Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Stem Cells Restore Memory Function in Mice

The Washington Post prominently reports a syndicated story, byline Steven Reinberg of HealthDay News, that stem cells have restored memory in mice. Those would be embryonic stem cells that the media and "the scientists" continually insist offer the "best hope" for such treatments, right? Uh, that would be a big negative. The stem cells came from the brains of the mice. From the story:

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 31 (HealthDay News) -- A new U.S. study involving mice suggests the brain's own stem cells may have the ability to restore memory after an injury.

These neural stem cells work by protecting existing cells and promoting neuronal connections. In their experiments, a team at the University of California, Irvine, were able to bring the rodents' memory back to healthy levels up to three months after treatment.

The finding could open new doors for treatment of brain injury, stroke and dementia, experts say. "This is one of the first reports that you can take a stem cell transplantation approach and restore memory," said lead researcher Mathew Blurton-Jones, a postdoctorate fellow at the university. "There is a lot of awareness that stem cells might be useful in treating diseases that cause loss of motor function, but this study shows that they might benefit memory in stroke or traumatic brain injury, and potentially Alzheimer's disease."

And don't forget that in one human test, Dennis Turner's own neural stem cells seem to have promoted a pronounced remission in Parkinson's disease.

This is all still early, and we don't know whether it will translate into treatments for humans yet. But if I hear one more time that embryonic stem cells and cloning offer the "only hope" or "best hope" for regenerative medical treatments, my brain will explode--and then I will need these treatments.

Also note that mice were required for this experiment--contrary to the ludicrous assertions by animal liberationists that animal research provides no benefit.


Charleston Gazette's Disgraceful Editorial

This editorial in the Charleston Gazette is so despicable it is hard to know where to begin. In applauding the Federal Court's decision not to extradite George Exoo at the request of Ireland for allegedly assisting the suicide of an Irish woman, the editorial makes the most disgraceful, ignorant, and insensitive statements:

Jack Kevorkian, an eccentric known as "Dr. Death," spent eight years in a Michigan prison for murder because he helped a Lou Gehrig's disease victim end his hopeless life.
Yes. And he also assisted the suicides of more than 130 people, most of whom were not terminally ill but disabled. More urgently, imagine how it feels to be a Lou Gehrig's disease patient or a family member, and read in your local newspaper that it officially considers someone with ALS to have a "hopeless life."

And then, the editorial brings up Terri Schiavo:
The grotesque Terri Schiavo case, in which Republican congressmen rushed into emergency session to continue life-support machines sustaining a brain-dead woman, spotlighted the thorny topic.
Never mind, as I wrote in this week's Weekly Standard, that bill was passed with broadly bi-partisan support, including unanimous consent in the U.S. Senate. Terri was not on "life-support machines." Nor was she "brain dead." She was profoundly disabled.

The editorial writer is not only crassly insensitive, but incredibly ignorant. Disgraceful, but all too typical of the MSM on these issues.


Blank Check and Junk Biology in New Jersey's Question 2

The fix is in for New Jersey voters to go $450 million in debt to fund embryonic stem cell research, now that the courts have permitted a bogus ballot description to go out to voters. Few voters will read the initiative itself, but you can here. (It was very hard to find the actual wording of the initiative. Either I am maladroit in conducting on-line research--a real possibility--or this is yet another game of hide the ball by Big Biotech and its camp followers in the media and in politics.)

In any event, Question 2 purports to prevent the bond funds from being used to conduct research into human cloning:

No funds authorized for, or made available to, an eligible research institution pursuant to this act shall be used for the purpose of human cloning.
Sounds good. But once again, Big Biotech's minions resort to junk biology to explicitly permit what they purport to outlaw. Here is how "human cloning" is mis-defined in Question 2:
"Human cloning" means human asexual reproduction accomplished by introducing nuclear material from one or more human cells into a fertilized or unfertilized oocyte whose nuclear material has been removed or inactivated so as to produce a human fetus that is substantially genetically identical to a previously born human being.
(My emphasis.)

This wording would not only permit funding research into human cloning--which is accurately defined as the successful completion of human SCNT-- but would also explicitly permit the state to use borrowed taxpayers' money to pay for research on cloned human embryos through the eighth week--since the fetal stage doesn't commence until week 8.

But the in-the-tank media will never report that--even if they read the actual wording of the initiative rather than merely rely on promoters' press releases.

Now, couple this junk definition with the radical definition of human cloning in the substantive law of NJ--
As used in this section, "cloning a human being," means the replication of a human individual by cultivating a cell with genetic material [the SCNT cloning process] through the egg, embryo, fetal and newborn stages into a new human individual.
--which permits cloning, implantation, and gestation through the ninth month, research onto implanted cloned embryos and fetuses would seem to be the ultimate goal.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Yet ANOTHER Sleeping Pill Awakening

Readers of SHS and my other work know that Zolpidem--which goes by the brand name Ambien--can sometimes awaken people who have been diagnosed as permanently unconscious. Here is the story in the Daily Mail of another such "miracle" in the UK:

A woman who has been in a coma for the past six years is slowly coming back to life after being given sleeping pills. Amy Pickard, from Hastings in East Sussex, was only 17 when she slipped into a coma in 2001.

However now, after being given over-the-counter miracle pill Zolpidem, her devoted mum Thelma says the "old sparkle" has returned to her daughter's eyes...

Speaking today, Thelma, 54, said: "She is changing and it is amazing.
"When she takes the pill, I see her face relax and the old sparkle return to her eyes. It's incredible."

Amy is one of 360 people taking part in a worldwide revolutionary drugs trial which could see coma patients "miraculously" come back to life.

Well, I don't like the term "come back to life" since they weren't dead. But never mind. Much is happening in this field and the time has certainly come to stop dehydrating the unconscious. If their inherent value as human beings isn't enough not to terminate these lives, perhaps the hope for an efficacious treatment to awaken the unconscious are, finally, at hand. According to the story, 60% of the people treated with the drug so far have exhibited benefit. Wow.


Hampshire College Permits "Smash the State, Crush the Cage" Terrorist Sympathizers to Hold Planning Session on Campus

Disgraceful!Hampshire College in Amherst, MA is permitting animal rights terrorists to hold a planning session on campus. Included on the program will be Jerry Vlasak, who has advocated the murder of animal researchers.

Also note the connection between anarchy (smash the state) and animal liberation (crush the cage), in this press release:

Hampshire College
893 West Street
Amherst, MA 01002

Description: SMASH THE STATE, CRUSH THE CAGE, a strategic conference for the fortification of the Northeastern animal liberation movement, will be held at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts from Friday, November 9th until Sunday, November 11th.

The conference will feature talks by PETER YOUNG and Dr. JERRY VLASAK. Please visit our website,, for information on other speakers.

Conference organizers Hampshire Animal Liberation Advocacy (HALA!) are still soliciting facilitators for workshops, talks and skill shares. The goal of this conference is to invigorate the struggle against state, corporate and cultural oppression of nonhuman animals. Anyone with skills or information to bring is encouraged to do.

Housing and as much food as we can scrounge will be provided for all attendees. All are welcome save representatives of the military, police and/or federal agencies. A talk on conference security standards will be our opening event.
Hampshire College would never permit a KKK convention on campus. This is no different.


Animal Rights Thugs Flood Researcher's Home

These kind of stories are so infuriating. A researcher seeking to ameliorate or cure human diseases has her home flooded by animal rights terrorists because they presume the right to coerce others to accept their ideological perspectives. From the LA Times report:
An FBI spokeswoman said Monday that the agency is investigating the claim that the Animal Liberation Front used a garden hose to flood the house of professor Edythe London on Oct. 20 in an attempt to stop her animal experiments.

The FBI, along with UCLA and Los Angeles police, are treating the vandalism as a case of domestic terrorism and are probing possible ties to a June incident in which an incendiary device was lighted, but did not explode, next to a car at the home of a UCLA eye disease researcher, according to FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller.

In a press release distributed to the media Monday, an underground entity identifying itself as the Animal Liberation Front said it broke a window at London's house and flooded the residence with a hose. The announcement said the group considered starting a fire there, but did not want to risk igniting brush fires that might have harmed animals "human and non-human."

UCLA officials said the flooding caused between $20,000 and $40,000 in damage. London could not be reached for comment.
Jerry Vlasak, who has approved murdering animal researchers commented:
The group's claim was posted by a Woodland Hills-based website called the North American Animal Liberation Press Office. Jerry Vlasak, a trauma surgeon who is an activist in that press office and who protests against animal euthanasia at animal shelters, declined to say how he received the information about the vandalism and said he did not know the responsible parties.

But Vlasak said Monday that he sent the communique to the media so the incident would "not be dismissed as a random act of violence." He said he condones the flooding at London's house "if it is helpful to get her to stop torturing innocent animals."

About a year ago, Santa Monica police and federal agents raided Vlasak's Agoura Hills house as part of an investigation into the Animal Liberation Front, which law enforcement officials described as a shadowy network that has sabotaged animal research labs, firebombed properties and made numerous death threats.
What if supporters of animal research attacked and flooded Vlasak's home and threatened to kill him for impeding important research? He would be outraged, and rightly so.

This has to stop. Animal industries have to join together under the banner that an attack on one is an attack on all. Vlasak should be hauled in front of a grand jury and his phone tapped. The full weight of law enforcement should be brought to bear on ending this terrorist before someone is killed. These people are a menace and belong in jail.


Monday, October 29, 2007

PETA's Ingrid Newkirk: Master Propagandist

In researching for my book on animal rights, I tried to get an interview with PETA's alpha wolf, Ingrid Newkirk. She declined and through her assistant, suggested I obtain her views from her books and articles. So, I have been doing a little on-line research and came across Newkirk's MY page.

This illustrates how PETA leaves no rock unturned in its quest for converts to the animal rights cause, in this case, young people. Note the wacky photo, designed to appeal to kids and teenagers. She let's the kids know she is a Pisces. And true to PETA's unremitting approach, she never stops pushing the agenda, particularly her books aimed at kids.

Most adults do not respond to the hyper emotionalism and anti-human moral equivalence ("Holocaust on Your Plate," etc.) that are the hallmarks of PETA's advocacy. But kids and teenagers are raised in a relative milieu today and are taught to feel more than think. PETA's taking the time to put up a MY SPACE page, and design it explicitly to appeal to the young, is brilliant--and worrying.


Bunk: Company Sells "Personalized" Embryonic Stem Cells

This front page story in the SF Chronicle, byline Bernadette Tansey, needs comment.

A San Carlos startup is offering to create "personalized" stem cells from the spare embryos of fertility clinic clients on the chance that the cells, frozen and stored away, may some day help a family member benefit from medical breakthroughs.

The novel business plan of StemLifeLine Inc.--which started promoting its service to fertility patients earlier this year as "insurance for the future"--set off a flash fire of protest from stem cell research opponents and supporters alike.

The outcry from anti-abortion groups wasn't surprising...But some of the most fervent denunciations of StemLifeLine came from vigorous supporters of embryonic stem cell research. Two Stanford University critics aired their complaints in newspaper editorial pages. A prominent Stanford ethicist challenged UC San Francisco scientists who are advisers of the company to sever those ties. These critics accuse StemLifeLine of trying to profit from the promise of stem cell research in the present, even though the work may not yield medical treatments for decades, if ever. "These companies are essentially taking advantage of people's ignorance and fears to make a buck," said David Magnus, director of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics.

Well, waddya know: Accurate reporting and a proper response to this nonsense from the scientists and bioethicists. I would add that embryonic stem cells from a fertilized embryo would never be "personalized" because the genetic makeup of the embryo was unique to the embryo. Parents or siblings using the stem cells might still need immune response suppressing drugs. Also, ES cells cause tumors. Also, where was Magnus, who states in the story that these treatments might not be available for thirty or forty years, during the passage of Proposition 71 and Amendment 2? Somehow that truth never got into the ads or puff piece media stories.

So, let's be clear here: The reason companies such as this--which is charging $7000 to make the cell line and $350 a year for storage--is able to sucker people into destroying their own offspring for their own hoped-for medical benefit, is that "the scientists" hyped this research to the hilt to pass Proposition 71 and destroy the Bush funding policy. If consumers are confused, they and their media and politician camp followers deserve the blame for the confusion.

But good on Tansey for a well-reported story. True, she mentioned it might provide a cure for Alzheimer's, which is almost surely wrong. But unlike so many of her colleagues she did a good good job of getting the science and the politics right.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

"Awakenings:" Fighting Schiavo Revisionist History and Standing Against Dehydrations

I have a piece in the current Weekly Standard about the "food and fluids" controversy, an issue I have repeatedly considered. I hit several notes in the article. I challenge the falsehood that the federal bill to save Terri Schiavo's life was purely a Republican enterprise. Not true, it was a bill that was supported broadly by both parties. Indeed, as I report:

This myth has become a staple of the Democratic presidential campaign, despite the fact that the denigrated legislation was enacted in almost record time by one of the most bipartisan congressional margins seen during the Bush presidency. Indeed, passage in the Senate required unanimous consent, which means any senator--including presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Joe Biden, and Chris Dodd (but not Barack Obama, who was not yet in the Senate)--could have stopped the bill in its tracks by simply saying no. None did so. Just as they voted for the Iraq war and later opposed it when it became unpopular, these Democrats pretend they were not essential players in the federal effort to save Schiavo's life. (The bill also received support from about 40 percent of House Democrats.)
I also spend some time detailing two recent cases of the unexpected awakenings, e.g., Jesse Ramirez and Haleigh Poutre, that barely prevented their slow deaths by dehydration. And I remind readers of the hopeful experimental treatments that have apparently awakened people who were unconscious. But these developments barely penetrate the public consciousness.

I close with a call to those who know that dehydrating these helpless people is wrong to take heart and recommit themselves to the cause of saving lives:
A serious cultural consequence of the Terri Schiavo drama has been the devaluation of the weakest among us into a disposable and exploitable caste. But it is not too late to reverse the tide. Jesse Ramirez, Haleigh Poutre, and the groundbreaking research into the treatment of serious brain injury are powerful reminders that where there is life, there is hope. Those who understand that all persons, regardless of capacity, deserve to be treated as beloved members of the human family have good reason to shake off the Schiavo rout and return to the fray.


Why Cervical Cancer Innoculations Should Not be Mandatory

Remember when the vaccine was developed to protect against the virus that causes cervical cancer? And remember the drive by Merck Pharmaceutical to make inoculations of 12-year-old girls mandatory?--a campaign assisted by by too many politicians and media commentators for what appeared to me to be political reasons involving the culture struggles over sexuality. At the time, I opposed making the cervical cancer shot mandatory for 12-year old girls on the principles that children should not be treated without parental consent and that with there always being a slight chance of side effects with any medical intervention, inoculations should only be mandatory for infectious diseases, e.g., smallpox, measles, etc.

Well, now it turns out that the shots may have caused a few deaths and serious illnesses, and moreover, that the drug may have been tested on adults only for safety--knowledge which which should have made been part of any informed consent of a patient--or the patient's parents--taking the shots. From the story in the UK's Telegraph:

Fears have been raised over the safety of a cervical cancer vaccine which health officials plan to give all 12-year-old girls, after it was revealed that the drug has been linked to several deaths.

Three young women are reported to have died days after the drug Gardasil was administered, while the jab is also suspected of triggering "adverse reactions" in 1,700 patients. The figures were uncovered by campaigners who made a freedom of information request in the US, where the vaccine was approved for use a year ago.

The women--aged 12, 19 and 22--suffered heart attacks or blood clots after being injected with Gardasil, which protects against the sexually transmitted human papilloma virus which causes most cases of cervical cancer. [Me: 12-year-olds aren't women, they're girls.] Hundreds of others reported suffering what could be adverse reactions, including paralysis, seizures and miscarriages.

Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch, which extracted the data, said: "Reports on the vaccine read like a catalogue of horrors."

It is, of course, quite possible that the inoculations were coincidental to the deaths and illnesses, and the company strongly denies any connection. But there needs to be some more digging here, and certainly, children should not be required to take the shots. That decision should be up to parents.

It will be interesting to see whether American media pick this story up or whether they are so invested in the politics of the matter that they will erect yet another news blockade.


Saturday, October 27, 2007

NHS Meltdown: "Record Number Go Abroad for Health"

The UK's NHS is in a meltdown. I didn't blog it due to traveling, but did you see the story that people are pulling their own teeth because they can't get good dental care through the NHS? And now, apparently record numbers of Brits are traveling abroad for health care because they can't get it at home. From the Telegraph story:

Thousands of "health tourists" are going as far as India, Malaysia and South Africa for major operations – such is their despair over the quality of health services.

The first survey of Britons opting for treatment overseas shows that fears of hospital infections and frustration with NHS waiting lists are fuelling the increasing trend.

More than 70,000 Britons will have treatment abroad this year--a figure that is forecast to rise to almost 200,000 by the end of the decade. Patients needing major heart surgery, hip operations and cataracts are using the internet to book operations to be carried out thousands of miles away.

We need to reform our system, to be sure. But not in that direction. We need a private sector health care system supplemented by a federal safety net. In this regard, although I haven't read it closely yet, that seems to be the approach taken by Hillary Clinton.


Here Come the Morlocks!

Take this story with a huge grain of salt: Apparently a professor has warned that due to transhumanist-like modifications and eugenic mating decisions (my words), the human race will split into two branches, one beautiful, intelligent, and lithe, the other ugly, short, and brutish. From the story in the not-always so-journalistic Daily Mail:

The human race will one day split into two separate species, an attractive, intelligent ruling elite and an underclass of dim-witted, ugly goblin-like creatures, according to a top scientist.

100,000 years into the future, sexual selection could mean that two distinct breeds of human will have developed.

The alarming prediction comes from evolutionary theorist Oliver Curry from the London School of Economics, who says that the human race will have reached its physical peak by the year 3000. These humans will be between 6ft and 7ft tall and they will live up to 120 years.

"Physical features will be driven by indicators of health, youth and fertility that men and women have evolved to look for in potential mates," says the report, which suggests that advances in cosmetic surgery and other body modifying techniques will effectively homogenise our appearance.

He goes on to describe more personal parts of men and women that you can read in the story if you are interested.

He's right that transhumanism would probably result in stultifying sameness rather than the wild differences for which most adherents yearn. But H.G. Wells warned about this a long time ago in his book The Time Machine--one of my favorite movies as a youngster. Hey, do you think the Morlocks were the inspiration for Tolkien's orcs? As I recall the novel, they were made via genetically altering elfs, right?

Besides, if we are going to seize control over our own evolution, shouldn't we be making ourselves more diminutive rather than taller? Think of the environment people! Shorter people means fewer resource raping of the planet and cooler temperatures!


Friday, October 26, 2007

Blank Check Syndrome

"The scientists," by which I mean the politicized advocates for a financial and ethical blank check in human cloning, genetic engineering, and other awesomely powerful biotechnologies, are upset. The poor babies are grousing about the potential for government regulation--in the UK where the regulators are more rubber stamps than enforcers of reasonable ethical parameters! From the story in the Times:

Excessive regulation of science is damaging public confidence in research by creating a misleading impression that most of it is dangerous or ethically dubious, say working scientists.
Much of it is. Endangering women's lives, health, and fecundity in egg harvesting for human cloning experimentation. Human cloning and genetic engineering. Seeking to create artificial life. These are no small or mundane matters.
Far from reassuring ordinary people that research is safe and ethical, scientists feel that strict laws covering experiments on animals, embryos and human tissue actually have a negative impact on public perceptions of their work.
Actually, it gives false assurance to the public.
There was particular concern about new rules that require doctors to obtain explicit consent before patients' tissue samples can be used in research.
Whose tissue is it???

Tough regulations on animal experiments and research using human embryos and stem cells have a similar effect, suggesting that there is something undesirable about such work.

Are they out of their minds? Those regulations are essential to public confidence that animals are not abused or used in experimentation for gratuitous purposes. Do these people not know that animal rights crazies want to destroy their lives and work? As for embryos, they are using nascent human beings as mere natural resources. That too is no small matter and for many people is of profound ethical import.

And here comes the blank check part:

Tony Gilland, of the Institute of Ideas, who organised the survey, said that while the respondents were self-selected, their views reflected a clear mood that science was overregulated.

"If we really want value for money from publicly funded scientists then we have to be willing to allow them to pursue their curiosity and see what comes of it," he said.

"A scientist's peers are best placed to judge whether their work is excellent or mediocre. Today the mark of a 'good' scientist seems to be all about whether they are prepared to doff their cap to the externally imposed constraints of ethics committees and regulators or the Government's demands for short-term economic or social benefits from their work."

Talk about spoiled brats. No powerful institution gets to do what they want just because they want to, or depend wholly on their colleagues to police their activities. Not lawyers. Not doctors. Not even hairdressers. Why should scientists be any different? They don't know when they have it good.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

Alta Charo Gets it Right That Cloning is not Stem Cell Research

Alta Charo is a wild booster of ESCR and human cloning research. We have gotten along fine when I have debated her, even when she accused me in a luncheon keynote address at last year's Albany bioethics conference of being a part of the forces that are threatening an "endarkenment" of science and society. (I appreciated that at least she made that baloney charge to my face.)

Charo complains in this story that Wisconsin isn't doing enough for ESCR, because the legislature has pondered bills to outlaw all human cloning and because the state has not funded the research. (See what I mean about the demand being made by pro-cloning advocates for an ethical and financial blank check?) Paradoxically, she also claims that Wisconsin researchers are happier than California researchers--despite the latter group being due to receive billions in corporate welfare under Proposition 71.

I bring this up because as much as I disagree with her about such matters, in my experience, Charo is candid and truthful about the nature of these technologies and what they are really about. For example, according to the story, she apparently acknowledged the fact that ESCR and human cloning research (somatic cell nuclear transfer) are not the same thing:

Though cloning is not stem cell research, Charo stressed, attempts to criminalize it did send a message about the atmosphere for science in Wisconsin.
Forget for the moment Charo's drivel about how attempting to outlaw human cloning creates a dark, anti-science atmosphere. (Michigan outlaws all human cloning and has a thriving biotechnology sector. So does Germany--and it outlaws both human cloning and destroying embryos in stem cell research.) The point is that cloning is not a synonym for stem cell research.

Alas, most MSM, dancing to Big Biotech's propaganda tune, continue to conflate the two different experimental endeavors, evidence of the corruption sown by big money and ideology among so many of our primary institutions--science, journalism, law, academia, etc.--that this debate has exposed.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Washington Post Columnist "Gets" The Growing Problem with Liberalism

In "The Eugenics Temptation," Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson hits some nails on the head about the odious James Watson and the new eugenics. He surveys some of the obnoxious, racist, and anti-disabled statements Watson has made over the years, and then connects some dots. (He also includes some wise quotes from my friend Yuval Levin.) From his column:

Watson is not typical of the scientific community when it comes to his extreme social application of genetics. But this controversy illustrates a temptation within science--and a tension between some scientific views and liberalism.

The temptation is eugenics. Watson is correct that "we already accept" genetic screening and selective breeding when it comes to disabled children. About 90 percent of fetuses found to have Down syndrome are aborted in America. According to a recent study, about 40 percent of unborn children in Europe with one of 11 congenital defects don't make it to birth.

No one should underestimate the wrenching challenge of having a disabled child. But we also should not ignore the social consequences of widespread screening of children for "desirable" traits. This kind of "choice" is actually a form of absolute power of one generation over the next--the power to forever define what is "normal," "straight" and "beautiful." And it leads inevitably to discrimination. British scientist Robert Edwards has argued, "Soon it will be a sin of parents to have a child that carries the heavy burden of genetic disease." A sin. Which leaves disabled children who escape the net of screening -- the result of parental sin--to be born into a new form of bastardy and prejudice...

Watson and many scientists assert a kind of reductionism--a belief that human beings are the sum of their chemical processes and have no value beyond their achievements and attributes. But progressives, at their best, have a special concern for the different, the struggling and the weak. When it comes to eugenics, they face not only a tension but a choice -- and they should choose human equality over the pursuit of human perfection.

As a man once firmly ensconced in the political Left, who grew disillusioned by the devolution of liberalism away from protecting the vulnerable and toward hedonistic solipsism, I hope people pay heed to Gerson's prudent warning. Science is not the be all and end all. Being is more important that function. Human exceptionalism and equal moral worth are the preconditions to universal human rights.

Gerson has it right: If "liberalism" (which too often ain't anymore) continues down its current path it will be like the snake that ate its tail and become the very evil that it once so proudly opposed.


Monday, October 22, 2007

The Importance of Roots to the Exceptional Species

One of the exceptional attributes of the human race--unknown in any other species in the universe--is the importance we place on our personal and family histories. No other species worries about who grandma was or the circumstances that led to their birth.

I learned first hand the emotional tug of roots this weekend when I had the opportunity to speak in Providence, Rhode Island. You see, Rhode Island is crucial to the family history that led to my being. Here is this part of my family's story in a nutshell:

In 1910, a 16-year-old girl named Gulia Betti arrived in Pawtucket from Italy to work in her aunt's bakery. Her purpose was to save her family from desperate poverty and bring them all to America. Through hard work she succeeded, and soon her mother, brother, and two sisters were safely in Rhode Island.

Within a few years, she had met and married Enrico Micheletti, an ambitious immigrant from the same area of Italy as Gulia (The mountains around Lucca in Tuscany). They married. In 1915, Bruno Micheletti was born, followed in 1917 by Leona. Leona would later marry a man named Wesley Smith. They are my parents.

Enrico died young in 1924, leaving the family without a breadwinner. Gulia rolled up her sleeves. The family owned a tenement building where she rented rooms. She also ran a store on the bottom floor and a beauty parlor on the second floor. Gulia was helped by her sister Marianella and her husband, who had three children; Rico, Elba, and Ezio. Ezio was the baby and was treasured by the older cousins. The two families were extremely close and kept each other going during the Depression.

After the Great Hurricane of 1938, Gulia and Leona were weary of the Rhode Island weather. They decided to try California on for size. Leona got a job at the Los Angeles Examiner where she met a soldier on leave from his duty who took a temporary job at the paper to earn some extra money. He fell heads-over-heels. After a rocky courtship, they married shortly after Pearl Harbor, knowing he would soon be going to war. He shipped out in April 1942 and she didn't see him again until after the war in 1945. Eventually, they had me.

Whilst in Providence, I had a reunion with Ezio (photo above) who still lives in RI. He and my mother are the only survivors from those years. He took me to where it all happened, which was a pretty awesome experience. As usual, I took some pictures:

The first picture below is the tenement house in which my uncle and mother were raised.

Next is the grave marker of my grandfather, my great grandmother, and my great aunt. The years 1924-1925 were especially hard for the family.

The old snapshot was in Ezio's album, and I had never seen it. It shows my father (the man on the left with suspenders, with his hand on my mother's arm), and my uncle kneeling in front, in Los Angeles in 1939. Dad was only 22 and mom 23. Amazing to me.

How important is it to our thriving as a species that we care so much about our past? I don't know, but I do know that who we are matters to us. This attention to history (micro and macro), I believe, is one of the aspects of human nature that makes us so incredibly special and has helped us become the most exceptional species in the known universe.


Will We HEAR the Message? Do Not Dehydrate!

Readers of SHS may recall several months ago I posted on a thwarted dehydration in which doctors and a seriously injured wife had agreed to dehydrate Jesse Ramirez to death because doctors believed he would never gain consciousness. Thank goodness, Ramirez's parents fought the killing--and lo and behold, Ramirez woke up (not that it should matter).

Well, now he has walked out of the hospital. From the story:

Doctors said he had only a small chance of recovery. His own wife pulled his feeding tube after a week. But Friday, Jesse Ramirez walked out of the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, alive and recovering.

It has been an amazing five months for the US postal employee and father of three who was literally at death's door when he was critically injured in a horrific accident. Jesse and his wife Rebecca were in their SUV when Jesse lost control and crashed into a Chandler pottery store. Rebecca suffered only minor injuries, but Jesse was airlifted to a hospital with a fractured skull and face, punctured lungs and broken ribs. One week after the accident, and following a couple of surgeries, Rebecca Ramirez pulled Jesse out of the hospital and moved him to a Mesa hospice. Rebecca then made the decision to pull his feeding tube and Jesse went six days without food or water.
Six days--and he lives.

This case illustrates how deeply the "quality of life" ethic has permeated medicine--and no doubt to deadly effect. How many Jesse Ramirez's have died--perhaps horribly--because they had no one willing to defend their lives? That a tube could be pulled one week after injury--long before a firm diagnosis can be made--speaks volumes. Frankly, there should be an investigation. But it will be shrugged off and more people will be dehydrated to death around the country because they are cognitively disabled.


Sunday, October 21, 2007

Beauty on a Sunday Evening

Thousand-Hand Bodhisattva Masterpiece

This troop of Chinese dancers is made up of deaf artists. It is quite exquisite. Check it out.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

HASTINGS CENTER REPORT Column Validates "Anti-Disabled" Worries About Bioethics Agenda

The Not Dead Yet blog has a post up, byline Stephen Drake, castigating an opinion column published in the Hasting Center Report, byline bioethics consultant Anita J. Tarzian (no link available), that validates all of the worries the disability rights community has about the bioethics movement. The issue is Asley's Case, which readers of SHS will recall is the disabled girl whose uterus and breast buds were removed to keep her from maturing.

Tarzian furthers the drive I have noticed among some in bioethics, to divide the moral status of the cognitively and developmentally disabled from those with physical disabilities, to the point that we are scolded for calling the former disabled at all. Tarzian wrote:

Does the disability rights discourse tend to exclude people with severe neurological impairments? Or is "disabled" perhaps a misnomer in such cases? Advocating for Ashley's "rights" as a disabled person seems to misread the principle of "respect for persons," which requires that persons who can make their own decisions should be allowed to do so (within limits), and that those who cannot make their own decisions should be protected from harm.
Indeed, people who cannot decide for themselves should be protected from harm. But that is best done by acknowledging that they are disabled--which is factual--and ceasing the constant attempts to cast such defenseless people as outside the moral community of persons. Indeed, to claim that Ashley is too impaired to be deemed disabled, and moreover, that she is a non person, would not protect her and others like her from harm. Rather, such invidious attitudes expose people with serious cognitive and developmental disabilities to the worst kinds of exploitation and abandonment.

HT: Susan Nunes


Watson Out at Cold Spring Harbor

Cold Spring Harbor, the very name should bring chills. It was the home of the notorious Eugenics Record Office, operated for decades in the early 20th Century by the world's most influential eugenicist Charles Davenport--one of the great villains in American history--through whose work involuntary sterilization, anti-miscegenation laws, and other bigotry policies were justified. His assistant and eventual successor, Harry Laughlin, justified anti-Semitism as part of his work in eugenics and was awarded by the Nazis for his work in promoting racial hygiene.

CSH went out of the eugenics business and continues today as a research center into the science of genetics and other strictly medical pursuits. But its close association with James Watson--and appointing him as its head of the research center--has always seemed to me a disturbing echo of those odious days of old, as Watson often publicly promoted the values of eugenics, promoted eugenic enhancements, justified anti-Semitism, and otherwise spoke in ways that Davenport would clearly have approved.

Until now, none of this mattered, and most in the science community merely chuckled about Watson's ravings as if he were the brusque uncle home for Thanksgiving dinner who spoke aloud what others just thought. But now, with the cultural Left--which cared nothing about his denigration of the disabled--up in arms about his racist remarks, Davenport is out at Cold Spring Harbor. From the story:

James Watson, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, has made many controversial remarks over the years. But telling a British newspaper that, in effect, blacks are intellectually inferior to whites seems to have landed him in unprecedented trouble. Last evening, as public criticism of those remarks swelled to a crescendo, the Board of Trustees of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) in Long Island, New York, stripped Watson of his title as chancellor of the 117-year-old institution...
The [Watson's] apology may fail to quell the controversy. "While we honor the extraordinary contributions that Dr. Watson has made to science in the past, his comments show that he has lost his way," Henry Kelly, president of the Federation of American Scientists, said yesterday in a statement. "He has failed us in the worst possible way. It is a sad and revolting way to end a remarkable career."
The lesson here is that there are some odious things you can say--promote explicitly eugenic thinking--and some things you can't say, e.g. racist comments. Watson should have been long gone way before this. The media should follow up on this, illustrate his other demeaning comments, and pose the question to Cold Spring Harbor and his buddies among "the scientists," What took you so long?"


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Suing For the Right to Assisted Suicide in Montana

I've known this was coming for a long time--a lawsuit in Montana demanding a state constitutional right to assisted suicide. In fact, I predicted it back in 2000 when I wrote in the Weekly Standard:

James H. Armstrong, M.D. v. The State of Montana should have been merely a skirmish in the never-ending national struggle over abortion. Instead, relying on the reasoning of certain experts in the moral choices surrounding health care, the Montana Supreme Court issued in October 1999 a sweeping decision that could make huge changes in the way Montanans live and the way they die...

At issue in the Montana case was a state law requiring that doctors (as opposed to physician-assistants) perform all abortions. This the court unanimously overturned; but it didn't stop there. Writing for a 6-2 majority, Justice James C. Nelson went on to impose a radical philosophical imperative on the people of Montana, unwarranted by the facts of the case and unnecessary to its prudent adjudication. Indeed, Nelson's audacious opinion will be grist for litigation in Montana for many years to come. Its essential holding is this: The Montana Constitution broadly guarantees each individual the right to make medical judgments affecting her or his bodily integrity and health in partnership with a chosen health care provider free from government interference.

As the two justices who objected to the scope of the ruling, Karla M. Gray and Chief Justice J.A. Turnage, warned, the Court's opinion sweeps so broadly as to encompass and decide such issues as the right to physician-assisted suicide and other important health and medical-related issues which simply were not litigated in this case.Gray and Turnage's trepidation is abundantly warranted. If the ruling means that virtually anything goes medically in Montana so long as a patient requests it and a health care professional is willing to provide it, then patients can ask doctors to kill them for organ-donation purposes, parents or guardians can secure the killing of disabled infants, and people can volunteer to be experimented on in dangerous ways that are currently illegal, all this as a result not of a considered decision by the people of Montana but of a little-noticed ruling by the state supreme court.
And now the long-awaited shoe has finally dropped.

According to the AP report, the plaintiffs are being assisted by a "patient advocacy group," e.g., the assisted suicide promoting organization Compassion and Choices, formerly the Hemlock Society. These are the folk that yell loudly about leaving the "will of the people" alone in Oregon, but have never hesitated to subvert the will of the people against assisted suicide in the courts-- first in the U.S. Supreme Court (failed 9-0), and in later state litigation lost in Florida and Alaska.

As I noted in my piece, the issue of assisted suicide was never argued in the Armstrong case and much of the ludicrously broad brush strokes in the majority opinion could be legitimately dismissed by the current courts as dicta, meaning the expression of judges' opinions but not binding since the parameters of acceptable action by medical practitioners was never at issue in the Armstrong litigation.

It should be hard for a court to throw out a law passed by the legislature of the kind that has never been found in any court in any litigation to be unconstitutional. Still, the case is certainly no sure thing--either way. But I do know it is likely to be a legal fight to the finish that could eventually grab the attention of the entire world.

Yes, I will be involved, if asked.


Clueless Media Promotes Animal Rights Views by Permitting Research Denigration to Go Unchallenged

PETA has filed a complaint against a research lab with the USDA. Par for the course. Often (but not always) such complaints are found to be baseless.

But this entry is not about the complaint, rather the reporting about it that tells only half the story. This AP article, byline Judith Kohler, permits animal rights activists to denigrate the value of medical research using animals without challenge or opposing comments. From her story:

Dr. John J. Pippin, a Dallas cardiologist who works full-time for a group that advocates alternatives to animal research, said animal experimentation is "inhumane and cruel" despite the best intentions of researchers...

Pippin, who works for the Washington-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine [me: an animal rights advocacy group masking itself as scientifically based], said he used to conduct research on dogs but stopped about 20 years ago after deciding it wasn't ethical or scientifically sound. He said breakthroughs in medicine and science typically happen after research with humans because most of the results in animals don't transfer. "I do believe that most people on the research side of things believe in what they're doing," Pippin said. "I also think, by and large, that looking at the big picture, they have tunnel vision."

But this is false and fails to take into account the full breadth and scope of the scientific method--a matter I will deal with in the book I am writing on animal rights. At the very least, if she was going to include the above in her story, the reporter should have contacted researchers and/or their advocates to counter the false assertion that medical research with animals does not help advance science and lead to the substantial alleviation of human (and animal) suffering! Failing to do so misinformed instead of elucidating the story's readers.


Yet More Proof of Wagar/KCSTAR Bias in Reporting

Since the KC Star's Kit Wagar continues refusing to report the stem cell debate accurately or objectively, I thought a few further examples of true scientific definitions are in order--definitions propounded by SCNT supporters, but which Wagar appears to care less about in his reporting.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science:

While use of the term embryo can be polarizing, it can also promote clarity, even where some feel it has too great a political, emotional, or social 'charge.' Thus, for the purposes of this report, we have chosen to use the term cloned embryo to describe the product of nuclear transplantation. (Regulating Human Cloning, American Assoc. for the Advancement of Science, Washington, DC, April 2003; pg. 4.)

The American Medical Association:
Human therapeutic cloning involves the cloning of human embryos for the purpose of extracting stem cells that can be used to repair tissues and organs. (AMA Basic Genetics-- FAQs.)
The (wildly pro-cloning) United Kingdom Fertilization and Embryology Authority:
The cloning technique, cell nuclear replacement, involves removing the nucleus of a human egg cell and replacing it with the nucleus from a human body cell, such as a skin cell. The egg is then artificially stimulated. This causes the egg to divide and behave in a similar way to a standard embryo fertilized by sperm. (Press Release of the UK Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority, August 11, 2004.)
With such overwhelming evidence, Wagar's continued use of misleading terminology and definitions is overwhelming evidence of bias, stubbornness, or most likely, both.

HT: Dorinda Bordlee--Bioethics Defense Fund

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Fat Stem Cells Morphed Into Nerve Cells

Adult stem cell research just keeps rolling along. Now, scientists have morphed fat stem cells into nerve cells. From the story:

Accident victims could one day have their severed nerves "rewired" with the help of stem cells extracted by liposuction.

University of Manchester researchers have transformed fat tissue stem cells into nerve cells - and now plan to develop an artificial nerve that will bring damaged limbs and organs back to life. If all goes well, trials on the first patients could begin in "three or four years," said Prof Giorgio Terenghi.

This is very early work, of course, and success is not guaranteed. But it is clear that embryonic stem cells and cloning are not the "only hope" for people with spinal cord injury and other nerve-related maladies.


NIH Utilizes Correct Cloning Definition: Why Can't the KC STAR and Kit Wagar?

This is how the term "somatic cell nuclear transfer" is defined on the National Institutes of Health Web site:

Somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT--A technique that combines an enucleated egg (nucleus removed) and the nucleus of a somatic cell to make an embryo. SCNT is the scientific term for cloning. SCNT can be used for therapeutic or reproductive purposes, but the initial stage that combines an enucleated egg and a somatic cell nucleus is the same. See also therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning.
Oh, and guess what? There is no entry in the NIH stem cell glossary for "early stem cells," the euphemistic advocacy term Wagar's uses in his reporting--as do the editorial writers for the KC Star--in place of the scientifically accurate and logically descriptive "embryonic stem cells." This violates proper journalistic standards, it seems to me, because the Fifth Estate is supposed to inform the public, not propagandize it.

I have sent this information to Kit Wagar. But what do you bet that he and the KC Star editorial writers don't align their future word usage to match the proper and accurate scientific terminology.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

James Watson in Hot Water for Racism

Nobel Laureate James Watson is an out-and-out eugenicist who has urged that genetic engineering be used, for example, to rid the world of stupid people, and said that "some anti-Semitism is justified." None of his eugenicist comments put him in bad odor with the science crowd, but now he has stepped in it by making what sure appears to be racist comments. From the story:

DNA pioneer Dr Watson, who discovered the double helix with Briton Francis Crick, has been roundly condemned for saying he was "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours --whereas all the testing says not really"... Dr Watson has courted controversy before, saying darker-skinned people have a higher sex drive and that women should hypothetically have the right to abort fetuses that "may have a tendency to become homosexual."
The man may have been a brilliant scientist in his day, but as I have written previously, that is no reason to give Watson's moral philosophizing any respect. Indeed, the time has come to acknowledge that whatever he once was, Watson has devolved into a mere crank.


Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Transhumanism Cartoons Redux

Lio attempts a transhumanist intervention with less than optimal results.

Outrage: Bureaucrats Taking Control of Children's Health Care

I guess parents aren't for raising kids anymore, just housing them. A Maine school wants authority to issue contraceptives to 11 year-olds without parental notification. From the story:

Students who have parental permission to be treated at King Middle School's health center would be able to get birth control prescriptions under a proposal that the Portland School Committee will consider Wednesday.

The proposal would build on the King Student Health Center's practice of providing condoms as part of its reproductive health program since it opened in 2000, said Lisa Belanger, a nurse practitioner who oversees the city's student health centers...Although students must have written parental permission to be treated at Portland's school-based health centers, state law allows them to seek confidential health care and to decide whether to inform their parents about the services they receive, Belanger said.

Notice the "heads we win, tails you lose" anti-parental rights cudgel being wielded here: Parents should have to give informed consent for each procedure performed on their child and each prescription or medical task undertaken. Yet, it appears from the story if they give a general permission for the kid to be treated at the health center, they lose that right if bureaucrats decide to keep them of the loop and it is assumed by immature children and/or health care workers. Secondly, even if parents refuse permission to be treated at the clinic, children can go there anyway and keep parents in the dark.

The other day, I reported a story about pediatricians probing into private issues of family life without cause of any abuse or wrongdoing. Now, we see the increase in the powers of health bureaucrats to make crucial medical decisions in place of parents. Strangers are making these decisions based on what they consider in children's best interests rather than what parents believe, and are deciding health issues based on their morality rather than the parents' morality.

How did we let these people become so powerful that they rule over parents about children? Why did parents get so meek?


Monday, October 15, 2007

Adult Stem Cells May Help Hip Replacements

This just in: Bone marrow stem cells may help in the field of hip replacements. Okay, As you were. Scientists have some cloning to do.


Appendix Not Worthless Vestigal Organ After All

The uselessness of the appendix was once deemed one of the most sure things in medical science. Now, it turns out, that may be wrong. From the abstract in the Journal of Theoretical Biology:

Long denigrated as vestigial or useless, the appendix now appears to have a reason to be--as a "safe house" for the beneficial bacteria living in the human gut. Drawing upon a series of observations and experiments, Duke University Medical Center investigators postulate that the beneficial bacteria in the appendix that aid digestion can ride out a bout of diarrhea that completely evacuates the intestines and emerge afterwards to repopulate the gut. Their theory appears online in the Journal of Theoretical Biology. The appendix is a slender two- to four-inch pouch located near the juncture of the large and small intestines. While its exact function in humans has been debated by physicians, it is known that there is immune system tissue in the appendix. The researchers believe that the immune system cells found in the appendix are there to protect, rather than harm, the good bacteria.

This touches on several issues. But it sure demonstrates the often wrongness of the recently vaunted "scientific consensus."


Subliminal Understanding That What Happened to Terri Schiavo Was Wrong?

I think Bobby Schindler is right.

There have been a lot of stories of late about how supposedly vegetative patients could understand, or of "miraculous" awakenings by people who doctors were sure would never react consciously again. Bobby, Terri Schiavo's brother, has noticed that whatever the condition of the patient whose story is being told, the reports all have a common sub theme--the awakening, comprehension, etc. has nothing to do with Terri, meaning it was right to dehydrate her to death. It is as these reports, to quote Shakespeare, "doth protest too much," as if there is a subliminal realization that a terrible injustice was done to her.

The latest almost unbelievable example is in an otherwise interesting and important (and long) piece in the New Yorker, byline Jerome Groopman. After describing how supposedly unconscious people have been misdiagnosed, the author quotes an unnamed neuroscientist about Terri. From the story:

A neuroscientist showed me a video on the Internet of Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman who spent fifteen years in what most doctors agree was a vegetative state--tests revealed almost no activity in her cortex--and whose death, in 2005, provoked fierce debate over the rights of severely brain-damaged patients. (Schiavo died after the Supreme Court rejected her parents' appeal of a judge's decision approving her husband's request that her feeding tube be removed. An autopsy showed extensive brain damage.) In the video, a man's voice can be heard praising Schiavo for opening her eyes in response to his instructions, and the neuroscientist told me that he was impressed until he muted the sound. "With the sound off, it is clear that her movements are random," the neuroscientist said. "But, with the voice-over, it is easy to make a misdiagnosis. (My emphasis.)
The above stills are from the video in question. It deeply touched my heart and it is seared forever in my memory. In that video, Terri is asked by the examiner to open her eyes. At first, nothing. Then, within ten or so seconds, her eyes flicker, she opens them, and then opens them so wide her forehead wrinkles. It is clearly an intentional response to the question.

But if you turn the sound off, there is no question to hear--and voila, her opening her eyes with clear intention can now be dismissed as merely "random movement." But a random movement under those circumstances would be to move her head from side to side or lick or lips. But when she opened her eyes, and so intently, precisely as requested, you have to work hard to make it "random." So, to make sure we don't see the terrible wrong that was done to her, we just turn off the sound.

As I said, unbelievable. But do read the larger piece. It is well worth the time.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

Use of "Early Stem Cell" Eupemism Evidence of Kit Wagar/KC STAR Bias in Stem Cell Debate

As readers of SHS know, I am pretty disgusted with the KC Star and its political reporter Kit Wagar, based on my belief that the paper in general, and Wagar in specific, are biased in their reporting of the great stem cell debate in Missouri.

Further fuel to this particular fire can be seen in the reporting of Mr. Wagar in his ubiquitous use of the pro-cloning/ESCR advocacy term "early stem cells." The term was invented by Missouri's Amendment 2 proponents as a euphemism to keep from having to use the scientifically accurate and descriptive term "embryonic stem cell."

The media should be immune to such word engineering. Alas, the Kansas City Star and Wagar have long utilized the term in their supposedly objective stories about the debate--a clear indication of bias in reporting. How biased was just made clear to me by a correspondent. It seems that the KC Star and Mr. Wagar are about the only media using the scientifically inaccurate term "early stem cells." My correspondent wrote:

Wesley, see if this works the same for you and then go after the KC Star.

Go to and click on News at the top and put "early stem cell" into search area. Almost all the articles in the first two pages (and probably in many more pages) are from the KC Star.I want you to do it there to make sure the search engine isn't pulling up the Star more because I live around it. (They can do that nowadays).

But I think it will pull up the same everywhere since these are not sponsored links. Anyway, if you click on any of the Star articles most are written by Mr. Kit Wagar.

If "early stem cell" is not an unbiased term they why is it mostly used by one reporter for one paper whose publisher sits on the local chamber of commerce with some of the top folks at Stowers?
I tried it and got the same result. The answer to my correspondent's query can only be that Mr. Wagar has an agenda and he lets it seep into his reporting.


Noted Stem Cell Researcher Supports "Alternative Methods"

The NIH will soon be funding research into obtaining pluripotent stem cells from non embryonic sources. Wherever one stands on the Bush funding policy or human cloning research, this should be cause for celebration. After all, don't the scientists always say we should research all areas of the science?

Now, in Nature Reports Stem Cells (of all places), Marcus Grompe of the Oregon Stem Cell Center writes that alternative methods are very much worth pursuing. Demonstrating how this issue cuts across many different areas of human thought and contemplation, Grompe discusses the issue of the soul--in a science journal! From the column:

To me, the very fact that embryos produced in IVF clinics become babies and eventually adult humans means that they are human (and have a human soul) from the very beginning. It also means that they have a special moral status and should not be destroyed for any reason, even for the creation of ES cell lines. In contrast, an entity that by its very constitution cannot develop as a human organism does not have a soul (or its proper or 'substantial' form) and hence is not an embryo, not a human organism at all.
Grompe criticizes both sides for hyping the current state of the science in both embryonic and adult stem cells, and proceeds to support alternative methods, two of which he believes hold great promise. The first is cell regression, in which adult cells may be able to be de-differentiated back to a stem cell state. He seems most enthusiastic about my good friend Bill Hurlbut's proposal for altered nuclear transfer, or ANT:
Contrary to some claims that this approach generates 'disabled embryos', it is reasonable to expect--based on studies with mice--that ANT attempted with human cells would not produce a living member of the human species. The idea is to use genetic modification in combination with somatic cell nuclear transfer into oocytes [eggs] to directly produce cells capable of generating pluripotent stem cells, but without making an embryo.
And he explains in scientific language that is a little too lengthy to quote here, why the cell mass created through ANT would not be an embryo. He concludes with a call for unity around research that is not morally contentious and can achieve social consensus.
In the meantime, I believe that the ethical concerns regarding the destruction of human life--however tiny and fragile--outweigh the potential benefits of producing new embryo-derived cell lines. This is a view shared by many of the general public. Clearly, the best way forward would be to find a technological solution that at once sustains social consensus and opens up biomedical advances.
Thanks for Marcus Grompe for writing such a good piece and to Nature Reports Stem Cells for publishing it. In the current ideologically strident atmosphere that permeates the Science Establishment, it takes guts--especially for a scientist--to make such assertions in the face of the scientistic demagogues who readily castigate anyone with ethical objections to ESCR or human SCNT as "anti-science." Agree or disagree, Grompe's article is a must-read for anyone engaged in the great stem cell debate. Check it out.


Saturday, October 13, 2007

Elephants Destroy Village: Not an Immoral Act

A herd of Indian elephants has destroyed a village. From the story:

About 100 wild elephants have converged on a river island in northeast India, demolishing homes, feasting on sugarcane and panicking residents, officials said Saturday.

Thousands of villagers were using firecrackers and bonfires to scare away the rampaging animals. "Dozens of houses have been destroyed in the past three days by adult elephants entering human settlements to look for their wandering calves," said the local magistrate, L.S. Changsan.

Up to 50 families have moved to a local school being used as a refugee camp, Changsan said...Officials say the elephants swam to the island from a nearby hill region, beginning their rampage nearly a week ago.

If humans had done this to the village, it would rightly be condemned as an evil act of aggression and lawlessness. But elephants are amoral. They are just being elephants. They are indifferent to the suffering they are causing to another species.

This illustrates one of the crucial differences between human beings and animals. Only we are truly moral beings understanding of right and wrong, good and evil. And we have a unique capacity to empathize with "the other." We care about them, even if they can't care about us. That is one reason we try to save elephant habitats and protect these magnificent beasts from poaching, while they will destroy villages, kill the unwary, and generally disrupt human life without a moment's hesitation. And that is a distinction between us and animals with a huge difference.


New CIRM Director's Research Under a Potential Cloud

I have this theory; well not even a theory, perhaps better stated, a mere notion. I believe that human cloning is profoundly and intrinsically wrong in that it reduces human life to a mere malleable and exploitable commodity. It is to treat human life as no different than a corn crop, a copper mine, or a prize bull, that is, it undercuts human exceptionalism (ironically in one of the most exceptional demonstrations of our unique capacities--I mean what other species in the known universe ever invented a new way to create life?)

This being so, my notion, well, more a half-baked notion or sense, is that human cloning will somehow be like the proverbial exploding cigar; it may look enticing but it will cause more pain then pleasure to those messing with it. Witness Wu-suk Hwang.

I mention this as a whimsical aside to this report: A research project run until recently by Alan Trounson, the new science leader of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, which will spend $3 billion of borrowed money on human cloning research, has had its funding cut due to reporting anomalies. From the story:

WORLD-renowned Melbourne scientist Alan Trounson's $1m stem cell research project is under investigation after it was scrapped for delivering highly doubtful results.
Monash University is examining anomalies in interim findings from the lung regeneration research conducted in its labs with public money. Prof Trounson--a doctor of philosophy who was headhunted to run the world's richest stem cell outfit in the US next year--was the project's principal investigator. It was stopped in February when the Australian Stem Cell Centre cut funding after a three-week investigation found inconsistencies in multiple progress reports...

Prof Trounson issued an apology for misleading Parliament in 2002 after he showed MPs a video of a paralysed rat that he said was able to walk after being treated with embryonic stem cells. It later emerged that a different type of cell--a germ cell--had been used in the treatment.

As the story says, Trounson is not under personal investigation. But it may be a small exploding cigar.


Friday, October 12, 2007

Biased KC Star Reporter Strikes Again

Well, my little blog entry of yesterday taking the MO Secretary of State to task for bias for the Orwellian language she is using to describe the proposed ballot initiative to enact a real cloning ban in Missouri made a political blog at the paper, byline Kit Wagar. Here is part of what Wagar wrote:

Curt Mercadante, the group's spokesman, said Carnahan's wording was unfair because it says that the initiative would "repeal the current ban on human cloning or attempted cloning."

Mercadante said nothing in the proposal would repeal the current ban on trying to create a cloned human baby. Amendment 2, approved last year, made it a felony in Missouri to implant cloned cells into a woman's womb.

"We're not repealing the current ban, we're adding to it,"Mercadante said. "The constitution currently bans some cloning, ours bans all of it. People can argue about whether it affects stem cell research, but to say that it would repeal a ban on human cloning is obviously not what we're doing."

Mercadante's point set off a firestorm among his own supporters, many of whom consider such a statement heresy. Hardcore opponents claim that as soon as a cell is copied in a laboratory dish using the cloning process, a microscopic, cloned human being is created even if the cell is never implanted in a woman's uterus.

That position is summed up in a blog posting by Wesley Smith, a writer who opposes research on early stem cells and contributes frequently to the conservative Weekly Standard. Smith also has testified before the Missouri Senate in support of a ban on cloning research. The post, sent out by abortion opponent Mary Kay Culp of Kansans for Life, blasted Mercandante for straying from the party line.

"Proponents of the initiative don't have their act together," Smith wrote. "...CURT: The current law doesn't ban any cloning. It bans implantation. (Read the above repeatedly until it sinks in.) Language matters! If you are going to speak to the media, know what you are talking about. Otherwise, your cause loses."

I have had dealings with Wagar in the past and find him biased and unreasonable in his reportage about this issue, bordering on being an advocate. This would be fine on an opinion page, but I think it is egregious in a beat reporter.

In any event, I responded at the KC Star site. Here is what I wrote:

Kit: Your reporting continues to be biased and scientifically inaccurate. I am not trying to "define terms" to "fit my agenda" but in furtherance of my strong belief that integrity and respect for democracy require that the human cloning and embryonic stem cell debates be based on scientifically accurate lexicon. And it seems to me that the media has a crucial role to play in this regard, and you aren't playing it.

For example, your continued use of the advocacy term "early stem cells" in your stories and this blog entry is not one used in most of the scientific community--except occasionally, primarily in MO--when political operatives and their camp followers in the media are trying to persuade the public to allow human cloning research. The correct term is embryonic stem cells since they come from embryos. Moreover, somatic cell nuclear transfer is not a synonym for embryonic stem cell research. The former, creates a cloned embryo. The latter is one potential use for an embryo, whether created through fertilization or cloning. Also, ESCR has never been illegal in MO, nor was the legislation about which I testified aimed at making it against the law. It was aimed at banning all human cloning. Had it passed, ESCR could have been conducted in MO free of any legal impediment.

Somatic cell nuclear transfer would create--if it is ever done successfully--a cloned human embryo. This is acknowledged in science papers the world over, and in media where cloning is not controversial. Once the new organism comes into being through SCNT, cloning is over. There is no further cloning. After that, the question becomes what to do with the new human organism that has been created. That too, is the science.

Amendment 2's definition of human cloning is junk biology, by claiming that cloning is implantation. But that is wrong scientifically. Indeed, Amendment 2 banned implantation precisely because it could result theoretically in a pregnancy--which requires an embryo. You could implant a skin cell line, if that is all that SCNT creates, until the cows come home and never--not even theoretically--result in a pregnancy.

You also failed to quote the part where I said implantation of a cloned embryo is no more cloning than implanting an IVF embryo is fertilization. Typical.

As I stated, my concern in writing my blog entry was to promote scientific accuracy in advocacy. As an aside, I nudged the good people who want a true cloning ban to make sure they communicate their important message accurately and robustly since it is hard to break through the biased news blockade of the KC Star.

Wesley J. Smith

Well, at least Wagar reads Secondhand Smoke.


"Paws for Purple Hearts"

The animal rights movement is profoundly anti-human in my opinion. Some of this is explicit, as I have discussed. But much of it is implicit, in advocating policies that would prevent us from making proper and humane use of animals resulting in great human harm.

One example of such good is the tremendous service assistance dogs provide people with disabilities. Assistance dogs help disabled people by, for example, opening doors, obtaining cans of soda from the refrigerator, providing loving companionship, and otherwise helping people with disabilities to live more independently. But liberationists think of this as slavery, and wish to eventually prevent such uses. In the meantime, they attack dog breeders. No dog breeding equals no dogs. But that is a story for another day (and my book).

The purpose of this post is to tout a wonderful program that some might consider supporting. Paws for Purple Hearts, a program of the Assistance Dog Institute, in which war veterans with post traumatic shock syndrome help train assistance dogs is providing wonderful benefits to all: the dogs which are engaged by their work; people with disabilities, which move from waiting lists to being paired with a dog more quickly; and, disabled veterans. Talk about a classic, win-win-win!

For those interested in helping support this or other assistance dog non profit programs, Dean and Gerda Koontz have established a $250,000 matching fund challenge grant in memory of their former service dog Trixie. I knew Trixie. She was a really sweet and wonderful dog; gentle, good natured, affectionate, happy. She became a member of the Koontz family after a joint malady forced her out of service. (She helped establish the good friendship Secondhand Smokette and I enjoy with Dean and Gerda when she gave us the coveted seal of approval by licking our hands at our first meeting.) Dean and Gerda intend to honor the memory of the great joy the three shared together by increasing their already bounteous support for service dog charities. If you are interested in contributing to the matching grant in honor of Trixie, hit this link. Mention in the information box that you want your contribution to apply to the matching grant.



"Ashley's Case" Values Spreading

Readers of SHS and those who keep up with disability rights issues will remember "Ashley's case," which I covered extensively (for example here, here. and in NRO here). The controversy concerned a little disabled girl given a non therapeutic hysterectomy, mastectomy, and hormones to keep her "small" for ease of care. After an investigation demanded by disability rights activists commenced, the Seattle hospital in which the surgeries were performed admitted it erred in performing surgery without a court order.

Well, now in the UK, a woman wants to subject her disabled daughter to a hysterectomy so she won't menstruate. From the Guardian story:

Disability rights campaigners yesterday criticised a mother's request for her teenage daughter, who has severe cerebral palsy to have a hysterectomy.

Alison Thorpe says the operation is in the best interests of her daughter, Katie, to spare her the monthly discomfort of menstruating. But the medical consent application being prepared on behalf of the 15-year-old from Billericay, Essex, has already proved controversial...

But Scope, the disability organisation that supports people with cerebral palsy, expressed concern. The surgery might not be in the teenager's best interests and could have "disturbing" consequences for other children, the charity's executive director, Andy Rickell, said.

He acknowledged that it was a difficult situation and was aware of the challenges faced by families like Katie's.

He added: "It is very difficult to see how this kind of invasive surgery, which is not medically necessary and which will be very painful and traumatic, can be in Katie's best interests.

"This case raises fundamental ethical issues about the way our society treats disabled people and the respect we have for disabled people's human and reproductive rights. Scope is concerned that doctors are supporting parents in this case. If this enforced sterilisation is approved it will have disturbing implications for young disabled girls across Britain.

One can sympathize with the mother, but there are ways to control menstruation without removing a healthy uterus! (Not only are there drugs, but a new birth control pill can keep menstruation at bay until desired.)

Disability rights activists are right to be concerned about these trends. And doctors should be loath to engage in invasive procedures with no medical benefit to patients. Remember "do no harm?"

HT: Cheryl Eckstein


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Transhumanit Nirvana: Human/Robot Marriages

This story gets the eye roll of the year award: The University of Maastricht in the Netherlands is awarding a doctorate to a researcher who wrote a paper on marriages between humans and robots.

David Levy, a British artificial intelligence researcher at the college, wrote in his thesis, "Intimate Relationships with Artificial Partners," that trends in robotics and shifting attitudes on marriage are likely to result in sophisticated robots that will eventually be seen as suitable marriage partners. Levy's conclusion was based on about 450 publications in the fields of psychology, sexology, sociology, robotics, materials science, artificial intelligence, gender studies and computer-human interaction.
The thesis examines human attitudes toward affection, love and sexuality and concluded that the findings are just as applicable to human interaction with robots of the future as they are to the relationships between humans of today.
Ooo-kay. Stepford Wives anyone?


If You Are "For the Animals" in Australia, You Can Break the Law with Court Approval

I hope there is more to this story than meets the eye:

Shock waves are continuing following the Federal Court's ruling in favour of animal activist Ralph Hahnheuser, who broke into a sheep feedlot four years ago and contaminated the feed with shredded ham.

The incident seriously disrupted the live export trade and the immediate shipping of 72,000 sheep from Portland, Vic.

But Justice Gray dismissed the legal case by Rural Export and Trading (WA) and Samex against the activist on the grounds that Mr Hahnheuser had been acting in the interests of environmental protectionism, given sheep are part of the environment. He also believed Mr Hahnheuser had not intended to hinder trade.

Decisions like this will lead to chaos. And if animal activists can do it, why can't pro lifers, gay rights activists, or anti-illegal immigrant proponents?


Should "Consent" Be a Defense to Murder?

The proprietor of a Japanese how-to-commit-suicide WEB site has been arrested for murder, apparently for killing a woman who asked to be murdered. From the story:

Saito, a 33-year-old electrician in Ichihara, Chiba Prefecture, opened the bulletin board site in June 2006 under a handle name. He posted such messages as "I will help you commit suicide" and "I will undertake whatever job, legal or illegal."

He was arrested in July on suspicion of violating the Narcotic and Psychotropic Drug Control Law and was later indicted. On Wednesday, Saito was arrested on suspicion of murdering Sayaka Nishizawa, 21, in April in Kawasaki's Takatsu Ward.

Through the Web site, Nishizawa asked Saito to kill her and paid him 200,000 yen for the job, police said. On April 12, Saito gave her 20 to 30 sleeping drugs to end her life and wrapped a plastic bag around her head to ensure she was dead, police said.

I should note that this is the method of "suicide counseling" that has often been used by our local suicide purveyors. (The illustration above is of the infamous "Exit Bag" sold by a Canadian assisted suicide group.) But let's leave that aside for the moment. Should her consent be a defense?

That is certainly the rationale behind euthanasia in the Netherlands and was Kevorkian's excuse for murdering Thomas Youk. I recall also a few years ago, a German case in which a man advertised that he was willing to murder and eat anyone who wanted to be murdered and eaten. (Here's Debra's take on that 2004 case.) He got a taker and was not charged with murder due to the consent issue. Sick, I know. But when I was in law school, I was taught that consent is not a defense to murder. Should that change? If not, we had better change our current course.


Missouri Cloning Language Corruption Continues

The MO Secretary of State has released ballot language to describe a potential initiative to outlaw human somatic cell nuclear transfer cloning. And of course, it is utterly biased, scientifically inaccurate, and disrespectful of the democratic process. The ballot initiative language will read:

Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to repeal the current ban on human cloning or attempted cloning and to limit Missouri patients’ access to stem cell research, therapies and cures approved by voters in November 2006 by:

- redefining the ban on human cloning or attempted cloning to criminalize and impose civil penalties for some currently allowed research, therapies and cures; and

- prohibiting hospitals or other institutions from using public funds to conduct such research?

In actuality, the current law is what actually redefined cloning from the scientifically accurate definition of creating the embryo asexually through SCNT cloning, to a junk biology/advocacy definition of implanting the embryo (a term not actually used, of course). But implantation is no more an act of cloning than implanting an IVF embryo is the act of fertilization. Thus, the current initiative simply would allow the voters to have their say on whether they want or do not want human cloning in MO--which was denied them due to the utterly dishonest and obstreperous campaign to pass Amendment A run by James Stowers' political minions and enthusiastically abetted by an in-the-tank media.

Alas, proponents of the initiative don't have their act together. From the story:
Curt Mercadante, a spokesman for Cures Without Cloning, said the language "in no way accurately reflects what we're attempting to do."... Mercadante disputed that the group was "repealing" the ban on human cloning written into last year’s amendment.

"We're not repealing a current ban on human cloning. That's preposterous," Mercadante said. "I mean what we're doing is adding to the current definition of what cloning is. The current constitution bans some cloning. It would extend the definition of what cloning is to ensure that all cloning is banned. And that’s spelled out specifically in the amendment." (My italics.)

CURT: The current law doesn't ban any cloning. It bans implantation. (Read the above repeatedly until it sinks in.) Language matters! If you are going to speak to the media, know what you are talking about. Otherwise, your cause loses.

But I digress: Given that there is a good--albeit not certain--chance voters would reject human cloning, the Establishment happily resorts to Orwellian language engineering--to the cheers of most MO media (although to its credit, this blog entry acknowledges that SCNT would create an embryo).

Is it any wonder we have become such a cynical nation?


Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Food Fight! Enviros versus Animal Rights Activists

PETA is not going to be pleased. As a way of combating global warming, Greenpeace has urged that Aussies slaughter and consume more kangaroos. From the story:

The eat roo recommendation is contained in a report, Paths to a Low-Carbon Future, commissioned by Greenpeace and released today. It also coincides with recent calls from climate change experts for people in rich countries to reduce red meat and switch to chicken and fish because land-clearing and burping and farting cattle and sheep were damaging the environment...

Roughly three million kangaroos are killed and harvested for meat each year. They are shot with high-powered guns between the eyes at night. Australians eat about a third of the 30 million kilograms of roo meat produced annually. The delicacy is exported to dozens of countries and is most popular in Germany, France and Belgium.

The Greenpeace report has renewed calls for Victoria to lift a ban on harvesting roos for food. Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia spokesman John Kelly said roos invading farmers' crops were already being illegally shot." They are being culled and left to rot," Mr Kelly said.

Will animal rights fanatics throw blood on Greenpeace leaders, picket their homes, and threaten their children? Stay tuned.


Adult Stem Cell Success Story Makes the NEW YORK TIMES!

I have always maintained that the more progress that adult stem cell researchers make, the harder it will be for mainstream media outlets to maintain their news blockade that has prevented important success stories from reaching the public consciousness. This New York Times report, hopefully, is a harbinger of better journalism to come. Skin stem cells have been transformed into blood vessel tissue and used to treat patients. From the story:

From a snippet of a patient's skin, researchers have grown blood vessels in a laboratory and then implanted them to restore blood flow around the patient's damaged arteries and veins...

The skin biopsy takes about 15 minutes. Under local anesthesia, a doctor removes a piece of skin, including a strip of vein about an inch long, from the back of the hand or inner wrist. Then technicians use enzymes to extract fibroblast cells from the skin and endothelial cells from the inner lining of the vein. The cells are grown by the millions as sheets in a laboratory. The fibroblasts provide a mechanical backbone for the sheets that are peeled and rolled into a tube.
Eventually, these tissues would then be used in the needed treatments. According to the Times' story, this procedure could be used to save the fingers and toes of diabetes patients or treat congenital heart defects in children, as just two examples.

We are on the verge of tremendous medical progress--and most of it is entirely ethical. Bravo!

Peditrician Spies in Massachusetts

This story is disturbing on several levels. Apparently in Massachusetts, pediatricians are grilling their child patients with questions to invade family privacy. From a column in the Boston Herald, byline Michael Graham:

I found this out after my 13-year-old daughter's annual checkup. Her pediatrician grilled her about alcohol and drug abuse. Not my daughter's boozing. Mine.

"The doctor wanted to know how much you and mom drink, and if I think it's too much," my daughter told us afterward, rolling her eyes in that exasperated 13-year-old way. "She asked if you two did drugs, or if there are drugs in the house."

"What!" I yelped. "Who told her about my stash, er, I mean, 'It's an outrage!'" I turned to my wife. "You took her to the doctor. Why didn't you say something? She couldn't, she told me, because she knew nothing about it. All these questions were asked in private, without my wife's knowledge or consent.

So, this is what we are coming to: Parents authority is continually undermined because we insist on treating some minors as if they were adults, for example, by keeping some serious medical issues involving children--such as (I believe) abortion, presence of a sexually transmitted disease, and mental health counseling--secret from parents, while at the same time, doctors pry into family life, e.g. drinking, gun ownership, by grilling children in private with inappropriately intrusive questions.

Here's more from the column:
Thanks to guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics and supported by the commonwealth, doctors across Massachusetts are interrogating our kids about mom and dad's "bad" behavior.We used to be proud parents. Now, thanks to the AAP, we're "persons of interest."

The paranoia over parents is so strong that the AAP encourages doctors to ignore "legal barriers and deference to parental involvement" and shake the children down for all the inside information they can get.

If a doctor sees evidence of abuse or neglect, he or she is professionally and legally bound to learn what is going on and report the problem to authorities. But this intrusion into family undermines family cohesion and promotes moral values that a family may not share. And perhaps, that is the point.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

More on Chimps as "Rational Maximizers"

I blogged earlier today on a UPI report of a study of chimps, which found, according to the story, that chimps "protect their self interest and are unwilling to pay a cost to punish someone they perceive as unfair." I suggested that what the study seemed to actually demonstrate, based on the UPI story, was that "chimps don't have a sense of what is 'fair' or what is 'just.'" In other words, the story's assertion that the chimps could even perceive something as "unfair," is ludicrous.

I have now read the actual study, and its conclusions support my position. Indeed, it states explicitly that the sense of fairness in humans is apparently absent in chimps, and that this is one profound way in which we and they differ. Specifically, in the study "Chimpanzees are Rational Maximizers in an Ultimate Game," the Science (no link available) study concludes (Keith Jensen, et. al., Vol 318, October 5, 2007):

We gave chimpanzees the most widely recognized test for a sensitivity to fairness, the ultimate game [see earlier post for description], and found that they did not systematically make fair offers to conspecifics, nor did they systematically refuse to accept unfair offers from conspecifics even though they could discriminate between the quantities [of food] available to themselves and their partners. It thus would seem that in this context, one of humans' closest relatives behaves according to traditional economic models of self interest, unlike humans, and that this species does not share human sensitivity to fairness. (My emphasis.)
Chimps are animals, not people. The "rational self interest" they exhibit is the same that is exhibited by all animals--they want food. It is a primary drive. Being amoral, they are not concerned whether they cheat others or are treated unfairly by them to get it. It is the food that matters. They do not understand the concept of fairness or justice.

Of course, that is not a criticism. No one should expect them to be moral beings. No one should expect them to treat each other (or us) "fairly." But I expect to hear from animal liberationists and others accusing me of being arrogant for illustrating just one of the plethora of differences that distinguish humans from the animal world.


For Big Biotech It is Never Enough

Oh, the whining. Massachusetts has funded and permitted human SCNT, but it forbids the buying and selling of human eggs for biological research. This has apparently brought research into human cloning to a halt because women aren't particularly interested in risking their lives, fecundity, and health so that some university or corporate (today they often wear both hats at once) scientist can strike it rich. The answer? Pay women to risk their lives and health. From the version of the story in the Harvard Crimson:

Assistant Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology Kevin C. Eggan expressed frustration at a major stem cell conference on Tuesday about a Massachussetts law that creates roadblocks to medical research.

Eggan lamented a state policy that limits access to human eggs by forbidding researchers from compensating women for egg donation. Since its inception in 2004, the Harvard Stem Cell Institute has not obtained a single egg from an eligible donor.

Eggan left town immediately after the conference ended yesterday and could not be reached for additional comment.

B.D. Colen, Harvard's senior communications officer for University science, said Eggan blamed an unfriendly legal climate at the state and federal levels for the Institute's lack of experimental findings. He added that Eggan noted women can receive compensation for eggs donated to treat infertility, but not for use in medical research.

"Despite an advertising campaign to find donors, we have yet to have a woman donate an egg to our cause," Eggan said, according to The Boston Globe.
Does the professor have a daughter or wife? Has he urged them to donate?

This story further illustrates the blank check mentality--both financially and ethically--that permeates Big Biotech. As to the disparity between research and IVF clinics: The answer isn't to permit buying and selling of eggs in research, it is to ban buying and selling of eggs for use in the very profitable fertility industry.


Desperate to Make Chimps Human

As I write my book about the animal rights movement, I have noticed a crescendo of advocacy, er, studies, that seek to make chimps seem more human, the point--sometimes explicitly stated--to destroy human exceptionalism.

Along these lines is this "study" that claims chimps make more "rational decisions" than humans, based on a game. From the story in the UPI:

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig studied the chimp's choices by using an economic game with two players. In the game, a human or chimpanzee who receives something of value can offer to share it with another. If the proposed share is rejected, neither player gets anything.

Humans typically make offers close to 50 percent of the reward. They also reject as unfair offers of significantly less than half of the reward, even though this choice means they get nothing.

The study, however, showed chimpanzees reliably made offers of substantially less than 50 percent, and accepted offers of any size, no matter how small.
The researchers concluded chimpanzees do not show a willingness to make fair offers and reject unfair ones. In this way, they protect their self interest and are unwilling to pay a cost to punish someone they perceive as unfair.
No, it means that chimps don't have a sense of what is "fair" or what is "just." They want the treat and the game trains them how to get it. What happens to the other player doesn't matter a whit to them. This isn't "rational thinking" in the way we view the term as weighing pros and cons: it is the desire for the treat. Good grief!

Post Script: I have now obtained the original article from Science Vol.318, pp. 107-109.). The result--contrary to the media reporting--is precisely what I suggested above; that the human sense of fairness "distinguish us from our closest living relatives." Now, I wonder why the media didn't report the story that way?


Monday, October 08, 2007

Good News: Washington State Medical Association Reaffirms Opposition to Leglizing Assisted Suicide

One of the tactics of the euthanasia/assisted suicide movement is to get medical organizations to "go neutral" on assisted suicide. Which is a ridiculous notion when you think of it. I mean, how can a responsible professional association not have an opinion on a matter of such profound public import?

Be that as it may: That tactic worked in 1994 in Oregon, and was partially (I believe) responsible for the narrow win of Measure 16. Conversely, the California Medical Association's stalwart opposition has helped prevent legalization attempts (so far) in the Golden State.

Next year there may well be an assisted suicide legalization initiative on the Washington ballot. True to form, last weekend, assisted suicide advocates sought to have the Washington State Medical Association take a neutral stance. I have just been informed that the motion failed miserably. Good. That will be important one year from now if an initiative qualifies for a vote.

HT: Marilyn Golden


"From Ralph Nader to the Discovery Institute"

Whilst I was in Seattle this summer, I was interviewed by Anika Smith of the Discovery Institute about my sometimes winding path in public advocacy. I describe how John Kennedy's "power of idealism" stimulated my interest in public policy, how my mentor Ralph Nader profoundly influenced my life by proving the power of "a single man" to make a difference, and how the "power of justice and the call to human equality" made so powerfully by Martin Luther King seared into my consciousness.

This may be the most revealing interview I have ever given about my personal history and the motives that drive my advocacy. I discuss the "consistent themes" in my work, e.g. integrity in advocacy, how my work with Nader was more political and what I am doing now more cultural, and how the overarching theme for me is "the importance of being human." This wasn't planned, but looking back "even while practicing law, this is much of what I am about."

I discuss how each of us "is somebody," by which I mean we are something in our souls, e.g. the "essence of Wesley" is "an advocate," my wife Debra is a journalist even when she is not working, and my mother is, essentially, a mother. That is what she was born to be.

I discuss the painful decision to quit practicing law, my "very minor successful" days of acting in Hollywood, the circumstances of how I became "a lawyer on TV" for a time in LA, and how some of the best things that come to us result from doing things for which we are not paid. I describe the circumstances of the writing of my first book, which led to my meeting "my hero" Ralph Nader," for which he wrote the introduction. I opine about how today's "ideological Leftists" in my view, have lost the idealism that once marked the movement and has moved from a we-we, us-us mentality into an I-I, me-me view of life. I discuss how the Discovery Institute has been so supportive of my views and work, and how it shows idealism, integrity, commitment, and the willingness to be disliked in pursuing what its members think is right. And much more. If you have twenty minutes--and if you care--listen in.


DAILY JOURNAL on Assisted Suicide "Counseling"

I was interviewed for almost an hour for this story, which I think is pretty straight and down the middle, published today in the Daily Journal, California's leading legal newspaper (no link available). The story concerns the suicide "counseling" in which Compassion and Choices claims it will engage because CA refuses to legalize assisted suicide. Here are a few excerpts:

After two years of unsuccessful lobbying for a euthanasia law in California, a group called Compassion & Choices has decided to focus on advising terminally ill patients how to kill themselves...Volunteers with health care backgrounds will screen callers to a toll-free telephone number for mental competency before spelling out options for a peaceful death that include how to end their lives quickly. Compassion & Choice's legal counsel say that, although California law is murky about aid in dying, they believe their consultation service is legal.

Lawyers who oppose euthanasia say Compassion & Choice's volunteers are treading legally dangerous waters. "If I go out and drink a bottle of rat poison and I do that to try to end my life, that is suicide. Facilitating that is a criminal problem," said James Sweeney, a partner in Sweeney & Greene of Elk Grove, who represents California Catholic Conference. Wesley J. Smith, a San Francisco lawyer and author of "Secondhand Smoke," a blog that discusses human cloning, assisted-suicide and other bio-ethical issues, agreed the consultation service might cross criminal and civil legal boundaries. "I think they are going to deal with some very troubled people and a family is going to be very seriously upset that their loved one was counseled into suicide," Smith said. "And I hope that family member sues the crap out of these people."
And, of course, the assisted suicide advocates continue their post modernistic word engineering campaign of pretending that suicide by a terminally ill person isn't really suicide:
While Tucker acknowledges the statute, she said it is "quite well accepted" in mental health circles that the "choice of acting to provide the time of death" is not suicide.

Society's definition of suicide has changed over the years, said Aaron Jacobs, of Heller Ehrman in Menlo Park. He said a court today might rule that assisting the terminally ill to hasten their deaths is not assisted suicide...California criminal law defines murder and manslaughter, but it does not define suicide, Jacobs said. "The last amendment took Section 401 out of the homicide section," he said. "The 1905 definition of suicide and the 2007 definition of suicide probably are quite different. Some would say suicide is suicide and everybody knows what that is. But organizations are coming to realize it's not that simple."...Jacobs distinguished suicide from euthanasia as an "irrational decision." "They are not killing themselves," he said. "The disease is killing them and they want to choose."
Such definitions are not (yet) well accepted in the mental health professions. But never mind. The narrative and agenda are all that counts. In such a milieu, accurate definitions and descriptive words must be subsumed.
Beum said that although the volunteers are not psychiatrists, they are able to assess a patient's mental competency because they are experienced in palliative care and are intimately familiar with the progression of diseases. "We know if a person has lung cancer what the usual trajectory of the illness is," Beum said. "We get a picture of where they are. We have a good sense of physically, emotionally and spiritually where they are. If ever we have concerns about their mental capacity, we can help them to see their own psychiatrist or therapist, if they have one, or to get them a mental health exam."
Think about this! These "counselors" will not be licensed mental health professionals giving mental health advice. They will not be doctors but will be giving medical advise as to prognoses. What an outrage. And yet some in the media have editorialized in favor of such counseling. And by the way, I have a friend who was told his lung cancer would kill him within three months--seven years ago!
If the callers decide to hasten their deaths, volunteers provide them with various options and will be present with the terminally ill as they kill themselves, but will not provide the means nor administer the means of death, according the group's news release...Smith said the group can't contend the law is murky and at the same time say what they are doing is legal. "If they are saying they are not sure if the law is clear, then at some point they think they may be committing a crime," he said.
I also pointed out that these counselors always cover their tracks and clean up the scene of the death. Doing so, it seems to me, is an implicit acknowledgment that a crime has been committed.


Gene Manipulation Wins a Nobel Prize

One of the primary purposes behind ESCR and human cloning research, in my view, is to eventually genetically engineer human progeny. Such research is now in its very early stages. But I think this Nobel Prize is an indicator of where things are heading. From the story:

The three scientists were honored for a technique called gene targeting, which lets scientists deactivate or modify particular genes in mice. That in turn lets them study how those genes affect health and disease.

To use this technique, researchers introduce a genetic change into mouse embryonic stem cells. These cells are then injected into mouse embryos. The mice born from these embryos are bred with others, to produce offspring with altered genes.

The first mice with genes manipulated in this way were announced in 1989. More than 10,000 different genes in mice have been studied with the technique, the Nobel committee said. That's about half the genes the rodents have.

"Gene targeting has pervaded all fields of biomedicine. Its impact on the understanding of gene function and its benefits to mankind will continue to increase over many years to come," said the citation for the $1.54 million prize.

Steve Brown, director of the mammalian genetics unit at the Medical Research Council in London, said the three researchers have "given us the toolkit to understand how genes function" in mice and so, by extension, in humans. As a result, of their work, he said, "we're on the cusp of having a much better understanding of the relationship between genes and disease."

Unstated in this story, is that these same techniques that would initially be used to combat disease, could--and in my view, would--eventually be applied to human eugenic enhancement. With the science in this field advancing so fast, now is the time to determine what should be acceptable in manipulating the human genome and what should be permanently off limits. But I am not holding my breath.


Sunday, October 07, 2007

More Trouble at California Institute of Regenerative Medicine

Proposition 71 established a closed doors grant approval process, in which the CIRM doles out hundreds of millions of borrowed taxpayers dollars to private industry and public entities to conduct human cloning and embryonic stem cell (and related) research. All has not gone well so far, with key personnel resigning, and now $3 million in grants having to be taken back. From the Wired report:

SAN DIEGO -- The California Institute of Regenerative Medicine is having more trouble than it may have expected giving away millions of dollars to stem-cell researchers.

One grant application was withdrawn by the applicant, and one grant was rescinded by the agency, after investigations turned up information that made CIRM directors reconsider handing over more than $3 million. Critics say the agency's secretive grant-approval process is at fault, and that a more open process would have found problems with the grant candidates sooner. But better late than never: They also say the results of the administrative reviews raise confidence in the agency's integrity...

One grant recipient, CHA Regenerative Medicine Institute of Los Angeles, turned down a $2.6 million grant following a lengthy administrative review by the stem-cell agency, said Arlene Chiu, CIRM's chief scientific officer, at a Wednesday meeting in San Diego. The grant had been awarded in March, but a lawsuit and accusations of plagiarism involving the head of CHA's parent company soon raised questions about how worthy the recipient really was...

Another grant approved by CIRM directors in spring 2007 was rejected during the administrative review the agency conducts on all approved grants before sending out any checks, Chiu said. The principal investigator on the $638,000 grant, David Smotrich, did not meet the necessary criteria of being an on-site, full-time employee of the Burnham Institute in La Jolla, California.

CIRM directors had approved the grants after a controversial closed-door review failed to turn up the controversy surrounding Cha.

Following disclosure of the CHA controversy by Wired News and other media outlets, critics including Simpson criticized CIRM's secretive grant-award process.

Mark my words, we will see more of this as time progresses. The biotech industry today reminds me of the wildcatters during the early oil industry days. Now, as then, there is going to be a mad scramble to strike it rich. People will be digging metaphoric wells all over the place. There will be fast operators and even faster talkers. Most ventures will fail, but a few will become billionaires. In such an atmosphere, watch your wallets!


Saturday, October 06, 2007

Transhumanism Comics

"Dr. Rat's Brain Augmentation Surgery," runs into a hitch.


Thursday, October 04, 2007

Canada Sending Mothers to US to Give Birth

I used to support a single payer plan for national health insurance. Now, I am very dubious. Here's one reason from Canada. From the story:

A problem in Canada's hospitals is sending scores of pregnant women south of the border to have their babies. Carri Ash of Chilliwack, B.C. was sent to the U.S. to have her baby after her water broke on Sunday, ten weeks ahead of schedule. "And they came in and said 'you're going to Seattle,'" she said. Ash's hospital couldn't handle the high-risk pregnancy. Doctors searched for another hospital bed, but even hospitals in Vancouver, B.C. didn't have a neo-natal bed. "So two provinces didn't have enough room, so I have to go to another country," said Ash.
The next election will put health care on the table. Some point to Canada as the way to go. I think not. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people in Canada can't even obtain a primary care physician.

We'd better contemplate this crucial issue carefully. Once we go down a road as a country, it will be almost impossible to turn around.


Smith on the Air Responding to Ron Reagan Pro Cloning Speech

This old show of Issues Etc. Radio Program just became available on MP 3. In it, I respond to Ron Reagan's 2004 speech to the Democratic National Convention. I point out that RR played a big game of bait and switch: that is, the speech was touted about pressuring President Bush to increase funding for ESCR using leftover IVF embryos. But that subject was never actually broached. Instead, Reagan pushed federal funding of human cloning research--without using the C-word. Three years later, the same disingenuous propaganda is one of Big Biotech's primary political tools in pushing their blank check (financial and ethical) policy agenda.

I also note that my comments about the success of Wu-suk Hwang creating cloned embryonic stem cells were later found out to be a total fraud.

Check it out. It's a good deconstruction of the junk biology that passes for science in much of this debate and most of what I said remains accurate and relevant to the ongoing controversy. (Alas, some things have changed. California and Missouri have new constitutional amendments permitting human SCNT that won using the same false claims Reagan did. Australia and Iowa, changed their laws to permit human cloning.)

Regan's speech of "self repair biological repair kit," use of the present tense for purely speculative and theoretical research, and pretense that nascent human life isn't involved was a master of deception. Regardless of you r position on these issues, I cut through the smoke and mirrors.

Also check out my piece in NRO about the speech that is referenced in the interview. Also, to learn more about these matters in an understandable way, may I humbly recommend my book Consumer's Guide to a Brave New World.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Visit NOT DEAD YET's Blog

I'm a little slow on the uptake on this one, but the excellent folk at Not Dead Yet are now cruising the blogosphere. Check it out, here.


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

"Hippocratic Oath Adapts"

Nearly two years ago, I wrote a series of posts (here, here, here, and here) and a column ("Harm Done," NRO) about the ongoing deconstruction of the Hippocratic Oath and its devolution into meaningless pabulum in a society that increasingly embraces relativism as it rejects principles and firm concepts of right and wrong. Now, the LA Times has discovered the trend in a column, byline Elena Conis. From her piece:

The Hippocratic oath was penned 2,400 years ago by the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates who, sensibly, instructed doctors to treat patients to the best of their ability and respect each patient's privacy. But his professional guidelines also included lesser-known details: The oath advises doctors to avoid sexual relations with patients, treat their teachers as they would members of their own family and teach the art of medicine to the next generation "without fee." It also obliges doctors not to perform surgery, abortions or euthanasia.
Rather than being cause for concern, Conis celebrates:
...[A]bout one-fourth of all schools now opt to write their own [oaths]. The custom oaths do away with much of Hippocrates' more controversial material [like killing patients] but most retain his pledge of confidentiality. They also add provisions that Hippocrates left out: Many prohibit racism, for one, and other kinds of discrimination. Few, curiously, prohibit sexual relations with patients.

The act of pledge-taking in medicine seems poised to last, though the original content of Hippocrates' oath appears unlikely to endure. Which may be for the best. To date, scholars can't uniformly agree that Hippocrates even wrote the oath attributed to him. Some suspect it was written by one of the Pythagoreans, the ancient Greek philosophers whose lasting legacy -- geometry -- is the target of complaints issued by high school students, not doctors.
When I tell lay audiences that most doctors no longer take the Hippocratic Oath, which clears the way to permit some to engage in (now formerly) unprofessional acts (e.g., sex with patients) and still call themselves ethical, they are stunned and appalled. They know that the Oath was one of their best protections against abuse. Too bad Conis can't understand that simple truth and apparently embraces the ongoing deconstruction of professionalism that is afflicting our society in medicine, science, law, journalism, academia, and other areas of important endeavor.


Monday, October 01, 2007

"Don't Tase Me, Bro" Delays Kevorkian Speech

The altercation at a John Kerry speech resulting in the now world famous plea, "Don't tase me, Bro," has led to a delay in Kevorkian's $50,000 speech from October to January. Apparently the university wants to improve security.

Since the matter has come up: While I utterly detest Kevorkian and believe that his invitation to speak at a respectable university continues the country's unfortunate love affair with outlaws, when he appears, Kevorkian must not be molested, shouted down, or otherwise harassed, threatened,
or intimidated in any way. There is far too much of that kind of mob tyranny already at universities. But he should be challenged about his desire to experiment on people, take the organs from assisted suicide victims, and other matters demonstrating his ghoulish nature (as illustrated by the painting on the right side of this post), and about which I wrote here.


Anti-Humanism Reaching the Highest Intellectual Levels

I am striving to obtain the referenced Journal of Medical Ethics articles, but the abstracts alone illustrate how anti-human and human extinction advocacy is moving from the fringe into the intellectual mainstream. This article is in response to a book entitled Better to Have Never Been, by D. Benetar (apparently a professor from S. Africa). It is a very weak defense of human existence:

Benatar argues that it is better never to have been born because of the harms always associated with human existence. Non-existence entails no harm, along with no experience of the absence of any benefits that existence might offer. Therefore, he maintains that procreation is morally irresponsible, along with the use of reproductive technology to have children. Women should seek termination if they become pregnant and it would be better for potential future generations if humans become extinct as soon as humanely possible. These views are challenged by the argument that while decisions not to procreate may be rational on the grounds of the harm that might occur, it may equally rational to gamble under certain circumstances that future children would be better-off experiencing the harms and benefits of life rather than never having the opportunity of experiencing anything. To the degree that Benatar's arguments preclude the potential rationality of any such gamble, their moral relevance to concrete issues concerning human reproduction is weakened. However, he is right to emphasise the importance of foreseen harm when decisions are made to attempt to have children.
Nihilism is indeed running rampant.

It is worth noting that the Journal also published the Battin assisted suicide propaganda "study" and, as I noted in the San Francisco Chronicle, has previously published articles extolling non therapeutic human experimentation upon patients in PVS.


More on Battin "No Slippery Slope" Study

I blogged a few days ago about the propaganda piece, er study, proclaiming no slippery slope with regard to assisted suicide. Well, here is the PDF of the report itself. But I note the following, which seems odd for a peer reviewed journal:

Original version received 10 July 2007

Accepted 10 July 2007
Gee, do you think the fix was in?

This minor imbroglio illustrates an unfortunate contemporary truth: Too often today, the published "scientific study" isn't objective and it isn't scientific: It is a tool of political and ideological advocacy.

HT: Kathi Hamlon


Making Assisted Suicide Seductive

The media love stories such as this one in the Oregonian, byline Don Colburn; of the "fiercely independent" man or woman who decides the time has come to die through assisted suicide. From the story:

Lovelle Svart woke up Friday knowing it was the day she would die. There was much to do. Her family and closest friends would be gathering at 11 a.m. in her mother's apartment in the Southwest Portland assisted-living center where they both lived.

She directed trips to the grocery store and even called AAA to jump-start the dead battery of her 2006 Scion. She double-checked delivery of food platters from Fred Meyer: turkey sandwiches, strawberries and grapes, pretzels, almonds and sparkling water. There would be pink roses on the dining table and made one last trip to "the bridge," a wooden footbridge in a nearby park where she had found quiet sanctuary the past few weeks as painful cancerous tumors spread from her lungs through her chest and her throat.

The consummate planner, she had choreographed the day. She wanted to leave time--five or so hours--for storytelling, polka dancing and private goodbyes. And at 4 p.m., she intended to drink a fatal dose of medication, allowed by Oregon law, that would end her life.

Assisted suicide activists often sell their agenda as a last resort, a safety valve, reserved for patients for whom nothing can be done to alleviate suffering. But note that such requirements are not part of the law itself (nor any legislation I have ever seen put forward) and are rarely present in actual cases that are reported in the media.

What I also find tragic is that many people will read the story and think it is uplifting. But assisted suicide is a stake through the heart of the hospice philosophy of caring for people until they die naturally. It accepts the idea that there are lives no longer worthy of being protected. It validates the worst fears of suicidal persons that they are burdens, will be allowed to die in agony, that life has no further meaning, etc.. And it interferes with proper hospice care by not informing the hospice team that a patient wants to kill themselves so that proper interventions can be rendered--which often help the patient change their minds.

I would also point out that I have a friend with terminal lung cancer who was given only 3 months to live. That was seven years ago and still counting.

Tragic. Sad. And alas, seductive. But expect these stories to continue--choreographed as this one clearly was by assisted suicide advocacy groups.