expanding coverage for the uninsured."

We are frequently told that the states are the test tubes for the nation. That was why the Feds permitted Medicaid to be rationed in Oregon. The abstract tries mightily to avoid this aspect of the failure, but this facet was a primary reason why the rationing plan was allowed in the first place. I hope we learn the lesson and find other ways than health care rationing to expand access to health care.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Beyond the Hype: Some Scientific Facts About Embryonic Stem Cells

Maureen Condic is a sterling scientist at the University of Utah, who advocates on behalf of ethical approaches to biotechnology. She bases her points in evidence and science, and in this piece in the current First Things, demolishes most of the perceived wisdom about the benefits of ESCR. It is a long article worth reading in full. Here is a preview of coming attractions in which Condic takes on the mantra "embryonic stem cells can become any cell in the body," and points out that so far, researchers have been able to obtain little therapeutic benefit from ES cells even in mice:

"The assertion that embryonic stem cells in the laboratory can be induced to form all the cells comprising the mature human body has been repeated so often that it seems incontrovertibly true. What is missing from this assertion remains the simple fact that there is essentially no scientific evidence supporting it. Experiments have shown that embryonic stem cells are able to participate in normal embryonic development, an observation that is also true of cancerous embryonal carcinoma cells. When injected into early mouse embryos, both embryonic stem cells and embryonal carcinoma cells randomly contribute to every tissue of the developing body.

"Even more dramatically, when embryonic stem cells are injected into mouse embryos under specific experimental circumstances (a procedure known as tetraploid complementation), they can be induced to form all the cells of the postnatal body. These experiments prove that embryonic stem cells (and embryonal carcinoma cells) remain capable of responding appropriately to the developmental signals that regulate tissue formation in the embryo, and from these results we can conclude that if embryonic stem cells were intended to provide cell replacement therapies for embryos, they would represent a very promising therapeutic approach. The problem, of course, is that embryos are not the intended targets of stem cell therapies, and there is little reason to believe that the capabilities of embryonic stem cells in an embryonic environment are relevant to their therapeutic potential for non-embryonic patients.
When cells derived from embryonic stem cells are transplanted into adult animals, their most common fate is to die. Indeed, most such transplanted tissue does not survive beyond a few weeks in an adult environment (the only exception is blood cells, where small numbers of cells survive long term in mature animals). The rapid death of transplanted embryonic stem cell-derived cells stands in striking contrast to the robust survival of bona fide adult cells when transplanted to adult tissue. Typically, even the most promising experiments involving the transplant of embryonic stem cell derivatives have reported modest positive effects that persist for only a few weeks. In the few cases where tiny fractions of the transplanted cells survive for months (rather than weeks), this straggling band of survivors typically provides no therapeutic benefit."

You won't see any of that reported in the New York Times, which is why alternative media is so important.

David Duke Writes Cover Article for NYT MAGAZINE

Former KKK leader David Duke published a cover story in Sunday's NYT Magazine, in which he suggested that the hyper rich have a moral duty to alleviate the worst poverty in the world by giving away up to one-third of their fortunes. Despite Duke's motive of seeking to alleviate poverty, observers were outraged. "I don't care how worthwhile the ideas expressed in this article were," declared Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. "Racists do not deserve the respect that is accorded by having such a prominent article published in the nation's leading newspaper." The Times issued a quick apology and blamed the decision to publish Duke on "a distortion in the editorial process."

Wait a minute. I got the names mixed up. It wasn't David Duke. It was Peter Singer. And even though Singer advocates the right of parents to kill infants who are disabled by such conditions as Down syndrome or hemophilia (and in fact, under personhood theory, any infant who did not serve the interests of the family), there were no outraged press releases from Senator Clinton or any other major public figure decrying the Times, nor, needless to say, was there any Times apology.

This brings up a disturbing dichotomy within the Liberal Establishment, of which, I think it is fair to say, the Times is a leading member. Does anyone think the Times would have published the very same article if it were authored by Duke? Of course not because Duke is considered (properly, in my view) a racist who is beyond the pale of respectability. Yet, here is an irony: As far as I know, Duke has never suggested that it would be okay to kill minority babies. But Singer has, the minority category being disability, which makes his advocacy at least as pernicious as Duke's--just aimed at different victims.

Here is another example of this paradox involving Singer: I once spoke at Princeton and decried America's premier university giving Singer a tenured chair. A faculty member spoke up and stated that Singer had sterling credentials and having someone like Singer on campus provided a diversity of views. I asked the professor if Nobel Prize winner William Shockley--who clearly had sterling credentials but who was also a racist--would ever be allowed to teach at Princeton. No, the professor admitted, which means I guess, that being racist is not an acceptable diverse view at Princeton, but advocating eugenic infanticide is.

Here is what I think: Liberalism used to be about protecting the equal worth of all human beings. No longer. The respect for and acceptance of Peter Singer by such Capital-E Establishment institutions as Princeton University and the New York Times offers disturbing evidence of this proposition.

It Looks Like Ukrainian Leaders Don't Want to Know the Truth About Infant Harvesting Scandal

This isn't good: Irina Bogomolova, the head investigator seeking to track down whether newborn infants were really killed and harvested for their stem cells and organs, was removed from the case after demanding that the investigation be expanded.

The Telegraph reported her as saying: "A trade in stem cells exists here... I suspect there is a lot of bribery going on, right up to highest levels. Pregnant women, especially from rural areas, are very vulnerable targets as they will obviously believe whatever the doctors tell them. It's easy to take their babies from them and tell them they died or were born dead due to complications."

Obviously this has many profound human rights implications. If the UN is capable, it needs to begin to gear up an inquiry. And while they are at it, why not investigate the issue of human organ selling worldwide, including whether China kills Falun Gong for their organs?

Never mind: That would require action and true concern for the intrinsic value of all human life and not just talk. What was I thinking?

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Slavery is Also an Affront to Human Exceptionalism

Slavery is evil because it treats human beings as if they were mere objects to be used for work, sex, or other purposes of the slave "holder." In doing so, the slave holder shatters the intrinsic human worth of both the slave and the "master," since treating humans this way is, in fact, anti human. Thus slavery is also a relevant concern for Secondhand Smoke. Apparently human trafficking is getting out of hand in the Ukraine (along, apparently, with everything else).

Take the Great Stem Cell Quiz

Take the stem cell quiz. Impress your friends! Embarrass those who think they are smarter than you! Readers of Secondhand Smoke will pass with flying colors. Readers of the MSM will have to go to stem cell remedial education classes. (One caveat: The test blurs the distinction between ESCR and SCNT when discussing the egg issue. Hit the teacher's knuckles with a ruler!)

(If the YouTube is slow, hit this link.)

HT James Kelly

Friday, December 15, 2006

Human Exceptionalism: The Issue That Won't Go Away

As readers of Secondhand Smoke know, I disagree with the mainstream bioethics movement, animal liberationists, the philosophical beliefs of Darwinist materialism, transhumanists, and deep ecologists, and disagree with them profoundly. But there is one thing that I think it is fair to say that we do agree upon: The moral issue of the 21st Century is going to be whether being human, in and of itself, is sufficient to convey significant moral value. They say no. I say yes. And the policies and beliefs about which we vociferously disagree flow from our differences about this fundamental question.

It is no surprise, then, that the issue of human exceptionalism is coming quickly to the fore of intellectual discourse. Ryan T. Anderson, a junior fellow at First Things and assistant director of the Program on Bioethics and Human Dignity at the Witherspoon Institute, is on the case. Writing over at the First Things blog, Anderson discusses the recent Peter Singer contretemps about permitting research on monkeys (which I have also written about), and eventually gets to the important question of human exceptionalism, on behalf of which he makes a rational argument, writing: "Human experience itself reveals that human beings differ from other animals, not only in degree, but in kind. Some people may root this experience in religious belief, but the point does not depend on divine revelation.

The ability to search for and deliberate about truth, to express conclusions in propositional language, and to act freely on the basis of reason: Human beings possess these rational, personal capacities in virtue of the type of animal they are. These capacities do not belong to spirits that inhabit animals, centers of consciousness that are somehow associated with material bodies, nor 'ghosts in machines.' Rather, they belong to the human person--a rational, bodily, animal organism. And the basic human capacity for personal life--a capacity we possess from the moment we come into existence until the moment we pass away--provides the basis for our intrinsic dignity and profound worth. It's also what sets us apart from other animals."

Ryan also notes the disaster that would follow from society hearkening to Peter Singer's utilitarian siren song: "Singer's failure to recognize this common experience of the human difference--combined with his utilitarian mode of moral reasoning--means, finally, that he cannot defend the idea of human rights."

I am convinced that the future morality of society rests squarely on this issue. Thanks to Ryan T. Anderson for weighing in on this most important subject.

"Peaceful Pill" Suicide Pill Making Party

This is an article from Exit International's news letter, a very pro euthanasia group from Down Under. It describes the making of the so-called "peaceful pill" suicide concoction.

For those who don't know: Philip Nitschke was in charge of this little project. He was paid thousands of dollars by the Hemlock Society (now merged into the new organization Compassion and Choices) to research on and develop the suicide concoction.

Nitschke has advocated making the peaceful pill available to troubled teens and in supermarkets. Some assisted suicide promoters will claim that Nitschke is on the fringe. Baloney. He is a big star in the international euthanasia movement, and indeed, was a major presenter at the recent bi-annual Convention of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies in Toronto.

There are two major strains of assisted suicide advocacy, although they often merge and blend. There are the ultra sophisticated types (Barbara Coombs Lee, head of Compassion and Choices), who speak in soothing tones of compassion and promote a "medical model" in which doctors would be allowed to assist suicides or euthanize patients, and pretend it will be limited to the already dying. Then there are those interested in hyper control (Derek Humphry, Nitchke), who are fascinated by suicide machines and concoctions, and more candidly espouse a more widely accessible "death with dignity." But remember, these apparently different approaches are just the right and left arms of the same movement.

As a side note: I was once approached by a very nice lady who was in the Hemlock Society. She knew of my work and asked, "Mr. Smith, how do you envision your death?"

I responded: "I don't know ma'am. I'm still trying to envision my life."

Biotech/Bioethics Potpourri

Here are few stories I saw today that are worth noticing.

1. Canadian scientists have cured mice with Type 1 diabetes using a substance that counteracted malfunctioning pain neurons in the pancreas. This is the second experiment in recent years that cured mice with juvenile diabetes, and both are ready for human trials. The first experiment, by Denise Faustman at Harvard, used a similar substance and adult stem cells. Perhaps that is why she is having a tough time getting the money for human trials. The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) has, so far, has refused to fund it, even though it put $1 million into the passage of Proposition 71, which creates a state right to clone in California. This second experiment also has nothing to do with embryonic stem cell research, so we will see how much support its researchers receive. Also, Canada bans all human cloning, yet lo and behold, there is good biotechnological research going on.

2. Cloned cat has kittens: The first cloned cat has had naturally conceived kittens. So did Dolly and have other cloned animals. The point is that SCNT is a form of mammalian reproduction--asexual reproduction--in which the cloned mammal begins life, just as in sexual reproduction, as a one cell zygote. This is true of humans too, even though the junk biology purveying political-scientists pretend that it doesn't.

3. The UN has agreed to a treaty to protect the disabled: Among its provisions, is Article 25 (f) that is intended to "prevent discriminatory denial of health care or health services or food and fluids on the basis of disability." Hmmm. Sounds like a shot across the bow against Futile Care Theory, and seems a lot like the Nebraska Humane Care Amendment. I am going to look into this further and perhaps write about its provisions and import at some length.

This much is sure: The issues we deal with here at Secondhand Smoke are going to continually grow in importance and controversy in the coming year.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Ghoulish Truth About Jack Kevokian

The news reports about Jack Kevorkian's "career" as an assisted suicide faclitator, what he would call an "obitiatrist," are so sanitized or inaccurate that I had to respond. Here it is, at the Daily Standard.

The media reports, beyond being inaccurate, overlook the profound sickness of Kevorkian and the terrible things he did--and advocated. He was not a compassionate man who only wanted to help the terminally ill when nothing else could be done to alleviate suffering. In many ways he was a monster. Read "Doctor Death Gets Out of Jail," and you will see why I would make such a strong statement.

Sometimes, Activism Works

Regarding the AP's erroneous reporting of Jack Kevorkian assisting the "terminally ill," in yesterday's report about K's pending parole. Stephen Drake of Not Dead Yet was on the case and seems to have gotten the AP to change the story.

"I just peeked at your article for the Weekly Standard.I made calls yesterday about the use of 'terminally ill in the AP article. The first call was to the Michigan AP office. The news staffer said they'd already been talking about the inaccurate term in the article and that it wasn't in the article sent out--it was inserted by the National Desk. He promised to call the national desk...

"My next call was to the national AP desk. I identified myself and repeated the complaint and told me what the Michigan office told me. I mentioned that this misinformation would 'spread like a cancer.' It appears to have been taken seriously--perhaps because the AP now has an official statement of standards.[Most of] the old articles are *gone*. They've vanished. They've been replaced with articles that have language that is more neutral. If you wonder why that happened, it's because of the calls I made yesterday."

Way to go, Stephen. Sometimes activism works.

They Are Everywhere--Stem Cells, That Is

Now found in hair follicles. Positive early tests in mice for the potential treatment of spinal cord injury. Amazing.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Kevorkian to be Paroled in June: Media Gets K History Wrong (As Usual)

The murderer Jack Kevorkian is going to be paroled in June. He promises not to assist any more suicides. But that doesn't mean he won't be lionized in the press. The media love outlaws of a certain kind. I am sure Barbara Walters, Oprah, and Katie Couric will be tripping over each other to get the first interview.

Also note that once again, the media get it wrong. Kevorkian is described in this AP report, byline Kathy Barks Hoffman, as America's most vocal "advocate of assisted suicide for the terminally ill." Kevorkian never wanted to restrict assisted suicide to the terminally ill. Not only were more than 70 percent of his assisted suicide cases not terminally ill, but five weren't even sick upon autopsy. Moreover, he argued that the disabled and perhaps even the depressed should have access to assisted suicide. (Most papers are carrying the AP report. However, the Detroit Free Press got his history basically right.)

But don't expect Oprah, Katie, Barbara, or the AP to worry about such trivialities. Nor that Kevorkian saw assisted suicide, as described in his book Prescription Medicide, as a means to gain access to conducting medical experiments on people being euthanized. The truth gets in the way of the "compassion" narrative the media love. And so we will be treated to story after story of the myth of Jack the Compassionate, instead of the truth of Jack the Ghoul.

Another Media Failure to Get Basic Terms Right

The Italian Supreme Court is going to hear a case about whether a patient should have the right to refuse unwanted life-sustaining medical treatment (a matter already settled in the United States). This isn't euthanasia, as currently understood, which involves the active mercy killing of patients. Yet, several news outlets described the Italian case as being about euthanasia. This can only sow confusion.

Proper ethical analysis requires a clear understanding of the issues involved, which in turn, requires the proper use of language and accurate definitions. Yet, whether it is about issues involving end of life concerns, cloning, embryonic stem cell research, or other such issues, the media repeatedly and blatantly fail society in fulfilling this important, yet basic, task.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

UK Science Report Supports Research on Monkeys

This took courage: With rabid animal rights activists in the UK having gone so far as to threaten to assassinate animal researchers, this study issuing a clarion call to encourage proper, humane, and rigorously regulated scientific and medical research with primates is most welcome. Tremendous amounts of human suffering can be, and has been, eliminated due to animal research. To denigrate it as mere "vivisection" is a tremendous disservice to the researchers who are seeking to alleviate human suffering, and to science.

New Podcast: Comparing Peter Singer's Infanticide Views with a Father's Love

The newest edition of my podcast Brave New Bioethics is now up. Using my earlier First Thing blog entry as my script, I compare the love of a father whose son has Down syndrome with the infanticide permissiveness of bioethicist Peter Singer.

Regarding Matthew Scully's DOMINION

I received this request from a reader: "Dear Wes: I'm interested in your take on Dominion--a thoughtful book on the nature of our relationship with animals. I am reading it presently and find that he strikes a good balance so far- his view may be the elixir for those of us who oppose cruel and unusual industrial type 'farms', but hardly consider an animal pup to be equal to our human children. I do see the intrinsic value in giving all living creatures their "due", without crossing over into siding with animal rights extremists. Do you have any comments? Feel free to use my email as a lead-in to your larger audience blog."

Fair enough: I gave Dominion a mixed review in the Weekly Standard. I think the book--while excellently written--is unduly emotional, does not sufficiently consider the human benefit aspect of the animal welfare approach, and unduly demonizes elephant hunters--whose culling license fees pay the bulk of expenses associated with maintaining the African wild animal parks. However, he does a very good take down of Peter Singer. Here are a few excerpts from that review, the full text of which can be accessed here: "Once we've rejected Singer-style animal liberation as the antihuman nihilism it is, however, we still need a principled rationale to guide our commitment to the humane treatment of animals. Dominion demands from us greater mercy and kindness toward animals--and who could disagree? But the book does little to strengthen the intellectual case for those who want to ease the burden on animals without surrendering to the disaster of animal rights. Indeed, Scully states explicitly, 'You will find no theories in this book.'
"Dominion should have been the text that taught us how to practice kindness without falling into the trap of Peter Singer. Unfortunately, Dominion fails at that task, mostly because Scully will not temper his emotional fervor long enough to explore the good humans receive from animals or the consequences that would befall us if we ceased to benefit from them. Animal suffering is crucial to a proper analysis, but so is human welfare.
Matthew Scully is clearly an intelligent man whose big heart has found a just and noble cause. He is a powerful and sometimes even inspired writer, and his devotion to his subject is so great that he left his job at the White House to promote the message of the book. But Dominion is unlikely to motivate many readers who are not already committed to Scully's position. Unfortunately, he is unable or unwilling to bring his intelligence and his heart together. In the end, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy does little to help us embrace our duty to animals while keeping Peter Singerism at arm's length."

Post Script: Scully's book had a greater impact than I thought it would back in 2002 when my review was written, but I think my criticism remains apt. While calling attention in a very emotional way to the abuse of animals--which is why so much of the animal liberation movement embraces the book even though he takes a welfarist approach--in the end, Scully offered little to help us decide how to go about crafting a proper balance. Being emotionally committed is not enough. We also have to have principles that we can apply to help us decide the proper ethical course. And that takes "theories," the precise thing that Scully admits he does not offer.

Haleigh Poutre Update

The blood family of child abuse victim Haleigh Poutre wants justice for the near dehydration of Haleigh--who doctors said was in a PVS, but who can apparently now talk. There are complications about the family that I don't want to get into, e.g., the mother lost her parental rights after which Haleigh was adopted to the family who almost killed her. But it is a matter of crucial public concern to learn why an abused little girl came within a hair's breadth of being dehydrated to death. Protecting her "privacy" should not be a way of covering up a near egregious human rights abuse.

Transhumanism on the Air

I was interviewed for an hour by Derek Gilbert yesterday on KSSZ about transhumanism, post humanity, and genetic enhancement of our progeny. We discuss transhumanism as religion, its obsession with control, and its threat to human exceptionalism. I quote James Hughes' assertion from Citizen Cyborg that creating an ape/human hybrid would prove that human exceptionalism is bunk, or as he puts it, would disprove "human racism." We also discuss transhumanism as a "new eugenics" and get into the history of the old eugenics. If you are interested, check it out.

Killing Babies for Stem Cells?

The BBC has a very disturbing report that newborn infants may be being killed in the Ukraine to harvest their stem cells. This follows hard on the heels of another story that women in the Ukraine are paid $200 to get pregnant for purposes of aborting at 8 weeks gestation to harvest stem cells--for beauty treatments, no less.

These stories fall fast on the heels of people going to China to buy organs for transplant that were probably taken from executed prisoners, and perhaps, Falun Gong religionists. And there are the stories of destitute Pakistanis and Turks selling one of their kidneys.

This commoditization of human life is pernicious, may be growing, and is of crucial concern in many fields. Cloners need human eggs for each cloning attempt. If human cloning ever took off, it would require tens of millions of eggs, and the worry is that poor women will become so many egg farms. I am convinced that cloning will research will eventually lead to fetal farming--which if personhood theory is accepted, would be perfectly permissible. Meanwhile, bioethicists and biotechnologists urge that we harvest people in PVS and use them in radical human experimentation.

When we lose sight of the need to promote human exceptionalism and its corollary, the intrinsic value of human life, these are the territories we enter.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Hospice Backs Off From Operating Funeral Home

What were the operators of Hope Hospice of Southwest Florida thinking? A few weeks ago, they applied for a license to operate a funeral home. This was wrong on so many levels. But, at least for now, the attempt to combine end-of-life care with post life funeral arrangements is off.

Special kudos to Ron Panzer of the Hospice Patients Alliance and all of the other good folk who fought this bone-headed idea. Hope Hospice should leave its hope for a funeral home dead and buried.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

"The Human Difference"

Does it matter morally that a "being" is human? And what does it mean exactly, to be human? The jihad aside, these may be the most important questions facing us in the 21st Century. Which is why we spend so much time here at Secondhand Smoke discussing the question of human exceptionalism, the intrinsic value--or lack thereof--of human life, and the policies that flow from the answers we give to these fundamental questions.

My friend Eric Cohen of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC) weighed in about this in a fine essay in the December 2006 Commentary called "The Human Difference." Space does not permit a full description of the essay. But here are a few key points.

Cohen notes that "modern biology" has "left us bewildered" about how to think through "man's standing among the animals." Further, he writes: " theoreticians, modern biologists aim [my emphasis] to convince us that man is just another animal; as practitioners, they conduct ruthless experiments on other animals for the sake of improving human life. Modern sociobiologists declare human pride to be chauvinistic, yet modern biotechnology progresses only through such unapologetic human chauvinism. The scientists' pride in his biological discoveries is humbled only by his belief that pride and shame and everything else are just Darwinian survival mechanisms repackaged in human form."

Cohen makes a good point when he writes, "Evolution may explain the mechanisms of man's descent, but not the mystery of his ascent, including the wonder he exhibits about the origins and destiny of the cosmos--a wonder that serves no useful animal function. A theory of man's origins is not yet a theory of man..."

He describes (citing the work of Hans Jonas) some of the attributes of humans that are unique among all known species in the universe, including our ability to choose when it comes to sex: "In this most animal realm, humans reveal how high above the other animals they stand and how far below them they often fall; they reveal their unique dignity, and their unique capacity for self degradation."

He concludes: "But, as we have seen, our science was also born of two radicalisms-- the Darwinian reduction of man to the beasts and the Cartesian elevation of man into a god--that occasionally unite [as now] to threaten our human dignity...For it is not just the callous destruction of near-human life that should concern us in an age of hybrids and chimeras. It is also the self-degradation of man, who would lie down with the beasts in his quest to remake nature like a god."

These People Belong in Jail

Animal liberationists in the UK have found another way to illegally harrass legitimate businesses that properly use animals for human benefit. Apparently, they file phony administrative documents (akin to bankruptcy in the USA), which can affect credit, banking relationships, and other business relationships. It takes a court order to have these documents removed.

Peaceful protest can and is being protected. But this is pure criminality, and it must be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law.

Friday, December 08, 2006

PETA Outraged: Researchers Want To Conduct Experiments on Gorillas in the Wild!

Animal liberationists are mobilizing against plans to conduct Ebola virus research on gorillas in the wild. "This shocking plan to use gorillas so crassly reflects the supremicist mindset of human beings and demonstrates why it would be better if humankind had never evolved," an outraged Ingrid Newkirk, executive director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), asserted in a press release. "When are human beings going to realize that a rat, is a pig, is a dog, is a gorilla, is a boy?" she asked. "If anyone has ever looked into the warm, brown eyes of a gorilla, they will know immediately that the gorilla only wants to maintain his or her family, engage in gentle play, and tread gently on the planet. If only humans were so benevolent."

Actually, I made some of that up. Gorillas may indeed be researched upon to combat the Ebola virus. But there was no angry PETA press release issued. Why? Well, the research is not intended to help sick people, but to prevent gorillas from dying in a raging Ebola epidemic that threatens the apes' continued existence. In other words, human beings are willing to risk their lives facing the dangers of the wild and potential Ebola infection in order to test a vaccine to thwart natural selection and keep gorillas from being wiped out. This is in keeping with human exceptionalism and our perceived moral duty to protect endangered species, an attitude no other known species in the universe has ever, once, demonstrated.

Post Script: My fictional press release contains nothing that Ingrid Newkirk has not actually stated in other venues. She has called the human use of animals the same evil "supremicism" carried out by the Nazis. She did say, "a rat, is a pig, is a dog, is a boy." And she told a writer that the world would be a better place without humans in it. (Source: New Yorker, "The Extremist," April 14, 2003, pp. 57-58.)

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Ellen Goodman's 1980 IVF Predictions

The discussion about selecting embryos to have a disability reminded me of a column I have in my files written by the syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman in January 1980. It is a good reminder of how if we are willing to look, we can see the slippery slope literally slip-sliding away.

In "Making Babies," which ran in the Austin American Statesman on 1/17/80 (no link available), Goodman urged that IVF be permitted to proceed unhindered. "To some," she wrote, "it is just a small medical step, another helping tool which we will soon accept the way we now accept the once-diabolical diaphragm. To others, it is a step down the long road to a Brave New World, in which Aldous Huxley foresaw a human hatchery and fertilizing center in the middle of London."

Both were right, in my view. And here is the slippery slope part: "A fear of many protesting the opening of this clinic is that doctors will fertilize myriad eggs and discard the 'extras' and the abnormal, as if they were no more meaningful than a dish of caviar. But this fear seems largely unwarranted."

Actually, as demonstrated in recent headlines, that is precisely what happened.

After some discussion, she concludes: "Now, we have to watch the development of this technology--willing to see it grow in the right direction, and ready to say no."

Except we never say no, at least not no to something that can be done in the moment. Instead, our public intellectuals argue that if it is okay to perform IVF, why isn't it also okay to select embryos? And if we can select embryos, why not design progeny? And if we can use IVF, why not reproductive cloning once it is safe?

After I ran across this column, Goodman wrote a column in favor of ESCR. I e-mailed her pointing out that she was supporting a policy that treats embryos as if they were no more meaningful than a dish of caviar, and asked her when she would finally say no.

She wrote back, "My lines have changed."

Indeed. And thus the blithe assurances that we will know where and when to stop are just platitudes. The Establishment has no intention of ever, finally saying no.

Bioethicist Art Caplan Gets it Right About Infanticide

I have my pronounced differences with University of Pennsylvania bioethicist and media commentator, Art Caplan, particularly regarding the Schiavo case and ESCR/SCNT. But he is right about this: Over at the AJOB blog, Caplan calls the drive to legalize eugenic infanticide, "euthanasia driven by considerations of cost and lack of 'social value.'"

Post Script: Caplan is certainly right about the reasons for promoting infanticide, but as my pal Bradford Short pointed out forcefully to me in an e-mail just now, Caplan's use of the term "floated" is misleading. It is being pushed aggressively, not floated. Indeed, as readers of Secondhand Smoke well know, eugenic infanticide is ongoing in the Netherlands and Belgium, and will soon receive the formal sanction of Dutch law--further plummeting a country that was once a moral beacon off a vertical moral cliff.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Confused Thinking?

I don't get it. Rick Weiss of the Washington Post has written that people remain wary of eating genetically altered food. Many want nothing to do with meat or milk from cloned animals. Yet, majorities of people would willingly have cells created from embryonic stem cells taken from other human organisms injected into their bodies? This seems like a tremondous disconnect to me. Perhaps it is because genetically altered foods have faced appropriately skeptical media reporting, unlike ESCR.

Still, the people have figured something important out. When asked who they trust most to tell them the truth about GM foods and related issue, the media came in dead last, with only an 11% trust rating. Again, note the disconnect. If people were equally skeptical about media coverage of ESCR and cloning, proponents of ethical biotechnology might be doing better.

UK Woman in PVS Doesn't Awaken: LIfe Support to be Removed

The woman in the UK who was ordered to receive a sleeping medication to see if she would awaken, didn't. The UK courts have now allowed her family remove all life support, which I presume includes tube-supplied sustenance. Alas.

The Bioethics Year in Review

The Center for Bioethics and Culture asked me to do a "year in review" kind of column. Space didn't permit the piece to be all-inclusive. But I do mention the (from my perspective) primary high and low points of the year that will soon pass into history. Check it out.

The Way the Cloning Wind is Blowing

Australia has voted to end its former complete ban on human cloning. What is interesting is that this change wasn't made because of new breakthroughs in the science. There haven't been any--except with adult and umbilical cord blood stem cells. Rather, it was founded on pure hype, repeatedly made, and backed by bounteous bucks. Even though human cloning has not yet been done successfully, at least with the embryos maintained to the point that ES cells could be derived, lawmakers were awash with promises of CURES! CURES! CURES! and the threat, yet again, that unless the country gave Big Biotech exactly what it wanted, the Aussies would fall behind in science.

The Australian decision to explicitly legalize the creation of human life for the purposes of researching upon it and destroying it--which is an echo of the National Academy of Sciences so-called "ethical" guidelines--is a vivid demonstration that the Establishment is all for commodifying and utilitizing human life.

The power of money in politics, mixed with media bias, is a potent political force. I expect that cloning permissibility will become the general default setting, with bans (for now) on reproductive cloning. The next fight will be over public funding. If that is lost, and if cloning works, in ten to twenty years we will be arguing over the ethical permissibility of fetal farming. I mean why not? The principle that we can use nascent life like a corn crop is being firmly established.

Still, that doesn't mean we give up. "Speaking truth to power," a phrase I loathe but which seems apt here, is never easy. Those of us seeking to promote a biotechnology that does not dehumanize have an obligation to continue on. After all, tomorrow is another day.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Cats Get Alzheimer's: An Opportunity for Research

Researchers have discovered that cats get Alzheimer's disease, and it is very similar to the human variety. This opens up tremendous possibilities for researchers to learn about the disease and study potential treatments. Don't tell me we don't need animals in medical research!

Feed Me 2: "Fool's Gold Rush"

I am glad to see that I am not the only one noticing the ludicrousness of every government entity this side of the dog catcher tripping over themselves to throw money at Big Biotech. Business Investors Daily has an excellent editorial out about the same subject in general, and Proposition 71 in particular. Some key prose: "The only people who get nothing out of this $3 billion boondoggle are the California taxpayers who are writing the checks, and the medical patients who have been sold a bill of goods by stem-cell activists about sure-thing medical cures from public, instead of private, funding.

"Here are a few facts about stem-cell research funding: Public money is no better than private money in reaching a medical cure for AIDS, Alzheimer's disease and lupus. The only difference is, the private sector has an obligation to use its cash efficiently, and show results--something no government institute is obliged to do.

"Moral qualms aside, stem cell research is worthwhile only if it shows meaningful results. To date, the private sector has spent only $120 million on this research. Virtually all of it has gone into adult and umbilical-cord stem-cell research. Bill Gates, for instance, has spent only $2 million on it, and all of it in China.

Yet 72 treatments [Me: This is overstated, much of this reflects early human trials] have emerged from adult and umbilical stem-cell research--and none from embryonic stem-cell research--showing the market's efficiency.

"Activist complaints about the private sector's focus on adult and umbilical-cord stem cells have driven the state to spend $3 billion on embryonic stem-cell research — something the market won't touch, even though you can find plenty of liberal venture capitalists out there willing to pay for political campaigns with celebrity endorsers.
The only thing this amounts to is a boondoggle for voters--fool's gold the private sector had already panned for and rejected, having found the truth out first."

The Flip Side of Transhumanism

The social forces set in motion by those who believe it is proper to manipulate the genetic traits of our children, are becoming increasingly apparent. Now, as reported in a column by Dr. Darshak M. Sanghavi in the New York Times, some people with disabilities are pre-selecting their offspring to exhibit disabilities. A recent survey of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis found that 3% of prospective parents pre-selected their embryos to have a specific genetically-caused disability.

Exhibiting the truly harmful terminal nonjudgmentalism of our age, the writer of this column, a doctor who treats fetuses with developmental difficulties, finds this just peachy keen: "[A]s a physician who helps women dealing with complex fetal diseases, I've learned to respect a family's judgment. Many parents share a touching faith that having children similar to them will strengthen family and social bonds.

"Of course, part of me wonders whether speaking the same language or being the same height guarantees closer families. But it's not for me to say. In the end, our energy is better spent advocating for a society where those factors won't matter."

What a cop out. The latter desire, which we all share I hope, is incompatible with the "it's not for me to say" mentality. Regardless of legality, the presumption of the right to select progeny for specific traits--whether to enhance capacities or select for a disability--reflects a truly alarming trend, and we need to say so clearly. It reduces procreation to an act of mere shopping and doctors to mere order taking technicians. This obsession with control isn't healthy for our children or our culture.

Feed Me!

Remember the play Little Shop of Horrors and the alien plant keeps demanding, "Feed me!" This is now the mantra of Big Biotech. In country after country, state after state,and locality after locality, lobbyists for the biotech industry, their research allies/business partners at universities, and bioethicists demand an ever increasing level of public support for their private research. And they have governments on the run by warning direly that unless increased support comes in, the country, the state, or even, as in this story, the locality will "fall behind" and lose tax revenues, jobs, treatments, etc. The effect is to whipsaw these localities into competing to throw the most money, tax benefits, etc. at these companies. PA, for example, is about to throw $500 million at stem cell research. To paraphrase a Mel Brooks line, "It's good to be Big Biotech."

If this tactic were being employed by Big Oil, Big Tobacco, or Big Pharama, the media would be in high dudgeon. But journalists are in utter thrall to Big Biotech, so they obediently help in the search to fulfill the never ending demand, "Feed me!"

Monday, December 04, 2006

THE ECONOMIST Story Also Reveals the Need for Animal Research

While reading the story in The Economist about the neural stem cell research success, which I just blogged, I also noticed this important description of the research process, which, notwithstanding the assertions of animal liberationist ideologues, illustrates the acute need to use animals, including primates, in medical experiments:

"First, Dr Zhu tried it out on mice (the mice in question had had their immune systems turned off, so that they would not reject the transplanted cells). He injected stem cells he had cultured from his patients into mouse brains and found that they successfully differentiated into the various cell types found in the nervous system. Just as importantly, the resulting nerve cells were able to conduct electrical impulses and could form the specialised junctions called synapses, by means of which nerve cells talk to each other.

"Having shown that the stem cells worked in healthy mouse brains, Dr Zhu tried them out on injured mouse brains. Another common property of stem cells is to accumulate at sites of injury, where their services are obviously needed. In order to track the movements of the cells, his team attached tiny magnetic particles to them before they transplanted them, and also injected them with a dye. They found that cells implanted into healthy brains stayed put, whereas those implanted into damaged brains moved towards the injured area.

"The final animal trial was a safety test using monkeys. It was designed to look for cancer, and for signs that the cells had wandered from the brain to other organs such as the heart and the liver, where they might have caused trouble. No such signs were seen."

Sometimes cell lines and computer models will suffice instead of animals. In such cases, by all means, use those alternative means. But medical progress often requires that experiments be tested in living organisms. Unless we want to agree with Peter Singer and state that we use cognitively disabled people instead of animals in some cases, experiments like this will continue to be necessary for the foreseeable future.

THE ECONOMIST Notices Adult Stem Cells

I consider The Economist to be the world's best weekly news magazine. I often disagree with its perspective, but its journalism is usually top notch. (For example, it was one of the only news outlets to report the great Advanced Cell Technology's ES Cell Non Breakthrough correctly.) Perhaps it is the interesting absence of bylines...

In this story, we learn that a patient's own neural stem cells look to be quite helpful in improving the recovery from a serious head injury.

The procedure is in early human trials. Gee, if it all works out, we won't have to wait 20 years for cloned ES cells to do the same job.

Singer's Utilitarianism on Parade

It is interesting that Peter Singer's approval of a monkey brain experiment is big news in the UK, but virtually ignored here. In this piece, the Independent points out (correctly) that Singer's approval of the monkey experiment is not really a change, but a different expression of his amoral utilitarianism.

Singer believes in policies that maximize the "interests" of the most parties. I say parties because he believes that the interests of animals (as humans determine them to be, since animals don't even understand the concept) should be given equal consideration to those of people. Thus, rather than use chimps in hepatitis vaccine experiments, Singer once suggested using cognitively disabled people who have lower capacities. That would mean that the interests of those who have greater worth depending on capacities would be better served (e.g., the chimps and potential hepatitis victims).

When the researcher told Singer that the sacrifice of 100 monkeys may have benefited 40,000 patients, it hit Singer's sweet spot, and he approved. But he would have approved also if those experimented upon had been infants--who he denigrates as non persons--fetuses, a collection of cognitively disabled patients like Terri Schiavo, pigs, or monkeys. This would work out fine for the powerful, but woe betide the weakest and most vulnerable humans among us.

Society must never follow the amoral "ethics" of Peter Singer. Applying such starke utilitarian precepts as official policy would lead ultimately to terrible oppression and exploitation of the most defenseless human beings among us.

Inform Egg Donors They Risk Infertility and Death

The human cloners want thousands and thousands of eggs to try and win the Nobel Prize by becoming the first scientists to successfully clone a human embryo and derive embryonic stem cell lines. (Remember, Wu-suk Hwang used more than 2000 eggs to derive zero stem cell lines.) But the cost of this scientific ambition could be the infertility of their donors.

This story published in the Telegraph deserves much bigger play. It turns out that super ovulation, the method by which an egg donor is induced by hormones to release ten to fifteen eggs, could cause infertility. From the story: "...hormones used to "kickstart" the ovaries could cause chromosomal damage to more than half of eggs, rendering them useless. The treatments may also affect the womb lining, preventing embryos from implanting...In about five per cent of cases, women may suffer a life-threatening complication from fertility drugs, called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome. There are also concerns--but no proof as yet--that IVF drugs may increase the risk of some cancers."

A woman donating her own eggs to herself to try and have a baby is one thing. But given these risks, it is wrong to ask women to donate eggs for use in cloning research. Indeed, third party donors for IVF should also be told the risks very clearly. And, we must not permit eggs to be purchased since that would place the poor at risk for these consequences so that scientists can move more deeply into the human cloning agenda.

Women must not be turned into egg farms. Before any super ovulation, clear informed consent of these matters need to be given. If you know you could die or become sterile, how many women will want to volunteer for the cloning brigades?

For more information, go to Hands Off Our Ovaries, an organization of pro life and pro choice women who want to protect their sisters from abuse in biotechnological research.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Sam Harris Apparently Ignorant About ESCR Dispute

I love it when those who think they are smarter than the great unwashed, who at least believe in something rather than nothing, presume to talk down their noses--but are the ones who actually get it wrong. Atheist crusader, Sam Harris, is apparently one such advocate.

I bring this up because I was just reading today's Nickolas D. Kristof column (who I tend to like) in the NYT (calling for a truce between religion and atheism) and he quoted Mr. Harris about the embryonic stem cell debate: "Mr. Harris," Kristof writes, "makes some legitimate policy points, such as criticism of conservative Christians who try to block research on stem cells because of their potential to become humans. 'Almost every cell in your body is a potential human being, given our recent advances in genetic engineering,' notes Mr. Harris. 'Every time you scratch your nose, you have committed a Holocaust of potential human beings."

Ah, the hubris of the public intellectual who wrongly believes he is smarter than those he criticizes. First, the "conservative Christian" opponents of ESCR who I know do not criticize ESCR because stem cells are potential human beings. They know quite well that embryonic stem cells are just cells. Rather, they criticize ESCR because it destroys a human embryo, which is, from a biological perspective, a nascent and developing human being.

Second, cloning is the only technology by which any adult body cell could potentially be involved in the creation of a new human being. But that doesn't make every body cell a potential human being. You see, just as in sexual reproduction, asexual reproduction--or cloning--requires an egg. So at most, every body cell is akin to a sperm cell--which is not a potential human being either, but just a cell.

Third, ESCR and "stem cell research" are not synonyms. The former is one form of the latter.

Fourth: And neither is stem cell research a synonym for somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning, (although the political-scientists pushing the cloning agenda pretend it is, and the media plays right along.) Thus, trying to block cloning is not the same at all as trying to block stem cell research.

In any event, if the quote in Kristof's column is typical of the other arguments Harris makes, the great atheist crusader is the truly ignorant advocate. (Kristof appears woefully ignorant about ESCR, too, but at least he isn't hubristic about it.) Then again, perhaps they both just listened to the folk affiliated with the Alliance for Medical Research, whose descriptions of embryonic stem cell research would earn them a flunking grade in a high school biology class.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Texas Futile Care Law Has Got to Go

A broad based coalition of disability rights activists, pro lifers, and family members of ill patients are planning to pressure the Texas Legislature to change its ridiculous futile care law that permits hospital ethics committees to refuse wanted life-sustaining treatment. The hospital associations are yammering about better communication on the front end, but the furor over the Andrea Clarke case put the bioethicists on the defensive. People should not be pressure out of life because a secret vote in a bioethics committee determined their lives were not worth living.

More on Secular Bases for Exceptionalism

Human exceptionalism seems so self evident to me that I am somewhat nonplussed that it is even considered debatable. Yet, a growing chorus adamantly deny that humans are entitled to a special status. But many would-be exceptionalism debunkers seem to be skeptical as a means of achieving a particular end.

Some, for example, want us to act exceptionally toward other species, or yearn to intelligently redesign ourselves into post humanity, and see human exceptionalism as standing in the way of the great project. Others hate religion and denigrate exceptionalism as a method to undermine faith.

We all know that religious belief supports exceptionalism. But there are also bounteous secular approaches to embracing our unique status, as well. This 2004 article from Spiked ("What Makes Us Exceptional?") provides an interesting analysis, in which Sandy Starr points to evolutionary differences (unusual speed in brain development) as well as our capacity to move beyond natural selection and change ourselves culturally and impact the world "in a deliberate fashion." A few key quotes:

"Over the course of human history, we have been successful in cultivating our faculties, shaping our development, and impacting upon the wider world in a deliberate fashion, quite distinct from evolutionary processes. While evolution by genetic mutation and natural selection can be shown to follow certain patterns, this process lacks the capacity of human society to formulate specific and conscious goals...

The latest discoveries about our biological evolution...appear to point to the opposite conclusion, confirming rather than denying human exceptionalism...As Kenan Malik, author of Man, Beast and Zombie: What Science Can and Cannot Tell Us About Human Nature, argues: 'We are biological beings, and under the purview of biological and physical laws. But we are also conscious beings with purpose and agency, traits the possession of which allow us to design ways of breaking the constraints of biological and physical laws.' Our biological evolution provides necessary, but insufficient, conditions for our further development through society....Since our humanity consists in more than our biology, biology alone cannot account for how we came to be human."

It's a good article and I think this is an important discussion. If we deny human exceptionalism, it seems to me that the cause of universal human rights is on very thin ice.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Stephen Jay Gould on Human Exceptionalism

A reader of my recent article in National Review Online about Peter Singer's approval of research conducted on monkeys, misunderstood me as perhaps not caring about cruelty to animals. I care very much about such matters, of course, and mentioned in my reply that treating animals humanely is a moral duty arising out of our exceptionalism as a species.

My correspondent inquired how I define human exceptionalism, and sent along a very interesting opinion piece by the late Stephen Jay Gould, in which the author espouses a distinctly evolutionary understanding of the exceptional difference being human makes. From "The Human Difference," New York Times, July 2, 1999 (no link available, my italics):

"[E]volution does provide a legitimate criterion of genuine and principled separation between Homo sapiens and any other species. But the true basis of distinction lies in topology and genealogy, not in any functional attribute marking our superiority. We are linked to chimpanzees (and more distantly to any other species) by complete chains of intermediate forms that proceed backward from our current state into the fossil record until the two lineages meet in a common ancestor. But all these intermediate forms are extinct, and the evolutionary gap between modern humans and chimps therefore stands as absolute and inviolate. In this crucial genealogical sense all humans share equal fellowship as members of Homo sapiens. In biological terms, with species defined by historical and genealogical connection, the most mentally deficient among us is as fully human as Einstein.

"If we grasped this fundamental truth of evolution, we might finally make our peace with Alexander Pope's location of human nature on an 'isthmus of a middle state'--that is, between bestiality and mental transcendence."

That's one way of looking at it, and a fine one it is, too. Some might add "spiritual transcendence" and they would also be asserting an eminently defensible position. Frankly, I don't care how or why it happened, the full story about which may never be fully knowable. I only care that we recognize the extraordinary difference being human makes. If we do that, and if we follow the corollary to human exceptionalism, namely human universal moral equality, I think we will be on very solid ground.

Thanks very much to my correspondent for sending the Gould piece along.

Penn and Teller Take Down PETA

I would normally post a video as effective as this one is at deconstructing PETA directly from YouTube onto Secondhand Smoke. But the title contains an epithet, and I couldn't sanitize it here on the site no matter how hard I tried. Penn also has several foul mouthed moments, of which I disapprove both as crude and unnecessary in public advocacy. So, I decided to just link it.

In the video (which I think came from a Showtime special), Penn and Teller--clad head to toe in leather--demonstrate vividly that PETA in general, and its alpha wolf, Ingrid Newkirk in particular, are more anti-human than about being nice to animals. It's all there: PETA's high kill rate of "rescued" dogs and cats, puppies and kittens; its attempts to impede medical research, and the organization's financial support of animal rights terrorists.

Penn Jillette is a radical libertarian, and I am sure he would also have some choice words for the positions espoused here at Secondhand Smoke. But that's okay. He and his silent partner have done a service by presenting such a hard hitting video. If you don't mind a few unnecessary "F-words" tossed about, it is definitely worth seeing.

An Eco/ Animal Rights "Prisoners" Support Group

This really illustrates how bad some of the animal rights/environmental crazies have become. This list of "eco prisoners" and animal rights prisoners is published by something called the Earth Liberation Prisoner Support Network (ELP).

Among the prisoners the group wants to support is Ted Kaczynski, a.k.a, the Unabomber; the animal rights arsonist Rodney Colorado, and the "SHAC 7," which the ELP describes as having been found guilty of "multiple federal felonies for advocating the closure of the notorious animal-testing lab Huntingdon Life Sciences," as if all they did was picket and hand out leaflets.

The FBI has warned that animal rights and eco criminals pose our most serious domestic terrorist threat. This group's agenda is a vivid reminder of the danger they pose.

Adult Stem Cells May Treat Back Pain

And those advances keep coming in from all directions: The BBC is reporting that within three years or so, a patient's own adult stem cells may be able to relieve back pain caused by damage to intervertebral discs (IVDs, a common cause of debilitating low back pain. Bone marrow, don't you know. But don't tell the Alliance for Medical Research. It claims that adult stem cells from bone marrow are only good for blood disorders.