Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Miracles Do Happen

This is a wonderful story: An infant apparently died and didn't breathe for 30 minutes, but then spontaneously came back to life. After surgery, he is none the worse for wear. The moral of the story? It's Not Over Until It's Over: Unless It Isn't Really Over


New Address for Mark Pickup Blog

Mark Pickup's blog, Humanlife Matters has had some technical difficulties. For those interested, he is now blogging here.


ESCR Debate is a Controversy About Ethics, Not Science

The media and many scientists treat the ESCR/human cloning debates as if they were scientific in nature, rather than about ethics and philosophy--which cannot be determined by the scientific method. Now, a scientist writing in Nature, of all places, makes the same point. (I take no position on the criticisms of the Bush Administration and do not wish that matter discussed here.):

Nature 446, 24 (1 March 2007) Published online 28 February 2007

Need to distinguish science (good or bad) from ethics
David Campbell: Department of Biological Sciences, 425 Scientific Collections Building, University of Alabama, Box 870345, Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35487-0345, USA

Although I share John Horgan's concern about the misrepresentation of science by the current US administration and others, expressed in his Book Review of Seth Shulman's Undermining Science ("Dark days at the White House" Nature 445, 365-366; 2007), he and other commentators need to distinguish clearly between science and ethics in their arguments. It is bad science to claim that reducing environmental protection will not have adverse effects on rare species, for example, but the decision whether we should protect rare species or not is an ethical one.

"With regard to research on embryonic stem cells, I know of no one who denies that there would be at least some scientific insights and medical benefit from such research. However, the real question with regard to stem-cell research is whether the potential medical benefit and scientific knowledge outweigh any harm done to the embryo. The answer depends strongly on the value assigned to the embryo, which is not a scientific question. Thus, instead of being an example of science versus anti-science, this is a case of competing ethical claims. Replacing an advocate of stem-cell research on the President's Council on Bioethics with someone morally opposed to it reflects support for an ethical position (although the fact that this particular example involved replacing a biologist with a political philosopher does also raise the possibility that science was getting less say).

By invoking science as supporting a particular position on ethical questions, which science cannot directly answer, critics are making an error of logic similar to the one made by the Bush administration itself."

Or to put it another way, to "invoke science as supporting a particular position on ethical questions" is to politicize science, which is to actually corrupt it.


The Dutch Suicide Problem

The Dutch apparently have a real problem with suicidal desires. According to this story, there are nearly 100,000 suicide attempts each year, with about 1,600 resulting deaths. From the story: "The official figures from Statistics Netherlands (CBS) indicate that 1,600 people actually commit suicide each year--a number that has remained stable for a long time. This figure puts the Netherlands at number fifty in the world for incidents of suicide, and somewhere in the middle when compared to the rest of Europe. But the Trimbos institute suspects that the actual figure is much higher, since many suicides in the Netherlands are registered as traffic accidents or industrial accidents."

Ah, but that isn't the only manner in which the Dutch suicide statistics are skewed. Euthanasia and assisted suicide deaths are also not counted in the suicide statistics. If they were, the number of suicides each year in the Netherlands would exceed 5,000--and even that figure would be low since it is widely acknowledged that the number of euthanasia/assisted suicide deaths each year is dramatically under-reported. Including Dutch euthanasia/assisted suicide statistics in the count--which would make it more accurate--would place the Dutch suicide rate among highest in the world.

HT: Alex Schadenberg


Death Hastened for Organ Donation?

This is a disturbing story in the Los Angeles Times: A doctor is under investigation for overdosing an organ donor with pain medication to hasten his death in order to procure organs. If so, it is a terrible breach of organ donation ethics and a profound act of wrongdoing.

We should not prejudge the case, of course, although the doctor's lawyer whining that his client wasn't the only one who did things wrong does not give great grounds for confidence. But let us instead look at the bigger picture.

There are many proposals out there to increase the number of transplantable organs. One is presumed consent. The idea is that society will presume that everyone wants to be an organ donor unless the person explicitly opts out in writing. In other words, rather than filling out an organ donation card, you would be a donor unless you filled out a form stating that you do not wish to be a donor.

Presumed consent might work in a medical milieu unequivocally devoted to the sanctity/equality of human life. But we don't have that system. Health care, under the influence of the bioethics movement, is now sometimes practiced under the "quality of life" ethic, in which some patients are presumed to have greater value than others.

This being so, presumed consent would not succeed because patients and their families would reasonably worry that what the doctor in the Times story is suspected of doing would become standard procedure. At the very least, presumed consent could, over time, impact the way that very ill or injured patients--particularly those with head injuries--would be cared in a system in which medical personnel perceived that their patients are prospective organ donors.

We should all want there to be more organ donations, of course. But the only ethical way to get from here to there, in my view, is to increase medicine's devotion to the sanctity/equality of life of all patients. Only then will more people have confidence that their organs will never be perceived as having greater value than their lives.

Post Script: As I published this post, this story was sent to me about a hospital scuffle over the removal of life support from a patient in Singapore, where presumed consent is the law.


Media Bias on Display: Attacking Adult Stem Cell Research--The Sequel

I reported earlier on the mainstream media's jumping to over blow a story of process mistakes made by Dr. Catherine Verfaillie, with regard to the potential that she derived pluripotent adult stem cells from bone marrow. My point was further verified today when the San Francisco Chronicle carried a New York Times piece reporting on the story--again. That's two stories about an arcane matter involving procedural mistakes that did not affect Verfallies' conclusions--which were in mouse studies. Can we spell media bias?


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

More on California Forced Complicity in Assisted Suicide

Some doubts (and aspersions) have been cast about my interpretation of A.B. 374, which I detailed in a Secondhand Smoke post and over at First Things. One commenter called my interpretation "convoluted." Well, true--but only because of the way the legislation is written.

Here it is again in a nutshell: First: No health care worker or provider can be forced to actually participate in assisted suicide. At the same time, no health care provider or worker who does can be punished for it in any way. Meaning, that if a doctor who visits a nursing home assists the suicide of a resident, even if it is against the policy of that nursing home, he or she cannot have any sanction, nor could the patient be asked to vacate.

Second: Acute care hospitals are expressly permitted to opt out of having assisted suicides performed in their facilities. Since this is a specific category of health care provider, the effect is that no other providers can similarly opt out since they are not given that right in the legislation.

Third: There is a strict construction clause, meaning that the terms cannot be expanded. Hence, only acute care hospitals will be able to opt out of assisted suicides on their premises.

If the authors didn't want this consequence, all they had to do was permit any health care facility refuse to permit assisted suicides to be conducted on site. This is what H. 44, the Vermont assisted suicide legislation does, to wit: "5294. HEALTH CARE FACILITY EXCEPTION: Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a health care facility may prohibit an attending physician from writing a prescription for medication under this chapter for a patient who is a resident in its facility and intends to use the medication on the facility's premises, provided the facility has notified the attending physician in writing of its policy with regard to such prescriptions."

California's legislation contains no such blanket exemption. (I know, I know: There are potential loopholes in the Vermont wording, but let's leave that be for now.) Hence, if the California legislation passes as is, Catholic nursing homes, in-patient hospices, and other such health care providers would be powerless to prevent assisted suicides from taking place in their facilities.


Monday, February 26, 2007

Hughes: Smith "Burned Bridges" with "Reality Based Community"

The transhumanist guru, James Hughes, grouses about an essay apparently written by Rich Hayes of the Center for Genetics and Society. Hayes and the Center are definitely and firmly on the political and pro choice left. But since he and it oppose the new eugenics of transhumanism, Hughes accuses Hayes and the Center of opposing true procreative freedom, a typical paranoid rant of the transhumanist crowd. Hayes' essay (which I have not read) must have drawn blood because Hughes brings out the biggest supposed gun in his advocacy arsenal, accusing Hayes and the Center of being in league with the dreaded religious right. As if. Hey, J: The religious right opposes the genocide at Darfur. Does that mean good liberals should support it?

Hughes goes on to "compliment" me for having the courage to supposedly break with the "reality based community" due to my being part of the DI. I'm not part of the reality based community??? Hughes believes that humans will one day be made immortal and that we will all be able to upload our minds into computers where we will spend eternity enjoying group consciousnesses with our fellow post humans. Of the two of us, I hardly think I am the one who is reality challenged.


California Latinos Oppose Physician-Assisted Suicide

In a poll taken last year, but there is no reason to think it still isn't valid. By 65-23%, California's Latino's oppose assisted suicide. So does LULAC, the nation's largest Latino civil rights organization. Let's hope that the California Assembly and Senate pay heed and reject A.B. 374.


Dutch Politician: Don't Put Too Much Emphasis on Palliative Care

The Dutch continue to demonstrate how euthanasia pushes a country's ethics into a moral free fall. The current government apparently plans to stress palliative care. No, says Mark Rutte, the leader of one of the primary opposition parties! From the story: "Rutte says the new government puts too much emphasis on palliative care in the stance it has now taken on euthanasia. He fears that the government will try to somehow make palliative care into an full-fledged alternative that will make euthanasia superfluous."

We wouldn't want that, now would we?


More About Forced Cooperation in Assisted Suicide

I have written some more about the requirement in California's A.B. 374, which would legalize physician-assisted suicide, that Catholic nursing homes, in-patient hospice facilities, and other health care providers permit assisted suicide to take place on premises. It is over at the First Things blog.


A Case of Suicide Tourism in Oregon?

A story in the San Francisco Chronicle today inadvertently disclosed what may be a case of assisted suicide tourism in Oregon. The story is about a pagan memorial service for a woman named Heather MacAllister, who was notable locally for promoting fat burlesque. (Remember, this is San Francisco.) Here is what caught my eye: "On what would have been MacAllister's 38th birthday, members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community gathered to say goodbye to the performer and activist who ended her life Feb. 13 in Portland, Ore., through assisted suicide after a battle with ovarian cancer...MacAllister, a Michigan native, moved to San Francisco in 2005 to create the Big Burlesque and Fat Bottom Revue, featuring and celebrating large women." No indication she ever moved to Oregon.

If she was not a resident of Oregon, the assisted suicide was illegal there. But the state's regulators would almost certainly never find out about it since virtually all they know about individual assisted suicides comes from information supplied by the death doctors, who would almost certainly not disclose that they assisted the suicide of a non resident. And even if the state regulators were informed, they don't have the authority to investigate. All they could do is refer it to a district attorney, who, if past irregularities that have come to light in Oregon are any indication, would not give the matter a high law enforcement priority.

The residence requirement "safeguard" in Oregon is a total joke, of course. If I wanted to become a resident of Oregon today, all I would have to do is fly there, take out a motel room, and claim Oregon as my home.

I am going to see if I can find out more about this. But even if my suspicions are right, don't expect the Oregon authorities to do anything. The entire program there is run on the principle of hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil. The guidelines aren't actually intended to protect, but merely give false assurance.


Saturday, February 24, 2007

Continued Meltdown of UK National Health Service

The NHS is continuing to disintegrate. Now, it is intentionally delaying surgery as a way of husbanding resources. From the story in the Telegraph: "'Minimum waiting times' have been imposed by at least 43 per cent of Acute NHS Trusts, a survey for Channel 4's Dispatches programme found. Treatments are often postponed for more than 20 weeks, despite staff and equipment being available."

Can you imagine needing your whatzit removed and having to wait until the NHS allows doctors to get around to it? What a disaster.


Vermont Media Bias on Assisted Suicide

"Lawmakers at Statehouse Open Debate on Death with Dignity," screamed the headline in the Rutland Herald. The term "death with dignity" isn't even put in quotes. No bias there. And note the story: "MONTPELIER--As so often happens on difficult, emotional debates, lawmakers and observers could tell at a glance Friday where visitors to the Statehouse stood on what some of them described as 'death with dignity' and others called 'physician-assisted suicide.'

So, the headline writer chose sides, and indeed, decided to use the term that is euphemistic rather than accurate and descriptive. But let's let Derek Humphry, the co-founder of the Hemlock Society, decide which term is right. He wrote in a Letter to the Editor in the Register Guard on November 7, 2006: "'Physician' means a licensed M.D.; 'assisted' means helping; and 'suicide' means deliberately ending life. The [Oregon Dept. of Health's] cop-out choice of the words 'death with dignity' is wildly ambiguous and means anything you want. Let's stick to the English language and in this matter call a spade a spade."

Indeed. Beware movement's that need gooey euphemisms to further their agendas.


Media Bias on Display: Attacking Adult Stem Cell Research

I am sure many of you saw the story that Dr. Catherine Verfaillie's study--indicating that a type of bone marrow stem cell might be pluripotent--had flaws. (Can't you hear "the scientists" cheering?) The flaws were not in the conclusion of her research, but in the process of identifying the cells. Never mind. The media have jumped to blow this story into a bigger deal than it is as a way of generally tarring adult stem cell research.

And get this quote from the Seattle Times:"Her study had concluded adult stem cells taken from the bone marrow of mice could grow into an array of biological tissues, including brain, heart, lung and liver. So far, only embryonic stem cells, which are commonly retrieved by destroying embryos at an early stage of development, are known to hold such regenerative promise."

Garbage. ES cells have not shown such regenerative promise. In theory, they might. But it hasn't been actually done yet. Usually ES cells morph into many different types of cells in the Petri dish, and moreover, it might be their potential pluripotency that leads to their propensity to cause tumors. Beyond this, other types of adult stem cells have demonstrated multipotency, that is the potential to be developed into several different types of tissues. For example, a paper was recently published demonstrating this capacity in stem cells found in fat.

In fact, Verfaillie's study in mice has little to do with the tremendous gains being made in adult/umbilical cord blood stem cell research which is progressing in many areas into early human trials. That the media decided to highlight this arcane story, (page 4 in the SF Chronicle), which may or may not have scientific significance, far beyond the barely reported peer reviewed paper showing adult stem cells restoring feelings in human patients paralyzed with spinal cord injury, vividly illustrates the game that is being played.


Friday, February 23, 2007

OF COURSE Reproductive Cloning is on the Biotech Agenda

Nature (no link) says so: "Meanwhile, the main debate [over human cloning] still focuses on making cloned embryos for research. 1997 was just three years after the Washington Post declared that it would be 'unconscionable' to create embryos for research; and in 1997 itself the European Convention on Human Rights and Bioethics was opened for signature, which turns the the Post's repugnance into international law by prohibiting signatories form creating embryos for research.

"In contrast, what has been universally deemed as unacceptable is the pursuit of human reproductive cloning - or the production of what some have called a delayed identical twin. Here, the two issues that have dominated the discussion have been dignity and safety. There is a consensus that dignity is not undermined if a human offspring is valued in its own right and not merely as a means to an end. But there is no consensus that we will eventually know enough about cloning for the risks of creating human clones to be so small as to be ethically acceptable.

"The debate may seem to have been pre-empted by prompt prohibition. But as the science of epigenetics and of development inevitably progresses, those for whom cloning is the only means to bypass sterility or genetic disease, say, will increasingly demand its use. Unless there is some unknown fundamental biological obstacle, and given wholly positive ethical motivations, human reproductive cloning is an eventual certainty."

HT. Nigel Cameron


Brave New Britain Strikes Again--Opening Door to Genetic Engineering

Having just allowed women to risk their lives, limbs, and fecundity by selling their eggs for use in cloning, authorities are now about to open the door to genetic engineering. No one should be surprised. Brave New Britain is merely more open about where all of this cloning and embryonic stem cell research is heading. Indeed, it is where Big Biotech and its advocates want it to head. They just aren't honest and candid enough to tell us here in the USA, because some of us haven't gotten the "Borg's" message that resistance is futile.


Doerflinger on the Iowa Pro-Cloning Vote

In today's NRO, Richard Doerflinger, who acts as the hub of the wheel for forces opposing human cloning, weighed in about Iowa's pro cloning vote (and the AP's bad reporting about it), demonstrating in his usual rapier fashion how it was based on misleading hype and the cruel raising of false hopes. From the article: "For as the bill went from [Iowa]senate to house, Governor Chet Culver declared that 'it's really up to the 100 state representatives now to decide if they want to give hope and opportunity to tens of thousands of people.'

"Who are these tens of thousands of people? A hint of an answer is that Culver said this at a press conference surrounded by parents of children with juvenile diabetes, who spoke about a 'cure' for their children's illness.

"It is worth asking: Have these parents ever read anything about cloning and juvenile diabetes--or are they being misled and used? Even the most vigorous proponents of human cloning for research purposes, such as Ian Wilmut (head of the team that created Dolly), admit that stem cells from cloned embryos will not treat juvenile diabetes. The reason is simple: Any embryo cloned from a child with juvenile diabetes (and any stem cells from that embryo) would be an exact genetic match to the child, and thus have exactly the same genetic profile that provoked the illness in the first place.

"The AP reporter, gamely coming to the governor's aid, adds that 'many scientists' hold that embryonic stem cells from cloning also promise new therapies for Alzheimer's disease. But, in fact, it is difficult to find any competent scientist who holds this. When some members of the Reagan family were pushing that line in 2004, the Washington Post reported the consensus among experts on Alzheimer's that this is almost certainly not the kind of illness that embryonic stem cells can ever treat. When asked why there is nonetheless a widespread public perception that embryonic stem cells may treat this illness, National Institutes of Health expert Ron McKay famously noted: 'To start with, people need a fairy tale...'"

As Doerfinger often says in response to McCay's assertion, "No! They need the truth!" Don't hold your breath, Rich. Don't hold your breath.


The Stampede of the Cloning Herd

Score another big victory for Big Biotech's disingenuous and obfuscating propaganda campaign in favor of human cloning. Iowa has revoked its complete ban in order to permit research into SCNT in the state. And, as happened in Missouri, California, and ever other state that has debated the issue, the argument often was swayed by the scientifically false assertion that human cloning does not create a cloned human embryo.

Interestingly, in countries such as the UK where human SCNT is less controversial, scientists readily acknowledge that SCNT creates an embryo. (Maybe its a different SCNT than the American version.) But what do facts matter when the bovines are being stampeding off an ethical cliff?

Tens of billions are going to be spent worldwide trying to learn how to clone human life. Whichever way the science goes, there seems no way for this to end well. If it "works," we will move quickly toward creating human life like an Iowa corn crop, and harvesting it for processing, just as corn is turned into ethanol. Cloning success will also move into genetic engineering, fetal farming (for which we will hear the same junk biological arguments of purported non humanity and the potential for CURES! CURES! CURES!), and finally, cloning to birth.

If it doesn't work--which is certainly a distinct possibility--there will be a financial loss of epic proportions, akin to the dot com bust. Only this time most of the losses will be tallied in the public's money. But by then, we will be on to the next stampede.

But what the heck. The great god science (as a perceived end, not the method) must receive its sacrifices. Full speed ahead to the brave new world!


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Forced Participation in Assisted Suicide Under A.B. 374

Under A.B. 374, nursing homes, hospices, group homes, rehabilitation centers, and other facilities (except acute care hospitals) cannot prevent assisted suicide from taking place in their facilities. This would include those with religious objections, since only acute care hospitals are authorized to refuse assisted suicide on their premises.

The key sections are 7198 (b) and (e):

"(b) No professional organization or association, or heath care provider, may subject a person to censure, discipline, suspension, loss of license, loss of privileges, loss of membership, or other penalty for participating or refusing to participate in good faith compliance with this chapter." (My emphasis.)

Now, here's where (e) comes in. It permits acute care hospitals to refuse to permit assisted suicide in the facility. "(e) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a general acute care hospital, as defined in subdivision (a) of Section 1250, may prohibit a licensed physician from carrying out a patient's request under this chapter on the premises of the hospital if the hospital has notified the licensed physician of its policy regarding this chapter."

Under 1250 (a) an acute care hospital is defined as, " a health facility having a duly constituted governing body with overall administrative and professional responsibility and an organized medical staff that provides 24-hour inpatient care, including the following basic services: medical, nursing, surgical, anesthesia, laboratory, radiology, pharmacy, and dietary services."

This would appear to mean that assisted suicide could not be prevented from occurring on the premises of nursing homes, hospices, rehabilitation facilities, group homes, etc.--whether or not they have a religious or moral objection to assisted suicide--and staff doctors or those with privileges cannot be sanctioned in any way for participating in the assisted suicides of patients in these objecting facilities.

The culture of death brooks no dissent!

HT: Rita Marker


A.B. 374: The Usual Assisted Suicide Crock

I have started to dig into A.B. 374 and it is the usual smoke and mirrors beloved of assisted suicide advocates. For example, I am sure we will hear about the safeguards against the mentally ill from being assisted in suicide. But the actual wording of the legislation belies this soothing notion. For example, with regard to mental state, the suicidal patient needs to be "capable," to receive assisted suicide. Capable is merely the ability to communicate health care decisions, which is not at all the same thing as not being mentally ill.

7195(5)(c)"Capable" means that in the opinion of the patient's attending physician or consulting physician, a patient has the ability to make and communicate health care decisions to health care providers, including communication through persons familiar with the patient's manner of communicating, if those persons are available.

And here is another example of the usual word games assisted suicide promoters like to play: The legislation states that if a prescribing doctor believes that a patient's depression might impair his or her judgment (fat chance, given the ideological beliefs of pro assisted suicide mental health care professionals, he said cynically), the patient is supposed to be referred for "counseling." Now, most of us would consider counseling to be sustained treatment to alleviate or correct the cause of the perceived impairment. But under the legislation, it really only means a consultation, which might merely be a brief conversation:

7195 (5)(e) "Counseling" means a consultation between a state licensed psychiatrist or psychologist and a patient for the purpose of determining whether the patient is suffering from a psychiatric or psychological disorder, or depression causing impaired judgment."

Wait, there's more. I will post details in a separate entry: But A.B. 374 would not permit Catholic nursing homes or most other health care facilities with a policy opposed to assisted suicide to refuse to allow assisted suicide to take place on their premises. "Choice" my right nostril.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

An Interview with Rita Marker

Rita Marker, the head of the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide was my mentor, after dragging me kicking and screaming getting into this line of work. Having read her wonderful Deadly Compassion, I was shocked to my shoes, and offered to give ten percent of my time to the work fighting assisted suicide. Well, you all know how that story went.

I consider Rita to be one of the giants. In the eighties, when nobody else was paying attention, she saws the storm clouds looming and got to work. Without her prodigious efforts, I am convinced that euthanasia and assisted suicide would have spread far and wide by now.

Rita's comments are always worth attending. Here is a short Q and A interview with her that I thought y'all might enjoy. And, heeere's Rita.


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Ashley's Case: Disability Rights Groups Keep Up the Pressure

Disability rights groups and others have met with the AMA in an attempt to prevent "Ashley's Treatment" from becoming an acceptable practice in cases of children with profound disabilities. This is an important issue. Before another child is given what would normally be considered abusive and non therapeutic medical and surgical therapies, this matter needs to be thoroughly thought out.


Viability Now at 22 Weeks

A baby has been born at one day less than 22 weeks gestation, has survived, and is doing well. This birth may have significant ramifications for abortion law because it reduces the time of viability to just over half a normal gestation period. It may impact futile care theory and the occasional attempts to refuse wanted life-sustaining treatment for prematurely born babies. The birth could affect personhood theory, at least for those who refuse to depersonalize born infants, because it could materially alter their moral view of the moral worth of later stage fetuses. So, welcome to the world Amillia Sonja Taylor. Your birth might become a significant event for expanding the perception of who qualifies to be in the human family.


Monday, February 19, 2007

Twisting Ourselves Into Pretzels Over Embryonic Stem Cells

Scientists keep looking for ways to obtain ES cells without destroying embryos. One potential source that some are now discussing is from the process known as parthenogenesis. This process stimulates an egg (which has 46 chromosomes before losing half during fertilization) to divide for a period--perhaps to the point that ES cells could be created. (The story I linked claims that the product of parthenogenesis would be an embryo. But I am not convinced. But let's not get into that for the moment.)

This seems an unlikely ehtical source of ES cells regardless of whether an embryo is created: You would still have to get an awful lot of eggs to make the tens of thousands of cell lines scientists claim to want to avoid tissue rejection during stem cell treatments. (If memory serves, all frozen leftover IVF embryos in the USA that might be available for use in ESCR--some 12,000 out of the total of 400,000 in cold storage--would only result in the creation of about 200-300 ES cell lines.) And once again, as with human cloning research, it would most likely be poor women who would be paid to bear the burden of providing all those eggs.

Perhaps the best approach would be to stop turning ourselves into pretzels over ES cells, when there is so much promise from sources that are uncontroversial, both as to source and derivation.


PETA: It's About the Money

PETA has had trouble lately because its true colors have been showing. For example, this little story: Heather Mills, Paul McCartney's estranged wife, has apparently been cut off by PETA from participating in its work because Paul McCartney's family wants no part of her. McCartney is in the midst of a bitter divorce and gives a lot of money to PETA--which says a lot about his judgment, but we won't go there for now. Faced with the potential loss of a cash cow, PETA cut Mills off without the courtesy of a phone call, letter, or thank you for past services. For PETA, it's all about the money.


Brave New Bioethics On the Air Nationally

I have just learned that my Brave New Bioethics podcast has gone on the air in the nationally syndicated radio program Al Kresta in the Afternoon. (Kresta is also on satellite radio and streams live on the Internet.) This is terrific news. In doing the commentaries, I had hoped to reach people who might not read my articles and visit here at Secondhand Smoke. As I understand it, the commentaries are played on the air, Kresta reacts, and the issue becomes the subject of call ins. I am thrilled. Hooray for the new media!


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Eugenics Equals Murder and Death

India has discovered grisly evidence of what happens when eugenics consciousness takes hold. In this case (as in China), it is a belief that boys are better than girls. As a consequence, female infanticide and abortion based on sex is rampant in India.

Now, a mass grave of murdered girl infants and aborted fetuses has been found behind a hospital. From the story in the Times of London: "Police in central India have found 390 body parts from foetuses and newborn babies--thought to be unwanted girls--buried in the backyard of a Christian missionary hospital.

"Separately, the Government said that it was setting up a network of girls' homes--dubbed the 'cradle scheme'--in an effort to stop poor Indians from killing their daughters. Both announcements threw a spotlight on female infanticide and foeticide in India, where an estimated ten million baby girls have been killed by their parents in the past twenty years."

Ten million! This is a holocaust caused by the kind of laisez faire eugenics thinking that the new eugenicists and transhumanists seem to think will not be a problem, not being state sponsored and all of that. (The government of India is trying to fight these atrocities, apparently with little success.) But the problem isn't the sponsors. It is eugenics.

The warning signs are everywhere in large, blazing letters, if we will but heed. Either human life has ultimate value simply and merely because it is human (sanctity/equality of human life ethic) or the devalued become fodder for murder, exploitation, and oppression--perhaps even commoditization.


Saturday, February 17, 2007

"Ethical" Fois Gras

Animal rights activists have tried to shut down the fois gras business in many paces around the world because it allegedly abuses ducks and geese to force feed them, the purpose of which is to fatten up their livers, creating the richness of the fois gras product. Of course, the force feeding is not the true issue for animal rights/liberationists. It is the killing of the birds. But hey, any port in a storm.

Well, Spain of all places (I say of all places because Spain might grant great apes legal personhood), has turned the table. A company there has found a way to fatten the geese without force feeding.

Needless to say, the liberationists are unassuaged by "ethical" fois gras.


Egg Donors Risk Paralysis, Limb Amputation, and Death

As I just posted, the UK will permit poor women to be exploited by selling their eggs--all in the name of promoting the great god science, of course. Inconveniently, a study just was just published illustrating the pronounced risks that these poor women will face. As the Telegraph reported:"Women who donate their eggs for research are at risk from life-threatening side effects, scientists warn in a new study. They say that the powerful drugs given to the volunteers to help increase the number of eggs they produce can cause paralysis, limb amputation and even death.

The story points out that at least three women died in the UK alone last year from egg donation for IVF treatments: "Gita Nargund, the head of reproductive medicine at St George's Hospital, London, has campaigned for the use of alternative treatments to the strong hormones used to stimulate women's ovaries to produce more than the one egg normally released in each monthly cycle. She said that, in addition to those reported in the Italian study, there have been two deaths from OHSS in the UK, and a further death of a woman during an egg collection procedure in Leicester last year."

Feminists and pro-life groups should ally on this issue and create an advertising campaign in the UK warning women, "Donating Eggs for Research Could Kill You!"

Brave New Britain: We Never Say No

The UK Human Fertility and Embryology Authority, which has become a rubber stamp for Big Biotech, has approved paying women to sell their eggs for use in human cloning research. From the story: "Women who go through the medical procedure to harvest the eggs from their ovaries, which doctors describe as 'invasive' and possibly dangerous, will be paid £250 plus travel expenses, the existing maximum compensation for any egg or sperm donor. Anyone agreeing to donate will have to show that they are acting for altruistic reasons, for example because they have a close relative suffering with one of the conditions scientists are trying to develop new treatments for with the aid of human eggs."

What a load of cow patties! Two hundred fifty pounds (about $450) will only entice the poorest, most desperate, and most ignorant of the potential consequences to their lives and well being. Women could die because of this decision, and they will not be the rich or middle class. But nothing, I repeat, nothing, must get in the way of human cloning agenda and the emerging Brave New World. After all, what are the lives, health, and fecundity of a few poor women when the advance of science is at stake?


The (Gene) Devil Made Me Do It

Some scientists think we have no real free will, that our behavior and beliefs are dictated by our genes. (Then, they cannot be upset with me for thinking they are just so full of beans; my genes prevent me from seeing the light.)

This theory is just one of many avenues to deny human exceptionalism, of course, because it makes the claim that we are not moral beings, but merely so many gene-dictated automatons. And, ironically it opens the door both to "anything goes" morality, and also, the imposition of a terrible tyranny against those perceived to have a predisposition to heterodox beliefs and behaviors that those in power disdain.

Along this line, some public intellectuals believe that we may one day prevent crimes before they occur by analyzing brain scans and gene make up. This could mean that people are detained and "re-educated" who have done nothing wrong. This Wired commentary, byline Jennifer Granick, (too) mildly objects: "Looking at scientific advances like these, legal scholars are beginning to question the foundational principles of our criminal justice system. For example, University of Florida law professor Christopher Slobogin, who is visiting at Stanford this year, has set forth a compelling case for putting prevention before retribution in criminal justice. Two weeks ago, Slobogin gave a talk based on his book, Minding Justice. He pointed to the studies showing that our behavior is predetermined or strongly influenced by biology, and that if we can identify those biological factors, we can predict behavior. He argues that the justice system should provide treatment for potential wrongdoers based on predictions of dangerousness instead of settling for punishing them after the fact.

It's a tempting thought. If there is no such thing as free will, then a system that punishes transgressive behavior as a matter of moral condemnation does not make a lot of sense. It's compelling to contemplate a system that manages and reduces the risk of criminal behavior in the first place.

"Yet, despite last week's announcement from the Max Planck Institute, neuroscience and bioscience are not at a point where we can reliably predict human behavior. To me, that's the most powerful objection to a preventative justice system--if we aren't particularly good at predicting future behavior, we risk criminalizing the innocent."

That would just be the beginning of our problems if we decided to let "the scientists" cast aside the concept of free will.


Why The Texas Futile Care Law Must Fall

This correspondence is from Texas lawyer Jerri Ward, who has proved worthy of the honorific, attorney at law for fighting tooth and tong against futile care impositions in Texas (Andrea Clarke, for example). Jerri asked that I post it here at Secondhand Smoke. I do so because I trust Jerri. She has never steered me wrong:

"I attended an ethics committee meeting yesterday concerning a 15 month old baby. The baby is suspected of having Leigh's disease-although that is only the best guess of the neurologists and neuro-radiologists and not a medical certainty. The results of the tissue biopsies are not all back.

"According to the mother, the hospitalist pediatrician had refused to write an order for the insertion of a peg tube and trach so that the baby could be transferred to a pediatric snf (skilled nursing facility). The pediatrician pretty much admitted to this during the meeting.

"The neurologist spouted the usual nonsense about the baby's life not really being a 'life' and made the burden argument. He tried to express that it's not in the baby's interest to continue life--but immediately segued into an argument about how hard the situation is on the care-takers. I called him on that and said that we needed to transfer the baby to the pediatric snf where they care for children in similar situations day in and day out and the caretakers don't consider it a burden upon them to give care to such children. The hospital lawyer interjected with some calculated coaching to keep the doctor from descending further into a utilitarian argument.

The pediatrician, who has been very rude according to the family-slamming doors in the mother's face and the like, was an appalling woman. She openly admitted that the trach and the peg tube would not be complicated because the baby has no co-morbidities that would cause problems. She admitted that it was probable that he would be readily admitted to a pediatric snf-yet she tried to justify obstructing all that and removing life-support because of the benefits burden argument--and she argued that point like an impassioned parrot of current futility faddism. In order to counter that, I was able to open up the mother in an equally impassioned description of how the baby responds to the love and attention of the family and how important it was for her to continue giving all that until Jesus takes the baby into his Arms.

This baby could live months or even years longer with good--but simple care. All he needs is a respirator, ventilator and the attendant care, anh, and a vitamin regimen--along with daily custodial care.

The ethics committee decided not to invoke the 10 day period. As of now, I am uncertain if the pediatrician will write the order for the trach and the peg tube. It is imperative that these orders be written so that the baby can be transferred away from doctors who believe that he should die right now...

"Would you please blog about this. I don't want to reveal the hospital name until I know whether or not the fight is over. If it's not--I will reveal this information.

Jerri Lynn Ward, J.D."

I post this, realizing it presents only one side, because it vividly illustrates the hostility that some families face in some hospitals merely because they wish to keep their loved ones in the land of the living. (I had a similar experience when I represented pro bono the wife of an Alzheimer's patient. She had agreed to a DNR and no antibiotics, but would not agree to dehydrate him to death. The doctor's ultimate goal was to remove tube feeding. He was literally white with rage for being defied.)


Texas Legislation to Prevent Futile Care Impositions

New legislation (HB 1094) has been filed in Texas to overturn its unjust and cruel futile care law. If the law passes, rather than patients only having 10 days to find another institution if a star-chamber ethics committee rules that treatment shall not be provided, the wanted life-sustaining treatment will be required to continue until a new institution is found. Excellent. (It should also prevent hospitals from honoring the futile care determination of other institutions, but that can wait.)

Expect the bioethicists and medical intelligentsia to come out of the woodwork to fight this one. If they do, it will confirm my long held suspicion that the ultimate agenda of mainstream bioethics is not honoring patient autonomy. Rather, it is utilitarian-based health care rationing and the creation of at least an implied duty to die.

Stay tuned here at Secondhand Smoke for details as this important legislation moves forward.

HT: Jerri Ward


Friday, February 16, 2007

Viagra Saves Baby 's Life

As everyone knows, Viagra is used (and sometimes abused) as a treatment for impotency. It works by expanding blood vessels. Apparently, a prematurely born baby was on the verge of death and, in connection with heart surgery, some enterprising doctor prescribed Viagra--opening the child's lung blood vessels, allowing better oxygen absoroption, and saving his life. It was experimental, but it worked. It will be interesting to see if this opens a whole new use for the drugs currently used to help sexual dysfunction in men.


Moving Increasingly Toward Medical Puritanism

The drive to impose a new medical puritanism continues in the UK. Some doctors are apparently denying surgery to smokers and obese patients, not based on the exigencies of a their particular case, but because of disapproval of their unhealthy lifestyles. This is pure political correctness. You can bet every pound or dollar in the bank that such restrictions would never be countenanced for other unhealthy lifestyle participants, e.g., the promiscuous, drug users, the emaciated, etc.

What is really going on, of course, is saving money in health care on the backs of the "new lepers," smokers and the obese, who are unpopular. This of course, violates every medical ethical precept in the book. The response in this quote, is right on: "Colin Waine, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said he feared the government was using its war on fat as an excuse to cut costs in the ailing NHS. Waine told Cybercast News Service that two "health trusts"-- organizations that operate a set number of hospitals and clinics--had already stopped all operations for patients with a BMI of 30. He said that there was no scientific basis for denying surgery to people with that level of obesity, particularly when it came to former rugby football players and other naturally bulky men. 'If you make a decision on clinical grounds, that's fine,' he said. 'But if you make it for political reasons, then that's unacceptable.'"

Indeed, unless we want to turn access to health care into a club to force people to live certain ways. But if we open that door, there are a lot of people beyond smokers and the overweight who could be affected.


Irresponsible Headline: "Organ Harvesting Begins Before Brain Death"

The headline on this story is irresponsible because it implies that organs are being harvested before the donor is really dead. Not so. This organ procurement protocol, known as "non heart beating cadaver donor" removes organs from people who died from irreversible cardio/pulmonary arrest. (For ease of discussion, let's call this "heart death.")

The problem, I think, arises from the ubiquitous use of the often misunderstood term "brain death," a popular description for "death by neurological criteria." DNC does not require that every cell in the brain be dead, but rather, that the brain has irreversibly ceased functioning, both in whole and in each and every constituent part. (The term is also sometimes misused as a description of persistent vegetative state.) As one neurologist once described it to me, the experience of brain death (properly diagnosed) is akin to a headless body being animated by machine. (As I have written previously, some bioethicists claim brain death is not really dead, not to prevent organs from being procured from living people, but as an argument to gain permission to expand the pool of harvestable people to patients diagnosed with persistent vegetative state. But let's not get into that here.)

And here's a kicker: If brain death isn't really dead--as some pro lifers also claim--then the only ethical way to permit vital organ procurement would be through the protocol mentioned in the story. Life support for the patient would be removed, there would be an immediate cessation of breathing ("brain dead" patients can't breathe because their brains don't send the requisite signal for a breath to be taken), followed immediately by cardiac arrest. (This is also the protocol for non brain dead organ donors today.) A necessary waiting period after the heart stops beating comes next--which I don't believe should be shorter than 5 minutes--and then organ removal from the dead body. (It is true, that some brain cells may still be alive at this point, but that is also true in "brain death" procurements.)

This is not to say, of course, that the protocol I just described could not have serious ethical problems. Indeed, I discuss these concerns at some length in Culture of Death. But I do believe that if it is done correctly, using donors who died from heart death is totally appropriate and morally upright.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

That Nazi Thing

I was noticing a dust up between two regulars here at Secondhand Smoke regarding analogies to Germany and the Holocaust and some of the issues with which we grapple here. I thought it warranted more than a post response from me.

This is a sensitive matter. The bioethicist Art Caplan once said, "Those who see analogies [to the Nazi period] must be specific about what they believe is similar between now and then. Blanket invocations such as . . . 'euthanasia, if legalized, will lead to Nazi Germany,' are to be avoided unless they can truly be supported in the scope of the claim being made." Caplan is right. Just because the Nazis said or believed something, or adopted certain public policies, doesn't mean, ipso facto, that the belief or policy is inherently evil or immoral. For example, Hitler created the German autobahns. That does not mean that President Dwight Eisenhower was wrong when he facilitated the creation of the Interstate Highway System.

On the other hand, just because "we" are not Nazis, doesn't mean that era has no lessons to teach us. Moreover, there are many ways to fall off an ethical cliff despite the best of intentions. Indeed, I think the warning I quote below by Dr. Leo Alexander, who served with the U.S. Office of Chief Counsel for War Crimes at Nuremberg, is both apt and prophetic.

Dr. Alexander wrote a penetrating and important analysis about the medical foundation of the Holocaust in the July 14, 1949, issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. This is part of his conclusion: "Whatever proportions these crimes finally assumed, it became evident to all who investigated them that they had started from small beginnings. The beginnings at first were merely a subtle shift in emphasis in the basic attitudes of the physicians. It started with the acceptance of the attitude, basic to the euthanasia movement, that there is such a thing as a life not worthy to be lived. This attitude in its early stages concerned itself merely with the severely and chronically sick. Gradually the sphere of those to be included in this category was enlarged to encompass the socially unproductive, the ideologically unwanted, the racially unwanted and finally all non-Germans."

Looking at the state of the 1949 culture of American medicine, Dr. Alexander then warned:

"In an increasingly utilitarian society these patients [with chronic diseases] are being looked down upon with increasing definiteness as unwanted ballast. A certain amount of rather open contempt for the people who cannot be rehabilitated with present knowledge has developed. This is probably due to a good deal of unconscious hostility, because these people for whom there seem to be no effective remedies, have become a threat to newly acquired delusions of omnipotence... At this point, Americans should remember that the enormity of the euthanasia movement is present in their own midst."

These words are well worth pondering. My only question is whether the editors of the NEJM would permit such an essay to be published in its pages today.


"Assisted Suicide": By Any Other Name

The Economist gets it. In an article on the fuss generated by assisted suicide advocates--who want to call assisted suicide anything but what it is, e.g., suicide, (a matter about which I have previously posted)--reads, in part, as follows: (No link: Subscription Required)

"Now, however, advocates are objecting to the word 'suicide.' Suicide, they point out, implies a decision to cut short a life that would otherwise continue, whereas terminal patients are simply hastening a death that is already near." What total nonsense: If one is "hastening death," one is, by definition, acting to "cut short a life."

The reason for such twisting of accurate and descriptive language into pretzels is entirely political: "A Gallup poll in May showed that 69% of Americans support assisted death, but the number drops if the label suicide' is actually applied."

It's all cynical manipulation of language, of course, as The Economist clearly gets in the story's conclusion: "Meanwhile advocates of the [Oregon] act are pushing interested groups, such as journalists, to step back from 'suicide' and adopt cheerier formulations such as 'choice and control at the end of life.' It would have George Orwell rotating longitudinally in his subterranean post-life enclosure."

Indeed. Beware of a movement that feels the need to hide what it actually advocates through the utilization of gooey euphemisms.

HT: Jen Saunders


Michael Chrichton on Gene Patenting

The best selling novelist Michael Chrichton's most recent novel, Next, pokes hard at the business of biotechnology. He has also written this op/ed piece against gene patenting, a subject we have considered from time to time here at Secondhand Smoke. The following is part of what Chrichton writes:"You, or someone you love, may die because of a gene patent that should never have been granted in the first place. Sound far fetched? Unfortunately, it's only too real.

"Gene patents are now used to halt research, prevent medical testing and keep vital information from you and your doctor. Gene patents slow the pace of medical advance on deadly diseases. And they raise costs exorbitantly: A test for breast cancer that could be done for $1,000 now costs $3,000.

Why? Because the holder of the gene patent can charge whatever he wants, and does. Couldn't somebody make a cheaper test? Sure, but the patent holder blocks any competitor's test. He owns the gene. Nobody else can test for it. In fact, you can't even donate your own breast cancer gene to another scientist without permission. The gene may exist in your body, but it's now private property...One fifth of your genes are privately owned."

I don't know if this is true. Royale, a frequent commentator here with whom I frequently disagree but who I hold in very high repute, has indicated (if I understand him correctly), that Chrichton might be misstating the case. I think this question gets to the crux of the issue.

Chrichton concludes with a call to support a bill to outlaw gene patenting that I referenced here a bit ago."Fortunately, two congressmen want to make the full benefit of the decoded genome available to us all. This past Friday, Xavier Becerra, a Democrat of California, and Dave Weldon, a Republican of Florida, sponsored the Genomic Research and Accessibility Act, to ban the practice of patenting genes found in nature. Becerra has been careful to say the bill does not hamper invention, but rather promotes it. He's right. This bill will fuel innovation, and return our common genetic heritage to us. It deserves our support."

For me, supporting the latter affirmation will depend on the veracity of Chrichton's earlier assertions. More here when I learn more.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Embryonic Stem Cell Research Without Limits

This is such a joke: As I posted a bit ago, the International Society for Stem Cell Research has published a set of ethical guidelines to govern ESCR. Well, I opine--as I am wont to do--on the matter in the Daily Standard. I note that the people selected to be "the deciders" were pretty much a stacked deck for a wide-open license: "Unsurprisingly, many of the members of the ISSCR 'International Human Embryonic Research Guidelines Task Force,' who wrote the Guidelines, are well known for advocating that scientists be given an open field.

University of Wisconsin bioethics professor R. Alta Charo, for example, has stated that a legal ban on all human cloning would violate scientists' First Amendment right to conduct research. Another task force bioethicist, Northwestern University's Laurie Zoloth, previously advocated applying what she considers a 'Jewish' understanding of the moral status of human embryos to guide the ethics of stem-cell research--which is to say, she would give embryos no moral status at all when outside the womb, and treat them "as if they are simply water" for the first 40 days of gestation.

Stanford University stem cell biologist Irving Weissman, another task force member, made headlines in 2005 when he reportedly announced plans to create a mouse with a human brain. Then there is Ian Wilmut, who supervised the cloning of Dolly the sheep, and who supports reproductive cloning at least for people who can't otherwise bear genetically related offspring. He also recently suggested tossing aside the usual rules that govern human medical experimentation in order to allow dying patients to be injected with embryonic stem cells, even though they are currently unsafe for human use."

And how far do the Guidelines suggest researchers be allowed to go? "A lo-o-o-ong way. Remember when embryonic stem cell activists assured the nation that all they wanted to do was conduct experiments with leftover IVF embryos that were going to be destroyed anyway? Not anymore. The 'rigorous' ISSCR research guidelines explicitly endorse the creation of new human embryos--both through IVF fertilization and somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning--for use and destruction in stem-cell research."

I note that these guidelines are strikingly similar to those published previously by the National Academy of Sciences. But we shouldn't be suprised: When it comes to biotechnology, the watchword of the century is "anything goes."


Gonna Be a Hard Fight in California Over Assisted Suicide

This time, the Speaker of the Assembly Fabian Nunez is co-sponsoring the bill to legalize assisted suicide in California. Oh well: The bigger they are, the harder they fall. Back to the battlements to defend decency and ethics in medicine!


Brit Doctors Admit to Age Discrimination

A study of British doctors found that some doctors admit they deem elderly people "less deserving" of optimal care. This is not unexpected. The signs have been there for years. From the story in the Telegraph:"Doctors in Britain regularly discriminate against older patients by denying them tests and treatments they offer to younger people, research shows today."

If there is a silver lining, however, it is that the discrimination is not being sanctioned. "Dr Vivienne Nathanson, the head of science and ethics at the British Medical Association, said they were in the process of producing their own information for doctors on age discrimination, as they had with race and gender discrimination. 'Research like this is very useful in helping us to inspect our attitudes and the subtle patterns of locked-in behaviour that doctors may not be aware of,' she said.

"There could be good reasons why a doctor would not subject an elderly person to tests or treatments, she said. 'A doctor needs to know that if they do a test and it is positive that they can then do something to help. We would not subject anybody to a test needlessly. But to deny a person tests just because of age is unfair and wrong. Decisions should be made for clinical reasons.'"

Indeed. No doubt this has much to do with the wretched condition of the NHS. When resources get tight, the weak or the first ones to be deemed less worthy of quality care.


Dying for Cloning?

The poignant letter reproduced below is from the mother of a woman who died donating eggs (for IVF). The death of Jacqueline belies the smug assertions being made by would-be human cloners and their advocates that women who donate eggs for biotechnology will face little danger.

It is, of course, true that most women would not die or become infertile from donating eggs for bioetech research. But some would. And since one egg is needed for each attempt at cloning, the potential numbers of egg donors that would be required to push the cloning agenda could be staggering. If only 5% face serious complications, that's an awful lot of suffering for enduring a non therapeutic (to the woman) medical procedure.

The letter that is being handed out in Washington D.C. for a planned Congressional briefing on the issue: "My name is Angela Hickey. I come from Dublin, Ireland and am a mother and grandmother and have been married to Fintan for nearly 42 years.

"My daughter Jacqueline died at 32 years of age from Severe [Ovarian] Hyperstimulation Syndrome as a direct result of IVF treatment. She went on to develop Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome which took her life on the 14th of January 2003. So that her death is not in vain, I would advise all women who are going for IVF to try and have a baby, which Jacqui longed for or women who wish to donate their eggs, to be very careful and to watch the course of their treatment. They should be informed and vigilant of their levels. How stimulated their ovaries are and of the projected amount of eggs before getting the hCg injection. I don't want any other family to go through what we're going through. We've been to the medical council in Ireland to no avail, also we've had to pull out of a civil action due to astronomical costs. There is no justice for ordinary people. IVF should be
regulated. Laws should be laid down worldwide and not just guidelines and they should be adhered to. IVF is only a procedure and not a life saving intervention."

Indeed, and what applies to IVF should apply squared to egg procurement for human cloning. Until and unless eggs can be procured ethically and without endangering women, human cloning should just have to wait.

For more information, see Hands Off Our Ovaries, a coalition of pro-choice and pro-life women who have come together to make sure that no woman dies, becomes infertile, or is harmed from biotechnological researchers wanting their eggs.


Monday, February 12, 2007

They Keep Pushing

The assisted suicide fanatics are at it again in the UK, getting behind the lawsuit of a woman who wants to die. Apparently Kelly Taylor, a woman with a terribly painful heart and lung condition, is suing to be given what is sometimes called terminal sedation. It should be called palliative sedation, because if it is done right and at the appropriate time, it doesn't cause death.

Apparently, the usual pain control measures are inadequate in Taylor's case. This may surprise some, but I believe Taylor should be given whatever dose it takes to alleviate pain--even if it means a coma. That isn't the same thing as killing.

Taylor, however, has put it this way, and it is unfortunate: "I don't want to be here." Well, making her "not here" would not be a medical act, and she should not have the right to have doctors make it so. Indeed, having it expressed that way could hurt her claim, because (perhaps under the influence of the euthanasia ideologues) she has framed it as a right to die case instead of a right to receive proper medical treatment.

Doctors should alleviate pain. If that inadvertently leads to death, well, that is a side effect of proper medical care. But the euthanasia activists are using this poor woman's plight to further their ideological desire to be able to be killed regardless of whether palliation will be effective. And shame on them. They are not Taylor's friends.


Adult Stem Cells Build Muscle Tissue

This story is unremarkable--in the sense that adult stem cell advances are so ubiquitous. Apparently human adult stem cells have rebuilt muscle tissue in mice, moving the technology toward potential treatment for muscular dystrophy. Not yet ready for human trials, apparently, but definitely encouraging.

Whitewashing the History of Science in Kansas

Science is becoming so unscientific these days, akin in some minds to ideology--or even religion. Lest you doubt it, consider changes being contemplated by the new "pro science" Kansas Board of Education. In essence, members are planning to do to the less savory history of science, what Stalin once did to photographs that included Trotsky: Airbrushing them out of the picture.

Below is a quote from "History and Nature of Science" for grades 8-12. The part in bold font is what the Board plans to excise from the standards. Wouldn't want the kids to have a complete view of science as a human endeavor that sometimes gets things terribly wrong, now would we?

Indicator: "Demonstrates an understanding of the history of science."

Additional Specificity: 1. a. "Modern science has been a successful enterprise that contributes to the dramatic improvements in the human condition. Science has led to significant improvements in physical health and economic growth; however modern science can sometimes be abused by scientists and policymakers, leading to significant negative consequences for society and violations of human dignity (e.g., the eugenics movement in American and Germany; the Tuskegee syphilis experiments; and scientific justifications for eugenics and racism."

I have asked and been told that the excised aspects are not included elsewhere in the proposed revised curriculum.

I think it can be fairly argued that the old curriculum (again, in bold) dwells too heavily (and specifically) on the negative aspects of the history of science, but only generally on the positive. But a proper corrective is not to delete the negative, but add in specifics of scientific advances to achieve a better balance. Remember, this curriculum is explicitly dedicated (in part) to the history of science. This means students should learn the good and the bad, the sublime and the ugly. Science is a human endeavor, after all, meaning that by definition, it is imperfect. This truth should be reflected in classes about its history.

Galileo is mentioned in the guidelines. And you can bet that his "silencing" will be brought up in the classes--which is appropriate since his trial was part of the history of science. But there is a profound irony here. How is excising the harder facts about the history of science any different than silencing Galileo?

The vote is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon Kansas time. If you wish to opine on the matter in a democratic fashion, contact information can be accessed here. If you decide to exercise your democratic right to opine on either side--please, be polite.

Post Script: I now have the entire proposed science standard alterations, available here. What I posted about is found at page 128.


Age Discrimination in Organ Transplantation?

It looks as if we are beginning to enter an era of age discrimination in health care. As is usually the case in matters such as this, the perniciousness enters on the back of what may be deemed a reasonable thesis: In this case, people who will enjoy transplanted organs longer should have first priority, that is, younger transplant recipients should take priority over older.

This is a difficult matter, to be sure. When a ship is sinking, we used to say women and children first, since it perceived to be the moral duty of men to protect those perceived as weaker. (Today, we would still say protect the children first.) But is this example the same thing as discriminating in favor of the young when it comes to receiving an organ?

The organ shortage puts pressure on the system, sometimes leading to unethical proposed remedies--such as harvesting people diagnosed with persistent vegetative state. Basing one's place in the waiting list on age also seems ethically unsound. The decision should be based on the patient's health, expected efficacy of the organ, and time waiting on the list, it seems to me, not age. (For example, it was wrong to give Mickey Mantle a new liver because he had metestatic cancer.) But it is a matter that needs to be discussed.

The arguments from both sides are well presented in this Chicago Tribune story (printed in the Kansas City Star): "Data released at the Dallas meeting suggest transplant patients in the U.S. would live an extra 11,457 years under the new allocation scheme because more people would receive kidneys that would last longer. 'I think there are advantages to this approach. . . . Now that (this number) is on the table, it's hard for me to go back and say we shouldn't try to achieve this,' said Dr. Mark Stegall, chief of transplantation surgery at the Mayo Clinic.

"Stegall headed the study group that prepared the proposal for the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, which has government authority to oversee transplants.
He emphasized that the proposal hadn't been finalized. Preliminary plans call for several more meetings this year and a public comment period after a formal proposal is issued.

'Many of us feel there have not been enough discussion along the way in the development of this proposal and would like to see a much more robust public debate,' said Dr. J. Richard Thistlethwaite, a transplant surgeon and professor at the University of Chicago. 'People don't understand the implications of what's being suggested.'

"Thistlethwaite said he is uncomfortable with the value judgments he believes are inherent in the proposed system, particularly the emphasis on duration of life over quality of life. 'How can we judge who's more deserving and whose life we value the most?' he asked. 'Where do we draw the line?'"

So, is including age in setting one's place on the waiting list merely triage or unethical diminution of the worth of the lives of older people? Discuss.

HT: Vicki McKenna

Growing New Fingers From "Pig Matrix?"

The Wall Street Journal (no link available) reports that scientists are treating wounded Iraqi War veterans with a substance from pigs that seems to resurrect the ability to regenerate organs and other body parts--an ability possessed by fetuses but lost after birth. In this case, the scientists hope to regenerate parts of fingers the soldiers lost. From the story: "Doctors plan to treat them with a fine powder called extracellular matrix, harvested from pig bladders. The material, found in all animals, is the scaffolding that cells latch onto as they divide and grow into tissue and body parts. In the human body, it was long thought to be inert. But scientists have discovered that it appears to activate latent biological processes that spur healing and regenerate tissue."

This procedure is finding growing application throughout the world: "More than 500,000 people world-wide have had matrix-based treatments since 1999, according to Johnson & Johnson and Cook. Other potential uses are in development. No significant side effects have been linked to the treatment, Dr. Badylak says.

That a single substance can be used to treat such different conditions reflects matrix's capacity to adapt to its environment. In the shoulder, for example, it promotes the formation of tendon tissue, in the lower urinary tract, the formation of bladder or urine-channel tissue, and in a diabetic ulcer, of normal skin."

Gee. And not a destroyed embryo in sight. I think that the ideologues of biotechnology have made a terrible mistake putting so much emphasis and vitriol into overcoming President Bush's moderate funding restrictions for ESCR. Most of biotechnology, such as this area of research, is completely uncontroversial. By placing so much emphasis on trying to bulldozer its way into overcoming ethical objections to funding the destruction of embryos, the biotechnology industry divides the country and misses the chance to unite us behind wonderful research in which we can all row in the same direction.


Eugenics 100th Birthday

In this Daily Standard column, David Klinghoffer, my colleague at the Discovery Institute, notes that it has been 100 years since eugenic sterilization was first legalized in the USA. He also points out that while Darwin opposed discriminating against the weak, the pernicious eugenics theory was deemed by some of his followers as merely a natural application of Darwin's theory of evolution, (or, as I might put it) from the reductionist materialistic philosophy that flowed therefrom denying the intrinsic worth of human life. Klinghoffer also warns against a new eugenics arising from the original version's ashes, which is dangerous (I would say) precisely for the same reason that the first version was so deadly. Food for thought.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Allowing a Mentally Ill Prisoner to Dehydrate to Death

60 Minutes had a horrendous story on tonight's show of a mentally ill prisoner, in jail for shop lifting, who was chained to his bed for many hours each day and allowed to dehydrate to death by clearly negligent prison personnel. This is a shameful example of how we often abuse the mentally ill in this country. Heads should roll on this one. I don't care if you are Osama bin Laden, nobody deserves to be treated so badly that they literally die of thirst.


Slavery in Haiti

Talk about a bitter irony: Haitian slaves were among the first to liberate themselves (from ownership by French colonists), and yet, on the island that once stood as a beacon encouraging others to strive toward freedom, children are held as "domestic chattels." From the story in the Telegraph: "Although the restavek system is not illegal, those who work with its victims do not hesitate to brand it slavery. Marline Mondesir, the director of a local organisation which supports child domestics said: 'These children are slaves, because they are the first to wake in the morning and the last to go to bed. They get beaten up and there's nobody to speak up for them. One child we helped had his head cut open with a machete, another had her back slashed with a razor blade, another was burned with hot oil and another had his arm broken.'

"Many are beaten with stiff cowhide whips, known as rigoises, which are designed for use on children and are widely available in shops. More than 70 per cent of child domestics are girls and sexual abuse is so common that restaveks are said to be 'la pou sa'--'there for that.'"

It is to deny one's own human exceptionalism to keep slaves and treat anyone in this manner. May we all support those who work to turn the term "domestic chattels" into an oxymoron.


Turning Kidneys into a Crop

A UK doctor wants to legalize kidney markets to ease the organ shortage. Of course, people in his social class will never threaten their own health by being sellers. They will be buyers. Opening the door to exploiting the poor for their organs is a new form of colonialism.


Friday, February 09, 2007

A Hospice Step in the Right Direction

When I had the great honor of interviewing Dame Cecily Saunders, founder of the modern hospice movement, she criticized the American "way" of hospice, noting that unlike the UK, we had created a system where hospice is seen as an "abandon hope all ye who enter here," circumstance because patients in hospice care are not permitted to also seek life-sustaining or curative care. Saunders complained that too often this means that people enter hospice too late to receive the full benefit--a problem recognized universally by hospice professionals.

Now, some insurance companies are changing that. From the story in the NYT: "But now, some hospice programs and private health insurers are taking a new approach that may persuade more patients to get hospice care for the last months of life. These programs give patients the medical comfort and social support traditionally available through hospice care, while at the same time letting them receive sophisticated medical treatments that may slow or even halt their disease."

This is just what the doctor ordered. Now, let's hope the bureaucrats that rule Medicare get the message.


Move to Outlaw Gene Patenting

A bi-partisan bill is being introduced in the House of Representatives to outlaw the patenting of human genes. It doesn't have a number yet. Here is what it states: "Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no patent may be obtained for a nucleotide sequence, or its functions or correlations, or the naturally occurring products it specifies."

More when I know more about its potential impact and what it might achieve.

A Potential Alternative to Using Animals in Toxic Tests

If animals can not be used in testing without harming human safety, I am all for it--assuming reasonable feasibility. Indeed, developing such alternatives is part of the duties we have as exceptional beings.

Here's the story: Apparently, human cell lines may work as well or better than animals in testing air quality and toxicity. If this is true: Bravisimo!


More Shameless Hype from ESCR Booster Politician

Some politicians have no shame, and methinks we have to now include Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., to that list. Reacting to a story about high levels of autism in NJ, the good Senator said. "This report only strengthens my resolve to get federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, which scientists believe could someday help find a cure or treatment for autism."

We don't even know what causes autism. To claim that ESCRs will provide a cure is utterly irresponsible.


The Integrity of James Thomson

James Thomson, who first derived human embryonic stem cells, is a man of integrity. I disagree with him on the ethics of the issue, but he always tells it like it is. For example, where some cloning advocates claim that a cloned human embryo is not really an embryo--a major argument of the pro Amendment 2 crowd--Thomson said otherwise in a 2005 MSNBC interview: "See, you're trying to define it away, and it doesn't work. If you create an embryo by nuclear transfer, and you give it to somebody who didn't know where it came from, there would be no test you could do on that embryo to say where it came from. It is what it is.

It's true that they have a much lower probability of giving rise to a child. But by any reasonable definition, at least at some frequency, you're creating an embryo. If you try to define it away, you're being disingenuous."

Indeed. And now he is clear that ESCR will likely be a long time coming up with "cures. From the AP story: "University of Wisconsin scientist James Thomson said obstacles include learning how to grow the cells into all types of organs and tissue and then making sure cancer and other defects are not introduced during the transplantation. 'I don't want to sound too pessimistic because this is all doable, but it's going to be very hard,' Thomson told the Wisconsin Newspaper Association's annual convention at the Kalahari Resort in this Wisconsin Dells town. 'Ultimately, those transplantation therapies should work but it's likely to take a long time.'"

And during that long time, I believe that adult/umbilical cord blood advances will transform medicine, making human cloning for therapies superfluous.

And here is an irony in the story. The reporter, Ryan J. Foley, writes:"One day, some believe the [embryonic stem] cells will become sources of brain tissue, muscle and bone marrow to replace diseased or injured body parts." But why do we need ES cells to get these kinds of cells when we have them either in our own bodies or adult stem cells are already producing them?


Assisted Suicide, Yes: Incandescent Light Bulbs, No

Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, who tried to legalize assisted suicide last year and will again this year, has another pet cause: Outlawing the sale of incandescent light bulbs in the Golden State. So in Levine's world, a doctor should be able to write a lethal prescription to kill a patient, but if the local Ace Hardware store sells a light bulb, it's time for the slammer. Talk about misplaced legislating.


Thursday, February 08, 2007

Biotechnological Colonialism

And so, what I call biotechnological colonialism continues. Now. the Times of London is reporting, British would-be parents are traveling to India to buy embryos for implantation and birth. From the story: "The booming industry has attracted criticism on ethical grounds. Social workers in India fear that poor women are being exploited for 'rent-a'womb' services such as surrogacy, banned for commercial gain in countries such as Australia and China.

"British health professionals, meanwhile, fear a rise in multiple births and an added strain on the Health Service. In Britain, embryo implants are limited to two at a time but in India, where there is no law governing fertility aid, doctors can insert up to five."
(And yes, I agree with the adoptive parents in the story: Race is irrelevant.)

This is just the first trickle of a flood--unless we begin to exercise self restraint. Wait until the cloners go after the eggs of the poor women of India and Bangladesh. We already have Ukrainian women paid $200 to get pregnant and abort to collect fetal stem cells for "beauty treatments." The rich are buying the organs of the destitute. There is no other way to put it, it seems to me: This is neo-colonialism. Only the natural resources being exported from the Developing World are human body parts and embryos--apparently worth far more than their weight in gold.


Swiss Assisted Suicide for the Mentally Ill

I am published today in the First Things blog about the Swiss court ruling permitting assisted suicide for the mentally ill. I point out that the Dutch Supreme Court issued a strikingly similar ruling more than ten years ago and that there is advocacy here in the USA for "rational suicide" among some mental health professionals. The gist of my argument: "No one should be surprised by the Swiss ruling. The two weight-bearing ideological pillars of euthanasia/assisted suicide advocacy–a radical individualistic notion of 'self-ownership' and the deemed propriety of killing as an acceptable answer to the problem of human suffering-virtually compel this result. After all, many people suffer more intensely and for far longer than people who are dying. And, if choice is the be all and end all of personal freedom, then who can gainsay a suffering person's decision to die? Hence, rather than being a radical extension of assisted suicide ideology, the Swiss court decision is simply its logical outcome."


China to "Experiment" With Euthanasia

The Chinese Government is being advised to experiment with euthanasia in preparation for full legalization in coming years. Why are we surprised? A nation that sells the organs of executed prisoners and has a eugenics public policy, is probably not going to be squeamish about doctors killing patients. So, the Dutch--which countenance the killing of disabled infants and patients who have not asked for euthanasia--are going to be in fine company.


Ashley's Case: Final Words

I have a piece in today's NRO about Ashley's Case. The article was written a few weeks ago when the story was hotter, but I think it remains worth our contemplation. In the column, I worry that Ashley was used as a subject of unethical human experimentation, point out that "what we do matters more than why we do it," and endorse Art Caplan's point that parents need to have a realistic "hope that their daughter can be somewhere safe and caring after they are gone."


The Amendment 2 Chickens Come Home to Roost

Missouri is beginning to feel the folly of passing Amendment 2. One of the law's provisions prevented the legislature from refusing to fund embryonic stem cell/human cloning research, if other areas of stem cell research is financed. I warned that this would force the legislature to either fund ESCR/cloning against its will, or refuse to fund stem cell research at all. This seems to be the cause of the refusal of the legislature to fund $300 million for building stem cell research facilities at a state university. Expect such contentiousness to continue in coming years as ESC/cloning advocates continue to try and push for Missouri to pay for their research, and its opponents continue to resist.


New Human Adult Stem Cell Trial: This Time with Fat Stem Cells

Heart patients in Texas will be receiving infusions of their own adult stem cells found in fat, as a method of helping to regenerate damaged heart tissue. This technique has shown good results in animal studies and at least one study in Spain. Let us hope that the 30 initial patients thrive and that our own fat becomes a source of powerful medicine.

(Memo to self: This potential breakthrough is not to be used as an excuse for eating that dish of ice cream to make sure I have enough adult stem cells to care for me if I ever have a heart attack.)


Hawaii Assisted Suicide Bill in Big Trouble

This is great news: The bill to legalize assisted suicide in Hawaii is apparently close to failing. What makes this so impressive is that a few years ago it came within two or three votes of passing the legislature and going on to the former governor who wanted his legacy to be assisted suicide legalization. Good for the Hawaiian opponents for mounting such a strong political advocacy campaign.


The Values of Doctors and the Nontreatment of Patients

The media are making a pretty big splash about a New England Journal of Medicine study, which measured doctors' willingness to refuse desired services if it violated their personal moral codes. From the story: "Based on the findings, the researchers estimate that more than 40 million Americans may be seeing physicians who do not believe that they are obligated to disclose information about legal treatments the doctor objects to, and 100 million have doctors who do not feel the need to refer patients to another provider."

The focus, of course, was on doctors who hold what are labeled conservative beliefs, e.g., abortion, contraception, etc. And there is a pretty strong move underway to compel medical professionals (including pharmacists) to perform these services at the risk of losing their jobs or licenses to practice.

But this is a two-edged sword. Futile care theory, which would authorize doctors to refuse wanted life-sustaining treatment based on their own moral code, also would authorize physicians and other professionals to refuse wanted services. Yet, many bioethicists who are the most adamantly against, say, a Catholic pharmacist being allowed to refuse to distribute contraception, are all for futile care theory. Similarly, when I warn pro lifers that creating so-called "conscience clauses" allowing the refusal of some services could also legitimize medical futility, they will often nod their heads and keep on trucking.

I think there are solutions to these moral dilemmas. And I offer a few here: First, if denying the wanted medical service would likely result in death or significant harm to the health of the patient, it should not be allowed to be refused. Example: No doctor should be allowed to refuse to end an ectopic pregnancy, nor provide food and fluids to a patient diagnosed with permanent unconsciousness when that is what the patient/surrogate decision makers want.

For less pressing issues, surely panels of willing professionals can be found to take over a patient's care or provide contraceptive services. And whenever there is a bona fide conscience issue, all should work together to transfer care to a willing professional.

Finally, doctors and health care institutions should disclose their policies before receiving patients into their care. In this regard, for example, I have urged doctors in Oregon to hang plaques in their waiting rooms declaring the office to be an "assisted suicide free zone."

The genius of our system is our ability to accommodate the beliefs of people holding widely divergent moral and political views. Surely, we can work together to generally respect the moral views of medical professionals, without deleteriously impacting pateients' health.


Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Fumento on Amniotic Stem Cells

Michael Fumento lays out the facts about amniotic fluid stem cells in this Daily Standard piece. Fumento is a science writer and he explains the scientific significance of the breakthrough in a succinct and informative manner. For those interested in such arcania, it's worth a read.

Fumento also gets into the ongoing news blockade that downplays non embryonic stem cell successes in much of the mainstream media. Needless to say, it was in effect at the New York Times about the amniotic fluid stem cell advance: "The New York Times...simply never reported the news about [stem cell researcher Anthony] Atala's work. When a reader complained to the 'Public Editor,' an online ombudsman, about the omission, the Times responded that its genetics reporter, Nicholas Wade, "'ooked at the Atala paper last week and deemed it a minor development.' Wade said of the paper, 'It reports finding 'multipotent' stem cells in amniotic fluid. Multipotent means they can't do as much as bona fide embryonic stem cells (which are called 'pluripotent')."

"...Wade could [not]be more wrong. As Atala told PBS's Online NewsHour, 'We have been able to drive the cell to what we call all three germ layers, which basically means all three major classes of tissues available in the body, from which all cells come from.' I pointed out in a response to the New York Times posting that merely reading the online abstract of the Atala paper indicated the same. Of course, this is the same paper that told readers in 2004 that there were no cures or treatments with adult stem cells. Not 70 cures or treatments, some dating back half a century--none.

It is neither paranoia nor exaggeration to say that the New York Times is engaged in a stem-cell cover-up."

Uh, yea: And the sun rises in the East.


From Near Dehydration Victim to Eater of Eggs

Haleigh Poutre, the little girl who was due to be dehyrated to death because she was supposedly unconscious with no hope of recovery, is now eating eggs and interacting with those around her. And where are the supporters of dehydrating the cognitively disabled? Where are they to explain why and how a little girl was almost killed and nobody would have known the wiser except for fortunate exigent circumstances?

Such decisions to dehydrate those who have not asked, nor can ask, to have their food and water removed is a national shame. And yet we continue to think of these deaths as merely an exercise in determining the "best interests" of incompetent patients based in sound medical ethics.

And, the natural family is now being kept away from visiting her. It is true that Haleigh's biological mother, Allison Avrett, lost her parental rights. But Haleigh's adoptive parents tried to kill her. Now, Avrett and Haleigh's biological maternal grandmother, Sandra Sudyka, want to care for her. And it seems to me that if the problems that caused the loss of parental rights have been remedied, Avrett (or, perhaps Sudyka) should be appointed guardian (again, assuming they are qualified) and put in charge of Haleigh's care.

Regardless of that issue, until a few months ago, they were allowed to visit until stopped by the social workers. This means the girl is once again, isolated--as too often the patients in these food and fluids cases become.

And consider this poignant point from the Boston Globe story: "At the hearings, Sudyka said she is most upset at the thought that Haleigh wonders why she and Avrett abruptly stopped visiting her. The girl can only assume that 'we don't care,' Sudyka said.

This should be a huge national story that punctures our smug presumption that the profoundly disabled are better off dead.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

New Podcast: China and Organ Selling

The potential that China is killing Falun Gong and selling their organs is so sobering and disturbing from a human rights perspective, that I deemed it worth highlighting in this edition of Brave New Bioethics.


The Rise of Infanticide Consciousness

I have been warning that infanticide is being normalized among the intelligentsia and in medicine. This story from Australia is more evidence that this is true. Apparently one-third of Aussie doctors would kill babies born with severe disabilities. And here's an interesting twist that demonstrates that would be disabled baby killers do not come at this from an objective view: "The survey found that doctors who fear a slow and painful death are more likely to hasten the death of sick infants in their care."

In light of recent stories, such as the Swiss court permitting assisted suicide of the mentally ill, can anyone seriously believe that assisted suicide is really about "choice" when nothing else can be done to alleviate the suffering of competent, dying patients?


Shirley's Big Mistake

James Shirley, the MIT stem cell professor who opposes human cloning and ESCR because it destroys nascent human life, a "controversial theory according to this Fox News report," (but basic biology, says I), is on a hunger strike to protest being denied tenure. He is claiming racism. I doubt it. It is more likely to be his "controversial theory." The life science elites allow no heterodox views to be expressed openly about the impropriety of human cloning without career consequences.

But this hunger strike makes him look ridiculous, indeed, like something of a nut. He would be much better off wearing the martyr's shroud and exposing the increasing infringement of true academic freedom that has become part of the atmosphere of our elite universities. Hunger strikes can work--but only if you have a media favorably disposed to promoting your cause. And that sure isn't the case of someone who opposes all human cloning and believes that ESCR is unethical.


Monday, February 05, 2007


The Washington Post is on to me with an article "The Bogus Science of Secondhand Smoke." Well, it was fun while it lasted. Oh, wait: Not my Secondhand Smoke. Secondhand smoke, secondhand smoke. Never mind.

Misdiagnosing Permanent Unconsciousness

This is an important story, byline Carol Burczuk, the jist of which needs to be repeated until it finally sinks in: Just because doctors say someone is "unconscious," it doesn't mean they really are. Often, people are aware but cannot communicate--as in this story. Note, that people spoke about one of the patients as if he weren't there--even using the "V-word," which, disgustingly, the reporter just throws around as if it is okay to denigrate human beings to the level of a radish.(We really need some consciousness raising here!) In any event, it is a long article but it proves that where there is life, there is often hope, and when it comes to consciousness and awareness, we often don't know what the heck is really going on.

Raising the Call to Fight Slavery

I have begun to pay more attention to the crucial human rights issue of slavery, which by its imposition on human beings, denies human exceptionalism and our intrinsic moral worth. Happily, my think tank the Discovery Institute is moving in the same direction. John R. Miller--who I had the great pleasure of meeting during a recent visit to Washington DC--is the DI's senior fellow working in the area of human rights--with a particular interest in combating slavery. He is a former congressman and for the last several years was a diplomat in the State Department in charge of monitoring human trafficking.

In this NRO piece, Miller urges Freedom House to live up to its name and tradition of excellence by focusing more closely on issues of slavery and human trafficking. Here are a few of his key points:

"What Freedom House has constructed is an index that measures the freedom of the free. If you are a slave, you do not count in the Freedom House index. More importantly, the efforts of those attempting to save you in your adopted country are not weighed in Freedom House's ratings. This approach may reflect the thinking of Aristotle but not of Frederick Douglass.

Freedom House might argue that it cannot evaluate modern day slavery since no government today has laws sanctioning slavery, and most have laws banning the practice. But this argument would contradict the premise of most of Freedom House's report. When it assesses political rights and civil liberties in countries, Freedom House looks not just at the existence or absence of laws, but how the laws are implemented and enforced.

Freedom House should take the same approach with modern-day slavery and ask some of the following questions:
*Are the anti-human trafficking laws being ignored or carried out? Are human traffickers and other perpetrators being punished?
*Are the victims helped or punished?
*Are civil and religious groups who fight modern day slavery merely tolerated or encouraged?
*Is the society that creates the demand for slaves being educated so as to reduce demand?

These are questions that are already being asked by the U.S. State Department and many abolitionist organizations. Modern-day slavery is emerging as a premier human-rights and freedom issue of the 21st century. The illustrious organization with 'freedom' in its name can no longer afford to look the other way."

I hope to work closely with John on issues of mutual concern and keep the readers of Secondhand Smoke apprised of his work on these matters.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Ralph Nader's New Book

If you will all excuse a time out from our usual discussions here at Secondhand Smoke for a personal note: My friend Ralph Nader has a new book out and it looks to be a very special contribution from the man who has dedicated his life to civic engagement. It is called The Seventeen Traditions, and it seems a far more personal and reflective book than we are used to seeing from Ralph. I am thrilled for him and for his readers.

I just received it today, so I haven't read it yet, but it is clear that he is not writing about policy. Rather, he evokes the forces that shaped him during his formative years--"the traditions"--as he calls them, e.g., The Tradition of Listening, The Tradition of Sibling Equality, the Tradition of Discipline, The Tradition of Simple Enjoyments, The Tradition of Independent Thinking, etc. Ralph's family and upbringing have always been his secret weapon. And he tells us about it here.

This is the Ralph Nader I know behind the scenes and out of the public spotlight. He is a man of deep convictions, who thrives on policy debates, sure. But there is so much more to RN, a bedrock strength and idealism that permeates all that he does. And it looks like he reveals its source here.

When I was a teenager, long before I met him, I idolized Ralph and found tremendous inspiration in his passion for justice. After I began writing with him, he inspired me to (actually, I had no choice, he insisted), find levels of excellence in myself that I might not otherwise ever have achieved. In much the same way, I believe that through The Seventeen Traditions, Ralph is reaching out to inspire all of us be the best we can be--both civically and personally. And isn't that just like him?

Shame on Pinker for Using the V-Word

In his Time essay, about which I just commented, Steven Pinker uses the V-word to describe someone with profound cognitive incapacities. He really shouldn't. None of us should ever use that word any more than we would the odious N-word for black folk, or the C-word for women. Even used obliquely, as Pinker does the V-word, these denigrating terms are intended to demean, dehumanize, and degrade. As such, they are dangerous and should not be part of any respectable person's vocabulary.

Pinker speaks of humans being cruel in his essay. There is no denying it. Indeed, using a pejorative term that reduces some human beings to the level of a radish is precisely that.

Attack on Human Exceptionalism in TIME

We shouldn't be surprised that Time magazine would allow the evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker to write about what science knows--or thinks it knows--about the phenomenon of consciousness. But the magazine also lets him move way beyond the scientific realm and a recitation of empirical information, into rank philosophizing. That being so, it should have mentioned that Pinker is, along with Dawkins, a debunker of belief in anything beyond the merely material, that is, he is a denier of the potential Truths found in noetic exploration, experience, philosophy, meditation, prayer, and faith. To Pinker, all we are is meat on the hoof, and our value can be determined by the sum and substance of what can be measured in our brains.

But we are much more than that. As Pinker demonstrates by the very act of philosophizing, we are moral beings. In this realm, science can only play, at most, a supporting role. Indeed, science has no capacity to tell us what is moral and immoral, what is right from what is wrong: Not that you would know that from Pinker's essay. He ends his discourse with an explicitly philosophical appeal, steeped in pure scientism: "My own view is that...the biology of consciousness offers a sounder basis for morality than the unprovable dogma of an immortal soul. It's not just that an understanding of the physiology of consciousness will reduce human suffering through new treatments for pain and depression. That understanding can also force us to recognize the interests of other beings--the core of morality."

Why exactly, this is the core of morality, Pinker doesn't say. In fact, in a purely Darwinian sense, this is senseless. If all there is, to use my vernacular, is news, weather, and sports, if all we are is a physical phenomenon that somehow became aware of itself, why should we give two cents for the suffering of other beings?

Pinker thinks it is because we share brain parts:

"As every student in Philosophy 101 learns, nothing can force me to believe that anyone except me is conscious. This power to deny that other people have feelings is not just an academic exercise but an all-too-common vice, as we see in the long history of human cruelty. Yet once we realize that our own consciousness is a product of our brains and that other people have brains like ours, a denial of other people's sentience becomes ludicrous. 'Hath not a Jew eyes?' asked Shylock. Today the question is more pointed: Hath not a Jew--or an Arab, or an African, or a baby, or a dog--a cerebral cortex and a thalamus? The undeniable fact that we are all made of the same neural flesh makes it impossible to deny our common capacity to suffer."

So a dog is the moral equal of a Jew and an Arab because it has a frontal lobe, a thalamus, and a brain stem? It also has a heart and kidneys. Why not include them in the mix? Talk about an exercise in reductionism! But hey, if we want to get reductionist, let's do it right: All flora and fauna are made up of carbon molecules. So, I guess that means we are essentially no different from a fungus or a tapeworm.

"And when you think about it, the doctrine of a life-to-come is not such an uplifting idea after all because it necessarily devalues life on earth. Just remember the most famous people in recent memory who acted in expectation of a reward in the hereafter: the conspirators who hijacked the airliners on 9/11."

How sophomoric. Really.

"Think, too, about why we sometimes remind ourselves that 'life is short.' It is an impetus to extend a gesture of affection to a loved one, to bury the hatchet in a pointless dispute, to use time productively rather than squander it. I would argue that nothing gives life more purpose than the realization that every moment of consciousness is a precious and fragile gift."

This is to whistle past the graveyard, it seems to me. That aside, Pinker is promoting personhood theory, which finds value in consciousness rather than humanness, which is to say, it denigrates human exceptionalism and moves us away from intrinsic human value and universal human rights. Indeed, he seems to believe--and I would have to read more by him to know for sure--that any creature with consciousness deserves equal consideration--just like Peter Singer. Of course, being exceptional beings, only humans will be the ones giving the equal consideration. All other wildlife on the planet will be engaged in the tooth and claw of Darwinian struggle, taking all they can get for themselves and/or family units from whatever source is available.

PETA Animal Killers Convicted of...Littering

I wonder if PETA gets the irony? Its workers, who were accused of animal cruelty for euthanizing dogs and cats--some of whom were adoptable--and then dumping them into a trash bin, were found not guilty of that charge. Instead, the jury found them guilty of littering.

Okay. But what does that mean about the moral worth of the animals that were killed? If one dumped human remains in a trash container, the charge would be far more serious than mere littering. So, while the jury decided not to hit the PETA killers too hard, it also--in its own way--issued an implied message about human exceptionalism and the vast difference between the moral worth of animals and that of people. As I said: I wonder if PETA gets the irony?

Friday, February 02, 2007

Swiss Death on Demand Ruling Verified

Anyone who asserts seriously that euthanasia/assisted suicide is "only for the terminally ill for whom nothing else can be done to alleviate suffering," just doesn't want to see the writing on the wall. We have seen euthanasia for the depressed approved in the Netherlands by that country's high court previously. Now, the Swiss Supreme Court ruling allowing assisted suicide for the mentally ill that I alluded to earlier today, is being reported by the Herald Tribune.

My Letter in Today's NYT

I have a letter in today's NYT about "Ashely's Case." Here it is:

"A Disabled Girl's Rights

Peter Singer ('A Convenient Truth,' Op-Ed, Jan. 26) supports subjecting 'Ashley,' a profoundly intellectually disabled girl, to surgical and hormonal interventions to keep her small.

In backing her parents' decision, he asserts that she has value only 'because her parents and siblings love her and care about her.'

By denying Ashley's equal moral worth simply for being human, Mr. Singer opens the door to the potential for terrible oppression.

After all, if we must demonstrate minimal capacities to earn full moral status, the entire concept of universal human rights becomes untenable."

Swiss Allow Assisted Suicide Virtually on Demand

The Swiss assisted suicide facilitating organization Dignitas, has issued a euphoric notice to the death on demand crowd with news that a Swiss court has apparently accepted that the group can help kill the mentally ill as a matter of human rights. I have seen the below quoted memo from two separate sources--one an assisted suicide advocacy organization--so I regard it as a bona fide Dignitas communication issued to co-believers around the world. (It is, however, possible that the memo misstates the court ruling and indeed, this ruling hasn't hit the news yet, so it might not be true.)

The memo is too long to print in full, (it can be linked above), but here is the gist:

"Dignitas in Switzerland issued this bulletin on 1 February 2007: The Swiss Federal Court has acknowledged the right of a person to determine the way and the point in time of his/hers end of life as a guaranteed European human right and at the same time basically granted mentally ill this right just like everyone else, if they have capacity of discernment...

The Federal Court stated as follows:
*The right of self-determination in the sense of article 8 § 1 ECHR includes the right to decide on the way and the point in time of ending ones own life; providing the affected person is able to form his/her will freely and act thereafter.

*It cannot be denied that an incurable, long-lasting, severe mental impairment similar to a somatic one can create a suffering out of which a patient would find his/her life in the long run not worth living anymore...However, utmost restraint needs to be exercised: It has to be distinguished between the wish to die that is expression of a curable psychic distortion and which calls for treatment, and the wish to die that bases on a self-determined, carefully considered and lasting decision of a lucid person ("balance suicide") which possibly needs to be respected...

* [T]he appropriate assessment requires the presentation of a special in-depth psychiatric opinion.

On Thursday, the General Secretary of DIGNITAS, Ludwig A. Minelli, explained that with the acknowledgement of the right to an accompanied suicide as an ECHR-right all intentions to prevent with special "rules" people from other countries to come to Switzerland for an accompanied suicide to have no more grounds."

If the court did indeed rule as claimed, death on demand--the ultimate destination of the nihilistic euthanasia movement--has come to Europe. And lest one tut-tut and say such things could not happen here, that mentally ill people can't get assisted suicide--they may have already. Recall that Oregon does not explicitly require competence or mental health to qualify for assisted suicide, but rather, that the patient merely be "capable," meaning able to communicate a medical decision. (Many depressed and otherwise mentally ill people can communicate medical decisions.) Indeed, we have seen in the Michael P. Freeland case, an Oregon man permitted by psychiatrists to keep the his lethal prescription of poison pills even after he was hospitalized for psychotic delusions and required a court-appointed guardian.

And as for the concept of a "balanced suicide," it is being promoted in US mental health journals under the category of "rational suicide."

What it is, of course, is utter abandonment.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Anything Goes

Comes now the International Society for Stem Cell Research with its "Guidelines for the Conduct of Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research." Par for the course, it is almost anything goes that can be done today--including creating new embryos through IVF fertilization for use in ESCR, cloning research, and permission to buy human eggs. But it is all to be done ethically, of course.

I hope to have more on this in coming days.

The Wonder of Ethical Biotechnology

I keep saying it and saying it: Most biotechnology is ethical and exciting. And here is a great example: A former U.S. Marine whose arm was amputated, had implants placed in her brain that help her manipulate a prosthetic arm. But there's more: "Now doctors have re-routed the ends of arm nerves to a patch of skin on her chest--allowing her to regain the sensation of having her lost hand touched." Next step will "be for touch sensors on the artificial hand" to transmit "signals back to the re-routed nerves, allowing patients to have accurate sensations of touch, temperature and joint position." Fabulous. And no treating of any human organism as a mere resource ripe for the harvest nor efforts to create a utopian post-humanity. Bravo.

More Evidence of Chinese Organ Harvesting Abomination

Increasingly, it looks as if China is harvesting organs from unwilling Falun Gong and others for sale on the open market. Canadian human rights activists David Kilgour and David Matas have issued a second report, this time including interviews with organ recipients. I haven't read the new one yet, but the first one chilled me to my bones--about which I wrote last summer.

If this is happening, however, we need not cast all blame on the immoral Chinese. We need to also look in a mirror. Organs wouldn't be harvested for sale unless there were willing buyers. Thus, just like slavery was profitable because of non slave holders' support, the same is true of what appears to be a growing black market in organs. People should be ashamed to go to China to buy organs. But increasingly, they are not. Last April, my wife, Debra J. Saunders, wrote about this phenomenon in one of her very best columns in the San Francisco Chronicle called, suitably enough, "American Vampire."

I will follow up as time allows. In the meantime, throughout the world human life is being reduced to a mere commodity on many different levels. Such is the natural course when we reject the idea of human exceptionalism and the intrinsic worth of all human life.