Friday, May 30, 2008

New York Doctor to testify in favor of Sustaining Life Support for Orthodox Jewish Man

By Alex Schadenberg

A neurologist from New York has agreed to testify as a medical expert on behalf of the family of Samuel Golubchuk an Orthodox Jewish man from Winnipeg Canada.

Dr. Leon Zacharowicz agreed to work on the case pro-bono after being contacted by Agudath Israel of America. Dr. Zacharowicz is planning to go to Winnipeg sometime this summer to examine Golubchuk himself in preparation for the trial that is currently scheduled for November 2008.

Dr. Edward Reichman, a leading expert and lecturer in the field of medical ethics stated that according to Jewish ethics "If a person’s life is dependent on the ventilator, the decision to take them off the ventilator would be equal to homicide"

Dr. Reichman further stated to The Jewish Star that "The overwhelming majority of rabbinic authorities maintain that it would be prohibited to remove the respirator, if that would lead to the individual’s death."

Dr. Reichman predicts that "This case could be a real test case. It could become a terrible trend if it gets pushed through. It would be a tragedy, definitely for Orthodox Jews, but also for other patients. If it gets passed in Canada, it can succeed in the United States as well."

http://www.vosizneias.com/16520/2008/05/28/winnipeg-canada-ny-doctor-to-testify-in-favor-of-sustaining-life-support-for-orthodox-patient/

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Save the Liver!

By Jennifer Lahl

Today's LA Times is covering a story on four Japanese gang figures who received liver transplants at UCLA. The story raises all of the ethical issues surrounding organ donation and transplantation. How do we ethically share organs which are scarce and precious and needed for saving lives?

Access to organs has always raised ethical problems. Who is our neighbor, and how far do we need to open our borders and let people into the donor pool? The story states that these were Japanese bad dudes and one in particular, Tadamasa Goto, was allowed into the states in exchange for leads and information on Japanese criminal gangs. While here, he was in need of a liver transplant and the story goes that he "got a liver and was laughing back to where he came from." Laughing mainly because in exchange for useless information he got away with a life saving liver transplant. He took cuts and jumped the line.

Who's worthy of the much needed organ has also been part of the debate. Does the alcoholic in need of a liver transplant get put to the bottom of the list over a person who's had a chronic liver disease from birth? Or in this case, does the law abiding citizen get to move to the head of the line over the law breaker? The argument has often been that the system needs to be blind to criteria of worth because this is so subjective and slides us into suggesting people have a duty or obligation to die because their life is not worth living or their life is not worth saving. We certainly wouldn't suggest the converse. That we begin killing those on death row for their organs. Often blind lotteries are suggested after the medical criteria has been assessed. Does the organ match the recipient? When directly competing for the much needed organ, all things being equal, who needs the transplant most urgently?

And this debate often boils down to a discussion on the allocation of scarce resources. Fact is, we don't have enough organs to meet the needs of those waiting on lists for a transplant. This story states that 100 people died waiting on the list, while the bad guys got away with organs. So how do we divvy them up fairly?

What often makes people really queasy is just feeling that the current organ donation program isn't fair. Justice matters. One comment in the LA Times piece states what many people feel. They've chosen to opt out of the DMV pink dot organ donor program because the system is corrupt. The United Network of Organ Sharing should take notice that ethics do matter and that people do have an innate sense of injustice. Once the ethics are shored up, public confidence will be restored and people will probably be glad to put that pink dot back on their license.

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AB 2747 Passes Assembly

By Bobby Schindler

AB 2747 passed the California State Assembly by two votes. The bill will now go before the State Senate. This is not good news. The past two years California has failed to pass physician assisted suicide legislation, so Compassion and Choices, strong advocates for assisted suicide, adjusted their approach and are now leading the charge for the passage of AB 2747. From the story:

This new bill represents a strategy change for assisted suicide proponents and paves the way for their future efforts.

This bill would mandate that physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants give a patient, while being diagnosed with a terminal illness or with a prognosis of one year to live, information about pain management options that are fitting only for persons who are imminently dying.

Wesley has commented on AB 2747 and its hidden and potential dangers here, and here. Marilyn Golden, a disability rights advocate, who has commented before on the seriousness of this bill weighs in here:

"It sets the stage for Compassion and Choices' hoped-for future legalization of assisted suicide in California. It would mandate that doctors discuss with patients still a year from death, unusual end-of-life courses of action including voluntarily starving and dehydrating themselves. The opposition by the doctors who are most experienced with end-of-life care, such as the Association of Northern California Oncologists, illustrates how medically inappropriate these mandates are."

Time is running out to stop AB 2747 and if it passes the Senate then it would be up to Governor Schwarzenegger to veto the bill to stop it from becoming law. And with the Governor on record as saying that he is "very open- minded" on the issue of assisted suicide, it doesn't look good, particularly with the language of AB 2747 so deceptive.

A Life Ends That Was Worthy of Life

In this utilitarian age when bioethicsts tell us that some lives are not worth living based on "quality of life" judgments, it was interesting to read about Dianne Odell, who just died at age 61. She had polio when she was 3 and spent most of her life sustained by an iron lung and the loving care of her family. From the story:

Life at 133 Odell St. came to revolve around Dianne, with her parents taking turns going to church so someone was always home to feed her and talk to her. The family never took vacations. At Christmas, they would squeeze Dianne, inside the metal machine, into the dining room for the holiday dinner
But today, some utilitarian bioethicists think such devotion is beyond the pale, and indeed, that the requirement of family sacrifices on behalf of an elderly or disabled person triggers a duty to die. Writing in a way that could be applied to Odell's situation, John Hardwig wrote in favor of the duty to die in the Hastings Center Report:
A duty to die is more likely when continuing to live will impose significant burdens--emotional burdens, extensive caregiving, destruction of life plans, and, yes, financial hardship--on your family and loved ones. This is the fundamental insight underlying a duty to die.
Good thing that Odell and her family didn't have such a crass attitude about those who are dependent on others for their care. Indeed, not that it made a difference to her inherent value and worth as a human being, Odell graduate high school and became a writer and a public speaker.

Her story reminds me of my late good friend Mark O'Brien, stricken by polio at age 6, who spent the rest of his nearly 50 years of life living with the assistance of an iron lung. He graduated UC Berkeley, lived in his own apartment thanks to the independent living movement, and became a journalist and powerful advocate against assisted suicide. The City of Berkeley declared two "Mark O'Brien Days" and he was the subject of the splendid documentary Breathing Lessons.

Too many of us today--particularly among the big-brained set--are ready to write off the profoundly disabled as so much unwanted ballast. But Mark O'Brien and Dianne Odell remind us that we are all equally to be treasured, valued, loved--and if necessary, cared for--as precious brothers and sisters in the human community.

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Adult Stem Cells to treat ALS: UBC study

By Alex Schadenberg

A possible breakthrough treatment for people with ALS is being developed at the University of British Columbia (UBC) by Dr. Neil Cashman with results being published in the journal, Muscle & Nerve.
http://www.exacom.net/firstlibrary/Articles/Ontario%20Issues/Health/Drugs%20and%20bio%20research/Adult%20Stem%20Cells%20to%20treat%20ALS.htm

The pilot study has established a safe pathway for using bone-marrow stem cells to slow down and potentially treat ALS.

The study tested the use of a growth factor stimulant in ALS patients and found that bone-marrow stem cells became activated with no adverse effects to the patients.

Cashman stated that "This pathway, if one day successful, may provide a new therapy that will avoid the ethical debate surrounding embryonic stem cells"

The researchers have found that Granulocyte Colony Stimulating Factor (G-CSF) is the safest growth factor to use for ALS patients.

Cashman said that "There have been many misgivings in using stem cell stimulators in ALS patients but now we know we can safely do this. This is an important first step in providing a new treatment for ALS."

This is one more example of the many therapies that are being derived from ethical adult stem cells. Embryonic stem cells continue to have no successful applications and they remain an ethical mine field

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Weighing in on Initiative 1000

By Bobby Schindler

Columnist Joel Connelly chimes in again regarding the state of Washington's effort (Initiative 1000) to legalize physician assisted suicide. You can read his previous column and Wesley's remarks.

Connelly exposes the overwhelming disparity as far as the money raised from both sides. From the article:

As of the latest reports, however, the pro-Initiative 1000 campaign has raised $950,000. The Committee Against Assisted Suicide has collected just $61,000. The bulk of the pro-I-1000 war chest comes from out of state. The biggest bucks have flowed from five "Compassion in Choices" committees across the country ($117,100), the Euthanasia Research and Guidance Organization ($3,500), the Oregon Death With Dignity PAC ($315,000), the Death with Dignity National Center ($15,000) and a group called the Final Exit Network of Georgia ($1,000).

Then there is the question of the so called safeguards when it comes to allowing this practice.

What issues should citizens take to mind? Safeguards in the Oregon law are a place to begin. The Oregon law contains no requirement to notify the family of a patient requesting aid in taking his or her life. Nor does it require that a patient receive mental health counseling.

"The law is written so you just have to be within six months of dying: You do not have to be suffering and you don't have to have psychiatric assistance," said Hendin.

In a University of Michigan Law Review article, Hendin and Dr. Kathleen Foley, a professor at the Cornell University medical college, use a half-dozen cases to challenge Oregon's safeguards. They argue elderly patients have been pressured to die.


Connelly does go on to give equal time to the other side of the argument regarding safeguards. Nevertheless, it looks like we will know soon if Initiative 1000 will be on the ballot this November in the state of Washington.

Scientific Structures: Dominence and Strength


By Jennifer Lahl

My colleague, Evan Rosa, has a great piece here on the recent approval of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to award $271 million dollars in facilities grants to 12 academic and research institutions. 800,000 square feet of buildings to be erected by 2010 for the purpose of embryonic stem cell and human cloning research funded by the California taxpayers.
10 of the 12 buildings will be on university campuses. Like the University of California, Berkeley's Li Ka Shing Center for Biomedical and Health Sciences, which will boast 60,000 square-feet and 12 labs dedicated to embryonic stem cell research.

Rosa writes, "Structures are suggestive . And these buildings, bought on the Prop 71 budget, suggest something radical: academic, political and cultural approval of (human) embryonic stem cell research. They are monuments—monoliths even—of scientific dominance and strength.

Even Robert Klein, chairman of CIRM's governing agency , agrees, "This Prop 71 stem cell research facilities program is one of the largest building programs ever dedicated for a new field of medical science and it will deliver an impact that will be felt worldwide."

Consider this final thought: Klein also responds to the May 7, 2008, hESC research facilities decision that "[California research institutions'] incredible commitment [of funding] underscores the promise that stem cell research holds for patients suffering from chronic disease and injury."

There's that word again. Promise . For such a politically skeptical culture—people so wary of the easy words of our would-be leaders—we sure have exhibited a lot of faith in the "promise" scientists and politicians are making for human embryos. We're betting $271 million (and who knows how many human lives?) on that promise this month, and by 2010 and beyond we'll see how these structures stack up: memorials or mausoleums?"

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Suicide Tourists dying in Switzerland

By Alex Schadenberg

The Dignitas suicide clinic in Switzerland helped to kill 335 suicidal people in the past two years with 85 percent of them being foreigners.

Ludwig Minelli, the director of the Dignitas suicide clinic in Zurich has recently released his statistics on the number of deaths at the Dignitias clinic.
http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/article1216810.ece

The Dignitas clinic admits to charging approximately 5000 British pounds (approximately $10,000) to assist the suicide of their clients. One must first pay a membership fee to Dignitas before they will consider assisting a persons suicide. Of course it has nothing to do with money.

Minelli stated that 50 percent of the deaths are German suicide tourists with the British and the French making up the next two most common nationalities to die at the clinic.

Dignitas has been involved with suicides in vans, similar to the acts by Dr. Kevorkian, and they currently employ the plastic bag and helium method. They began the bag and helium method to avoid the need to receive approval from a physician who would write the lethal prescription.

Recently the Swiss court approved a case of assisting a suicide of a person who was chronically depressed and not physically dying.

Previous comments by Wesley
http://www.wesleyjsmith.com/blog/2007/04/dignitas-to-finish-hate-crime-with.html

http://discardedlies.com/entry/?15281_

Doctors in Switzerland have compared the methods used by Dignitas to those that were used by the Nazi’s.

Some say that this is not a fair comparison because the Nazi’s weren’t concerned about the choice of the victim, but since when have depressed and suicidal people freely chose death.

It is imperative that countries support suicide prevention strategies for their most vulnerable citizens whom Minelli and his Dignitas team are preying on.

We must recognize that a caring society protects its vulnerable citizens at their greatest time of need.

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Japanese government intends to reduce suicide rate

By Alex Schadenberg
euthanasiaprevention@on.aibn.com

Japan is reviewing its guidelines aimed at reducing the number of suicides in Japan and hopes to reduce the suicide rate by 20 percent by 2016.http://www.bloomberg.com:80/apps/news?pid=20601101&sid=a_2Lhi9MAfY0&refer=japan

Japan has been plagued by more than 30,000 suicide deaths each year over the past 10 years. According to the United Nations they have the 9th highest suicide rate in the world.

Recently the Japanese government asked internet providers to block websites that promote suicide and suicide methods, such as hydrogen sulphide on the internet after their was a rash of suicides committed using these techniques in the past few months. http://alexschadenberg.blogspot.com/2008/05/internet-providers-urged-to-remove.html

Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said "It's outrageous that something that seems to promote suicide is widely available on the Internet. There is freedom of expression but it must be accompanied by responsibility. These things shouldn't go unregulated."

The Australian government passed a law prohibiting the promotion and counseling of suicide on the internet a few years ago in response to the work of Dr. Philip Nitschke, the Australian Dr. Death, who was providing suicide and counseling people to commit suicide via the internet.

All western nations need laws that protect vulnerable depressed and mentally incompetent people from falling victim to the euthanasia lobby who are promoting suicide (right to die) as a human right.

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Seeking Person Status for Chimpanzee


Matthew Hiasl Pan is the name given to him. Nice name except for one major detail. Pan is a 26 year old Chimpanzee. And in the radical animal rights activists mind Pan should be seen as, treated as and protected in law as a person.

Thankfully the high court in Austria decided that only people get people status. Duh! The only agreement with the animal rights activists is that Pan is not a human. But the claim is, if you get to know Pan, you will realize that he is a person.

Not happy with the Austrian decision, they've taken their case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.

Wesley has said, "giving constitutional rights to animals and plants will open Pandora’s Box.
“Chimp personhood is a primary goal that animal-right activists seek to attain and then use as a wrecking ball to disintegrate human exceptionalism,” Smith also said “Once a court declares a chimpanzee to be a full person, that ruling would make chimps, in at least some regards, our legal equals. … And when it happens … it will be a moral earthquake that will harm humankind profoundly.”

No one at Secondhand Smoke would say that animals should not be treated with respect and treated humanely, however, if it looks like a chimp, acts like a chimp, sounds like a chimp, it must be a chimp! And not a person.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

More on the Dr. "Infanticide" Sewerling Disgrace

I am glad Alex decided to write on the award given to Dr. Hans-Joachim Sewering--a Holocaust doctor!--by a German medical association. A friend of mine, the Nazi hunter Dr. Bill Franzblau, helped bust Sewering years ago--leading to the bad doctor's having to quit as head of the World Medical Association. Indicating his mindset, Sewerling claimed at the time that it was all a Jewish conspiracy!

Now, he gets an award. But should we be surprised? Infanticide is positively in these days. Proponents get to teach at Princeton and pro infanticide pieces have run in the NEJM, the NYT, and the Hastings Center Report--as documented here at SHS. The way things are going, the doctors hanged for such practices after Nuremberg will be issued an apology by the oh-so-compassionate big brained folk pushing the New Eugenics Agenda!

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Families encouraged to let unresponsive loved ones die

By Alex Schadenberg

The recent Australian guidelines on withdrawing medical treatment from people in a "unresponsive" state will not only encourage families to withdraw medical treatment from their family members but also to deny them basic care provisions. http://www.news.com.au/couriermail/story/0,23739,23755540-952,00.html

The guidelines will encourage families to withdraw basic care such as tube feeding from their "unresponsive" loved one’s. When tube feeding is withdrawn from a person who is cognitively disabled and appears unresponsive, but who is not otherwise dying or nearing death, then the cause of death will be death by dehydration, or in other-words death by euthanasia by omission.

It should be considered optional to withdraw or withhold medical treatment that is risky, intrusive, destructive, exhausting, painful or repugnant or when the cost outweighs benefit or success, or when the treatment is literally futile.

But, medical care such as the provision of fluids and food by tube should be considered obligatory so long as the patient is physiologically benefitting from the care or until the person is imminently dying.

In order for everyone to be treated as an equal citizen, society needs to recognize the dignity of each human being, even when they: live with permanent physical or cognitive disabilities and unable to effectively communicate with others.

The new Australian guidelines encourage physicians and family members to treat people who are patients in post-coma unresponsiveness (PCU) and a minimally responsive state (MRS) differently than other people.

I think that this is a huge step towards future policies that will include the elimination of people with cognitive disabilities who will already be treated without equality and already viewed as expendable.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Toward Honest Talk

By Alex Schadenberg

I read an excellent article by Marilyn Golden in the Capitol Weekly online explaining why California's Bill AB 2747 that is sponsored by Patti Berg needs to be defeated.

Marilyn Golden is a Policy Analyst at the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) which is the leading center on policy and law in relation to disability rights in the U.S.

Golden effectively explains how AB 2747 represents a change in strategy for the euthanasia lobby group compassion and choices (C & C). C & C have made several attempts to legalize assisted suicide since 2005.

Bill AB 2747 is designed to pave the way for the legalization of assisted suicide in California.

As a point of interest, there is a similar bill in Vermont that is also being sponsored by the euthanasia lobby groups.

Read Bobby Schindler's comment to follow mine to get a more complete picture.

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More on AB 2747

By Bobby Schindler

Here is more on California Bill AB 2747 by disability rights advocate Marilyn Golden. Thankfully, this bill, which is being sponsored by California Assemblymembers Patty Berg and Lloyd Levine is being exposed for what it really is, a backdoor attempt to legalize physician assisted suicide. From the article:

"This bill represents a change in strategy by Compassion and Choices after three years of defeat. Every year since 2005, the group tried to legalize assisted suicide in California. Each year, strong bi-partisan opposition defeated that legislation. On a new tack, this bill would pave the way for their hoped-for future legalization of assisted suicide."

Wesley has also written about the potential dangers of this bill and here Marilyn Golden does the same.

"AB 2747 would mandate that doctors discuss with patients still a year from death, unusual end-of-life courses of action including voluntarily starving and dehydrating themselves, which is not even a medical treatment."

This bill would also define terminal illness as one year to live.

"To mandate this discussion a year in advance of death is shockingly early. It is not unusual for a 'terminal' patient to dramatically outlive her terminal prognosis by many years. To force such a discussion on a patient at that time is not fair to the patient. One must ask what end is served by this timing."

Hopefully, this bill will fail for what it is - a cowardly and dishonest attempt to legalize doctor assisted suicide.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Nazi doctor wins medical award

By Alex Schadenberg

Dr. Hans-Joachim Sewering, a 92-year-old german physician has been honored for performing unequalled service in the cause of freedom of the practice and the independence of the medical profession, and to the nation’s health system by the German Federation of Internal Medicine.
http://www.canada.com/calgaryherald/news/story.html?id=267a801e-2b52-42d7-b06e-1d27f3dabf24

The Anti-Defamation League in the U.S. claims that Sewering sent up to 900 children to their death at a euthanasia centre. Sewering has admitted being a member of the SS, but he has denied being responsible for euthanasia deaths.

These cases are very important because they remind us that people are capable of doing horrific acts to other human beings.

Society likes to believe that these horrific acts only happened because of the Nazi regime that controlled Germany, but the reality is that Hitler wasn’t ordering these deaths, physicians were ordering these deaths. Hitler only gave them permission.

Whether Sewering is partly responsible for 900 deaths or not, it is clear that in the long-term, the primary victims of euthanasia will be people with disabilities and other vulnerable persons who will either be subtly coerced into accepting death or killed out of indifference.

People who lack equality, also will lack the necessary ability to effectively resist the culture of death.

Fun in the Baltic




Ystad, Sweden: A really pretty town on the Southern Coast. Relaxation commenced.










Sunrise this morning over the Baltic off the coast of Germany.

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Warning Against the Fundamentalists of Scientism

I have long warned that some are attempting to turn science from a method of obtaining and applying knowledge, into a belief system known as scientism. I am not the only one who has noticed. From a column about debate tactics employed before a recent vote in the House of Commons to permit human/animal cloned hybrids and designer children, "Beware Scientists Who Think They Know Everything," published in the UK's Daily Mail:

Huge issues are being debated, deep emotions are involved and firmly rooted beliefs are lined up on either side. Indeed, seldom has more tolerance and understanding of contrary views been required.

But instead of tolerance, the debates have been marked by bigotry, zealotry and a refusal to accept that contrary views can have any validity at all. What's more, this gross intolerance has not come from the ranks of politicians, who make a profession of denigrating their opponents, or the religious, who have a rich history of persecuting dissenters.

Shamefully, the worst offenders have been the scientists and their supporters, the very people who make the loudest claims to rationality and of being swayed by facts not fundamentalism.
It's absolutely true. And many of these same propagandists are the most willing to play fast and loose with the facts--as we've often discussed here at SHS.

This is an important issue that needs more attention. Some of the very people who castigate religion are busy creating their own, complete with high priests whose word cannot be gainsaid.

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

Will Wonders Never Cease?


By Jennifer Lahl

A friend sent me the link to this news story the other day.

In this Culture of Death, I never ceased to be amazed with the miraculous.

This story highlights, yet another person, not quite dead yet, who suddenly and amazingly woke up. Her family said their good byes, and had pulled all of her life supports tubes except for her mechanical ventilation while they had a discussion on donating her organs after she had died.

And she just woke up. And she woke up talking. The video of her is amazing.

Why the rush toward death?

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Friday, May 23, 2008

The Big Easy Shows Us How It's Done

By Jennifer Lahl

Louisiana just passed through their Senate committee, HR 370, which if passed, would ban the use of public funds for human cloning research. Hooray! Great model legislation moves forward without opposition and is headed to the Senate floor for a vote. Since its not being resisted, I hope that it passes. It has been unfortunate that human cloning has not been banned at the federal level making the statewide battles fierce and contentious. And what's beautiful about the cooperative efforts in the Louisiana Legislature is their ability to get past the smoke and hype and see that cloning researchers are jumping off the band wagon, therapies are coming to patients through adult, umbilical cord blood and iPS cells which can get around the ethical issues requiring us to create nascent human life just so we can destroy it.

One has to look no further than the Golden State of California. The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) is already doling out big bucks of tax payer dollars for cloning researchers to conduct research that has yet to produce one therapy for any diseased patient.

In the spirit of Wesley J. Smith, can we all say PORK!

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

EU Court to Rule if Chimp is "Person!

Can't even take a vacation! But this is very big:

Chimp personhood is a primary goal that animal right activists seek to attain and then use as a wrecking ball to disintegrate human exceptionalism. Once a court's declares a chimpanzee to be a full person, that ruling would make chimps, in at least some regards, our legal equals, which, in turn would erect a new Noah's Ark, only this time shaped like a courtroom, with animal "guardians" soon clogging the courts with suits "by animals" demanding rights.

An early try in Austria toward this end was not successful, as I covered here at SHS. But now the EU Court decided to take that case on appeal--and that ain't good. There was no reason to take the case just to deny what does not, and has never existed. Thus I fear this means that at least some court members are considering making history (to say the least) by finding that under European law chimps are persons and fully entitled to the rights and privileges (but not the duties) thereof. From the story:

Eberhart Theuer, the animal rights group's chief legal adviser, said there is a legal precedent to appoint a guardian for an individual incapable of expressing himself. "As long as Matthew is not recognised as a person, he could be sold abroad or killed for economic reasons," Theuer said.

'His life depends on this decision. This case is about the fundamental question: Who is the bearer of human rights? Who is a person according to the European Human Rights Charter?'

A spokesman for the court in Strasbourg said: "Any application regarding this chimpanzee will be considered at a primary level by a magistrate and a lawyer before we decide whether it deserves a full-blown hearing."

The recent Swiss farce in which individual plants were accorded dignity and social animals now have constitutional rights shows the direction in which powerful elite anti-humanists and the big brained intellectuals are hell bent on taking us. And when it happens--notice I didn't say if--it will be a moral earthquake that will harm humankind profoundly, starting with the weakest among us, but eventually reaching all of us. Can you spell Pandora's box?

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54 ill as new toxic fume suicide hits Japan

By Alex Schadenberg

CNN news has reported about a suicide case in Japan that resulted in 54 people becoming sick from the toxic fumes related to the suicide concoction that was composed of a liquid pesticide.
http://edition.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/05/22/toxic.suicide/?iref=hpmostpop

Earlier this month a 24 year old man committed suicide by mixing laundry detergent and cleaning fluids.

In April, a 14 year old girl used the same method to commit suicide, resulting in 90 neighbors becoming sick from the toxic fumes.

CNN reported that:
"The suicides are seen as part of a spate of detergent-related deaths that experts say have been encouraged by Internet suicide sites since last summer.
Seiji Yoshikawa, deputy head of the Internet Hot Line, which operates under the guidelines of police, said the number of sites promoting detergent suicides soared in April.
"They are rife on the Internet. Writing examples include 'you can die easily and beautifully' and 'this is much easier than charcoal-burning suicide,'" Yoshikawa said, referring to a once-popular suicide method, The Associated Press reported.'

On May 1, I reported about a call for internet providers in Japan to block access to suicide websites in relation to the surge in suicides in Japan.
http://alexschadenberg.blogspot.com/2008/05/internet-providers-urged-to-remove.html

Governments on a world-wide basis need to enact laws to shut down websites that promote and counsel people to commit suicide in order to protect the vulnerable depressed and mentally ill people who are using these websites.

Websites that promote child pornography are effectively being shut down due to laws that have been enacted to protect children. In the same way we need to shut down websites that promote suicide.

Dr. Philip Nitschke, Australia’s Dr. Death and the visible leader of the Right to Die lobby in Australia, has been involved in suicide counseling via the internet for many years. The Right to Die is not about dignity with dignity, it is about creating a universal "right to die".
http://www.cnsnews.com/ViewForeignBureaus.asp?Page=/ForeignBureaus/archive/200609/INT20060912a.html

http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,23633391-2,00.html

Obsessed with Death

By Bobby Schindler

I found
this article very interesting, or should I say pathetic?

Philip Nitschke recently appeared as a witness in a euthanasia trial. Evidently, the prosecutor claimed that he was "hell-bent" on helping a man to commit assisted suicide despite the fact that he suffered from severe Alzheimer's. Of course Nitschke denied the accusation and also that he had a "reckless disregard for human life" or that he "abrogated" his responsibilities as a doctor.

However, listen to Nitschke's response when asked how he determines whether or not a person has the mental faculties to decide to commit suicide.

"It was 'an impression one forms after discussion'. If they can consistently, and repeatedly and coherently put a position that this is what they want ... "

So let get this right, a man with severe Alzheimer's has the mental capacity to "repeatedly" and "coherently" communicate that he wants to kill himself.

No reckless disregard for human life there.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

SHS Funnies

Lio runs into a little "plant dignity:"

Crazy Brave New Britain

By Jennifer Lahl


Monday, as was expected, the United Kingdom approved the creation of human-animal hybrids for research. British officials have bought it hook line and sinker . . . they want to maintain their reputation as leaders in stem cell research. And since a strong contingent of organized groups have been successful at slowing down the human egg trade, creating a shortage of human eggs for research, the researchers are moving forward using enucleated animal eggs and adding in human genetic material, typically from a skin cell. Add a small jolt of electricity and Voila! The cybrid is here. Interspecies cloning has occurred.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said, “these embryos would bring to an end 'the critical limiting factor in stem cell research: the lack of human eggs from which to create embryos and collect stem cells'. They would also bring new cures and treatments to millions of people.”

The bill also backs the creation of “savior siblings”. This means, if you have a sick child who needs a genetic match, you can make embryos in the lab through IVF technology, test them to identify the match, and then implant that embryo in order to save your sick child. Of course, this also means, generally the other embryos are either discarded or donated for research. Perhaps some of you have read Jodi Picoult’s book, My Sister’s Keeper? Chilling what happens when we treat people as means to an end.

And no new law would be complete without either a Hollywood celebrity with an illness or a politician with a sick child or relative beating the desperate drum of Cures, Cures, Cures.

May cool heads prevail as it looks as if we will stop at nothing?

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DNA Fingerprinting Identifies Viable IVF Embryos

By Jennifer Lahl

Has the era of high tech embryo profiling arrived? I have been following the recent study published in the journal Human Reproduction. Researchers have combined the technology that allows them to screen embryos at the blastocyst stage with the DNA fingerprinting and microarray analysis technology in order to identify the viable blastocysts transferred into the mother. The search for the best embryo has always been part of the IVF equation with all the quality controls put in place in the lab.

So how is the research being conducted?

“The researchers tested the DNA of early in vitro fertilization embryos before implanting them into the womb, and then compared the results with the DNA of the healthy babies that were born, and found a cluster of genes that could be used to establish which embryos are likely to make it to full term.”

And why is this research touted as progress?

“The idea is that by using objective, measurable criteria rather than the current more subjective observations such as looking at the morphology of the blastocysts, the ability to predict which embryos are viable will improve to such an extent that IVF clinicians will be able to confidently implant single embryos without reducing pregnancy rates.”

Current methods of embryo testing and embryo grading occur daily in IVF clinics and are just part of the routine. I’ve always criticized embryo grading for being subjective, harmful and dangerous to the early embryo as well as just not a good indicator of the future health of the baby. We’re in dangerous waters here.

The timeline keeps getting moved back further and further in human development in our insatiable quest for the perfect people. We’ve become a people with zero tolerance with anything less than perfect.

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Alleged suicide job shocks campaigners

By Alex Schadenberg

A New Zealand news agency is suggesting that leaders on both sides of the euthanasia debate are surprised that an American woman using the name Susan Wilson was paid $12,000to fly to New Zealand and assist the death of a woman suffering from depression. http://tvnz.co.nz/view/page/1786504

As the long-time leader of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition in Canada and now the International chair, I am neither surprised or shocked by this news.

In September 2006, I attended the World Federation of Right to Die Societies bi-annual conference in Toronto. During the proceedings of that conference, it was apparent that the end-goal for the euthanasia lobby was the acceptance of the "last-will-pill" or the peaceful pill.

Dr. Rob Jonquiere, the moderate leader of the Right to Die movement in the Netherlands explained that by taking the law in their own hands that activists were making it more difficult for politicians to accept the final goal - the acceptance of the "last-will-pill". When you analyze the concept of a last-will-pill you must agree that there is no way to protect people who are depressed or mentally incompetent from killing themselves with this pill.

We already know that the Supreme Court in the Netherlands approved euthanasia for people who are experiencing chronic depression or chronic mental suffering.

Dr. Philip Nitschke, who is the maverick Australian leader of Exit International promoted the peaceful pill that allegedly could be available to anyone at anytime.

Several years ago Wesley Smith reported comments by Nitschke in an article titled "Noxious Nitschke" stating that the "peaceful pill" could be available to troubled teens. http://www.nationalreview.com/smithw/smith200411150826.asp

The question for the euthanasia lobby is not that they oppose euthanasia or assisted suicide for people who suffer depression, the question is how will the public knowledge of their support for these acts affect their campaign to legalize euthanasia or assisted suicide everywhere?

Finally, if there is nothing wrong with assisted suicide then why should assisting a suicide be done for free. Susan Wilson had to fly to New Zealand and accept the chance that she might be arrested for her actions.

Maybe the real shock is that someone would pay her $12,000 and the other members of the euthanasia lobby feel that they are being under paid.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Pushing Futile Care

I appreciate Wesley asking me to help out while he is vacationing. So here it goes...

Posted by Bobby Schindler

Although I agree with some of what Dr. Fisher says in regard to our failing health care system, his underlying premise about how to fix it should concern us all. The good doctor is clearly promoting the extremely dangerous
futile care theory that Wesley often writes about. From the article:

"How death is approached by the medical community has been further complicated by a growing patient-rights movement and an undermining of physicians," he said. "Patients have been given more power to refuse appropriate therapy, and many have interpreted this change to mean that patients also have the right to insist on and receive inappropriate therapy."


Here Dr. Fisher argues why we need futile care.

"We ask families to make the decisions," he said. "We put the onus on the family to decide care. To me, that's a dereliction of duty." "Doctors provide patients with two things -- skills and judgment -- and judgment is by far the more important skill. Judgment comes from seeing hundreds of cases over a course of years," Fisher said. "A physician consults with a family and should present all the rational options. But at some point the doctor has to say when attempts at curative care are no longer a rational choice."

Once again we are seeing a major push from the medical community claiming that doctors should have the power to make final decisions regarding whether or not a patient should be provided care or even allowed continued care once treatment has begun.

One only has to think of Jesse Ramirez and Haleigh Poutre to recognize that giving doctor's full authority on these matters will do little to help "fix" our national health care problems. Unless you are part of the crowd that believes the solution to health care problems is to stop treatment to those who are sick, weak or otherwise vulnerable.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Sex Change Treatment for 7 Year Olds!

This seems to me to be unethical human experimentation: A doctor in Boston gives hormones to children who believe themselves to be transgendered to help prevent puberty and move them toward a sex change. From the story:

Boston's Children's Hospital bills itself as the hospital for children--and now it's also the hospital for children who want a sex change, a procedure some critics are calling "barbaric." Dr. Norman Spack, a pediatric specialist at the hospital, has launched a clinic for transgendered kids--boys who feel like girls, girls who want to be boys-- and he's opening his doors to patients as young as 7. Spack offers his younger patients counseling and drugs that delay the onset of puberty.

The drugs stop the natural flood of hormones that would make it difficult to have a sex alteration later in life, allowing patients more time to decide whether they want to make the change.

Spack also offers some teenagers hormone therapy, a drastic step that changes the way they grow and develop. While the effects of drug treatments can be stopped, long-term hormone therapy can be irreversible, causing permanent infertility in both sexes.

We have no true understanding of the causes of transexualism. We don't know that a kid who is seven and thinks he is a girl will still feel that way when he is 20. He might. Some transexuals report having those feelings very early. But we don't know how many people there might be who felt that way at 7 but don't at 20.

Worse, to medically intervene with strong hormones--the long term impact on the child's body and mental state we cannot know--when there is no underlying physical disease requiring the treatment, is to me, abuse. What if it causes cancer in 20 years? What if it impacts on the children of these children? What if the hormones impact their emotional and mental states, perhaps influencing their transexuality? We can't know the answers. All of this is just too new.

I am reminded of "Ashley's treatment," in which a profoundly disabled girl's normal physical development was interfered with through surgery and hormones to allow better ease of care. Caring motives notwithstanding, that was wrong, at least without a court order, as the hospital so admitted.

And now this: According to the story the Europeans are already traveling this path. And of course, NPR has come out with a properly nonjudgmental feature story:
The hormone blockers are the first stage of the treatment, but there's a second stage that's possible. Once children have postponed puberty for three or four years, at around age 16 they can choose to begin maturing sexually into the opposite gender, the gender they want to become. To do this, they begin taking the hormones of the opposite sex. For males, taking estrogen at this point will bring on breast and hip growth--and all the attributes physical and emotional of females. The reverse will happen for girls who take testosterone. Spack says this treatment can help make an adult transgender male almost indistinguishable from a biological male in terms of physical appearance. "We can make it possible that they can fit in in the way they want to. It is really quite amazing," he says.
This is unconscionable and reflects how sick our culture is becoming--and I am not referring to transgendered people. The inability or unwillingness by a growing number of us to make any judgments that might be criticized as moralism--lest one be denigrated as a bigot, premodern, or a hypocrite--has created a moral vacuum in which very little remains out of bounds. And the worst part is that the greatest victims in the ongoing and utter collapse of norms are our children.

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Bon Voyage! SHS Taking a Cruise

Secondhand Smokette is frazzled, I am about to double down on the gray matter and make my final push to finish the animal rights book this summer, and her parents are itching to travel: So we are taking a cruise.

I just had the Geek Squad tune up the old laptop, so I will still be posting from time-to-time. I am, after all, utterly obsessive and retentive. But I thought I would also invite some pals to guest post. They are:

Jennifer Lahl: Jennifer is the founder and head of the Center for Bioethics and Culture. Her primary focus is biotechnology, although the CBC hits all of the issues we address here at SHS.



Bobby Schindler:In the wake of his sister Terri Schiavo's death, Bobby became a righteous voice speaking up for the intrinsic dignity of the lives of people with disabilities and against medical discrimination.



Alex Schadenberg
: Alex is the indomitable founder and head of the Canadian anti assisted suicide organization the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.


I look forward to their thoughts, and may even comment on what they say myself. Whether you agree or disagree with what they write, please give them a warm welcome.

All ashore that's going ashore!

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Animal Rights versus Environmentalism

I have noticed a slowly growing schism between animal rights and environmentalism. The former cares about each animal as individuals, perceiving their moral value (whether based on "painience" or "sentience") to that generally accorded to human beings. Environmentalism, in contrast, cares about macro systems, a view in which individuals--perhaps even human beings--matter less and in the more radical view, can even be sacrificed to "save the planet."

This sometimes leads the two to come into conflict, as I have pointed out here. Now, animal rights activists are threatening to stop a planned kangaroo cull that is being done to protect endangered grass and grasshoppers. (But grasshoppers are animals, and accordingly, PETA has called for the end of insect exploitation such as domesticated queen bee "rape racks.") But I digress. From the story:

ANIMAL liberationists are threatening to act as human shields to prevent a kangaroo cull on military land. Killing pens and refrigerated trucks were in place yesterday at a former navy transmission station in Canberra, ahead of the planned culling of about 400 kangaroos over the next few days. The cull will be carried out to protect rare grasslands and plants and the threatened perunga grasshopper and golden sun moth. The kangaroos will be stunned with tranquilliser darts and then given lethal injections. The cull has earned the ire of international vegetarian group Viva! (Vegetarians International Voice for Animals) and its celebrity backers, including Sir Paul McCartney.
Sigh. I just wish McCartney's moral sense were as prodigious as his musical talent.

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SHS Funnies

A transhumanist's guide to friendship:

ESCR Arguments in the UK: "Beware False Promises"

The UK is debating a new embryo bill that would, among other things, explicitly permit the creation of human/animal cloned hybrid embryos for use in research. And even though there is no attempt in the UK to outlaw human ESCR or human cloning using human eggs, Prime Minister Gordon Brown appears on the defensive due to the great successes so far in adult stem cells. From "Beware False Promises," written by the the neuroscientist Neil Scolding:

Dazzled by the promises, the public stands by in awe of the science. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority allows everything: it has thus far not ultimately rejected a single embryo-research-related application. Pro-embryo-research scientists have a ready mouthpiece in politicians and journalists beguiled by the claims. How could anyone oppose these miraculous cures? What we have seen in the determined efforts of some of the bill's more politically motivated protagonists is a confusion of the issues and a classic sleight of hand--in two separate ways. Both need exposing if people of conscience are to form honestly informed views.

The first is tacitly to allow the exciting advances in adult stem-cell treatments to illustrate the far more speculative therapeutic potential of embryonic stem cells; to use the former to justify the latter. Thus Gordon Brown: "With adult stem cells already being used as treatments for conditions including leukaemia, severe combined immunodeficiency, and heart disease, scientists are already close to the breakthroughs that will allow embryonic stem cells to be used to treat a much wider range of conditions. Medical researchers now believe that stem-cell therapy has the potential to change dramatically the treatment of many other human afflictions: including not only Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's but perhaps also cancer, spinal-cord injuries and muscle damage.
Right out of the Missouri and California playbooks: Sure there have been some successes in asult, but that means embryonic will be even better! Classic.

Scolding points out some other truths:
Adult stem cells, present in most if not all specialised organs, have evolved as cells for repair: that is their purpose, and they successfully achieve this in many ways. But all this is barely relevant to the new bill. For here lies the second sleight of hand. The debate has, falsely, been turned into a referendum on all embryonic stem-cell research. What is proposed is actually "only" the licensing of various forms of mixed animal-human embryos as possible new sources of stem cells. But all the justifications for experiments using cybrids (embryos that are largely human but contain a minute quantity of animal material) are based on the falsehood that they are vital for developing embryonic stem-cell-based cures for dreadful diseases as argued by Lord Patel and Gordon Brown...And the suggestion that there is "no alternative" to cybrids is not even close to the truth. Rather, clinical scientists around the world have been extraordinarily excited by the emergence in the last year of a new technique for producing so-called "inducible pluripotent stem cells" (IPSCs).
Never mind that ESCR still can't be used in humans. And never mind that human cloning remains very rudimentary, or that ISPCs look to do most of what you could get from human cloning research, or that health care systems to treat today's sick are terribly strained or in meltdown--the politicians, Science Establishment, and media demand ethics and financial blank checks. This results in a new Gilded Age and little accountability, as in CA, where the CIRM is pouring hundreds of millions into fancy buildings rather than research.

Support for bioscience has become religion. Facts don't matter. What counts is belief.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

CPR Usually Not Futile--Even in Terminal Illnesses

This is interesting, considering the drive to refuse wanted CPR as "futile" when people are terminally ill. From a study published in the Journal of Hospice and Palliative Nursing--Vol. 10, No. 3, May/June 2008 (no link available):

There is little evidence CPR is not effective and--hence inappropriate--in end-stage disease. The strongest evidence appears for cancer patients in critical care who experience cardiac arrest as a consequence of multisystem organ failure. This population would meet criteria for not initiating CPR.

However, decisions about the appropriateness of CPR encompass more than quantitative survival. A qualitative approach that addresses benefit from a broader goal-directed perspective must be considered. Benefit of CPR, to some extent, is in the eye of the beholder.
Yes indeed. And that is why coercion in these matters is wrong. But with proper education, a better choice might be made. Thus the article urges a properly detailed discussion of whether to request CPR:
Before the Patient Self-Determination Act (PSDA), goals and decision making were often framed from a medical perspective. Since the enactment of the PSDA, patient-centered goals and decision making take precedence; however, healthcare providers have a responsibility to provide the medical information necessary to make an informed decision about CPR and make professional recommendations...However, large-scale studies of seriously ill adults have demonstrated that CPR discussions are often late and/or lacking. CPR in end-stage disease may not be inappropriate; however,the current practice of making CPR a routine part of the dying process without timely dialogue is very inappropriate.
Educate. Persuade. Cajole, even: But do not force. This is the best way to obtain the most beneficial outcomes for the most patients while maintaining the people's trust in the integrity and beneficence of medicine.

HT: Heather Seierstad

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Patti Berg: Calling It as it Isn't

For years, California Assemblywoman Patti Berg (D- Mill Valley) has resorted to every conceivable maneuver she could think of to pass an assisted suicide bill through the California Legislature. She failed. So now, she is trying a different approach: Under the guise of requiring doctors to disclose "information" about "options" available to the "terminally ill," with AB 2747, which I wrote about here (before amendments) and here, she is undermining proper understandings of legitimate medical treatments such as palliative sedation, and attempting to turn it into a form of death on demand.

She's having trouble with this one too and in response, has now penned an "I'm so courageous and my opponents are just death-denying squeamish nervous Nellies who can't handle the truth," kind of column. She writes:

I'm not someone who speaks in euphemisms, either. When I talk about taxes, I talk about taxes. When I talk about sex, I talk about sex. And when I talk about death, I talk about death--I don’t couch real ideas behind fuzzy comfort phrases like "passing on," "going to sleep" or "ceasing to be."

I almost swallowed my Adam's apple when I read that one. I have had to deal with Berg's advocacy for years, and she is the master of using gooey euphemisms when it comes to assisted suicide. For example,I debated her in the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle, and she called assisted suicide "a gentle, voluntary and peaceful choice." Yea, that's straight talk alright. And how about the title of her assisted suicide legalization bill: "The California Compassionate Choices Act." Move over John McCain: Berg is has taken over the steering wheel of the Straight Talk Express!

And how about this nonsense:

In the real world, death is most often a process, predictable and inevitable. Terminal diseases move through phases. Death comes. It is often very cruel. The agony of cancer does not make for pleasant conversation.

Except, when you have defined terminal illness as one year to live--as AB 2747 does--it is not at all predictable. My first hospice patient that I served as a volunteer got kicked out because he improved to the point he wasn't dying. My last patient, a man with ALS, was supposed to die in 6 months and lasted nearly 2 years. A friend of mine was given 3 months to live with lung cancer--more than 7 years ago! I am sure you all have similar stories. Contrary to Berg, we usually don't die by the numbers until we get very close to the end.

And indeed, while cancer is certainly not pleasant to discuss, the pain it causes is almost always amenable to palliation--to the point that when Dame Cecily Saunders, the founder of the modern hospice movement, was once asked by the New York Times how she wanted to die, she said cancer! This even nonplussed me, but she had an interesting reason: She knew her suffering could be controlled and it would give her time to say goodbye to her friends. (Saunders got her wish. She died of cancer in her own hospice, Here is the obituary that I wrote about her for the Weekly Standard.)

The "courageous truth teller" Berg's problem is that we understand her all too well. She has an ideologue's zeal for assisted suicide. That is her right. But pretending that our side hasn't the stomach to talk frankly about death is ludicrous. Indeed, getting her side to talk plainly about what they propose and its consequences is the primary problem.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

More Commentary on Swiss Nonsense

I did a lot of media on my "Silent Scream of the Asparagus" piece in the Weekly Standard. But I am certainly not alone in noticing the extremes to which the Swiss are now going, not only with plant "dignity," but also with certain "rights" for social animals--including goldfish--about which I also commented here at SHS. And now Michael Cook, the creator of the splendid bioethics news clearing house BioEge, has weighed in with "The Dignity of Swiss Goldfish." From his column:

Switzerland's passion for the dignity of all creatures great and small, however, rings hollow in view of its treatment of human beings. It is one of the few countries in the world where assisted suicide is legal. The best-known agency for DIY [do it yourself] euthanasia, a Zurich-based group called--what else?--Dignitas, recently opened its thanatorium in the same building as Switzerland's biggest legal brothel. Surely that violates one of the numerous provisions in the constitution guaranteeing human dignity. As it is now, there seems to be about as much bureaucracy involved in killing a Swiss goldfish as there is in killing a human being. (Special chemicals are required since flushing fish down the toilet has been deemed undignified.) The poor, befuddled Swiss have clearly lost the plot on what dignity is and who is entitled to it.
Cook notes that human dignity--and whether it is important--is now an issue of controversy (as we also discussed here when I revealed the shallowness of Steven Pinker's tirade against human dignity as meaningful in bioethics). Cook writes:
Well, the Swiss folderol suggests we will all be very sorry when "human dignity" is eliminated. The scope of human dignity in Switzerland has shrunk to the point that international death tourism there has become a boutique business. At the same time, the scope of non-human dignity has expanded. This is to be expected. For years the radical fringe of animal rights activists has attacked violence against animals by using violence against humans.

What is unexpected is that there seems to be no brake on the ever-expanding circle of non-human dignity. Somewhere above spiders and slugs, perhaps. But the Swiss experience suggests otherwise. Once the DNA of human dignity has been tampered with, it keeps expanding by some crazy logic, unfettered by common sense, until it includes plants, and even "other organisms".
Precisely. Defining ourselves down to roughly the moral value of flora and fauna is not good for the human race. Nor, in the end, will it be good for flora and fauna.

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Utilitarian Bioethics: Anything Goes on One End, Instrumentalization of the Weak on the Other

John Harris is an influential UK bioethicist whose hard core utilitarianism makes his ideas dangerous and potentially as tyrannical as those of Peter Singer--perhaps more. I first became aware of Harris when researching Culture of Death: The Assault on Medical Ethics in America, when I read an article he wrote in the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal called "The Concept of the Person and the Value of Life," in which he wrote:

Many, if not most of the problems of health care ethics presuppose that we have a view about what sorts of beings have something we might think of as ultimate moral value. Or, if this sounds to apocalyptic then we certainly need to identify the sorts of individuals who have "the highest" moral value or importance...
Harris's point was that human nonpersons can be killed and we can get a good night's sleep. But imagine if he had said we need to identify the race that has the highest moral value and that another race could be killed. He would be rightly labeled a bigot. This is the same thing, just different victims.

As we all know by now, such invidious discrimination against the weak and vulnerable is accepted widely in the Establishment--and even in the media despite their bleating about liberalism and human equality. These attitudes--which are being inculcated into our doctors of tomorrow, our nurses of tomorrow, our government leaders of tomorrow in the elite universities--mark an unapologetic return of eugenics. Indeed, Harris has explicitly supported eugenics, for example, in a BBC report about the pressure on families to eugenically abort:"

"Eugenics is the attempt to create fine healthy children and that's everyone's ambition." He believes couples who choose to have babies even when there are problems are "misguided" and the more we can screen out disability, pain and suffering the better. "We're not trying to do this through killing people or eliminating individuals, we're trying to do this by making choices about which people will exist in the future."
Except those "choices" involve killing people whilst non persons. Indeed, eugenic infanticide or "post birth abortion" as it has been called, is now a regular practice in the Netherlands.

Today, the Times of London has a Harris piece in support of transhumanism (although he doesn't use the term), toward which these eugenic agendas point. He writes:

Darwinian evolution has taken millions of years to create human beings; the next phase of evolution, a phase I call "enhancement evolution", [me: really, intelligent design]could occur before the end of the century. The result may be the emergence of a new species that will initially live alongside us and eventually may entirely replace humankind...

Some of these possibilities are so radical that the creatures benefiting from them would no longer be "human", in the way we think of it. The end of humanity then is not in itself a concern
[me:!!!]; making sure that those who replace us are better than we are is a huge and timely concern.
To get there, of course, will require an "anything goes" biotechnological research agenda, including cloning, genetic engineering, and as utilitarian bioethicists have written elsewhere (and I have covered here at SHS), treating human non persons as crops and prize herds in organ procurement and experimentation. It will also include the investment of tremendous sums--this at a time when children with malaria die in Africa and we are banned from using DDT to kill the disease-carrying mosquitoes.

Here we find the other end of the new eugenics, the drive to create the superman that is fueled by eliminating and exploiting the weakest and most vulnerable among us. And, due to the expense, it would be reserved for those with money to burn. Oh, Harris throws a bromide that society should help the deserving poor enhance, but make no mistake about it, in a world in which utilitarian ethics dominate, it would be open season on those deemed to be a drag on society due to their "poor" quality of life. And we can kiss universal human rights goodbye.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Anti Transhumanist Wisdom on Battlestar Gallactica

In Marshall McLuhan's vast television wasteland that is getting vaster and more wasted with each passing year, there are a few shining examples of true excellence. Perhaps the best show on television today--and one of the best ever--is Battlestar Gallactica, a program that like the best science fiction explores the most meaningful issues of human existence and societal complexity.

For those who don't know: the premise of the show is that human beings made millions of robots known as cylons that developed artificial intelligence. The cylons decide to wipe out the human race because of our defects and all but succeed in a suprise nuclear attack.

The last 40,000 humans escape in a ragtag spaceship fleet led by the obsolete war "battlestar" called Gallactica. Eventually, in desperation, the fleet strikes out for their mythical planet of origin--Earth--their enemy hot on their tails.

The cylons were able to infiltrate into human society--and the escaping fleet--because they developed 9 "models" that look and feel human--with the women super hot in order to attract the teenage boy (and middle age man) crowd. What's more, the "human" cylons can't die. If one is killed, it is resurrected, memories intact, in a vat on a resurrection ship: A transhumanist's most devout fantasy! Come to think of it, cylons are transhumanists: They are post human, fully conscious, enhanced, and immortal.

One of the latest twists in the tale has been a civil war breaking out among the cylons, with the rebels now working with the humans. A plan is afoot to destroy the core resurrection ship, meaning that cylons will become mortal, just like us. To sell the plan to a doubting governing council, "Six" one of the cylons, gives a short speech. It struck me that it was worth transcribing and posting here, because shades of Leon Kass, it rebukes the transhumanist fundamental goal of material immortality:

In our civil war, we've seen death. We've watched our people die: Gone forever. As terrible as it was, beyond the reach of the resurrection ship, something began to change.

We could feel a sense of time, as if each moment held its own significance. We began to realize that for our existence to hold any value, it must end. To live meaningful lives, we must die and not return.

The one human flaw that you spend your lifetimes distressing over--mortality--is the one thing; it's the thing that makes you whole.
This is hard but true, isn't it? I know that as I approach my 59th birthday, my focus has certainly sharpened. My father is dead. My grandmother is dead. My mother is almost 91 and my heart trembles. But Six is right. Death's awful shadow gives corporeality its magnificent power. And as we struggle to delay that awful day for ourselves and those we love, death also gives us a reason to grasp the joy and search for transcendence and ultimate meanings--even among those who deny there is any meaning to be found.

Death is important for what it gives us as well as what it takes away. And that is where the transhumanism goes so badly off the rails. There may be an immortal existence, but it isn't--and shouldn't be--here.

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Exposing the "War on Science" Bunkum

Advocates for an "anything goes" scientific sector often claim that attempts to place reasonable ethical parameters around biotechnology--say by outlawing all human cloning as has been urged by the UN General Assembly--is a war on science or the imposition of religion. That argument is, and always was, baloney. For example, there are limits on what we can do to animals in research. But those are not based on scientific principles, but rather, on moral precepts. Ditto the limitations on human subjects research. The only reason these two examples aren't similarly attacked is because generally, the Science Establishment agrees with them.

Michael Gerson had a very good piece about this in the Washington Post this week. From his column:

There are few things in American politics more irrationally ideological, more fanatically faith-based, than the accusation that Republicans are conducting a "war on science."

According to Hillary Clinton, the Bush administration has declared "open season on open inquiry." "When I am president," she promises, "scientific integrity will not be the exception; it will be the rule."

The exceptions, in this case, are pretty exceptional: Elias Zerhouni, who has reformed the National Institutes of Health with widely praised efficiency; Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who helped set in motion large-scale AIDS treatment in Africa; Francis Collins of the National Human Genome Research Institute, who led the effort to map the human genome. The "war on science" recently has allowed some extraordinary achievements.

For the most part, these accusations are a political ploy -- actually an attempt to shut down political debate. Any practical concern about the content of government sex-education curricula is labeled "anti-science." Any ethical question about the destruction of human embryos to harvest their cells is dismissed as "theological" and thus illegitimate.

Gerson points out that what some call a war on science from the Right, is really a war on human equality from the Left:
In "Science and the Left," his insightful article in the latest issue of the New Atlantis, Yuval Levin argues that a belief in the power of science is central to the development of liberalism--based on the assertion that objective facts and rational planning can replace tradition and religious authority in the organization of society. Levin summarizes the liberal promise this way: "The past was rooted in error and prejudice while the future would have at its disposal a new oracle of genuine truth."

But the oracle of science is silent on certain essential topics. "Science, simply put," says Levin, "cannot account for human equality, and does not offer reasons to believe we are all equal. Science measures our material and animal qualities, and it finds them to be patently unequal."

Without a firm, morally grounded belief in equality, liberalism has been led down some dark paths. The old, progressive eugenics of the late 19th and early 20th centuries involved widespread sterilization of the mentally disabled as a form of social hygiene. "Drastic and Spartan methods may be forced upon society," argued Margaret Sanger in 1922, "if it continues complacently to encourage the chance and chaotic breeding that has resulted from our stupidly cruel sentimentalism."
The consequence as the column notes--and we have pointed out here at SHS repeatedly--leads to the destruction of human exceptionalism (my term) and the methodical advance of the culture of death.

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SHS Funnies

The Swiss ethics panel gives an example of violating "animal dignity."




A global warming scientist's prayer the night before his big presentation:


Thursday, May 15, 2008

SHS on the Air About "Euphemisms" in Public Advocacy

A radio interview I gave back in 2004 about euphemisms, confusion, and animal rights on the splendid, but now lamentably defunct radio program Issues Etc., was just posted on-line over at Wittenberg Media blog.

I get a bit excited about some scientists not knowing what they are talking about when it comes to ethical issues and cloning. I had forgotten about this but I wrote about it in the Weekly Standard back in early 2004. From that column:

ONE OF THE MORE DISTURBING hallmarks of the cloning debate has been the inaccurate and unscientific language used by cloning proponents to describe human cloning for biomedical research. There is a reason for this disingenuous approach to cloning advocacy. When cloning is accurately described as creating a new human embryo, the public overwhelmingly opposes it--whether the cloning is undertaken for research purposes or to create children. But when obfuscating terminology is employed to make it appear that only "cells" are created in a "therapeutic cloning" procedure, public support tends to grow.

As it turns out, this also holds true for scientists. A new survey of biotechnology researchers has just been released demonstrating both the political effectiveness of the pro-cloning wordplay and an appalling ignorance among the scientific community about what human cloning actually entails.
In that regard, I think it--and the Standard piece--remain timely. It you are interested, check it out.

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No Human ESCR Trials per FDA

Geron Corporation has released a series of press releases over several years stating that "next year" it would start the first human trials using ES cells. Apparently, that won't be happening yet. From the story:

The F.D.A. convened a meeting April 10 of expert advisers who stressed the need for stringent safety measures in embryonic stem cell trials.

Steven Bauer, chief of the F.D.A.'s cell and tissue therapy branch, said at the meeting that the agency might require "particularly strong" evidence early in studies that stem cell treatments are effective. The agency may also require longer trials of stem cell therapies than it does for conventional drugs, Mercedes Serabian, a supervisory toxicologist for the agency, said after the meeting.

The company will announce its plans once it receives the F.D.A. letter, Mr. Okarma said. "We are disappointed with this action given the interactions we had with the F.D.A. over four years leading to the filing" of the company's 21,000-page application for the trial, he said.
Tumors are an important worry, as is efficacy. Meanwhile, those adult stem cell advances keep rolling in.

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Using the False Claim Act to Impose Futile Care Theory?

Ah, the days when "choice" seemed to be the end all and be all of bioethics. You say you want your profoundly disabled spouse's feeding tube pulled so he dies slowly by dehydration? Choice! You say you want assisted suicide? Choice! You say you want your life extended with life-sustaining treatment? No Choice if the bioethicists believe your life is not worth living!

Wait a minute: That doesn't make sense. Actually, it does. The issue has never really been autonomy. It has been about making sure that certain populations die and stop sucking up resources. If "choice" gets that done, great. Bioethicists love choice. But if not, then they have other ways to ensure that certain people get six feet under.

Toward this end a particularly ham-fisted approach to forcing hospitals to impose medical futility (no choice for hospitals either, apparently) has been proposed over at the Medical Futility Blog. The idea is to use the threat of federal litigation against hospitals who provide too much end of life (EOL) care, and, in the process, turn hospital personnel into informants and litigants against their own employers. From the entry:

Medicare knows, the CBO [Congressional Budget Office] knows, and everyone else knows that Medicare will have to start using some more aggressive CBA [cost benefit analysis] to ration the treatments that it covers. But even before we get to that, it seems that even under current regulations, Medicare should not be paying for much EOL care.

One way that this determination might be made is through the prosecution of a False Claims Act Claim. This could be brought (in New Jersey where there is comparatively more inappropriate EOL care) by the U.S. Attorney, the state AG, or even a private qui tam plaintiff like a nurse who observes too much inappropriate care.
Such coercion will backfire, particularly in an era of strained resources. Whatever trust remains in health care will evaporate. And the ICU or hospital will become scenes of violence as distraught families fight against imposed cessation of life support. Indeed, it has already happened.

This is the consequence of accepting a quality of life ethic. Rather than treating the patient as a person, as Paul Ramsey advocated, it is to treat the sickest and most vulnerable as disposable. And don't think it would stop with medical futility. Once the principle was established that bioethicists could decide who received care and who didn't, the door would open wide to other forms of medical discrimination.

Education works to help patients and families make better EOL choices. But using the club of federal litigation against hospitals that provide "too much care" in order to impose social policy would be undemocratic and tyrannical. Can we spell culture of death?

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"Assisted Suicide and the Corruption of Palliative Care"

I have a piece up on today's First Things daily about assisted suicide and how it corrupts palliative care. From my column:

For the past two decades, euthanasia/assisted-suicide ideologues have worked overtime to conflate palliative care--the medical alleviation of pain and other distressing symptoms of serious illness--with intentionally ending the life of the patient. The movement’s first target was the hospice, a specialized form of care for the dying created forty years ago in the United Kingdom by the late, great medical humanitarian Dame Cicely Saunders. Determined to treat what she called the "total pain" of dying patients, Saunders' great innovation was to bring a multidisciplinary team to the task of ensuring that their physical pain, existential suffering, spiritual needs, and mental health are all properly attended.

Saunders believed that suicide prevention, when needed, is an essential part of the package, crucial to fulfilling a hospice's call to value the lives and intrinsic dignity of each patient until the moment of natural death...But assisted-suicide advocates wish to transform hospice into "hemlock" (as one advocate once put it), a facilitator of suicide rather than a preventer.

I note that assisted suicide make much of the fact that about 86% of Oregon assisted suicides were of patients in hospice, and argue that means more is needed to assure a "good death." I see it differently:
But there is another way to look at it. What advocates don't mention--and this is an issue about which the state bureaucrats seem utterly indifferent--is that most of Oregon's assisted suicides were facilitated in some way by people affiliated with the assisted-suicide advocacy group Compassion and Choices (formerly the Hemlock Society)... This means that the patients in the hospice who committed assisted suicide under Oregon's law most likely did not receive suicide prevention--either because the hospice team was not alerted to their patient's suicidal desire or perhaps the Oregon law has effectively short-circuited the prevention response by hospice professionals. In other words, rather than showing the need to expand hospice "services," Oregon demonstrates how assisted suicide actually interferes with the proper delivery of hospice services--at least as the hospice was envisioned by Saunders.
The discussion then turns to the attempts, discussed here previously at SHS, to subvert palliative sedation into backdoor assisted suicide, with particular attention to the California bill I have mentioned previously:
The effect of the bill would be insidious. If AB 2747 becomes law, doctors would be required to facilitate death by dehydration on demand for terminally ill patients--and this "treatment" would not be reserved only for those at the very end of life, since the bill defines terminal illness as having one year or less to live. Moreover, if the doctor believes that palliative sedation is medically unnecessary and/or believes it to be ethically wrong under the circumstances, he or she would still be legally required to be complicit in the patient's dehydration death under the requirement that refusing doctors refer a requesting patient to another doctor willing to go along.
Assisted suicide ideologues--who tend to be well tailored elites--are ever about the task of subverting important ethical principles and blurring crucial definitions and distinctions in pursuit of their death agenda. But they aren't the ones who get hurt.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Steven Pinker's Stupid Tantrum

I just read a ridiculous screed by Steven Pinker in the New Republic that is beyond ludicrous. His primary purpose seems to be to attack Leon Kass, who agree or disagree with him, is a very serious thinker. A secondary point seems to be that the President's Council on Bioethics is pushing a Catholic agenda. The third point is that human dignity is no basis for crafting public policy and bioethical principles.

It might help his case if Pinker could get his facts straight. Case in point: Pinker writes that Kass was appointed to head the President's Council on Bioethics, "a position from which he convinced the president to outlaw federally funded research that used new stem-cell lines." But that is exceedingly strange since, 1) the Council did not exist when the president's policy was made and, indeed, was only created in the aftermath of that decision, 2) if Kass (who is Jewish) were really pushing the Catholic line, the President would not have permitted any funding of ESCR. You see, the Catholic Church opposed the Bush plan, and 3) as far as I know Kass has never publicly commented upon funding of ESCR nor on it propriety or lack thereof. But what the hey, why let facts ruin a good demagogic jeremiad?

Pinker goes even further off the rails in his blather over the President's Council's focus on human dignity as a basis for bioethical decision making. As I understand the term and its use in bioethical discourse, dignity means the intrinsic value and overarching importance of human life--which apparently Pinker opposes. But he makes a fool of himself by misusing the term as it is used in bioethics debates--to mean something much less. For example, Pinker says that dignity is "fungible." From his rant:

The Council and Vatican treat dignity as a sacred value, never to be compromised. In fact, every one of us voluntarily and repeatedly relinquishes dignity for other goods in life. Getting out of a small car is undignified. Having sex is undignified. Doffing your belt and spread- eagling to allow a security guard to slide a wand up your crotch is undignified. Most pointedly, modern medicine is a gantlet of indignities. Most readers of this article have undergone a pelvic or rectal examination, and many have had the pleasure of a colonoscopy as well. We repeatedly vote with our feet (and other body parts) that dignity is a trivial value, well worth trading off for life, health, and safety.
Pinker is completely missing the point, probably on purpose, by mixing up what we might call capital-D Dignity, e.g. intrinsic worth, value, and importance with small-d dignity, e.g., not being in a humiliating or potentially demeaning circumstance. I didn't lose my intrinsic worth because I had a colonoscopy last summer. But it wasn't something I would want to do in public and yes, it would be embarrassing to have it done in display window. But protecting the importance of human life and the minor "indignities" of being comical whilst getting out of a small car or the ludicrous posturings of hot sex are two totally different concepts.

He also states that dignity is "harmful," again misusing the term totally:
Jean Bethke Elshtain rhetorically asked, "Has anything good ever come from denying or constricting human dignity?" The answer is an emphatic "yes." Every sashed and be-medaled despot reviewing his troops from a lofty platform seeks to command respect through ostentatious displays of dignity. Political and religious repressions are often rationalized as a defense of the dignity of a state, leader, or creed: Just think of the Salman Rushdie fatwa, the Danish cartoon riots, or the British schoolteacher in Sudan who faced flogging and a lynch mob because her class named a teddy bear Mohammed. Indeed, totalitarianism is often the imposition of a leader's conception of dignity on a population, such as the identical uniforms in Maoist China or the burqas of the Taliban.
Wow, that's original: The Left branding someone perceived to be on the Right, as a Taliban. But such name calling is par for the course for a certain mindset, particularly when it comes to Kass: Apparently they can't out argue him philosophically, so they resort to the cheapest name calling.

But back to the point: Surely Pinker--who is after all a Ph.D--knows that the kind of phony dignity to which he refers is not what the term means in the bioethics debate. And indeed, terrible harm does come from denying Capital D human dignity. Slavery is a perfect example. The intrinsic dignity of slaves is denied by their very servitude. Eugenics is another example, in which the equal moral worth of some were denied, leading to mass forced and involuntary sterilization. The list is long.

Pinker's tantrum is emblematic of a certain mindset that fervently desires to pursue an anything goes bioethics and biotechnology and is like phosphorous hitting the air when confronted with a different value system. Pathetic.

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Words to Ponder About the Culture of Death

Recent events have me recalling the best and most succinct description of why we are slowly succumbing to the culture of death. They are from Canadian journalist and commentator, Andrew Coyne, who, reacting to the widespread public support for Robert Latimer, who murdered his daughter Traci because she had cerebral palsy, wrote:

A society that believes in nothing can offer no argument even against death. A culture that has lost its faith in life cannot comprehend why it should be endured.

(Andrew Coyne, "The Slippery Slope That Leads to Death," Globe and Mail, November 21, 1994.)

Yes, I am in a bad mood.

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Oregon "Guidelines That Do Not Protect


We keep hearing that the Oregon law is working without a flaw. The media touts that party line in almost every story about the issue. Of course to do that, contrary information has to be ignored. For example, the Michael Freeland case (reported in the American Journal of Psychiatry) in which a man became psychotic after being prescribed a lethal brew--even though his cancer had probably not reached the terminal stage--but was allowed by his own psychiatrist to keep the prescription "safely at home." Such as the recent study demonstrating that people without serious symptoms of their disease are given lethal prescriptions by doctors anyway.

And here's another media-ignored study, published in the Michigan Law Review by two of the most notable physician experts on this issue in the country, palliative care expert Kathleen M. Foley and psychiatrist Herbert Hendin. "Physician-Assisted Suicide in Oregon: A Medical Perspective" is a long piece and can't be completely reproduced here. (I can't even summarize it adequately in a short post. Sorry.)
First, here is their summarized conclusion (my emphasis):
Drawing on case studies and information provided by doctors, families, and other care givers, it finds that seemingly reasonable safeguards for the care and protection of terminally ill patients written into the Oregon law are being circumvented. The problem lies primarily with the Oregon Public Health Division ("OPHD"), which is charged with monitoring the law. OPHD does not collect the information it would need to effectively monitor the law and in its actions and publications acts as the defender of the law rather than as the protector of the welfare of terminally ill patients.
That's been clear for a very long time, and it is good that these two stellar professionals have now quantified it. They offer examples:
In Oregon, intolerable suffering that cannot be relieved is not a basic requirement of assisted suicide...The unintended consequence of this provision is that it enables physicians to assist in suicide without inquiring into the source of the medical, psychological, social, and existential concerns that usually underlie requests for assisted suicide, even though this type of inquiry produces the kind of discussion that often leads to relief for patients and makes assisted suicide seem unnecessary.
That's the true hospice approach, but assisted suicide is subverting hospice. (I'll have a piece out next week on that issue.) And call me cynical, but I think the absence of an intolerable suffering element in the law is quite intended. The concept of unrelievable suffering is only the selling point.

Several actual case studies are presented in the article. "Helen," the first legal assisted suicide has been discussed before--including in my Forced Exit--and demonstrates abuse from the git go (to use the vernacular), including "doctor shopping" for a willing prescription writer after the patient's own doctor said no, that has marked the Oregon experience from the beginning. Here is another case I knew less about--that of Joan--who had ALS. The reporting here demonstrates what happens when the law gives the state's imprimatur to some suicides and how meaningless referrals for a "consultation" can be:

He [the prescribing death doctor] stated that after talking with attorneys from the Oregon Medical Association and agreeing to help aid Joan in death, he asked Joan to undergo a psychological examination. The doctor reported that..."I elected to get a psychological evaluation because I wanted to cover my ass."

The doctor and the family found a cooperative psychologist who asked Joan to take the Minnesota Multiphasic Inventory, a standard psychological test. Because it was difficult for Joan to travel to the psychologist's office, her children read the true-false questions to her at home. The family found the questions funny, and Joan's daughter described the family as "cracking up"over them. Based on these test results, the psychologist concluded that whatever depression Joan had was directly related to her terminal illness, which he considered a completely normal response...
[Me: Can we say "rubber stamp?]

The psychologist's report in Joan's case is particularly disturbing because without taking the trouble to see her, and on the basis of a single questionnaire administered by her family, he was willing to give an opinion that would facilitate ending Joan's life. The physician's attitude toward the consultation surely played a part in his receiving a report that did not meet professional standards.
Well, that and six bits will buy you a cup of coffee, I guess. Nobody cares. She had ALS, she wanted to die. What do professional standards have to do with it?

The entire article reads very much like the collapse of Dutch medical ethics that came along with its euthanasia laws. This is the bottom line: Assisted suicide is abandonment. The crucial question facing the culture of the West is: Do we care enough about each other any more to exercise true compassion, (the root meaning of which is to "suffer with")?


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SHS Funnies

What happened when Swiss wildflowers learned they had the right not to be "decapitated:"

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

NHS Meltdown: The People Turn Thumb's Down

A survey of the victims, er ah, the patients served by the NHS in the UK reveals that they know very well how bad things have become. From the story:

A big variation in the performance of NHS trusts across England is revealed today in the health inspectorate's annual survey of patients' experiences. In some hospitals more than three-quarters of inpatients said the standard of care was excellent, compared with less than one quarter in others.

In the best trusts, staff almost invariably helped frail patients to eat, but in the worst nearly half the people who needed assistance at mealtimes said they did not get it.

There was also a wide variation between hospitals in the quality of food, cleanliness, responsiveness to call buttons and the proportion of patients expected to share bathrooms and toilets with members of the opposite sex.
While some individual hospitals clearly scored well, when viewed regionally, no scorecard were 46% receiving excellent care, and the London region's rating was a paltry 38%. And apparently hygiene control, the key to stopping hospital acquired infections, has worsened. Centralized health care does not work.

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"Genetically Altered Embryo" Not as Big a Deal as Advertised

The story of the first supposedly genetically altered human embryo is making headlines around the world. From the story:

The study appears to be the first report of genetically modifying a human embryo. It was presented last fall at a meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, but didn't draw widespread public attention then. The result was reported over the weekend by The Sunday Times of London, which said British authorities highlighted the work in a recent report.

Rosenwaks and colleagues did the work with an embryo that had extra chromosomes, making it nonviable. Following a standard procedure used in animals, they inserted a gene that acts as a marker that can be easily followed over time. The embryo cells took up the gene, he said.

The goal was to see if a gene introduced into an abnormal embryo could be traced in stem cells that are harvested from the embryo, he said. Such work could help shed light on why abnormal embryos fail to develop, he said. No stem cells were recovered from the human embryo, said Rosenwaks, noting that abnormal embryos frequently don't develop well enough to produce them.
In my view, this isn't quite as big a deal as reporters are making out. First, the embryo was never viable in the first place because it was genetically defective. Nor was it created for the purpose of destroying it--which is the agenda of cloning research, the essential technology for learning how to genetically engineer the human race. Moreover, animal work has already demonstrated that mammalian life can be genetically altered.

Don't get me wrong: I don't like it. I oppose treating human life, even if it is ultimately nonviable, as a mere instrumentality. But it doesn't really move the ball toward human genetic enhancement forward. To do that, as I noted, will require massive quantities of cloned embryos to learn how the genes express, why, and their mutual interrelationships--a monumental task given the sheer complexity of human development.

But this quote from a defender is, overall, hokum:

But an author of the study says the work was focused on stem cells. He notes that the researchers used an abnormal embryo that could never have developed into a baby anyway. "None of us wants to make designer babies," said Dr. Zev Rosenwaks, director of the Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.
He should speak for himself. There are plenty of people biting at the bit to genetically engineer embryos, and a cadre of bioethicists and lawyers already laying down the intellectual foundation to create a constitutional right to do it. If human cloning can ever be done reliably--a big if--an increasing number of advocates and media will urge the right to genetically engineer, first for health and later for enhancement, based on a supposed absolute right to procreate and to create the baby you want. That is the trajectory they are on, and all you have to do is read the books and bioethics articles already in print to verify it.

But that's okay. Nobody died and made them monarchs. There are plenty of us with the energetic intent to short circuit their plans.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

The Ugly Face of Assisted Suicide

There is a column in The Gurdian that illustrates vividly the ugly reality of assisted suicide. The writer Jon Ronson followed some suicide facilitators around, and found that their "compassion" leaves much to be desired. For example, Susan (a pseudonym), is trained by the euthanasia fanatic George Exoo to assist suicides and travels the world facilitating death. From the column:

Susan flew to New Zealand to help a depressed, non-terminally ill woman she had met on the internet commit suicide. The woman had previously asked a mainstream right-to-die group called Dignity NZ to help her, but they had refused.

"I was of the impression that she needed assistance in living rather than advice on how to end her life," Dignity NZ's founder, Lesley Martin, later explained to me in an email. She added, "I imagine you are developing a good understanding of what an absolute mess the euthanasia underground is. Unfortunately, there are 'gung-ho' individuals involved [she meant Susan] who, in my opinion, treat the matter of assisting someone to die as an exciting relief from the boredom of their own lives and do so completely ill-equipped and dismissive of the responsibility we have of ensuring that people who need mental health assistance receive it, while still working towards humane legislation that addresses the real issues."

I visited Susan and asked her what had been wrong with the New Zealand woman. "She had some sort of breathing disorder," she said, "and the doctors there wouldn't give her the medication that she needed. I happened to take the same medication. I gave her a little bit of mine and she was fine."

"But you helped her commit suicide, even though you helped her breathe better?" I asked. "Yeah," said Susan. "Isn't that ironic?"
"You shouldn't do it," I said. "Somebody's got to pay the bills so you can have some water in that glass you're drinking," she said.

Before you say, "Tut, tut," Wesley: The Susan's are the reason we need legal assisted suicide," realize that money aside, euthanasia fanatics believe that people should be able to receive help any time they want to die--and for any reason. Think, Philip Nitschke. Think Dignitas, the Swiss suicide facilitating organization and that country's Supreme Court decision granting the mentally ill a right to assisted suicide. Think Jack Kevorkian and wide public support even though five of his victims were not even ill and most were certainly not dying. Think about the poor depressed man Gene, partially disabled by a stroke, who was literally murdered by a Hemlock Society suicide facilitator as reported by the pro assisted suicide author Lonny Shavelson in A Chosen Death. who, it should always be noted, just sat and watched the killing even though he could have saved Gene's life. From the book pp. 93-94:

"Stop Sarah," raced through my mind. For whose sake, I thought--Gene's, so intent on killing himself? The weight of unanswered questions kept me glued to my corner. Was Gene's decision for death so wrong? Was this a suicide, Gene's right finally to succeed and die? Or was this a needless death encouraged by Sarah's desire to act? had Gene's decision to have me there, to tell me his story, given me the right to to stop what was happening--or, equally powerful, the responsibility not to interfere? Or, was I obliged, my by very presence as a fellow human being, to jump up and stop the craziness? Was it craziness?

Events suddenly moved faster than my thoughts. Gene's body heaved up and his cry filled the room, "It's cold," he screamed, and his good hand flew up to tear the plastic bag [off his head]. Sarah's hand caught Gene's at the wrist and held it. His body thrust upwards. She pulled his arm away and lay across Gene's shoulders. Sarah rocked back and forth, pinning him down, her fingers twisting the bag to seal it tight at his neck as she repeated, "The light, Gene, go toward the light. Gene's body pushed against Sarah's. Then he stopped moving.
This is where the ideology of the movement--radical individualism and the acceptability of killing as an answer to human suffering, mixed with terminal nonjudgmentalism--ultimately leads: Death on demand, moral paralysis, and the subversion of common human decency.

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What the Big Brained Folk Think About the Intrinsic Dignity of Human Life: Not Much

Ryan T. Anderson has an interesting entry over at the First Things blog about an ethics conference he attended at Princeton. It makes for sobering reading. He begins with a quote from Princeton philosophy professor Elizabeth Harmon. From his column:

"Look, when we think about ending an early human life, this is something that is really bad for the embryo or early fetus that dies, it's losing out tremendously--I agree with that as I already said...I think it's really dangerous to slide from noticing that something is bad for something, to thinking that that gives us a moral reason [not to do the bad thing]. And just to prove that that doesn't follow, think about plants. So lots of things are bad for trees, and plants, and flowers, and often that gives us no reasons whatsoever, certainly no moral reasons. In my view, fetuses that die before they're ever conscious really are a lot like plants: They're living things, but there's nothing about them that would make us think that they count morally in the way that people do."
Harmon has clearly not yet read the Swiss ethics report establishing plant "dignity," but no doubt she will get on board as the plant rights train picks up steam. Beyond that little jibe, note how accepting her anti-human exceptionalism values literally opens the door to using unborn humans as if they were mere natural resources, such as for experimentation, fetal farming, and the like. And that is precisely where many of the biggest brained among us wish to go.

Ryan reports that Peter Singer took his utilitarian thinking even farther, to perhaps permitting not just the killing of supposedly human "non persons" such as infants, but also adult human persons:
"The intrinsic value of Jane's life may be an important reason, or may not be, depending on the circumstances." For example, Jane's life does not produce a net increase of value in the world if "Jane's death is a necessary condition for Helen, who will live a life of even greater value than Jane." This could justify aborting a genetically defective child to conceive a healthy replacement (Singer's own example)--but also justify killing some adults. The relevance of Singer's fourth consideration also varies, since, he argues, some chimpanzees are "certainly more self-aware than some humans, and more self-aware than fetuses or, for that matter, newborn babies."
I have always said, that if moral distinctions can be made between so-called human non persons and persons, why not also within the person category? And that is precisely where Singer seems to have gone in his presentation.

Ryan thinks the discussion was important both to expose the Singer-type advocacy to public scrutiny and to help the church get its act together. He opines that bringing "disagreements" out into the open is a very good thing because it alerts people to the consequences of ideas. That is idealistic and nice, but perhaps this work is making me cynical: I am not sure that most people care.

Beyond that, I am frankly, appalled. These ideas should be rejected out of hand. And indeed, it is a mark of how far the intellectual elites have taken us down the moral abyss already that the propriety of infanticide, fetal experimentation, and killing one adult to benefit another must now be seriously debated.

Or to put it another way: The problem is that this discussion explicitly treats such ideas as if they were legitimate and no different say, from a debate about whether a 20% or 30% capital gains tax would be best. Indeed, Singer was brought to Princeton--our most prestigious university--not in spite of these views, but because of them. Princeton's faculty thus acted shamefully in approving the appointment that they wouldn't someone else with the same academic credentials (Singer doesn't even have a Ph.D) who wasn't so "cutting edge" in his thinking, thereby granting Princeton's imprimatur of respectability to infanticide (which it would never do if Singer were promoting the same agenda only based on racism.)

Disagreement is good. Getting our big brained betters to reveal their true agendas is, alas, now a necessity. But be very clear: The most of the influential institutions of society--perhaps other than the churches which are rapidly losing influence and in some cases cannot be distinguished in their views from those promoted by the big brained--are now controlled by those who utterly reject human exceptionalism. Worse, this isn't just a mind game to them: They want their ideas implemented, a goal they are pursuing come hell or high water. Learned debates will not cause them to pause for a split second.

It will be up to the average folk to thwart the new eugenics that, like Sauron in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, is re-manifesting and threatens to bring much darkness into the world.

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SHS Funnies

In which we learn that Pig moonlights as a Swiss Ethicist:

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Kruger Video No Longer Available

I uploaded a video from YouTube and posted it here at SHS the other day that depicts a fight over the fate of a calf among lions, a crocodile, and the calf's herd of cape buffalo. I have heard from a few readers that it no longer works. I'm not sure why that is. I suspect that is because it was sold, I believe to National Geographic, and thus taking it off of a free viewing site was probably part of the deal. However, I checked the YouTube site and it was working there. Check it out.

Here is a summary in case anyone still wishes to participate in the commentary about it: Two adults and the calf have walked away from the herd. Big mistake. They literally stumble across a small pride of lions! Seeing an easy meal, the lions leap to the chase and zero in on the calf.

The lions violently knock the calf into a river and pounce on it, biting away. The adults run off. The lions try to drag the calf to the land in order to finish it off, when a crocodile grabs it from the rear. There is a tug of war. We can hear shocked reaction of the people taking the video from across the river.

Finally, the calf is dragged out of the water and is soon to be a meal when the herd of buffalo unexpectedly come up. The bulls go after individual lions who, one by one, are chased off the calf. Finally, the calf gets up and rejoins the herd.

It is a happy ending, from our empathetic perspective of rooting for the helpless calf. Whether the calf ultimately survived, of course, is questionable. He was bitten repeatedly and may have much blood or could die of infection. On the other hand, he may be happily chewing cud none the worse for wear. When I was in S. Africa at a game park, I saw a giraffe without a tail. I was told by the game warden that it was bitten off by a lion, who was probably kicked to death by the giraffe, when she bit down on the tail. Life is tough on the savanna.

I would love everyone to jump in on the commentary I wrote to the original post. I think the video illustrates quite well that animal rights don't apply in nature, and hence, are really not a debate about "rights" at all. Rather, the entire controversy is a debate about the scope and depth of human duties toward animals, which arise because of our exceptional natures.

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SHS Funnies

When a vegetarian falls off the wagon:



The latest research sparks more controversy in the evolution debate:

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

The "Battle at Kruger", Human Exceptionalism, and the Misnomer That is "Animal Rights"

This remarkable video depicts a desperate fight between a crocodile, a pride of lions, and a herd of cape buffalo over the life of a calf. No "animal rights" here. No "right" not to suffer here. No "cruelty" here, either. This is the tooth and claw struggle of the natural world.

Only humans have managed to partially step beyond this ruthless struggle and bring a level of charity and civilization to life. And we are the only species to have ever done so in the billion years or so that life has existed on the planet. In this, by definition, we are truly exceptional.

Another uniquely human trait is empathy for other species. In this video, we naturally tend to root for the underdog--the helpless calf that the lions want for dinner. We empathize with and cheer on the buffalo herd that charges to the rescue desperate to save their own. In contrast to us, any elephant or zebra looking on the scene would have been utterly indifferent to the fate of the calf. Only people have the capacity to project their emotions into such a dramatic scene and care about the outcome. And that is another thing that makes us truly exceptional.

The crocodile, the lions, and the buffalo captured in the video all acted purely in their own self interest without regard to the effect their behavior would have on the wellbeing of the other animals. No sacrificing by the buffalo for the sake of the lions. No willingness by the crocodile to forego an easy meal, for which it did not have to work, as unsporting. No willingness by the lions defray their own thriving because of the pain the loss of the calf would cause the buffalo's mother.

Altruism, putting others first, self sacrifice--even toward non humans--these are all distinctly and uniquely human traits further illustrating how we are exceptional. (Dogs don't count. They are our intelligently designed creations and have been engineered by us to exhibit attributes toward us that wolves never would. We are the only species capable of such a feat, adding another point to the list of what makes human beings so exceptional.)

Here's the point I am trying to illustrate: Animal "rights" is a misnomer. It is purely a discussion of the extent and scope of human self-imposed duties. We are the only species who could even conceive of pursuing such a course, clearly and self evidently illustrating the exceptional nature of human life.

This all seems beyond dispute to me. Why human exceptionalism is even controversial is beyond me.

SHS Funnies

An illustration of how modern names evolve:

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Friday, May 09, 2008

SHS a True International Community

I just did a little research on where SHS's 30,000 visits each month (and slowly going up) come from. Most, not surprisingly, come from the good ol' USA. But I am very gratified to learn that people come here literally from all over the world. In the last month, f0r example, 583 visits came from Australia. We had 86 visits from China, 31 from Argentina, 91 from South Africa, 163 from India, 2169 from Canada, and 1 from Kazakhstan. We had 12 visitors from Vietnam, 113 from Brazil, 9 from Nigeria, 205 from France, and 1 from Greenland. In fact, there are only about 20 countries in the world, most in sub Saharan Africa, from where we received no visitors in the last 30 days.


I am most pleased: Danke, gracias, arigato gozaimashita , merci, xie xie, thanks y'all.

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University of Washington Medical School Teaches Futile Care Theory as if the Right to Refuse Wanted Life-Sustaining Treatment Already Exists

An intrepid reader sent me this on-line syllabus from a bioethics course at the University of Washington Medical School. I checked on the link protocol and the author Nancy Jecker, Ph.D presumes that the right to refuse wanted life-sustaining treatment already exists. From the syllabus:

While you will hear colleagues referring to particular cases or interventions as "futile", the technical meaning and moral weight of this term is not always appreciated. As you will make clinical decisions using futility as a criterion, it is important to be clear about the meaning of the concept.
Futilitarians often deny that Futile Care Theory is about money. They deny it is about ideology that presumes some lives not to be worth living. As the following quote shows, it is about both:
The goal of medicine is to help the sick. You have no obligation to offer treatments that do not benefit your patients. Futile interventions are ill advised because they often increase a patient's pain and discomfort in the final days and weeks of life, and because they can expend finite medical resources.

Although the ethical requirement to respect patient autonomy entitles a patient to choose from among medically acceptable treatment options (or to reject all options), it does not entitle patients to receive whatever treatments they ask for. Instead, the obligations of physicians are limited to offering treatments that are consistent with professional standards of care.
Realize that futilitarians are changing the fundamental purpose of medicine to suit their beliefs. One such fundamental purpose is to extend life if that is what the patient wants. Futile Care Theory arrogantly presumes the right to tell a patient and his or her family that their life isn't worth extending--which is to say, that it isn't the treatment being judged "futile," but the patient. And, it apparently presumes the right to censor information a patient or family need to make proper informed consent.

The futilitarians are acting as if they have already won this bioethical controversy. But their agenda is running into strong head winds. As failed attempts to impose medical futility in Texas--where there is a law explicitly permitting it--demonstrate, we the people are not going to just roll over and let ethics committees meeting behind closed doors decide when the time has come for their baby, grandma, or a spouse to die. The more public we make this fight, the better chance we have to stop this ad hoc health care rationing/medical discrimination in its tracks. After all, in this fight "choice" is on our side.

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Fighting Back Against Biological Colonialism

Biological colonialism (as I call it) is a real and growing international problem, in which rich Westerners pay destitute people for kidneys, the use of their wombs, and potentially coming soon to a poor country in Asia or Africa, for eggs to do mass human cloning. I have reported on some of the devastating consequences to the lives of the exploited here at SHS.

Now the Philippines has struck an important blow against the practice by banning foreigners from receiving kidney transplants in the country. From the story:

Foreigners will be permanently banned from receiving kidneys for transplant in the Philippines to prevent the country from becoming a major Asian center in an already thriving black-market trade, health officials announced Tuesday.

Extensive kidney trading involving impoverished Filipinos and prisoners--who sell their organs for paltry sums to syndicates catering mostly to foreign clients--has been reported by the local media in recent years.

A temporary ban was recently imposed on kidney transplants involving foreigners. "Today, the Philippine government asserts its mandate to protect the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of our society," Health Secretary Francisco Duque said in announcing the ban.

Of course the key is enforcement and breaking up the graft that leads to biological colonialism. But this is a good start that should be emulated around the world.

HT: John B.

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

NHS Meltdown: The Implosion Continues

What is left of the NHS in the UK is continuing its awful meltdown. Now, the bureaucrats in charge intend radical surgery. From the story:

Scores of hospital departments such as maternity units and cancer clinics will be closed or merged across the country under plans for a radical shake-up of the NHS...

The plans, which appear to have been held back until after last week's local elections, will be released over the next four weeks by the nine Strategic Health Authorities in England. They include setting a local target of reducing the four-hour wait in A&E to two hours, setting up dedicated trauma centres and better co-ordination of out of hours services.

However, in many cases, the changes--which result from Lord Darzi's continuing review of the NHS--will lead to services provided by cottage and district hospitals being moved out of the area.

Needless to say, protests are expected over what looks to be a loss of local care for many conditions. And the moral of the story is that centralized health care simply does not work.

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Washington State: Becoming Two-Faced About Suicide

Why is assisted suicide always treated as if life were lived in a vacuum? Case in point: The suicide statistics in Washington are, according to a newspaper report "terrifying," and yet, many newspapers editorially support legalizing assisted suicide--which at the very least sends a terribly mixed message to the despairing thinking of taking their own lives. From the story:

Suicide statistics are terrifying. In 2005, there were 32,637 reported suicide deaths in the United States - 822 of those were in Washington State. An estimated 19 million Americans suffer from depression. Depression, combined with certain conditions including anxiety, isolation, drug and/or alcohol use or abuse, physical or emotional illness, and feelings of hopelessness or desperation, increases the risk for suicide.

"Ninety percent of people who die by suicide actually have undiagnosed psychiatric disorders," said AFSP Executive Director Robert Gebbia. In addition to depression, those include bipolar disorder, eating disorders and substance abuse. Gebbia believes that by raising awareness through the Out of the Darkness event, the stigma associated with mental illness can be reduced and more people can be helped. "When someone has died by suicide, people think somehow it's the victim's fault," he said. "We don't agree with that. It is a complication of an illness, just the way things go wrong with the heart or liver. When people see it as a complication of illness, we can reduce the stigma."
I don't want to stigmatize anyone, but I do believe that societal disapproval of suicide saves lives. But placing the state's imprimatur on some suicides does the opposite--it says killing yourself can be the right thing to do. And that is like telling someone not to smoke, but if they do use filter cigarettes: It totally dilutes the message.

The story then presents valuable information on what to do if someone you know is suicidal:
All suicide threats and attempts must be taken seriously...
- Take the initiative to ask what is troubling them and persist to overcome any reluctance to talk about it.
- If professional help is indicated, the person you care about is more apt to follow such a recommendation if you have listened to him or her.
- Don't be afraid to ask whether he or she is considering suicide, or even if they have a particular plan or method in mind.
- Do not attempt to argue anyone out of suicide. Rather, let the person know you care and understand, that he or she is not alone, that suicidal feelings are temporary, that depression can be treated and that problems can be solved.
- Encourage the person to see a physician or mental health professional immediately. Go with them if necessary...
- If the above options are unavailable, call your local emergency number or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
(Not applicable for residents of Oregon or Washington (if I 1000 passes) and the suicidal person has cancer or ALS. In such cases, get a doctor to prescribe them poison pills.)

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SHS Funnies

A hate crime against a plant! Why Garfield was banned in Switzerland:

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Proposition 71: The New Gilded Age

When the creators of Proposition 71 spent tens of millions buying a constitutional amendment in California to permit human cloning research, they promised CURES! CURES! CURES! And what are people spending hundreds of millions of dollars of borrowed money on? EXPENSIVE FANCY BUILDINGS! EXPENSIVE FANCY BUILDINGS EXPENSIVE FANCY BUILDINGS! From the story in today's San Francisco Chronicle:

The governing board of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine is expected to give final approval today to a package of grants that will prompt a construction boom at academic campuses throughout the state.

More than three-quarters of a billion dollars in laboratory construction will get under way as early as next month, seeded by $271 million in facilities grants made possible by the passage of Proposition 71.
And not a workable building designed by "The General," that prefab contractor, either. We are talking high end, expensive architect, all the add-ons, type buildings. Example:
At UCSF, planners had to figure out a way to shoehorn a stem cell research center into the space-constrained confines of their hilltop Parnassus Heights campus. So they tapped one of the world's top design firms, Rafael Viñoly Architects, which delivered a striking plan.

The Institute for Regeneration Medicine will be housed in a silver, terraced structure that snakes uphill along the winding curves of Medical Center Way - tucked behind the 16-story towers housing the campus' major research labs.
I would have hoped that at a time when California is literally drowning in a $20 billion in deficit, that some restraint would be shown. But who was I kidding? This is the kind of moral corruption, pigs-feeding-at-the-trough kind of excess that undermines the people's confidence in government and our ruling institutions.

Somebody ought to sue: Hint. Hint.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Texas Representative Garnet Coleman: Installed in Hall of Shame

I just did an entry on a new Texas futile care lawsuit involving a girl named Sabrina Murray who was apparently threatened with a futile care termination by a Houston hospital, resulting now in litigation. But I had to reserve this entry for a quote from the author of the futile care law, Garnet Coleman (D-Houston). Sabrina's parents believe that the attempt to deny her care was part of a plan to cover up medical malpractice. Of course, I can't take a position on that--although it is certainly not the first time such a scenario seemed possible--but this crass quote Coleman gave to the Houston Press about the matter:

State Representative Garnet Coleman, (D-Houston), who helped author the 1999 act, tends to agree with Fine. When asked if he thinks the law is sometimes used to bury malpractice, he says, "I would hope not, and that's why we have autopsies. I don't think that the law either encourages it and I don't think that it discourages it. As long as you've had an autopsy, then you would find out what was the cause of death and whether there was a medical error."

"That's why we have autopsies:" I thought I had heard it all. Of course, the reason for the autopsy might be Coleman's terrible law.

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A New Futile Care Lawsuit: What the "Quality of Life Ethic" Hath Wrought

Texas is ground zero for Futile Care Theory because of its pernicious law that permits ethics committees to refuse wanted life-sustaining treatment over patient/family objections. Readers of SHS will recall that when such a decision is rendered, families have a mere 10 days to find alternative care, which can lead to desperate situations, as I have reported on several occasions.

Now there is a new case of a teenage girl named Sabrina Murray whose sinus surgery went terribly wrong, leaving her comatose. From the story in the Houston Press (proving once again that the "alternative" newspapers are doing the best journalism today):

Within about three days of the second surgery, [mother Beatrice] Lopez says, doctors "started talking about our options. And we started getting scared, because the options were not good."

Lopez and [step-father Brian] Murray say that doctors and hospital staff began pressuring them to withhold treatment and feeding, which would ultimately starve Sabrina to death. To the parents, this was unacceptable. They wanted their daughter to live. "I was very disappointed with the way Memorial Hermann handled things," Lopez says. "They put it out on the table that we were being selfish."

Murray and Lopez accuse the hospital staff, doctors and nurses of doing everything they could to try to end Sabrina's life during the ensuing six weeks, including:

- Refusing to implement simple procedures such as giving Sabrina feeding and breathing tubes that would have enabled the parents to take their daughter home and care for her themselves,

- Attempting to turn relatives and friends against Lopez and Murray by encouraging them to persuade the parents to withhold treatment, all the while violating federal privacy laws by discussing Sabrina's healthcare information,

- Entering two separate do-not-­resuscitate orders against her parents' wishes, and

- Threatening the family with convening the hospital's ethics committee, which under Texas law can overrule the family's wishes and withhold life-support treatment from a patient.

"It was like we were caught in a bad dream," says Murray. "We couldn't believe this was happening."
Happily--and rarely, since usually desperate families in Texas can't get another hospital to take the patient--a new doctor and hospital was found with positive results:
As Lopez and Murray saw it, the hospital and physicians that caused their daughter's condition were now trying to end her life. And it seemed like there was nothing they could do to stop it.

Terrified, Sabrina's parents called the nonprofit organization Texas Right to Life, which referred Lopez and Murray to an attorney. The parents were able to transfer Sabrina to Texas Children's Hospital, where Lopez says Martin received treatment that doctors at Memorial Hermann had refused to give, treatment that saved her life.
This is a long story but very important to read. Sabrina awakened and is now living with her disability and cared for by her parents. And while I can't take a position about this particular case, I can say I hear from such desperate families on a continuing basis from all over the country. Futile care needs to be stopped.

Post Script: Last session, the Texas Legislature was unable to rescind the state's futile care law--in part because of the wrongheaded opposition of the Texas Conference of Catholic Bishops--which I wrote about critically here. Hopefully this case, if the facts are verified in court, will convince the bishops that allowing doctors and ethics committees to impose their ethical views on families is wrong.

More to follow...

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"The Dignity of Living Beings With Regard to Plants"

I found a linkable cite for the Swiss ethics committee report on the "dignity" of plants. So, I thought I'd put a few pithy quotes up that have not appeared in my discussion here at SHS about the study or in my Weekly Standard piece.

Sometimes materialistic Darwinists will state that there really are no species distinctions between humans and animals because we and they share a high number of genes. Whenever that argument has been made in the past, I have joked, "Well, if you really want to get reductionist, carrots are made up of carbon molecules and so are humans. Hence, there is no real distinction to be made between us." Well, the big brains in Switzerland have precisely adopted that "joke" as one of the bases for granting individual plants "dignity." From the report:

Some members were of the opinion that plants are not part of the moral community, because they do not satisfy the conditions for belonging to this community...A further group felt that there were particular situations in which people should refrain from something for the sake of a plant, unless there are sufficient grounds to the contrary. This opinion was justified either by arguing that plants strive after something, which should not be blocked without good reason, or that recent findings in natural science, such as the many commonalities between plants, animals and humans at molecular and cellular level, remove the reasons for excluding plants in principle from the moral community.
You have to be really big brained to take my jest seriously. But some on the committee take that very position. Unbelievable.

Most of the committee either believed that plants are sentient, or could not say that they are not:
The majority of the committee members at least do not rule out the possibility that plants are sentient, and that this is morally relevant. A minority of these members considers it probable that plants are sentient. Another minority assumes that the necessary conditions for the possibility of sentience are present in plants. The presence of these necessary conditions for sentience is considered to be morally relevant. Finally, a minority of the members excludes the possibility of plants having sentience, because in their view there are no good grounds for such an assumption.
Plants are living beings. But sentience means the ability to feel and experience sensation. Plants are not aware in this sense. They are not conscious and cannot by their natures be conscious.

Finally--and I find this very telling--the Swiss ethicists considered and rejected "theocentrism" (being part of God's creation as the root of dignity), "ratiocentrism" (the capacity to reason as the root of mattering for their own sake, e.g. personhood theory), "pathocentrism" (sentience as the basis for moral worth, an animal rights ideology), but did not consider "humancentrism," the idea that being human is what matters the most morally, regardless of the value we convey to other life forms on the planet. Hence, human exceptionalism was not even thought about. The utter rejection of the intrinsic and inherent value of human life against which I have been warning is spreading and does not bode well for the future of the human community and the achievement of universal human rights.

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Plants Rights on the Air

My Weekly Standard piece, "The Silent Scream of the Asparagus," on plant "dignity" piece is getting a lot of attention. For those in the Cincinnati area who may care to listen, I will be doing the Bill Cunningham Show on WLW (AM 700) at 9:15 Pacific Time.

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Fox Interview Moved up 10 Minutes

For anyone up this early and/or who cares, my interview on America's Newsroom on FNC about "plant rights" has been moved up ten minutes. I am mainlining coffee as I prepare--a plant product I might add--that not even the most utilitarian bioethicist would begrudge me.

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Monday, May 05, 2008

Exercise Machine Trains Brain of Paralyzed Woman to Walk

There is hope everywhere for people with spinal cord injury. We have dealt with adult stem cells and spinal cord injury in print and here at SHS several times previously. But this is very interesting. A paralyzed woman who broke her neck in a trampoline accident has been retrained to walk. From the story:

After the accident in July 2006 Miss Sykes underwent a risky operation where doctors inserted screws to support the fracture in her neck.

She then had months of intensive rehabilitation in the spinal injuries centre at Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield, West Yorks, which happened to be trying out a machine known as the Lokomat.

Firas Jamil, the director of the centre, said: "The Lokomat enables spinal injuries patients to move their legs in a pattern that is consistent with normal walking motions and can literally help them to train their brain to teach the body to move again." To her astonishment, four weeks after using this Swiss-made robotic treadmill, and five months after the accident, Miss Sykes was able to walk short distances using crutches.
Pretty remarkable. It reminds me of Dr. Edward Taub's Constrained Induced Movement Therapy in which stroke patients are retaught to use their paralyzed arms--a tremendous breakthrough that was almost stopped in its tracks by Alex Pachecho of PETA, whose notorious Silver Spring Monkey infiltration almost destroyed Taub's life and career.

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Doing Fox News Tomorrow AM

I heard from FNC today about my "The Silent Scream of the Asparagus" Weekly Standard column. I am schedule to be interviewed tomorrow at 6:45 AM Pacific (yawn) Time.

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In Light of "The Silent Scream of the Asperagus"

SHS readers will recall my piece in the Weekly Standard about the Swiss creating "dignity" for plants. I am sure the creators of this parody (Arrogant Worms--Carrot Juice is Murder") never thought their satire would be overtaken by actual events.

Oregon Assisted Suicide Not About Unbearable Suffering

When assisted suicide advocates try to sell the public on assisted suicide, they usually describe an eminently dying patient whose suffering cannot be palliated. But once it passes, we soon see that assisted suicide is used by people who have serious fears and concerns, but not untreatable pain.

This is certainly the pattern in Oregon. The Oregon state-published statistics are virtually useless as far as I am concerned, being primarily based on death doctor self reporting, many of whom have a close relationship with the assisted suicide advocacy group Compassion and Choices (formerly Hemlock Society), and the records are destroyed by the state so there can be no independent audit. But I think the reasons cited by patients for wanting a lethal prescription are probably accurate--particularly given the recent study--ignored by the media--that many patients receive assisted suicide while not experiencing significant symptoms. In any event, the AMA Medical News summarizes the reasons cited by patients in Oregon for wanting assisted suicide:

Why do patients use the law? Interviews done with prescribing physicians after patients died showed a variety of reasons for requesting physician-assisted suicide.
- 89.0% feared losing autonomy
- 86.6% were concerned about being less able to engage in enjoyable life activities
- 81.6% feared loss of dignity
- 58.2% feared loss of control of bodily functions
- 39.2% worried about becoming a burden on family, friends and caregivers
- 27.3% had inadequate pain control or had concerns about it
- 2.7% were concerned about financial implications of treatment
These are all important matters that deserve proper and compassionate interventions, not poison pills. But the idea that assisted suicide is about preventing agonizing death is just not true. It is about abandoning patients to serious fears and worries that can be--and often are--ameliorated with proper care.

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In A Pandemic: Who Should Live and Who Should Die?

Doctors and bioethicists have been mulling how to triage care if the deep ecologists receive the deepest yearning of their hearts and the human race is stricken with a deadly pandemic. In such a case, priorities of care will have to be set, but there is cause for worry that the latest report exploring the issue is creating a "quality of life" value system. From the story:

The suggested list was compiled by a task force whose members come from prestigious universities, medical groups, the military and government agencies. They include the Department of Homeland Security, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services.

The proposed guidelines are designed to be a blueprint for hospitals "so that everybody will be thinking in the same way" when pandemic flu or another widespread health care disaster hits, said Dr. Asha Devereaux. She is a critical care specialist in San Diego and lead writer of the task force report. The idea is to try to make sure that scarce resources--including ventilators, medicine and doctors and nurses--are used in a uniform, objective way, task force members said.
I understand and appreciate the impetus, but the list itself is worrying:

Those out of luck are the people at high risk of death and a slim chance of long-term survival. But the recommendations get much more specific, and include:
- People older than 85.
- Those with severe trauma, which could include critical injuries from car crashes and shootings.
- Severely burned patients older than 60.
- Those with severe mental impairment, which could include advanced Alzheimer's disease.
- Those with a severe chronic disease, such as advanced heart failure, lung disease or poorly controlled diabetes.

Triage is designed to prioritize care when there is an acute shortage of resources. It creates a temporary priority line for treatment based on helping the most severely injured or ill who, with proper care, are likely to survive. Triage is definitely not rationing since the ultimate goal is to treat everyone.

It strikes me that the recommendation slips from the former into the latter. After all, who knows what the individual cases will look like if the worst befalls us. For example, if an 86-year-old presents with the illness but appears better able to survive it than a more seriously ill 30 year-old, it would appear that the triage principle would be violated under this recommendation by giving priority to the younger person based on age rather than actual physical conditions of the two patients. If so, this violates triage and amounts to age discrimination. Indeed, given that it would be all too easy to treat the guidelines as rigid rules during scarcity of health resources crises, they could be unintentionally dangerous.

A good and sincere try, but I think we can do better than this.

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SHS Funnies

Why the transhumanist technological breakthrough--known as the "singularity"--will never come:


Lio proves there may be something to genetic determinism:


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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Alaska Governor Walks the Walk: Gives Birth to Down Baby

I don't like to comment about issues involving individual family matters, but this is an exception: Alaska Governor Sara Palin and her husband have welcomed a new baby with Down syndrome into the world. From the story:

The doctor's announcement in December, when Palin was four months pregnant, presented her with a possible life- and career-changing development. "I've never had problems with my other pregnancies, so I was shocked," said Palin, a mother of four other children. "It took a while to open up the book that the doctor gave me about children with Down syndrome, and a while to log on to the Web site and start reading facts about the situation."

The 44-year-old governor waited a few days before telling her husband, Todd, who was out of town, so she could understand what was ahead for them. Once her husband got the news, he told her: "We shouldn't be asking, 'Why us?' We should be saying, 'Well, why not us?'"

There was never any doubt the Palins would have the child, and on April 18 she gave birth to Trig Paxson Van Palin. "We've both been very vocal about being pro-life," Palin said. "We understand that every innocent life has wonderful potential."
This shouldn't be notable, but we live in an era where the societal expectation in such cases is increasingly for eugenic abortion, and indeed, currently 90 percent of babies in the West diagnosed prenatally with DS are not allowed to be born. How wonderful, then, that such a notable public figure and her husband could lead by example on this important moral issue. Let us all wish the happy parents and their new son Trig much happiness and joy in the coming years.

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Why Does Our Government Keep Attacking Hospice?

Back during the Clinton Administration, federal bureaucrats launched a devastating assault on hospice--called "Operation Restore Trust"--in which the Feds presumed that a patient who did not die within 6 months of entering hospice was there fraudulently, and as a consequence, demanded tens of millions in refunds from hospice programs throughout the country. I was a hospice volunteer at the time and saw the devastating effect: My last patient, who was dying (and died) of ALS--was tossed out on his ear because he had unexpectedly survived 18 months. The chilling effect placed on the entire hospice movement by Operation Restore Trust continues to this day--along with the suffering it causes.

Well now, the government under President Bush is at it again: This time they seek to cut hospice payments under medicare by billions of dollars per year. From the advocacy plea by from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization that seeks to prevent this undermining of a noble calling:

According to a recent MedPAC findings, the National Median Margin for hospices is 3.4% and with such a thin margin, a cut in rates will put undue pressure on providers of this high quality care.

Hospice programs rely on Medicare for a disproportionate share of their revenues,totaling 80-85%. Given the patient population that hospice serves, this is understandable, but cutting rates by billions of dollars would reduce the resources available to continue providing this necessary care.

Hospice is a cost effective and compassionate health care delivery system for the terminally ill. A recent independent Duke University study clearly demonstrated that on average, hospice saves Medicare more than $2,300 per patient and goes on to say, "Given that hospice has been widely demonstrated to improve quality of life of patients and family members…the Medicare program appears to have a rare situation whereby something that improves quality of life also appears to reduce costs."
Why go after hospice? Because it is politically weak. So why not save a few billion on the backs of dying people?

HT: Judy Dobson

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Saturday, May 03, 2008

"The Silent Scream of the Asparagus"

As promised, I have written a longer piece Switzerland embodying the "dignity" of plants into its constitution in a published in this week's Weekly Standard (subscription may be required). First, I recount the story and the ethics committee's report, as I did here at SHS earlier.

Then, I point out that "plant rights" is not really a laughing matter:

What is clear, however, is that Switzerland's enshrining of "plant dignity" is a symptom of a cultural disease that has infected Western civilization, causing us to lose the ability to think critically and distinguish serious from frivolous ethical concerns. It also reflects the triumph of a radical anthropomorphism that views elements of the natural world as morally equivalent to people.

Why is this happening? Our accelerating rejection of the Judeo-Christian world view, which upholds the unique dignity and moral worth of human beings, is driving us crazy. Once we knocked our species off its pedestal, it was only logical that we would come to see fauna and flora as entitled to rights.
I recount how the intellectual elites were the first to embrace "speciesism" as a concept and then recap some of the philosophies, ideologies and movements that embrace human unexceptionalism, such as personhood theory and animal rights. Even environmentalism, I point out, has picked up the virus:

Eschewing humans as the pinnacle of "creation" (to borrow the term used in the Swiss constitution) has caused environmentalism to mutate from conservationism--a concern to properly steward resources and protect pristine environs and endangered species--into a willingness to thwart human flourishing to "save the planet." Indeed, the most radical "deep ecologists" have grown so virulently misanthropic that Paul Watson, the head of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, called humans "the AIDS of the earth," requiring "radical invasive therapy" in order to reduce the population of the earth to under a billion.
Here is my conclusion:

One Swiss scientist quoted in the editorial worried that "plant dignity" provides "another tool for opponents to argue against any form of plant biotechnology" despite the hope it offers to improve crop yields and plant nutrition.

What folly. We live in a time of cornucopian abundance and plenty, yet countless human beings are malnourished, even starving. In the face of this cruel paradox, worry about the purported rights of plants is the true immorality.
We are disattaching ourselves from reason and will harm ourselves profoundly if we don't quickly turn this craziness around.

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Friday, May 02, 2008

Outlawing Genetic Discrimination

Well, this is long overdue. Congress overwhelmingly passed, and the president will sign, a bill outlawing genetic discrimination in employment and insurance. From the story:

The bill passed with overwhelming support in the House on a 414-1 vote, a week after being approved by a 95-0 vote in the Senate. The only member of Congress to vote against the bill was Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas. President Bush has promised to sign it.

But the nearly unanimous support for the measure masks a hard-fought 13-year battle to pass the bill. Health insurers and employers groups fought the measure vigorously, and ultimately secured some changes to the bill. House GOP leaders, who viewed some provisions as anti-business, blocked it from reaching the floor until Democrats took power last year.

The bill has strong support from medical researchers and Bay Area biotech companies, who say the fear of genetic discrimination has discouraged people from participating in clinical trials, slowing the development of treatments. Even as new types of genetic tests have hit the market, many people have been reluctant to get tested.

The National Institutes of Health reported that 32 percent of women offered a genetic test to determine their risk of breast cancer declined because they worried they would lose their health insurance. An NIH study of families with a history of colon cancer found that 68 percent said they would not bill the test to their insurer for fear of losing coverage and 26 percent would test using an alias.
I think a few comments are in order here. First, look how hard it was to pass a law that should not have been so contentious. This shows, I think, how extraneous agendas often impede important public policies.

Second, we have entered an era in biotech that is akin to the old anarchic wildcat oil drilling days. It is pure laissez faire, baby. Companies are going to do what they are going to do and the government either has no desire to thwart unethical research because our legislators have no backbone to get past the lobbyists. This means that badly needed ethical parameters around what may be the most powerful force in human history, may never be erected.

Finally, while this is an important piece of legislation, realize that there really is no such thing as privacy anymore. If someone gets some of your DNA, anyone can know the most intimate factors about your biological makeup since there are now DNA chips that will test your genes. Heck, they could then post it on the Internet. And since self restraint has become passe, we all need to steel ourselves for the wall-less future.

So a half-hearted bravo to Congress. It finally did the right thing. But it took too long, it is really very little, and it is almost too late.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Lead Into Gold: Scientists Wax Enthusiastically

The power of the IPSCs is becoming so evident that, like Ian Wilmut before them, many scientists are joining the field. From a story in Nature Reports Stem Cells:

The fact that making iPS cells does not pose the technical and ethical challenges of working with eggs or embryos is drawing large numbers of researchers into the field and speeding up reprogramming research. "This is definitely the hot thing right now," says Melina Fan, executive director of Addgene, the Cambridge, Massachusetts–based nonprofit repository that distributes both Thomson's and Yamanaka's viral vectors for the cell-reprogramming genes. As of 17 April, she says, there have been 704 requests from 178 labs at 142 institutions for Thomson's vectors; 514 requests from 131 labs at 113 institutions for Yamanaka's human iPS cell vectors; and over 1,500 requests from 232 labs at 215 institutions for Yamanaka's murine iPS cell vectors. The statistics speak for themselves. Although the Thomson and Yamanaka stem cell plasmids make up only 0.2% of Addgene's total collection, they've accounted for over 10% of Addgene's total plasmid requests since the beginning of 2008, Fan says.
Apparently, the IPSCs offer what scientists hoped for with ES cells:
"Biologically there's no difference" between murine iPS and ES cells, says Jaenisch. Both can generate all the tissues in a mouse. Human iPS cells have not been as rigorously demonstrated to be quasi-equivalent to ES cells, and they won't be, because doing so would require generating human babies or foetuses.
Unless scientists want to pursue Brave New World agendas such as fetal farming, it should mark the death knell for human cloning research:
No one doubts that iPS cells will eventually be generated from the cells of individuals with known medical history. That was the main advantage claimed for somatic cell nuclear transfer, a technically and ethically challenging procedure that has yet to be achieved in humans. For generating person-matched cells, iPS cells may be not only easier to use but perhaps superior, as they would share both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA with the original patient, whereas cells derived by somatic cell nuclear transfer carry only the same nuclear DNA.
Remember, folks, this is from "the scientists." A new day has indeed dawned.

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Animal Rights Threats of Violence Not Even Thinly Veiled

The terrorist pimp Jerry Vlasak, reacting to a judge's refusal to lift a restraining order against ALF and others who have made the lives of UCLA animal researchers a living hell through threats of death, bombs left on doorsteps, etc., has issued a clear threat of violence that is barely even veiled. From the Animal Liberation Front Press Office press release:

Jerry W. Vlasak, MD, a press officer for the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, stated after he heard about the rulings, "How stupid can this [Judge] Terry Friedman be? Not only does he flaunt his obvious financial biases for the plaintiffs, but fails to realize that removing legal and constitutional avenues of redress, as history proves out, will only promote illegal actions on behalf of the non-human animals being gratuitously tortured to death in places like UCLA laboratories. Its an affront to justice that this judge is literally in the pockets of Irell and Manella [a law firm] and an alumni of the very University who is suing these defendants. It should surprise no one when underground activists once again act against the animal abusers being protected by such a biased judge and court."
We have repeatedly illustrated here at SHS the reasons why animal research is so important to the advancement of medical science. But that isn't the point. Those who believe that using animals instrumentally is immoral have every right in a democratic society to convince the rest of us through legal means. However, they do not have the right to coerce society--or terrorize scientists--in pursuit of that goal. "Economic sabotage" and "other tactics," mentioned in the press release, e.g. threats and bombs, are not free speech. They are felonies and the perpetrators deserve a long stretch in prison.

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Instead of Being Dehydrated to Death, Abused Girl Helps Police

There is a huge lesson to be learned in this story, but we won't learn it and the media won't highlight the issue--lest we come to the "wrong conclusion" about Terri Schiavo. Haleigh Poutre, who doctors swore would never recover, and state bureaucrats consigned to dehydration--with the approval of the Massachusetts Supreme Court--testified in court about the abuse that led to her disability. From the story:

Communicating with simple words and hand gestures and by spelling out full sentences by pointing to alphabet letters on a board Haleigh in December described to police the intense physical abuse she allegedly suffered at the hands of her adoptive mother and stepfather, Holli and Jason Strickland, The Boston Globe reported on Tuesday.
Not bad for a little girl who was supposed to remain forever unaware.

I hope judges and doctors will ponder this story next time a dehydration request is made on the basis that a cognitively disabled patient--particularly a young one--will never improve or whenever hospital ethics committees try to impose futile care treatment terminations. As that great philosopher Yogi Berra once said, "It ain't over 'till it's over."

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"Pixie Dust" Regrows Severed Finger






















I would be more comfortable about this tremendous potential advance in healing serious wounds if it were reported in a peer reviewed medical journal rather than the sensationalistic Daily "Halle Berry Shows She's a REAL Mom as Dress Reveals Post Baby Tummy" Mail, but the story seems convincing: A man's partially severed finger has been made to regrow with an experimental powder. From the story:

Scientists are claiming an amazing breakthrough - regrowing a man's severed finger with the aid of an experimental powder.

Four weeks after Lee Spievack sliced almost half an inch off the top of one of his fingers, he said it had grown back to its original length. Four months later it looked like any other finger, complete with "great feeling", a fingernail and fingerprint.

And here's a little matter for animal liberationists to ponder:

The secret to the astonishing regrowth is said to be the powder described by Mr Spievack, a Cincinnati model shop salesman, as "pixie dust". More properly known as extra-cellular matrix, it is bursting with collagen, the protein that gives skin its strength and elasticity, and is made from dried pig's bladder.

So, is the inventor akin to a Nazi war criminal because the elixir is partially made up of dead pig?

I'm waiting for Ingrid Newkirk's press release.

HT: Don Nelson

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