Thursday, January 31, 2008

Doctors' Values Are More Important Than Those of Their Patients

I have been warning anyone who will listen about the coming huge policy fight over medical futility--what I call Futile Care Theory--that allows a doctor to refuse wanted life sustaining treatment when the doctor doesn't believe that the quality of the patient's life is worth sustaining (or spending money on). This isn't about asking for treatment that won't work, but withholding treatment that will or may work. Usually futile care protocols--where they have been promulgated--allow an ethics committee to make this decision after a quasi-judicial hearing. Texas has been a big center of futilitarian advances.

There is a futile care case right now in the courts of Winnipeg. In this regard, it is worth noting--and being very alarmed about--the futile care protocol adopted by The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Manitoba, which permits the doctor to make the call, after consultation with a second physician, without even having to pass it by an ethics committee. And this is in cases in which the minimal goal of the patient is likely to be met! From the protocol:

2. Where the consultation supports the conclusion that treatment should be withheld or withdrawn:

a. The physician who sought the consultation must advise the
patient/proxy/representative that the consultation supports the initial assessment that treatment should be withheld or withdrawn .

b. If there is still a demand or request for treatment, the physician must attempt to address the reasons directly and with a view to reaching consensus...

c. If consensus cannot be reached, the physician must give the patient/proxy/representative a reasonable opportunity to identify another physician who is willing to assume care of the patient and must facilitate the transfer of care and...

d. Where, despite all reasonable efforts, consensus cannot be reached the physician may withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment, but: i) in the case of a patient/proxy who is still not in agreement with the decision to withhold or withdraw treatment, the physician must provide at least 96 hours advance notice to the patient or proxy as described below.

There you have it: Doctors think that their values should rule over those of their patients.

This is the beginning of the institution of a duty to die that we ignore at our peril. It also threatens the trust of people in medicine. My prediction: A lot of fireworks ahead!

HT: Alex Schadenberg


Rescind That Knighthood!

Ian Wilmut's old cloning team is furious, apparently, that he is receiving a knighthood for his "service to science." Their point is that Wilmut did not actually clone Dolly or do anything other than administer the lab in which the groundbreaking cloning experiment took place. From the story:

The admission by Sir Ian Wilmut in 2006 that he did not personally create Dolly the sheep set tongues wagging across the world of science. His name had been synonymous with the breakthrough that led to the first clone from an adult mammal, but he made clear that his role was a supervisory one.

So when Sir Ian was knighted at New Year for "services to science", controversy was to be expected.

The latest rumblings have come in the form of a petition to the Queen requesting that his knighthood be revoked. It is signed by four former employees of the Roslin Institute, where Dolly was created in 1997. "Wilmut's knighthood is seen as the crowning insult to honest endeavour," they write, adding that their sentiment is shared by others who signed severance deals with Roslin. "Roslin, the University of Edinburgh and Scotland are all tarnished with this grant. We beg


Stem Cell Ethics? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Stem Cell Ethics!

Ignoring that New Jersey voters recently rejected a $450 boondoggle bond issue to pay for embryonic stem cell research, New York State is funding the research to the tune of $600 million without even giving the people a chance to vote on the issue. And those behind the effort have no intention of letting nonsense like ethics get in the way. From a column by members of the New York Task Force on Life and the Law:

In April, with little discussion and no public input, New York passed Public Health Law Article 2, Title 5-A, creating the Empire State Stem Cell Board to oversee the funding of a $600 million, 10-year stem cell research initiative. Several other states have had major public ethical debates about stem cell research funding. New York's statute does not delineate ethical limits on stem cell research except to prohibit attempts to bring a cloned human being to birth. Instead, the ESSCB comprises a funding committee and an ethics committee, with the ethics committee legislatively charged to make "recommendations to the funding committee regarding scientific, medical, and ethical standards."
Even this minimum level of checks and balances is apparently too tough for the funding committee:
The ethics committee is extremely diverse in its views about these substantive issues. Nonetheless, we unanimously recommended to the funding committee that while this first RFA could permit research on existing human embryonic stem cell lines under current national or international guidelines, funding should not cover the creation of new embryonic stem cell lines or undertake the controversial activities listed above until the ethics committee had the opportunity to deliberate and make solid recommendations. The ethics committee made clear that this brief moratorium did not represent its considered substantive judgment, and that it would make definitive recommendations within six months. What mattered to the ethics committee was that ethics mattered.

On Dec. 13, the funding committee rejected the ethics committee's call for a temporary moratorium, arguing that it would "send the wrong message to scientists." On Jan. 7, Gov. Eliot Spitzer announced that the first round of funding had been awarded.
So the blank check mentality continues among the powers that be without risking direct approval by the people or even taking time to consider appropriate ethical checks and balances. After all, we mustn't give "the scientists" the wrong idea that ethics matter.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

PCRM Continues To Attack Scientific Research

I don't know why the media is surprised when animal rights group are never satisfied. Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine--which is a creature of PETA with only about 4% of its members being doctors--wants to stop medical schools from using animals in their teaching. From the story:

Although the Medical College of Wisconsin has stopped using dogs as live teaching tools, an animal rights group has now called upon the school to stop using pigs.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine called in a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the Medical College to get live animals out of the teaching curriculum. The group, which says the use of live animals is unnecessary and cruel, has also put up a billboard on U.S. 45 that calling upon the school to stop...The American Physiological Society, the governing body for physiology education nationwide, endorses the use of animals in medical education, he said...

"The definition of 'physiology' is 'the study of living systems,'" Allen Cowley, a Medical College professor and chairman of physiology there, said in an internal school memo. "The Medical College's cardiovascular laboratory provides students with an exceptional learning experience." Cowley said it was the "only opportunity that students will have in their medical education to experience the cardiovascular function of a large animal with similar responses as humans before they begin clinical work with patients."
To which liberationists will say, "So what." Proper welfare standards to them are as evil as Auschwitz. But don't you want future doctors to learn on animals before beginning to practice on people? I sure do. And pigs are excellent for that purpose because their organs are very much like ours. Indeed, according to the story some other medical schools have done away with the use of live animals. But can simulators really expose students to the grit of dealing with actual living beings?

Media Members: I know that reporters use this blog as a research tool. I deeply appreciate that and indeed, serving as a resource is one of its primary purposes. But please: In your reporting you must understand that "animal rights" isn't about being nicer to animals and improving animal welfare standards. It is about eradicating the status of animals as property and preventing us from using animals for any purpose no matter how beneficial to human thriving. That isn't to say that sometimes the liberationists aren't right when they expose inappropriate practices. But most see each and every act of animal husbandry, no matter how benign, as definitional abuse. Any analysis of these controversies must start from that truth.


Pacificare HMO Hit with Big Fine

More of this please. California regulators have hit Pacificare with a huge fine. From the story:

After an unprecedented eight-month joint state probe triggered by hundreds of complaints, state health insurance regulators Tuesday slapped the PacifiCare unit of UnitedHealthcare with a record $3.5 million fine.

Regulators also will ask an administrative law judge to uphold its allegations that the company mishandled claims and levy additional penalties of up to $1.3 billion. The state accused PacifiCare of 133,000 violations from 2005 to 2007...

UnitedHealthcare officials are still in discussion with the state about the amount of the fine and contend that most problems didn't directly affect consumers. Regulators and the physician groups disagreed, citing these problems:

- A Sacramento-area surgeon couldn't schedule surgeries for more than six months because the insurer was slow to enter his contract in its computer system.

- More than 200 of Watson's patients incorrectly received letters indicating that he was no longer in the insurer's network of physicians. Watson lost about 25 percent of these patients but continued to see others without getting paid for about eight months.

- A consumer spent 11 months trying to get claims paid for his family, including an autistic child. His wife postponed EKG stress tests, fearing the family could be forced to pay for the procedures. Regulators contend PacifiCare never specified what information was needed to reconsider the denied claims.

So far, regulators have helped doctors and patients collect more than $1 million in payments from PacifiCare's preferred provider organization and health maintenance organization plans.
HMOs are problematic because they earn profits by cutting costs, which can mean cutting levels of care. Tough regulation, along with resort to private civil litigation, are necessary checks and balances to the potential for abuse of power by bean counting executives.


Mike Wallace Had Triple Bypass Surgery

Newsman Mike Wallace is recovering from a triple bypass surgery. Why is this a matter of interest to SHS other than to wish him well? Because under age-dictated health care rationing of the kind practiced in the UK and urged upon us by some very notable bioethicists here in America, Wallace would not have been eligible for the surgery. (Forget for a moment that elites like him would almost surely not be limited by rationing protocols.) Instead, the decision to provide the treatment was based on his individual circumstances. That's the way it should be.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Medical Journal Exposes Bigotry of "Deliberate Termination of Life of Newborns with Spina Bifida"

In the Netherlands, doctors sometimes euthanize babies born with spina bifida. There (and here), doctors sometimes refuse to treat them so that they will die. But now, a new journal article calls expose these lethal actions and non actions as the bigotry (my term) that they are. Writing in Childs Nervous System (2008; 24:13-28), T. H. Rob de Jong A Dutch pediatric neurosurgeon writes:

There is no evidence that newborns with MMC and hydrocephalus do either 'suffer' unbearably or hopelessly and certainly not without the prospect to relieve this suffering by standard care. 'Suffering' itself is a nonconclusive,and in newborns, inapplicable denominator that should not be used anymore in this debate. Although they will in their future life be confronted with handicaps,sometimes very severe, their future prospects and their actual experienced quality of life cannot be predicted with such certainty at birth that their lives can be regarded as hopeless or meaningless ('quality of life judgments' as such being unacceptable in this decision making). Possible discomfort in these newborns can easily be treated in a straightforward way by active treatment (closure of the defect and shunting the hydrocephalus) and, when necessary,by the use of a professional pain/symptom protocol.

The decision not to treat such a newborn, when based on expected handicaps, possibly violates the 'non-discrimination' principle (Dorscheidt, 2006).When not being treated, they are not terminally ill because of the MMC and/or hydrocephalus per se; they are 'terminally ill' because of this nontreatment decision. Not being terminally ill, it is not 'humane' or 'merciful' to terminate their life, this also being not in accordance with international legislation and international medical

Such a child can and should be cared for in a respectful and dignified way, providing all its actual needs (which apparently is not death itself). This being the case, there is no indication whatsoever for the deliberate termination of the life of children born with MMC.

But that takes true compassion, which means to suffer with. Too often, in our utilitarian times, it is deemed better to just do away with the problem by doing a way with the patient--a false compassion.

But at last: A learned and ethical answer to the benighted drive in the Netherlands to permit infanticide against babies with spina bifida. Hooray.


Monday, January 28, 2008

The High Price of Biological Colonialism

India is searching for a monster who convinced the destitute to sell their kidneys at bargain basement prices and sold them for a huge profit. But the real empowerers of this atrocity are the foreigners who wanted new kidneys and didn't care who got hurt in the process. From the story:

India has launched an international hunt for a doctor accused of running an illegal clinic that duped between 500 and 600 poor labourers into selling their kidneys and then peddled them to foreign clients...

Police alleged that Dr Kumar used middlemen to entice poor labourers with the promise of jobs worth 150 rupees (about £2) a day, plus food and accommodation, and then offer them money for their kidneys. Those who refused were often drugged and had their kidneys removed without their permission, according to several former "donors"...

India banned the trade in human organs in 1994 but non-governmental organisations estimate that 2,000 human kidneys are still sold in India every year.

If organs can be bought and sold, the rich will buy and the destitute will sell. It's that simple. And there will be horrible people to take advantage of their need. We are entering an era of biological colonialism and it must be stopped.

The only way to effectively stop this is to stifle demand. The time has come to make such purchases illegal and punishable internationally. Desperation over one's own illness does not justify such exploitive depredations. Stop the demand and the supply issue will resolve itself.


The Need for Uniform Criteria to Declare Death by Neurological Criteria

I have written several posts about the need to develop uniform standards of declaring death by neurological criteria--popularly known as "brain death." Now, there's some more information out about that problem. From the story:

Guidelines for determining brain death differ substantially between major U.S. hospitals, a national survey shows, and few stick to parameters established by the American Academy of Neurology.

"There are substantial differences in practice that may have consequences for the determination of death and initiation of transplant procedures," Dr. David M. Greer, at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and colleagues report in the medical journal Neurology.

Greer's team requested guidelines from hospitals named as having the top 50 neurology programs in the nation in 2006 by US News and World Report. Only 42 percent of the hospitals required that a neurologist or neurosurgeon perform the examination for brain death, results showed. Among the 71 percent that stipulated multiple examinations, the time required between examinations varied from 1 to 24 hours. Furthermore, the authors point out, "It was surprising to find that the cause of brain death was not stipulated in a large number (37 percent) of guidelines."

This is a very serious matter. The trust of the American people depends on getting this most fundamental matter right.


Supprting the Murderer of a Disabled Girl

The most robust opponents of assisted suicide--and the most effective in my view--are disability rights advocates. They understand well that legalizing assisted suicide is a gun aimed at their hearts. An opinion column by one Ian Mulgrew of the Vancouver Sun underscores the threat. He urges that the child murderer Robert Latimer be freed. Latimer killed his daughter Traci, because she had cerebral palsy. From the column:

Born with a severe form of cerebral palsy, his daughter Tracy was a 12-year-old who weighed barely 40 pounds, had no mobility, suffered unrelenting pain and endured five to six epileptic seizures a day. She had little more than a newborn's consciousness. Doctors at the time of her death were preparing to install a permanent feeding tube in her stomach and to remove her thigh-bone to relieve the pressure on her hip, dislocated because of the metal rods already implanted in her spine to correct the damage done by her bedridden condition...

It was in the face of such circumstances that while his wife and other children went to church, Latimer carried Tracy to a pickup truck and ran a hose from the exhaust pipe into the cab. She died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Latimer was charged with first-degree murder and convicted of second-degree murder... In 1997, a second jury again convicted Latimer, but it recommended he be eligible for parole after a year. Juries at both of his trials were conflicted over what had happened and racked because of the empathy they felt for this man.

But our system got in the way of their humanism.
So, winking at the murder of a helpless disabled girl is "humanism?" (By the way, Traci's condition was not as depicted here, but I don't want to get into that debate because it might imply that disability is a legitimate reason to kill a child. For those interested in a more accurate description of Traci's condition, read Mark Pickup's blog entry here, in which he notes:
Monday-Friday Tracey traveled to school on a regular school bus and returned home at the end of each school day on the same bus as her siblings and other children -- right up to the Friday before she was killed.)
What is amazing to me as I read columns like this and stories that are sympathetic to killing disabled children and/or support eugenic infanticide, is that we once understood such acts of murder to be an unequivocal evil. Doctors were hanged after Nuremberg for killing disabled infants, children, and adults.

Some comfort themselves with the false notion that the earlier slaughter was evil because it was Nazism, while the new support for killing people with serious disabilities is rooted in compassion. Wrong. Nazis did not force doctors into killing. Indeed, it was considered a compassionate "healing treatment."

Some then say, well the parents didn't consent to those killings, and that made it wrong. But since when do parents have the right to consent to the murder of their children? Besides, Baby Knauer, the first official infanticide sanctioned by Hitler in 1939, was killed precisely because his father requested the killing. And in the Netherlands, where studies in the Netherlands show that 8% of all infants who die each year in that country are killed by doctors--and of those, more than 20% of parents had not consented.

We are moving into an era of a new eugenics where it is considered humanism to murder helpless disabled children. Mulgrew may think he's a compassionate and liberal. But it is a denial of the equal worth of all people and a profound violation of human rights--which is the antithesis of "humanism" properly understood.


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Doctors Urge NHS Not to Treat the Promiscuous

In a stunning development, doctors responding to a questionnaire have urged that promiscuous people be denied certain treatments based on their unhealthy lifestyles. From the story:

Doctors are calling for NHS treatment to be withheld from patients who lead irresponsible and unhealthy sexual lives. Those who have sex with too many people should be barred from receiving some operations, according to doctors, with most saying the health service cannot afford to provide free care to everyone.

I agree, it is absolutely outrageous. But to get your attention, I lied about the proposed targets. It isn't the promiscuous who doctors in the survey want to punish--whose behaviour is at least as dangerous as that of smokers, at least in the short term--but others with unhealthy lifestyles or too many years under their belts. Here is how the story actually reads:

Smokers, heavy drinkers, the obese and the elderly should be barred from receiving some operations, according to doctors, with most saying the health service cannot afford to provide ding free care to everyone.

If we are to punish lifestyles in health care, we should not just pick on those without political power such as smokers and the obese, or people who are deemed "style crimes," a wonderfully evocative term that I stole from Secondhand Smokette. But my real message is: Doctors should not be mutated into some kind of lifestyle police force. Their jobs are to treat patients as they find them, not judge why they are sick nor withhold proper care if they don't approve.


Q and A Interview With Yours Truly

Focus on the Family's on-line magazine did an interview with me for a feature on "pro life heroes." I am certainly no hero. All I do is write and speak, emitting hot air and particulate matter as I go, hence the name of this blog. And as for being pro life, my thesis is human exceptionalism and the equal moral worth of human life--and it still stuns me that is deemed controversial.

The text, linked here, abridged from a much longer interview, is edited fairly, both as to substance and context. Here is how it concludes:

Q: Given embryonic stem-cell research, human cloning and genetic engineering, is science working against the pro-life movement?

A: An unfortunate hubris has seeped into the leadership of science and bioethics--an attitude that sees science as the be-all and end-all. But naked science, unmediated by morality, can become monstrous. I'm not saying these scientists are monstrous, but that biotechnology has developed astonishing powers to the point that we possess the ability to manipulate the very building blocks of life. It seems to me that kind of sheer power calls for a little humility. After all, we are the species that created the unsinkable Titanic.

In our society, we create proper parameters and checks and balances through democratic processes. We don’t allow certain things to be done in human research, not because science says don’t do it, (but) because our ethics and our values say don’t do that to human beings. Science, as every human enterprise, needs ethical boundaries beyond which it should not go, and we have a right to decide what those proper parameters are.

Hardly heroic, but I hope there is some wisdom to be found.
(Last week Rita Marker, my mentor in working against assisted suicide and the head of the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide was the featured interviewee. Here is the link to what she had to say. If you are interested in the assisted suicide issue, you won't want to miss it.)


Adult Stem Cells Found in Pancreas in Mice

This could be great news aways down the road for diabetics. From the story:

An international team of researchers has finally managed to locate stem cells in the pancreas--in mice, at least.

If the findings are confirmed in humans, they could pave the way for dramatic new therapies for diabetes, namely the regeneration of beta cells so the body could once again produce its own insulin. Until now, scientists had all but abandoned hopes that the pancreas made its own stem cells because they had failed to find evidence to support the theory. But any clinical advances from the new research are still a long way off, experts cautioned.
Adult stem cells are ubiquitous. I am not a scientist, but from what I am reading, it may turn out that pluripotency will not be so important after all for clinical uses because ASCs exist in so many tissues.


Friday, January 25, 2008

SHS Funnies

Dusty's inner carnivore is getting out of hand.

Rat's book is as good as a published scientific study.

Lio finds a proper human use for an animal product.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

For "The Scientists" It is Never Enough

Anyone who believes that Bush funding embryonic stem cell research with leftover IVF embryos would satisfy "the scientists" just aren't paying attention to the constant whining by Brave New Britain's scientists who have what amounts to a virtual blank check. Regulators there permit human cloning, permit the creation of human/animal hybrids, permit scientists to pay women for their eggs by reducing the price of IVF treatments, and still they whine that the regulations are too restrictive and that the government is delaying CURES! CURES! CURES! From the story:

Life-saving medical research will be held back by draconian new consent laws planned for embryonic stem-cell experiments, a group of leading scientists tell the Government in a letter to The Times today. The Government’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill will delay vital research by requiring all tissue used to create cloned embryonic stem cells to have the explicit consent of its donor, the experts say.
Good grief! Shouldn't people have to at least consent before their tissues are used in cloning experiments, which after all, results in a near identical genetic twin? And my critics wonder why I claim that "the scientists'" theme song should be Anything Goes.


Ah, the Peace Loving Advocacy of Animal Rights Extremists

The animal rights movement claims to be peaceable--despite the terrorists in its midst. But how peaceable can it be when so many advocates use vividly violent imagery in their advocacy. From an editorial, Animal Rights & Ethical Veganism," by one Gary Yourofsky, published in the University of Southern Indiana newspaper, The Shield. He writes:

So, while my lifestyle and lectures are based on compassion, those who refuse to stop harming animals force me to support 'eye for an eye' and 'by any means necessary' philosophies...

Institutionalized violence doesn't simply vanish with a peaceful protest, a dose of logic and whole lotta love. If people continually deny animals their inherent right to be free, radical tactics are necessary and justified...

Deep down, I truly hope that oppression, torture and murder return to each uncaring human tenfold! I hope that fathers accidentally shoot their sons on hunting excursions, while carnivores suffer heart attacks that kill them slowly.

Every woman ensconced in fur should endure a rape so vicious that it scars them forever. While every man entrenched in fur should suffer an anal raping so horrific that they become disemboweled. Every rodeo cowboy and matador should be gored to death, while circus abusers are trampled by elephants and mauled by tigers. And, lastly, may irony shine its esoteric head in the form of animal researchers catching debilitating diseases and painfully withering away because research dollars that could have been used to treat them was wasted on the barbaric, unscientific practice vivisection."

This reads like the rantings of a very disturbed mind. But note: Yourofsky is apparently no fringe rider if this identifier is true:

Gary Yourofsky is one of the nation's most outspoken and spirited activists. He has given 1,403 lectures in 27 states at 134 institutions to more than 35,000 students.

Animal rights advocates like to compare themselves to the Civil Rights Movement. Would Martin Luther King have ever written and spoken like this? Moreover, would any advocate for another movement who came so close to advocating violence ever be fought for by professors and students to be invited to speak on college campuses?

I am old enough to recall how the violent language and/or actions of groups like the Black Panthers and H. Rap Brown-types severely undercut the Civil Rights Movement that had made so much progress through nonviolent protest and love of enemies. The same thing will happen to animal rights if Yourofsky comes to epitomize the movement.


Organ Transplant Breakthrough Again Proves Need for Animal Research

The wonderful adult stem cell advance that has liberated some organ transplant patients from anti-rejection drugs--which I posted about here--is yet another illustration of the ongoing need to use animals in medical research. From the story:

[Dr. David] Sachs first tried this approach successfully on mice, pigs, then monkeys. In 1998, he won approval to try his treatment on a select group of Mass. General patients with severe kidney failure, all of whom were offered matching kidneys from close relatives. When these six patients did well, Sachs moved on to the most ambitious test of his method, trying it out on patients with mismatched donors.
Consider what this means: mice, pigs, and monkeys had healthy organs removed and received organs from other animals euthanized for the purpose. As unpleasant as this is to contemplate, these preparations for human trials were absolutely necessary to test the concept and perfect techniques before attempting it on humans. The only other options would either be to use profoundly disabled people or not develop the treatment at all.

Animal rights advocates like Gary Francione would say, "Then don't develop the technique," based on an ethical belief that humans don't have the right to treat other sentient beings in such an instrumental manner. I disagree, but at least that is an honest argument. However, dishonest animal rights activists continue to claim that animal research offers no human benefit. This experimental success demonstrates that assertion to be unadulterated bull manure.


Adult Stem Cells Helps Free Organ Transplant Patients from Immune Suppressing Drugs

A wonderful breakthrough in transplant medicine is also another testimony to the apparent healing power of adult stem cells. Bone marrow transplanted from the organ donor to the organ recipient at the time of the transplant apparently can eventually result in the recipient being liberated from anti-rejection drugs. From the story:

The treatment involved weakening the patient's immune system, then giving the recipient bone marrow from the person who donated the organ. In one experiment, four of five kidney recipients were off immune-suppressing medicines up to five years later...

[Dr. David]Sachs' treatment involved weakening each kidney patient's immune system with intravenous drugs several days before the transplant. After the transplant, the patient got an infusion of marrow from the donor to create a new immune system.

The stem cells from the marrow reprogram the body by allowing new immune cells to grow that don't try to attack the donated organ. The patients took anti-rejection drugs but were weaned several months later. Four of the five patients developed a hybrid immune system--where recipient and donor cells live together in the body--for a short time. They were able to stop taking anti-rejection drugs and had healthy kidney function two to five years later.
Great news and a wonderful advance for non-controversial biotechnology.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Secondhand Smoke on the Air

I did an interview with a Catholic radio show last Friday that focused pretty hard on assisted suicide, futile care, eugenics, hospice, and bioethics. It was a call-in show and a couple of hospice nurses called offering some interesting comments. If you want to hear me spout hot air and emit particulate matter like I do in writing here, tune in to this rebroadcast.


UK NHS Continues Its Meltdown as BMA Backs Doctor Walkout

You know it's really getting ugly when the British Medical Association, not exactly known for radical agitation, may urge its member doctors to walk out of the UK's National Health Service. From the story:

A mass exodus of GPs from the NHS is being considered by the British Medical Association as it steps up its campaign against the government's plan to impose extended surgery opening hours in England, internal documents have revealed.

The move, which could result in patients paying up to £25 for a short consultation, was among options drawn up by leading GPs who object to being made to offer evening and weekend appointments. The health secretary, Alan Johnson, has threatened to cut the income of practices refusing to provide the extended hours. The BMA is preparing to ballot GPs next month on how to fight back...

A mass resignation of GPs from the NHS--similar to the exodus of dentists who moved into private practice in the 1990s--would be a potent threat "because the government does not yet have sufficient manpower to replace GPs, were they to resign en masse," the [BMA]document suggested.

What a mess the NHS has become. Pinched money, dirty hospitals, and dominated by utilitarian bioethics--hardly conducive to patient health.


Turning Gold Into Lead: Time to Cancel Proposition 71 Borrowing

As a California resident, I am painfully aware that my state is sinking in a red sea of debt. Yet, the borrowing to support human cloning research continues. Last week, Investor's Business Daily noticed and in "The Bullet Missed," argues that the time has come for a little fiscal sanity and stop the bleeding caused by a program that "is more about politics than science." From the editorial:

It's the morning after the night before in the Golden State. Home prices are plummeting, and unemployment has jumped to 6.1%, well above the national average. The economy already may be in a recession. State government suddenly is looking at a $14.5 billion budget shortfall. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's new budget proposes closing 48 state parks and releasing 22,000 prison inmates early. School funding would be cut by several hundred dollars per student.

But the good times keep rolling on in one area. Through a bond measure passed by the voters in 2004, the state is authorized to spend $3 billion on stem cell research, mainly of the ethically problematic type that uses cells from human embryos.

The state is now the world's largest funder of stem cell research, and spending is expected to accelerate this year, despite the state's fiscal woes. More than $225 million is expected for just grants for new labs...And what are Californians getting for this $6 billion commitment? That's a question even backers of Proposition 71 would have a hard time answering now. The agency set up to administer the bonds says in its strategic plan that it does not expect stem cell therapy to be ready for routine clinical use for at least 10 years. And it's possible that a different scientific track will be a shorter route to cures such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's...

For Californians, the good news is that only a small part of the $3 billion in Proposition 71 bonds has been issued. So they still could save themselves a good deal of money by winding the program down.
And the editorial didn't even get into the many leadership deficiencies and conflicts of interest that have plagued this boondoggle since its inception. Yes, the time is ripe. Shut Proposition 71 down. We have more urgent financial priorities to keep the Golden State from alchemizing backwards into the Lead State.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Another Adult Stem Cell Human Trial to Start

This time in the UK, using a patient's own bone marrow to attempt to treat heart attack damage. From the story:

British scientists have been given the go-ahead to begin potentially ground-breaking experiments using injections of stem cells to repair patients' damaged hearts. The team hopes to repair the organs of people who have suffered the most severe heart attacks...

The trial will involve patients with the worst prognosis, those who have scarring on at least half of the left ventricular wall. "It's the worst heart attack you can have. Most patients just die," said Ascione.

The team will extract bone marrow from all 60 patients and separate out a class of stem cells that makes up 1% of the tissue. Previous studies have suggested that this cell type is able to regenerate heart muscle cells and blood vessels. By using the patient's own cells there will be no problems with tissue rejection...In his patients the team will examine the size of the scarred tissue in the heart six months after the operation using an imaging technique called heart MRI. That will give an accurate measure of improvement.
A human trial does not a cure make, but this is another example of how quickly adult stem cell therapies are moving from the theoretical into practical training. Let's all keep our fingers crossed.


Monday, January 21, 2008

Germans Overwhelmingly Oppose Human ESCR

We continually hear from the brave new world crowd that only religion would cause one to oppose ESCR and human cloning. That isn't true, of course., One need not be religious to have serious reservations about using nascent human life as a mere natural resource.

Here's some evidence demonstrating this point: German is a very secular country, and certainly isn't dominated by theocrats. And yet, a newly published German poll (no link in English, but here is the German.) is finds overwhelming opposition to human ESCR and embryo-destructive research. Here are the results:

The German January 2008 Opinion Poll on Stem Cell Research.

The poll found that in 2008, 61% supported using only adult/or iPS cells. In 2007, this figure was 56.3%

Only 26.9% also support ESCR, down from 32.9% last

Support for Embryo Protection Act - ban of destructive embryo research:
A whopping 65.2% support the existing ban on destructive embryo
research, and 27.8% oppose, very close to last year's figures.
Interestingly, support for ESCR seems to be dropping. Perhaps this is because the advances in adult stem cell research are becoming more evident.


SHS Funnies: Dusty Finds His Inner Carnivore

Dusty should be careful of what he asks for. I went off Atkins precisely because I felt as if meat was coming out of my ears.


Allow Meat to be Labeled "Clone Free"

The FDA has determined that meat and milk from cloned animals are safe to consume. But some people would rather not consume cloned products, thank you very much. A proper answer to such consumer desires is labeling: Meat, milk, cheese etc. can be labeled clone free. From the story:

Although the FDA said last week that it will not require special labels on foods from clones, legislation already introduced in the Senate could force the agency's hand. Short of that, many consumers are demanding that the agency allow food from conventional animals to be labeled "clone-free"--a marketing move that could dash industry hopes of getting beyond the public debate over clones.
Permission to so label should not require permission.

Of course, the industry doesn't like such approaches. In our book No Contest: Corporate Lawyers and the Perversion of Justice in America, Ralph Nader and I recount how Monsanto, the producer of bovine growth hormone, sued dairies that labeled their milk BGH free on the basis of unfair competition! It was an egregious example of corporate bullying, that thankfully didn't work.

Don't be surprised if the same tactic is tried with cloned products. Too often, large corporations don't want people to truly exercise consumer choice.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Female Circumcision: A Denial of Intrinsic Human Dignity

There is a brutally honest essay in the New York Times Magazine about the dismaying number of young girls in Indonesia whose parents force them to undergo the genital mutilation that goes by the euphemistic term, "female circumcision." It is an awful story of the worst kind of misogyny, and in my view, amounts to slavery. From the story:

When a girl is taken--usually by her mother--to a free circumcision event held each spring in Bandung, Indonesia, she is handed over to a small group of women who, swiftly and yet with apparent affection, cut off a small piece of her genitals. Sponsored by the Assalaam Foundation, an Islamic educational and social-services organization, circumcisions take place in a prayer center or an emptied-out elementary-school classroom where desks are pushed together and covered with sheets and a pillow to serve as makeshift beds. The procedure takes several minutes. There is little blood involved. Afterward, the girl's genital area is swabbed with the antiseptic Betadine. She is then helped back into her underwear and returned to a waiting area, where she's given a small, celebratory gift-- some fruit or a donated piece of clothing--and offered a cup of milk for refreshment. She has now joined a quiet majority in Indonesia, where, according to a 2003 study by the Population Council, an international research group, 96 percent of families surveyed reported that their daughters had undergone some form of circumcision by the time they reached 14.
Don't let a squeamish stomach deter you. Look at what is done to these poor girls squarely and without flinching:

Female circumcision in Indonesia is reported to be less extreme than the kind practiced in other parts of the globe--Africa, particularly. Worldwide, female genital cutting affects up to 140 million women and girls in varying degrees of severity, according to estimates from the World Health Organization. The most common form of female genital cutting, representing about 80 percent of cases around the world, includes the excision of the clitoris and the labia minora. A more extreme version of the practice, known as Pharaonic circumcision or infibulation, accounts for 15 percent of cases globally and involves the removal of all external genitalia and a stitching up of the vaginal opening.
This isn't about not respecting cultural differences. This is about condemning the treatment of female human beings as if they were somehow defective for having normal sexual feelings--which is what mutilating genitalia is all about. The entire world should condemn the practice unequivocally and put pressure on Indonesia and other countries where it occurs to put an end to it.

Some, however, prefer a kinder, gentler approach to opposing the mutilation of girls:

Nonetheless, as Western awareness of female genital cutting has grown, anthropologists, policy makers and health officials have warned against blindly judging those who practice it, saying that progress is best made by working with local leaders and opinion-makers to gradually shift the public discussion of female circumcision from what it'[s believed to bestow upon a girl toward what it takes away. "These mothers believe they are doing something good for their children," Guarenti, a native of Italy, told me. "For our culture that is not easily understandable. To judge them harshly is to isolate them. You cannot make change that way."
Imagine if they'd said that about Apartheid; Mandella would still be in jail. Sometimes terrible injustice has to be confronted squarely. Can anyone say boycott?


Intel Chairman Wants Blank Check for Science

Oh, cry my a river: Craig Barnett, chairman of Intel, boo-hoos about the supposed lack of science funding by the Feds in a whining column in today's San Francisco Chronicle. He writes:

The recent budget deal between Republicans and Democrats effectively flat-funds or cuts funding for key science agencies. Excluding "earmarks," the Department of Energy funding for fiscal year 2008 is up only 2.6 percent, thus losing ground to inflation. The National Science Foundation is up 2.5 percent, with the same result. The National Institute of Standards and Technology is up 11 percent, however the labs where research happens only get 2.3 percent, again losing ground to inflation.
Barrett doesn't use actual numbers in his piece, only percentages, raising my lawyer's radar that the magnitude of the actual dollars being spent on science--in other words, context--might undercut his argument. So, I did a little digging. The DOE's budget is huge, for example in FY 2008 over $24 billion, with nearly$3.5 billion earmarked for "science" and more than $5.5 billion for "environmental management." That ain't hay. Add in who knows how much in earmarks--which Barnett conveniently excluded--and we are talking very real money.

Similarly, National Science Foundation's budget is more than $5 billion, with $390 million to be invested in nanotechnology. From the NSF's press release:
Working with other agencies as part of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, the National Science Foundation's (NSF) nanotechnology research will continue to advance fundamental understanding of materials at the subatomic, atomic, and molecular levels and will enable the development of capabilities to design, manipulate, and construct revolutionary devices and materials with unprecedented properties. The Budget provides $390 million in 2008 for NSF's nanotechnology research investments, an increase of 4.5 percent from the level proposed in 2007, including funding for a new NSF center to address environmental, health, and safety research needs for nanomaterials.
I believe in generous government funding for science--although I wish that when the money helps private companies strike gold that they would be required to share with the taxpayers who helped make it possible. But science isn't the be all and end all. There are many other pressing needs and our economy is slowing down.

Sometimes the sense of entitlement within the science sector is breathtaking.


New Staph Strain Demonstrates Futility of Immortality Movement

There is an alarming story in today's San Francisco Chronicle, byline Sabin Russell, that illustrates how life evolves to ensure that no matter how far we advance scientifically, death will always remain part of the experience of living. A terrible antibiotic-resistant strain of staph bacteria is spreading that could threaten us all. From the story:

Dr. Jeff Brooks has been director of the UCSF lab for 29 years, and has watched with a mixture of fascination and dread how bacteria once tamed by antibiotics evolve rapidly into forms that practically no drug can treat."These organisms are very small," he said, "but they are still smarter than we are."

Among the most alarming of these is MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a bug that used to be confined to vulnerable hospital patients, but now is infecting otherwise healthy people in schools, gymnasiums and the home. As MRSA continues its natural evolution, even more drug-resistant strains are emerging. The most aggressive of these is one called USA300.

Last week, doctors at San Francisco General Hospital reported that a variant of that strain, resistant to six important antibiotics normally used to treat staph, may be transmitted by sexual contact and is spreading among gay men in San Francisco, Boston, New York and Los Angeles. Yet the problem goes far beyond one bug and a handful of drugs. Entire classes of mainstay antibiotics are being threatened with obsolescence, and bugs far more dangerous than staph are evolving in ominous ways. "We are on the verge of losing control of the situation, particularly in the hospitals," said Dr. Chip Chambers, chief of infectious disease at San Francisco General Hospital.
Of course, I am not saying that we shouldn't try to help people live longer and healthier lives. And we certainly need to pounce on this problem by developing more stringent cleanliness protocols, for example, and by working hard to develop new antibiotics. But what we don't need, in my view, is to chase a Utopian dream of immortality and put precious resources into that hopeless crusade.

Life is precious, but even more so because it is short. The transhumanist singularity is not going to save us. We need to live with the sobering understanding that we won't last much longer even if we live to be 100. Accepting that reality, I think, can help us get the most out of the time we are here and to focus on the matters of life, philosophy, and faith that are really important.


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Adult Stem Cells Build a New Heart

I reported on this story previously from a different angle, e.g. the need for using animals in basic medical research. But this picture is so amazing, that I thought the breakthrough was worth revisiting to discuss the biotechnological implications.

To recap: scientists created a new beating heart using cells from newborn mice and and hearts from dead rats. From the story:

[Doris] Taylor's team started with a heart removed from an adult rat. The researchers soaked it in chemicals to remove the living cells, leaving behind a "skeleton" composed of the heart's nonliving structural tissues, which are made of proteins and other molecules. Onto this scaffolding the researchers placed heart cells from a newborn rat, which are not stem cells but can give rise to multiple types of tissue. The cells took to their new home and after 8 days had assembled into a functioning heart that beat and pumped fluid, the researchers reported online 13 January in Nature Medicine. The new organ had only 2% of the pumping force of an adult heart, but Taylor says that she and her colleagues have since repeated the procedure with about 40 hearts and found that they can produce a stronger organ by adding more cells and giving them more time to grow.
Have no fear, newborns would not be used in people:

To apply this method to people, the heart scaffolding could come from either human cadavers or pigs, Taylor says. Adult stem cells, such as those found in bone marrow, could be taken from patients awaiting transplants and used to grow the new heart.
If this worked in people, it would permit heart patients to receive custom made, immunologically compatible hearts for transplantation without the need for human cloning and fetal farming. Obviously, there is a long way to go still, but this sure seems pretty nifty.


Lio Signs On To Aubrey de Gray's Life-Extending Transhumanist Diet

Mmm-mmm, good!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Monkeys Can't Sue--Yet

The attempt by animal rights activists to grant animals the right to sue in their own names has been rejected in Texas. From the story:

A Texas appeals court has affirmed a lower court decision that nine chimpanzees and monkeys that were brought to the Primarily Primates sanctuary in 2006 don't have a legal right to sue. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals had sought to gain legal standing for the primates transferred from Ohio State University to the sanctuary after they were retired. PETA alleged that the sanctuary conditions were substandard and that it would be best for the seven chimps and two monkeys to be moved to another sanctuary.
That's good but this issue is not going to go away any time soon. Oh, and for those of you who think it will never happen? A Brazilian judge awarded a writ of habeas corpus to a chimp.


Patient "Dumping" Case Illustrates Importance of Embracing Intrinsic Equal Moral Worth in Medicine

If this allegation is true, it is beyond the pale: A mentally ill paraplegic man is suing a hospital for discharging him and dumping him in his hospital gown on a grate in skid row. From the story:

Gabino Olvera, 42, sued the Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center for negligence after it discharged him in February 2007, took him across town in a van and left him in a soiled hospital gown without a wheelchair in the heart of the city's homeless area. Witnesses who came to Olvera's aid said they saw him dragging himself on the ground with hospital papers and documents clenched in his teeth while the driver sat in her van and applied makeup before driving off.

The incident was captured by security cameras at a nearby homeless shelter.Hernan Vera, a lawyer with Public Counsel, which helped bring the lawsuit on behalf on Olvera, called it "the most obscene and callous example of this practice that we have seen."
The hospital spokesperson stated they believed an out of court settlement could be reached. They better hope so. Hollywood Pres does not want this case going to a jury.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

UK Hospital Refuses "Ashley's Treatment"

Readers of SHS will remember the controversial case of Ashley, the profoundly disabled girl whose uterus and breast buds were removed, and who was given hormones to keep her from growing to normal size. Ashley's parents became proselytizers of sorts, for "Ashley's treatment," and a UK mother, also discussed here, announced shortly thereafter that doctors had agreed to remove the uterus of her disabled daughter so she wouldn't have to experience menstruation.

Thankfully, that plan has been scuttled, apparently due, at least in part, to public disapproval: From the story:

Alison Thorpe, 45, previously said she had received the backing of a surgeon to carry out the operation, which she said would save her daughter Katie, 15, from the distress and inconvenience of menstruating.

She said a consultant at her local hospital was seeking legal approval to carry out the procedure, even though it is not medically needed. But now she claims the hospital has blocked the move after it provoked a fierce reaction from disabled rights groups and a national debate about the ethics of the case.
This is one reason why public discussion of these issues is so important. Sometimes, big mistakes by well meaning people are averted.


Lawrence Tribe Supports Allowing Animals to Bring Lawsuits in Court

Lawrence Tribe is a Harvard law professor who has been suggested as a possible Supreme Court nominee if the Democratic Party retakes the White House. In other words, he is Establishment Law, not somebody on the fringe. In researching for my book, I just came across a journal article, taken from a speech Tribe gave at Faneuil Hall in Boston, in which he sure seems to support giving animals standing to bring lawsuits in their own names. Claiming a "deep intuition that chimps and dolphins and dogs and cats are infinitely precious--like ourselves," Tribe states

:...[E]xisting state and federal statutes depend on enforcement by chronically underfunded agencies and by directly affected and highly motivated people--and that's just not a sufficiently reliable source of protection. Recognizing that animals themselves by statute as holders of rights would mean that they could sue in their own name and in their own right...Such animals would have what is termed legal standing. Guardians would ultimately have to be appointed to speak for these voiceless rights-holders, just as guardians are appointed today for infants, or for the profoundly retarded...But giving animals this sort of 'virtual voice' would go a long way toward strengthening the protection they will receive under existing laws and hopefully improved laws, and our constitutional history is replete with instances of such legislatively conferred standing.
I am sorry, but this is utterly reckless. Imagine the chaos that would result if animal liberationists could sue animal industries and owners "in the name of the animals" themselves. The courts would immediately become utterly clogged, the economy would be thrown into chaos, and the exceptional nature of human life would suffer a significant body blow because the crucial moral distinction between humans and animals would be blurred--exactly the future for which animal rights/liberationists devoutly yearn.


Scientists Claim to Have Created First Human Cloned Embryos

A peer reviewed study claims to have created the first human cloned embryos, actually, the first cloned embryo. No stem cells derived. I warned readers that the iPSC breakthrough would redouble efforts among some scientists to successfully clone human embryos, and predicted that the derivation of the first cloned embryonic stem cells would be announced this year.

Time will tell whether this was actually done and can be repeated. After all, we've heard these stories before--such as from Advanced Cell Technology--and they didn't pan out. Stay tuned.


Brave New Britain Permitting Human/Animal Hybrid Cloned Embryos

No surprise here: The UK's "we never say no" Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has okayed the attempt to create cloned human embryos using cow eggs. The reason for this approach is the dearth of human eggs, the reasons for which we have discussed here before at SHS. From the story:

Scientists at King's College London and the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne will now inject human DNA into empty eggs from cows, to create embryos known as cytoplasmic hybrids that are 99.9 per cent human in genetic terms.

The experiments are intended to provide insights into diseases such as Parkinson's and spinal muscular atrophy by producing stem cells containing genetic defects that contribute to these conditions.These will be used as cell models for investigating new approaches to treatment and for improving understanding of how embryonic stem cells develop. They will not be used in therapy, and it is illegal to implant them into the womb.
Don't be fooled about the implantation limitation. That isn't technically feasible yet, and besides, this early work is intended to perfect human cloning techniques so that it can be done reliably and efficiently. But if that is ever done, we will be quickly on to the other brave new world agendas such as fetal farming, learning how to genetically engineer progeny, and indeed, reproductive cloning. Make no mistake: Many scientists in this field--and certainly the bioethics intelligentsia--has an anything goes mentality. They don't want to understand the meaning of no and they arrogantly don't care what the people think.

The would-be creators of these cloned "cybrids" claim that they will create these embryos within a few months. Maybe. But it has proved surprisingly difficult to do human cloning with human eggs. If we are lucky, maybe it won't be able to be done. But don't count on it. Scientists are creative and ingenuous. They usually accomplish that which they set their minds and talents.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Gordon Brown Backs Off Presumed Consent for Organ Donation

Well, apparently the people of the United Kingdom weren't too comfortable with their bodies being deemed organ sources unless they explicitly opted out of being a "donor." How else explain PM Gordon Brown's walk-back of his support for presumed consent? Good. In the alternative, the government plans an intense program of education to increase donation rates. From The Guardian story:

Presumed consent for organ donation, backed by Gordon Brown at the weekend, was put on the back burner yesterday as a government taskforce unveiled measures it claimed would increase donations by 50% without it.

The Organ Donation Taskforce, whose report was immediately accepted in full by the government, wants a body set up to promote donation throughout the UK instead of it being a matter for individual hospitals or regions. It said the move, for which the government pledged £11m, would transform organ donation and boost transplants by 1,200 a year.
Education is good. Coercion is bad. Brown made the right decision.


"Waging War Against the Weak"

I write regularly for the Center for Bioethics and Culture Newsletter. This week, I have a piece on the new eugenics that threatens the lives and well being of the elderly and people with profound disabilities. Here is an excerpt:

Around the world, profoundly disabled or terminally ill people are increasingly being seen as resource vampires that monopolize an undue share of medical attention that should be devoted to those with lives more worth living. Not only is the odious notion of infanticide gaining Establishment acceptance--with pro-infanticide bioethicist Peter Singer now at Princeton, and supportive pieces about euthanizing terminally ill and seriously disabled babies having been published in the New England Journal of Medicine , New York Times , and Los Angeles Times , among others---but also, a "duty to die" is gestating, beginning with Futile Care Theory in which hospital ethics committees are being empowered to allow doctors to refuse life-sustaining care based on their judgments about the quality of their patients' lives.

This is nothing less than the rising of a "new eugenics" that perceives some lives as having greater value than others, and which in some cases sees death--including active euthanasia and assisted suicide--as an appropriate "solution" to the problems of human suffering. The original eugenics movement expressed this relativistic view of human life through hate-filled rhetoric; for example, eugenicists described disabled babies like [the Samoan baby] Miracle in terms that today would be considered hate speech. Thus, as recounted in Edwin Blacks' splendid history of eugenics, War Against the Weak , Margaret Sanger took "the extreme eugenic view that human 'weeds' should be 'exterminated.'"

Today's new eugenicists are not that crass, of course. Indeed, rather than screaming hate and pejoratives from the rooftops, they instead ooze unctuous compassion as they croon about a "quality of life" ethic and preventing the weak--against whom they are secretly at war--from "suffering." But behind the politically correct language, and indeed, hiding within the hearts of those who perceive themselves as profoundly caring, lurks the same old disdain of the helpless who offend because they remind us of our own imperfections and mortality.
There's more of course. To read the whole thing, hit this link.


Kevorkian LIbertarian Crackpot

The video interview of Jack Kevorkian linked below is very revealing. He's a crackpot. He believes that the Ninth Amendment guarantees a radical libertarian Nirvana and anyone who disagrees that we are in a tyranny are mere sheep. Check it out.


At the SHS Funnies

As regular readers know, I really like the comic strip Pearls Before Swine. Here's an example of why I think it is the funniest being written today:

My mother would relate: She used to be 4' 11." Now, at 90, she's 4' 8."


ACLU's Anti-Human Exceptionalism Claim of Constitutional Right to Indulge Sexual Urges in Public

One of the attributes of human exceptionalism is our capacity to control even the most urgent biological urges rather than being controlled by them. If we are hungry, we can decide not to eat, for example. Or, even if we really want that juicy steak that the wimpy looking outdoor diner is eating, unlike animals, we don't steal the food out of his mouth. We also have the capacity to delay sexual gratification and control where and with whom we express that aspect of our nature. Even if we strongly feel the "have sex" biological urge, that doesn't mean we have to get right to it in the Pavlovian sense.

But just as some seek to elevate animals to the human moral status, we also see advocacy that would effectually undermine this difference by elevating the importance of the urge and our "right" to indulge--just like animals do. And indeed, the ACLU is proclaiming what would essentially be a right to have sex in public. Its lawyers don't say it that bluntly, of course. Instead, they have filed a legal brief in the Larry Craig case that, if followed, would create a constitutional right to get it on in public bathroom stalls--ironically in the name of protecting privacy. From the story:

In an effort to help Sen. Larry Craig, the American Civil Liberties Union is arguing that people who have sex in public bathrooms have an expectation of privacy...

The ACLU filed a brief Tuesday supporting Craig. It cited a Minnesota Supreme Court ruling 38 years ago that found that people who have sex in closed stalls in public restrooms "have a reasonable expectation of privacy." That means the state cannot prove Craig was inviting an undercover officer to have sex in public, the ACLU wrote. The Republican senator was arrested June 11 by an undercover officer who said Craig tapped his feet and swiped his hand under a stall divider in a way that signaled he wanted sex. Craig has denied that, saying his actions were misconstrued.

The ACLU argued that even if Craig was inviting the officer to have sex, his actions wouldn't be illegal.
Human freedom also brings with it human responsibility. And that includes controlling our desires. The ACLU may not know it, but its advocacy says that we really are mere animals that should not be expected to control ourselves when we have the urge.


Meat From Animal Cloning: Safe, or Maybe Not Safe, or Maybe, Already Being Consumed, or Definitely, Government Doesn't Know What is Going On

The government has taken two actions that certainly don't give one cause for confidence. On one hand, the FDA has said meat from cloned animals is safe! No question! Eat away! On the other hand the people at the Department of Agriculture seem to be not so sure. It is urging a volunteer moratorium on marketing meat. From the story:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture yesterday asked U.S. farmers to keep their cloned animals off the market indefinitely even as Food and Drug Administration officials announced that food from cloned livestock is safe to eat.

Bruce I. Knight, the USDA's undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, requested an ongoing "voluntary moratorium" to buy time for "an acceptance process" that Knight said consumers in the United States and abroad will need, "given the emotional nature of this issue."

Yet even as the two agencies sought a unified message -- that food from clones is safe for people but perhaps dangerous to U.S. markets and trade relations -- evidence surfaced suggesting that Americans and others are probably already eating meat from the offspring of clones.

Executives from the nation's major cattle cloning companies conceded yesterday that they have not been able to keep track of how many offspring of clones have entered the food supply, despite a years-old request by the FDA to keep them off the market pending completion of the agency's safety report.

Doesn't exactly give one cause for confidence, does it?


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Kitty Hate Crime

Dan Piraro, the creator of Bizarrzo, a feature I quite like, is a self-proclaimed vegan and animal rights adherent. This cartoon, in which the cat is depicted as evil for wanting to eat the birds, is a classic example of the hyper-romanticism of the mindset. Earth to Piraro: To the cat, the bird is meat. I guess the cat didn't get the message that those poor birdies have rights.

We shouldn't be surprised. At his site, Piraro spouts the usual relativistic equivalence of using language about animals as if they were no different from humans. He even denies that we are naturally omnivores. Well, here's a short test: If Piraro were starving and a good pork chop was there for the taking, he'd wolf it down, if you will pardon the pun. That is because, while people can certainly refuse to eat meat due to moral concerns--and we are the only species to be so capable--animal flesh is a natural part of our diet. (We even have artistic proof in the old cave drawings in France of humans hunting animals.) But put the same pork chop in front of the hungriest cow and she won't touch it because, unlike us, she is a true herbivore.

I respect people who are vegetarian out of moral concerns. That is an exercise in human exceptionalism. But trying to make animals into people, and people into herbivores, is just a denial of reality.


Monday, January 14, 2008

Imposing Futile Care Theory--Even When the Patient Improves

I have been warning for years that Futile Care theorists were going to become increasingly bold in attempting to impose their quality of life judgments on unwilling patients and families. A very important futility case is ongoing right now in Winnipeg, Canada, in which a hospital insists that it has the right to refuse wanted life-sustaining treatment--even though the patient's condition has recently improved. From the story:

Two weeks after Samuel Golubchuk's family went to court to stop doctors from pulling him off life support last month because he had minimal brain activity, he showed signs he was improving neurologically.

A week later, while doctors still argued to disconnect his ventilator and pull out his feeding tube, the 84-year-old Golubchuk was seen by medical staff to be "awake". But on Friday in court, more than a month after the battle to keep him alive began, lawyers for the family and doctors were continuing to argue because the physicians say they still need to have control over deciding when to pull the plug.

After court, the family's lawyer, Neil Kravetsky, said Golubchuk is alive today only because of the court's intervention."He would be dead if the injunction had been off," Kravetsky said. "He is showing improvement and neurological responses according to his (hospital) chart. His eyes follow sound and movement. The chart says 'awake'."What does awake mean to you?"
If bioethicists and hospital administrators wanted to destroy the trust people have in medicine, they couldn't find a better way to do it. And get this quote from the hospital's lawyer--particularly the part I italicized:
But lawyer Bill Olson, who represents Grace hospital, said even if Golubchuk has improved, he still isn't as well as he was when he entered the hospital's intensive care unit and his prognosis continues to be dim.
So, how does the ubiquitous notion of "choice" compute with Futile Care Theory? It doesn't. But that is because "choice" isn't the real agenda. Imposing a quality of life ethic and imposing health care rationing is what medical futility is really all about. Indeed, one must work very hard to not see the direction in which the bioethical current is flowing.

Can we say, "duty to die?"


If Kevorkian Comes: Let Him Speak

I think it is outrageous that the University of Florida is paying the murderer and anti-disabled bigot Jack Kevorkian $50,000 to speak. And I certainly don't object to protests against that appearance. But, worried about disruption, the university is properly planning security precautions.

For those bitter opponents of Kevorkian who read SHS, please: When he comes, be civil and do not disrupt his presentation. And by all means, do not threaten him or engage in pie throwing or worse.
The best revenge will be to ask pointed questions that will reveal K in all his ghoulishness. For example:

1. Do you still believe in "obitiatry," that is, in medically experimenting on people who are being euthanized?

2. Along this same line, do you still want to experiment on prisoners being executed?

3. Were you aware that most of your assisted suicides were not people who were terminally ill?

4. You said that if you were jailed, you would stop eating and die in order to protest the tyranny of your imprisonment. Why did you change your mind?

5. Do you still support the creation of euthanasia clinics to kill people who are terminally ill, disabled, and in existential anguish?

Free speech works. The university is wrong for paying K so much money to talk when in many ways he is equivalent to David Duke. But if he appears, by all means let him talk. He will sink his own boat.


More Proof That Animal Research Works

Most animal rights activists deny the many benefits--both scientific and medical--that we derive from doing animal research. This position is empirically untenable. Case in point: The recent experiment in which scientists created a beating heart from adult stem cells--which I blogged about the other day.

That experiment also vividly illustrates the importance of animal research. From a story about the experiment in the Associated Press:

[Dr. Doris] Taylor [the scientist who performed the experiment] said in a telephone interview that her team began by trying to determine if it were possible to transplant rat heart cells. They took the hearts from eight newborn rats and removed all the cells. Left behind was a gelatin-like matrix shaped like a heart and containing conduits where the blood vessels had been.

Scientists then injected cells back into this scaffold--muscle cells and endothelial cells, which line blood vessels. The muscle cells covered the matrix walls and lined up together, while the endothelial cells found their way inside to coat the blood vessels, she said. Then the hearts were stimulated electrically. "By two days, we saw tiny, microscopic contractions, and by seven to eight days, there were contractions large enough to see with the naked eye," she said.
This could not be done without killing the newborn rats--unless, I suppose, researchers instead one newborn or disabled humans. Thus, we can see that animal research does provide tremendous benefit. Some animal rights advocates, like Gary Francione, will acknowledge this. Their point is that even with the benefit, we shouldn't do it. That is a moral argument with which I disagree, but it is based in integrity.

But to say animal research provides no value is dishonest. And that, alas, is where most animal rights advocates--such as Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine--rest their factually untenable case.


The Corruption of Science by "The Scientists"

The embryonic stem cell/human cloning debates are not about science. They are about ethics and morality and the proper parameters, if any, to place around the incredibly powerful biotechnological sector. Some of us have long contended that the science intelligentsia want a blank check--both ethically and financially--to pursue these agendas unconstrained by checks and balances or ethical limits.

The response by some who want to do human cloning has been diatribe, that not only pooh-poohs serious ethical concerns, but also corrupts science by mutating it into a postmodern enterprise where facts don't matter--narratives do. And it results in some real whoppers denying basic biological truths.

A case in point is dissected in today's First Things blog in a piece written by Ryan T. Anderson, a Christian bioethicist, and Maureen Condic, a scientist with the University of Utah. Their target is Princeton University biologist Lee Silver--and boy do they give it to him good. They quote Silver as stating that there is no essential biological difference between a skin cell and an embryo, and asserting that those who refuse to see that are merely religious ignoramuses.

Silver's assertion is junk biology that would cause a high school student to fail if written in a test. Ryan and Condic reply:

The view--held by almost everyone irrespective of their moral opinions--that embryos are fundamentally different from other cells, has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with the scientific evidence. To draw any moral conclusions on how embryos should be treated--be it from a religious or a secular ethical standpoint--one first has to answer the question What is an embryo? Only by settling what an embryo is--a question of biological fact, not theological speculation--can one determine an embryo’s moral status and what interest God and society might (or might not) have in protecting it or permitting it to be killed to benefit others. Our disagreement with Silver is over the scientific evidence. It has nothing to do with religion.
To prove their point, they quote an embryology text book:

The chapter on human development in Keith L. Moore and T.V.N. Persaud's The Developing Human begins with this sentence: "Human development begins at fertilization when a male gamete or sperm (spermatozoon) unites with a female gamete or oocyte (ovum) to form a single cell--a zygote. This highly specialized, totipotent cell marked the beginning of each of us as a unique individual." Or their definition of embryo: "The developing human during its early stages of development." And consider their definition of the term zygote: "This cell results from the union of an oocyte and a sperm during fertilization. A zygote is the beginning of a new human being (i.e., an embryo)”
This is really indisputable. But some scientists have left that enterprise behind as they pursue ideology as subjective as religion, but still call it "science." Such scientism corrupts science, properly understood. Ryan and Condic's article is too long to quote further here. But check it out. They take Silver down several pegs. And he deserves it.


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Adult Stem Cells Create Beating Heart

This animal study may pave the way for wonderful medical treatments. From the story:

Scientists have created a beating heart in the laboratory in a breakthrough that could allow doctors one day to make a range of organs for transplant almost from scratch.

The procedure involved stripping all the existing cells from a dead heart so that only the protein "skeleton" that created its shape was left. Then the skeleton was seeded with live "progenitor" cells, which multiplied and grew back over it, eventually linking together into a new organ. Such cells are involved in the formative stages of specialised types of tissue such as those found in the heart.

The research, by scientists at the University of Minnesota, has so far been done only with rats and pigs and is highly experimental. It is unlikely to be applied to humans for years. However, Professor Doris Taylor, director of the university's centre for cardiovascular repair, believes it could be a significant step towards creating custom-built hearts, blood vessels and other organs for people with serious illness.

The big advantage of such an approach is that organs so built would use stem cells taken from the patient so the body’'s immune system would not reject them.
Yes, well some of us have been saying that adult stem cell research offered that particular benefit for years, but "the scientists" insisted we had to do cloning to deal with immune rejection. But now, that never very strong argument wears ever more thin as well, what with the IPSC breakthrough that also would solve the rejection issue, assuming that technology works out and scientists are ever able to overcome the difficult tumor issue that prevents pluripotent stem cells from being used in human patients.

At this point in posts about stories such as this, I usually make a crack about how embryonic stem cells don't offer the only hope after all. But that is so abundantly clear by now, it basically goes without saying.


Saturday, January 12, 2008

PM Brown Supports "Presumed Consent"

This could get ugly. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has supported "presumed consent" to organ "donation." And this in a country that also allows Futile Care Theory, particularly for those with "mental incapacities." The danger is obvious and acute, don't you think? I have written about the issue here, here, and here, among other places.


Heartbreak Shouldn't Blind Us to Intrinsic Human Dignity

This morning I awoke to this very caring--yet disturbing--column ("Searching for Dignity in Old Age" published in the Tampa Tribune), awaiting perusal in my e-mail. Real estate developer Jim Dyal writes movingly of his intense grief at the increasing debility and dementia of his mother and mother-in-law. That he loves these women cannot be doubted. But the piece also contains an undertone that vividly illustrates the acute dangers that can result from the most well meaning of concerns toward the debilitated elderly, seriously disabled, and terminally ill in our increasingly utilitarian society.

Dyal writes movingly of the declining health of his mother, who had to have a leg amputated:

She can't walk, can't perceptibly talk, can't feed herself, can't dress herself and has no prospect of ever being able to do those things again. The trauma, anesthesia and multiple medications have deepened her descent into dementia. A woman with a master's degree in guidance education who spent 30 years teaching and counseling in the Hillsborough school system, who was an avid Buccaneer and Gator fan, and who could ardently debate you on any political topic, now stares blankly at the TV.
At the same time, Dyal's mother has Alzheimer's:
We brought her a homemade pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. She ate a piece and said how good it was. Then, 30 seconds later, she saw the pie and asked, "What kind of pie is that?" Her entire savings, even with medical insurance and Medicare, is gone, and we have had to apply for Medicaid.
As we shall see, in his grief, Dyal seems to support the idea of putting people who have lost most capacities out of their misery because they have no remaining human dignity. But that's not true: Their dignity is inherent. We are the ones who sometimes can't see it any more because we live in a culture in which independence and achievement are accepted as the be all and end all. Moreover, I argue that it is from our very love and devotion to them--even at the cost of the intense pain of seeing our parents so profoundly compromised--that we can"find" the human dignity that may seem to have been lost, but remains, albeit in a guise that may be more difficult to see.

Dyal concludes:
Their physical condition, for the most part, is not too bad. Their hearts are fine, as are their lungs, liver and kidneys. They could live in their conditions for years.

Medical science has made such great strides in improving medical care, but somewhere along the way, I think we forgot to improve the quality of life that goes with longer life spans. We have given them a healthier future, but at the expense of their dignity.

As my tearful wife so aptly put it, "I would never let my dog suffer the way my mother has."
And therein lies the danger. Dyal seems to believe--without explicitly so saying--that euthanizing the debilitated elderly is a proper answer to their alleged loss of dignity. For that is precisely where his thought trajectory leads. And if followed, it will eventually result in excavating a perceived moral gulf separating "us" from the "them," creating a society where we could rationalize putting the old, the infirm, the expensive for which to care, and the dying out of our misery. And indeed, that is precisely what is happening today in the Netherlands.

I understand Dyal's anguish, his thinking, and the reasons for both. I empathize and sympathize with his pain. But his implied solution must be resisted. It is the infamous road of good intentions that leads to the worst of destinations.

P.S. For those who might write that I could never have faced such a dilemma in my own family: I lost my uncle to Alzheimer's in December 05. I know exactly the heartbreaking difficulties about which Dyal is writing.


Friday, January 11, 2008

Washington State Assisted Suicide Battle Has Begun

Former Governor Booth Gardner has filed his assisted suicide legalization proposal with the Secretary of State and is out buying, er gathering, petition signatures. If the past is any clue, most media will fall over themselves to applaud the effort. But there will be important exceptions, such as this fine column by Seattle Post Intelligentser columnist Joel Connelly:

"My life, my death, my control," Gardner, who has Parkinson's disease, told a New York Times Magazine profiler.

Oh, my, what a self- absorbed guy. The magazine revealed what sympathetic local news stories have not disclosed, that opposition to his campaign has welled up within Gardner's own family
Wow. That took guts. It is usually considered "mean" to question any ill person's motives in promoting assisted suicide.

Connelly then discusses a different perspective, that of a friend of Gardner's diagnosed to die within six months--who, as sometimes happens, didn't:
Chris Carlson, 61, found out eight years ago that he has Parkinson's disease, and was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer late in 2005. His physicians were unable to locate the generating tumor, which usually means the patient will be dead within six months.

He has fought back with an experimental treatment and regained lost weight and describes the cancer as "dormant." It's still "a matter of time," Carlson observed, but he isn't planning on checking out at any time soon..."I believe personally that Booth Gardner is flat wrong," Carlson said. "I think suicide is a very selfish act that breaks faith with family and with society. The pain with surviving relatives and loved ones, and I can testify to this, lives on." Carlson's father committed suicide, as did one of his partners in founding a Northwest-based public affairs consulting firm.
That's a point rarely made: We are not islands onto ourselves. As members of society, we are part of an ecosystem, if you will. What happens to each of us matters to the rest of us--including how we die.

Connelly concludes
Individual freedom is, however, not absolute. It can be limited when an individual's actions harm the self, the family or the human family...Nat Hentoff, the civil libertarian and columnist for New York's Village Voice, has put it with brutal bluntness: "It is a political issue about who has power and who does not, who is expendable and who is important. It is an issue about protecting the most weak and vulnerable among us. When you are near death is when you are the most vulnerable to coercion, intimidation and to powerlessness."

In short, it's not about Booth Gardner. Nor should his medical struggle be used to snuff out debate on his last political goal.
Connelly is a good writer. He makes some very important points. Check it out.


Lawsuit Against Fois Gras Company Not Really About Pollution

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)--a (very rich) animal rights group that doesn't spout animal rights ideology but spends tens of millions to promote the agenda--has sued a New York fois gras company for allegedly polluting water. From the story:

A federal judge in White Plains, N.Y., began hearings on Wednesday regarding a lawsuit filed against Hudson Valley Foie Gras by The Humane Society of the United States more than a year ago.

The animal rights group alleges that the company, which produces the delicacy made from enlarged goose livers is violating federal water pollution laws by releasing manure and slaughter waste into the Middle Mongaup River in Sullivan County.
Who are they kidding? The HSUS is after Hudson Valley Fois Gras because it raises geese, overfeeds them to fatten their livers, and slaughters them for meat, including fois gras made from the livers. The pollution deal is just the pretext, the only way it could actually bring suit since otherwise the HSUS would have no legal standing.

But just you wait: As I am writing about now in my book, animal liberationists are working diligently toward changing the law to give individuals--and animals themselves--legal standing in courts to bring cases based on aesthetic upset or moral disagreement with uses of animals. If that happens, Katy bar the door: Thousands of lawsuits will be filed "by animals" against their "oppressors"within a week burying animal industries in litigation and discovery. Never doubt that is the true goal of groups such as HSUS.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Hope For Alzheimer's Patients

No, not a cure, but a potentially efficacious treatment to reduce symptoms and maintain cognition. The Journal of Neuroinflammation reports that fifteen Alzheimer's patients received substantial benefit from being treated with a drug normally used to alleviate rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Here's a case study:

This report details rapid cognitive improvement, beginning within minutes, using this same anti-TNF treatment modality, in a patient with late-onset Alzheimer's disease. Rapid cognitive improvement following perispinal etanercept may be related to amelioration of the effects of excess TNF-alpha on synaptic mechanisms in Alzheimer's disease and provides a promising area for additional investigation and therapeutic intervention.
For those who would like to read about the advance in real people's language, here is a UK newspaper piece on the report. And here's the Telegraph story:

After being injected in the spine with a treatment for arthritis called etanercept, the 89-year-old could remember the date and his doctor's name and say where he was - which he had been unable to do only 10 minutes earlier. The patient was given a further five injections one week apart and improved consistently, although he still had problems with simple maths and money.

A pilot study of 15 patients at the University of California, Los Angeles, last year showed an improvement of symptoms six months after treatment with etanercept.
This is a good reminder that there is a lot of research going on out there and that embryonic stem cells do not offer "the only hope," a phrase that, for increasingly obvious reasons, we hear far less often from the hype artists of Big Biotech.


Embryonic Stem Cell Lines Without Destroying Embryos

Advanced Cell Technology made huge international headlines last year by claiming to have created embryonic stem cell lines without destroying embryos. That announcement--typical of ACT PR--was way overblown. It turned out to be a modest proof of principle type experiment that had destroyed every embryo used.

Now, the company claims to have really, really done it--created ES cell lines from one cell taken from an early embryo, and then returning it to the deep freeze as a viable embryo that could later be implanted. (This is the same technique used in pre-implantation genetic diagnosis.)

Of course, with ACT everything is about the money and Robert Lanza immediately demanded that Bush fund this alternative method of obtaining pluripotent stem cells as the NIH has funded cell regression from ordinary skin cells. (Also note the story describes ACT as Massachusetts-based. That is true. But when ACT wants money from Proposition 71's coffers of borrowed funds, it somehow is always described as "California-based. But I digress.) From the story:

Dr. Robert Lanza, ACT's scientific director, said it provides a way to create mass quantities of embryonic stem cells without harming a human embryo. Current stem cell technologies require the embryo's destruction."This is a working technology that exists here and now. It could be used to increase the number of stem cell lines available to federal researchers immediately," Lanza said by e-mail. "We could send these cells out to researchers tomorrow."

I don't know about that. With ACT we always have to wait and see. But the clear connection in Lanza's mind between creating non-destructive embryonic stem cell research techniques and Bush's funding policy demonstrates that Bush pushed this research into more ethical ways it never would have gone had he merely acquiesced to "the scientists" demands. Indeed, if this technique is feasible and moral, it is at least in part, a George W. Bush triumph. Without his leadership, we might be federally funding human cloning research by now.

What does this mean in the longer term? With non-destructive techniques coming on board, the time has come to turn our attention to another moral parameter that needs to be put in place around the power of biotechnology: Prohibit the creation of human embryos solely for the purpose of using them in research.


Senator Tom Harkin Supported Terri Schiavo Federal Law

I get so sick of historical revisionism, that I decided to post this entry about how Democrats also backed the Terri Schiavo federal law. This is what Tom Harkin, Democratic senator from Iowa, said at the time:

Where there is a genuine dispute as to what the desires of the incapacitated person really are, then there ought to be at the end some review by a federal court outside of state jurisdiction. You might say, 'Why a federal court?' State courts vary in their evidentiary proceedings and in their process--fifty different ones. . . . Every review of that, up through the state courts, is basically on the procedure, not upon the first facts. In a case like this, where someone is incapacitated and their life support can be taken away, it seems to me that it is appropriate -- where there is a dispute, as there is in this case--that a federal court come in, like we do in habeas corpus situations, and review it and make another determination.

He's no "theocrat." Indeed, Harkin is one of the most liberal members of the Senate. And he was right to want to protect a helpless and vulnerable woman from the bum's rush she received in Florida. Too bad the press has its own narrative to sell rather than the truth.

Alas, the federal judge refused to follow the law and Terri is now in her grave.


Wednesday, January 09, 2008

And Now For Something Humorous

I am still mightily ticked at the "Baby Miracle" disgrace, so let's have a humorous change of pace: Mr. Buffo!

A Transumanist Loses That New Time Religion

Well, this is refreshing: Transhumanist and now former James Hughes disciple Justice De Thezier, has made a New Year's Resolution to "quit transhumanism." In the blog Cyborg Democracy, De Thezier, the founder of the Quebec Transhumanist Association seems to have recognized that transhumanism is something of a quasi-religion rather than a truly rational philosphy. He writes:

...[H]aving invested so much time and energy in promoting transhumanism--and, let's be honest, having been seduced by the siren songs of a ''posthuman future''--I came to the awkward realization that I, a self-professed free and critical thinker, had willingly blinded myself to the flaws of transhumanism, which I became increasingly aware were *inherencies* that undermine any diversity of views or ''leftist awakening'' among transhumanists:

1. An uncritical support for technology in general and fringe science in particular;

2. A distortive ''us vs. them'' tribe-like mentality and identity; and,

3. A vulnerability to unrealistic utopian and dystopian ''future hype''.

After spending a year as the self-appointed yet half-hearted ''devil's advocate'' of the WTA, not only have I come to the conclusion that it is quite quixotic to think I or any lone individual can do anything to change what a prominent transhumanist has called ''the minimum constituents without which this ideology would not be what it is'', without being falsely accused of trying to ''reduce diversity'' or, worse, ''thought police''; but I've decided to quit transhumanism.

Transhumanism is a rather desperate pipe dream that, ironically, replaces the role of religion for many of its "rationalist" adherents. Good for De Thezier for seeing that truth and deciding to pursue other agendas.


War Against the Weak

My headline is the title of a must-read book about the eugenics movement by Edwin Black entitled War Against the Weak. Well, it's ba-aa-aak! A pernicious new eugenics that is arising and already lashing out at the helpless and most vulnerable among us on several fronts, as it also threatens a regimen of human enhancement and genetic engineering that would instill discrimination and obliterate the equality of life ethic in which we are each deemed to have equal moral worth. Should that happen, the ideal of universal human rights would be shattered on the rocks of history.

As with the first eugenics, medicine is a major front of this ongoing war against the weak. The latest battle is over the life of a disabled baby born in Samoa. From the story:

A badly deformed Samoan baby denied entry to New Zealand for surgery has been offered hope by an Adelaide church. The South Pacific Islands Community Christian Church in Adelaide plans to bring the girl to Australia for treatment.

When Miracletina Nanai--known as Baby Miracle--was born in a Samoan village about four months ago, doctors initially told her parents not to feed her because she wouldn't live. But after food was smuggled into the hospital for her she survived against the odds and is now home in the care of her parents...

New Zealand medical experts who reviewed Baby Miracle's case said at the time that the prognosis was "extremely poor" and the girl was expected to die. "I do not think that any intervention could be offered by New Zealand that would change the long-term prognosis for Miracle," said Dr Rosemary Marks of Auckland's Starship hospital.

Samoa's deputy prime minister, Misa Telefoni, attacked New Zealand authorities for refusing to grant Baby Miracle a visa. "The false perception the Nanai family and their supporters received, that if they raised $100,000, they get a medical permit for Aotearoa (New Zealand), is inexcusable," he said in a newspaper column.
Think about the arrogance and the loathing of people with disabilities--and perhaps racism--on display here. This is not even a feeding tube case. Telling the parents not to feed the child was akin to urging that the baby be exposed on a hill to die as they once did with disabled babies in Rome. The child had to be snuck food! The doctors were wrong about the initial prognosis and yet, the child is still being rejected as a patient by medical professionals as a life not worth living.

The warning signs are everywhere. A new eugenics is arising and because it refuses to acknowledge the equal moral worth of all of us, if it prevails, in the end none of us will be safe.


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Slimy Dr. Phil

I have been stewing over this story for days. Brittany Spears is in extreme danger of becoming the next Anna Nichole Smith and Dr. Phil, the television psychologist tried to make hay out of it for his personal aggrandizement and headline generation. First, he goes to visit her in the hospital. But rather than keep his intervention quiet, he issues a press release, and the story ends up breathlessly in People:

Dr. Phil McGraw is telling Britney Spears that she is not too far gone to turn her life around. "You can make this okay," the TV therapist, who at the request of her family briefly visited Spears while she was in the hospital, says in a message to the pop star that is posted on "Your family loves you. You may not always agree with what they say, with what they do but they've loved you when you weren't lovable. Turn to the people that love you and listen. You have two children and you are the one in this world to protect them. There is no sacrifice that [your mother Lynne] won't make for you, and there is no sacrifice that your father won't make. They are the people that want nothing from you, and everything for you."
Disgusting. Then, he planned a show around her total meltdown. And now he has backed off under criticism and issued yet another press release:
Television's "Dr. Phil" McGraw has pulled the plug on plans for a one-hour show that was to examine Britney Spears' latest public meltdown.In a statement posted Monday on his Web site, McGraw said the 26-year-old pop star's situation was "too intense" for him to go forward with the show. He didn't say whether he planned to reschedule.
The only reason this isn't unethical behavior is that Spears was never technically McGraw's patient. But his behavior was as slimy as it gets, an attempt to boost himself into the news at the expense of a very sick young woman.


And Yet Another Eposide of: STUDYING THE OBVIOUS

I have decided to document professional studies that reach conclusions that are so obvious one wonders why precious grant money was spent on doing the research: In an earlier episode, we found that rich and powerful men like to marry young and beautiful women. And now, we learn that teenage girls with self esteem problems may gain weight! From the story:

Where a teenage girl sees herself on her school's social ladder may sway her future weight, a study of more than 4,000 girls finds. Those who believed they were unpopular gained more weight over a two-year period than girls who viewed themselves as more popular. Researchers said the study showed how a girl's view of her social status has broader health consequences.
The answer, as with everything these days, is giving girls more self esteem:
"The reason this paper is so important is it has broader implications beyond weight gain," said McNeely, who was not involved in the research but wrote an accompanying editorial. "Subjective social status is not just an uncomfortable experience you grow out of, but can have important health consequences."

Experts know little about how to intervene in teenagers' peer groups to improve health, McNeely said, but when adults set standards in schools, students treat one another with more respect.

I know from personal experience how hard it can be to be in the "out group" when a teenager. But it can also be the springboard that motivates you into greater success. While we do need to prevent bullying, the idea that we can somehow stop the clique mentality of teenagers is ridiculous.

Your tax dollars at work: Tune in next time as we bring you further episodes of, Studying the Obvious.


Monday, January 07, 2008

Animal Rights Thugs Win in the Netherlands

Why would animal rights thugs act better when being threatening to hurt people wins battles? Like in the Netherlands recently, when a plan to build a science park was immediately abandoned when the thugs began to threaten direct action. From the story:

Threats by animal rights activists have led to a developer pulling out of plans to build a science park in the Limburg town of Venray. In a statement issued on Monday afternoon, developer Van der Looy said it would not go ahead with the project due to the "unacceptably threatening attitude" of certain groups.

On Christmas Eve the houses of several project managers were daubed with paint. "We decided immediately to stop," the company said on its website. The action has been claimed by the Animal Liberation Front (DBF) which said in a letter to Van der Looy that its next action would not be so "friendly".
If this continues--and especially if it is effective--not only will animal using industries be under increasing assaults--but believers in other agendas will get the message that coercion works. And then, as a society, we will be in very big trouble.

Animal rights believers: You must forcefully reject these activities--even if it means defending industries with which you profoundly disagree. If preserving the rule of law isn't sufficient motivation, remember, if animal rights activists can attack animal industries, supporters of animal industries can attack animal rights activists.


Sunday, January 06, 2008

Are We Too Fat or Too Skinny?

First we were warned that we are becoming an obese society, indeed, that we are drowning in our own fat. Of course, that means we have adult stem cells to spare, but never mind: The fat police are so concerned that some say obese people should be denied certain medical treatments.

But now, there's news that there is a health crisis brewing because of an "epidemic" of size zero women. From the story:

The number of patients needing hospital treatment for eating disorders has soared, it has emerged. The findings are sure to renew concerns about the effect "size zero" models and celebrities are having on the body image of many youngsters.

Hmmm. We are a society that is richer than any in known history. Few really go hungry in the truest sense of that term. But we do have our food issues. Maybe the answer is to quit giving a blankety-blank about what celebrities say, do, or think..


Beware Untested Stem Cell Treatments in China

The hype generated by ESCR advocates has a lot of ill and injured people very anxious to receive stem cell treatments. China, unsurprisingly, is willing to sell stem cell treatments of the fetal and adult variety--even though most of the treatments provided are far from proven either as to efficicacy or safety. From the story in the Washington Post:

They mortgage their houses and their hometowns hold fundraisers as they scrape together the tens of thousands of dollars needed for travel and the hope for a miracle cure.

Some say they have improved, but the documentation is scant and may involve the placebo effect. Moreover, these treatments can be dangerous:
Noting the lack of evidence, three Western doctors, undertook their own limited study. It involved seven patients with spinal cord injuries who chose to get fetal brain tissue injections at one hospital in China. The study reported "no clinically useful improvements"--even though most patients believed they were better. Five developed complications such as meningitis.
There also seems to be an outsourcing of ethics, here. Aparently American medical groups are doing in China what they would probably be precluded from doing in the States:
Also offering treatments is Tiantan Puhua in Beijing, a joint venture between Asia's largest neurological hospital and an American medical group. Tiantan's sunny, sparkling rooms are a far cry from the dour facilities and staff at most Chinese hospitals. Diseases treated there range from stroke and spinal cord injuries to cerebral palsy and ataxia, a rare neurological condition that can cause slurred speech.
If things go wrong, these American groups should be held accountable even if the errors occurred overseas.

I am often contacted privately asking my thoughts about going to China for these treatments. I always advise against it. These technologies are moving toward clinical application where they have a chance of improving people's conditions. But going too soon, or to a potentially quack clinic, could leave patients worse off than they started. Let's be careful out there.


Mass Murder of Rats in India!

This is a reality check: Oh, how the animal liberationists must be writhing in anguish and grief about this story from India. It seems a tribe of lowest caste Indians is making a decent living killing rats to protect the crops of local farms:

In this impoverished tribal belt in southern Tamil Nadu state, catching rats has been a primary job for members of Chinnapayan's Irula tribe--an impoverished community of 3 million people at the bottom rung of the Hindu caste hierarchy who have often found themselves teetering on the brink of starvation.

But the introduction of innovative rat traps has remarkably reversed the Irulas' plight. By curbing the amount of rodents that have long menaced Indian farmers, the tribe has seen its income triple in the past three years, while bringing them new respect. The Irulas, who were once jeered by many locals as "rodent assassins," are now being touted as saviors by many farmers.

Under animal rights belief, the rats should be left alone. After all, animal liberationists believe that "a rat, is a pig, is a dog, is a boy," and hence, the mass killing of rats--sentient beings deemed by liberationists to be owed "equal consideration" with people--would seem to be a moral horror. I mean, the rats have as much right to eat as the people, right? Indeed, the rats were, I am sure, indigenous to the area long before people arrived, thus it should be the people who adjust to their presence and not the other way around.

This story reveals how the entire movement--as opposed to animal welfare-- should not be taken seriously. The urgent needs of people have to come first. Moreover, most people in the world don't have the luxury of presuming that a rat has a right to life or to eat. Indeed, the amazing prosperity and success of the West--and a resulting decadence and nihilism--is what spawned the very notion of animal rights.


Saturday, January 05, 2008

Bill Hurlbut on the Moral Responsibilities of Scientists, the Intrinsic Worth of Human Embryos, and his ANT Project

My pal Bill Hurlbut expounds in this radio interview on the moral responsibilities of scientists, the human future, and other matters of interest to SHSers. For example, he explains why he holds the human embryo as having intrinsic moral worth:

A lot of what I was hearing [during deliberations of the President's Council on Bioethics] by way of argument [in favor of human cloning] was actually just natural moral sentiments. People were saying, "How can you count something that is no bigger than a period at the end of a sentence the equivalent of a 3-year-old?" Well, in a way we don't by nature, but we do by mind. We can recognize the continuity as a living organism. And that...was for me a very crucial connection. I realized that each one of us started in those early phases with an absolutely magnificent intrinsic power to unfold in our individual form. Each one of us is unique and an unrepeatable gift of life. And in that sense, I decided...that human embryos should have moral worth that is worthy of protection and nurture.

It is a very NPRish interview--don't expect sound bites. But it is an important conversation about profound issues. Check it out.


Humanism as Cluelessness

Professor Robert Edwards, the creator of IVF, was featured recently in a newspaper profile. The results demonstrate--as we have discussed here previously about James Watson--that being a brilliant scientist does not necessarily translate into the ability to engage in sound moral reasoning. IVF has a mixed record, in my view--particularly how it has led directly to some of the greatest bioethical controversies of our day. But that issue aside, this quote from Edwards seems ridiculous to me:

"I am a humanist. A humanist believes nobody knows the truth. I don't criticise. We will look after people, and I look after animals. I became vegetarian ten years ago because I don't want to eat animals."
If it has a face, don't eat it is fine. But to to believe that nobody knows the truth is to say that the truth cannot be known. To say I don't criticize is to say that I am hopelessly relativistic.

Anyway, I'm not buying. What Edwards really means, I suspect, is that there are certain views, e.g., those on the radical edge, that he won't criticize. I would bet a bunch, however, that his attitude toward those holding and standing up for traditional values or morality would not receive such a benign shrug of the humanist shoulder.


Friday, January 04, 2008

A Little Stem Cell Humor

A good laugh is always in order. Here's a Bizarro comic that caused me to chuckle:

Marketing Transhumanism

I received a solicitation by e-mail because of my "interest" in transhumanism from the "Terasem Movement Foundation" offering a Web site that will--for free:

...preserve one's individual consciousness so that it remains viable for possible uploading with consciousness software into a cellular regenerated or bionanotechnological body by future medicine and technology.
Wow. Can they do that? Uh, no. From the Web Page:

A chatbot can read the user's profile and respond to general-knowledge questions. "In the future, the chatbot will become increasingly knowledgeable about the user's profiles and mindfiles, and infer information from tagged multimedia files," according to Bruce Duncan, Managing Director of Terasem Movement Foundation. is also "designed to test the hypothesis that conscious analogs of people can be brought to life based on sufficiently detailed mindfile data," according to a statement on the Terasem Movement Foundation website.

Huh? Oh! It's based on the famous "Terasem Hypotheses" which state that:

1) a conscious analog of a person may be created by combining sufficiently detailed data about the person (a "mindfile") using future consciousness software ("mindware"),and (2) that such a conscious analog can be downloaded into a biological or nanotechnological body to provide life experiences comparable to those of a typically birthed human. We call this event Transferred Consciousness (TC). If even the first part of the two Terasem Hypotheses is shown to be true, the conscious analogs will be independent persons with rights and obligations dependent upon their capabilities.
Okaa-ay, but I'm sure there's a buck expected to be made somewhere in all of this. It looks to me like it may be the sale of "longevity products" and of other items for which ads will be sent to people who subscribe to the newsletter. But for all you transhumanists out there yearning for immortality, here's your chance!

Ain't America great?


Thursday, January 03, 2008

Don't Worry, Be Happy, Be Healthy

I don't think it takes a "study" to know this, but apparently happier people are healthier people. From the story:

A happy heart just might be a healthier one as well, new research suggests.In a study of nearly 3,000 healthy British adults, lead by Dr.
Andrew Steptoe of University College London, found that those who reported upbeat moods had lower levels of cortisol--a "stress" hormone that, when chronically elevated, may contribute to high blood pressure, abdominal obesity and dampened immune function, among other problems. In the study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, women who reported more positive emotions had lower blood levels of two proteins that indicate widespread inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation is believed to contribute to a range of ills over time, including heart disease and cancer.

But this reaction seems shallow to me:

But if happier people are healthier people, the more difficult question remains: How do you become happier?

"What we do know," Steptoe noted, "is that people's mood states are not just a matter of heredity, but depend on our social relationships and fulfillment in life. We need to help people to recognize the things that make them feel good and truly satisfied with their lives, so that they spend more time doing these things."
But that is akin to saying happiness is synonymous with having fun. The two concepts are completely different. Indeed, it seems to me that happiness comes not from doing things that make us feel good, but in putting others first and subsuming our own transitory desires for things greater than ourselves. Happiness is a state of being, not the doing of things that we enjoy.


What If They Gave a Health Care Plan and Nobody Came?

This is an interesting turn of events: San Francisco has been abuzz about a new health care plan designed to cover everyone in the city. A court ruling has (for now) prevented City Commissars from taxing businesses to pay for it, and so for now the plan is temporarily scaled back to cover people who are at 300% of poverty level or less if they do not otherwise qualify for Medicaid. But on the first day of the big program, breathlessly promoted by media and politicians--nobody came to sign up. From the story:

Blame it on confusion over a federal judge's recent ruling. Blame it on a postholiday slump. Whatever the case, San Francisco's expansion on Wednesday of its landmark plan to provide health care to its 73,000 uninsured city residents had all the excitement of an annual physical.

The program, dubbed Healthy San Francisco, previously had been available only to uninsured city residents whose earnings didn't exceed the federal poverty level - about $10,200 a year. On Wednesday, it expanded to include those making up to about $32,000 a year, meaning roughly 47,000 people now qualify.

But few seemed to be taking advantage of it. At the program's new eligibility office near San Francisco General Hospital--designed for people to drop in or call to see if they qualify for the program--just one person had phoned by noon and all the chairs in the waiting room were empty. "Usually our chairs are all filled--it's unbelievable," said Vanda Baptista, who manages the eligibility office. "I was anticipating patients out the door."
Or maybe the intended beneficiaries are not as excited about receiving those services as the politicians and media are in providing them. Maybe health care isn't the huge 800 pound political gorilla some think it to be. We'll have to keep an eye on this, but if the program remains a benefit that nobody wants, it may have a more profound meaning than may at first meet the eye.


Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Read Dean Koontz's Newest

I just completed The Darkest Evening of the Year by my pal Dean Koontz. It is very good; a thriller in the classic Koontz mold that really gets taut in the last 30 pages.

But there is more here than a very good thrill ride--although that would be enough. Dean also mounts some well aimed social criticisms, including a couple of references to the importance of human exceptionalism, Second Life, nihilism, purposefulness versus purposelessness, and the consequences of pure hedonism. More than that, he continues his exploration of the nature of evil--and while there are many villains in the book, one is the most purely malevolent that he has yet conjured. And he also shows the true meaning of intrinsic human dignity through a very vividly drawn character who is completely under the control of the evilist villain. And here's a bonus: If you love dogs, you will really love this book. Prepare to shed a few tears, too.

Predictably, the NYT reviewer hated it. (Warning before hitting the link: The reviewer is a little too heavy on describing the plot. And one correction to an assumption she seems to have made: Dean did not write this book because his dog Trixie died. He was in the middle of writing the book when that event befell the Koontz household.)

Dean's writing in Darkest Evening is as tight as a drum. And ironically, as his characters live (and die) through their darkest evening of the year, Dean's optimism shines through. It's a very entertaining read. Check it out.


Computer Woes: SHS Blackout

To all SHS readers and commenters: We had some technical difficulties here at SHS over the holiday, and I was unable to upload any posts, nor were the comments people made uploaded. The problem seems to be fixed now. Good thing: I was going through withdrawal.

I continued to post during that time, so there are a few up now, including a missive on the new year. Sorry for any inconvenience, and again, Happy New Year to all.

Fur as a "Green Fabric:": Animal Rights Versus Environmentalism?

I have been noticing a slight trend, or perhaps better stated, the hint of a breeze that could become a slight trend: Animal rights versus environmentalism. Animal rights, very generally stated, fervently promotes the equal moral worth of animals with people based on the capacity to feel pain or otherwise suffer. This leads to devotion to the "rights" of every single animal as individuals.

Environmentalism isn't so much interested in individuals--people or animals as I see it--but the protection of macro systems, with the goal of preserving and promoting the breadth and depth of life on the planet. Sometimes animal rights can conflict with environmentalism, as in the call by environmentalists for Australians to eat kangaroo as a method of reducing green house gasses.

Perhaps sensing this trend, the fur industry is promoting fur as a green fabric. From the story in the Times of London:

Fur trade groups claim that the stigma associated with wearing fur no longer exists, with Britain one of the fastest-growing markets in the world. Some furriers claim that the apparent success of the fur sales is because fur is a green commodity.

Keith Kaplan, at the Fur Information Council of America, said: "Fur is the grand-daddy of green. It comes from a renewable, sustainable resource. There is very little pollution involved in the production of it and it is biodegradeable."
Clever pitch: The animal rightists won't buy it, of course, but apparently the public is buying fur. According to the story, prices are at a record high.


Tuesday, January 01, 2008

"Treat Yourselves," NHS Tells UK Patients!

The meltdown of the UK's NHS is hitting unbelievable lows. Now, patients with conditions such as asthma and arthritis are being told, "Treat yourselves." From the story:

Instead of going to hospital or consulting a doctor, patients will be
encouraged to
carry out "self care" as the Department of Health (DoH) tries to meet Treasury targets to curb spending. The guidelines could mean people with chronic conditions:
- Monitoring their own heart activity, blood pressure and lung capacity using equipment installed in the home.
-Reporting medical information to doctors remotely by telephone or computer.
- Administering their own drugs and other treatment to "manage pain" and assessing the significance of changes in their condition.
- Using relaxation techniques to relieve stress and avoid "panic" visits to emergency wards.

Gordon Brown hinted at the new policy in a message to NHS staff yesterday, promising a service that "gives all of those with long-term or
chronic conditions the choice of greater support, information and advice, allowing them to play a far more active role in managing their own condition".

Right. These type of things are always sold as being best for those being deprived of necessary services and support.

The Telegraph editorializes with righteous rage and gets the gist of where things are heading, including not treating patients who lived unapproved lifestyles:

What this seems to amount to in practice are the Government's rights to refuse treatment, and the patient's responsibilities to live up to what the state decides are model standards. There is apparently to be a clear warning that those who adhere to unhealthy habits such as smoking or failing to take regular exercise may be refused NHS care.

This tyranny, of course will not be imposed on people whose dangerous lifestyles are not looked upon with askance. Thus, don't expect HIV or STDs to come under the non-treatment regimen--nor should it. Back to the editorial:

Bizarrely, while more is to be expected of patients by way of self-reliance in terms of taking responsibility for their own treatment--thus helping to defray NHS costs--they will still be forbidden the most obvious form of self-help, which is to pay for some supplemental treatment (which would help even more substantially to reduce NHS costs).

But hey, in the UK they are pouring millions into research into making human/animal cloned embryos. Priorities, after all, are priorities.