Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Warning Too Little and Too Late: Watch Out for Stem Cell "Therapeutic Misperception"

File this in the "talk about Chutzpah!" folder: Two Stanford bioethicists, Mildred Cho and David Magnus, have written a column in Nature Reports Stem Cells bemoaning the hype and exaggeration that may have led people to have unreasonable expectations for embryonic stem cell research. From their paper (citations omitted):

The term "therapeutic misconception" was originally coined in 1982 to describe a fundamental confusion among research subjects and researchers alike between the goals of research (generalisable knowledge) and the goals of clinical care (improving the health of an individual patient)...

The therapeutic misconception is a particular concern for stem cell researchers for two reasons. First, like gene transfer (formerly misleadingly known as "gene therapy"), stem cell research is a frontier field. The potential for therapeutic misconception is especially large because of the promises already made, such as promotion of California's Proposition 71 to fund stem cell research by slogans such as "save lives with stem cells", and use of the term "therapeutic cloning" before any therapies exist.

Slogans such as "save lives with stem cells" boost the risk that people will overestimate the benefits and underestimate the risks of participating in stem cell research.

Well, no kidding! Funny, when Proposition 71's boosters were spending $35 million promoting therapeutic misconception so thick you could cut it with a knife throughout California, I didn't see Cho or Magnus--whose university is going to be a huge beneficiary of Proposition 71 money,--voicing strong objections to the propaganda that caused voters to swallow that particular white elephant whole.

Cho and Magnus continue:
Second, some stem cell research will depend upon participation of a class of individuals who are not patients and also not research subjects--egg donors--and for whom a different type of therapeutic misconception can exist. We have argued that this group be called research donors to distinguish them from research subjects.
Apparently, Cho and Magnus aren't above shoveling a little misconception of their own. ESCR and SCNT (cloning) are non synonyms, even though the authors write as if the terms are indistinguishable. ESCR does not require eggs to conduct: It requires embryos from which to derive stem cells. SCNT does require eggs with which to (in theory) manufacture embryos, one potential use for which would be to derive stem cell lines.

Yes, women should be told, as the authors note, that by engaging in the potentially dangerous egg procurement process, they may not directly benefit from cloning or stem cell research. But, like the feminists involved in Hands Off Our Ovaries, I don't believe researchers should be allowed to obtain eggs from women at all for this purpose. There is no reason to risk death, infertility, and illness so someone at Stanford can strike it rich by learning how to reliably create cloned human embryos.

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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Good Anti Assisted Suicide Column by Disability Rights Activists


Next year, Washington voters may decide whether to legalize assisted suicide. Already, the argument has begun. Here's a good piece published in the Olympian by Joelle Brouner, a member of paper's Diversity Panel and a disability rights activist, arguing why voters should reject legalization--as they did in 1991. Here is a powerful paragraph that nails its target:

Physician-assisted suicide is less about choice or pain management than power. If legalized, physician-assisted suicide will inevitably align the power of the state, big money interests and a broken medical system. If the state sanctions the participation of medical professionals in the killing of patients, the matter transcends the individual who dies. We cannot divorce ourselves from policy decisions made in our name. As citizens, we would all be complicit, by extension, in these deliberate deaths.
Read the whole thing. It is an excellent example of how disability rights activists are making the difference in the assisted suicide debate.

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Dog Arthritis Adult Stem Cell Success Conundrum for Animal Rights Activists

Animal liberationists would probably boo this story:

Jago is a lucky dog. Thanks to a new stem cell therapy, the highly trained German Shepherd was given a second chance to return to Beaverton's police force.

For the past 2 1/2 years, Jago has worked alongside Officer Ken Magnus as his K-9 partner and backup. Together the team has captured more than three dozen suspects.

To animal rights activists, that is like saying that Jago is one lucky slave. Even though the dog clearly provided a substantial benefit to humans, they would insist that being trained to do the dangerous work of a police dog was abuse.

While chasing a suspect, Jago fell down after jumping a wall:
Magnus realized something was wrong with his partner after Jago took a hard fall Jan. 10 while tracking a home burglary suspect. Jago leapt over a wall, went down hard and twisted his body. He got back up and continued the pursuit. "I noticed he had trouble getting up from a laying down position," Magnus recalled. "At first I thought he may just be sore, but within a week's time it seemed to be getting worse."
The diagnosis was arthritis. Adult stem cells to the rescue.
The treatment involved harvesting regenerative adult stem cells from the fat in Jago's groin area, sending them to a lab to be processed and then injecting them back into his problematic joints. "The therapy is very new for dogs, but it's been very successful in treating horses that have been injured," Zikes said. "This was Jago's last chance," Magnus said... Jago underwent treatment in July and the results impressed everyone. "He improved dramatically," Zikes said. "He's a gorgeous dog. Looking at him now, you’d never know that he had to have this treatment. The potential of this stem cell therapy is really exciting." Within 12 days, Jago was back on patrol and showing signs of huge improvement.
This is a good news, good news story: Adult stem cells continue to demonstrate tremendous potential for regenerative medicine and a police dog is back on the beat. But I suspect liberationists will only see red and grind their teeth at the injustice of returning Jago to slavery and his use in medical experimentation without consent; typical abuse of an innocent animal at the hands of exploitive human "supremicists."

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

New Human Trial With Adult Stem Cells to Treat MS in the UK

The media will continue to squawk about how embryonic stem cells may years from now treat MS, but adult stem cells are already moving forward into human trials in the UK. (As I previously reported, adult stem cells have stopped MS from worsening in a Canadian human trial.) From the Telegraph story:

Neil Scolding, professor of clinical neurosciences for North Bristol NHS Trust, who is leading the trial, said: "We believe that bone marrow cells have the capability to repair precisely the type of damage that we see in the brain and spinal cord in MS.So by giving patients very large numbers of their own bone marrow cells we hope that this will help stabilise the disease and bring about some repair."

The trial, which started six months ago, is one of the first to use patients' own bone marrow stem cells to treat their MS. It involves six people with MS, aged between 30 and 60, having a pint of bone marrow extracted from their pelvises. The processed material, containing stem cells, is then injected on the same day into the patients' arms.

Over a period of months, the patients will be monitored closely and given regular brain scans to see what impact the treatment has had on them.

This is very exciting. If it works--admittedly a big if--a lot of people are going to receive a lot of benefit.

Austria Court Refuses to Rule Chimp a Person

The picture to the left is of Hiasl the chimp. An Austrian court just refused to declare him a person. This is good news, but animal liberationists who seek his entry into the moral community of humans will keep at it in Austria and elsewhere until they find a court radical enough to presume to redefine personhood to include animals.

Here are a few excerpts from the AP story with my quick thoughts on the matter:

He's now got a human name--Matthew Hiasl Pan--but he's having trouble getting his day in court. Animal rights activists campaigning to get Pan, a 26-year-old chimpanzee, legally declared a person vowed Thursday to take their challenge to Austria's Supreme Court after a lower court threw out their latest appeal.

Silly lede to the story. Hiasl only has a name because it was given to him by humans. We do that kind of thing, for ourselves and for animals. It is part of what we, unlike any other species, do.

A provincial judge in the city of Wiener Neustadt dismissed the case earlier this week, ruling that the Vienna-based Association Against Animal Factories had no legal standing to argue on the chimp's behalf. The association, which worries the shelter caring for the chimp might close, has been pressing to get Pan declared a "person" so a guardian can be appointed to look out for his interests and provide him with a home.

No, they want him named a person so they can utterly upset the human/animal apple cart and destroy our belief in human exceptionalism.

The legal tussle began in February, when the animal shelter where Pan and another chimp, Rosi, have lived for 25 years filed for bankruptcy protection. Activists want to ensure the apes don't wind up homeless if the shelter closes...

Their upkeep costs about euro4,800 (US$6,800) a month. Donors have offered to help, but there's a catch: Under Austrian law, only a person can receive personal gifts. Organizers could set up a foundation to collect cash for Pan, whose life expectancy in captivity is about 60 years. But they contend that only personhood will give him the basic rights he needs to ensure he isn't sold to someone outside Austria, where he's now protected by strict animal cruelty laws.

So, Hiasl's future could easily be provided for permanently by establishing a foundation and have it purchase him. But caring for the chimp is secondary to the actual advocacy goal. See above.

There is legal precedence in Austria for close friends to represent people who have no immediate family, "so he should be represented by his closest friends, as is the case," said Eberhart Theuer, the group's legal adviser. "On these grounds we have appealed this decision to the Supreme Court in Vienna," he said. The Association Against Animal Factories points out that it's not trying to get Pan declared a human, but rather a person, which would give him some kind of legal status.

Well, of course he isn't trying to get the chimp declared a human because the animal is a chimp! This, means, however, that a guardianship is clearly not appropriate. Only dependent humans should have legal guardians. Otherwise, the animals could bring lawsuits and be entitled to all of the other protections at law enjoyed by dependent humans--with animal liberationists the real parties in interest using the name of the chimp (or other animal) to pursue their own ideological agendas.

This issue of chimp and other animal personhood will keep popping up. Indeed, having chimps declared persons is one of the goals of the Great Ape Project. Stay tuned...

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Battin Assisted Suicide Report Demonstrates the Vapidity of "Scientific Studies"

The "scientific study" has become the modern-day equivalent to Biblical scripture: They can be made to support whatever result the "studier" desires.

Case in point: A just released study by Margarette P. Battin of the University of Utah, claiming that there is no assisted suicide "slippery slope." Unmentioned (of course) in the stories about the study (such as this one on Scientific American.com) is that Battin has been an ardent euthanasia and assisted suicide legalization activist for more than 25 years, a woman so committed to the cause that she has long supported permitting assisted suicide for categories of people way beyond the terminally ill. Indeed, as reported in Rita Marker's seminal book Deadly Compassion, Battin was published in the Hemlock Quarterly all the way back in 1982 promoting what has since come to be called "rational suicide."

In 1985, she spoke at the Hemlock Society annual conference, where in addition to promoting assisted suicide and euthanasia, she suggested such deaths would be a splendid way to save money. From Marker's account (page 150):

Those least capable of withstanding the pressure to request euthanasia or commit suicide would be people who have been the least self-determining throughout their lives, Battin suggested. She noted that particularly vulnerable would be a woman who has lived for her family and has always been concerned about the needs and comfort of others. There will be an interest in avoiding the burdens of care and large bills," she pointed out. "We may wish to comply with this interest."
This advocacy has continued steadily for more than 25 years. As I noted in Forced Exit: Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide, and the New Duty to Die (page190), Battin even supports the so-called "duty to die." I wrote :
Other bioethicists have also weighed in on establishing a duty to die. University of Utah philosopher Margaret P. Battin, for example, has argued that global egalitarianism may one day require people in richer countries to forgo expensive life-sustaining treatment or even commit suicide to promote "the interests of justice in health care," which would be "reflected in more nearly equal health prospects and life expectancies around the globe. Not surprisingly, Battins is an enthusiast for legalizing euthanasia.
Besides her clear bias, Battin's so-called study acknowledges that elderly, disabled, and other non terminally ill people are indeed being euthanized in the Netherlands, including killings of patients who did not ask to be euthanized. If that isn't the slippery slope, what is?

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

German Neighors Don't Like Assisted Suicide Apartments Either

Dignitas, the assisted suicide facilitating organization from Switzerland is extending its tentacles into Germany. Just as the Swiss neighbors of the group's suicide safe house objected to all of the corpses being carried out, so too now, have Germans:

ZURICH (Reuters) - Right-to-die group Dignitas has been barred from its premises in a Zurich suburb after neighbors objected to the use of the apartment for assisted suicides, the local council said Wednesday.

It was the second blow for the non-profit association this year, after it was forced to move from a previous suburban Zurich apartment when residents complained.

Last week, the local council ordered the charity to stop using the new apartment and apply to change its official function from a residence to an "assisted suicide flat."

"Dignitas continued to ignore the ban and still carried out assisted suicides," council official Daniel Scheidegger told Reuters. "So we decided to enforce the ban."

The nihilism is so thick you can cut it with a knife.

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"No Brakes"

I am a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and the Culture. I was recently asked to comment on the UK's approval of permitting scientists to try and create human/animal cloned embryos, apparently called "cybrids." It is called "No Brakes." Here is my conclusion:

What are we to make of this? On one hand, the cybrid story may never amount to much. Given the tremendous difficulties in creating cloned embryos using human eggs, it would seem highly unlikely that cybrid embryos will prove any easier to manufacture. Moreover, even though the animal essence in each resulting stem cell would amount to less than one percent, this foreign substance could be enough to prevent proper embryonic development and/or the safe use of cybrid stem cells in human patients.

On the other hand, the approval by British regulators for creating manimal embryos—and the widespread support for the decision among the American media elite and biotechnology sector--illustrates the growing recklessness and hubris among the scientific establishment.Unwilling to pause long enough for society to ethically grapple with the awesome powers they are assuming, refusing to accept any meaningful ethical limits, presuming that because they think they
can do something that they should go right out and do it, advocates for cloning and ESCR have demonstrated that they have no intention in engaging in self restraint. It is as if they have drained all the brake fluid from the bus and we now are careering toward the precipice with seemingly no way to stop.
My point is I don't see any ethical lines that "the scientists" will ever accept permanently. That means it is up to society, through democratic processes, to tell the powerful biotechnology sector that there are some areas that they cannot enter. But as long as "the scientists" keep hyping CURES! CURES! CURES! it will be a difficult row to hoe.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Adult Stem Cells May Prevent Need for Liver Transplants

Here we go again: Adult stem cells moving forward faster than we could have hoped only a few years ago. This time it is liver disease: Rats were injected with their own bone marrow stem cells helping to repair their damaged livers. From the story in the Telegraph:

The liver is known to be one of the few major organs able to regenerate itself when parts have been removed.

The scientists found that they could encourage this natural tendency by inserting stem cells into the damaged livers of rats. They used Mesenchymal stem cells, which are found in the bone marrow.

Dr Martin Yarmush, who led the study published in the journal of the Public Library of Science, said: "We have identified a non-hepatic source of cells that can easily be expanded to the scale required for clinical application."

According to the story, scientists believe the treatment will one day keep people going long enough to survive long waiting lists for liver transplants, perhaps even obviate the need for a new organ altogether. Human trials should be coming soon. Let's hope it works as well in humans as it has in rats.

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Depopulate Berkeley!

A commentary by a woman named Edna Spector published in Berkeley's Daily Planet urges that the city's young lead the way to voluntarily making the human race extinct by not having children. Spector writes:

Friends! The hour of judgment is at hand for our planet. Doom is knocking on our door in the form of catastrophic climate change. Global warming not only threatens our so-called way of life, it threatens the very existence of the planet itself! Here in Berkeley, we must do more than our fair share to offset this crisis. Why more than our fair share? Quite simply because other communities cannot be relied on to do even their meager fair share in cutting back on carbon emissions. We must make up for what others fail to do on a global scale through our own heroic self-sacrifice. We cannot afford to wait until 2050 to meet our modest carbon emission reduction goals. Many of us who passed this measure will not even be alive then to implement it. By 2050 it will have been too late for this planet I fear, possibly far too late for all of the extinct species whose blood will be on our hands. This is no time for buying absolution through carbon credits or for half-assed symbolic measures which mostly have a feel good significance.

No, the time for bolder self-sacrifice has arrived. The only real, long term hope for the eco-sphere is a massive human population collapse, hopefully leading to the voluntary extinction of the human race. Already, a new urgency and groundswell of support is building for the idea that humans are a type of super toxin which the planet cannot sustain or support in the longterm. Cogent support for the voluntary extinction of the human race is well-articulated in all its ramifications and implications here : www.vhemt.org.

It is tempting to dismiss this hysterical hyperbole as either burning satire or pure fringe nuttery. Unfortunately, I think that she is serious. Moreover, she is right that her views are not entirely outside the mainstream of the political Left. Indeed, her essay is a prime example of the profound nihilism and misanthropy that seems to be infecting that side of the political road like a virus, to the point I have concluded that humanism is devolving into anti-humanism. (The political Right has problems too, but not anti-humanism.)

And catch this last bit:
Imagine if Berkeley has the honor of becoming the first human ghost town on earth to revert to a primal state of nature! The oaks old and new will flourish along the streams in which trout and salmon teem! Mountain lions will boldly roam the plains and not confine themselves to Wildcat Road in Tilden Park any longer. Perhaps bears from other regions of the state will finally return to what we call "Grizzly Peak Blvd." The grasslands will return to the slopes of the hills after forest fires clear them off and the air will blow pure and sweet over the bubbling creeks just as it once did when the ancestors of Running Wolf roamed the Bayshore in peace and harmony with all nature.
But what difference would it make if humans weren't around to appreciate it? Think about it: The dinosaurs lived for hundreds of millions of years and yet their grandeur was never once recognized in all that time. It took the exceptional species--us--to see the wonder. Similarly, if the bubbling creeks bubble and we aren't there to sigh in contentment, the planet might as well be as lifeless as Venus.

HT: Kathi Hamlon

Not Writiing About Vatican Food and Fluids Directive

















I have been asked whether I will comment on the Vatican's directive regarding the application of tube-supplied food and fluids to those with a diagnosis of persistent vegetative state. I will not. That is a sectarian matter about which I am not qualified to comment.

That being noted, I believe it is wrong to deprive someone of food and fluids because they have a profound cognitive impairment. If people want to be dehydrated in such circumstances, it should be up to them to make that very clear in a written advance directive. Otherwise, the presumption should be for continued life, unless the provision of F and F is medically unwarranted, such as when the person is actively dying and the body is shutting down.

On a related note, I see that Michael Schiavo's little political PAC has failed and he is shutting it down. Why the man ever thought he could be an attractive leader is beyond me.

(Photo by WJS)

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Animal Rights Activists Steal Preschool Children's' Pet Rabbit

In Seattle some animal rights activists apparently stole the pet rabbit of children who attend a preschool. The liberated rabbit is no doubt now hungry and fearful of predators since it was probably dumped in the wild and has no experience of living on its own. Meanwhile, the children are sad. From the story:

Teachers gathered the children in a circle at the beginning of the day so that they could remember Sugar Bunny. Some drew pictures. Others wrote songs."We had a little rabbit. His name was Sugar Bunny. Sometimes we took him out and he ran around and sometimes he rested outside. Where did Sugar Bunny go? Will they give him back? What did they do with him?" were the words to a song that student Braden composed.

"We talked about how some people have different ideas about animals. Some people don't think they should be in cages," said Peters..."I just pet him and hugged him," said Christian.

Sugar Bunny helped many of the children get over their separation anxiety when they were dropped off at school, said Peters.
The people at PETA were asked what they thought. Being no dummies when it comes to PR, the PETA spokesman refused to "endorse" the stealing of children's bunny. Clever use of words: Refusing to endorse is not the same thing at all as condemning the action.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Clueless on Cloning

The New York "all the news we see fit to print" Times has a clueless editorial out today about human/animal hybrid cloning. Here are a few tidbits:

Stem cell research in the United States has been hobbled for years by severe and misguided restrictions on federal funding. But now a vexing additional problem is slowing even privately financed research. There are distressingly few women willing to donate their eggs for experiments at the frontiers of this promising science.
Gee, how selfish of women not to risk death, infertility, infection, blood clots, and other serious side effects to promote morally contentious and speculative research. I suggest that any woman of child bearing age at the New York Times editorial board lead by example and undergo the onerous process of super-ovulation.
Surplus embryos from fertility clinics can seldom be used to study specific diseases or develop treatments for them. Scientists need to develop new stem cell lines genetically matched to patients with diseases like diabetes or Parkinson's. They typically take the nucleus of a patient's skin cell and inject it into an egg whose nucleus has been removed. If all goes well, the desired stem cell can be derived from the result.
Yes, well that is cloning, a word the Times doesn't use. Moreover, the Times' editorialist must not know that Wu-suk Hwang was a fraud and that embryonic stem cells have not yet been derived from cloned embryos. At most, one could write that "in theory" genetically matched stem cells can be derived. Thus, the use of the present tense is either ignorant or intentionally misleading.
There is little doubt that human eggs would be better for research and ultimately treatment. But with a shortage of donors, animal eggs could prove a valuable alternative. Meanwhile, many scientists are hoping that it will be possible, without using eggs at all, to convert human skin cells directly into embryonic stem cells, as has been shown possible in mice. That would be an elegant solution to the vexing egg donor problem.
No, the elegant solution would be in not having to create and destroy embryos through human cloning and would offer a way to desist from using nascent human life instrumentally.

The Times' pointing to Brave New Britain as an example of enlightened (we never say no) regulation demonstrates the paper's "blank check" mindset. I cannot imagine the paper ever supporting reasonable regulations over biotechnology. Mark my words, in ten years when "the scientists" are telling us we need to gestate cloned fetuses to get the CURES! the NYT will be promoting the cause enthusiastically.

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

More Cloning Hype from Ian Wilmut

The media can't get enough of this man's pontificating, but they don't look at his history to see that what he says should be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism. For example, Wilmut wrote in his book The Second Creation, that he wanted nothing to do with human cloning. Rather, his interests lay in animal cloning--hence Dolly--and genetically engineering sheep--hence the transgenic cloned sheep Polly--to derive useful medicinal substances from ewes' milk. But that venture went belly up financially, so suddenly Wilmut got very interested in human cloning.

Then, Wilmut said he believed that reproductive cloning should be allowed in some circumstances.

Then, he wanted to engage in ethically questionable medical experiments on the dying using unproven embryonic stem cells.

Now, he says that human/animal hybrid clones will bring research successes that will have stem cell therapies available within a decade. From the story:

THE CREATOR of Dolly the sheep has predicted that treatments using stem cells could become as common as antibiotics.

Professor Ian Wilmut, director of the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine at Edinburgh University, said the first of these revolutionary therapies is expected to be available in around a decade and will develop rapidly over the coming years...
Wilmut pointed out that researchers around the world were already considering the use of stem cells to repair corneas, bones and specific cases of spinal cord injury.

"New therapies are just the same as medicines, they have to be tested and shown to be effective and safe," he said. "So it will be a small number of cases and a small number of treatments first, which will grow over the years and the decades.
Unmentioned, of course, is that adult/umbilical cord blood stem cells are already advancing in human trials to deal with some of the very diseases Wilmut wants to use cloning to treat. Moreover, human cloning using human eggs has, so far, been unsuccessful in creating embryos from which stem cells have been derived. And there are real doubts that using animal eggs will even work. Time will tell, of course. But we can count on Wilmut to hype research to the hilt that is not only morally contentious, but so far, entirely speculative and hypothetical.

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Pictures From Italy

Secondhand Smokette once insisted that I "get a hobby" so that I would find ways to relax. I began to shoot photographs. Here are a few I am pleased with from our recent sojourn in Italy that I share for your (I hope) enjoyment.

This is a shot in Rome taken from just above the Forum to some buildings in the sunset:




The glory that was Rome:













Here's a picture of a fruit stand near the Forum as darkness fell. I like the rich colors.









I am fascinated with the textures of rich store displays, which I consider "temporary art." This furniture store in Rome, shot through the window at night with the flash off, is a case in point:















This is a picture taken from inside St. Peter's out through a window that shows Christ from the back in a nice silhouette.















Debra and I have an affinity for this 2500-year-old Etruscan cremation urn that depicts a married couple who seem (like us occasionally) to be bickering. The urn is on display in a museum in the Tuscan hill town of Volterra.


This is the Volterra Cemetery. The flowers are faux and at night the place is entirely lit with small electric lights so that it appears that a candle burns in front of every grave. Both effects are very touching.














In a word: Venice.



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Friday, September 21, 2007

Harris Poll and Embryonic Stem Cell Research

The Harris Poll I referenced in the last post also shows wide support for embryonic stem cell research, 57-19 percent. I think the support is about right, but the opposition is too low. The reason for this (in my view) inaccuracy is that the question is misleading. The ESCR debate is not about whether it should or should not be permitted. Rather, at least in its most pervasive debate, the fight is about President Bush's restrictions on federal funding. There are those (and I know people like this) who support the research but oppose forcing taxpayers to pay for it.

Besides, the real crux of the issue isn't ESCR per se, but rather, whether we should permit human cloning. I wish Harris would ask whether people support or oppose the making of human embryos through cloning for, among many potential uses, destruction and research on their stem cells. In every poll I have seen on that question, the majority is in opposition to human somatic cell nuclear transfer, which is precisely why the pro-cloners work so hard to convince people that cloning isn't really cloning.

Harris should change the first stem cell question to get a more accurate take on what people think about the actual controversy, and add a query about the second, because that is where most of the future political fight will be centered.
Not that the pollsters asked for my advice...

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New Harris Poll Not Good News For Assisted Suiciide Supporters

A new poll has just come out from Harris demonstratingas I suspected--based on all of the the non mass demonstrations, the non mass letter writing campaigns, and the near complete absence of politicians running for office on the issue--assisted suicide is not a wildly popular issue. The poll shows that only 39% support "physician-assisted suicide" while 31% oppose with 21% neutral.

One might say that the pros still outnumber the opposition. But the 21% neutral are more likely to become opponents when the issue is dealt with in depth. (I say this because in all of the voter referenda that have been held, support always dropped precipitously as the campaign progressed, even in Oregon where it won with 51% despite initially leading in the polls in the high sixties.) Or to put it another way, when a change as radical as legalizing assisted suicide is attempted, supporters need more initial agreement to carry the day since those in doubt will tend to vote no.

Some might object to my analysis claiming that the poll is interactive, an on-line survey of people who have agreed to participate in the analysis. But I believe it is close to the mark on this issue. Recall just a month ago the Gallup Poll, which we discussed here at SHS, showed that 49% thought assisted suicide was moral versus 44% that thought it was immoral. (Hit this link for my analysis of that data.)

The bottom line is that in my fourteen years of involvement with this issue, I have found that most people do not put a lot of thought and emotion into supporting or opposing assisted suicide. This means that fewer people can have a greater impact, and we in the opposition camp must be ever vigilant and energetic in our advocacy to maintain a Hippocratic medical system. So far, commitment is making the difference (as in California) in this issue about which most people are simply not engaged.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Adult Stem Cells in the News

Whilst I have been sojourning in the land of incredible pasta, a lot has been happening on the adult stem cell front. In order to catch up, I'll just include a few links and let those of you who are interested follow where they lead:

- Bone marrow stem cells appear to have helped save a German man's life after heart attack;

- Testes stem cells in mice have been transformed into many types of tissues, perhaps pointing the way to treatments for a wide variety of human ailments; (Be skeptical about the Alzheimer's claim in this story.)

- Skin stem cells used to mend spines of rats.

As always, please keep in mind that this is early research or is anecdotal. But the field continues to progress nicely belying the oft-made--and increasingly tattered--claim that ESCR offers the "best hope" for treatments.

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Young Woman Charged With Killing Newborn

Awful stories such as this one pop up from time to time: A Pittsburgh woman gave birth and is charged with killing her newborn daughter minutes after she was born:

"The defendant made no attempt to seek medical care and even went so far as to deny to medical personnel that she had even given birth," investigators said in court papers...The baby was full term, police said. A coroner ruled the death a homicide, saying the infant girl had been alive for about 10 minutes before being suffocated.

We'll see how this plays out at law. But let me pose a question to all of the Peter Singer fans I often hear from: Would he (or do you) even think that such a killing is wrong? I mean, the baby wasn't a person (in his view), and the defendant was, who, if she did the deed, apparently didn't think having a child served her interests or fulfilled her preferences. Hence, assuming the baby's death was painless, I don't see any basis for Singerites objecting to what the woman allegedly did.

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A Not So New Kind of Suicide Hotline

Not to prevent suicide, but to help you learn how to do the deed: A new how-to-commit-suicide hot line, er "counseling" service brought to you from the zealots at Compassion and Choices (formerly Hemlock Society). Typically in efforts such as this, the suicide promoters always try to throw in some "clergy" to make it seem more acceptable, claim that their services will be limited to the terminally ill, and offer provide information about pain control, etc. But that is all veneer. What this effort--and others like it--are really about is teaching people how to kill themselves and giving them moral permission to do it.

Besides, if this 1800-Commit Suicide type of group can so counsel the terminally ill (who aren't always accurately diagnosed), why can't some other pro suicide types open a hot line for the disabled or mentally ill? And indeed, such assisted suicides are already being carried out.

This stunt was entirely predictable. When pro assisted suicide types lose a political battle, as they did this year in California, they often throw the equivalent of a tantrum.

This isn't anything new, of course. The Hemlock Society always engaged in such activities. So does the Final Exit Network. But count on the media to be taken in every time and never ask the hard questions.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Much Happening While I Am Gone

Buena serra from bella Tuscana. I have noticed that much has been happening with the issues we cover. In Brave New Britain, the "we never say no" regulators have approved human-animal cloned chimera embryos and are offering women half off of IVF to "donate" their eggs for use in cloning research.

An assisted suicide initiative is brewing in Washington State.

Adult stem cell research is continuing to progress and another ESCR company has called it quits.

But I am living la dolce vita and these and other dicussions can wait (or Secondhand Smokette will kill me: I am under strict orders to relax.)

So, ciao for now. Thanks for your continued interest in my views and our dicussions here at Secondhand Smoke.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A Tiger That Ignored His Duty to Respect the Life of Others

Can you spot the tiger stalking the man and his elephant. Talk about a near death exprience!

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Monday, September 03, 2007

"Our Posthuman Future: On the Small Screen"

I have a piece in this week's Weekly Standard on The 4400, an interesting sci-fi program on USA Network. Here's an excerpt:

The 4400 began as a run-of-the-mill diversion about how the world reacts to 4,400 people, abducted by aliens, who return (apparently) from the future, each possessing a unique ability. Unexpectedly, at the end of last season, the show took a sharp turn for the better through a clever plot device: Jordan Collier, the villain (or hero), learns how to distill a substance called Promicin from the blood of the 4,400. Collier and fellow "revolutionaries" decide to change the world by distributing the stuff to anyone willing to risk a 50 percent chance of death to experience transcendence in a syringe. The program has ever since been exploring some of the most important cultural cross-currents of our time.

Take, for example, the malaise many apparently feel because they live ordinary lives. The 4400 writers understand this, and thus many of the characters risk taking Promicin rather than live one more day of quiet desperation. Better yet, the characters' lives are transformed without their having to work for it. For example, one Promicin-taker goes from pathetic loser to well-paid and respected FBI interrogator after Promicin gives her the ability to force people to tell the truth.

In real life many people do yearn for extraordinariness to be handed to them on a silver platter. We see this propensity throughout the culture; from the explosive growth of cosmetic surgery, to the increased use of ster-oids, to the desperate craving to touch the lives and thus share in the glamour of celebrities, to the popularity of reality television programs that offer average people the chance to become stars just by playing themselves. The 4400 producers understand well the seductive nature of their premise: They even have a spot on the program's website dedicated to a "fan of the week" who gains the honor by explaining which super-ability he or she would want, and for what purpose...

It's hard to watch the show and not be reminded of the sad "transhumanists"--real life wannabe 4,400s--who are so frustrated by normalcy that they invest all their hopes and dreams in somehow managing to transcend human limitations through the miracles of modern technology. And so they spend their days sharing visions of uploaded minds dwelling immortally in computer software "platforms" while they earnestly wait for "the singularity," a pending technological tipping point of such seismic power that transhumanists believe it will lead--literally--to the creation of a posthuman race. (See my June 26, 2006, WEEKLY STANDARD article, "The Catman Cometh.")

If you haven't seen the program, check it out. It's fun and there is grist for the gray matter.

Okay, now I am off to Italy.

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Time Out

Secondhand Smokette and I are taking our younger Secondhand Niece to Italy for a two week sojourn and a badly needed rest. It will be a busy fall, with work progressing on my animal rights book, articles to write, and an active speaking schedule. Time to recharge the batteries, eat some pasta, drink some chianti, see some history, and enjoy life.

May you all have a wonderful end of summer and I look forward to our continuing exploration of the important issues of bioethics, euthanasia, assisted suicide, animal rights, scientism, and human exceptionalism. Thanks to all for your continued support of Secondhand Smoke.

I expect to be back posting around the 20th. Y'all come back now. Ciao!

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

Get Your Colonoscopy: Part 2

I received news from my doctor that made me doubly glad I had a colonoscopy. The one polyp that was discovered was not the usual kind found in the colon. Rather, it was a benign tumor known as a leiomyoma. There was no chance it would have turned to cancer, but it could have gotten big and caused serious symptoms. If it had grown and I had waited too long, I might have required serious surgery to have it removed. Instead, it is medical waste and my colon is certified tumor and polyp free from bow to stern.

Leiomyomas are common tumors (known as fibroids when they develop in the uterus) but very rare in the colon. Since little is known about colon leiomyomas, my doctor told me we should keep a closer watch than we would have had the growth been a normal polyp. So, in a year or two, I will be back for another colonoscopy, so glad that I did not put off the first one.

Preventive medicine is the ticket to good health on the individual level, and reduced expenditures of health resources on a societal level. If you are over fifty, or if you have colon cancer in your family and are over 40, get a colonoscopy. It doesn't hurt and it could save your life and/or prevent you from having to undergo more serious medical procedures.

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