Thursday, July 31, 2008

Lead Into Gold: IPSCs Made from Cell of Patient With ALS

One of benefits of human cloning, we were told, would be the ability to clone someone with a disease like ALS (Lou Gehrig's in America, motor neurone disease in the UK and elsewhere), to obtain stem cells from the embryo for disease study. Indeed, before he decided to abandon cloning in favor of iPSCs, that is precisely what Ian Wilmut had a license to do in the UK.

Well, so far no human cloned embryonic stem cells have been derived despite years of trying. But in less than one year since the first iPSC human line was created, that precise achievement has already been accomplished. From the Harvard-Columbia press release:

Harvard and Columbia scientists have for the first time used a new technique to transform an ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease) patient's skin cells into motor neurons, a process that may be used in the future to create tailor-made cells to treat the debilitating disease. The research--led by Kevin Eggan, Ph.D. of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute--will be published July 31 in the online version of the journal Science.

This is the first time that skin cells from a chronically-ill patient have been reprogrammed into a stem cell-like state, and then coaxed into the specific cell types that would be needed to understand and treat the disease.

Though cell replacement therapies are probably still years away, the new cells will solve a problem that has hindered ALS research for years: the inability to study a patient's motor neurons in the laboratory.
An amazing achievement. Thanks, in my opinion, partly to President Bush's courage, biotechnology is now moving in the right direction. Think of it: no women's health endangered from egg extraction, no instrumentalization of human life, few brave new world worries. A true win-win.

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More Animal Rights Threats in Santa Cruz

Readers of SHS will recall the home invasion of the Santa Cruz cancer researcher who enraged animal rights fanatics for experimenting on lab rats looking for a cure for breast cancer. There hasn't been much news from there lately, until now. New threats are being made. From the story:

There are some people in Santa Cruz very nervous over a pamphlet that contains a lot of personal information about them. Police are looking for whoever left pamphlets listing the names and addresses of U.C.S.C. researchers at a cafe.

The crudely-constructed pamphlet titled "Murderers and Torturers Alive and Well in Santa Cruz" warns "We know where you live. We know where you work. We will never back down." A customer at a café brought the pamphlet to police. It was the title that caught his attention, but once he opened it, he found what could be considered a hit list...

Each page had the researchers' picture, home address, and telephone number. The booklet's back cover made it clear. Whoever is responsible for compiling this list will not stop until the abuse of animals ends.
This can't be right. Animal rights is a peaceable movement!

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Hazardous Pay: Creating a Market for Eggs

This is a tale of two stories: I have long said that what I call the "egg dearth" will stymie the drive by biotechnologists to engage in human cloning research. That is happening now, and the scientists are none too happy about. And, as I predicted, the push is on to permit buying eggs for cloning research.

But we've discussed that before here at SHS. The good news in the latest report from the AP about the push to allow eggs to be purchased for research, byline Mrcus Wohlsen, actually discussed the risks to women. From the story :

Critics of the egg-dependent approach to stem cells say the promise of the research is outweighed by the potential harm to women, a view that has prevailed among regulators.

Even under normal doses, drugs used to coax eggs for use by fertilization clinics can occasionally lead to serious complications caused by excessive stimulation of the ovaries. In rare instances, the condition can be fatal.

Egg payments could also create a conflict of interest for those retrieving the eggs, according to therapeutic cloning skeptics. If money changed hands, they say, doctors responsible for the well-being of egg donors would also have a financial incentive to administer high doses of egg-stimulating drugs to produce as many eggs as possible.
Egg buying is already a fact in the fertility industry. But in promoting the practice, somehow the risks went unmentioned in a piece reported by Channel 5 Fox News in Las Vegas. From the story:
"The donors will make in the area of $7,000, and the surrogates will make anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000 plus," said Nancy Block, founder of the Center For Egg Options.In the Valley, Dr. Bruce Shapiro at the Fertility Center of Las Vegas said compensation is closer to $3,000 to $5,000.

But he said he hopes the economy is not the main reason more women are donating.

"We really try to have people who donate for altruistic reasons. That's the best of all worlds. Sometimes you can't be absolutely certain. You can only be certain of what a person tells you," Shapiro said.

He said it is a fairly simple process that takes about three weeks."It's more invasive than donating sperm, but still, it's painless, and there's more time involved, but we try to make it as smooth a process as possible," Shapiro said. He said the side effects of donation usually include some aches and cramps, similar to those of a woman's period.
Shapiro should be ashamed, unless he gave a full description of the risks and it didn't make the story, in which case the producers at Fox 5 in Las Vegas should be ashamed.

Example: View this video of Calla Papademus, a former Stanford student, telling how she almost died when she sold her eggs.

Some say that biotech and fertility medicine should be treated the same with regard to buying eggs. I agree. Ban the practice altogether. That would still permit true donations and permit women to have their own eggs harvested for use in fertility treatments. But it would prevent turning women into commodities and save some from experiencing devastating health problems. It might even save their lives.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

IVF Babies at Higher Risk of Death

We have been told repeatedly over the years that IVF babies are just as healthy as those conceived naturally. Well, it looks like things are not going as well as we were led to believe. From the story:

IVF children are also at an increased risk of being born prematurely and of weighing less at birth, scientists found.Researchers looked at more than 2,500 women who had conceived both naturally and through IVF and compared the results to more than one million natural conceptions.

They found that babies who had been conceived through IVF were 31 per cent more likely to die in the period before and after their birth. IVF conceived children also tended to weigh an average of 0.9 ounces (25g) less at birth, the findings, published online in the Lancet medical journal show.

The babies also tended to be born earlier, by an average of two days, and were 26 per cent more likely to be small for their age.

Doctors think the increased risk may have to do with the health of the mother that led to infertility problems in the first place.

This may be the answer:
A maximum of two fertilised eggs are now replaced although many experts would like to see that number cut to one, to reduce the high number of IVF twin births, which are seen as more risky for mother and child
And let's add to that enacting rules to govern IVF laid down by the Italians: only make a maximum of three embryos--and implant all that are successfully created.

Had we done that from the beginning and there wouldn't be 400,000 embryos in cold storage today.

Animal Researcher on the Air

Our friend P. Michael Conn, Associate Director and Senior Scientist of the Oregon National Primate Research Center, was interviewed on the radio about his fine book The Animal Research War. (Before the interview begins, the hosts discuss the best time to eat sushi and the genetic makeup and expression of dogs.) Then, Dr. Conn explains the importance of animals in research and the terrorism to which he and other researchers have been subjected. From the interview:

There is a very real and very violent war going on right now against animal research. It's almost invisible in the media...We want people to know that these extremist groups are having a strangling effect on drug development; things we need so desperately...We are in the middle, we are the welfarists, we want the best things for animals, we want the advantages that come from animal research to be used in people and animals, and we will stand for nothing short of outstanding animal care. And it is true that at our facility the primates are very well cared for and in many situations better cared for than the average poverty line child in the United States...

Right now we are in a situation where UCLA is suing extremists to stop a campaign of terror, vandalism, and threats directed at faculty and administrators. A UCLA van was firebombed sitting in Irvine, California less than a month ago.
[I think this interview is a few months old.] The University of Utah is suppoting legislation to protect their scientists so their children aren't menaced, their pictures aren't put on the web, they don't receive razor blades in the mail. At the University of California Santa Cruz, there was a home invasion less than a month ago. We have colleagues in Portland whose cars have been spray painted and covered with paint stripper, whose homes are painted with animal rights graffitis. Fire bombs are going off in L.A.. The Society for Neuroscience has felt it necessary to issue a "best practices" document. This is unusual because they are actually giving universities instructions on how to protect their researchers from extremists. This is a civilized country in the year 2008. What is going on?
But animal rights is a peaceable movement!

Conn talks about the hypocrisy of animal rights activists take advantage of treatments that required animals in their development [as they should, and as I have also noted].

It's a good and important interview. Check it out.

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SHS Funnies

PETA's Ingrid Newkirk has a good dream, she later called "The Revenge of the Cows:"

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

AIDS Epidemic Ameliorating in Africa: ABC Approach Seems to be Working

The UN has an encouraging report out, and it appears that--dare we say it--people restraining their sexual impulses has had a major impact. From the story:

The HIV/Aids epidemic appears to be slowing, as evidence emerges of more cautious sexual behaviour and improved treatment in some of the worst-hit countries of the world, according to a new UN study.

Signs that work on preventing the spread of HIV is bearing fruit are flagged up today by UNAids' two-yearly report on the state of the epidemic. In Rwanda and Zimbabwe, it finds, fewer people appear to be getting infected, apparently as the dangers of careless sex become better understood.

In Zimbabwe, a drop in infection among pregnant women, from 26% in 2002 to 18% in 2006, is being linked to reports of fewer people having casual sexual partners and fewer men paying for sex.

Condom use also appears to be increasing and in seven badly affected countries--Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, Uganda and Zambia--young people appear to be waiting longer before starting to have sex. In Cameroon, the percentage of under-15 year-olds having sex fell from 35% to 14%.
Hmmm: It looks like the often castigated ABC approach is working: A-Abstinence, B-Be Faithful, and if that isn't done, C-condomize.

More needs to be done, the report says, and that would seem to me to require even greater educational efforts at urging sexual restraint since that is the only sure way to prevent almost all sexual transmission of HIV.

That isn't moralizing: It is good public health and plain old common sense. HIV is overwhelmingly a venereal disease (although it can certainly be contracted non sexually) and should always have been treated as such.

Why some are hostile to that message is beyond me.

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Alzheimer's Breakthorugh Treatment?

People suffering early and moderate Alzheimer's have great reason for hope today as a new medication appears to materially impact of the disease in Stage II human trials. From the story:

Millions of Alzheimer’s sufferers have been given fresh hope after a new generation of drugs were shown to reverse the symptoms of the disease.

The treatment can bring the “worst affected parts of the brain back to life” and scientists say it is twice as effective as any medication currently available. They even suggested the drug works so well it might be given to patients in the future to prevent the onset of the illness.

The researchers say that if further tests of the drug, called rember, are successful it could be available within four to five years. "We appear to be bringing the worst affected parts of the brain functionally back to life," said Prof Claude Wischik of Aberdeen University, who carried out the trials on 321 people with the illness.

If this pans out, it is great news on many levels. First and foremost is the amelioration on the individual level of a terrible affliction that not only destroys the patient but devastates families--as I have seen up close in the death of my uncle.

On a societal level, it could ameliorate the worry about explosive health care costs as my generation enters our senior years. This in turn, could moderate the pressure that has been building for the legalization of assisted suicide, Futile Care Theory, and more explicit methods of health care rationing.

Finally, the treatment isn't controversial, demonstrating how so much of what is going on today in bioscience isn't about cloning and embryonic stem cells.

Still some testing to go before it is ready for full clinical use. But can we all say, hip,hip, hooray?

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Janet Rivera's Cousin Granted Her Conservatorship

The family of Janet Rivera wants her to live. The doctors wanted her to die. The County Conservator sided with the doctors. He ordered her respirator and feeding tube removed. She didn't die over more than ten days. The family begged to put her feeding tube back. The powers that be refused. Finally, litigation ensued. A judge ordered the tube feeding restored. Today, a cousin got conservatorship. Hopefully that will end the case. From the story:

Janet Rivera's cousin, Suzanne Emrich of Boulder Creek in Santa Cruz County, was granted conservatorship in the high-profile case this morning. Emrich and the Fresno County Public Guardian's Office reached the deal, sealed in court. Rivera, 46, has been comatose for two years following a heart attack. It’s unclear what Rivera’s preferences about life support would be.

The county removed her from life support July 11 over her family’s objections. Life support was reinstated July 23.
Imagine reading this ten years ago, and it would have been unthinkable: A family begged to have their loved one's life maintained, and until a judge got involved, their pleas fell on deaf ears. And who knows the extent of harm caused by more than a week without food and water. Such is the nature of the culture of death that this way comes.

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Another Assisted Suicide Abuse in Oregon: No Money to Help Live--Will Pay to Make Dead

First, I predicted it in Forced Exit. Then, it happened. And now, it has happened again: An very ill Oregon man has been denied treatment under Medicaid in Oregon to fight his prostate cancer--but has been told that the state will happily pay for his assisted suicide. From the story:

Since the spread of his prostate cancer, 53-year-old Randy Stroup of Dexter, Ore., has been in a fight for his life. Uninsured and unable to pay for expensive chemotherapy, he applied to Oregon's state-run health plan for help.

Lane Individual Practice Association (LIPA), which administers the Oregon Health Plan in Lane County, responded to Stroup's request with a letter saying the state would not cover Stroup's pricey treatment, but would pay for the cost of physician-assisted suicide. "It dropped my chin to the floor," Stroup told FOX News. "[How could they] not pay for medication that would help my life, and yet offer to pay to end my life?"

The letter, which has been sent to other terminal patients throughout Oregon, follows guidelines established by the state legislature.
And now the oozing compassssssiooonnnnnn of assisted suicide is revealed to all. And the same agenda is at the root of Futile Care Theory. When life gets tough, it is time for the ill to get going onto whatever comes next.

Reminds me of the old writing exercise I recall from grade school called The Lady or the Tiger. The set up was that a petitioner for the hand of the princess was put in an arena by a cruel king. There were two doors: Behind one was a tiger who would kill the would be lover. Behind the other was the princess. We then were to fill in what happened. (As I recall, the boys all had the tiger picked, and the girls, the princess.)

But for the poor in Oregon, there is a tiger behind both doors.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Czech Euthanasia Proposal

I visited Prague last year and found the Czech Republic to be a vibrant and beautiful place. (Photo by WJS.) Alas, it seems to be slouching toward accepting euthanasia, and indeed, a legalization proposal is now being promoted in the country. From the story:

According to the proposed legislation, "A dignified death can only be had on the basis of a request for help or can be chosen by a patient only in a situation when his health condition is hopeless and when he is in a condition of permanent physical or psychological pain, which is the result of contingent or long-term and incurable illness."
Yada, yada, yada. We have seen repeatedly how such "guidelines" don't hold, but are merely meant to give the illusion of control. Moreover, an "incurable" condition can be almost anything and everything that is not a transitory condition. Arthritis can be "long term" and "incurable." So can diabetes, spinal cord injury, asymptomatic AIDS that terrifies the patient about the future, etc.

The deal is not done, of course:
Human Rights Minister Džamila Stehlíková (SZ) has also come out against the proposed legislation.

"The only acceptable solution to the position of the severely ill and dying is not the choice between suffering and death at the hands of a doctor, but a lessening of suffering and the provision of a helping hand. The dying and severely ill need quality, accessible care and not legalized euthanasia, which contradicts the spirit of a doctor's profession," said Stehlíková.

According to Domšová, there wouldn't be any need to legalize euthanasia if there was an acceptable level of care for long-term and terminally ill patients and the dying.
I agree with that, but it misses an important point. The euthanasia movement is international and is not really about helping those for whom nothing can be done to alleviate end-of-life suffering. It is an ideological quest at its heart, extolling radical individualism over what may be best for society as a whole. But that wouldn't sell to a wary public, and so the emphasis on terminal illness and suffering that cannot be relieved.

Let us hope that the Czech Republic does not hearken to the Siren Song of "death with dignity."

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Medical Tourism Cannot Be the Answer

I have reported here at SHS that due to the "NHS meltdown," tens of thousands of UK patients travel abroad to receive care they should be able to receive close to home. Now, the concept is apparently spreading in the USA, at least if the AMAMedical News is to be believed. From the story:

The American Medical Association House of Delegates recently took an interest in medical tourism as well. At its Annual Meeting in June, it approved a set of guidelines designed to help ensure that globe-trotting patients have all the information they need to decide for themselves when to go overseas, and that they are protected when they go. The guidelines, outlined in a report by the AMA Council on Medical Service, also consider the role of physicians back home involved in their traveling patients' follow-up care.

Right now, it is too early to conclude whether the risks of medical tourism outweigh the advantages. Meanwhile, long-standing AMA policy on pluralism in health care supports the ability of patients to choose their treatments and physicians.

The operative word is "choose." The guidelines state that medical care outside the United States must be voluntary, and that any financial incentives should not inappropriately limit the diagnostic and therapeutic alternatives, or restrict treatment or referral options. In the end, the decision to travel for care is those patients'--not anybody else's.
There's the "C-word" again, the excuse for every pullback from upholding robust ethical norms.

Rather than shrug its collective shoulders about the threat of medical tourism, it seems to me that the AMA should instead strive to promote policies where patients wouldn't feel so pressed that they would consider traveling 5000 miles, to be treated by doctors they have never met, in a circumstance where they are far from family and friends. But, alas, this is the kind of bland "leadership" we too often get from our instituions these days:
The cost of care and the issue of the uninsured need to be addressed at home so patients don't feel like they have to look elsewhere for affordable, quality medicine. But while patients are seeking care elsewhere, they need to be fully informed about the risks of opting for medical tourism. Traveling overseas may be their choice. What they certainly don't need is anybody else forcing the decision on them.
But that is what will happen if the current trends continue and the medical establishment doesn't take a stronger stand.

Yes, people should have choices, but the AMA's bland "safeguards" approach could grease the skids for HMOs or publicly funded programs outsourcing expensive surgeries and other forms of care to India or other nations. Whatever happened to leadership?

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Janet Rivera: Case Overview

The Fresno Bee has an extended article on the Janet Rivera case today. Rivera is a profoundly cognitively disabled woman whose husband and family want her to live, but who has been ordered dehydrated by the public guardian, a matter we first discussed here at SHS last week. (I was interviewed for the piece and have a small quote.) Here is the general gist of article. From the story:

Among the questions her situation has raised: Should a government agency be able to overrule family members and withhold life support when the patient's wishes are unknown?

The Schiavo family has taken an interest in this case. The Terri Schindler Schiavo Foundation helped find a lawyer to represent the Rivera family, said Schiavo's brother, Bobby Schindler.Rivera's situation is more alarming than his sister's, he said. "We had a family dispute," he said. "This is a family in agreement."

That's a very big deal, it seems to me. Otherwise, as I noted in my earlier post, we move toward medicalized tyranny in which the state or strangers can decide that the time has come for your loved one to die.

More from reporter Barbara Anderson's story:
Rivera has been comatose for two years following a heart attack. It's unclear what Rivera's preferences about life support would be. "We never really talked about life and death things much," said Rivera's brother, Michael Dancoff of Berkeley.Experts agree that the county is taking a chance by trying to make an end-of-life decision for Rivera without knowing her wishes.

It's unusual for a conservator to argue for removing life support without evidence that's what the patient would want, said David Magnus, director of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics and co-chair of the hospital's ethics committee.
Not if futile care theory takes off. As I have stated repeatedly, choice is just the key that opens the door. The real agenda is that certain people not remain with us due to utilitarian considerations. To wit:

"The stewardship of scarce resources does require us to take resources into account," said Ben Rich, a University of California at Davis bioethics professor. "But it has to be done carefully.

Yeah right...Here's my part in the story:

Wesley J. Smith, a Castro Valley attorney who was an adviser to the Schindler family in the Terri Schiavo case, said there is a "potential for tremendous discrimination" if finances are ever taken into consideration in cases such as Rivera's. "If HMOs did this, people would be screaming," Smith said. "If we're going to do it because of public financing, people should be screaming also."
All in all, a very nicely balanced piece of reporting. Well done Ms. Anderson.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

California's Proposition 2: Destroying CA Egg Industry?

We have had both sides of Proposition 2, that would among other animal husbandry matters, eradicate the use of cages for chickens. The prime mover behind the initiative is the Humane Society of the United States--the nation's wealthiest animal rights group (as I view it) that doesn't preach the ideology but focuses on lawsuits, initiatives, education about animal protection, etc.

In past installments, both sides have weighed in here about the impact of the price of eggs. Now the University of California Agriculture Center has a study out that predicts the destruction of the California egg industry if Proposition 2 passes. From the report:

Our analysis indicates that the expected impact would be the almost complete elimination of egg production in California within the five-year adjustment period. Non-cage production costs are simply too far above the costs of the cage systems used in other states to allow California producers to compete with imported eggs in the conventional egg market. The most likely outcome, therefore, is the elimination of almost all of the California egg industry over a very few years.
Now, one could say that the UC study was agriculture industry friendly. But I think one could also say, that HSUS and other animal rightists would shed not a tear if the entire egg industry were to be destroyed.

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Sign of the Times: Misplaced Priorities

Living in the San Francisco Bay area is a surrealistic experience, and the looniness of the more extreme denizens could take up most of the space here at SHS. Two local controversies have involved whether to put suicide barriers on the Golden Gate Bridge and another is the coddling of tree-sitting protesters who are trying to prevent a small grove of oaks from being cut down in order to build a UC Berkeley athletic center. The difference between the fervor of the tree protesters--which UC Berkeley in its time-tested pattern has utterly coddled--and the public attention to the GGB issue, caught one letter writer's attention in today's SF Chronicle:

Editor--Did anyone else notice the striking irony between two headlines in the July 23 Chronicle ("Suicide barrier: Emotions high" and "Judge hands Cal a big win in athletic center fight")?

Isn't it sad there seems to be a higher number of people fighting to save the oak trees next to Memorial Stadium than there are people who are fighting to prevent future suicides on the Golden Gate Bridge? What has become of our society? Do we value the lives of trees more than the lives of our depressed brothers and sisters? If you're in favor of saving a tree, shouldn't you also be in favor of saving human lives? We can always replace a tree that we have cut down but a life lost on the Golden Gate Bridge can never be replaced.
There are a lot of misplaced priorities in today's society. Some, in my view, come from rejecting human exceptionalism. When we personalize fauna and flora, we diminish the intrinsic importance of human life. And that plays out in many ways, both big, and as here, small, in the misplaced priorities about which the letter writer is so concerned.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

End of the Line for Advanced Cell Technology?

I have been very critical of Advanced Cell Technology, believing it to be a publicity seeking enterprise that used press releases to raise venture capital for morally problematic research into human cloning, ESC, the like, while at the same time, it tried to manipulate the political system to create an environment that would be conducive to it receiving taxpayer dollars. But now, that strategy may have reached the point of exhaustion. The company is apparently on the verge of going out of business. From the story:

In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing Tuesday, the company warned that it doesn't have cash to continue operating after July 31 without raising additional money or drastically slashing operations. It reported $17 million in current liabilities, but only $1 million in cash and other current assets, an indication it could be forced to file for bankruptcy protection. And ACT's stock, which was as high as $8 per share three years ago, closed yesterday at 2.5 cents a share.
I think what killed ACT was the iPSCs. Once normal skin cells could be turned into pluripotent stem cells, the air began to leak out of the cloning balloon. ACT's "breakthrough" of the month routine (I exaggerate only a little) couldn't match the reality that was happening in labs with iPSCs from Japan to America.

In many ways ACT was like the little boy who cried, "Wolf!" It has lost its credibility--a commodity that is almost irreplaceable. Whatever the future holds for ACT, it is doubtful a press release can save it now. And even if it remains afloat, it won't be the same enterprise. And frankly, that is a good thing.

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Doctors Should Give Medical--Not Political--Advice

I think too many scientific types want to control the world: And we shouldn't let them.

Latest example: Two physicians writing in the British Medical Journal have urged members to seek to dissuade couples from having more than two children--to fight global warming. From the story:

Two doctors, writing in the British Medical Journal, suggest that doctors should talk to their patients about climate change and encourage them to think about the consequences of having a big family.

Investing in contraception would help in the fight against climate change, they argue. John Guillebaud, emeritus professor of family planning and reproductive health, at University College London and GP Dr Pip Hayes, from Exeter wrote: "Unplanned pregnancy, especially in teenagers, is a problem for the planet, as well as the individual concerned.

"But what about planned pregnancies? Should we now explain to UK couples who plan a family that stopping at two children, or at least having one less child than first intended, is the simplest and biggest contribution anyone can make to leaving a habitable planet for our grandchildren? We must not put pressure on people, but by providing information on the population and the environment, and appropriate contraception for everyone (and by their own example), doctors should help to bring family size into the arena of environmental ethics, analogous to avoiding patio heaters and high carbon cars."

No. No. No. In the context of the patient/physician relationship, it is not the doctor's job to fight global warming! Rather, his or her job is to give medical advise based on the patient's individual needs or desires, not advocate for the physician's own political or cultural beliefs.

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The Janet Rivera Case: Medicalized Tyranny

I told you all this was coming, and here it is. A California woman named Janet Rivera, age 46, who we are told is unconscious, has a family who want her to continue to receive food and water. Her husband was even her guardian. But he was removed as guardian and a total stranger--the county coroner no less--was put in his place. And the doctors convinced him that the time had come for Rivera to die.

Why remove Janet's husband as decider? No abuse was alleged. Apparently he had difficulties with the technicalities. From the story:

Sanger woman Janet Rivera, 46, has been in a coma since she had a heart attack in February 2006. For more than two years, Rivera's husband, Jesus Rivera, made all of his wife's medical decisions while Rivera was under the care of the DeWitt Community Subacute Center in Fresno. A judge granted the Fresno County Public Guardian's Office conservatorship of Janet Rivera in June....The judge said the conservatorship was granted to the Public Guardian's Office because Jesus Rivera "was not able to see that [Janet Rivera's Medi-Cal] benefits had lapsed a year ago and was not able to meet with a surgeon about a surgery that needed to be performed."

Hadden said he could not offer details on why his office took conservatorship of Rivera. But, he said, "The county does not seek this position we're in." Hadden said his office reinstated Rivera's Medi-Cal benefits after it took over conservatorship. But in the meantime, he said, the Riveras racked up a $200,000 hospital bill that has yet to be paid.
When Janet began to breathe on her own, the guardian still refused to put the feeding tube back in. The life support has been restored by court order--temporarily--but who knows how much damage was caused from nearly ten days off of treatment. Also, the reporter alludes to the Terri Schiavo case as being similar. Oh no it's not. The family is united in their desire for her to live--it's the doctors who want her to die.

During Schiavo, we were told that only the husband should decide. But when this husband wants his wife to continue on--well family ties apparently have their limits. This smacks of a futile care theory case to me.

Wanna bet the media doesn't castigate the doctors and the guardian for going against the husband who wants his wife to live as they did the Schindlers when they when against a husband who wanted his wife to die.

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Sign of the Times: Loss of Social Cohesion

Sunbathers in Italy continued to enjoy the beach despite two children having drowned and the bodies being just left on the sand. From the story:

The bodies of two drowned Roma [often called Gypsies] children lay covered by towels on an Italian beach while holidaymakers carried on, unfazed enjoying the sun. Cristina Ibramovitc, 12, and Viola Ibramovitc, 11, were left on the sand for an hour among "indifferent" holidaymakers after being caught in rough seas...

One eyewitness quoted on Italian TV said: "The water was rough and no-one was in the sea but these four Roma children just rushed into the huge waves." The beach was packed and people soon realised the four were in trouble because the children started screaming and shouting for help. Some people went in and got two of them but the other two couldn't be saved and they were pulled from the water dead. "Bodies were left on the beach for an hour before being collected, just covered by a beach towel while people just got back to sunbathing and playing football.
This reminds me of a story out of the Netherlands I recounted in Forced Exit:

Then there is the case of the little girl who fell into a lake and drowned. Normally, that would not be national news. But in this case, "Two hundred people stopped eating sandwiches, playing Frisbee, or walking the dog, and stood. Some moved to the bank and watched the girl drown. No one tried to help." The little girl's death, captured on video, shook the Netherlands in much the same way the Rodney King video did in this country, as the Dutch, "in a rare moment of self-examination," wondered and worried about the decline of their culture. (Cite: Sarah Lambert, "Dutch Stand Idly By as Child Drowns," San Francisco Examiner, August 28, 1993.)
Nor should we forget the recent case here in the USA caught on video of a man hit by a car and bystanders not rushing to his aid.

At least the Italians tried to save the kids. Question: Are these stories symptoms of a growing disconnect with and from each other or just isolated incidents?

Alas, I believe the former.

HT: Judy Dobson

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The Consequences of Single Payor Health Care: Age-Based Health Care Rationing

Good news: Will Saletan is blogging at "Human Nature: The Blog." (This might not be new, but it is news to me.) I like Will's work, even though I often disagree with his positions. But people interested in what we do here at SHS, might be interested in Saletan's perspectives.

Case in point: Saletan calls for age-based health care rationing under Medicare and Medicaid. Referencing a story (that I should have covered) in the NYT about the increase of successful surgeries for people nearing 100, Saletan suggests that Medicare/Medicaid deny such expensive and medically appropriate treatments--even if they would utterly succeed in providing the desired benefit--based on age. From his post:

The objection to spending Medicare funds on all these procedures is obvious: The money would be better spent on younger patients...[But] Isn't health, like wealth, an unequally distributed asset? Isn't it, in fact, the ultimate asset? And if that's the case, should we means-test people on Medicare not just for wealth, but for age?

Actually, means testing is the wrong term. Age isn't really a means; it's more like an end. So let's call it an ends test. The theory is that just as some people have enough money, others have had enough time.

Whoa. Talk about obliterating human exceptionalism, dismantling the importance of the individual, and imposing the ultimate discrimination upon people based on invidious prejudice!

If patients aren't treated as individuals but crassly as members of categories, it bodes ill for civil liberties. And this is particularly true in medicine. For as the German physician Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland wrote in 1806:
It is not up to [the doctor] whether...life is happy or unhappy, worthwhile or not, and should in incorporate these perspectives into his trade...the doctor could well become the most dangerous person in the state.
That goes double for government health insurance bureaucrats!

This is a classic case of how liberalism--of which Will Saletan is a proud representative--is fast losing its commitment to universal human equality. It is also a warning about the dangers of nationalized health care.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Chicken Slaughter in School?


My "vegan is murder" piece stimulated a lot of interest. One correspondent alerted me to a controversy in Canandaigua, N.Y. Apparently, the Canandaigua Academy's “chicken project” has, in the past, had a class of students each year raising chickens and then slaughtering them for a meal, the idea being to see where food comes from. Needless to say, PETA went ballistic and pressured the academy to cancel the project. From the story:

Lindsay Rajt, manager of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said Friday that Erdle sent an e-mail to the organization saying that school officials "recognize the concern" and had discontinued the project, which had been part of a high school ecology class for the past three years. "In no way were we trying to create a controversy," wrote Erdle in the e-mail provided by PETA. "This is a project adopted from a 4-H project that we have done for years."
Needless to say, PETA had not accurately reported what was really going on when it sought to ignite the wrath of the animal rights world down onto the school:

Animal-rights activists from across the country, including PETA members, lobbied school leaders to end the project. School district spokesman Andy Thomas said the district has received as many as 50 letters from activists. "I think Lynne's feeling is, 'Enough is enough,'" Thomas said. "We think it's a great class, but sometimes a controversy makes it not worth it to pound on through."

Thomas added, "Their opposition to the program, to me, is somewhat shortsighted--there’s a chance that some of the kids that go through this program will consider vegetarianism much more seriously."

Thomas expressed frustrations with how the program--aimed at giving students a close-look at the true cost of today's diet--has been portrayed by PETA and another group, United Poultry Concerns. In announcing the school's decision, PETA issued a press release Friday that said, "School Had Been Holding Mass Decapitations of Birds in Classroom."
But that's what PETA does; demagogue and pander for publicity.

Given that this is an elective class, my main concern would be to ensure that the chickens were slaughtered humanely. That is not a job for amateurs. But I think the school should be given points for breaking free from the usual stifling political correctness so often seen in schools today about animals.

My correspondent, who lives in the area, tells me the deal is not yet done. The program was suspended pending review, not finally terminated. "Many people reacted bitterly to this 'cave in,'" he reports. "The animal rights people called this a victory, but now it looks like the program may be reinstated."

If I find out more, I will let you all know.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Moving Toward Reproductive Cloning

Scientific American, an anything goes pro-cloning magazine, has two articles out dealing with the future of human cloning. The focus is on Ian Wilmut, who administered the team that cloned Dolly, who planned to pursue human SCNT cloning but then eschewed it in favor of iPSC research. The whole thing seems to me to be a somewhat desperate attempt to keep human SCNT research viable. You can read the article here to judge that for yourselves.

There is also a Q and A interview published with Ian Wilmut. I think this question is the most important:

It seems as though there is increasing sentiment among scientists that some form of reproductive cloning would be acceptable for clinical purposes. Would you agree?
Ah, the cat is finally getting out of the bag! I have been telling anyone and everyone that the supposed agreement within the science and bioethics communities against reproductive cloning was merely an expedient. The real agenda is anything goes, with cloning for reproduction and use in genetic engineering/enhancement research definitely part of the agenda.

Here is Wilmut's answer:

There always has been a difference of opinion about that. I think you need to define the terms very, very closely. As a way of getting people to think about things, I've asked, "Suppose it was possible to use this technique to correct a genetic error in an embryo?" You know, say, if you had a family who were inheriting one of the diseases we've already talked about. If you produced an embryo by in vitro fertilization (IVF), grew out cells, corrected the mutation, and then cloned to make a new embryo, you're using it as a tool for correction of genetic disease--and that child would not be a genetically identical twin. I personally wouldn't find anything wrong with that.

Whether it's likely to happen or not is a very different matter, simply because of the technical challenges and the costs involved. And as far as treatment for infertility is concerned, the odds are that there would be other ways of overcoming the problem. If IVF cells are equivalent in their developmental potential to embryo-derived stem cells, then it might be possible to produce gametes. So if you have, let's say, a man who has no sperm, you produce iPS cells, you produce sperm, and you can then produce babies through IVF. Naturally, it would be a much more satisfactory approach, because it is a child who is the product of both parents and is not a genetically identical twin to anybody

In other words, Wilmut supports reproductive cloning. The limitations he specifies, even if he really believes them, would never hold if the technology were perfected. And in the past, he has been far less circumspect. Moreover, iPSCs still hold better promise for helping people with infertility.

If you want to stop reproductive cloning, stop all human SCNT. It is the only way.

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"Vegan is Murder"


As promised a few weeks ago, I have expanded upon my original thoughts about the killing of field animals in plant agriculture and how that impacts the "meat is murder" meme pushed by animal rights activists. It is published in today's NRO. I describe how field animals are killed by being chopped up in combine blades or burned when field leavings are torched. I then point out that this creates an intellectual problem for animal rightists. From my column:

Animal-rights activists certainly don’t mention this inconvenient fact in their advocacy materials. But if the matter comes up in debate, they have a problem: They believe it is “speciesist” to grant some sentient animals--including humans--greater value than others; as PETA’s Ingrid Newkirk so famously put it, “a rat, is a fish, is a dog, is a boy.” Thus, they cannot contend that it is more wrong to kill a pig than a rabbit. Nor can they argue that field animals experience less-agonizing deaths from plant agriculture than food animals do from food-animal slaughtering. Field animals may flee in panic as the great rumbling harvest combines approach, only to be shredded to bits within their merciless blades; they may be burned to death when field leavings are burned; they may be poisoned by pesticides; they may die from predation when their plant cover has been removed.

No question: The animal-rights forces hold a weak intellectual hand.
Next, I quote Gary Francione's response to this. He said the issue is primarily intent, but also that omnivores cause more animal deaths than vegans because more vegans can live off the land when it isn't used for raising animals. I respond:
But neither “intent” (as Francione defines it) nor utilitarian comparison of the carnage is the real issue. The argument made by animal-rights activists is that meat is murder, while veganism is supposedly cruelty-free.
I refer to the study discussed previously here at SHS, that showed an omnivorous diet with animal products coming from field grazing animals would result in fewer animal deaths than a totally vegan diet, and I conclude:
Contending that meat eating is somehow murder while veganism is morally pristine because it doesn’t result in intentional animal deaths is factually false and self-delusional. No matter your diet, animals surely died that you might live.
Like it or not, that's the way of the world.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

"Chimps Not Chumps"

I was on a radio show today and told about an op/ed piece in the NY Times by Steve Ross, who is involved with cognitive research of primates with the Lincoln Zoo, that, the host implied, seemed to go along with the ethics of the Great Ape Project. I hadn't read it, so I thought I should check it out.

Happily, at first it seemed not to be so. From the column:

A survey that I and several colleagues conducted in 2005 found that one in three visitors to the Lincoln Park Zoo assumed that chimpanzees are not endangered. Yet more than 90 percent of these same visitors understood that gorillas and orangutans face serious threats to their survival. And many of those who imagined chimpanzees to be safe reported that they based their thinking on the prevalence of chimps in advertisements, on television and in the movies. In reality, chimpanzees face a severe threat in the wild: their numbers have dropped to about 20 percent of what they were a century ago, as their habitat in equatorial Africa is deforested and they are hunted as bushmeat.
OK: so far so good. It is perfectly in keeping with human exceptionalism to defend the thriving of species and protect animal habitats.

But then Ross goes badly off the rails:
Consider that chimpanzees share as much as 98 percent of our genetic makeup. They make and use tools, recognize and identify hundreds of individuals in their groups and learn from others skills like termite fishing. Of course, the reverse is also true: we are 98 percent chimpanzee.
Nonsense. This is reductionism writ large. We are no more "98% chimp" then we are 40% lettuce because we share about that percentage of genes with radicio. As the Human Genome Project states:
In February 2001, scientists working on the project published the first interpretations of the human genome sequence. Previously, many in the scientific community had believed that the number of human genes totaled about 100,000. But the new findings surprised everyone: both research groups said they could find only about 30,000 or so human genes. This meant that humans have remarkably few genes, not that many more than a fruit fly, which has 13,601 (scientists had decoded this sequence in March 2000). This discovery led scientists to conclude that human complexity does not come from a sheer quantity of genes. Instead, human complexity seems to arise as a result of the structure of the network of different genes, proteins, and groups of proteins and the dynamics of those parts connecting at different times and on different levels.
In reality, chimps and human beings are altogether different species that, according to evolutionary theory, shared a common and now extinct ancestor that lived some 7-20million years ago. Moreover, the seeming genetic nearness is a vast chasm that actually represent tens of millions of biological differences.

The biological reality is we are not them and they are not us.

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Colorado Initiative Declaring Personhood at Completion of Fertilization

I read an op/ed column in today's SF Chronicle by a pundit I don't know, Tom Teepen, that ranted hysterically about something called the Colorado "Human Life Amendment" that will appear on November's ballot. From his column:

There will be immediate consequences if the proposition is enacted. The morning-after pill and IUDs for birth control, for instance, would become contraband, but further, the explosion of lawsuits would be atomic.

Could a pregnant woman be charged with child endangerment or child abuse if she is spotted smoking or having a drink? Must she be denied any medical procedure that she might come to need if it could potentially harm the fetus?

Women or girls who have an illegal abortion would be charged with murder and, inasmuch as the act would incontestably have been premeditated, could be executed.

Really? Sounds serious. I had heard vague comments about this proposal but had not given it much thought, so I decided to check what' going on. Here's the text of the actual amendment:
Person Defined: As used in sections 3, 6, and 25 of Article II of the state constitution, the terms "person" or "persons" shall include any human being from the moment of fertilization.
About this, Teepen claimed:
The question of just when life begins has been a conundrum since deepest antiquity. The folk answer has been at the quickening, when the fetus becomes rambunctious enough to make its presence known.
So Teepen would support personhood protections after quickening? Don't hold your breath.

Besides, I always find it rich when the side of the political spectrum that claims the mantle of "rational," fall back on "folk wisdom" to justify their points.

In reality, the Human Life Amendment is misnamed and Teepen has misstated the issue. The question isn't a question of "when human life begins." Basic embryology tells us it begins biologically--which is what human life is--when fertilization is completed, indeed, at the zygote stage the new individual has a unique genetic makeup (unless shared with an identical twin or triplet), and his or her gender is wired in.

But personhood is something different. It isn't a scientific question involving biology. It is a philosophical determination. So, what voters are really being asked to decide is when should a human life be given moral value? Thus, the campaign will force people to contemplate moral issues they would rather shrug off.

This discussion, if it is focused properly, could be important, even if the amendment loses, as it could serve to highlight
the danger presented to universal human rights by the Peter Singers of the world who have been pushing personhood restrictions for years--to the point that many in bioethics assert that human non persons include not only all embryos and fetuses, but also infants to about one year of age, people with Alzheimer's, the Terri Schiavos of the world, etc. The consequence is that these vulnerable human beings are being targeted for killing, organ harvesting, and as experimental lab rats.

So, I think it is good that the people of Colorado will be forced to grapple with this issue. But the discussion shouldn't be about abortion. The Amendment would not stop abortion so long as it remains a federal constitutional right, and given the S. Court's decisions re birth control decided before Roe v. Wade, it seems impossible that, despite Teepen's hysteria, it would inhibit birth control. But it might just get people to say no to the increasing tendency to instrumentalize human life for crass exploitation.

If the media don't demagogue the issue like Teepen did, it could be an interesting debate.

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

SHS Funnies

Oh, to live to see the day! (Hint: Look at his ear.)

Verbal Gruel from the Ethics Director of the Canadian Medical Association

Regular readers of SHS will (I hope) recall the comment I made the other day about an article in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing that was so neutral on infanticide, it seemed to me to be greasing the skids toward moving policy toward professional permissability. In that entry, I said in part:

Terminal Non Judgmentalism Alert: An important professional journal aimed at pediatric nurses has discussed killing sick and profoundly disabled patients with studied neutrality.

This is precisely how the Culture of Death permeates our society. A bioethical practice once almost universally condemned is promoted at the fringes. The initial response is resistance. But soon, the non judgmentalism arrives, usually in professional journals and among "progressive" pundits, asserting that these issues are "complex," or "difficult," or "gray," or "complicated." Once this non judgmentalism softens the ground, the issue shifts to one of mere "choice"...
The same phenomenon is at work in the answers given by Dr. Jeff Blackmer, ethics director of the Canadian Medical Association in an interview about assisted suicide and euthanasia. In the interview, Blackner is asked whether the CMA would support a euthanasia bill pending in Parliament. He responds, in part:
Obviously that is a difficult question to answer. On these types of issues--that is, a serious potential bill coming before the House or a serious development publicly--we would reevaluate this policy closely. We reevaluate all ethics policies every year. If public feeling has shifted, we would ask if this is something we need to reconsider, to look at through another lens.
What an utter abdication of professional responsibility to lead the public in the right direction, particularly for the ethics director of a major medical association. Consider: If the public seemed to support racial discrimination in health care, would that mean that the CMA would have to "reconsider" its opposition? Of course not. The same should be true about assisted suicide/euthanasia: Either medicalized killing is right from a professional perspective, or it is wrong--regardless of public polls.

Read the whole interview, and you will see it contains the usual mealymouthed terms like, "difficult issue," and "watching to see what happens," and "look through another lens," in other words, the lexicon of terminal nonjudgmentalism that isn't really conflicted, but actually seeks to start a tide running in a certain direction by erasing existing principled impediments.

Alex Schadenberg also opines on the interview, here.

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Breakthrough! Animal Parts and Organs To Be Used in Humans

If this is true, it is huge. A breakthrough in preventing tissue rejection may permit animal parts and organs to be transplanted into humans--a process known as xenotransplantation. From the story:

Blood vessels, tendons and bladders from animals are to be used in humans for the first time after a breakthrough in transplant surgery.

Scientists have overcome the problem of rejection, which has previously prevented animal tissues from being used in patients. It opens the way for a range of new procedures using animal parts.

Children could be given pigs' heart valves that can grow with them, avoiding the need for repeated surgery; tissues such as ligaments, which have previously been difficult or impossible to repair, could be replaced; and eye patients could even be provided with new corneas.

By stripping the animal tissue of its cells with a series of chemical treatments, the scientists were left with a biological scaffold that provides a structure but no longer carries the factors that can trigger a recipient's body to reject a transplant. When the scaffold is surgically inserted into the patient's body, his or her own cells grow into it to create new tissue.

Because the patient's own cells fill the scaffold to create the tissue, scientists say there are no problems with rejection and the tissues are also able to regenerate, allowing them to last longer.
Before we go over the top with excitement, there is still the issue of potential viruses crossing the species barrier to consider. But perhaps this procedure is able to avoid that problem since some parts, like pig valves already in use in heart surgery, don't appear to carry that risk.

In any event, this story fits right in with two consistent themes here at SHS. First, some of the best biotechnology is not controversial, at least not from a human exceptionalism POV. Second, animal research offers tremendous human benefit. Let's continue to move forward with all dispatch.

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Two Wesley J. Smith Blasts from the Past














I was doing a little research and came across an article of mine, "Depressed? Don't Go See Kevorkian," published in the New York Times all the way back in 1995. Anyone interested, can check it out here.

Then, I thought I would see whether the very first piece I ever published about assisted suicide--back when I was writing books with Ralph Nader--is available on-line. Whaddya know: It is.

In "The Whispers of Strangers," published in the June 28, 1993 Newsweek (back before my beard was gray), I described my reaction to the suicide of my friend Frances under the influence and instruction of proselytizing pro suicide literature put out by the Hemlock Society (now Compassion and Choices). I also analyzed the subversive nature of the euthanasia movement, of which Frances had been a part.

The mail I received from this article was nasty and voluminous (and this was before e-mail made it so easy to reach out and hate), convincing me (along with reading Rita Marker's Deadly Compassion), that something was going desperately wrong with our culture and that I needed to engage the issue of assisted suicide as a public policy advocate. My life changed forever.

I think these paragraphs from the piece--which were based not on research as much as projecting out and connecting dots--were and are certainly right:

Frances once told me that through her death she would be advancing a cause. It is a cause I now deeply despise. Not only did it take Frances, but it rejects all that I hold sacred and true: that the preservation of human life is our highest moral ideal; that a principal purpose of government is as a protector of life; that those who fight to stay alive in the face of terminal disease are powerful uplifters of the human experience.

Of greater concern to me is the moral trickledown effect that could result should society ever come to agree with Frances. Life is action and reaction, the proverbial pebble thrown into the pond. We don't get to the Brave New World in one giant leap. Rather, the descent to depravity is reached by small steps. First, suicide is promoted as a virtue. Vulnerable people like Frances become early casualties. Then follows mercy killing of the terminally ill. From there, it's a hop, skip and a jump to killing people who don't have a good "quality" of life, perhaps with the prospect of organ harvesting thrown in as a plum to society.
The journey from there to here has been a long, shocking, and often disheartening experience. But everything I have learned along the way has only served to reinforce my commitment to working alongside so many others to thwart the death agenda. Hopefully, we will succeed. But even if we ultimately fail, it will have been well worth the trying.

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Of Course it is: True Story of Assisted Suicide to be Made into a Movie

The purveyors of popular culture never tire of pushing the euthanasia/assisted suicide agenda. We see it in movies, often made from pro-assisted suicide books, e.g., Million Dollar Baby, The Sea Within, One True Thing. Many of the top television dramas have had pro-assisted suicide themes, sometimes more than once, e.g. ER, Law and Order, Star Trek Voyager.

Then there was the fawning made-for-TV-movie made from Ruth Klooster's side of the story about the legal contest that ensued with her son Chip when he prevented her from taking her husband Gerald--who had Alzheimer's disease--to Jack Kevorkian. Chip, for whom I was a spokesperson, was rewarded for saving his father's life by being excoriated in press for "kidnapping" his father and for "imposing" his religious beliefs on his family. The biased reporters repeatedly wrote that Chip was somehow in it for the money, while Ruth was just a compassionate wife. Yet, it was Ruth who sold her story. After it was over, Chip, who was one of the most selfless people I have ever known, just went back to his life. (Gerald died several years later of natural causes.)

Now, in the UK, the story of a woman who went to Switzerland for an assisted suicide will be extolled. How do I know it won't be critical? Puhleeze! But here's a clue from the story:

Screenwriter Frank McGuinness said: "As a doctor Anne Turner lived and worked by her principles, and she chose to die by them. This film recognises that rare courage."
What a cliche`. You see, to the arteests, killing yourself in the face of illness is always the courageous enlightened course. Living fully until you die, well where's the uniqueness and specialness in that?

Never underestimate the power of "the movies" to change morality and public attitudes. This is part of the pro euthanasia propaganda war that has been pushing the culture of death for nearly two decades now.These showbiz types are like termites chomping away at the equality of life ethic. And it isn't going to stop any time soon.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Making Chimps Human

The zeal to demote humans into apes, and thereby destroy human exceptionalism, continues. The National Geographic has an extended article in the April 08 issue--which I saw in the dentist's office today--entitled "Almost Human." It is about some chimps--all given cute names in the article--some of which sharpen sticks with which to kill small monkeys called bush babies for consumption. The piece is interesting, and typical of the genre, overflowing with anthropomorphism. But this quote is why I bring the article up. From the story:

The taboo on anthropomorphizing seems odd, given that the closeness--evolutionary, genetic, and behavioral--between chimpanzees and humans is the very reason we study chimps so obsessively.
The answer is that when observation and reporting slips into anthropomorphism, it ceases to be science and becomes ideology.

National Geographic has a venerable history. But every time I look at it now, I see ideological agendas across a wide spectrum of issues. It remains a very interesting magazine, with great photos and interesting articles. But too often these days it ain't science reporting. It is politics. And the real shame is that so many people in the sciences and media either don't understand the difference--or don't care.

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Huxley was Right: A Whole New Meaning to the Term "Making Babies"


The hubris of the Brave New Worlders--and their folly--is on abundant display in this story about a future in which 100-year-old women will give birth. From the story:
Woman will soon be able to give birth at the age of 100 due to advances in fertility treatment, scientists have predicted.

Within three decades, women of any age--from children to pensioners--could successfully conceive as infertility is effectively eradicated, it is claimed. Experts say advances in germ cell technology in which skin cells are used to create sperm and eggs and then combined to make human embryos will soon allow women to start a family at any time in their lives.
This pathetic need to control everything--including the natural rhythms of human existence--is sad and doomed to failure. For 100-year-olds to give birth will require bodies like those of 30-40 year-olds--the old transhumanist pipe dream.

And get how deeply the desire among brave new worlders for hyper mastery of all aspects of existence has advanced:
Biologist, Davor Solter, of the Institute of Biology in Singapore, said: "The goals will remain the same in that we'll be trying to give children to those who can't have them and remove children from those who don't want them. I think IVF has gone about as far as it can..."

Other steps forward that are envisaged in the next 30 years include gestation taking place in an artificial womb, low-cost IVF treatment being made available at £50 a cycle and more controversially the creation of embryos for experiments.

In the coming years, scientists also believe that people will be freezing cells from an early age to avoid diseases as they get older. Mr Solter added: "Today you can't experiment on human embryos because it's considered morally repugnant--and they are difficult to get. If embryos could be grown in culture like any other cell line, this latter problem would disappear. It would mean you could introduce any kind of genetic modification. The cell lines could be used to correct a mutation or to engineer an improvement, and used to make a mutant embryo for research purposes. They would become objects and would be used as objects."
Now, read the first chapter of Brave New World, which I wish there was room to quote in full, that includes this exchange:
But one of the students was fool enough to ask where the advantage lay.

"My good boy!" The Director wheeled sharply round on him. "Can't you see? Can't you see?" He raised a hand; his expression was solemn. "Bokanovsky's Process is one of the major instruments of social stability!"

Major instruments of social stability. Standard men and women; in uniform batches. The whole of a small factory staffed with the products of a single bokanovskified egg. "Ninety-six identical twins working ninety-six identical machines!" The voice was almost tremulous with enthusiasm. "You really know where you are. For the first time in history." He quoted the planetary motto. "Community, Identity, Stability." Grand words. "If we could bokanovskify indefinitely the whole problem would be solved."

Solved by standard Gammas, unvarying Deltas, uniform Epsilons. Millions of identical twins. The principle of mass production at last applied to biology.
Huxley sure understood human nature. But we don't have to passively allow our values to shift to the point that we view human life as mere potter's clay. We have the power of choice. We have the power to say no to the attempt, that even when it failed, would cause tremendous moral damage.

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SHS Funnies

Natural selection in the metrosexual age.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Pro Incest Advocacy in the London Times! Proof I am Right About the New World A' Borning

In my recent Weekly Standard article about Spain's pending legal adoption of the Great Ape Project, I worried about the consequences that would follow from demoting human beings from the moral pinnacle. I wrote:

Should that come to pass, the ancien régime (as they view it) based on the sanctity and equality of human life would crumble. In its place would emerge a society sufficiently hedonistic to eschew moralizing about personal behavior (Singer has defended bestiality), but also humbled to the point where people would willingly sacrifice our own flourishing "for the animals" or to "save the planet" and utilitarian enough to countenance ridding ourselves of unwanted human ballast (Singer is the world's foremost proponent of infanticide). Thus, in the world that would rise from the ashes of human exceptionalism, moral value would be subjective and rights temporary, depending on the extent of each animal's individual capacities at the time of measuring.
I rarely comment about issues of personal behavior here, but now my allusion to hedonism as a coming primary societal value--being but one of the costs that flow from eschewing human exceptionalism--was reinforced by an article in the Times of London, in which a woman, using pretty frank (although not graphic) language, defended incest with her brother and announced that she not only does not feel guilty, but has has fond memories of the relationship.

I won't quote it here, but I think the issue isn't whether the woman bedded her brother. We all know that such events happen. It is that the Times editors thought it was worth publishing! I mean this isn't Penthouse, after all. The Times is one of the world's premier publications, a newspaper that is about as mainstream as mainstream gets. Publishing the column there has the effect of granting society's respectability to voluntary incest! Good grief.

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Jesse Ramirez: Working Out Instead of Dead

I have heard from the Jesse Ramirez family--and the news is good. Readers of SHS may recall that Ramirez was badly injured in an auto accident and quickly pronounced in a PVS. His wife wanted his feeding tube pulled, but this was resisted by his family. Litigation ensued, and--he woke up. Later, when I was in Phoenix speaking, he and his family came to meet me. It was a real thrill to shake Jesse's hand.

This is the latest news from Jesse's sister, which I share in an abridged and slightly edited form with SHSers with her kind permission:

Just a brief update since it's been just over a year when we experienced our hasty ordeal in the fight for Jesse's life. Since you last spoke and saw Jesse, he has made such a miraculous recovery! He walks semi without the gait walk, but is now running and really working out at the gym 3 times a week for 3&1/2 hours. WOW, considering a year ago he was said to have been in a vegetative state.

Why? He was not a vegetable literally speaking at all. He was a human with a life and deserved his dignity. What he has not experienced is his eye sight. He can see to some degree and he continues to get some eye sight back daily...[A]nd yet the medical staff and facility participated and agreed on what could of happened- days away to his door of death all by the means of starvation and dehydration and nothing related to the accident that could have killed him.

He wanted to Thank You for all your support on his case...Thank God for A D F [Alliance Defense Fund] they were Angels sent from up above. Again, Thank You for sharing Jesse's story to many others/organization speeches, this should inspire them to know that our family just didn't [stay] quiet there, the processing of saving brother's life, we took still another step ["Jesse's Law"] by making it clear that no one has that authority to remove hydration and nutrition from someone who is incapacitated...Our family believes Jesse was that statistic of being misdiagnosed. God Bless
This is the thing: How ready we have become generally to write people like Jesse off. How many have died as a consequence will never be known. But before we decide the time has come for "death with dignity," let us recall the lessons of Jesse, Haleigh Poutre, and Seema Sood: When in doubt, choose life.

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Glad She Wasn't Euthanized

This is a story that should receive much attention. Two years ago a woman with disabilities in India asked to be euthanized. But now, she is glad she is alive. From the story:

Two years back Seema Sood longed for death and had even petitioned the President of India for euthanasia. But hope triumphed over despair and today, walking with difficulty, but walking nonetheless, after a total knee replacement surgery, the Bits Pilani gold medallist is ready to take on life once again. The turnaround has been both spectacular and miraculous for the 37-year-old who lost all movement of her limbs for 15 harrowing years after a crippling attack of rheumatoid arthritis. The disillusionment was so intense that she wanted permission for mercy killing.

But that was then. "I regret the letter to the President," she said, still frail and moving in tiny steps with the help of a walker. "Everything was so dark for me earlier, but I am excited about my mobility now and I am confident I will improve."

It is important to note that if she had received her wish, as would be the case should euthanasia become deemed just another "medical treatment," she wouldn't have lived to change her mind. And while we were patting ourselves on the back about our compassion and respect for choices, we would be none the wiser that our tacit agreement that her life was only good for ending actually stole from her what would have been the rest of her life.

I would also add that people who become disabled often become despondent. But they also often don't stay despondent: Regardless of whether they obtain increased mobility, within several years their rates of depression are the same as the rest of the population. But the message they receive from society too often is that being dead is better than being disabled--as a recent poll of Americans illustrated.

This is just one reason why disability rights groups are adamantly opposed to legalizing assisted suicide. In the end, among other anti-human equality values, it validates that destructive meme.

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Check Out the Debate on Animal Research

I was asked by Opposing Views, a new Web site dedicated to on-line civil debate about contentious issues, to argue against PETA and PCRM about the need to use animals in research. I agreed. If you are interested, here is the link. You may have to register and once you do, comments are allowed.


The site gets into all kinds of issues, some covered here at SHS, and others, not. Check it out.

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Atkins Was Right

Oh, how the animal rights ideologues hated him. By him, I mean Dr. Robert Atkins, whose famous "Atkins Diet" has helped so many people lose weight through a low carbohydrate diet--meaning high on meat and other animal products. And that is all that mattered to them, to the point that animal rights front groups like Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine--whose membership is actually less than 5% doctors--even went so far as to leak private medical records and scurrilously and mendaciously try to convince the public that he was obese after Atkins died from the effects of a fall on an icy sidewalk. His elevated weight was actually caused by water buildup during a coma.

Oh, they like to pretend in opposing Atkins that their focus is human health, but it is and was always about the animals. Truth, as is too often the case with animal rights activists, simply takes a back seat to the agenda.

Well, it's going to be harder for them to pretend that the Atkins diet is dangerous now, with a new study--and it's not the first one--showing that low carb diets are not only effective for losing weight, but can reduce cholesterol too. From the story:

The Atkins diet may have proved itself after all: A low-carb diet and a Mediterranean-style regimen helped people lose more weight than a traditional low-fat diet in one of the longest and largest studies to compare the dueling weight-loss techniques.

A bigger surprise: The low-carb diet improved cholesterol more than the other two. Some critics had predicted the opposite...Average weight loss for those in the low-carb group was 10.3 pounds after two years. Those in the Mediterranean diet lost 10 pounds, and those on the low-fat regimen dropped 6.5.

More surprising were the measures of cholesterol. Critics have long acknowledged that an Atkins-style diet could help people lose weight but feared that over the long term, it may drive up cholesterol because it allows more fat. But the low-carb approach seemed to trigger the most improvement in several cholesterol measures, including the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL, the "good" cholesterol.

That is precisely what Atkins said would happen, claiming that cholesterol was primarily a matter of processed food's reaction on the pancreas. That was certainly my experience when I went on Atkins after turning fifty. In 7 months I went from 242 pounds to 202, and my cholesterol numbers dropped significantly. I gained some of that back, but only because I went back to the eating habits that caused me to gain the weight in the first place.

(As an aside: Weight gain is almost always caused by gluttony. Most commercial diet plans push that particular vice--including Atkins--assuring the overweight that they can still eat all the goodies they want, or in Atkins case, as much as they want. That approach only reinforces the behavior that caused the dieter to be fat in the first place. Then, when the diet is over, people gain the weight back.)

My point here is not to tout Atkins, but to illustrate how his animal rights detractors misled the public about the safety of the diet and the late doctor's own health--solely because they hated Atkins passionately because he boosted the eating of meat, cheese, butter, and other animal products.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

SHS Funnies

Childhood sure has changed since I was a kid.

Bunny Letter Opener

Watch in horror as a cruelly enslaved rabbit is forced to open a letter by her lazy master.

Techical Issues Update

Regular readers will have noticed that there were no new posts here at SHS for about a week. That wasn't because I had nothing to say. (That will be the day!) Rather, and I won't use the bad words that are in my mind, Blogger would not upload to my FTP.

It got so bad, and I became so frustrated, I started Secondhand Smoke II. If this crashes again, I will be over there for the duration of the outage: http://www.wesleyjsmith.blogspot.com/.

It appears the problems have resolved (or you would not be reading this). However, this isn't the first time I have experienced these difficulties. So, I am planning some changes here. They will take awhile to effectuate. More when the time comes.

In the meantime, I apologize for any inconvenience and thank you for your reading and participation in Secondhand Smoke.

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Pediatric Nursing Article's Nonjudgmentalism About Infanticide


Terminal Non Judgmentalism Alert: An important professional journal aimed at pediatric nurses has discussed killing sick and profoundly disabled patients with studied neutrality.

This is precisely how the Culture of Death permeates our society. A bioethical practice once almost universally condemned is promoted at the fringes. The initial response is resistance. But soon, the non judgmentalism arrives, usually in professional journals and among "progressive" pundits, asserting that these issues are "complex," or "difficult," or "gray," or "complicated." Once this non judgmentalism softens the ground, the issue shifts to one of mere "choice" (as with dehydration of PVS patients), and finally the decision of bioethicists (as in Futile Care Theory).

"The Groningen Protocol: What Is It, How Do the Dutch Use It, and Do We Use It Here?," (Pediatric Nursing/May-June 2008/Vol. 34/No. 30) by Anita Catlin and Renee Novakovich, is a case in point. (The Groningen Protocol is an infanticide "guideline" used in the Netherlands, discussed often here at SHS.) The article does a very good job of dispassionately describing infanticide practices in the Netherlands and Belgium, and contrasts it with American practices of palliative support, noting that euthanasia is unethical for nurses to participate in at the present time. It also gives both sides of the arguments about the Protocol, with yours truly the quoted opponent.

That is flattering, but the authors' rigorous objectivity about a matter that should be ipso facto condemned, is, to me, very worrying. From the article's bland conclusion (no link available):

Issues related to suffering infants, their families, and the nurses and doctors who care for them have been debated for many years. These issues have been examined medically(Carter & Levetown, 2004), ethically (Cassell, 2004), morally(Romesberg, 2003), and legally (Hurst, 2005). In the U.S.,with the desire for beneficence (doing good), the lives of extremely premature infants are frequently supported at the estimated cost of nearly one million dollars per hospitalization. The principles of social justice (care for all children) and non-maleficence (allowing no harm) are seen as less important. However, in countries with socialized medicine, the principles of social justice and non-maleficence (avoiding doing “good,” which causes suffering) have been seen as more important. As long as the U.S. health care system supports the use of extensive technology for infants with life-limiting conditions and provides reimbursement for extremely long hospital stays, the dilemma over what some might consider miracles and others view as suffering will continue
Beware! What we don't condemn, what we claim to be mere "dilemmas," we eventually are urged to allow. Infanticide is moving into the mainstream of bioethics and the medical intelligentsia.

(Can provide copy for those who e-mail me privately.)

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Some Truths About PETA and HSUS

My friend David Martosko--who is the driving force behind the industry sponsored Center for Consumer Freedom--has a piece in today's Seattle Post Intelligencer about the need to spend Leona Helmsley's bequest to dogs on their welfare rather than animal rights proselytizing. Along the way, he makes some pithy points about two of the most prominent animal rightist organizations that the media generally ignore or about which reporters are woefully unaware. From his column:

So far, two familiar national animal rights groups, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Society of the United States have announced their intentions to claim big slices of the $8 billion bounty. But neither one has the track record to handle such a responsibility.

Look at how PETA has spent the money it already has: The group raised more than $30 million last year, and found adoptive homes for 17 animals. Just 17. Meanwhile, it killed 1,815 dogs and cats--slightly more than the number of naked interns it sent out to "save" cows, chickens, and minks.

And although much of the public (and press) consider HSUS to be an actual "humane society," its record isn't any better. The group's name hides its lack of affiliation with any hands-on pet shelter anywhere in America. Of the $85-plus million HSUS spent in 2006, it gave only 4.2 percent to pet shelters.

My worry is that the term "animal rights" has become a catch-all term for animal welfare and animal protection, and thus in handing out the cash, a trustee or judge might not understand crucial distinctions. But animal rights and animal welfare are completely different concepts, the former being an ideology that ultimately seeks to end all domestication of animals, and the latter being in keeping with human exceptionalism to increase our efforts to treat animals humanely.

In my research for my upcoming book, PETA cames across as distinctly anti-human and profoundly mendacious. HSUS seems motivated by animal rights ideology but circumspectly spends its vast fortune biting at animal industries around the edges without actually promoting liberationist ideology.

But remember, money is fungible. If either organization gets their hands on the Helmsey fortune, woe betide animal industries that will be assaulted with increased litigation, propaganda, and agitation.

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GP Gives Suicidal Patient Drugs for Overdose

A GP in the UK is accused of prescribing a suicidal elderly patient an overdose knowing that she wanted to die so as to not be a burden on her family. He's in the soup. From the story:

Dr Iain Kerr appeared before a General Medical Council (GMC) hearing in Manchester accused of prescribing sodium amytal sleeping tablets to the 87-year-old, known as Patient A, against official guidance. She later died of an overdose of three other drugs, including a dose of temazepam which the hearing was told he also gave her.

The woman had talked of taking her own life so as not to be a burden on her family, the GMC heard.
I am glad the authorities are pursuing the case, but if we pass assisted suicide legalization bills, I don't see how this very scenario can long be resisted generally. After all, if we have the right to choose the time, manner, and place of death with a doctor's help, why not also the reason?

Remember always: Terminal illness is not what assisted suicide is all about. That is the pretext, the bait if you will, to get people to accept the principle. The real goal--as Dutch doctors have shown by providing how-to-commit-suicide instructions for patients who don't legally qualify for active euthanasia--is death on demand.

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Spain Apes the Declaration of Independence

I have written about Spain's plan to pass the Great Ape Project (GAP) here at SHS previously. Now, I have a more extended piece on the issue in the current Weekly Standard on. From the article:

But why grant apes rights? After all, if the Spanish parliament deems these animals insufficiently protected, it can enact more stringent protections, as other countries have. But improving the treatment of apes--of which there are few in Spain--is not really the game that is afoot. Rather, as Pozas chortled after the environment committee of the Spanish parliament passed the resolutions committing Spain to the Great Ape Project, this precedent will be the "spear point" that breaks the "species barrier."

And why break the species barrier? Why, to destroy the unique status of man and thus initiate a wholesale transformation of Western civilization.
And to what will breaking the spine of human exceptionalism lead? I supply the answer:

Should that come to pass, the ancien régime (as they view it) based on the sanctity and equality of human life would crumble. In its place would emerge a society sufficiently hedonistic to eschew moralizing about personal behavior (Singer has defended bestiality), but also humbled to the point where people would willingly sacrifice our own flourishing "for the animals" or to "save the planet" and utilitarian enough to countenance ridding ourselves of unwanted human ballast (Singer is the world's foremost proponent of infanticide). Thus, in the world that would rise from the ashes of human exceptionalism, moral value would be subjective and rights temporary, depending on the extent of each animal's individual capacities at the time of measuring.
I conclude that attempting to knock ourselves "off the pedestal of exceptionalism" is terribly misguided:

The way we act is based substantially on what kind of being we perceive ourselves to be. Thus, if we truly want to make this a better and more humane world, the answer is not to think of ourselves as inhabiting the same moral plane as animals--none of which can even begin to comprehend rights. Rather, it is to embrace the unique importance of being human.

After all, if not our humanity, what gives rise to our duty to treat animals properly and to act toward each other in accordance with what is--the Great Ape Project notwithstanding--our exclusive membership in a community of equals?
I hope you'll read the whole thing. Whether one agrees or disagrees with my perspective, I don't think there is any gainsaying my analysis.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

The Justice Department's Failures on Human Slavery

My colleague at the Discovery Institute, John R. Miller, has a piece in today's New York Times on slavery. Slavery is an important matter impacting human exceptionalism that I have covered here at SHS, but not nearly enough. Thank goodness for Miller-whose work at the State Department on this issue was unremitting, and who continues his commitment in a new project being developed at the DI (of which I am a part) called the Program for Human Rights and Bioethics. He writes:

From 2002 to 2006, I led the State Department's efforts to monitor and combat human trafficking. I felt my job was to nurture a 21st-century abolitionist movement with the United States at the lead. At times, my work was disparaged by some embassies and regional bureaus that didn't want their host countries to be criticized. I didn't win every battle, but the White House always made it clear that the president supported my work and thought it was important.

Imagine my surprise, then, when the Justice Department started a campaign against a new bill that would strengthen the government's anti-human trafficking efforts. In a 13-page letter last year, the department blasted almost every provision in the new bill that would reasonably expand American anti-slavery efforts.
What? Wait, there's more:
Should the State Department’s annual report on trafficking, which grades governments on how well they are combating modern slavery, consider whether governments put traffickers in jail? The Justice Department says no. Should the Homeland Security and Health and Human Services Departments streamline their efforts to help foreign trafficking victims get visas and care? No. Should the Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, State and Justice Departments pool their data on human trafficking to help devise strategies to prevent it? Amazingly, no.

In its letter, the Justice Department even opposes authorizing the president to create new awards for the international groups that are leading the struggle for abolition. It also doesn't want the State Department to be required to give the names of American anti-trafficking phone lines to visa applicants at American consulates overseas. It doesn't want a citizen task force to help develop an information pamphlet for victims.
Why on earth?
A culture clash, I suspect, is the real reason for the Justice Department's opposition. This isn't the usual culture clash of right and left, religious and secular. In this case, the feminist, religious and secular groups that help sex-trafficking survivors are on one side. And on the other are the department's lawyers (most of them male), the Erotic Service Providers Union and the American Civil Liberties Union--this side believes that vast numbers of women engage in prostitution as a "profession," by choice.

And to think I was once a "card carrying member" of the ACLU (as they say).

Miller calls on President Bush to intervene. Let us hope the president listens.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Bad News for Vegans

I don't put much stock in studies such as this, but since animal rights activists are ever about the purported unhealthful nature of meat, it may be that tofu increases the risk of Alzheimer's disease. From the story:

Eating high levels of some soy products - including tofu - may raise the risk of memory loss, research suggests. The study focused on 719 elderly Indonesians living in urban and rural regions of Java. The researchers found high tofu consumption--at least once a day--was associated with worse memory, particularly among the over-68s. The Loughborough University-led study features in the journal Dementias and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders. Soy products are a major alternative protein source to meat for many people in the developing world...

Soy products are rich in micronutrients called phytoestrogens, which mimic the impact of the female sex hormone oestrogen. There is some evidence that they may protect the brains of younger and middle-aged people from damage--but their effect on the ageing brain is less clear. The latest study suggests phytoestrogens --in high quantity--may actually heighten the risk of dementia.

Don't expect this study to be posted on PETA's Web site.

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Why the Scientocracy Won't Work

Regular readers of SHS know that I am critical of the trend to let "the scientists" decide what is ethical and what our public policies should be. That not only subverts science by mutating it into an ideology or social movement rather than a method (scientism), but is nuts because scientific "facts" often change at breakneck speed.

Example: A new report from Australian astronomers warning of global cooling. From the story:

The study's lead author, Ian Wilson, explains further, "[The paper] supports the contention that the level of activity on the Sun will significantly diminish sometime in the next decade and remain low for about 20 - 30 years."

According to Wilson, the result is a strong, rapid pulse of global cooling, "On each occasion that the Sun has done this in the past the World’s mean temperature has dropped by 1 - 2 C."

A 2 C drop would be twice as large as all the warming the earth has experienced since the start of the industrial era, and would be significant enough to impact global agriculture output.
Screenwriter William Goldman once famously said about Hollywood, "Nobody knows anything." To some (obviously, not literal) degree, that is--and should be--true about science because otherwise new and novel theories will never be explored. Still, this story that utterly pierces the global warming meme is a caveat against confusing the current scientific consensuses, which are always subject to change, with truth.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

NHS Meltdown: "Converyor Belt Childbirths"

Sigh: The NHS continues to collapse and I continue to report--but even I don't post all the stories, striving as I do to keep SHS varied and interesting. But this can't be overlooked: The NHS has been accused of "conveyor belt" childbirths. From the story:

Women are giving birth on a virtual conveyor belt because maternity wards are so overcrowded and understaffed, a damning report has revealed. The Healthcare Commission report--the most detailed ever undertaken--has exposed a grim picture of women giving birth in units where there are not enough toilets or showers and women are rushed through so fast that more than one mother gives birth in each bed every day.

Consultants are not present on the wards enough of the time, midwives and doctors do not get on with each other and severe staff shortages mean women are left alone during the birth, the report found. The investigation into every aspect of antenatal, labour, birth and postnatal care, was prompted after high death rates among new mothers were found in successive hospitals.
Good grief.

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Haleigh Poutre to Go to School and be Adopted

The Boston Globe is reporting how far Haleigh Poutre has progressed since bioethicists, social workers, and courts decided to dehydrate her to death. From the story:

Haleigh, now 14, has stayed for more than two years at Franciscan Hospital for Children in Brighton, where she is described as a friendly child who routinely smiles and waves at staff. Haleigh can speak some words and attends a day school in a wheelchair. A juvenile court judge has declared that Haleigh is functioning at a level "too high" for placement in a nursing home, and she is likely to go into an adoptive home with a personal assistant or a group home.
It is so typical that the reporter, who did such a thorough job of exposing how Haleigh was failed by those who should have protected her when she was being abused, barely scratched the issue of the dehydration order.

Here is the key question: Will anyone learn the lesson of this case?

Answer: Nope. Legislation is pending in MA requiring second opinions in such cases, but at the time the order was made, the second pair of eyes would probably also have found her to be unresponsive, and gone along with the dehydration.

It isn't the responsiveness that matters, it is the humanity of the patient. But accepting this view gets in the way of too many agendas.

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Dehydration of a Conscious Patient in Florida Reported as No Big Deal by St. Petersburg Times

For more than ten years I have been telling anyone who will listen that unquestionably conscious cognitively disabled patients are being denied sustenance in every state in this country--so long as no family member objects (and eventually, if futile care theory takes hold, it will be even if they do). Here's the latest proof: A young man was catastrophically injured by a drug overdose. For years his parents kept vigil, and then decided to transfer him to the hospice in which Terri Schiavo died, which removed his feeding tube. But he wasn't unconscious. From the story:

His brain was severely damaged, and he never spoke again. If his mother pulled his chin, he could mouth "Mama." If she leaned close, he could kiss her. That "broke my heart," Sue, 53, said.

For nearly three years, his mother and father did nothing but "work, sleep and spend time with Bradley," she said. There was a chance his condition would improve. But it didn't. Infections kept landing him in a hospital. Finally, his family transferred him to the Hospice of Florida Suncoast, where Terri Schiavo died.

They removed his feeding tube, and his mother lay in bed beside him. He died July 2.
It is my understanding that a patient is supposed to be PVS in Florida before a tube can be removed. But never mind. That law isn't really designed to protect, but give false assurance.

I think the bigger story here is the blase`, matter-of-fact reporting about the matter by the Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg Times--which exhibited profound, nay, nasty, bias against the Schindlers during the Schiavio debacle. Can you imagine the paper's reaction had a dog or a horse been denied sustenance?

This is the truth: Once we decided that people who are diagnosed as persistently unconscious could have sustenance denied based on quality of life, then we stripped all profoundly cognitively disabled people from moral equality. The wall was breached allowing utilitarian bioethical values to come pouring in. Now, virtually anyone who needs a feeding tube and can't make their own decisions--conscious or not--can and are being denied food and water. What a testimony about the state of the times in which we live.

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

CIRM Screams Bloody Murder Over Requirement That Grantees Give Back to the People of California

Oh, this is rich! During the campaign for Proposition 71, proponents promised that Californians would reap a cornucopia of benefits from borrowing $3 billion over 10 years to pay researchers in private companies and their business partners in universities to conduct human cloning and ESCR. And, they said, the poor of California would benefit from cheap medical treatments.

Well the California Legislature is holding them to that, and now the CIRM is wailing and gnashing its teeth that the very existence of the CIRM is threatened! Sounds serious: Is Bush sending in the storm troopers at last? From the CIRM's dire e-letter of doom sent to scientists and supporters:

We need you to take a few minutes to help save the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and embryonic stem cell research in California. This is under siege right now in the state legislature. A few weeks ago, we failed to stop Senate Bill 1565 (Kuehl-Runner). The bill was passed by the Senate, and has now also passed through two Assembly Committees: Health and Judiciary. The final step before a floor vote is a hearing in the Assembly Appropriations Committee (contact information below). We need you to act now and ask for a NO vote on SB 1565.

Over seven million voters expressed a desire to fund embryonic stem cell research when they passed Proposition 71. SB 1565 would remove the built-in preference for embryonic stem cell research--directly contradicting the will of Californians. We passionately support the goal of healthcare that is accessible and affordable to all Californians.

However, this bill will discourage private industry from developing therapies and cures. Currently, the law allows the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to provide companies with additional incentives to develop therapies for "orphan" diseases such as cystic fibrosis and Lou Gehrig's disease. SB 1565 will eliminate these incentives, making it financially unfeasible for companies to pursue therapies for rare diseases. SB 1565 abandons these patients and their families.


What phonies! Did Californians express a "preference" for spending $270 million of their borrowed money for the most expensive buildings money could buy--as most of this year's grants have done? Hardly.

Besides, would that it were so. But since Sheila Kuehl is a primary sponsor--for those who don't know her, she played Zelda on the old Dobie Gillis television show and is very radical--it is highly doubtful that Kuehl's desire is to destroy embryonic stem cell research! (Kuehl and I had a bit of a back and forth when I testified against the ultimately failed assisted suicide bill in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee a few years ago.) And indeed, she doesn't. What is going on is forcing the CIRM to actually be sure that its grantees give back to the state's poor--as the campaign promised it would. From the Legislative Analyst's Report:

This bill requires the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (ICOC) of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to include in its intellectual property standards a requirement that each grantee and licensee submit for CIRM's approval a plan that will afford uninsured Californians access to any drug that is, in whole or in part, the result of research funded by the CIRM, requires these plans to include a requirement that grantees and licensees sell drugs that result from CIRM funding and are purchased with public funds at a price that does not exceed any benchmark price in the California Discount Prescription Drug Program , and requires the Little Hoover Commission to conduct a study of the governance structure of the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Act by July 1, 2009.
Given the shoddy leadership of the CIRM, the governance structure needs revising. Moreover, the CIRM's actions to date--and its opposition to the bill--shows that the entire enterprise is corporate welfare at its worst.

It passed 40-0 in the Senate. The biggest liberals in the state back it. I think it's gonna pass. Yes!

Correction: The letter was not from the CIRM, but rather, its head, Robert Klein, also the head of a private stem cell lobbying company which actually issued the subject letter. This may be a distinction without much of a difference, but it needs to be noted. Klein subsequently resigned from the lobbying group after it engaged in vitriol against Sheila Kuehl. Would that Klein had resigned from the CIRM!

HT: David Jensen.

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Now Nature Medicine Admits: US Not Falling Behind in Science

The RAND report demonstrating that contrary to the warnings of some among the blank check crowd, the USA is not falling behind in scinece (which I referenced here at SHS) is now the subject of a Nature Medicine editorial (no link available). Despite years of moaning that the Bush Administration is ruining science in the USA, RAND demonstrated--and Nature Medicine admits--that the USA remains the world's leader in scientific research. From the editorial:

Threats to the US scientific dominance notwithstanding,the authors of the RAND report are right in concluding that a changing of the guard is not imminent. As they remind us,to perform well in science and technology, a country needs at least three elements to be in place--infrastructure, workforce and education. Decades of investment have led the US to develop a very strong foundation for these pillars, ruling out the possibility that its research system is in danger of collapse. At the same time, the report includes plenty of data to show that the rest of the world has a lot of catching up to do before it seriously threatens the scientific position of the US,and that different regions need to tackle different problems if they want to become more competitive in R&D.
Yet, that doesn't stop the editorialist from continuing the fear-mongering and whipsawing about how we could lose our supremacy:
And while the report concludes that the US is not at immediate risk of losing its scientific supremacy, the advances made by other countries should be taken seriously as indicators of their potential for scientific leadership. It is indeed possible that, if the same report were written in five years' time, a very different picture might emerge--a reminder that complacency has no place when you want to stay at the top.
Ah, that old blank check mentality. You see, no matter what investments are made into science research, and no matter how open the ethics, I have concluded that for some among "the scientocracy," it will never be enough.

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Media Credit Where It is Due: AP Calls Assisted Suicide--Assisted Suicide

Word engineering has always been intrinsic to the euthanasia movement. Always. Indeed, today mercy killing and euthanasia are synonyms thanks to the euthanasia movement of the late 19th Century. Before that, the term "good death" meant dying peacefully (and naturally) in a state of grace.

These days the word engineering by assisted suicide proponents seeks to make it so that terminally ill people can't really commit suicide, at least if the death is caused by an overdose--and besides, the term is soooo judgmental that people might reject the agenda. So, they have spent much effort courting the media to have the term changed in news stories to the gooey euphemism, "aid in dying."

But apparently the Associated Press didn't bite. From a media blog in The Olympian:

The debate, I'm told, went to the top of the Associated Press' command center back in New York, and the ruling was "assisted suicide." That means member papers, including The Olympian, are likely to follow the line. Aside from the logic of the argument (it is some one asking for assistance in ending their own life) there's the practical matter of time. Any paper with its own term would have to scan AP stories from across the state and edit out the "assisted suicide" name before running them.
I admit to being pleasantly surprised. That won't change the bias in the coverage--sick woman wants to choose time and manner of death, compassionate doctor and loving family supportive, but mean anti-assisted suicide proponents say no (quote after jump), followed by rebuttal from courageous advocate of change. (If I have seen that story once, I have seen it 1000 times!) But at least when the biased stories are written, the proper, descriptive terminology will be used.

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Monday, July 07, 2008

HPV Vaccine Update: Dangerous to Girls?

Readers of SHS will recall when the HPV vaccine first came out and with it, a great political push made by business interests and those of a certain cultural persuasion that expected (wanted?) teenage girls to be sexually active to require all girls to receive the vaccine. That effort stalled, and from my perspective, that's a good thing on several levels. One is that the vaccine may have serious side effects. From the story:

Ault explains why youth is key. Human papillomavirus is sexually transmitted, "so one of the advantages of giving it to adolescents is that they are unlikely to have been sexually active, so they will not have been exposed to the virus before getting the vaccine." Another reason to do this early, Ault points out, is that "our immune system is a lot better when we are 11 than when we are, say, at 22."

Ault also suggests that parents could use this experience to teach their children about sex and, even more important, about the realities of life, such as sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.

These arguments aren't convincing to some parents, the ones that are choosing not to have their daughters vaccinated. There are several reasons for doing this, including religious beliefs. Some faith-based groups feel the vaccine is inviting their young daughters to become sexually active.

Others believe the drug is just too risky. CDC spokesman Curtis Allen says the vaccine is constantly being monitored by a joint CDC /FDA hotline. Parents, patients and physicians can call the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, or VAERS, to report any adverse reaction to the vaccine.

Through a Freedom of Information Act petition, the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch got records from VAERS that showed three deaths in girls who'd had the vaccine in March-April 2007 and over 1,600 adverse reactions reported from June 2006 to April 2007. All said the response came after getting the HPV vaccine.

Allen cautions restraint in considering the reports. "Most of these reactions were minor," he said, and the deaths "were linked to circumstances not related to the vaccine." The CDC and the FDA are constantly monitoring the VAERS hotline and won't hesitate to act should they see any dangerous trends due to the HPV vaccine, he said.

That might not sound alarming, but as reported in US News and World Report, one father thinks that the vaccine caused his daughter's paralysis.

Don't get me wrong: The issues for me have never been the vaccine, but the attempted coercion and the increasing effort to remove the control of their children's medical care from parental control.

If parents want to vaccinate their daughters, more power to them. But the lesson here is that mandatory vaccination, when the disease is not widely communicable and the vaccine is new, should be very carefully considered.

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

NHS Meltdown: Elderly Woman Starved Rather Than Cared for to Save Money?

I have heard rumors of stories like this from my contacts in the UK, but have not posted on it because that is what they were: Rumors. But now, the BBC has reported that a care facility might have tried to starve an elderly woman to save money. From the story:

Ellen Westwood, 88, was in Birmingham's Selly Oak Hospital for two months being treated for dementia and C.difficile, which she had previously contracted. Her daughter Kathleen Westwood said the hospital decided in February it was in her "best interests" to halt fluids and nutrition--a move the family opposed...

Ms Westwood said she and her father were called into a room at Selly Oak Hospital on 8 February and told doctors had decided to withdraw all fluids, food and hydration.

They said they had begun giving Mrs Westwood morphine "because she is dying". She said: "Because of this capacity ruling, if you deem somebody to have lost capacity, then the doctors can act in the best interests. "Well in their view the best interests was for my mother to die--and clearly by Monday she would have been dead."

The facility said the doctors followed the national guidelines. Maybe they did! The surrealistically named National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence--that goes by the equally surrealistic acronym NICE--the bioethics advisers (overlords) of the NHS is very utilitarian and it wouldn't be surprising if the guidelines did call for such an involuntary dehydration. Indeed, in its legal brief in the Leslie Burke case, NICE wanted doctors to have the say whether he was dehydrated to death even though he sued to prevent that type of death. (The UK Lords eventually ruled that doctors decide if the patient is unconscious or unable to communicate.)

We shouldn't look down our noses in America. We have our own bioethicists pushing the old quality of life agenda, although they don't have the institutional power of NICE. Our job is to make sure that they never get it.


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Friday, July 04, 2008

CIRM Grants not as Advertised to Voters

This is an interesting analysis on a Nature blog on how the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine is spending money taken out of the hides of Californians. In addition to spending hundreds of millions of borrowed taxpayer dollars to build the plushest buildings, designed by the world's most exclusive architects, the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine isn't funding human cloning. From the story:

The California scientists most likely to receive state grants for making new cell lines were those who proposed comparing embryonic stem cell lines and induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cell lines. Overall, thirty-two percent of all grant applications (16 of 50) were funded. Four of the five grants that proposed comparisons got funds. The unfunded grant application crossed into less favored categories, as it also proposed making lines from parthenotes and through nuclear transfer. None of the grant applications that sought to make cell lines using human oocytes were funded. Two proposed cloning through nuclear transfer, one proposed stimulating unfertilized eggs to divide into parthenotes, and one application proposed using both methods.

Success rates for grants proposing the derivation of only ES or only iPS cells were each 33%, but there were twice as many grants for iPS cells. That’s astounding considering that the grant program was announced in October 2007, a month before the first publications that human cells could be successfully reprogrammed.

The lack of cloning grants--to be celebrated--wasn't due to ethical concerns, but the egg dearth:
Also called therapeutic cloning, SCNT involves inserting the nucleus from one cell into an egg from which the nucleus has been removed. Then the egg is stimulated to grow into a blastocyst, which would be destroyed to collect the innermost cells from which embryonic stem cells can be derived. Though harvesting these inner cells is the typical way of creating embryonic stem cells, it hasn’t worked yet for SCNT in humans, a failure blamed on an insufficient number of eggs for the attempts required to generate healthy blastocysts.
As we've written here at SHS before, the drive has already begun to enable researchers to pay women to risk their health via egg procurement so that scientists can play with human cloning experiments. But if we hold tight on the egg issue--and given the advances of IPSCs--which are being funded by CIRM even though it is also eligible for federal funding, we may yet allow a robust regenerative medical sector to develop without throwing ethics and decency into the trash compactor.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Animal Rights Activists Want Hemsley Millions

Leona Helmsley left her hundreds of millions of dollars to care for dogs. And now the animal rights groups want that action. From the article by the industry funded and excellent information source, Center for Consumer Freedom:

Helmsley's money, which may amount to as much as $400 million in grants every year, "could make such a difference," People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) president Ingrid Newkirk told the Associated Press yesterday. [Newkirk] said at least 3 million dogs are put to death each year for lack of spay and neuter programs. "Many people cannot afford the surgery for their dogs," she said. Last year, PETA raised $30 million. With all of this money, it managed to spay or neuter just 6,341 dogs and cats. (PETA also killed 1,997 pets while finding adoptive homes for just 17.) This is an organization for whom fixing the pet overpopulation problem isn't a top priority. It's more interested in ending AIDS research, demonizing carnivores, and targeting children for vegetarian indoctrination. If the executors of Helmsley's estate were looking for a place to invest pet-protection dollars, they could hardly do worse.

Well, impeding AIDS research would be a less hyperbolic way of putting it, but animal liberationists don't believe there should even be domesticated animals, so allowing PETA or other such groups to have some of that lucre would be to work against Hemsley's desires.

CCF concludes:
Here's a modest proposal for the Helmsley estate: Establish a new national Humane Society, an umbrella group devoted solely to distributing money to local pet shelters. No stealth campaigns aimed at winning legal "rights" for chimps, cows, and elephants. Just a real national Humane Society. We've had a pretend one for years. Maybe it's time for the real thing.
Yes there will be litigation. With all of that money to be had to promote the ideology, Helmsley's estate will soon look like a it will soon look like jackals on a carcass.

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Good: Delaware Didn't "Learn the Lesson" of Schiavo

The Delaware House of Representatives has passed a resolution in support of protecting the life of Loren Richardson, who like Terri Schiavo before her, is the subject of a bitter court fight over removing her feeding tube. The resolution states:

This Resolution establishes protections for mentally disabled individuals in the State of Delaware. The impetus for this Resolution comes from the case of Lauren Richardson, a 24-year-old Delaware woman who, after suffering brain injuries and impaired consciousness, now faces the possible removal of her nutrition and hydration, despite the absence of her clearly specified and legal consent to any such a course of action. The State of Delaware has, through recent legislation prompted by the abuses at the Delaware Psychiatric Center, endeavored to protect the rights of mentally disabled patients in the First State. Lauren, as a mentally disabled person, is enumerated those same protection and rights.
Too many of us dismiss people like Lauren--and I am not referring here to her mother who wants treatment stopped--as "vegetables" (a word that should not be used as it is as demeaning and dehumanizing as the odious N-word), "brain dead" (as the Orlando Sentinel unrepentantly did for so long regarding Terri), or other such denigration. Meanwhile, some bioethicists look longingly at these people as "living cadavers" who can be harvested for their organs or used in medical experimentation.

Good for the Delaware Assembly for not shrinking from such demagoguery.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

It Pays to be a Eugenicist

Big money is out there for the brightest minds to shove utilitarianism and the goal of human enhancement down our throats. Australian Professor Julian Savulescu (now in the UK)--who I have seen debate and believe me he is one scary cat--has just picked up an 800 thousand pound grant to begin a eugenics, er neuroethics, center at Oxford. From Bioedge's report:

Professor Savulescu said: “Neuroscience studies the brain and mind, and thereby some of the most profound aspects of human existence. In the last decade, advances in imaging and manipulating the brain have raised ethical challenges, particularly about the moral limits of the use of such technology, leading to the new discipline of neuroethics.

Professor Savulescu has become notorious for arguing that we should genetically enhance the human species by improving IQ, behaviour, mood, character and morality. “Biological manipulation to increase opportunity is ethical,” he once said. If we have an obligation to treat and prevent disease, we have an obligation to try to manipulate these characteristics to give an individual the best opportunity of the best life.” He has even argued that parents have a moral responsibility to select the best children they could have. It will be interesting to see what sort of ideas about brain manipulation will emerge from the well-funded new centre
So, they make up a new field whole cloth dedicated to destroying universal human equality and the intrinsic worth of merely being human and the money comes pouring in. And with the money and the prestigious academic affiliation comes awesome power to influence young and bright minds who are society's leaders of tomorrow. And, being very bright, they see which way the financial winds are blowing and what they need to believe--or say they believe-in order to climb the ladder of success.

What chance do you think there would be for someone as bright as Savulescu, and with the same credentials, to receive such major funding and Oxford offices if he held opposite views? Good luck with that and don't call us, we'll call you.

But that's the high academy/foundation nexus today. And these folk are determined to tear down what they consider the ancien regime. And unless "the folk" stand up to it, the forces that be will bulldoze the very concept of universal human rights directly into a landfill--claiming as they go that they are the "enlightened" ones, the "brights."

This is exactly how it was with the first eugenics movement. The people who paid were not the connected but the powerless. And those who urged their sterilization and even killing were at the top of the social/academic/political/legal and even liberal religious heaps.

Bitter? A bit, I admit. Scared? A lot.

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Assisted Suicide Adcocate Shows Ugly Truth of the Movement's Ideology

Now Germany is surprised at the crassness of assisted suicide advocates. A German official assisted the suicide of an elderly woman--and a la Kevorkian, filmed it and then showed it on television. From the story:

As nuanced as that debate may be, though, the death of Bettina S., many are saying on Tuesday, crossed a clear line. The former X-ray technician, who never married and has no children, says in the video that one of her motivations to kill herself was that she was afraid of ending up alone in a nursing home. According to reports on Tuesday, she had also contacted the Swiss assisted suicide organization Dignitas before getting in touch with Kusch.
What clear line? There is no clear line! Media continue to refuse to open their eyes! Assisted suicide is not about terminal illness. That's just a way to get people to accept the principle of death on demand.

Lest you doubt me, just consider this partial list:

- Switzerland's Supreme Court has declared a constitutional right to assisted suicide for the mentally ill.

- Dutch euthanasia is not in the least about dying, nor necessarily, physical illness, and indeed, the Dutch Supreme Court has ruled that existential suffering can justify assisted suicide. Dutch doctors refer their patients to how to commit suicide data on the Internet if they don't qualify for legal euthanasia.

- Assisted suicide for the mentally ill has been promoted in the Hastings Center Report.

- Most of Kevorkian's victims were not dying and yet he enjoyed great poll numbers and Time invited him as a guest of honor at its 75th anniversary gala. Etc. ad nauseum.

- In Oregon, a patient received a lethal prescription nearly 2 years before dying naturally, meaning he wasn't terminally ill under the law when the script was written. And, of course, the authorities did nothing.

How much more clear can it be????

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911 Dog to be Cloned--It Won't Be the Same Dog

A dog that sniffed out survivors after 9/11 has won a contest to be cloned. From the story:

Trakr, a German shepherd who lives with his owner James Symington in Los Angeles, was picked by BioArts International as the most "clone-worthy" canine in a competition offering an owner a free chance to replicate their pet. Symington said he and Trakr were among the first search and rescue teams to arrive at Ground Zero after the September 11 attacks, and were responsible for locating the last human survivor under about 30 feet (nine meters) of debris.

Now aged 15, the dog no longer has use of his back legs due to a degenerative neurological disorder. According to BioArts, experts believe the condition may be linked to exposure to toxic smoke at the World Trade Center site. "Trakr means the world to me," Symington said. "To know that part of him is going to live on is just beyond words. It's the greatest gift I've ever received."
But the clone will not be the same dog that he so deeply loves. It may not even look like his dog, much less exhibit the same personality, since we are not merely the product of our genes. Not to mention that the cloned animal could very well have very bad genetic defects from the cloning process.

Don't get me wrong, if it makes Symington happy I am fine with it. But this story adds inadvertent heft to the idea that reproductive cloning could somehow replace our dead loved ones. Indeed, whilst debating human cloning at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, I heard Brigitte Boisselier of the Raelians promise grieving parents that Clonaid could bring back their dead children. It was disgraceful.

Cloning can't do that. Nothing can. It is urgent that we keep that in mind, which is why I decided to bring this matter up.

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Saletan on the GAP

Slate's Will Saletan has weighed in on the Spanish plan to pass the GAP. As usual, his take comes at the reader from different and unexpected angles that acknowledge the arguments of the opposing sides of the debate. (And he is kind enough to give a tip of the hat to yours truly.) But I think he misses the bigger picture of the deleterious impact the GAP will have on human rights. Saletan writes:

If the idea of treating chimps like people freaks you out, join the club. Creationists have been fighting this battle for a long time. They realized long ago that evolution threatened humanity's special status. Maybe you thought all this evolution stuff was just about the past. Surprise! Once you've admitted chimps are your relatives, you have to think about treating them that way. That's why, when the Spanish proposal won approval last week, GAP's leader in Spain called it a victory for "our evolutionary comrades."
But this approach would eventually require that all animals and vegetables be included in the moral community because we are related to all life on the planet under Darwinian theory. And of course, as the Swiss showed with plant rights, that is precisely where we are heading. But this isn't about science so much as ideology. That is why some neo Darwinists desperately yearn for human beings to be knocked off the pedestal of exceptionalism.

A huge point about what is wrong with animal rights in general and the GAP in specific is that once you grant animals rights, it destroys human rights. Saletan gets it at one level, noting that the GAP is speciesist and destroys animal equality rather than promote it (and he could have written, is rife with robust anthropomorphism):
GAP's mission statement says great apes are entitled to rights based on their "morally significant characteristics." It says they enjoy a rich emotional and cultural existence in which they experience emotions such as fear, anxiety and happiness. They share the intellectual capacity to create and use tools, learn and teach other languages. They remember their past and plan for their future. It is in recognition of these and other morally significant qualities that the Great Ape Project was founded. [Me: No, it was to destroy human exceptionalism.]

Morally significant qualities. Morally significant characteristics. These are appeals to discrimination, not universal equality. Most animals don't have a rich cultural life. They can't make tools. They don't teach languages. Singer even points out that "chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas have long-term relationships, not only between mothers and children, but also between unrelated apes." Special rights for animals in committed relationships! It sounds like a Moral Majority for vegans.

Opening your mind to science-based animal rights doesn't eliminate inequality. It just makes the inequality more scientific. A rat can't match a pig, much less a boy. In fact, as a GAP board member points out, "We are closer genetically to a chimp than a mouse is to a rat."

George Orwell wrote the cruel finale to this tale 63 years ago in Animal Farm: "All animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others." That wasn't how the egalitarian uprising in the book was supposed to turn out. It wasn't how the animal rights movement was supposed to turn out, either.
Ironic point: But the GAP is a mere way station, not the end game. Moreover, accepting the premise that rights come from capacities rather than humanhood--as Saletan seems to--obliterates human rights and we end up with a society in which some humans have greater value--and hence rights--then other humans, but also animals having greater value than some humans. That is to turn our backs on the long struggle for universal human equality.

One final point: The GAP goes completely against Martin Luther King's values of human equality. Yet, Saletan writes:
To borrow Martin Luther King's rule, you should be judged by what's inside you, not by what's on the surface.
No, King was not arguing for rights based on capacities. He was arguing for full inclusion of all human beings into the true community of equals. (Indeed, I am sure it never occurred to him to consider including animals, since he died before the animal rights movement was truly launched.) Along these lines, King hoped that one great day we would all be judged based on the content of our character rather than the color of our skin.

But chimps don't have character. That is a moral characteristic that is uniquely an attribute of the human species.

The GAP is a catastrophe. It isn't about science, it is about ideology and the destruction of Judeo/Christian moral philosophy. And it must be stopped.

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