Wednesday, April 30, 2008

SHS Funnies

Why humans have nothing to do with the threatened extinction of a certain sub-subspecies of crocodiles:

Lead Into Gold: More IPSC Advances in Mice

Research on the new Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells continues to advance. Now, scientists have morphed them into heart and blood cells. From the story:

Stem cell researchers at UCLA were able to grow functioning cardiac cells using mouse skin cells that had been reprogrammed into cells with the same unlimited properties as embryonic stem cells. The finding is the first to show that induced pluripotent stem cells or iPS cells, which don't involve the use of embryos or eggs, can be differentiated into the three types of cardiovascular cells needed to repair the heart and blood vessels...

"I believe iPS cells address many of the shortcomings of human embryonic stem cells and are the future of regenerative medicine," said [Dr. Robb] MacLellan, an associate professor of cardiology and physiology. "I'm hoping that these scientific findings are the first step towards one day developing new therapies that I can offer my patients. There are still many limitations with using iPS cells in clinical studies that we must overcome, but there are scientists in labs across the country working to address these issues right now."

I'm not a scientist but from where I sit, I still think most clinical applications for stem cells will be from the adult/umbilical cord blood types. But the IPSCs will apparently do everything scientists said they wanted from therapeutic cloning--and at far less expense, at no risk to women for their eggs, and without moral contentiousness. Too bad California is still borrowing $300 million a year to pay scientists research on human cloning.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Reporter Connects With "Terminal Nonjudgmentalism"

I posted here at SHS a few days ago about a story reporting that Peter Singer would receive a cool $20 Gs for speaking at Arizona State University in Phoenix. I didn't mention that I was interviewed for some time by the reporter but was not quoted. Nothing unusual there. I am often interviewed by the media for a story and not mentioned in the end product, which is fine with me. Sometimes, I am asked to provide a background understanding or to help consider angles of the story to cover. Or, the reporter might not think my comments were worth quoting--whatever.

But reporter Sarah Fenske apparently "got" something I said to her, which is an issue I think is a matter of some import. From her blog entry on Singer's appearance:

When I was working on the column about Singer, I got in touch with one of his most outspoken critics, Wesley J. Smith. "As a society, we suffer from terminal nonjudgmentalism," Smith told me. "We find ourselves unable, except against tobacco users, to say that we're capable of making judgments."

He's right. And on top of that, I think, your average ASU student likes what Singer has to say about eating ethically. (You know, avoid factory farms, eat less meat, consider going vegan.) It's kind of cool to have the "most influential philosopher in the world" saying what you want to hear.

Singer is a decent speaker: smart, quick, polite. But for $20,000, I would have loved for him to challenge people's assumptions a little more. For example, he's argued that "buying local" isn't necessarily the most ethical choice--for all its trendiness, it doesn't do much for Third World farmers. But that idea was only briefly touched on; he was too busy hashing over things we already all knew, like the idea that animals feel pain. Duh.

So despite Singer's writings about babies, despite his status as "the most controversial philosopher in the world," the whole thing was pleasant, unchallenging--and completely uncontroversial. Terminal nonjudgmentalism, indeed.

If Singer were a racist, he would have been challenged vociferously, ground rules notwithstanding. But apparently promoting infanticide isn't seen as odious as discrimination based on race. Or perhaps it is because people make the mistake of not taking his advocacy for the propriety of killing babies who interfere with family interests--based on their purported non personhood--seriously. That's a big mistake: Remember, the most dangerous sentence ever uttered is, "It can't happen here."

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UK Scientists Seeks to Ban Creation of "Humanzee"

The UK is debating a new bill to govern the ethics of creating embryos. Part of the bill would outlaw putting animal sperm into human eggs. But the reverse is not mentioned and at least one scientist is concerned. From the story:

A leading scientist has warned a new species of "humanzee," created from breeding apes with humans, could become a reality unless the government acts to stop scientists experimenting. In an interview with The Scotsman, Dr Calum MacKellar, director of research at the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, warned the controversial draft Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill did not prevent human sperm being inseminated into animals.

He said if a female chimpanzee was inseminated with human sperm the two species would be closely enough related that a hybrid could be born.

He said scientists could possibly try to develop the new species to fill the demand for organ donors.
I am not a scientist but I doubt that the human and chimp are akin to a horse and donkey's ability to mate and bring forth a mule. Be that as it may, there are those who would dance in the streets at the birth of the first humanzee because they think it would demonstrate that people are not special and thereby subvert human exceptionalism. Or, I suppose, because they want to manufacture a servile class, as envisioned by the late twisted thinker Joseph Fletcher.

But would scientists actually do that? MacKellar thinks that indeed, they would:
He said if the process was not banned, scientists would be "very likely" to try it, and it would be likely humans and chimps could successfully reproduce.
In other words, this scientist believes that the concept of the "mad scientist" may exist generally within the field. And therein lies the rub: If he is right--and I have my doubts--but, if it is true, then it means that a significant percentage of life scientists accept no reasonable limits on their experimentation, which will eventually require society to force them to cease and desist. And then we will hear the squawking from the Science Establishment about how the great unwashed are restricting freedom of inquiry. But if that happens, if lines are crossed best left unexplored, the "blank check" scientists will only have themselves to blame.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot: Of course they should outlaw putting human sperm into animal eggs.

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Netherlands Euthanasia Statistics: Not Even Telling Half the Story

The latest Dutch euthanasia statistics are in, and the number of cases reported have gone up. From the story:

The number of cases of euthanasia reported by doctors last year rose to 2,120 from 1,923 in 2006, according to official figures published this week, reports ANP news service.

In three cases the regional committees responsible for ensuring the criteria for euthanasia are adhered to, ruled that doctors had not acted in accordance with regulations. The three dossiers have been sent to the justice department and health inspectorate.

Yea, and I'll bet there will be a strong letter to follow about those three cases. What a travesty.

By the way, these 2120 legalized murders do not include the about 900 "termination without request or consent" non voluntary euthanasia deaths that Dutch studies have reported doctors commit each year with nary a significant legal or professional consequence to the death doctors, and which are not counted as official cases of euthanasia in Dutch death bean counting. And, if the manner of keeping statistics is consistent with previous years, they don't include assisted suicides, which generally number about 500 per year. And they also don't include intentional overdosing with pain control with the intent to kill--rather than palliate--which the Dutch Government's "Remmelink Report" showed" to be above 4,000 in 1990. Nor do they include the increasing numbers of terminal sedations, which I reported earlier are on the rise in the Netherlands and are an abuse of a proper palliative procedure. And, they don't include eugenic infanticides, which number about 90 per year according to two reports in The Lancet. And while we are on the subject, it doesn't by definition include the cases not reported, which studies have indicated total about 40 percent or more each year, meaning that there were probably another 1000 or so that the authorities don't know about.

But other than that, I am sure it is an accurate statistic.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Stifling Scientific Heterodoxy

All around the country and the world, scientists who don't fall in line on human cloning, global warming, neo-Darwinism, and other issues in which the Science Establishment demands lockstep thinking, find themselves being pushed aside--ironically, by the very types who vociferously criticize the Catholic Church for its treatment of Galileo. The latest example may be the dropping of hurricane expert Bill Gray from receiving PR support from Colorado State University because he is a global warming skeptic. From the story:

By pioneering the science of seasonal hurricane forecasting and teaching 70 graduate students who now populate the National Hurricane Center and other research outposts, William Gray turned a city far from the stormy seas into a hurricane research mecca.

But now the institution in Fort Collins, Colo., where he has worked for nearly half a century, has told Gray it may end its support of his seasonal forecasting. As he enters his 25th year of predicting hurricane season activity, Colorado State University officials say handling media inquiries related to Gray's forecasting requires too much time and detracts from efforts to promote other professors' work.

But Gray, a highly visible and sometimes acerbic skeptic of climate change, says that's a "flimsy excuse" for the real motivation--a desire to push him aside because of his global warming criticism.

The university denies it, of course. But there is always an excuse given in these matters. And isn't it interesting that the stifling--er, ah, I mean changes in plans for rational reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with subverting free thought and academic freedom--always seems to flow in one direction.

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Sunday, April 27, 2008

Gene Therapy Success Restores Vision

This is exciting news and demonstrates once again that most biotechnology isn't morally contentious. A teenager with failing eyesight has had his vision improved by inserting healthy genes to correct a genetically caused disability. From the story:

In the trial carried out by a team at the University College of London Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfields Eye Hospital, the world's first gene transplant for blindness produced an unprecedented improvement in Steven Howarth's sight.

The student suffered from a genetic mutation, called Leber's congenital amaurosis (LCA), which usually begins affecting the sight of sufferers in early childhood and eventually causes total blindness during a patient's twenties or thirties. Currently, there is no treatment for the condition.

Born with no peripheral or night vision, he noticed a marked improvement after the two-hour operation."Now, my sight when it's getting dark or it's badly lit is definitely better," he says. "It's a small change--but it makes a big difference."

Prof Robin Ali, the head of the team, said the evidence of his improvement was "compelling". The doctors injected genes only into Mr Howarth's worst affected eye and used the lowest dose in what was strictly a safety trial.
And that's an important point. Gene therapy can be dangerous, as Jesse Gelsinger tragically found out several years ago: It killed him.

But this is very hopeful news and a good sign for the future of regenerative medicine.

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Transhumanism: The Early Years

A reader sent a funny old story to me from Modern Mechanix ("Yesterday's Tomorrow, Today"), circa 1956. The article is about transhumanism, long before the term was coined, and it ponders some of the ways that science might "redesign" the human body. Here's an excerpt:

Man's shape, then, would be altered rather drastically: The head would be a mere conning tower, probably be cylindrical, and the chest would have to be bigger. While redesigning the thorax Mr. Rowland brought forth another fairly radical suggestion: "Why is it necessary to have individual ribs? Why can't man's internal organs be protected with a device resembling a giant clam shell which can be opened easily for surgical purposes, be flexible enough to permit breathing and which would protect the vital organs a good deal better than the present lattice-work arrangement?"

Well, that sure gives the notion of "post human species" a vivid imagery, doesn't it? There's more:

Robert M. Wolff, an engineer and vice president of the Wolff Appliance Corp. of New York came out for an extra set of eyes in the back of the head. "At present," he said, "a human being's range of vision is at most 180 degrees and it's often much less than that. Why shouldn't man's vision be increased to a full 360 degrees?"

Ben Fromkin, a designer with the Burdick-Rowland firm, points out that man has trouble picking up small sounds emanating from the rear. Thus footpads, automobiles and falling objects may strike from behind without warning. Why, asks Mr. Fromkin, couldn't antennae be concealed in the head? These could pick up sound waves, lights and shadows, and relay them to the brain. The suggestion is not plucked from the blue--grasshoppers and other insects have them.

Adding wings was also suggested, bringing us closer to contemporary transhumanist thinking. However, the good people at the long defunct Popular Mechanix never considered going for immortality. That would hardly be Yesterday's Tomorrow, Today: It would be Never-Never Land.

HT: John Lochridge

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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Peter Singer Cleans Up: Pushing Death Pays

An article about a pending speech by Peter Singer in the Phoenix Times demonstrates once again that some of the best journalism and commentary can be found in the alternative press. From the story, byline Sarah Fenske:

In his 1985 book Should the Baby Live? The Problem of Handicapped Infants, the Australian-born philosopher writes that parents should have the right to kill a baby that's born disabled--and not just have the right to do it, but in some instances that disabled babies literally should be killed.Let me be clear here. Singer's talking about killing babies after they've been born. He's written that parents should have the right to kill a child within 28 days of birth. And if a family is inflicted with a senile relative, well, children ought to be allowed to kill feeble parents, too. Humanely, of course.

Actually, Singer has extended the infanticide license to almost a year. But I digress:

So, I was surprised to hear that Arizona State University is flying Peter Singer to campus for a lecture next week. And even more surprised when I heard the topic. He's going to talk about conscientious food choices.

It's more than a bit ironic. Here's a guy who argues, in effect, that human rights are limited to certain humans. That the siblings of a child with Down syndrome would naturally be happier without a disabled family member, so it's worth killing Down syndrome newborns. That the happiness of some people matters more than the very survival of others.

Now he wants to tell us how to eat?

Pushing death pays. Recall Jack Kevorkian was paid $50,000 to speak at the University of Florida. But Singer hasn't actually murdered anyone, so he gets a paltry $20,000. Perhaps if he acted on his culture of death convictions he could give himself a raise.

The organizers aren't letting Singer be confronted about anything other than food. So much for the free exchange of ideas on today's modern college campus.



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Rights for "Social Animals" in Switzerland
















The country that has brought the concept of "plant dignity" to the world has now extended "rights" to members of "social species." animals. From the story:

Under a new Swiss law enshrining rights for animals, dog owners will require a qualification, anglers will take lessons in compassion and horses will go only in twos.

From guinea-pigs to budgerigars, any animal classified as a "social species" will be a victim of abuse if it does not cohabit, or at least have contact, with others of its own kind.

The new regulation stipulates that aquariums for pet fish should not be transparent on all sides and that owners must make sure that the natural cycle of day and night is maintained in terms of light. Goldfish are considered social animals, or Gruppentiere in German...

The law extends to unlikely regions of the animal kingdom. Anglers will also be required to complete a course on catching fish humanely, with the Government citing studies indicating that fish can suffer too.

The regulations will affect farmers, who will no longer be allowed to tether horses, sheep and goats, nor keep pigs and cows in areas with hard floors. The legislation even mentions the appropriate keeping of rhinoceroses, although it was not clear immediately how many, if any, were being kept as pets in Switzerland.

Animal protection groups have greeted the news enthusiastically, but critics say that it means an extra financial burden on taxpayers and animal owners, and that it will be impossible to monitor the implementation of the rules. Farmers' associations have protested, arguing that the law will have a negative effect on the economy and decrease their competitiveness on the international market.

What can one say any more? Children die of malaria in Africa, genocide rages in the Sudan, and Switzerland is giving rights to plants and extending the concept of the proper care and treatment of animals to surrealistic proportions to the point that it may harm humans from thriving and prospering.

And get this from the country that permits lay assisted suicide groups to thrive:
And a word of warning for those planning a mercy killing for their goldfish: special chemicals will be required "to put them to death". Flushing them down the loo is no longer an option.
We are losing our minds.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

On Retracting My Charge That Robert Lanza "Betrayed Science"

Some time ago, I charged Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology with having "betrayed science." Recently, at his initiative, we have been in communication and have cleared some of the bad air that lay between ourselves. While we do not agree on ethical matters, I think it is fair to say that we understand each other far better than we did formerly. I appreciate his efforts to reach out and bury some hatchets and consider them permanently interred in the ground.

One ax apparently still lingers: Lanza and those close to him were apparently quite hurt by my charge of scientific betrayal. That was not my intent, and I made the admittedly harsh assertion after listening to an interview on the Nature podcast in which Lanza said:

What we have done, for the first time is to actually create human embryonic stem cells, without destroying the embryo itself.
Those who recall the controversy know that based on the published paper upon which the interview was based, Lanza had done no such thing, and indeed, that all the embryos in the experiment reported about in Nature were destroyed in the experiment. The resulting brouhaha culminated in a tongue lashing against ACT and Lanza by Senator Arlen Specter for not having accomplished all that the PR hype had claimed.

Yet Lanza believes I did him an egregious wrong. He believes he told the truth in the interview that so angered me because by that time he had actually accomplished what he stated--even though that subsequent success was not reported until later. And he didn't make that distinction in the interview from which I quoted, and so I concluded, quite reasonably, that he was talking about the reported experiment alone, while in Lanza's mind, he was also referencing the subsequent, but as yet unreported successes as well. Those advances were reported officially some months later and I wrote about them here as soon as they came to light.

I believe in fairness and have too many scars on my own body from unfounded attacks on my integrityw, motives, and beliefs to want to inflict similar wounds on others. I did not mean to hurt Lanza's feelings or of those close to him. In light of the explanation that his statements to Nature were meant in his mind to include successful experiments he conducted after those described in the original Nature paper, it is only right that we agree that the "betrayed science" episode was a bonafide misunderstanding, not an attempt to deceive or unfairly castigate.

That being the case, I retract my claim that Lanza "betrayed science." What he did was fail to communicate fully and clearly. But that is an inadvertence, not a moral failing.

We continue to disagree ethically about the cloning issue, but I have come to assume his good faith, as I believe, based on our discussions, he assumes mine. Thus, I view the matter as concluded and forgotten. Life's too short for feuds. The case is closed.

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We Pass the 30,000 Mark

SHS continues to its slow, but satisfyingly steady growth. We just passed 30,000 visitors in the last 30 days. That is thanks to you all. My deep appreciation for your support and participation, for sending me stories you think will be of interest, and for your comments. Thank you.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"Plant Dignity"

I reported a few days ago here at SHS about how an ethics committee in Switzerland expounded on what could be called the rights of plants. Now Nature has weighed in about the ridiculous matter of "plant dignity," worrying that it could impede biology. From the editorial:

The Swiss federal government's ethics committee on non-human biotechnology has mapped out guidelines to help granting agencies decide which research applications deeply offend the dignity of plants--and hence become unfundable.

Although most people might be bewildered that a discussion on how to define 'plant dignity' should be taking place at all, the stakes for Swiss plant scientists are high. The Gene Technology Law, which came into effect in 2004, stipulates that 'the dignity of creatures' should be considered in any research. The phrase has been widely criticized for its general woolliness, but it indisputably includes plants.

All plant biotechnology grant applications must now include a paragraph explaining the extent to which plant dignity is considered. "But scientists don't know what it means," says Beat Keller of the
Institute of Plant Biology at the University of Zurich who is running the first field trial--of disease-resistant corn (maize)--to be approved under the new legislation.

"At the moment not even authorities who decide on grants know what the 'dignity of plants' really means," says Markus Schefer, a constitution lawyer at the University of Basel and a member of the ethics committee. "That's why we were asked to deliberate."...

The committee does
not consider that genetic engineering of plants automatically falls into this category, but its majority view holds that it would if the genetic modification caused plants to 'lose their independence'--for example by interfering with their capacity to reproduce. The statement has confused plant geneticists, who point out the contrast with traditional plant-hybridization technologies, for example in roses, which require male sterility, and the commercial development of seedless fruits...

The definition of what constitutes dignity in animals is currently being tested in a Zurich court. Primate-research projects at the ETH Zurich technology institute, which involve separating young marmosets from their mothers, have been put on hold while the court decides if they conflict with the animals' dignity. A ruling is expected this year. Whichever way it falls, the decision is likely to end up in the federal constitutional court.
In one sense, I think the Science Establishment asked for this. It has been a prime mover in seeking to stamp out human exceptionalism as the reigning ethic of society. Well, this is what happens when we lose our self concept as a species of unique importance. Once we are knocked off the pedestal, all fauna and flora get thrown into the mix of "creatures" entitled to "rights," even to the point that human beings are the world's villains in some eyes. We are, in effect, eating our own tails as we move from human rights, to animal rights, and now plant "dignity." This is beyond satirizing and, if we are not careful, can stop our own flourishing in its tracks.

Oh yes: This is the same country that has a constitutional right to assisted suicide for the mentally ill. Where is the "creature dignity" in that?

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UCLA Obtains Restraining Order to Protect Researchers

This shouldn't be necessary--and it isn't enough--but the Animal Liberation Front and others have been enjoined from coming within 50 feet or researchers' homes and from otherwise intimidating and harassing them. Of course, that will make no difference to the fanatics. From the story:"

Two of the groups (the Animal Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Brigade) are clandestine organizations that regularly break the law," Dr. Jerry Vlasak, a trauma surgeon and press officer for the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, told City News Service. "The Animal Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Brigade neither care nor know about the restraining order."
Vlasak is only half right: They do know but they do not care. Why? In my view ALF-type animal rights fanaticism is not about animals at all. That is merely a pretext. The actual agendas are naked nihilism, the urge to destroy and tear down, and negativism for the sheer thrill of it. When one's countenance is so darkened, the rule of law and common decency to one's fellow humans mean nothing.

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The Deprofessionalization of Medicine Continues

I submit, it is my hypothesis, that medicine is devolving from a profession with firm standards of excellence and ethics, into a technocracy--still possessing excellence--but with a very fluid concept of ethics. Case in point: A law that would require "good moral character" as a matter of licensing is being resisted in Massachusetts. From the story:

Of the proposed regulations, the Massachusetts Medical Society objects to an expansion of the listed grounds for disciplinary action, including a provision that defines "lack of good moral character" based on behavior within or outside of medical practice.

"Board disciplinary action should be based upon concerns relevant to the practice of medicine," said Auerbach.

Audesse said state law makes moral character a requirement for licensure.

"This is not a new requirement," she said. "The privilege of holding a medical license requires not only technical skills, but high levels of ethics and morals."

Of course, it would depend on how the term "good moral character" were applied. For example, if a doctor committed adultery, that should not be grounds for discipline. If he did it with a 16-year-old girl, which would not be a crime, it seems to me it should be. Similarly, if a doctor was convicted of shop lifting, it should be an issue of licensing just as it is for lawyers.

In any event, medicine is devolving from a learned profession into a learned technocracy (for wont of a better term) before our very eyes governed by the hallowed soundbite "choice." No wonder so few doctors take the Hippocratic Oath anymore, and the oaths they do take are such thin pabulum. This trend isn't good for doctors, patients, or society.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Lead Into Gold: Wilmut Says Human Cloning Research "Unnecessary"

Ian Wilmut was an enthusiastic human cloner, and indeed, had obtained a license from the never-say-no UK Embryo Authority to create cloned embryos from the DNA of motor neuron disease patients, known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease in the USA. Then Shinya Yamanaka invented Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells, and Wilmut called the cloning experiments off.

Now, Wilmut believes Yamanaka is due a Nobel Prize, wants to collaborate with him on iPSC research, and finds human cloning research to be unnecessary. From the story:

Wilmut praised Yamanaka's achievement, saying the finding was equivalent to the discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA. "I certainly think Yamanaka will have the Nobel Prize," he said. Wilmut said he had initially planned a study to produce embryonic stem (ES) cells from cloned embryos, which are produced by placing the nucleus of a human somatic cell into an ova.

In connection with his research on iPS cells, Wilmut said it will be unnecessary in years to come to conduct studies to develop ES cells from cloned human embryos. Nevertheless, Wilmut stressed the need to continue studies involving cloned animals in the future.
Wow. What a turnaround. It seems increasingly clear that the ethical conundrum regarding pluripotent stem cells is well on the way to being solved.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

The Blind Can See











As I keep saying, most biotechnology is not controversial. This is amazing: Scientists have restored site with a bionic eye. From the story:

Surgeons have carried out the first operations in Britain using a pioneering “bionic eye” that could in future help to restore blind people’s sight. Two successful operations to implant the device into the eyes of two blind patients have been conducted at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.

The device--the first of its kind--incorporates a video camera and transmitter mounted on a pair of glasses. This is linked to an artificial retina, which transmits moving images along the optic nerve to the brain and enables the patient to discriminate rudimentary images of motion, light and dark...

Linda Moorfoot is one of a few American patients to be fitted with the current version of the implant. She had been totally blind for more than a decade with the inherited condition retinitis pigmentosa. With the aid of the camera mounted on a pair of sunglasses, she can now see a rough image of the world made up of light and dark blocks. She told Sky News: “When I go to the grandkids’ hockey game or soccer game I can see which direction the game is moving in. I can shoot baskets with my grandson, and I can see my granddaughter dancing across the stage. It’s wonderful.”

By the way, this breakthrough would not have been possible had it not first been extensively tested in animals, almost surely in monkeys. In fact, the UCLA professor driven out of research by animal rights terrorists was conducting experiments with monkeys that involved similar technology. But it may not happen now because those thugs cared more about the monkeys than they do for people who have lost their eyesight.

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PETA Contest for "In Vitro" Meat

Oh brother: PETA claims to be about ending all human use of animals, but its first priority is grabbing attention. The newest gimmick is a contest that will award $1 million to the scientist who first develops in vitro meat that can be sold to the public in place of steak or bacon. From the story:

The organization said it will announce plans today for a $1 million prize to the "first person to come up with a method to produce commercially viable quantities of in vitro meat at competitive prices by 2012."

The idea of getting the next Chicken McNugget out of a test tube is not new. For several years, scientists have worked to develop technologies to grow tissue cultures that could be consumed like meat without the expense of land or feed and the disease potential of real meat. An international symposium on the topic was held this month in Norway.

The tissue, once grown, could be shaped and given texture with the kinds of additives and structural agents that are now used to give products such as soy burgers a more meaty quality.

The chances of this happening in 4 years are pretty low, and so there is little worry that PETA will have to pony up the mil. Moreover, the chance that most meat eaters will switch to test tube grown protein is also pretty low--as is the likelihood that in vitro meat will be significantly cheaper than animal flesh. Besides, those who adhere to the maxim, "If it has a face don't eat it," are unlikely to switch back to meat from vegetarianism.

Then, there is this: Developing in vitro meat requires using animals instrumentally, which I thought was a violation of the PETA creed. Moreover, it does nothing to wean us off of our "addiction" to meat.

Interestingly, I asked Gary Francione his view on this, and it is strikingly similar to mine. He told me:

The likelihood of having commercially viable quantities of in-vitro meat by 2012 is very low. So PETA is not really putting anything at risk but is getting publicity. And the primary goal of PETA is to promote PETA--animal rights is only an incidental part of the equation. Moreover, as far as I am aware, PETA has not placed any restriction on the prize that would prohibit the use of animal-based growth mediums or vivisection as part of the research into the development of in-vitro meat. If that is the case, then you have a purported animal rights organization promoting animal exploitation through offering the prize in addition to the problem of PETA encouraging this sort of thing at all. But as PETA has in the past given awards to slaughterhouse designers and to those who produce and sell "happy" meat and and animal products, this most recent gimmick is nothing out of the ordinary for the organization.
PETA says that the goal of all of this for fewer animals to suffer. But that is a pipe dream. The PETA in vitro meat contest is really just a gimmick to garner publicity--PETA's addictive substance of choice.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Gail Collins Howler: Facts Don't Matter: Narratives Do!

This is a perfect example of all that has gone wrong with our public discourse and what passes for important public policy. Facts simply no longer matter. What counts are narratives and motives.

Thus Gail Collins, writing about global warming in the NYT, states:

The Europeans have a perfect right to look down on the United States since they've set much more ambitious targets for reducing global warming. While they do not appear to be likely to meet any of them, it's the thought that counts.
!!!!! Global warming is beyond our jurisdiction here at SHS, but this is an absolute howler! Actually accomplishing isn't what matters. Effectiveness isn't what matters. It is the narrative that really counts: The Europeans want to cut back on greenhouse gasses! Whether they actually do is immaterial.

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Assisted Suicide Ideologues Pour in the $ for I 1000


Washington's Initiative 1000 to legalize assisted suicide is rolling in dough, thanks to Booth Gardner and the professional assisted suicide groups, who in turn, get much of their money from the likes of George Soros. Here is a breakdown of about $550,000 in campaign donations based on filed public records:

Compassion & Choices Action Network--$50,000

Compassion and Choices of Washington--$65,000

Death with Dignity National Center--$21,870

Euthanasia Research & Guidance Org--$3500

Booth Gardner--$200,000

Oregon Death with Dignity PAC- $200,000
That ain't hay. And Booth Gardner had the temerity to whine about campaign spending worries.

HT: Rita Marker

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Senior Citizens Happiest Americans

Studies about seniors being happy seem to have surprised a reporter. From the story:

Eye-opening new research finds the happiest Americans are the oldest, and older adults are more socially active than the stereotype of the lonely senior suggests. The two go hand in hand: Being social can help keep away the blues."The good news is that with age comes happiness," said study author Yang Yang, a University of Chicago sociologist. "Life gets better in one's perception as one ages."

A certain amount of distress in old age is inevitable, including aches and pains and the deaths of loved ones and friends. But older people generally have learned to be more content with what they have than younger adults, Yang said.

Perhaps it is because they are not so self centered. Today's elders are the Greatest Generation, who sacrificed so notably for things greater than themselves, and in doing so overcame the Depression, defeated fascism, set postwar Europe and Japan on a course to freedom and prosperity, and won the Cold War.

This comment from an "expert" made me laugh:
This is partly because older people have learned to lower their expectations and accept their achievements, said Duke University aging expert Linda George. An older person may realize, "It's fine that I was a schoolteacher and not a Nobel Prize winner."

Maybe I am being unfair, but can't you just hear the word "just" before the words "a schoolteacher?" Somehow we shifted during the Baby Boom Generation from seeing our purpose as being a productive and integral part of a whole--and this is certainly not an original observation--to making the point of life about my desires, my ambitions, my choices. As I reflect back, that is sure what was going on at the times I went wrong and became (and made others) unhappy--and I hope I learned my lesson!

Wisdom is to be found here if we only look:

A separate University of Chicago study found that about 75 percent of people ages 57 to 85 engage in one or more social activities at least every week. Those include socializing with neighbors, attending religious services, volunteering or going to group meetings. Those in their 80s were twice as likely as those in their 50s to do at least one of these activities.

In other words, many seniors' focus is directed outward, to faith, family, and community. Perhaps that is the key to the secret of life.

One last point: With so much talk of "bitterness" in the ether these days, let us ask: Who really are the bitter ones? It isn't the folk--be they young or old--who "cling" to more traditional concepts of community and service, even in the bad times. (For example, I can't tell you how many happy soldiers I have met in airports who beamed when I thanked them for their service and told me it is an honor and a joy.) Rather, the self-annointed intellectual and cultural elites are the ones who seem to be constantly wearing a frown.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Thin Skinned Richard Dawkins Can't Take a Joke

Ha! I had some fun at the expense of Dr. Richard "a free thinking oasis" Dawkins the other day, accusing him here at SHS of being a Raelian because he states in Expelled that it is an "intriguing possibility" that life here was seeded by space aliens.

Well, today Dawkins had a tantrum in the LA Times about some of the flack he has been receiving--and get the last paragraph:

Everybody understood that this was an argument against group selection. Nobody twisted it to trumpet to the world, "See? Maynard Smith believes in Group Selection after all, and he thinks it happens in Haystacks, ho ho ho!" Creationists, by contrast, never miss a trick. When I have raised the science-fiction olive branch to try to argue against them, they have twisted it--most recently in a movie scheduled to open this week--in order to proclaim loudly, "Dawkins believes in intelligent design after all." Or "Dawkins believes in little green men in flying saucers." Or "Dawkins is a Raelian." It's called "lying for Jesus," and they are completely shameless.
Touchy, touchy. Poor baby can't take a little ribbing. I guess that happens when you think your gray matter is superior to everybody else's. Or to put it another way, Dawkins can dish it out in spades, but he sure can't take it. Ho ho.

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Adult Stem Cells Treating Wounded Soldiers

Showing how far adult stem cells have come in a very short time, our wounded soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan are being treated with their own stem cells to help treat wounds involving bones. From the story:

With the dexterity of a carpenter, the finesse of a master chef and the tools of a painter, Dr. Thomas Einhorn uses stem cells to do something on the cutting edge of science: grow brand new bone. Today, orthopaedic stem cell surgery earned significant backing from the federal government, which announced plans to dedicate $85 million for the creation of the Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM) to fund this procedure for veterans injured in Iraq and Afghanistan...

Einhorn, the chairman of orthopaedic surgery at the Boston University School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center, used stem cells to try to repair a patient's hip, after seven conventional surgeries had failed. It was the first time he had attempted this specific surgery, which to the untrained eye looks a little like spray painting.


Einhorn extracts stem cells from the patient's bone marrow, drawn from the pelvis. Some is used for what Einhorn calls "grout. By mixing the bone marrow cells with protein, it gives me a kind of a grouting material that I can use to fill in the gaps," he said. Dr. George Muschler, who pioneered the surgery at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, which is a grant recipient, said, "I think [the procedure] has applications to some challenges that might have previously cost patients their leg, because we didn't have a way to heal their bone."
Illustrating how the hype overcame reality, the story's author felt the need to say that the stem cells did not come from embryos. But as readers of SHS know, no human applications have yet come from human ES cells.

It will not take much time for this procedure to become available in the civilian sector. The good news just keeps coming.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Flora Rights!

You all knew it was just a matter of time, didn't you? Yes, some ethicists have said that it is morally wrong to decapitate flowers and appear to have opined there is something of a right to life for plants. From the story:

PLANTS deserve respect, a group of Swiss experts says, arguing that killing them arbitrarily is morally wrong-- except when it comes to saving humans or maybe picking petals off a daisy. In a report on "the dignity of the creature in the plant world", the federal Ethics Committee on non-human Gene Technology condemned the decapitation of flowers without reason, among other sins.

Still, commission member Bernard Baertsche suggested the body weighed such cruel acts on a case by case basis, noting "the simple pleasure of picking the petals off a daisy might suffice as a reason".
Similarly "all action that involves plants in the aim to conserve the human species is morally justified,'' the commission, tasked to offer an ethical take on all areas of biotechnology and genetic engineering, said in its report. Nor did the commission object to genetic engineering, since this did not threaten plants' "autonomy--that is their capacity to reproduce or their capacity of adaptation".

And only a minority of the group's members objected to patenting plants, with the majority ruling the action did not infringe on "their moral value".

There must be more to this than the story depicts. But really, plant "autonomy?"

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There CIRM Goes Again Hyping Away

What a disaster the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine has been. Management incompetence, fat executive raises in spite of the incompetence, conflict of interest charges sparking an official investigation, the list goes on and on. And now, it appears the CIRM tried to take credit that it did not deserve for funding research that made it to human trials. From the story:

California's stem cell agency overstated and hyped the importance of its funding in enabling clinical trials for a drug to treat a severe blood disorder, Consumer Watchdog said today, seriously undercutting the agency's credibility and alienating those who support publicly funded stem cell research. Last week the California Institute For Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) issued a news release titled "First Clinical Trial Begins for a Therapy Enabled By CIRM Funding." The announcement even drew a comment from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who issued a release saying CIRM funding led to the discovery. He added, "I am proud of our state's commitment to stem cell research, which delivers the best promise in finding treatments for deadly and debilitating diseases."...

The initial CIRM news release about the clinical trial said that Jamieson was funded by a stem cell SEED grant that was approved in February 2007. That grant was given to fund the derivation of cancer-causing stem cells from human embryonic stem cells. The research that led to the clinical trial did not involve human embryonic stem cells at all.

Moreover, according to the official notice of grant award, the time period for the CIRM funded grant of $613,305 was from Aug. 1, 2007- July 31, 2009. The university officially signed off on the grant on Aug. 31, 2007. The paper outlining the research findings was submitted to "Cancer Cell" on Sept. 19, 2007.
So the CIRM grant was issued less than one month before the paper was submitted, it didn't involve the same area of research as the subject of the grant, and yet CIRM tried to take credit anyway.

Is anyone surprised? No. Will someone--anyone--pull the plug on this profligate travesty? Alas, no.

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Abortion as "Art"--a Hoax

Update: I am not surprised that the story turned out not to be true. From the story:

The story about Aliza Shvarts' project, published Thursday in the Yale Daily News, swept across blogs and media outlets-- including the Drudge Report, Fox News and The Washington Post--before Yale issued a statement saying it investigated and found it all to be a hoax that was Shvarts' idea of elaborate "performance art."

"The entire project is an art piece, a creative fiction designed to draw attention to the ambiguity surrounding form and function of a woman's body," said Yale spokeswoman Helaine Klasky.

I don't think the art worked as drawing attention "to the ambiguity surrounding the function of a woman's body," whatever that means. But it did work as depicting vividly how far we have slipped as a society that such a travesty would be believable. Indeed, like all good hoaxes, it had at least one foot firmly in reality.

Thus, even though the facts of this particular matter are false, I think my reaction remains apt. Thus, I will leave the original entry as I wrote it, which is set forth below.

--------
Please let this be a hoax: According to the Yale newspaper, an "artist" named Aliza Shvarts repeatedly made herself pregnant through artificial insemination and then took abortion drugs and recorded herself expelling the embryo. From the story:
Beginning next Tuesday, Shvarts will be displaying her senior art project, a documentation of a nine-month process during which she artificially inseminated herself "as often as possible" while periodically taking abortifacient drugs to induce miscarriages. Her exhibition will feature video recordings of these forced miscarriages as well as preserved collections of the blood from the process.

The goal in creating the art exhibition, Shvarts said, was to spark conversation and debate on the relationship between art and the human body. But her project has already provoked more than just debate, inciting, for instance, outcry at a forum for fellow senior art majors held last week. And when told about Shvarts' project, students on both ends of the abortion debate have expressed shock--saying the project does everything from violate moral code to trivialize abortion.

But Shvarts insists her concept was not designed for "shock value.""I hope it inspires some sort of discourse," Shvarts said. "Sure, some people will be upset with the message and will not agree with it, but it's not the intention of the piece to scandalize anyone."

I don't know whether to read too much into this story or too little. The arteest clearly has no concept of the importance of human life or the reproductive function--and the men who donated sperm so she could impregnate herself and abort are no better than Shvarts. But let's face it: there have always been morally stunted individuals and always will be.

On the other hand, the right to abortion was supposed to be about protecting women's autonomy rights when she found herself with an unwanted pregnancy. But if this is a true story, the woman in question intentionally impregnated herself so she could abort--repeatedly.

How could we go from there to here? In our dedication to terminal nonjudmentalism, we have refused to hold crucial ethical lines, most particularly the most important one of all; that being human in and of itself is a matter of great moral importance. Tens of millions of abortions have helped lead to this mindset, I fear, although I believe the eugenics movement--whose influence we have never fully escaped--is the root cause.

Making matters worse, the stain of human unexceptionalism is spreading. As I wrote in Consumer's Guide to a Brave New World, the right to an abortion has been used in bioethics literature as an intellectual springboard for the right to genetically engineer progeny in order not just to have a baby but the kind of baby the parents' want by any means they desire--leading to sex selection, eugenic terminations, infanticide, and the transhumanist post human species agenda. So intrinsic value takes it in the neck both coming and going.

Whatever the cause: Too many people these days in too many venues sniff at the intrinsic value of human life, to the point that deep ecologists yearn for a worldwide pandemic to wipe out the vermin species afflicting the living planet Gaia. This "art project" is just a symptom of that moral decay.

The woman should be shunned if she really did this. But she won't be. She will probably land on Larry King.

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Biotech Advance Could Protect Patients in Drug Trials

I probably don't say this often enough, but most biotechnological research is entirely ethical and exciting. Case in point: The FDA is poised to approve a test that picks up "biomarkers" that could tell researchers whether a drug is harming a patient's kidneys during human trials and, I suppose, afterwards. From the story:

Currently, experimental drugs are tested in animals before being taken to human clinical trails. But animals' reactions aren't always the best predictor of whether substances will be safe for humans. Drugs harmless to animals can hurt humans, and vice versa. If a drug toxic to the kidneys passes animal tests today, the damage might not show up until it is too late.

"Using current tests, you have lost about 70 percent of the kidney function before you pick it up," says William Mattes, director of toxicology at the Critical Path Institute in Tucson.

The new biomarker process has the potential to save a patient's kidneys.

The ultimate goal of the pharmaceutical industry is to have a range of such marker tests that would signal dangerous side effects like heart failure, liver damage or cancer. Samples of blood, urine or saliva, for example, would be taken from participants in a clinical trial. If certain biomarkers indicated the patient was at risk, the trial could be stopped before any major damage occurs.

According to the story, drugs will continue to be tested in animals first. In other words, the biomarkers would be an added protection, not a substitute for other steps in the drug approval process.

It would be nice if the biomarkers could make animal testing superfluous, but that doesn't seem to be in the cards. After all, the biomarkers will detect damage being caused after the drug is consumed. That means it remains important to attempt to filter out drugs that could be dangerous before being allowed for human use.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Shrimp Running On A Treadmill

PETA won't like it, but this underwater treadmill run was actually a scientific study testing the fitness of shrimp. The good news is that it wasn't on the U.S. taxpayer's dime.

The Wisdom of David Martosko

David Martosko is with the food industry-financed Center for Consumer Freedom, aka PETA's Worst Nightmare. David's genius is that he is as edgy and committed to fighting animal rights as PETA is in advocating the ideology. (The Center created the "PETA Kills Animals" campaign, for example). In any event, he has a letter in today's Christian Science Monitor responding to an article I didn't read. But his points are cogent and make points with which I completely agree:

In response to Barbara Cook Spencer's recent Opinion piece on animal cruelty: The author exposes an interesting conundrum in her exploration of how modern society treats animals. While gratuitous cruelty toward animals clearly lowers humanity's value, the same can be said of the gratuitous elevation of animals' worth.

The same animal advocates who rush to judgment about the reckless behavior of a few slaughterhouse employees apparently see nothing wrong with extending legal "rights" to lab rats--regardless of the cost to cancer and AIDS patients.

Doesn't the establishment of legal rights for these animals also debase humanity? At the end of the day, it is probably impossible to guarantee both "rights" for animals and disease cures for humans.

I see siding with my own species as the only compassionate option.

David Martosko Washington

The animal rights movement has the capacity to cause great human harm. Moreover, many advocates are anti human--as evidenced by some of the comments we get from movement members here. David is right: We can and should treat humans humanely as a unique duty of our species, but we also have duties to ourselves--including the curing of diseases which requires animal research.

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The Egg Industry Responds to HSUS Sponsored California "Prevention of Farm Cruelty Act"


I wrote about the pending voter initative in California (Prevention of Farm Cruelty Act) that would, among other matters, outlaw "battery cages" for the housing of hens. I posted the HSUS argument in favor of the initiative here. Now, an egg industry representative has sent along arguments on the other side:

Wes:
You had an excellent posting on your blog recently about HSUS' ballot initiative aimed at driving the egg industry out of California. You asked some specific questions, which deserve answers. Let me provide them to you.

1. Are modern hen houses and cages humane and ethical? YES. An independent group of the nation's top animal science experts (Michigan State University, Perdue, University of California, American Veterinary Medical Association, etc.) say that modern hen houses and cage systems are humane and ethical so long as they follow the UEP Certified standards--which 90 % of US egg farmers follow. (Y
ou can find the seal on many egg cartons). These standards ensure that hens have adequate space, nutritious and proper food, clean continuous water, air, etc. Validation is done by independent inspectors.
2. Why did egg farmers put their hens in modern hen houses 50 years ago, rather than leaving them roaming the fields? Because it improved food safety, helped ensure the proper diet for all hens, helped reduce the amount of diseases that hens were afflicted with and thus reduced or eliminated the need for antibiotics, helped protect the hens from predators and the weather, and now helps to protect the spread of Avian Influenza ( which is spread by birds and hens housed outdoors).
3. Yes, modern hen houses also are more efficient, which means eggs can be produced for consumers at $1 dozen rather than $3 or more per dozen for cage free or free range.
4. The way this issue is written on the ballot, it will ban not only the most modern hen houses in California...it also inadvertently will ban all cage free egg production as well (which are kept inside barns, hence would still be in violation of the statute).
5. It may encourage more "free range" egg farms to be developed, which environmentally will put much more pressure on air and water resources.

So, if California voters pass this ballot issue in November, this will drive almost all egg farmers out of California. California consumers will then have to pay more to buy those very same eggs (from modern hen houses and cages) from farmers in adjoining states or Mexico (the law doesn’t ban the sale of those eggs in California, just the production of them); California consumers will have some of their food choices in the grocery store taken away from them and dictated by animal rights activists (who, by the way, are vegans and don’t eat eggs at all … any kind of eggs. They want people to stop eating eggs altogether, and forcing the price up is just one way of doing that); poor people will have a nutritious, inexpensive source of protein taken away from them.

You can find out more information about egg production by visiting http://www.uepcertified.com/

On behalf of America's egg farmers and the United Egg Producers (the industry trade association)

Mitch Head

Interesting. HSUS describes the initiative as merely requiring that hens have enough space to turn around and spread their wings. The industry's "modern cages" would seem to do that, but the HSUS representative admitted that the practical effect would be to ban all cages. So, there is a point of agreement there. But HSUS says the change would only raise the price of eggs a cent, while the industry believes it will raise the cost of eggs so high it will drive the industry out of the state.

My sense is that the animal rights movement would be very pleased to drive the egg business out of California. But the time has clearly come to check out the initiative's language. Stay tuned. My business and personal schedule is frantic, but I will get to that task soon.

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SHS Funnies

Panel one: The front page of the PETA Chronicle:

(Bad Reporter is a consistently funny political strip that runs three times a week in the SF Chronicle. Asmussen's great riffs on current events takes on all sides and are consistently funny. Check it out here.)

The Crocs continue to ignore the right to life of prey animals:


Why activists formed "Stop Dusty Animal Cruelty:"

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Anything Goes Scientists to Society: Shut Up and Give Us a Blank Check

Scientists are telling us to mind our own business about issues such as embryonic stem cell research and human cloning. Apparently, in their hubris and arrogance, they believe that only their ideas about ethics matter. From the story:

Politicians have been warned not to block scientific inquiry into subjects such as stem cells and embryo research just because there is a difference of opinion on the ethics or morality of the work. An international group of scientists investigating the possible production of artificial sperm and eggs to treat infertile couples said that moral disagreements in society should never be used on their own to stop scientific investigation...

The Hinxton consortium, which was formed in 2006 to investigate the ethics and legality of stem cells, yesterday issued its recommendations for how research aimed at creating artificial gametes--sperm and eggs--should proceed. "Societies have the authority to regulate science, and scientists have a responsibility to obey the law. However, policy-makers should refrain from interfering with scientific inquiry unless there is a substantial justification for doing so that reaches beyond disagreements based solely on divergent moral convictions," the consortium said.
I see. Well, we'll all just shut up, mind our own businesses, and give our betters in the science community--all bow--a blank check both financially and ethically.

Or, better yet, why not tell them to stick it where the sun don't shine. They don't get to decide, we all do. The opinions of scientists on these matters are important. But they are not determinative.

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PETA Workers Littering Conviction Overturned

I am sure PETA will claim this is a vindication, but instead the entire saga demonstrates that even the animal rights activists don't really think that animals are the same as people. Readers of SHS will recall that two PETA workers picked up cats and dogs--some that were adoptable--euthanized them and stuffed them into roadside garbage bins. They were eventually convicted of littering, but the defense stated--properly I think--that it is hardly littering to throw "trash" into a garbage bin. From the story:

Essentially, the littering charges against Adria Hinkle and Andrew Cook were overturned because the prosecution failed to prove that a Dumpster is not the proper place for trash.

Hinkle and Cook were employed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals when they were caught June 15, 2005, dumping euthanized animals into a trash bin at a shopping center in Ahoskie, N.C. They had faced 21 charges of felony animal cruelty, seven counts of littering and three counts of obtaining property by false pretenses. But on Feb. 1, 2007, Superior Court Judge Cy Grant reduced the charges to eight misdemeanor charges before the jury began to deliberate. He said the state failed to prove malice and any specific motive, necessary elements for the felony charges. He also dropped the three charges of obtaining property by false pretenses against Cook.

The judge then further reduced the charges to eight counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty and one count of littering to make jury deliberations more manageable.

If this were done to human beings, these activists would never have gotten off Scott-free--demonstrating the intellectual fallacy that lies at the heart of the entire animal rights movement.

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Joan Collins is Right

I have long worried about our celebrity-crazed culture and how it celebrates dysfunction and brings ruin to hyper-celebrities and average people alike. Rather than challenging us to greater levels of virtue, service and achievement--that is, to the greater exercise of human exceptionalism--the popular culture celebrates licentiousness, lack of principles, selfishness, and a me-me/I-I lifestyle.

And now the actress Joan Collins has made the same point as reported in today's New York Post. From the story:

Joan Collins says we're turning into a world of idiots--and she thinks the celebrity magazines are partly to blame. "Our civilization has become extremely dumbed down, with shorter attention spans. All they want are sound bites," the 75-year-old diva, who famously played super-bitchy Alexis Carrington on "Dynasty," tells BlackBook's Steve Garbarino. "The tabloid magazines are the same every week. People has the same cover as InTouch as OK! as Us Weekly as Star magazine. They're exactly the same! It must be 100 to 120 people you read about all the time." But why? "They are appealing to a young audience, or a rather dumb audience," Collins theorizes. She adds that the magazines "go after those girls who exhibit more outrageous behavior. And, believe me, those girls love it. They call in items themselves--that they were at Nobu, some nightclub in SoHo. I can't think of anything more horrible than that. Publicity can be a drug.
Add in Cosmopolitan, MTV, Madonna, and hip-hop, among many others, which and who push behaviors that literally destroy lives.

Of course, Collins benefited from that very paradigm during her career, but let us be charitable and acknowledge that age brings wisdom. And I know that I sound like an old man grousing about "in my day." But when I look at the biggest mistakes I have made in my life and the pain I have caused others to my great regret, I can now see that most of my bad behavior resulted from my sometimes enthusiastic pursuit of the lifestyle promoted by the celebrity and popular cultures.

Collins is right. All of this garbage is hurting individuals and our society. Badly.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Is Richard Dawkins a Raelian?


This is rich: Richard Dawkins--whose official website claims modestly to be "a clear thinking oasis"--made an incredible statement in the new movie Expelled, asserting that it is "an intriguing possibility" that space aliens "seeded" life here on Planet Earth. (I haven't seen the movie, but did obtain this partial transcript. The emphasis is mine.) Moderator Ben Stein asks Dawkins how life began:
DAWKINS:Nobody knows how it got started. We know the kind of event that it must have been. We know the sort of event that must have happened for the origin of life.
BEN STEIN:And what was that?
DAWKINS:It was the origin of the first self-replicating molecule.
BEN STEIN:Right, and how did that happen?
DAWKINS:I told you, we don't know
...
BEN STEIN:What do you think is the possibility that Intelligent Design might turn out to be the answer to some issues in genetics or in evolution.
DAWKINS:Well, it could come about in the following way. It could be that at some earlier time, somewhere in the universe, a civilization evolved, probably by some kind of Darwinian means, probably to a very high level of technology, and designed a form of life that they seeded onto perhaps this planet. Now, um, now that is a possibility, and an intriguing possibility. And I suppose it's possible that you might find evidence for that if you look at the details of biochemistry, molecular biology, you might find a signature of some sort of designer
Ho, ho! That is precisely what the Raelians say:

Years ago, everybody knew that the earth was flat. Everybody knew that the sun revolved around the earth. Today, everybody knows that life on earth is either the result of random evolution or the work of a supernatural God. Or is it? In "Message from the Designers", Rael presents us with a third option: that all life on earth was created by advanced scientists from another world
Richard Dawkins and Rael; "clear thinking" kindred spirits!

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New Reproductive Cloning Technology? Or More Robert Lanza PR Hype?

The Drudge Report has become America's Front Page, to the point that even the New York Times and other newspapers try to get publicity for their stories by leaking them ahead of time to Drudge, a man the MSM once despised. Thus, when Drudge thinks a story is important, it comes to the attention of tens of millions of people .

But Drudge has a tendency to, shall we say, sensationalize. That's why when he claimed in red font that a new cloning technology has been developed that could lead to the birth of born cloned human babies, I felt the need to check it out. After reading the story, my impression is, in a phrase, "not so fast."

The story is about a new form of mouse cloning that is supposedly more efficient and productive than SCNT for reproductive purposes. From the story:

A new form of cloning has been developed that is easier to carry out than the technique used to create Dolly the sheep, raising fears that it may one day be used on human embryos to produce "designer" babies.

Scientists who used the procedure to create baby mice from the skin cells of adult animals have found it to be far more efficient than the Dolly technique, with fewer side effects, which makes it more acceptable for human use.

The mice were made by inserting skin cells of an adult animal into early embryos produced by in-vitro fertilisation (IVF). Some of the resulting offspring were partial clones but some were full clones--just like Dolly. Unlike the Dolly technique, however, the procedure is so simple and efficient that it has raised fears that it will be seized on by IVF doctors to help infertile couples who are eager to have their own biological children

Sounds alarming. But then we read further and it turns out the story is being driven by our old pal Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology--which means there is a political or fund raising purpose here. And indeed: Lanza claims that IPSCs were used in this technique (of course, with Lanza, we can never be sure of his veracity). And it turns out this is an attempt to undermine support for IPSCs--perhaps because ACT has a big stake in cloning and ESCR--by planting seeds of fear that they will lead to easier reproductive cloning than SCNT. Lanza shows his hand when he tells the Independent:"
At this point there are no laws or regulations for this kind of thing and the bizarre thing is that the Catholic Church and other traditional stem-cell opponents think this technology is great when in reality it could in the end become one of their biggest nightmares," he said. "It is quite possible that the real legacy of this whole new programming technology is that it will be introducing the era of designer babies. "So for instance if we had a few skin cells from Albert Einstein, or anyone else in the world, you could have a child that is say 10 per cent or 70 per cent Albert Einstein by just injecting a few of their cells into an embryo," he said.
I have heard of this theoretical possibility before. But remember: What can be done in a mouse may be far more difficult to do in a human--as we have seen with SCNT. Moreover, there is a legislative cure, but Lanza would oppose it. Outlaw all human SCNT. Or, outlaw implanting any embryo into a womb or its functional equivalent unless created via fertilization.

So, let's not fall for his scheme. IPSC research needs to proceed with our full support. This story is merely yet another example of the press letting Lanza and ACT promote their own PR agendas for their own purposes--which in this case appear to be to undermine support for IPSC research among the anti-cloning and anti-ESCR communities.

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This Can't Be Right: US Leads in Stem Cell Research

After all the howling and moaning, after all of the demagoguery against President Bush's ESC funding, after being warned darkly that the day of US dominance in science was over, it turns out that we lead the pack, after all. From an editorial in the Financial Times

As the FDA hearings demonstrate, the US has moved ahead of the rest of the world in stem cell research, as it has in almost every area of bioscience that really matters. The furore over President George W. Bush's ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research gave some people a false impression that the US risked losing its lead in the field to Europe or Asia. While the ban has indeed caused delay and inconvenience to American stem cell scientists, the overall strength of biomedical research in the country, harnessed to the availability of private and state funds, has kept the US at the front of the field.

The FT yearns for ESC cures. But it omits the cogent truth that Bush's funding policies also successfully induced scientists to find ethical means of obtaining pluripotent stem cells--resulting in IPSCs and research into other promising avenues.

I still believe that most treatments--as I have said before, I think generally "cure" is too strong a word--will come from adult stem cells and other areas of regenerative medicine. But be that as it may, it is now abundantly clear that all of the holding of their breath until they turned blue from "the scientists," political operatives, and biased media obsessed with the Bush policy, was just a tantrum thrown by people used to always getting their own way.

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SHS Funnies

When Al Gore enters the regirement home.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Philip Nitschke Strikes it Rich to Promote the Culture of Death


What greater proof that euthanasia and assisted suicide are an elite agenda than the millions that have been poured into the coffers of advocates by the likes of the George Soros and the Tides Foundations to groups such as Compassion and Choices (formerly the Hemlock Society). Initiative 1000 in Washington State already has hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds from large donations from assisted suicide PACs--and that is before the Grand-Canyon deep pockets of former Governor Booth Gardner are slapped on the table to buy his proposed law legalizing assisted suicide in Washington State.

But this is beyond the pale: Australian "Dr. Death" Phillip Nitschke has called for a suicide pill to be made available to troubled teens, he has concocted a "peaceful pill" for people to kill themselves with, and was involved in the assisted suicide death of Nancy Crick, who he claimed was terminally ill from cancer, but was no such thing--a lie he later admitted cheerfully having told--and more recently was involved in the suicide of a depressed woman who was not physically ill. And what is his reward? He is left $5 million to promote euthanasia from a former official. From the story:
Leading euthanasia advocate Philip Nitschke says a $ 5 million bequest from former Brisbane lord mayor Clem Jones to promote the legalisation of euthanasia will give the issue greater legitimacy in Australia. Dr Nitschke, director of Exit International, said the donation was "by far the biggest" to the cause in Australia of which he had heard. "We are heartened by the donation," Dr Nitschke said. "Not only the large amount of money, but because it was (given) by someone who commanded a great deal of respect...it will give this issue a degree of legitimacy."
The reason, apparently, was a difficult death of his wife:
"I saw Sylvia suffer the most dreadful agony from disease and illness that destroyed her physically and mentally and caused her to suffer, day after day, not only the pain but also the indignity of being something that could not truly be described as a human being," the will said.

"I do not, of course, criticise the splendid endeavours that the medical fraternity make to preserve the quality of human life, but when that quality falls to a level where life is one of pain and suffering--or when one's mind can no longer function--those self-same medical practitioners should have the right and the responsibility of releasing persons from that torture, misery and indignity."
We have all seen beloved family members suffer. My uncle died of Alzheimer's and it was very difficult for all of us who loved him dearly. But euthanasia is not the answer, it is not the solution, it is not the overcoming of disease and disability. Rather, it is total surrender to them, it is the abandonment of the most vulnerable among us to killing over caring, it is to claim that some human beings have lives not worth living or protecting. And believe me, I have known ill and disabled people who are receiving that very message from society loud and clear.

A lot of people fit into the categories the late Mayor would consign to a killable caste. And his apparent indifference to the utter subversive philosophy of Nitschke and the man's disgraceful past conduct is shameful. If his $5 million obtains what Nitschke has repeatedly and explicitly advocated--death on demand--we will have lost the right to call ourselves a moral society.

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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Deaf Designer Babies: Brave New Britain Gets Newer and Braver

The UK claims to regulate things such as embryo selection and the creation of designer babies. Only they don't. Oh, the Embryo Authority might huff and tut-tut against some form of eugenic manipulation, but then they always give in. And now it appears that deaf couples will be able to manufacture intentionally created deaf embryos--because the parents would prefer their children be unable to hear. From the story:

Deaf campaigners claim that, although the vast majority of deaf parents would want a child who had normal hearing, some might prefer to create a child who was also deaf and so better able to fit in with their family. They argue that the proposed legislation is discriminatory because it gives parents the right to create "designer babies" free from inherited genetic conditions while banning disabled couples from deliberately creating a baby who shares their disability. Doctors, however, strongly oppose any plans to allow the creation of deaf babies.

The issue first came under the spotlight six years ago in America, when it emerged that a deaf couple had sought out a sperm donor with a family history of deafness. After the anger caused by that case, officials singled out deafness as being a condition that would be covered by the Bill. Ministers, however, were shocked by the strength of opposition from members of the deaf community. Campaigners now believe the removal of the reference to deafness signals a softening of the Government's position.

They now hope that MPs will be able to amend the Bill when it is debated so that the clause banning the creation of disabled children will be dropped entirely. This, they say, would grant deaf parents equal rights with hearing parents.

Whether created to have certain "healthy" attributes or to be disabled, children are being reduced to the status of consumer products. Now, our children exist to fulfill our desires instead of us helping them find and fulfill theirs.

Mark my words: This obsession with hyper control will eventually blow up in our faces. We don't have the wisdom to decide who should be born and who tossed into the medical waste container. More than that, we shouldn't have the moral right. But not to worry, the new deaf child and her parents will undoubtedly soon be invited on to the destructive Oprah so we can all feel good as our anything goes culture spins out of control.

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Internet Pushes Suicide











A new study of the Internet has revealed that a suicidal person has a greater chance of finding suicide promotion/facilitation information than prevention on-line. From the story:

Researchers from the Universities of Bristol, Oxford, and Manchester replicated a typical Internet search by someone looking for information on suicide. They plugged 12 different search terms related to suicide into each of the four most popular search engines: Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask. They then analyzed the top ten sites from each search.

Overall, the searches uncovered 240 unique sites about suicide, just under half of which provided information about how to commit suicide. Nearly one-fifth of the hits as well as the top three most frequently occurring sites were for pages that promoted suicide. Only 13% of the sites were dedicated to suicide prevention and support, and only 12% actively discouraged suicide. Most of the sites--even some of those dedicated to suicide prevention--provided information on methods of suicide.

Today's research highlights how easy it is to obtain information on how to commit suicide on the Internet and how a surfer is more likely to come across sites that encourage suicide than those that offer support and help.
And they wonder why it's called the Culture of Death...

HT: Alex Schadenberg

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Former Hague Prosecutor Accuses Ethnic Albanians of Selling Serb Prisoners' Organs

If this is true, why wasn't it prosecuted? The former war crimes prosecutor at the Hague--who I believe botched the prosecution of Slobodan Milosevic--is accusing ethnic Albanians of a Nazi-level crime against humanity; the killing of prisoners in order to sell their organs. From the story:

According to the sources, senior figures in the Kosovo Liberation Army were aware of the scheme, in which hundreds of young Serbs were allegedly taken by truck from Kosovo to northern Albania where their organs were removed. Miss Del Ponte provides grim details of the alleged organ harvesting, and of how some prisoners were sewn up after having kidneys removed.

"The victims, deprived of a kidney, were then locked up again, inside the barracks, until the moment they were killed for other vital organs. In this way, the other prisoners were aware of the fate that awaited them, and according to the source, pleaded, terrified, to be killed immediately," Miss Del Ponte writes.
She had better not be just whistling Dixie because this is an explosive charge. If true, no effort should be spared in bringing the harvesters to justice.

But I don't see much of an effort in this regard, do you? Why, when she was prosecutor, did we not hear about this? And why, when the matter was more fresh, were efforts not undertaken to get to the bottom of the purported crime? Families of the potential victims are thinking the same thought:

In Belgrade, the Serbian capital, an association of families of Serbs still listed as missing since the Kosovo war, said it would sue Miss Del Ponte, alleging that she had failed to act over the alleged organ-farming scandal. Serbia's war crimes office announced it had opened its own investigation.
I am not saying this did or did not happen. It is impossible to know from where I sit. But if it did, and this prosecutor virtually did nothing while she had the power to start an official inquiry--only bringing it out in a book--then I am saying that if it did happen and she did nothing, that too is a moral travesty.

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HSUS: "Effect" of California Cage Initiative WOULD End Chicken Cages

I have already heard from the Humane Society of the United States concerning my earlier postings (here and here) about the coming initiative in CA to ban what are called battery cages. (Boy, HSUS is quick and doesn't miss a bet!) The representative, Paul Shapiro, senior director of the HSUS Factory Farm Initiative, was very courteous and professional, telling me the initiative is very "modest." My thought was if it is so modest, why so much effort and investment of resources?

Be that as it may, I asked whether it would ban all chicken cages, and here is Mr. Shapiro's response, published here with his kind permission:

The California initiative is very modest, but unfortunately the confinement typical on today's veal, egg, and breeding pork facilities has become so extreme that just giving these animals sufficient space to engage in basic movement is a very meaningful improvement. In other words, this initiative will significantly improve the welfare of millions of animals in California. To put it in perspective, each egg-laying hen confined in a battery cage has less space on which to live than a letter-sized sheet of paper for more than a year before she's slaughtered. It's hard to imagine a worse fate. You can read about the science demonstrating that this extreme confinement is detrimental to the animals' welfare at http://www.humanecalifornia.org/science/index.php . Also, you can see photos of this confinement at http://www.humanecalifornia.org/gallery/index.php

This initiative doesn't explicitly prohibit cages, but it's likely that would be the effect, since the primary reason cages are used to confine laying hens is because it's cheap to do so. When producers have to give their animals more space, cages become less economically attractive, leading producers to switch to cage-free production systems which allow the animals to engage in more of their basic behaviors. But again, all this initiative asks is that the animals be able to stand up, lie down, turn around, and extend their limbs.

Florida was important because it set a precedent that confining breeding pigs in crates barely larger than their bodies for months on end is so cruel and inhumane that it simply ought to be banned. That said, even if we agree to disagree about Florida, I hope we can agree on California!
Cage free chickens would seem to increase the price of eggs quite a bit. And the cages mentioned in the egg industry press release, discussed here at SHS, would seem to fill be permitted under the initiative. If so, the economic impact would be less. But I am open to and need more information. As I learn more, I will post it here.

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Do Caged Chickens Live Longer and Healthier Lives?

In response to yesterday's post about the California initiative that will would outlaw certain cages for egg-laying hens, an intrepid reader sent me a PR release from United Egg Producers that is no longer linkable. I quote it here in full:

Animal rights activists have long alleged that hens in modern cages live a horribly stressed life, but new research appears to debunk those claims. Researchers have discovered that free range hens experience just as much or more stress than hens raised in modern, conventional cages.

A recent study conducted by Dr. Jeff Downing at University of Sydney measured corticosterone, a hormone produced in response to stress or fear, in eggs from free range and modern caged hens. The study showed that the levels of the hormone were similar in both types of eggs.

Free range hens deal with pressures that hens in modern cages do not, researchers explained. For instance, hens in modern cages are protected from outside predators, while free range hens are not. "They are constantly in fear of attack by predators," said Downing. "A shadow (a bird flying overhead) comes over and they are completely startled."

Hens in modern cages also are protected from many of the manure-borne diseases and parasites that affect free range hens. And hens in modern cages are protected from extreme weather which adds stress to free range hens which are not protected. Modern cages also help prevent infection and spread of the avian influenza virus which can affect wild birds and outdoor flocks of hens. Free range eggs can cost up to three times as much as conventional eggs.

"This study confirms what America's egg farmers already knew," said Gene Gregory, president of the United Egg Producers, the nation's leading trade association for U.S. family egg farmers. "That well-run, clean modern cage housing systems have many benefits for hens as well as consumers." Separate research studies also show that hens raised in conventional cages tend to have fewer diseases and live longer, Gregory added.

Modern egg production under the UEP Certified animal welfare program provides hens with nutritious food, clean water, fresh air and sufficient space to allow hens to stand, turn around, lie down, stretch and preen. Farms are inspected annually to ensure compliance. Consumers should look for the UEP Certified logo on cartons from participating farmers. For more information visit, http://www.uepcertified.com/.

UEP developed the UEP Certified program for modern egg production from scientific guidelines established by an independent advisory committee of top animal welfare experts in the U.S.
Here are a couple of pertinent questions raised by the press release: Are the cages mentioned of the kind that would be outlawed by the CA initiative or required? If these cages would not be outlawed and are already in widespread use, is the initiative another case of the animal rights movement railing against a little used method of animal husbandry--as in the Florida pig crates--primarily for the PR points? Inquiring minds want to know.

For too long the food industry has allowed the information about the means and methods of food production to be controlled by their enemies in the animal rights movement--whose mendacity I have seen too often to accept what they say at face value. But most people are not aware that the true goal of animal rights is no domesticated chickens at all, not merely better cared for domestic chickens.

So, the food industry has a big task ahead of itself to educate the public fully on these important ethical issues--both regarding the CA initiative and afterwards. Let us hope they don't stint on that task so consumers can make informed choices at the market and the ballot box.

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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Anything Goes Crowd of Scientism is at it Again

Nature is supposed to be a science journal. But in a new editorial, it strays into promoting radical individualistic and transhumanistic philosophy--although it doesn't use the name--which would unleash scientists to "play god" and intelligently design the natural world into a place of their own imagining.

The case of the "man" having a baby is the pretext--meaning that at least symbolically, it is a more important matter than I had at first thought. The editorialist sets out to deconstruct the concept of the importance of "natural" (no link available), and in the process demonstrates how fervently the leadership of the science intelligentsia embrace the brave new world ethos of "anything goes:"

Beatie, who was born female (and participated in beauty pageants), underwent hormone treatment and some gender-reassignment surgery ten years ago, but retained his reproductive organs. He stopped taking hormones so that he and his wife, who cannot bear children, could pursue artificial insemination.

Several doctors turned them down, but last week, the world watched as a baby-faced man [reality check: she is a woman biologically] with a thin beard and a growing paunch [reality check: that was not a paunch, it is the early female showing of pregnancy] went for an ultrasound: the fetus was a girl. Oprah Winfrey was supportive as she nursed the nervous Beatie through a discussion of his personal realizations. So was the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. But other reactions were vitriolic, as when MSNBC's Joe Scarborough repeatedly commented that he was "going to be sick". [Scarborough could have avoided the upset if he simply recognized that no man was having a baby.]...

And yet, when we consider this story with the reasoning parts of our brains, exactly what was so 'unnatural'? The longing to have a baby? That is a profoundly human desire, whether the prospective parents are male, female or transgendered. Or is it that Beatie has acted on his certainty that he is a man who happened to be born without a Y chromosome?

Biologists have found that gender-straddling and gender-switching behaviours are not at all uncommon in the 'natural' world, either for humans or non-human animals. True, modern biotechnology has considerably raised the stakes, and is allowing humans to manipulate their biological make-up to an ever-increasing degree. But it hasn't fundamentally changed the game. And its applications, however unsettling they may be to some people, are not, by definition, 'unnatural'.

Notice how the editorialist uses the Beatie case as a battering ram to break down all barriers to scientific manipulations, including creating scenarios that would truly be something new under the sun. Make no mistake: The editorial was written in the service of an agenda that seeks to shred society's ability to establish norms. Or, at the very least, the agenda is determined to shred existing norms so that "the scientists" would be freed to manipulate nature into any configuration their imaginations could conjure--so long as it doesn't warm the planet, of course.

The late philosopher Joseph Fletcher absolutely revelled in such deconstructive approaches--anything to break down the barriers and destroy Judeo/Christian civilization--the true enemy being railed against by the brave new worlders. Fletcher brought us situational ethics which quickly slouched into relativism. And twenty years ago he advocated surgical and hormonal interventions so as to permit a biological man to give birth:

[T]ransplant or replacement medicine foresees the day, after the automatic rejection of alien tissue is overcome, when a uterus can be implanted in a human male's body--his abdomen has spaces--and gestation started by artificial fertilization and egg transfer. Hypogonadism could be used to stimulate milk from the man's rudimentary breasts--men too have mammary glands. If surgery could not construct a cervical canal the delivery could be effected by a Caesarean section and the male or transsexualized mother could nurse his own baby
So, this is the game that is afoot. And it is promoted either knowingly, like Nature's editorialist does, or unknowingly--as in the destructive Oprah, who just wants everyone to feel good. But if we are not careful, we will live in a society that is both libertine in its permissiveness for any kind of "self expression" imaginable--meaning no society at all--while also harshly utilitarian, as in futile care theory, euthanasia both voluntary and non, redefining death to permit the harvesting of organs from the cognitively devastated--and other culture of death agendas accepted by many among the same anything goes crowd that seeks to do away with anything smacking of the "natural" or "normal."

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HSUS: Trying to Drive the Egg Industry Out of California?

The HSUS, following up on its success in convincing voters to grant pregnant pigs the constitutional right not to be maintained in gestation crates in Florida--a state that only had a few pig herds at the time, which have been driven out of business by the law--has now used its considerable financial power to qualify a California state initiative to outlaw veal crates. There are no veal operations in California. It would also allow gestation crates. But those are being voluntarily taken out of use by the small pig industry that exists in California. Thus, as to the pork and veal aspects of the measure, once again HSUS is once again attacking virtually non existent targets.

But there is an egg industry in CA, and HSUS's initiative, if passed, will require that laying hens be kept in space wide enough to spread their wings and turn around. That sounds reasonable to me as a non expert about the ins and outs of egg farming, its profitability, and the proper care of chickens, but the cost could be considerable. The price of eggs would unquestionably rise at a time when food prices are already inflating because we are using grain to make fuel instead of feed people and animals. From the story:

Scott Macdonald, spokesman for Californians for Sound Farm Animal Agriculture, an industry group that opposes the initiative, called it "poorly" written and predicted it would raise egg prices.

"It would be tremendously expensive and, in fact, drive the egg industry out of the state," Macdonald said, noting the proposed law would require dramatically more space for hens.Keeping hens in cages, he said, allows farmers to better control diseases that harm them.

But Paul Shapiro, director of the Humane Society's factory farming campaign, said the organization was "heartened" the measure qualified for the ballot. "Californians will have a choice this November as to whether they want to enact a very modest anti-cruelty measure that would improve the lives of millions of animals in California," Shapiro said.

I generally buy eggs that are free range, and the cost is about $3.75 a dozen. I can afford this, but can people with fewer means? A dozen eggs that I assume are not free range sells for about $1.19 a dozen. Is it not presumptuous for me to vote to raise the prices of nutritious food for people who can barely make ends meet?

This may be a modest proposal--I don't know. I do know it will be pushed with terrible videos of suffering chickens that may be cherry picked, and not reflect reality. And while this may be a modest proposal, the end game of groups like HSUS is indeed to eventually drive chicken farms and pork producers out of business by making it impossible for them to be profitable and by raising the price of meat so that it becomes a luxury item.

In some ways this is the food producers' fault, however. For years they have kept quiet about their practices and allowed their industry to be defined by animal rights ideologues. I guess they hoped they could hide under the desk. They can't. If the chicken producers and others engaged in animal husbandry don't mount a rousing defense against this measure, but instead allow it to pass with little hindrance as they did in the Florida pig case--the tightening corner in which they will find themselves will have been self-created.

I opposed the Florida initiative because I believed human constitutions should be restricted to protecting human rights. But this would be an animal protection statute, rather than one granting rights. That makes me undecided on this initiative. I don't trust HSUS to tell me the truth, and I am against forcing the price of food higher. But I support animal welfare and I need the food industry to convince me that battery cages are not unbearably cruel and that there are not other reasonable alternatives that would not unduly force prices up. In other words, opponents, I am your target audience. Convince me that I should vote no.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Not the Twilight Zone: Or is It?

A few days ago I posted an entry here at SHS about a heart transplant recipient who fell in love with his donor's wife and ultimately committed suicide in the same manner as the donor. I also quoted the story claiming that there were some 70 cases of transplant recipients who had apparently exhibited personality traits of their donors post surgery.

Here's a similar but far more specific story, from a book published in 1997 by a woman named Claire Sylvia. Sylvia received the heart of an 18- 7ear-old man, and the following was excerpted in the Daily Mail:

Because I was the first person in the state to have such an operation, there was a lot of publicity, and two reporters came to the hospital to interview me. One asked: "Now that you've had this miracle, what do you want more than anything else?" "Actually," I replied, "I'm dying for a beer right now." I was mortified that I had given such a flippant answer, and also surprised. I didn't even like beer. But the craving I felt was specifically for the taste of beer. For some bizarre reason, I was convinced that nothing else in the world could quench my thirst.

That evening, an odd notion occurred to me: maybe the donor of my new organs, this young man from Maine, had been a beer drinker. Was it possible that my new heart had reached me with its own set of tastes and preferences? It was a fascinating idea. During those early days, I had no idea that I would look back on this curious comment as the first of many mysteries after the transplant.

Or that, in the months ahead, I would sometimes wonder who was choreographing changes in my preferences and personality. Was it me, or was it my heart?...

A month later, I left the hospital and moved into a medical halfway house a few miles away. Now that I could eat like a normal person, I found, bizarrely, I'd developed a sudden fondness for certain foods I hadn't liked before: Snickers bars, green peppers, Kentucky Fried Chicken takeaway. As time went on, a strange question crept into my mind. Although I hadn't thought much about my donor, I was acutely aware that I was living with a man's heart--and I wondered whether it was conceivable that this male heart might affect me sexually. Until the transplant, I had spent most of my adult life either in a relationship with a man or hoping to be in one. But after the operation, while I still felt attracted to men, I didn't feel that same need to have a boyfriend. I was freer and more independent than before--as if I had taken on a more masculine outlook.

Hype or proof of the deeper mysteries of life? You be the judge, but I vote hype.

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SHS Funnies

Another transhumanist plot goes awry:

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Stem Cell Hype Being Reported--Finally

For the last ten years, "the scientists," in order to win the political debates over ESCR and SCNT, often wildly hyped the potential for CURES! CURES! CURES! In the process, they convinced Californians--now facing a $16 billion budget deficit and tens of billions in bond debt--to borrow $300 million every year to pay for human cloning and ESC research. States vied with each other in an Oklahoma land race type scramble to throw money at Big Biotech. The focus of the media became obsessed with overturning President Bush's ESCR funding policy, to the point that it committed serial journalistic malpractice with biased reporting and a news blockade on non embryonic stem cell successes.

Well, those CURES! have not even appeared as distant silhouettes on the horizon yet, and finally, a few in the media are beginning to notice. From a story in The Scotsman:

STEM cell research, we have long been told, should pave the way for revolutionary new treatments to help millions of patients around the world. Yet despite the years of study and debate about the potential, therapies have been slow to materialise.

Even the head of the UK National Stem Cell Network has now conceded that stem cell research may never deliver new treatments. Given the ethical controversy about the research--particularly the use of animal-human hybrid embryos--some have questioned whether it is worth pursuing the research any further without proof that it will actually benefit human health...

Lord Patel of Dunkeld, chairman of the UK National Stem Cell Network and chancellor of Dundee University, said the current signs were that research involving stem cells would lead to therapies for patients. But he said there was also a chance such treatments could prove too risky for human use.

Speaking to The Scotsman, Lord Patel said it could be five to ten years before stem cell treatments were widely available, with trials starting shortly in the UK and US. "But we have to be cautious," he said. "It may not deliver therapy for anything. We may find that stem therapy is quite a risky business.

"We had a lot of hype about gene therapy, and while we still use it in some cases it did not deliver the great promise we thought it would because of the side-effects. But the promise just now is great and we must continue with the stem cell science."

Whether actual human trials with ESCs will happen remains to be seen--Geron has been claiming trials will come next year for at least the last four. But this much is clear: By hyping the potential, the politicized science sector mislead people to win a political debate, and in the process reduced science to just another special interest spinning and obfuscating to get a greater share of gruel in the public trough.

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Not the Twilight Zone

Now this is a very sad story that would seem to be science fiction, but isn't. Sonny Graham received the heart of a suicide victim named Terry Cottle. Afterwards, he seems to have assimilated something of the dead man's essence into his being. From the story:

The operation was a success and soon after, Mr Graham, 69, contacted the organ donor agency, saying he wanted to thank Mr Cottle's family. He began writing to Mr Cottle's widow, Cheryl, 39, and they soon fell in love and were married in 2004, moving to the US state of Georgia.

After the wedding, Mrs Graham said: "It helped me so much. Meeting Sonny made it easier for me, knowing something so good came from something so bad." In a newspaper article published in 2006, Mr Graham said he felt an instant and unusual attachment when he met his donor's widow. "I felt like I had known her for years," Mr Graham said. "I couldn't keep my eyes off her. I just stared."

But now, 12 years after the operation, Mrs Graham's life has been rocked by another tragedy. Mr Graham killed himself with a shotgun, in circumstances similar to those which claimed Mr Cottle's life. His friends said he had shown no signs of being depressed and were at a loss to explain his sudden death.
And get this:

According to scientists, there are more than 70 documented cases of transplant patients taking on some of the personality traits of the organ donors.
Some people--and not just those on late night flying saucer talk radio--say that our whole bodies reflect and constitute who we are, not just the brain. This, it seems to me, gives a bit of credence to that theory.

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Massachusetts Universal Health Care: Back to the Drawing Board?

There is an interesting story in the New York Times today that illustrates the difficulties of reforming our health care system to provide universal access. Massachusetts recently required universal coverage through private or public means. The consequence has been greater health insurance coverage but a terrible dearth of doctors to provide all that extra care. From the story:

Once they discover that she is Dr. Kate, the supplicants line up to approach at dinner parties and ballet recitals. Surely, they suggest to Dr. Katherine J. Atkinson, a family physician here, she might find a way to move them up her lengthy waiting list for new patients.

Those fortunate enough to make it soon learn they face another long wait: Dr. Atkinson's next opening for a physical is not until early May--of 2009.
Why the bottleneck? The same number of doctors now have to provide care for hundreds of thousands newly covered MA residents:

Now in Massachusetts, in an unintended consequence of universal coverage, the imbalance is being exacerbated by the state's new law requiring residents to have health insurance.

Since last year, when the landmark law took effect, about 340,000 of Massachusetts' estimated 600,000 uninsured have gained coverage. Many are now searching for doctors and scheduling appointments for long-deferred care...

Dr. Patricia A. Sereno, state president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said an influx of the newly insured to her practice in Malden, just north of Boston, had stretched her daily caseload to as many as 22 to 25 patients, from 18 to 20 a year ago. To fit them in, Dr. Sereno limits the number of 45-minute physicals she schedules each day, thereby doubling the wait for an exam to three months.

"It's a recipe for disaster," Sereno said. "It's great that people have access to health care, but now we've got to find a way to give them access to preventive services. The point of this legislation was not to get people episodic care."

Yea, good luck with that. I saw this same phenomenon in Canada a few years ago. There was a front page story in the Globe and Mail worrying that 900,000 residents of Ontario could not find a doctor to care for them despite having a right to treatment under the law. That meant those Canadians received care out of the back of emergency rooms--just like American uninsured.

The moral of the story is that providing universal coverage is not going to be easy. It is going to require innovation, a willingness not to demand every possible service be covered (good luck with that, too), and will require adjustments at all levels of our health care system, including finding a way to produce more doctors, nurse practitioners, physician's assistants, and the like. Any politician who pretends otherwise is whistling past the grave yard.

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Lead Into Gold: IPSCs Improve Parkinson's in Rats

A new study has just been released finding that the new Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells were efficacious in alleviating the symptoms of Parkinson's in rats. From the story:

A novel and untested stem cell therapy has significantly improved the symptoms of Parkinson's disease in rats, according to a study released Monday. Researchers at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, used a relatively new technique to re-engineer stem cells from skin cells and then treat rats with the debilitating neurological disease.

When the rats were tested weeks after the cell transplant, their Parkinson's symptoms were significantly reduced, confirming that these substitutes for embryonic stem cells, so-called reprogrammed stem cells, can replace lost or damaged neurons.

In essence, this was therapeutic cloning without the cloning, since the cells were (rat) subject specific and tailor made from the cells of the animal, so no immune rejection:
Wernig and his colleagues took skin cells from adult mice and induced pluripotent stem cells (IPS cells) by using retroviruses to activate genes that turned them into stem cells.

The IPS cells were then differentiated into neural precursor cells and dopamine neurons using techniques originally developed in embryonic stem cells. Working with researchers at McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School, Wernig and his colleagues grafted the lab-made dopamine neurons into rats.
IPSCs cause tumors like ESCRs, since they are pluripotent. I don't know how many and whether tumors formed since the rats were euthanized and their brains studied at 8 weeks (further proof of the need for animal research). But in one fell swoop, IPSCs rushed past therapeutic cloning since scientists haven't even been able yet to derive human cloned embryos and extract stem cells from them.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Sex Selection Coming to America


Will Saletan, with whom I often disagree but whose journalism and pondering in the area of biotechnology is top notch, has an article out in Slate about how sex selection is coming to America. From his column:

Two days ago, economists Douglas Almond and Lena Edlund published an article in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examining the ratio of male to female births in "U.S.-born children of Chinese, Korean, and Asian Indian parents." Among whites, the boy-girl ratio was essentially constant, regardless of the number of kids in a family or how many of them were girls. In the Asian-American sample, the boy-girl ratio started out at the same norm: 1.05 to 1. But among families whose first child was a girl, the boy-girl ratio among second kids went up to 1.17 to 1. And if the first two kids were girls, the boy-girl ratio among third kids went up to 1.5 to 1. This 50 percent increase in male probability is directly contrary to the trend among whites, who tend to produce a child of the same sex as the previous child.

There's no plausible innocent explanation for this enormous and directionally abnormal shift in probability. The authors conclude that the numbers are "evidence of sex selection, most likely at the prenatal stage."

Saletan then moves beyond the cultural issues driving this and focuses on the technological:

The spread of fetal or embryonic sex-identification tests, which can be taken in the privacy of your home at increasingly early stages of pregnancy, makes it easier for sex selection to spread beyond its original cultural base. So does the emergence of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, which lets you chuck your conceived offspring before pregnancy even begins.

In fact, the 2000 census data reviewed by Almond and Edlund suggest that within the base population, selection of male fetuses has indeed increased
He then concludes with his usual criticism of both sides of the debate--as is his wont--but here, the fire at pro lifers is wholly unwarranted, and indeed, a cheap shot:

If you think of yourself as a techno-progressive--someone who believes, as Barack Obama does, that "maximizing the power of technology" will help fix everything from energy to the environment to health care--the increase in sex selection should give you pause. Technology can facilitate regression as easily as it facilitates progress. But if you think of yourself as a pro-life conservative, the data should humble you, too. In the populations in which it has increased, sex selection isn't a newfangled perversion. It's a custom, and a patriarchal one at that.
Saletan should hang around more pro-lifers. They don't worship at the altar of patriarchy and tradition for the sake of patriarchy and tradition. Indeed, I am not sure they accept patriarchy at all since most leaders I have met are female with supportive husbands. But be that as it may, Saletan's odd guilt by association won't fly. What pro lifers care fervently about is a value system that holds human life to be sacred from the moment of conception through natural death--and consequently, they wholeheartedly accept all babies--male and female, well and ill, able bodied and disabled--and many put their lives where their mouths are by adopting infants and children that nobody else will have.

There may be many reasons to criticize religious conservatives in the pro life community, but any association with having anything to do with sex selection or neo eugenics just ain't one of them. To the contrary, they are among those evils' greatest opponents.

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Parkinson's Disease Apparently Attacks Cell Grafts

Parkinson's Patients who received fetal cadaver tissue grafts and whose brains were studied after they died, showed that the disease continued to affect healthy tissue and thus cell grafts may not function long term. From the story:

"These findings give us a bit of pause for the value of cell replacement strategy for Parkinson's disease," said [study lead author Jeffrey] Kordower. "We still need to vigorously investigate this approach among the full armament of surgically-delivered Parkinson's disease therapies. While it is not clear to us whether the same fate would befall stem cell grafts, the next generation of cell replacement procedures, this study does suggest that grafted cells can be affected by the disease process."...

The individual described in this article was a woman with a 22-year history of Parkinson's disease who underwent transplantation in 1993. After transplantation she experienced improvements in disease symptoms as measured by the Unified Parkinson Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS) and required substantially lower doses of antiparkinsonian medications. Her UPDRS scores remained improved into1997, but by 2004, she experienced progressive worsening of Parkinson's disease symptoms. She died in 2007 and her brain and that of two other patients in the study were comprehensively processed and analyzed. She had the longest survival after transplantation that had been reported to date among this study's participants.

In other trials, fetal cells proved to cause so many side effects in some patients that they never were developed into a regular treatment for Parkinson's.

In any event, this is why I am generally hesitant to speak of "cures" when speaking of stem cell-related regenerative medical experiments, preferring the word "treatment," since as a non scientist observing the scene, it seems to me that the studies show amelioration of symptoms more than cures.

This is no small thing, of course. Take the example of Dennis Turner. He received a treatment for Parkinson's with his own neural stem cells to apparent great effect for several years. His level of medication reduced. He was able to lead a vigorous life at a time when he had expected to be disabled. But eventually, the symptoms of his Parkinson's returned, just like the patient mentioned in the study.

It could be that some of these diseases may remain chronic conditions with repeated cell infusions a standard method of keeping the worst symptoms at bay. Time will tell, but I can think of a lot worse scenarios.

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A Hillary Clintonesque Support of Oregon's Culture of Death

I was speaking in beautiful Eugene, Oregon yesterday--and so was Hillary Clinton. (For some reason she made the front page of the Register Guard instead of me.) During the Q and A session, she was asked about Oregon's assisted suicide law and gave quite the Clintonesque support for transforming suicide into a medical treatment. From the story:

Q: What's your attitude toward Oregon's assisted suicide law?

A: I believe it's within the province of the states to make that decision. I commend Oregon on this count, as well, because whether I agree with it or not or think it's a good idea or not, the fact that Oregon is breaking new ground and providing valuable information as to what does and doesn't work when it comes to end-of-life questions, I think, is very beneficial.

Whether she agrees with it or not, people without serious symptoms have been prescribed lethal drugs to kill them, last year no patients requesting assisted suicide were referred to mental health professionals, few patients died with doctors at their side, and the number of assisted suicides went up. Meanwhile, a few years ago, Michael Freeland was prescribed a deadly dose two years before dying, and after he became psychotic was, in effect, abandoned by his psychiatrist who permitted his prescription to remain "safely at home." Kate Cheney, an Alzheimer's and cancer patient received a lethal prescription even though a psychiatrist found that it was her daughter who had the real assisted suicide desire.

Well, at least the questioner called it by its right term instead of the gooey euphemism of "aid in dying."

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Saturday, April 05, 2008

Sea Shepherd Society Cares More About the Deaths of Seals than People

This is so repugnant: Four seal hunters drowned when their boat capsized while being towed--a terrible tragedy. But to the radical Paul Watson, head of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, the deaths of the seals killed in the hunt is worse. From the story:

Fishermen were infuriated when they heard comments by Watson that were broadcast on a local radio station on Friday morning.

In a statement this week, Watson said, "The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society recognizes that the deaths of four sealers is a tragedy but Sea Shepherd also recognizes that the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of seal pups is an even greater tragedy."...

Watson described sealers as "sadistic baby killers" and "vicious killers who are now pleading for sympathy because some of their own died while engaged in a viciously brutal activity."

The disgusting comments caused Elizabeth May, an adviser to Sea Shepherd to quit. Her comments show a proper humanity:
"There's a point at which someone's comments are just so completely repugnant," May told CBC News Friday. "We're just reeling from the loss of these men at sea, and whether you support the seal hunt or not, you want all the seal hunters to get home to their families safely."
Good for May. Too bad Watson can't find that level of charity in his heart. But who is surprised? Over the years Watson has demonstrated himself to be radically anti-human--as when he called for a "radical and invasive therapy" to cure the affliction of the human race on the planet, a statement in which he likened us to the "AIDS virus."

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Why I Hate Oprah

Well, I don't literally hate her, but despite the good she has admittedly done, I consider Oprah! to be a destructive cultural force. Case in point is her inviting the "pregnant man"--who is really a woman who has had his gender reassigned--on her show, further hyping what should be a non story into the sensationalist stratosphere.

As I wrote here, Thomas Beatie is a transsexual who has not had his female sexual organs removed. Wanting a child, he stopped taking the male hormones necessary to maintain the appearance of masculinity--at least he had better have stopped taking hormones--and was artificially inseminated. Now, Beatie has gone on Oprah worrying that people will want to kill his baby "as an abomination." From the story:

However, the 34-year-old transsexual also told chat show host Oprah Winfrey that he feared for his own safety and admitted doctors had warned him his baby could be killed because of the revulsion at her birth.
To quote Charlie Brown, I can't stand it. First, everybody knows that Beatie is not really a man, biologically, and so the baby would not be "an abomination," (as if any baby could be). So a woman is giving birth, as four million do in this country every year--big whup. Secondly, the only reason anyone even knows about this is because Beatie made his situation public--and Oprah decided to grant her blessing! And get this:
As well as the Oprah show, Beatie also gave a detailed interview to People magazine.
Did I tell you I hate People too?

This story encapsulates so much of what is going wrong with our contemporary popular culture: The me-me/I-I sense of entitlement that has become so pervasive (few thoughts of the impact on the child from all of this), the power of celebrity and the cult of personality, hyper sensationalism substituting for real news, the media's celebration of the bizarre, postmodernism where narrative rather than facts drive our discourse, a person who intentionally sought publicity complaining because people criticize him for making himself a spectacle.

Well, this is what the transhumanists want--radical individualistic self expression. But it strikes me as further proof that we have ceased to be a serious society.

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Animal Rights Violence: An Attack Against One Should be Deemed an Attack Against All

In "Keep Scientists Safe," neuroscience professor Jeffrey Kordower had the guts to unequivocally identify terrorism in the name of animal rights as the thuggery it is. From his column in the Chicago Tribune:

Black-masked attackers disrupting a child's birthday party. A firebomb left on a doorstep. In the last six months, biomedical researchers have faced these terrifying attacks and more, with shadowy animal rights groups proudly claiming responsibility. Despite being highly regulated, peer-reviewed, crucial to public health and legal, vital research is increasingly under violent attack by activists using illegal means. It is time for the science, academic and health communities to say "enough" and do something about it. No researcher should experience the trauma of this kind of attack alone, or shoulder the responsibility of trying to address it without support.
The problem is, at least in my experience, that those not under immediate risk hide under their desks (metaphorically speaking) for fear that they too will enter the animal rights' bulls eye zone. That results in a variation of the old Benjamin Franklin bromide that those under attack hang alone because their peers refuse to hang together with them.

Kordower continues:
This trend will continue unabated unless research institutions, governments, national funding agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, and the science community unite to defend responsible biomedical research and implement policies to address these threats. With reasonable legal discourse descending to illegal violence and threat, universities can no longer afford to ignore actions that impose danger to their faculty. By taking steps to prepare, pre-empt and respond effectively to anti-research activists, they can support the progress of scientific research, as well as the health and economic well-being of the nation.

Funding agencies, like the National Institutes of Health, are making important statements, but they should be encouraged to take an even stronger role in expecting universities to protect NIH-funded researchers.
But it shouldn't just be the science sector defending other scientists. When attacked with ALF type actions, food industry should protect science, and scientists should come to the aid of the food industry. Entertainment companies that properly use animals should join the cause. If these violent criminals are to be defeated, it will take a coalition of all food industries, government, and yes, animal rights believers who know that, in the end, these terrorists undermine their cause (although I am not holding my breath on that one). And the media should make a much bigger deal about this then they do now.

Part of the problem is that many of the targets of these attacks mistakenly believe that animal rights is just about being nicer to animals, when it is a subversive and zealously held ideology that borders on fundamentalism. Understanding the common enemy is the first step in effectively thwarting its agenda.

P.S. Just imagine Professor Kordower's hate mail!

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NHS Meltdown: Grandmother Forced to Pull Her Own Teeth

Have any of you seen the commercial in which the patient is being instructed by the doctor on how to perform his own surgery? Well, that is more than afforded a grandmother over in the UK who couldn't get a dentist to pull her teeth. From the story:

A grandmother performed her own tooth extractions in despair after being turned away by 12 dentists. Elizabeth Green, 76, was in agony with two front teeth and after a fruitless search for an NHS practitioner, resorted to DIY. Her case is the latest of many to highlight the dwindling availability of NHS dental treatment.
There are lessons here for the USA as we strive to find a way to expand coverage, without sinking our own boat. One lesson is that any nationalized system will have to be sparse. If we try to cover everything, we will, in the end, cover very little. Moreover, it seems clear to me that a robust private sector component will be crucial to reforming our health care system. Indeed, to me the privatized prescription benefits under Medicare are a good model.

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Guesting on Bill O'Reilly Radio Factor Today

I am doing the Bill O' Reilly radio show today, guest host Tony Snow. The time is set for 1:30 Eastern, 10:30 Pacific. Topic, assisted suicide. The show is syndicated so it may play at different times in your area, should you wish to tune in. Or, it can be live streamed here.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Hentoff on Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation

In the wake of their loss, the Schindler family created the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation to stand up for the intrinsic equal dignity of profoundly disabled people and to hold the line against bioethical agendas such as assisted suicide and Futile Care Theory. This has caught the attention of the estimable Nat Hentoff. From his column:

"We fight daily," Bobby Schindler emphasizes, "to shed light on the fact that having a disability of any kind does nothing to diminish a person's inherent value and worth." A considerable number of calls come into the Schindlers from members of families faced with the desperate need to save the lives of their disabled loved ones from those who would end them.

"When the foundation gets a call," says Terri's brother, "we first ask if they need legal representation or also help from a neurologist or other medical expert." Referrals are then made to lawyers and doctors who agree with the foundation's vital educational, lifesaving work.

This is just the start, however, of the Schindler family's mission to counter the growing pressures for euthanasia; physician-assisted suicide; and the "futility doctrine" at hospitals that judge certain lives not worth living. The Foundation is now seeking support as it establishes such programs as:

"Terri's Alert"--an emergency notification system to notify our network and supporters when a person like Terri is threatened with the loss of care or treatment. Also, creating a Terri Schindler Schiavo Medical Center as a safe haven for those like Terri who need life-sustaining medical treatment denied to them elsewhere." (Terri was fatally deprived of water and food, though she was not terminal, and was responsive.)
But this good work is viewed with indifference by the media and much of the public:

I am surprised that so far there have been no major donors. It's an indication that disability rights, including denial of life itself, are still of minor interest to much of the public and the far-flung media — including the struggles of those families. The struggles of those families whose loved ones are far from dead, but, like Terri, are in imminent danger of being disappeared.

As Terri's father, Bob, has said: "We pay great lip service in this country to disability rights, but as the degree of a person's disability increases, the level of legal protection that person receives decreases." This can be changed only by action from those Americans who realize that we are all only temporarily able.
Hentoff ends with an advertisement, which I am happy to repeat here:

To learn more about the Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation, its Web site is terrisfight.org. Located at 5562 Central Ave., Suite 2, St. Petersburgh, FL 33707, the phone number is (727) 490-7603. All donations to this nonprofit foundation are tax deductible.
I have seen this work ongoing behind the scenes--and these folk are committed. Terri's death was a tragedy and an injustice. But the Schindlers are working as hard as they can to create a wonderful silver lining around that very dark cloud.

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Negligence is not Futile Care Theory

I have had some buzz today that a new futile care case may have come to the fore after an Illinois nursing home, the North Logan Healthcare Center in Danville, was fined for violating a patient's advance directive declaring that he wanted to be resuscitated. But as I looked at the case based on the investigation records posted by the Illinois Department of Health and Human Services, this seems more a mistake than an intentional and deliberate violation of the patient's desire for life-sustaining treatment. From the records:

Based on interview and record review, the facility failed to [1] Implement Emergency Procedures as required by facility policy and [2] Honor an Advanced Directive request to be resuscitated for 1 of 19 sampled residents (R7).
And indeed, that certainly seems to be what happened. But rather than Futile Care Theory, this seem to be a matter of negligence and not following proper procedures:
When interviewed again at 2:40 p.m.on 5/24/07, E7 stated, "I had had that in the back of my mind that he (R7) was a full code. I took a radial and carotid pulse when staff found (R7) and there was none." "(R7) had been improving the past few days prior to this. I did not take vitals when(R7) was not responsive earlier. The CNA probably thought I was surprised (when I was checking the chart) because I said, 'Oh my god, he is still a full code.' I really thought he was a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) at that point....I did not pull the chart and take it with me when I went to the (R7's) room." "Staff had talked to (Z3, POA), about making (R7) a DNR. I thought the process was completed...
This was wrong. But it was not the imposition of a bioethical theory upon a helpless patient.

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Animal Research: Necessary to Scientific and Medical Advances

One of the things that drives me up a wall is what I call post modernist advocacy, in which narratives, rather than facts, drive the debate. Animal rights, and its assertions about animal research, is a classic case in point.

There are actually two themes found in animal rights advocacy on this issue, only one of which is wholly post modernistic. Some advocates, like Gary Francione, admit that we benefit from animal research (although he diminishes the extent), but claim that we should eschew these advances for wholly ethical reasons, e.g., animals are sentient, hence they have a right not to be property, hence to use them instrumentally is morally wrong. I disagree with this argument but respect it because it is in keeping with the exceptional capacity of humans to engage in moral reasoning and to sacrifice our own welfare for the benefit of "the other."

The other theme is intellectually vapid and dishonest. It claims that since animal research is not directly applicable in all manners to the human condition, animal research is not beneficial to the advance of knowledge and, indeed, is actually harmful to human thriving. This argument either intentionally misleads about the purposes of using animals in research, or is utterly ignorant of the place animals have in a dynamic scientific process that uses many modalities, from computer programs, to testing on human cell lines, to using bacteria or insects, to human experimentation, as well as work on mostly rodents, but also other mammals.

Much of animal work is basic research, that allows scientists to gain an understanding of biology or to experiment with new modalities of potential treatments or diagnostic techniques in a living organism. Two stories in recent days illustrate this aspect of science and the place of animals in advancing our knowledge and ability to relieve human (and animal) suffering.

Nanotechnology is being developed to discover cancer tumors at a very early stage, with the work currently being done in mice. From the story:

Stanford scientists are blending the latest in nanotechnology with a quirky light effect discovered in the 1920s to create a new way to scan for tumors--a process that is potentially safer and more sensitive than current cancer screens...

Today's most advanced cancer diagnostic tools, such as PET scans, can pick up a tumor about 5 millimeters wide--containing tens of millions of cancerous cells. The new technique, called Raman imaging, has the potential to detect microscopic clumps of only a few hundred cancer cells.

A more precise test for cancer such as this one might pick up the disease more quickly and give surgeons a more complete picture of where the tumors are that need to be removed.The experimental Raman imaging system has been tested only on mice, but it could be ready for human clinical trials in a year, said Gambhir. The goal will be to detect colon cancer.
Living organisms are needed to test this technology. And, you have to know the organisms have cancer. You can't give cancer to humans ethically, but you can to mice--unless you believe a rat, is a pig, is a dog is a boy. Thus, we can either eschew this potential boon to human health "for the animals" or develop it "for the people." But we can't say animal research offered no benefit.

Here's a second example of basic research in animals offering great benefit. Animal studies have indicated that gene therapy to affect RNA processes might not actually be doing that, but rather, stimulating the immune system. From the story:
The Opko and Allergan drugs aim to inactivate a gene that contributes to the formation of leaky blood vessels in the back of the eye, the hallmark of the severe form of macular degeneration.

But Dr. Ambati and his team found that virtually any sequence of RNA, not just the ones in the drugs, worked equally well in stopping blood vessel formation in the eyes of mice. They tried RNA sequences corresponding to other mouse genes, to a jellyfish gene, to a firefly gene. They also tested a completely random RNA sequence. All worked.

The reason, Dr. Ambati said, was that the RNA snippets were actually binding to an immune system sentry called toll-like receptor 3. That aroused the immune system, setting off a chain of events that stopped the blood vessel formation. He said the research showed that the drugs were not even getting into the cells in the eye, so they could not be activating the gene-silencing mechanism.

As further confirmation, Dr. Ambati's team used genetically engineered mice that lacked the immune system sentry. In those mice, the drugs did not work.
This is an example of basic research, a necessary precursor to any human work. The gene therapy approach being pursued might now not make it to human application because scientists were able to discover before human trials, that the procedure was not working as scientists had theorized.

Make no mistake: Ending medical and scientific research with animals would bring advances to a near halt. We may want to pay that price for ethical reasons, but we can't say honestly that stifling of science won't be the steep price paid for outlawing animal research.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

SHS Funnies

Were that it were so.


PETA Tries to Intimidate Critic of Its Animal Killing

Apparently the critical word that PETA euthanizes dogs and cats has gotten under the skin of its leadership. Thus when Gina Spadafori, a writer about pet issues, contended that these animals were brought to PETA to be placed in homes, PETA threatened to sue for defamation. From the lawyer's letter:

The animals that you are referencing were not brought to PETA to find new homes. These animals were brought to, or picked up by, PETA because they were unadoptable for a variety of reasons, and had been surrendered precisely because they were not adoptable. Many of these animals were sick, and euthanasia brought them a peaceful release from the suffering that they endured.
Hmmm. The use of the word "many" in the above passage indicates that at least some of the animals PETA killed were not sick. Moreover, sick animals are sometimes adopted. Besides, what is or is not an adoptable animal is a pretty subjective matter, in addition to which, PETA as a very public organization would have an almost impossible time winning a slander lawsuit based on its lawyers complaint. This is just bullying.

Spadafori was unbullied. She responded forcefully:

So, were there medical examinations by a veterinarian, and written records of the same for each animal killed? A behavioral analysis by a qualified behaviorist, and written records of the same for each animal killed? May we see them? Or were these determinations made by the animal's previous owners, and if so are there the signed forms standard at every veterinary office and shelter making sure the previous owner understands that they are turning the animal over to be killed? May we see those forms? Alternately, may we get the names of all the previous owners so we can ask each and every one of them if it was their understanding that they animal was unadoptable and would be killed when they surrendered the animal? So we can ask, exactly, what they were told by PETA?
Wanna bet dinner those kind of detailed records don't exist about the thousands of animals PETA has euthanized? Certainly, when PETA's employees picked up animals from shelters in N. Carolina, killed them in their van, and then threw the carcasses into garbage receptacles--for which they were eventually convicted of littering (now on appeal)--they did not bring the animals to veterinarians for checkups and indeed, there were some seemingly adoptable animals killed. Moreover, as I wrote in the NRO:

In contrast, animal shelters located near PETA's headquarters had a far superior adoption-to-kill ratio in 2003. According to the statistics compiled by the Center [For Consumer Freedom], the Norfolk SPCA found adoptive homes for 73 percent and Virginia Beach adopted out 66 percent, compared to PETA's meager 14 percent.

These numbers don't necessarily prove anything--for example, PETA may merely have had fewer adoptable animals to handle than did the nearby shelters. But then again, they may prove something. A PETA representative answered "maybe"when asked last week whether any of the group's euthanized animals had been adoptable. Indeed, nine of the 31 animals Hinkle and Cook are charged with killing were highly adoptable puppies and kittens. Thus, PETA's high kill-to-adoption ratio could mean instead that the animal liberationists set unrealistic standards for the adoption of rescued cats and dogs, preferring to kill the animals than let them live in homes that are deemed ideologically incorrect.
If PETA follows up with answers and I find out about it, I will post that info here at SHS. But I am not holding my breath.

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SHS Funnies

Health care American style.


Charlie Brown is elected President of the United States and calls for sacrifice. The American people respond:

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A Good Example of Why Animal Research is Important

Botox has been out for a long time, but it might need another look as to its safety thanks to a study done in rats on a related substance. From the story:

Botulinum neurotoxin type A, sold as Allergan Inc.'s Botox remedy for wrinkles, can move from its injection site to the brain, a study shows.

Scientists injected rats' whisker muscles with botulism toxin. Tests of the rodents' brain tissue found that botulism had been transported to the brain stems, the researchers said in the Journal of Neuroscience published April 2.

Botox is Allergan's biggest product, with $1.21 billion in sales last year. The drug, approved in 1989, became fashionable among aging celebrities seeking to smooth facial wrinkles and is used to treat some neurological disorders. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is investigating whether patients contracted botulism, a muscle-weakening illness, from Botox and Myobloc, a product from Solstice Neurosciences Inc.

Animal rights advocates often say that animal work does not provide benefits because there isn't a direct correlation between how an animal reacts to that of a human. But that isn't the point since animal studies are not expected to show direct correlations but propensities. Thus, studies like this are important because they show a possible problem that can't be studied in humans in the same way. For example, based on this, scientists may wish to test it in monkeys, which are more similar. And indeed, some of that work has already been done:

Myobloc is botulinum neurotoxin type B, a different type of botulinum than studied, said Edgar Salazar-Grueso, chief medical officer of Solstice Neurosciences, in a telephone interview today.
"We are aware from monkey studies already published that toxin A migrates more than B,'' Salazar said. "Monkeys are more like humans than rodents, so these findings we're observing are consistent.''

Rats and monkeys are dying to keep people from suffering severe potential health consequences. This is the kind of thing animal rightists want to shut down. But these studies need living organisms to produce results. That means either animals or humans, and you can't do it to us because the subjects have to be killed so their brains can be studied. At least, that is what people who don't believe in animal rights believe. Ingrid Newkirk, on the other hand, believes that a rat, is a pig, is a dog, is a boy.

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Holy Cow: "Cybrids" Manufactured in UK

Scientists in the UK claim to have made embryos using cow eggs and human DNA through SCNT. Although the work has yet to be verified via peer review, Newcastle scientists told the press that the embryos lasted three days. From the story:

Embryos containing both human and animal material have been created in Britain for the first time, a month before the House of Commons is to vote on new laws to regulate the controversial research. A team at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne announced tonight that it had successfully generated "admixed embryos" by adding human DNA to empty cow eggs, in the first experiment of its kind in the UK. The achievement will heighten debate over the ethics of human-animal embryos, as the Commons prepares to debate the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill next month.

The point of these "cybrids," we are told, is to study disease models. Cow eggs were used because of the (justifiable) dearth in human eggs:

Admixed embryos are widely supported by the scientific community and patient groups, as they provide an opportunity to produce powerful stem cell models for investigating diseases such as Parkinson's and diabetes, and for developing new drugs.

Their creation, however, has been vociferously opposed by religious groups, particularly the Roman Catholic church. Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the head of the Catholic church in Scotland, described the work last month as "experiments of Frankenstein proportion"...Once the technique has been tested, scientists hope to create cybrids from the DNA of patients with genetic diseases. The resulting stem cells could then be used as models of those diseases to provide insights into their progress and to test new treatments.

But the new IPSCs could do that too, and without the effort, expense, and moral contentiousness involved in trying to develop cloning techniques. Indeed, the scientist in charge of the team who created Dolly, Ian Wilmut, gave up cloning research that he had been licensed to perform precisely because of the "lead into gold" IPSC breakthrough.

I find it remarkable that the reporter didn't raise this question with the scientists. If we can obtain the benefits they claim to be pursuing without compromising crucial moral principles, why wouldn't we? Perhaps because, as I suspect, the real point of this is to learn to clone human life come what may.

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Egg "Donation" as Human Trafficking

My pal Jennifer Lahl, head of the Center for Bioethics and Culture, and anti-slavery activist Michele Clark, demonstrate one of the dehumanizing potential of human cloning research, and the danger that the demand for eggs required for massive cloning research could turn destitute women into so many trafficked egg farms. From their column at the First Things blog:

Whenever most people hear the term "egg donor," they usually consider this a good thing, as most of us assume that anyone who donates is altruistically motivated and thus engaged in something intrinsically good. And besides, it's for a great cause, so everything is all right, yes?

Nothing could be further from the truth. Sadly, egg donation has less to do with altruism and more to do with the exploitation of women--particularly young women and often poor women who are usually facing large debts or just trying to make ends meet.

In fact, we contend that human egg harvesting is the newest form of human trafficking.

Strong words, but are they justified? Yes, according to Clark and Lahl, based on the terms of the UN Anti-Trafficking protocol:

Article 3 of the Trafficking Protocol provides a...comprehensive definition of human trafficking, namely:
- acts of trafficking, which include recruitment of persons. Young women are heavily recruited for their eggs. One Google search would confirm this.
- means of trafficking, such as forms of coercion, fraud, deception, the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability, or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits.
- purposes of trafficking: exploitation, which is at the heart of trafficking, for the purpose of forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude, or the removal of organs.

In March 2005, the European Parliament, taking its cue from the Trafficking Protocol, issued a resolution specifically condemning the trade in human eggs. The resolution, titled the European Parliament Resolution on the Trade in Human Egg Cells, was a direct response to the exploitation of Eastern European young women and condemned "the trade in human egg cells," stating that "harvesting of egg cells poses a high medical risk to the life and health of women."And, "despite the possibility of serious effects on women's life and health, the high price paid for egg cells incites and encourages donation, given the relative poverty of the donors." The European Union got serious about human trafficking following news stories of several young women who were severely harmed through egg donation in Eastern Europe.

But US law is not in accord with the Protocol, to which we are a signatory. That needs to change, the authors rightly contend, giving an example of the consequences to two women exploited for her eggs:
One donor explains her experience: When she had questions about the consent form, she was hurried and encouraged to "just sign it." After she made repeated calls complaining of side effects, a nurse from the agency finally responded that it was all part of taking the drugs and that she should continue to endure the side effects. Ultimately, the agency's inadequate screening process and neglect led to her suffering a major stroke and paralysis, and finally cost her the ability to conceive children naturally. Another woman was hospitalized with severe ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome. Less than a year later, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. These are only two examples of scores of similarly poor outcomes that have appeared in the medical literature but that are not systematically reported to any regulatory body. Potential donors have the right to know how common these disastrous outcomes are.
Human cloners are going to need tens of thousands of eggs to perfect SCNT technology. And since few well off women are going to willingly endanger their health and/or fecundity to help advance cloning technology, there is an acute danger that Big Biotech will look to the world's poor women for the resources it needs. We are already entering an era of biological colonialism--what with the poor being paid for their kidneys and the like--which will operate just like colonialism's earlier iterations; bu making money for the powerful at the expense world's most destitute and powerless people. The time to stop it is now--before the exploitation sinks deeply into the economic bedrock of the US and world economies.

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Are Seal Pups Worth Risking Human Life?

The annual baby seal hunt is on and the protesters are out in force. I am personally ambivalent about the seal hunt. On one hand helpless animals are bludgeoned to death for their fur. On the other, the hunt supports families who would not otherwise be able to survive economically in a part of Canada that is very poor and which is losing its fishing industry due to over harvesting. But I do know that baby seals are not worth endangering human lives, which was apparently done when the Sea Shepherd Society maneuvered in front of a Coast Guard cutter so as to cause a collision. From the statement by the Canadian Minister of Fisheries:

On March 30, 2008, while attempting to provoke a confrontation, the Farley Mowat maneuvered itself in front of the Coast Guard vessel Des Groseilliers to cause a collision between the two vessels. The CCG icebreaker was taking part in seal hunt enforcement operations at the time.

This organization is known to use this tactic to generate photo opportunities, which generate publicity and bolster their fundraising efforts - an action I find despicable...

Members of the Sea Sheppard Society, who tried to attract media attention by manoeuvring their boat to cause a collision with a Coast Guard vessel, should reconsider their shameful tactics which jeopardize the safety and security of people involved in the annual seal hunt. If the crew of the Farley Mowat valued life as much as they say they do, they would immediately remove themselves from the area, and not attack Coast Guard vessels while they protect our sealers.

Here is the news story about the incident, with Sea Shepherd activists claiming an intentional ramming. I don't believe them for a second. They are very radical, whose leader has accused humanity of being a virus on the planet, with the "cure" against us requiring a "radical and invasive approach." Moreover, we are talking about a Canadian Coast Guard ship here.