Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Problem of Technology When "Virtue" Becomes Passe`

In keeping with our discussion today of the power of technology--and adding in Yuval Levin's insight that society has replaced "promoting virtue" with "preventing suffering" as its overriding purpose--you end up with this story: A man is accused of using the Internet to assist the suicide of a mentally disturbed young man who lived 4000 miles away. From the story:

A British woman tried to alert U.S. police four years ago to an online predator she believes coaxed her emotionally fragile son to kill himself. Mark Drybrough, 32, hanged himself July 27, 2005 in his home in Coventry, just east of Birmingham in the English midlands. He was recovering from a nervous breakdown and under psychiatric care.

After his death, his family found two months' worth of online correspondence he'd had with a person known variously as Falcon Girl and Li Dao. "In his conversation with Mark, he was claiming he'd watched somebody else die on camera to try to encourage Mark to do it," his mother, Elaine Drybrough, said in an interview from her Coventry home. "I think he's been enjoying himself."

Police in Saint Paul, Minnesota are now investigating area resident William Francis Melchert-Dinkel, 46, for allegedly using the Internet to encourage, advise and assist people to commit suicide, possibly including Carleton University student Nadia Kajouji. Ottawa police said she had been in contact with Melchert-Dinkel. In the messages to her son, Elaine Drybrough said Falcon Girl was at times "quite loving -- he calls people 'honey' and ... making a bit like he's being helpful or whatever. I think his entire coaxing and persuasion (convinced) him to go ahead with it. (But) as far as we know, he did not die on camera."
With the growing power of all things technological, it becomes a matter of urgent concern to strengthen virtue within society. But the minute you bring up that concept, people start screaming about moralism--such as when the story broke in the UK--which I reported here at SHS--about the 13-year-old boy becoming a father. The nation became all atwitter and pundits tub-thumped about the need to reestablish moral values in England!!--except no one had any suggestions about how to go about that task for fear of being accused of religiosity or fuddy-duddyism.

So we are stuck with "choice" as the foundation--and that leads to terminal nonjudgmentalism, one consequence of which is sad stories such as this.


Why Things Are Spinning Out of Control

This video vividly explains how computer technology's geometric growth is profoundly changing the world--with results that may be beyond or ability to control. Secondhand Smoke notwithstanding to the contrary, by opening this particular Pandora's box, we may have finally found the place in which we became be too smart for our own good..

SHS Funnies

Sometimes the truth really hurts:

Piraro's views are whacky but his daily cartoon is one of the best out there. This one really hit my funny bone.

Human Exceptionalism Requires That We Do Our Duty to Promote Animal Welfare

When the rulers of To the Source saw my piece "Homo Sapiens, Get Lost" in NRO about the the growing anti-humanism that is infecting the environmental movement, it gave them an idea. They asked me to write a piece for TTS, using the same Brave New World analogy as a launching pad that I used in NRO, but to take the thrust of the piece in a different direction. Using the principles of human exceptionalism, they asked me to distinguish the instrumental use of nascent human life in biotechnology and contrast it to an upcoming animal welfare event known as "Be Kind to Animals Week." That seemed like a nice challenge and so I hit the old keyboard, resulting in "Keep the Human in Humane."

First, I describe the ongoing threat of brave new world biotechnology. From the piece:

Looking around, can there be any doubt of Huxley's prescience across the board? Look at what is happening in the field of biotechnology as just one example. Despite breakthroughs in ethical stem cell research—such as the induced pluripotent stem cell that is made from normal skin or other cells—scientists continue to insist that they need to clone human beings for use in experiments and to develop medical treatments...

Meanwhile, some bioethicists promote creating fetuses through cloning and gestating them in artificial wombs from which to harvest body parts--a proposal that would be explicitly legal under New Jersey law. Fertility doctors have already announced that they are striving to bring cloned babies to birth (although at this time it is almost certainly not technically feasible).

The brave new world agenda marks a Rubicon in human morality. Not only does it--as in the bad old days of slavery--redefine some human beings as mere natural resources, but for the first time in history human beings are being created with the explicit purpose of destroying and harvesting them like a corn crop.

I listed some examples of the ongoing coup de culture that this is part of and then segued into the animal issue:

But human exceptionalism isn't just about our rights. Equally important, the principle also promotes human duties--to each other, to our posterity, and to the natural world. Indeed, in the known universe we are the only species that can be held morally accountable if we fail to do the right thing.

Which brings us to a seemingly unconnected event: American Humane's annual "Be Kind to Animals Week," sponsored by the group every year since 1915 to "commemorate the role animals play in our lives, promote ways to treat them humanely, and encourage others, especially children, to do the same."...
How does "Be Kind to Animals Week" differ from the Great Ape Project and other animal rights advocacy? It supports human exceptionalism by encouraging us to fulfill our human duties to animals, without undermining our unique moral status by according "rights" to animals. And that is a distinction with a huge difference. After all, if being human--in and of itself--is not what gives us the sacred obligation to treat animals properly, what does?

Those who seek to knock us off the pedestal of exceptionalism believe that once we see ourselves merely as one of infinite parts of nature, we will improve our care for flora and fauna. But the truth is the mirror opposite. If we ever come to see ourselves as merely another animal in the forest, that is precisely how we will act--both to nature and toward each other. The ongoing objectification of vulnerable human life--also justified by its proponents by denying human exceptionalism--is a warning of this truth that we dare not ignore.

Human exceptionalism is a magnificent two-edged sword if we will only grasp it: It protects universal human rights by embracing intrinsic human dignity and moral worth, while at the same time, it requires us to treat the environment and animals properly and humanely as a sacred human duty. I just don't get why the concept upsets so many people.


Mr. VIce President, Please Get a Grip About Swine Flu Pandemic

Overall, I have been impressed by the Obama Administration's handling of the swine flu pandemic, which as these things go, does not appear to be Armageddon. (I am sure the Deep Ecologists are disappointed.) Part of the reason the government was so prepared, according to President Obama, is that the Bush Administration, working with the Congress, put in place a good plan several years ago on just what to do in the event of such a threat. The Administration has been following that contingency plan to good result, which Obama graciously acknowledged in his press conference yesterday. From the transcript:

I do want to compliment Democrats and Republicans who worked diligently back in 2005 when the bird flu came up. I was part of a group of legislators who worked with the Bush administration to make sure that we had beefed up our infrastructure and our stockpiles of antiviral drugs, like Tamiflu.

And I think the Bush administration did a good job of creating the infrastructure so that we can respond. For example, we've got 50 million courses of antiviral drugs in the event that they're needed.
The President has taken a proper and measured approach to all of this. Alas, Vice President Biden didn't get the message of calm. Indeed, if we all followed his advice, all commerce would cease as none of us would fly, go on trains, take buses, or go to school, work, church, and sporting events. From the story:

Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday that he would not recommend taking any commercial flight or riding in a subway car "at this point" because swine flu virus can spread "in confined places." A little more than one hour later, Biden rushed out a statement backing off. "I would tell members of my family--and I have--I wouldn't go anywhere in confined places now," Biden said on NBC's Today show.. "It's not that it's going to Mexico. It's [that] you're in a confined aircraft. When one person sneezes, it goes all the way through the aircraft. That's me...So, from my perspective, what it relates to is mitigation. If you're out in the middle of a field when someone sneezes, that's one thing. If you're in a closed aircraft or closed container or closed car or closed classroom, it's a different thing.”
And they worried about Sara Palin being the proverbial heartbeat away.


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Keeping Our Senses Of Humor in the Face of Swine Flu: A Matter of Human Exceptionalism

One of the great things about people is that we can find ways to find humor in almost all situations. Check out these photos of Mexicans wearing surgical masks due to the swine flu. I love the "in your face" quality to this. Also, how humans always find reasons to "do" art. Good for them!

Other photos available here, as published in the Telegraph.

Now It is the Eight Reasons to Unilaterally Withhold Care

Yesterday, I wrote about futilitarian law professor and blogger Thaddeus Pope's "Seven Reasons That Might Justify Unilateral Refusal" of Medical Treatment, with my brief responses to each of the seven. Pope has apparently thought about it some more, and revised the post to now list the "eight" reasons. Accordingly, I respond here to the revised version.

In the original, Pope claimed that futile care impositions would protect patient autonomy--never mind that the point of futile care is to override patient autonomy made in an advance directive or overturn family decision making--the people who know the patient best. To go from seven to eight, he has divided the idea of protecting patient autonomy into two "reasons." From the revised post:

2. Protect patient autonomy (re treatment): In many cases, the aggressive treatment demanded by a surrogate is treatment not wanted by the patient. And where patient preferences are unknown, continued treatment is not in the patient's best interests.
This was in the original seven, to which I responded yesterday:
But futile care theory is a frontal assault on patient autonomy, with some proposals even permitting patient advance directives to be overturned. If the patient truly did not want the treatment, that would not be futile care theory. Deciding in "the patient's best interests," would often really mean imposing the prevailing bioethical "quality of life" views onto patients. If the patient's views are not known, the strong overriding presumption should be to continue the life of the patient as the surrogate requests.
Pope's new "reason" is third (in order of importance) on his revised list:

3. Protect patient autonomy (re other things): Providing unwanted treatment not only violates the patient's bodily integrity but also the patient's autonomy concerning the location and manner of her death (ICU vs. home). It also causes the utilization of estate resources to pay medical bills that the patient wanted to go to other uses (e.g. grandchildren education).
Non medical issues, such as grand children's college tuition or estate resources are none of the medical team's business. If the patient wanted the treatment, or the duly authorized surrogate wants it, these matters should not be considered--and indeed cannot truly be known by bioethics committee members, doctors, or nurses. Besides, the choice in these cases isn't going to be ICU or home, since by cutting off treatment the patient will probably die sooner rather than later in the ICU.

Futile Care Theory destroys patient autonomy, undermines the confidence of patients and families in the medical system, and superimposes the "quality of life" values of the bioethics elite on very sick people and their families.

Or to put it succinctly: education yes, coercion, no.


Media Play Ginger Rodgers to Big Biotech Fred Astaire: Employ Yet Another Euphemism for Human Cloning Research

I can't remember an issue in which there was so much intellectual dishonesty or malpractice in media reporting than the embryonic stem cell/cloning debates--and that's saying a lot! For example, when the Stowers Crowd began using the junk biological term "early stem cells," the Kansas City Star jumped right on that bandwagon.

When Big Biotech began using the term "therapeutic cloning" to distinguish using embryos created through somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) from the same technology undertaken to bring a cloned baby to birth--called "reproductive cloning"--the media jumped right on board, creating the false impression that these were different types of cloning. Because these terms misled rather than edified, the President's Council on Bioethics urged scientists and media to use more accurate terminology--"cloning to produce children" and "cloning for biomedical research," so that a rational ethical debate based on critical thinking could be engaged. But that was precisely what Big Biotech and the media did not want, so those terms were never used--as far as I know--in media reports about the cloning debate.

When the "therapeutic" part of the advocacy phrase therapeutic cloning didn't bring public support, but the "cloning" part brought public disfavor, Big Biotech decided to just call it somatic cell nuclear transfer--which is at least accurate--with the intent of confusing the public as to the point of that process, e.g., making a human embryo asexually, aka cloning. And once again, the media went right along. Adding insult to that injury, the media also often reported the nonsense that SCNT makes "stem cells," rather than embryos.

Even that was too accurate, so pretty soon human cloning research and ESCR were both merely called "stem cell research," which had the benefit of confusing it with adult stem cell research from which most notable human benefits were being derived. It got to be a game with me: If the media announced a "stem cell research" advance, I knew it was adult stem cells. If it was an ESCR advance, they generally called it "embryonic stem cell research."

And now, a new term for cloning; "stem cell research using aborted human eggs." South Korea is going to again allow human cloning research--SCNT--after banning it in the wake of the big Hwang Woo-suk scandal. From the story, and this is a medical media site:

The national committee on bioethics said it agreed to approve a new research project provided its scientists met certain conditions. A team from Seoul's Cha General Hospital had sought approval for its stem cell project using aborted human eggs to develop cures for grave human diseases.
This version made other stories, such as Focus News. And in a truncated version in The Age:

South Korea has conditionally lifted a three-year ban on stem cell research using human eggs.
From which the NYT reported:

South Korea has lifted a ban on stem cell research using human eggs, but the national committee on bioethics is doing so conditionally, and only for scientists who agree to certain restrictions.
But, credit where it is due, the AP got it partially right (the wrong part is the first sentence, the accurate part, the second):
South Korea will lift a three-year ban on human stem cell research, a presidential advisory committee announced Wednesday. The government outlawed research in 2006 following a scandal involving disgraced cloning expert Hwang Woo-suk, who claimed to have created stem cells from cloned human embryos. Hwang scandalized the international scientific community when it emerged that scientific papers outlining his claim relied on faked data.
Somebody speak to that AP reporter!


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Countering "The Seven Reasons that Might Justify Unilateral Refusal " of Medical Treatment (Futile Care Theory)

Law professor Thaddeus Pope runs the Medical Futility Blog, the best such site dedicated to medical futility of which I am aware. He swings from the futilitarian side of the plate, but is always fair and even handed.

Today he has posted "Seven Reasons For Supporting the Unilateral Refusal" of life sustaining treatment, or as I would call it, the "Seven Reasons to Justify Imposition of Futile Care Terminations." I republish that post here in full with my brief comments. From Pope's blog:

It might be useful to collect and list--in very rough order of importance--the arguments for refusing medically inappropriate treatment requested by a surrogate.

1. Prevent patient suffering: Aggressive treatment can cause significant pain and suffering. This is unacceptable if there is no countervailing benefit to be achieved by the treatment.
If the countervailing benefit is continued existence--and that is what the patient/family wants--then this justification is nonsensical. Too often today, we hear futilitarians speak about "return to full functioning," or "this is merely extending the dying," turning on its head the fact that the treatment is actually extending the living. Such interventions can only be deemed "nonbeneficial" if the life of the patient is denigrated by others as not worth living.
2. Protect patient autonomy: In many cases, the aggressive treatment demanded by a surrogate is treatment not wanted by the patient. And where patient preferences are unknown, continued treatment is not in the patient's best interests.
But futile care theory is a frontal assault on patient autonomy, with some proposals even permitting patient advance directives to be overturned. If the patient truly did not want the treatment, that would not be futile care theory. Deciding in "the patient's best interests," would often really mean imposing the prevailing bioethical "quality of life" views onto patients. If the patient's views are not known, the strong overriding presumption should be to continue the life of the patient as the surrogate requests.
3. Prevent family distress: Often the surrogate wants the burden of decision lifted from herself. And even if not the surrogate, other family members are often relieved to see the patient’s preferences or best interests protected.
That is not the job of doctors or bioethics committees. To assume that strangers should substitute their values to supposedly relieve relatives of the "burden" of deciding for their loved one is the epitome of paternalism, perhaps crossing into arrogance.
4. Preserve the integrity of the medical profession: Those in the health profession surely must have some role in defining the ends and goals of medicine.
The integrity of medicine is preserved by supporting the goals of medicine that have existed for millenia; saving life and palliating suffering. Medical professionals are fiduciaries of the patient. That is what makes them "professional." They serve the patient, not the other way around.
5. Reduce nurse distress: Numerous measures show high levels of moral distress. This can both drive people from the profession and thus reduce access. It can also reduce staffing levels and make people operate less well, adversely impacting other patients' quality of care.
Surely, this is not a proper reason to cut someone off from wanted life support! Indeed, it borders on blackmail--either you take away life support or I walk away from medicine! Bogus.
6. Responsibly steward scarce hard resources (e.g. ICU beds) to maximize health care access: In an under-bedded region like NM, the ICU bed used by a patient with PVS and multi-organ failure is the very same bed that could be used to achieve recovery for an accident victim.
We have triage for such matters. We don't need futile care theory.
7. Responsibly steward scarce soft resources (e.g. dollars) to maximize health care access: the billions spent treating PVS patients could be used to cover more people who now have no coverage. As costs rise, premiums rise, and access drops.
This creates an explicit caste of disposable patients based on invidiously discriminatory "quality of life" assessments. It is, in effect, establishing a "duty to die."
Of course, there are also arguments against unilateral refusals. Those will vary according to the specific circumstances of a case. Whether unilateral refusal is ethically justified, on balance, will require some sort of weighing.
If "weighing" truly is required, it should not take place behind closed doors, conducted by a bioethics committee that will express an institutional culture, reacting to the desires of doctors whom the committee members all know--as opposed to the family/surrogates who are strangers and may not be well educated or articulate. Such disputes belong in open court, with a record, the right to a lawyer paid by the hospital, due process, and the right to appeal. If cutting off care is so urgent, make the hospital do it in front of the klieg lights.
Update: Pope revised his list to "eight" reasons, to which I responded here.


By Ignoring the Rational Arguments Made Against Assisted Suicide, Yale Medical Professor Argues That Opposing PAS is "Not Necessarily Rational"

Some of our most formerly venerable medical journals are becoming increasingly radical. Critical Care Medicine, the journal for intensive care doctors, is a case in point. In the past, the Ethics Committee of the Society of Critical Care Medicine supported futile care theory, and quite notably, the Journal published an article arguing that "neurologically devastated" patients should be able to be killed for their organs assuming consent.

Now, Yale School of Medicine (of course) professor Constantine A. Manthous, MD, has published in CCM advocating for the permissibility of physician-assisted suicide. (No link, from the abstract):

Our collective repudiation of physician-assisted death, in all its forms, has complex origins that are not necessarily rational. If great care is taken to ensure that a request for physician-assisted death is persistent despite exhaustion of all available therapeutic modalities, then an argument can be made that our rejection constrains unnecessarily the liberty of a small number of patients.
Of course, "great care" is either not legally required under the assisted suicide laws--e.g, Oregon, Washington, and Switzerland--or not done, as in the Netherlands and Belgium. Montana? Why would "great care" be required when assisted suicide has been made a "fundamental right" under the state's constitution via judicial fiat?

Manthous's pretense is that there are no "rational" arguments being made against assisted suicide. From the article:

[T]here is room in this formulation for both nature and nurture to determine our moral selves. Our inherited neurologic circuitry is a template that is "finished" by institutional indoctrination which fires that circuitry repetitively throughout our development (e.g., "thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not kill," ad infinitum). It both feels right and, when fully indoctrinated, is programmed into the fully moral individual. There is a very large literature suggesting that during "critical periods" of brain development, environmental triggers (language for example) act on the neural template to potentiate development of particular skills or behaviors. Although evidence remains circumstantial (e.g., in primate studies) developing morality may follow a similar paradigm. Accordingly, my thesis here is that our repudiation of PAS and euthanasia is a moral intuition, without rational foundations.

Ironically, hiding behind all that neuro-theory, Manthous is the one failing to grapple with the many rational arguments made against legalization. Indeed, books, after articles, after speeches , have been given for two decades by opponents of assisted suicide making the rational case for continued prohibition. Yet these arguments are not mentioned once in the article. There are no citations, for example, from the voluminous rational arguments made by Rita Marker. No citations from the psychiatrist, Dr. Herbert Hendin, who is probably the world's foremost expert on euthanasia in the Netherlands.. No citations from Dr. Kathleen Foley, the country's most notable palliative care doctor and an opponent of legalizing assisted suicide. No citations from yours truly, who has written one book solely dedicated to the rational arguments against assisted suicide--Forced Exit--and another--Culture of Death--that deals substantially with the rational reasons for opposing assisted suicide, and, not coincidentally, was named Best Health Book of the Year for 2001 by the Independent Publishers.

I guess the theory is that if you ignore rational arguments, they just don't exist. It's just a matter of "repulsion" or "aversion."

But what happened to peer review? How does a professional medical journal of any quality allow an author to argue that there are no rational arguments against assisted suicide when there clearly are a boatload with which the author disingenuously refuses to grapple? More evidence that our institutions are losing both excellence and integrity.

It's hard to do justice to an article in a single blog. Here's another analysis of the article that gets into some areas I didn't.


Monday, April 27, 2009

Pushing for Federal Funding of Human Cloning

"The scientists" used to tell us that all they want is leftover embryos for ESCR. That was never all they wanted, but the lie was a useful political tool to try and destroy the Bush federal funding policy. Once President Obama put that policy in the grave, I predicted the push would soon begin to fund human cloning research.

Bingo. First we saw it pushed in the anything goes New York Times and the science journal Nature. And now, it is about to be brought forth as federal legislation. From the story in the Congressional Quarterly:

As the Obama administration prepares to greatly expand the government's investments in embryonic stem cell research, the next big biomedical research debate in Congress is shaping up: whether to allow government funding of experiments using cloned human embryos.

Two House members who were the chief backers of legislation to expand embryonic stem cell research are working on a new bill that would codify President Obama's recent executive order allowing greater federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Their legislation will also contain language allowing the National Institutes of Health to invest in other kinds of research into human cell biology, perhaps including what is known as "therapeutic cloning."
Obama didn't "allow greater funding," as there was never a cap. It allowed more cell lines to qualify for federal funding, which is not the same thing. But never mind. I get sick of having to correct reporting in this field.

I hate saying, "I told you so," in these matters because most of the time it is just plain bad news.


NBC/MSNBC News: Despicable Character Assassins

NBC News and MSNBC have devolved from journalists into despicable character assassins. Readers of SHS and others will recall the fraudulent story pushed by the Left Web site the Daily Kos. Someone doctored a photo of the Palin family taken in 2006, and claimed it was from early 2008. Because Bristol Palin, the Palins' oldest daughter, had a small tummy, the Kos claimed she was pregnant at the time and hence, the real mother of Trig Palin.

This despicable lie was actually chased by MSM journalists with the tongues hanging out until it became clear that it was bogus. Vanity Fair even insinuated, in the guise of satire, that Todd Palin was not Trigg's father after the Bristol story fell apart. Meanwhile, despite the NYT knocking it down eventually, blogger Andrew Sullivan, as far as I know, never did give up the story.

Well, now NBC/MSNBC have snidely brought the lie up again. From the story:

There's been plenty of speculation that Levi Johnston, the father of Tripp, Sarah Palin's first acknowledged grandchild, has been giving interviews to the likes of Larry King and Tyra Banks so that he can land an endorsement or modeling deal. Vanity Fair did some poking about to see whether a modeling contract could be in Johnston's future, and the prospects look bleak.
Get it? "first acknowledged grandchild:" Wink. Wink.

This isn't journalism, it is character assassination by innuendo. But why do they loathe her so much that they will continue this defamation? My theory: She dared to give birth to a baby with Down syndrome when all the better people know that eugenic abortion is the way to go.

Whatever the cause, NBC/MSNBC illustrate all that has gone wrong with journalism today.

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Soylent Green is People: Proposal to Make and Store Embryos for Stem Cells

More proof in that embryonic stem cell research is not--and never has been--about getting some use out of leftover IVF embryos that are due to be destroyed anyway. A serious proposal has been forwarded to make embryos for the purpose of storing them as a source of future medical need. From the story:

Couples could be allowed to store embryos in order to use them to create new body parts or cure diseases.
Government legal and ethical experts are to discuss whether families can 'bank' embryos not just for procreation but also for use by doctors to create personalised treatments for parents and their children.

Now, [under UK law] embryos--the first stage of life after an egg has been successfully fertilised--can be stored for up to five years but only for procreation. But a huge ethical debate is set to erupt as the Government's fertility watchdog, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), moves closer to endorsing new developments in medical science.It will debate whether embryos could be stored to harvest important stem cells that have the ability to turn into any tissue type in the body.
Given that this is Brave New Britain, it is easy to predict the answer.

This is figurative cannibalism, treating nascent human life as if it were a prize cattle herd or copper mine. But if you don't believe in human exceptionalism and its concomitant principle of the the sanctity/equality of human life, why not use human beings as we do other natural resources?

And it won't stop with embryos. Once the principle is accepted that living human beings can be objectified as a product, there is no way that enterprise will be limited to the earliest humans. Indeed, as I have often described, fetal farming is on the table and the already born weak and vulnerable are being looked upon by some as sources of organs and subjects for medical experimentation.

Ideas have consequences. Once we state that human life does not have intrinsic moral value simply and merely because it is human, there isn't much that we can't justify.


Obama Seduces Science Sector with Promises of Huge Bucks

President Obama must believe in the fabled money tree with all the currency we don't have that he is borrowing and spending. Now, he has told the National Academy of Sciences that he wants 3% of the United States GDP (gross domestic product) to be poured into science. From the story:

President Barack Obama on Monday promised a major investment in research and development for scientific innovation, saying the United States has fallen behind others.
I am really tired of that particular whine. Who precisely, have we fallen behind? In what sectors? I am used to this caterwaul from "the scientists" who will never be satisfied until they have two blank checks; one for ethics and the other for funding (and not just here, the same cry is heard from this sector all over the world.) When it comes from Obama, he is merely pandering to this entitlement mindset for political purposes.

But I digress:
"I believe it is not in our character, American character, to follow -- but to lead. And it is time for us to lead once again. I am here today to set this goal: we will devote more than 3 percent of our GDP to research and development," Obama said in a speech at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences. "We will not just meet but we will exceed the level achieved at the height of the space race," he said...

"The commitment I am making today will fuel our success for another 50 years," he said. "This work begins with an historic commitment to basic science and applied research." He set forth a wish list for the future including "learning software as effective as a personal tutor; prosthetics so advanced that you could play the piano again; an expansion of the frontiers of human knowledge about ourselves and world the around us."We can do this," Obama said to applause.
Yadda, yadda, yadda.

I stink at math but we have a $14 trillion dollar GDP, meaning he wants about $420 billion poured into science each year. Obviously, he means both through the public and private sectors:
Obama said his administration would double the budget of key agencies, including the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. "At such a difficult moment, there are those who say we cannot afford to invest in science. That support for research is somehow a luxury at a moment defined by necessities. I fundamentally disagree," Obama said.
There he goes again with the straw men. I don't know of anybody who has ever called for the public defunding of science. The questions are how much and for what purposes, which are legitimate policy issues. To say otherwise is sheer cow manure. But under Obama, there are apparently no hard decisions that have to be made, no prioritizing that needs to be done. He owns a money tree

Moreover, where is he going to get the money to double public spending on science, now that we are spending trillions on banks and such.? Then there is the new universal health care law that will be jammed down our collective craw without meaningful democratic debate. Then there is the as yet unfunded mandatory spending coming soon to fund the Baby Boomer's Social Security and Medicare. Oh, yes, we have a jihad on our hands, and all that infrastructure the bailout bill is supposed to improve. But Obama doesn't believe in leadership based on reality. His purpose is to buy friends.

As to the private sector, he isn't in control of those investments--yet. This is pure pandering to make everyone think he is oh, so pro science--unlike the rube he replaced. But what he really is doing is cementing the ongoing corruption of science into a mere special interest, so beholden to the powers that be for financial support that it will servilely serve the political needs of the ruling oligarchy. Thomas Edison is rolling over in his grave.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Conscience Clause Poll


The Coming Medical Conscription to Require Doctors to be Complicit in Assisted Suicides

The day may be coming, and it might not be that far away, when doctors who are asked to help kill a patient--that is, to intentionally cause the patient's life to end--will be forced to either do the deed or refer to a doctor her or she knows will do the deed.

We are seeing this conscription approach promoted in Washington State where many hospitals and doctors are refusing to participate in legalized assisted suicide, as is their right under the new law. This has angered assisted suicide advocates, who are now planting articles in newspapers and writing opinion articles trying to guilt doctors into violating their own consciences.

The granddaughter of a man unable to commit assisted suicide has written such an article. She is a college student, and grieving her loss: Thus, I am not especially keen on taking after her publicly. But she raises points that the assisted suicide movement keeps pounding, and they need to be rebutted. From the column:

The Death with Dignity Act was set up and passed for people much like my grandfather. Whether people agree with the act or not is not the issue at hand. This law has passed, and it is the right of any patient who meets the criteria to request it. But there are no avenues offered to obtain this kind of request, making it difficult to fulfill a family member's dying wish.
That is correct, and that was a selling point for the law during the campaign--that no doctor would be forced to participate. That is just as much a part of the law as the right to ask for a lethal prescription.

Then comes the wholly expected advertisement for Compassion and Choices, whose activists, I have no doubt, helped in some fashion with the writing and/or publication of this article:
Compassion and Choices of Washington is one of the only places to turn for a patient who wishes to use the Death with Dignity Act. Compassion and Choices of Washington provides support and volunteers for families and patients looking for a physician who is participating. (Compassion and Choices of Washington can be reached toll free at 877-222-2816 or online at
But having a list of death doctors willing to see people who they have never treated solely for the purpose of a issuing a lethal prescription, as happens a lot in Oregon, isn't enough. The legislature needs to pass a law requiring doctors to help kill patients:
As voters and citizens of a country that has given people the right to choose as well as many other rights, don’t let this be a right that you will be denied the same way my grandfather was. Calling local legislators will let officials know that as Washington residents we want access to all our rights according to the law. If we let this law get swept under the rug, what law is next to be pushed out of reach? At stake is not only the right to die peacefully but the right to our freedom of choice.
No. At stake is the right of medical professionals to retain their ethics and not be forced to be complicit in the taking of a human life.

Let us hope that ethical physicians don't allow themselves to be emotionally manipulated into giving up Hippocratic values--because there will be more of articles like this: C and C is on the warpath to overcome the non cooperation drive. Like I always say, the culture of death brooks no dissent.


Extreme Sheep LED Art

This short video says a lot about human exceptionalism--imagine conceiving even doing this performance art much less pulling it off--the wonder of dogs, which we intelligently designed, and the concept of sheer fun that brings so much joy to life.

No, this isn't sheep abuse.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Deep Ecologists Might Get Their Human Depopulation: Possible Swine Flu Pandemic

The Deep Ecology Movement wants to reduce the human population to 500 million. The genocidal implications of this idea are obvious--although DEs usually say they would like to see it done via voluntary birth control (fat chance), or perhaps a pandemic will do the trick. This is not only a rejection of human exceptionalism, but it is to embrace explicit anti-humanism.

Enter a possible swine flu pandemic. From the story:

A new swine flu strain that has killed as many as 68 people and sickened more than 1,000 across Mexico has "pandemic potential," the World Health Organization chief said Saturday, and it may be too late to contain the sudden outbreak.

The disease has already reached Texas and California, and with 24 new suspected cases reported Saturday in Mexico City alone, schools were closed and all public events suspended in the capital until further notice - including more than 500 concerts and other gatherings in the metropolis of 20 million.

A hot line fielded 2,366 calls in its first hours from frightened city residents who suspected they might have the disease. Soldiers and health workers handed out masks at subway stops, and hospitals dealt with crowds of people seeking help.

The World Health Organization's director-general, Margaret Chan, said the outbreak of the never-before-seen virus is a very serious situation and has "pandemic potential." But she said it is still too early to tell if it would become a pandemic.
Of course one pandemic isn't likely to do the trick. But maybe it will just be the first wave: The DEs can always hope.


Derek Humphry Has Another Teenage Suicide to Put as a Notch on His Book Final Exit

This has happened before and it will happen again. A teenager has apparently committed suicide using the death information contained in Derek Humphry's book Final Exit

Who is Derek Humphry? He founded the Hemlock Society--now Compassion and Choices--with his second wife Ann Wickett, after becoming famous for a book he wrote about assisting the suicide of his first wife, called Jean's Way. Humphry abandoned Wickett when she was diagnosed with breast cancer (as did the rest of the "right to die" community), and she was ultimately befriended by Rita Marker, the hated enemy of "the ultimate civil liberty." Wickett eventually committed suicide, telling Marker in a note that Humphry's first wife Jean had actually died "by suffocation," rather than from the drug coctail Humphry said he gave her to drink. Wickett also told Marker that she and Humphry did a double assisted suicide of her parents, in which her mother was coerced into dying by her father. Read all about it in Marker's Deadly Compassion.)

But I digress. From the story:

A book called "Final Exit" is being blamed for deaths in the metro area and across the country.Suzanne Torregrossa said she found the book lying next to her son's body after he committed suicide back in January.

The book, "Final Exit: The Practicalities of Self-Deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the Dying," is a how-to guide on various pain-free ways to kill yourself. Torregrossa said her son even referenced the book in his suicide letter. He explained how he would replace the air in his lungs with helium, using a technique he learned in the book.
Don't worry SHSers: Humphry won't miss a wink of sleep. This has happened before and he never does.


Post Obama Health Care Power Grab America: Fantasy Land Advice About Being a Good Medical Consumer

In "Help for Navigating Health Care," San Francisco Chronicle reporter Victoria Colliver interviews a woman named Adrianna Boden, who had a difficult medical experience, and offers tips on being a good medical consumer. From the story:

The Empowered Healthcare Community, formed by a Google employee and a San Francisco dentist, offers these tips to navigating the health care system:

-- Have a health advocate. Make sure someone helps you through your medical crisis, especially if you are hospitalized.

-- No news is not necessarily good news. Check on your test results if you don't hear from the doctor.

-- A second - or third or fourth - opinion is appropriate at any time during your treatment, not just in the early stages of diagnosis. A doctor who does not appreciate other opinions might not be your best choice for a provider.

-- Be aware that federal law guarantees patients access to their medical records. All patients have a right to copies of their records, and they should make it a practice to ask for a copy of everything.

-- Always check your medications for drug interactions. A good tool can be found through the Physicians' Desk Reference at

-- If you need surgery, find out information about your hospital at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services site at

-- If you are having surgery, ask your hospital to use the World Health Organization surgical checklist.
What a fantasy. I am not saying this isn't good advice. (Indeed, I wrote many of the same things back in 1989 in my The Doctor Book: A Nuts and Bolts Guide to Patient Power. But back then, pharmacists had the time to actually ask you questions about medications and act as a fail safe against adverse drug interactions, and people had ready access to specialists as well as second and third opinions without having to maneuver through bureaucratic roadblocks.) I am saying that with the Obama health care power grab we are about to have imposed upon us undemocratically, that wise actions like second and third opinions and telling the hospital to use the World Health Organization Checklist will be near pipe dreams. We are heading into a system where patients have little control--except, of course to "choose" to die--in which utilitarian bioethicists and faceless bureaucrats make all the big decisions for us.

Further proving my theory that the Left is about power and not freedom, the American Journal of Bioethics blog thinks that the Obama power grab via a procedural maneuver around democratic debate is just peachy keen. You see to the Left, democracy doesn't really matter. Getting what they want is almost all that matters. Unprincipled, but totally expected.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Power Grab: Shoving Health Care "Reform" Down Our Throats Without Democratic Debate

President Obama and the Democrats in Congress intend to completely change the health care system of the United States without permitting any meaningful democratic debate. Rather than hold extensive hearings, allow a full airing of one of the most extensive and expensive changes in law in recent times, and risk having to compromise or lose, our overlords have decided they are going to shove what they want down our throats via a budget reconciliation bill. From the story:

Principals in the talks acknowledged that a tentative budget agreement reached Thursday night between Congressional leaders and the White House would provide for the use of an obscure procedure known as a reconciliation on a health care bill, allowing health care legislation that meets budget targets to be approved by a simple Senate majority. "It will be in there in some form," said one top official engaged in the talks who did not want to be named since the final details of the agreement were still being worked out.

But Republicans have strongly condemned the prospect of using the arcane maneuver on an issue as important as health care and have threatened to use their own procedural weapons to bog down the Senate if Democrats plunge ahead. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, warned President Obama in a White House meeting on Thursday that the use of the procedural tool was likely to cause trouble in Congress. But Mr. Obama said that he backed the reconciliation approach to move ahead on health care, one of his legislative priorities, and did not want it to fail if 59 senators were on board rather than the 60 needed to break filibusters.
No, he doesn't want the American people to have a say. We are going to have "reform" forced on us--like it or not. I don't even think there have been committee hearings on all of this.

This is an utter corruption of the democratic process. Fundamentally changing our health care system isn't a matter of the budget: It is the most profound and far reaching substantive policy change since Medicare. And we don't even know what is in the bill! And neither will our representatives most of whom will once again be voting for a bill they haven't even read.

This end run around around the legislative process confirms my fears that the Left is no longer about freedom, it is about raw power. All of their caterwauling about Bush's alleged tyranny were actually projections based on their own intentions and attitudes.

Even if the policy is the best that can ever be thought of by human beings, shoving it down our throats without our input is subversive of a free people's right to participate in their own government. And believe me, this will not be the best system that human beings can devise. Look for the beginning of rationing, the enabling of futile care, and the government establishing standards of care that apply to public and privately funded health care--and we will have no idea what is contained in the law.

So much Obama's promise of transparency and building bridges over the troubled waters that divide us. His method is divide, embitter, and conquer. I never thought I would say it, but America is no longer a democratic country. It is a descending into a bureaucratic oligarchy.


Eureka! People Can Finally Die With Dignity as First Lethal Prescriptions Issued in Washington State

The assisted suicide movement is celebrating today as the first two lethal prescriptions have been written by death doctors in Washington State. From the story:

Two prescriptions have been filled for life-ending drugs under Washington's new assisted suicide law, state health officials said Thursday.

Health Department spokesman Tim Church said he could not provide any details about the people considering suicide, but the department has received two forms from pharmacists saying they have dispensed the drugs that people say they want to use to end their lives. The department has not received any forms certifying that a person has committed suicide under the state law that took effect in early March.
Dollars to donuts the doctors are affiliated with Compassion and Choices. Moreover, these doctors will lie on the death certificates--if the patients commit suicide.

Oh, Wesley! Stop attacking the integrity of doctors! I'm not: The law requires that the underlying disease be listed as the course of death--meaning it is impossible to really know what is going on.

But have no fear, the state bureaucrats are on the case:
Church said the Health Department will report annually on the ages, genders and illnesses of the people who filed the forms with the state, but the individual forms people turn in are exempt from state open records laws.
That will only tell us what the assisted suicide participants want us to know who filled out the forms.

This is a very sad day for American ethics and the moral practice of medicine.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Lead Into Gold: "Protein Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells" Made Without Genetic Material

This is potentially huge: Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells, which permit tailor made, patient specific pluripotent stem cell lines to be created ethically without the use of embryos, can now be made without using genetic material. From the story, "Purely Protein Pluripotency," in The Scientist (no link):

Researchers have attained the holy grail of cellular reprogramming: inducing pluripotency without using any DNA-based materials. Using only a cocktail of purified proteins and a chemical additive, investigators have generated induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells that don't carry the potential burden of unexpected genetic modifications, according to a new study published online today (Apr. 23) in Cell Stem Cell.

"This new advancement is both exciting and startling," Huck-Hui Ng, a stem cell researcher at the Genome Institute of Singapore who was not involved in the study, said in an email. "Now, cell reprogrammers are armed with a potentially genome-safe method to make pluripotent stem cells.
And now a new name has come into the lexicon: Protein Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (PIPSC:
Although the technique was much less efficient than virus-based approaches--0.006% compared to 0.067% using Yamanaka's original method--these reprogrammed cells, dubbed "protein-induced pluripotent stem cells," or piPS cells, passed all the benchmarks of pluripotency both in vitro and in vivo. Ding's team also showed that they could do away with one of the proteins, c-Myc, although this further reduced the already poor reprogramming efficiency by about a third.

"This is the first proof of principle demonstration that [protein induction] actually works," Ding told The Scientist. Now, stem cell researchers and protein biochemists "will jump on this and substantially improve" the method. Ding also said that he has unpublished results showing that piPS cells can be generated from adult mouse and human fibroblasts.
Good science and good ethics: It is a wonder to behold.

But the New York Times still wants human cloning. After all, stem cells are not the final destination. They are just the launching pad.


The Immoral Research That Would be Required to Make "Reproductive Cloning" Safe

In my last SHS post, I deconstructed the "ethical" objections of "the scientists" to reproductive cloning as really being about safety, not the inherent wrongness of human cloning itself. (Reproductive cloning is actually a misnomer. The act of cloning is somatic cell nuclear transfer, which asexually creates an embryo. So what we are really talking about is the use to which the human life created through cloning would be put). Animal cloning leads to many miscarriages and birth defects, and thus there is near universal agreement that reproductive cloning should not be tried--for now.

But if those problems could be overcome, I see no reason for believing that "the scientists" would still say no. In fact, is suspect they'd be tripping over each other to do it.

What would it take to make reproductive cloning "safe?" Scientists would have to repeatedly clone and destroy thousands and thousands of embryos and fetuses. I asked Dr. David Prentice for my book Consumer's Guide to a Brave New World, what the process would likely be. From my book:

He [Prentice] described for me the intense research trial-and-error approach that would be required to learn how to safely engage in cloning-to-produce-children: "Scientists would have to clone thousands of embryos and grow them to the blastocyst stage to ensure that part of the process leading up to transfer into a uterus could be "safe,” monitoring and analyzing each embryo, destroying each one in the process. Next, cloned embryos would have to be transferred into the uteruses of women volunteers. The initial purpose would be analysis of development, not bringing the pregnancy to a live birth. Each of these clonal pregnancies would be terminated at various points of development, each fetus destroyed for scientific analysis. The surrogate mothers would also have to be closely monitored and tested, not only during the pregnancies but also for a substantial length of time after the abortions.

Finally, if these experiments demonstrated that it was probably safe to proceed, a few clonal pregnancies would be allowed to go to full term. Yet even then, the born cloned babies would have to be constantly monitored to determine whether any health problems develop. Each would have to be followed (and undergo a battery of tests both physical and psychological) for their entire lives, since there is no way to predict if problems [associated with gene expression] might arise later in childhood, adolescence, adulthood, or even into the senior years."

The absurdity, not to mention the immorality, of treating human life as mere detritus to be experimented upon and tossed aside if it doesn't have the proper (gene) consistency, should be self-evident. It would permit us to transform cloned human beings into life-long medical experiments. No wonder the President's Council [on Bioethics] report was so unequivocal in its condemnation of attempting cloning-to-produce children!

Much of this work would probably be done in artificial wombs. But that wouldn't change the nature of the sheer immorality of the experiments.

And consider this: If we reject human exceptionalism this becomes doable. For example, if purported "personhood" rather than "humanhood" comes to matter morally, scientist would be empowered to experiment on human fetuses--perhaps even infants--as much as they wanted and it wouldn't matter.

Much is at stake in how we harness--and control--the awesome power of biotechnology. The principles we apply to determine what is ethical and what is not make all the difference in the world about the kind of society we will become.


Sound and "Ethical" Fury Against Human Cloning Signifying Nothing

I reported on the media falling for the latest, "I can clone a baby," publicity stunt yesterday. Now "the scientists" are weighing in an sputtering outrage. As usual, their "ethical" opposition to human cloning is much less than it seems.

First, it was the cry to "peer review." From the story:

Alastair Kent, director of the Genetic Interest Group, a charity dedicated to helping families affected with inherited disorders, said that Dr Zavos claimed to have mastered a technology that other scientists had been struggling with for years. "Once again he claims to have used it for purposes widely condemned as unsafe and dangerous. And he has done this in secret, using the hopes of couples desperate to create or to recreate a child as a springboard for his vaulting ambition," he said.
But the real objection is safety:
"For his claims to have credibility, and to prevent the unethical exploitation of grieving or desperate couples Dr Zavos must throw open his work to peer review. He must demonstrate openness and allow scrutiny by experts, not just by the media. If he is as good as he claims then he has nothing to fear. If he is not, then vulnerable women and couples need protection from his activities," Dr Kent said.
Note that this is not the same thing as stating that cloning is wrong. This next quote is more of the same:

Professor Azim Surani of the University of Cambridge said that Dr Zavos had breached the taboo on creating human clones with the intention of transferring them into the wombs of women in order to achieve a pregnancy – a procedure that is a criminal offence in Britain.

"This affair shows a complete lack of responsibility. If true, Zavos has again failed to observe the universally-accepted ban on human cloning, which was agreed because most of the resulting embryos from such animal experiments are abnormal," Professor Surani said.

"This is yet another episode designed to gain maximum publicity without performing rigorous animal experiments or presenting it for peer review in a scientific journal. He has the opportunity to do this for his claim on making animal-human hybrid embryos in culture," he said.
And once again:

"The interesting thing here is that for the first time these cloning attempts appear to have been documented," said Professor Wolf Reik, an expert in reproductive biology at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge, yesterday.

"We have no reason to think that human cloning will not work--it works in primates--but it may take many, many attempts.

"But to say it is substantially safer now, with new technical developments, is nonsense; the available techniques are still very inefficient, and the great majority of embryos die in utero, or are born with abnormalities. This is why, in my opinion, it remains problematical for it to be carried out on humans," Professor Reik added.
Here's the thing: From what I can tell, most scientists and bioethicists don't think reproductive cloning is inherently wrong at all. Heck, Ian Wilmut the administrator of the team that cloned Dolly has said it should be done in some circumstances. Thus, when we hear supposed outrage from "the scientists" about reproductive cloning, it is a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

In the next post, I will share from my book Consumer's Guide to a Brave New World, what it would take to make human reproductive cloning "safe." You guessed it, lots and lots of human cloning!


SHS Funnies

Even the comics are becoming anti human:


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Final Exit Network is a Death Cult

CBS has a story from the Final Exit Network training manual and it validates my every suspicion that the group is a death cult. From the story:

The training manual provides a detailed, behind-the-scenes look at how the network operated. It was written for what the network called "first responders," or the first to speak to those seeking help committing suicide.

"You, as the first responder, are a special person," the manual says. "You all were attracted to this program because of a compassionate interest ... Sometimes that means to 'hear' a desperation that the member does not know how to communicate and softly voice it for them."

The manual tells guides that if they've planned carefully, they can "anticipate this special day with a sense of peace and celebration."

"If this is your first case, you no doubt will be nervous from the responsibility, but you can try to keep a sense of celebration about the proceedings to come," the manual says.After a member has killed him or herself in the presence of two exit guides, the guides "usually go to a restaurant to quietly celebrate."
There's a word for this: S.I.C.K.

WJS: Skunk at the Earth Day Party

As usual, I find myself the skunk at the party. As the world celebrates Earth Day, that term has become a bit ominous. Environmentalism is devolving into an increasingly anti-human movement that could end up costing the human race dearly. I have a piece on the matter in today's NRO called "Homo Sapiens, Get Lost." Here are a few excerpts:

Over the last few hundred years in the West, the moral foundations of society were profoundly pro-human. Judeo-Christian moral philosophy and secular humanism both promoted human flourishing and the protection of individual rights as primary purposes of society. But in recent years we have witnessed a rebellion against "human exceptionalism"--the view that ultimate moral value comes with being a member of the human species...Here and abroad, environmentalism itself seems to be evolving from a movement dedicated to conserving resources, preserving pristine areas, and protecting endangered species into an anti-humanistic ideology that increasingly disdains humankind as a scourge that literally threatens the existence of "the planet."

I point out that this "subversion' of a healthy environmentalism was "conceived and gestated" in the Deep Ecology Movement. I then briefly describe Deep Ecology's ideology, its desire to reduce our population to under a billion, and its profound anti-humanism, with quotes about humans as the AIDS virus:

It is tempting to roll one's eyes and dismiss Deep Ecology’s anti-humanism as merely the kook fringe being the kook fringe. Alas, as in a Michael Crichton novel, the values of Deep Ecology have escaped the hothouse where they were expected to remain confined and invaded the popular culture, to the point where Hollywood has promoted the movement's anti-human beliefs in major motion pictures.
I discuss the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, in which the alien is not sent here, as in the original to save humankind from itself, but to obliterate us to "save the planet":
At the last possible moment, Klaatu prevents the holocaust, but as he departs for home, his space sphere emits a pulse causing all machinery and electricity on earth to cease functioning--the clear implication being that in order to co-exist peacefully with the planet, humans must become utterly non-technological. Unmentioned in this happy ending is that such a sudden collapse in technology would result in billions of human deaths from starvation and disease.
Earth is not the only anti-human A-List Hollywood movie released recently:
In The Happening, starring Mark Wahlberg, filmmaker and writer M. Night Shyamalan, best known for the supernatural thriller The Sixth Sense, offers an apocalyptic tale of a rebellion against the oppressive human hegemony--by plants.

In the Flora Rebellion, plants release "pheromones" that cause human beings to commit mass suicide. Shyamalan depicts this catastrophe as it unfolds through the eyes of Wahlberg's character, his wife, and the small daughter of a friend--protagonists who get steadily pushed into ever tighter corners as the mass-suicide epidemic spreads through the Northeast. At one point, they take refuge in a model home in a new housing development. Realizing that the pheromones are released when a critical mass of human beings is present, they flee as a larger group of refugees approach. As the members of the larger group begin to kill themselves en masse, Wahlberg's nuclear family runs past a huge advertising sign for the housing development that carries the unsubtle message of the film, "Because you deserve it."
These are just movies, one might say. But our motion pictures often depict the values, if not of the general population, then certainly of the liberal elite who control the power institutions of our society.

Radical environmentalism that rejects human exceptionalism won't save the planet, but it could cause a great deal of harm to humankind. It is being force fed to your children, in part, by the movies coming soon to a theater near you.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Media Fall for "Cloning" Hype--Again!

How many times are the media going to act as Charlie Brown to would-be cloners' Lucy Van Pelt promising to hold the football? First it was the Raelians making utter and complete fools out of media all over the world by claiming that the first cloned baby named "Eve" had been born. When no proof was forthcoming, the media concluded it was a hoax and Rael and Brigitte Boisselier laughed their heads off at the free publicity they garnered for their little science cult.

From time to time two IVF doctors claim that they have brought a cloned baby to birth. A little while ago, Severino Antinori claimed speciously to have brought cloned babies to birth, as reported here at SHS. No proof, of course, has been provided.

Now, the third stooge, naturalized American doctor Panayiotis Zavos, has weighed in with similar cloning claims. From the story:

A controversial fertility doctor claimed yesterday to have cloned 14 human embryos and transferred 11 of them into the wombs of four women who had been prepared to give birth to cloned babies.
Oh, wait: It didn't work:
None of the embryo transfers led to a viable pregnancy but Dr Zavos said yesterday that this was just the "first chapter" in his ongoing and serious attempts at producing a baby cloned from the skin cells of its "parent. There is absolutely no doubt about it, and I may not be the one that does it, but the cloned child is coming. There is absolutely no way that it will not happen," Dr Zavos said in an interview yesterday with The Independent.
That may be because so far cloned human embryos don't develop.

This is a non story, but the question of opposition to reproductive cloning isn't really a firm taboo. Science societies opposed it--"for now"--because of safety issues illustrated by many birth defects in cloned animals. But I don't know of any major science society that has stated it should never be allowed based on moral concerns. Moreover, many in bioethics support reproductive cloning as an aspect of the putative fundamental right to procreate, in any way a woman desires. Besides, we celebrate our social outlaws. The first cloner and mother of a cloned baby know they will own a gold mine: They will sell their stories for millions, the ever terminally nonjudgmental Oprah will fete them on her show, and they will have more fun in the tabloids than the woman who gave birth to eight IVF babies or the first "man" to give birth. And then we will be onto the next unthinkable thing, and the next. Can anyone say, "Fall of Rome?"

In the meantime, the media are nothing but a bunch of suckers.


Politicizing Science: How the UK Became Brave New Britain

Please pardon this lengthy post, but in light of our recent conversations about the organismic status of the early embryo as biological human life, I thought it was worth discussing how and why the term came to be redefined to exclude early embryos from membership in the human race.

The story is recounted in a paper called, "The Triumph of the Pre-Embryo: Interpretations of the Human Embryo in Parliamentary Debate Over Embryo Research," published in Social Studies of Science, Vol. 24, No. 4 (Nov., 1994, 611-639). It takes place in the UK, and it explains how the the country devolved between 1984 and 1990 into Brave New Britain. More to the point, this sad saga illustrates vividly the power of inaccurate words to change moral perceptions--or at least provide a political rationalization for doing so. In fact, the ongoing and accelerating collapse in scientific and medical ethics in the UK (and elsewhere) came about by the adoption of simple rhetorical pretense--that a human embryo isn't really an embryo.

We begin in 1982, when, in the wake of the birth of the first "test tube baby," the UK government set up the "Warnock Committee" to explore the ethical implications of this new technology. Choosing the crass utilitarian Baroness Mary Warnock to head the committee resulted in a predictable recommendation. From the paper (here's the link to the abstract):

[T]he Committee [in a divided vote] recommended that permission should be given for embryos to be reduced for, and to be used for, research up to the end of the first 14 days after fertilization.
Me: This was a deeply cynical tactic that has become a standard practice of the politicized science sector: Agree to prohibit only that which cannot now be done. Embryos can't be maintained out of a gestational environment beyond 14 days. Thus, the Committee's proposed ethical line in the ethical sand was utterly meaningless. It wasn't designed to actually protect any embryo, just give the appearance of restraint and control.

Back to the history: Warnock made one mistake: Her committee called an embryo, an embryo. Thus, when the issue was debated in Parliament in 1984, a political firestorm developed. Back then, it was undisputed that an embryo was a nascent human being. The principle of human exceptionalism and the sanctity/equality of human life still had heft. The public did not believe that human beings, even at the nascent stage, should be treated so crassly. The outcome was a route, with 51% of Labour and 88% of Conservative MPs voting for a total prohibition of embryo research.

Alas, that did not end the matter. As we have experienced in the ESCR/human cloning research debates of this era, the scientific establishment organized politically to push for embryo experimentation. Only six years later it obtained all that it wanted; a license to conduct embryo experimentation. Ever since, the UK never says no to "the scientists."

How did this happen? By creating the myth that nascent human beings are not human life at all:
Almost two years after the Warnock Report, Anne McLaren, the single embryologist on the Warnock Committee, wrote to Nature [arguing] "the embryo doesn't exist for the first two weeks after fertilization." What exists during this period is not an embryo, she claims, but "a mass of cells generated by the fertilized egg. Only after the first 14 days, she states elsewhere, "can individual embryonic development be said to begin."
This is biological nonsense, of course. But the point wasn't to provide the politicians and the public with accurate science from which to engage in rational analysis. It was to skew the politics and stack the deck in order to achieve a desired outcome. A pseudo scientific term was coined to carry the weight of this junk biology--and the "pre embryo" entered the lexicon.

That gave parliamentarians who wanted to authorize the research an excuse to do so. Human embryos were, suddenly, no longer human:
The spread of the term "pre-embryo" helped to resolve the moral problem of embryo research by convincing people and/or by enabling them to express their conviction that this was not, after all, research on human beings, but experimental use of an unformed, albeit human, bio mass.
This junk biology continues to dominate our ethics to this day--now justifying ESCR, therapeutic cloning, and eugenic manipulations on early embryos before implantation.

The Orwellian invention of the non scientific term "pre embryo" was a triumph of propagandist politics over scientific integrity. Worse, it introduced a cancer into the science sector that has subverted it ever since. Today, science often isn't science at all: It is ideological advocacy, with definitions changed almost at will to promote desired policy agendas and political outcomes. As the cancer spreads, broader areas of societal integrity have been undermined and rational democratic debate has been subverted. Indeed, anyone who trusts what "the scientists" tell us today just because they are scientists, hasn't been paying attention.


Animal Rights Activist Named to FBI "Most Wanted Terrorist List"

There is only one domestic suspected terrorist on the FBI's "most wanted terrorist." His name is Daniel Andreas San Diego, who hails from my neck of the woods in Berkeley, CA. San Diego has been on the run for years after allegedly bombing a local company that refused to promise to never do business with Huntingdon Life Sciences. From the story:

For the first time, an accused domestic terrorist is being added to the FBI's list of "Most Wanted" terror suspects. Daniel Andreas San Diego, a 31-year-old computer specialist from Berkeley, Calif., is wanted for the 2003 bombings of two corporate offices in California. Authorities describe San Diego as an animal rights activist who turned to bomb attacks and say he has tattoo that proclaims, "It only takes a spark."...

An arrest warrant was issued for San Diego after the 2003 bombings in northern California of the corporate offices of Chiron Corp., a biotechnology firm, and at Shaklee Corp., a nutrition and cosmetics company. The explosions caused minor damages and no injuries. A group calling itself "Revolutionary Cells" took responsibility for the blasts, telling followers in a series of e-mails that Chiron and Shaklee had been targeted for their ties to a research company that conducted drug and chemical experiments on animals...

In February, the FBI announced San Diego may be living in Costa Rica, possibly working with Americans or people who speak English in the Central American country. Law enforcement officials describe San Diego as a strict vegan who possesses a 9mm handgun. On his abdomen, he has images of burning and collapsing buildings. The FBI's "Most Wanted" terrorist list is distinct from the much longer-running "Ten Most Wanted" list. Al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden is on both.
San Diego's nihilistic tattoos confirms a theory of mine: Some--certainly not all--animal rights and radical eco activists are akin to the anarchists of the early 20th Century. They are not interested at all in building up; only in tearing down.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Too Much Sex Causes Global Warming! "Take Cold Showers," Scientist Advises

A famous global warming scientist issued an alarming study today finding that too much sex is a major cause of global warming. "All that heavy breathing releases tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere," Dr, Raymond Sunburn, the head of the Aspen/Davos Collective's think tank, Keep Earth Cool, said today. Sunburn, who earned the world's first Ph.D. in biospheric computer modeling studies, added, "Our computer models show that if people don't reduce their rate of intercourse and heavy petting to, at most, once a month, the polar bears will become extinct by 2050."

When asked what people should do who get "pent up," the ironically named Dr. Sunburn said, "Take a cold shower. In that way, you both avoid using more than your fair share of exhales and you save the earth by heating less water. There's no question about it. Adopting a monastic lifestyle is good for the planet."

That yarn could get me an anti-global warming government study grant. Besides, it is about as sensible as the real scientists who claim that fat people are endangering the planet. From the story:

Scientists warned that the increase in big-eaters means more food production--a major cause of CO2 gas emissions warming the planet. Overweight people are also more likely to drive, adding to environmental damage. Dr Phil Edwards, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: "Moving about in a heavy body is like driving in a gas guzzler." Each fat person is said to be responsible for emitting a tonne more of climate-warming carbon dioxide per year than a thin one.
Look at the damage people like actor John Goodman might cause!
Australian Professor Paul Zimmet predicted a disastrous obesity pandemic back in 2006. And Oxfam warned yesterday that the number of people hit by climate-related disasters will soar by more than half in the next six years to 375 million. The impact of more storms, floods and droughts could overwhelm aid organisations.
Just imagine the impact of fat people having too much sex! Randy Newman should write a song.


A Human Embryo is to the Baby He or She Becomes, That a Caterpillar is to the Butterfly It Becomes

It is an intentional tactic on the part of some who push for the instrumental use of nascent human life to make the sophistical argument that human embryos are not really organisms until they implant in a uterus. Ironically, these advocates make this bogus claim in the name of boosting science. But this is anti-science because it is utterly inaccurate from a biological perspective. But the point is to tie opponents down with endless and circular debates about what constitutes a living human organism so that the real discussion about whether and when it is appropriate to use human life instrumentally can be avoided.

I am really tired of dealing with this over and over again, but will make this one last foray into the issue: Let's look at the caterpillar that becomes a butterfly. It is the same animal when it is a worm-like creature with many legs that it is later after it has metamorphosed into a beautiful butterfly that can fly. The butterfly isn't a different individual member of that species. It is the same member of that species--it is just in a different stage of development with different capacities. When it is a caterpillar, it can eat leaves but it has no wings. Still, it has the developmental potential to fly. It isn't any less a member of its species of butterfly when it is a caterpillar than after it leaves the cocoon.

Similarly, when it comes to being an individual member of the human species, an embryo, is a fetus, is a neonate, is a pre-pubescent, is a pubescent, is an old man like me. During my nearly sixty years, I have never ceased being the same individual member of the species Homo sapiens I was when my life began upon completion of the fertilization process. My voice is deeper than it was when I was five. I had more hair and it was dark brown when I was 20, I had more neural cells when I was 30. My genes were expressing differently when I was seven than they are today. But I did not become a different organism. I have, since I was at the one-cell stage, been the same organism. Nor did my implantation in my mother's womb make me a different organism than in the week or so when I was in her fallopian tube.

That is basic science that is beyond dispute from a purely scientific perspective.


Nature Decries Attempts to Redefine "Embryo"

Considering the discussions we have had here as to what constitutes a human embryo, I thought it worth revisiting an old Nature editorial that decries the sophistic attempt within bioethics and the life sciences to pretend that an embryo before implantation in a uterus isn't really an embryo. Nature supports ESCR, but its editorial notes that the redefinition of the term "embryo" is being pursued for political purpose rather than scientific accuracy. From the editorial, "Playing the Name Game," Nature Vol 4367 July 2005 (No link, my emphasis):

Last month's meeting of the International Society for Stem Cell Research in San Francisco witnessed a bizarre semantic debate. Delegates discussed a proposal to refrain from using the term 'embryo' when referring to the blastocysts from which human embryonic stem cells are harvested. The scientists involved reject the accusation that they are creating and destroying human lives, and fear that the word 'embryo' is a lightning rod that attracts negative scrutiny.

It is true that embryo is an emotive term, but there is little scientific justification for redefining it. Whether taken from a fertility clinic or made through cloning, a blastocyst embryo has the potential to become a fully functional organism.
[Me: But it is a "fully functional human organism" for that stage of human life, but never mind that for now.] And appearing to deny that fact will not fool die-hard opponents of this research. If anything, it will simply open up scientists to the accusation that they are trying to distance themselves from difficult moral issues by changing the terms of the debate.
Indeed, that is precisely the game that is afoot. This sophistic effort is a corruption of science--ironically, in the name of boosting it--precisely because it seeks to avoid rational ethical analysis and critical thinking in order to win a political debate.

Alas, Nature is a minority voice within the Brave New World Complex. Too many proponents of ESCR prefer obfuscation to accuracy in discussing these important public issues.


Look Before We Leap: If We Are Not Careful, We Could All End Up WIth Rationed Health Care

The Oregon Department of Health is reporting that the recession will push more Oregonians than ever onto the Oregon Health Department's system of rationed care. From the press release:

The forecast laid out in stark detail how economic factors affect the work we do. Our analysts calculated that the global recession will continue to drive even more Oregonians to seek state benefits in the coming years...The number of Oregonians eligible for health care through the Oregon Health Plan is expected to increase 23 percent to a high of 565,500.
Adding insult to injury will be the tough rationing these aid recipients will face under the only explicit health care rationing regimen in the country.

Oregon lists a total of 680 "lines," the euphemism for medical conditions. Of these, only the first 503 are now covered. If you have a condition from 504 to 698, you are out of luck. (Here is the "Condition Index" with the prioritized list.) Among those conditions are HIV: That comes in at number 15--meaning HIV patients will never be rationed out (and I don't want AIDS patients refused treatment just like I don't want anyone else refused treatment). Why? The AIDS lobby is very powerful politically, and so people with the disease don't have to worry about being pushed into the 600s.

However, if you are traumatized causing adult "hysterical blindness," you won't be covered, since that condition comes in at number 511. Yet, "cancer phobia," in which minor symptoms are perceived by the patient as cancer, causing high anxiety, is covered at number 475.

Why not cover hysterical blindness but cover cancer phobia?

And of course, assisted suicide is covered under "comfort care" at number 71. But treatment for recurrent cancer unlikely to result in survival for five years is not covered. This led to the compassionate DHS refusing life-extending chemotherapy for Barbara Wagner and Randy Stroup, but offering to pay for their assisted suicides. Yes, assisted suicide is number 71 on the DHS rationed list. (Wagner received free chemo eventually from the drug company. She died last year. Stroup's denial was reversed on appeal after the big public stink. As far as I know, he remains with us--but might not have been but for the adverse publicity his going public aroused.)

If we continue toward universal health care, this is the very kind of rationing policy likely to be put in place for all of us. Such a plan would increase the pressures to legalize assisted suicide as a resource saving measure. And since President Obama seems to be pursuing a government controlled, but private system, it would permit HMOs to make such decisions--backed by a national board that would set the standards of care under the rationed system.

We had better look before we leap.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Is the Governor of Virginia "Anti Science" Too?

This escaped my notice until it was brought to my attention by a regular SHS reader. Last month, Tim Kaine the Governor of Virginia, signed into law a bill that prohibits the state from funding embryonic stem cell research. From the story:

Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has signed a bill into law banning the use of some state funds for embryonic stem cell research. The move puts the DNC chairman at odds with President Obama, who signed an executive order earlier this month reversing the Bush administration's ban on federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells. [Me: They just can't get it right, can they? Bush restricted federal funding, he did not ban it. But loyal SHSers know that.]...

The governor signed another piece of legislation Monday aimed at promoting "science and technology-based" research and development in Virginia. It contains language inserted by the General Assembly that would prevent a state fund from providing dollars to organizations or businesses that undertake "research in Virginia on human cells or tissue derived from induced abortions or from stem cells obtained from human embryos."

Kaine's support for the legislation is not surprising: He is a staunch Catholic who has long opposed using taxpayer money for embryonic stem cell research. But the platform of the Democratic Party, now headed by Kaine at Obama's behest, describes embryonic stem cell research as "research that could save lives."...

The bill signed Monday allows funding for non-embryonic types of research

Where's Madam House Speaker howling about how the Governor of Virginia is anti science, because it is:
"a situation where it's faith or science--take your pick. We're saying science is an answer to our prayers."
Oh, that's right: Kaine is a Democrat. I forgot: Only Republicans can be anti science.


Opposing the Political Game, "Spin the Lexicon:" Nature Once Understood the Accurate Meaning of the Word "Embryo"

The science journal Nature pushes the brave new world agendas of cloning and embryonic stem cell research with gusto and zealotry. That is why I find the below quote from a 1987 editorial that decried the use of the phony term "pre-embryo" so interesting. From the editorial, "IVF remains in legal limbo," Nature 387 (1987): 87 (no link, my emphasis):

Another [action of British government] might be to ban the use of the word 'pre-embryo', used by the voluntary authority as a synonym for a fertilized human ovum not yet implanted in a uterus. Put simply, this usage is a cop-out, a way of pretending that the public conflict about IVF and other innovations in human embryology can be made to go away by means of an appropriate nomenclature. The fact is that a fertilized human egg is as much deserving of being called an embryo as is a fertilized frog's egg.

The essence of the controversy over the new human embryology centres rests on the question when, in the course of development, an embryo commands the legal respect to which free-living people are entitled. The issue turns on the necessity of implantation for development, on analogies (necessarily less persuasive) with the randomness of what happens in real-life procreation and on arguments about the realtiy of the soul (which to many is a figment of the human imagination). Even those who share the British self styled voluntary authority's eagerness that IVF should be more widely and efficiently practiced, will acknowledge that, on the issue of nomenclature, the Vatican is philosophically the more consistent."

In other words, an embryo is a human life, a living human organism, and an honest ethical debate would acknowledge that fact and then analyze it from there.

Nature was right then, and that opinion remains correct today. Alas, more scientists and bioethicists then ever are playing the sophistic and political game, "Spin the Lexicon" to obtain the public policy outcomes they want. That tactic--and that is what it is, it isn't "science"--may win them the day. But in the long run, such crass politicization will harm science by reducing it in the public's eye to just another special interest. Indeed, I believe that devolution has already begun.


Saturday, April 18, 2009

British Scientists Tout Future Cure for Blindness with ESCs: What Would You Do If It Really Works?

The headline of this story from the Times of London--"Blind to be Cure with Stem Cells"--is really putting the cart before the horse--it hasn't even been tried yet, after all. But such hype is par for the course. From the story:

British scientists have developed the world's first stem cell therapy to cure the most common cause of blindness. Surgeons predict it will become a routine, one-hour procedure that will be generally available in six or seven years' time.

The treatment involves replacing a layer of degenerated cells with new ones created from embryonic stem cells...This week Pfizer, the world's largest pharmaceutical research company, will announce its financial backing to bring the therapy to patients. The treatment will tackle age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the most common cause of blindness.
We have seen such stories planted in media before. But I think this one is notable because private money is being put into the development of the treatment--venture capital has been, heretofore, notably scarce in ESCR. Thus, I think it is fair to say that when a very big drug company puts money into a potential therapy, there is at least a decent chance it will work.

And that brings up an important question for those who oppose ESCR. What if it works and bending our ethical views could lead to our seeing again, but staying true to our beliefs would mean continuing vision impairment? Being forced to choose between better health and proper ethics is a foreseeable consequence of opposing ESCR, fetal farming, therapeutic cloning, and the like.

Some people have already grappled seriously with this question. Mark Pickup is an extremely close friend. He suffers--literally--from advanced and progressing MS, and so this issue is not merely an interesting intellectual exercise to him. Mark has written very clearly that he would refuse to receive ESC therapy, even if it meant foregoing a total cure, because to do otherwise would violate his Catholic faith and implicate him in the termination of a human life. From his column:
Here's the problem for someone like me: I do operate with moral constraints and conscience. My Christianity demands it. I cannot participate in, or take advantage of, therapies developed using embryonic stem cells. It is unacceptable for my life to get better at the expense of another.

Non-embryonic stem cell sources are fine. If, however, the therapy involves the killing of another human being in the form of an embryo then I must forego treatment, accept life in a wheelchair, and whatever lies in store for me with an aggressive, degenerative disease...

Is the allure of an embryonic stem cell therapy tempting? Absolutely! But I must resist and, with God's help, I will resist. It is better to lose the use of my body than to lose my humanity.
I strongly believe that using human life--even at the most nascent stages--as a mere natural resource is profoundly wrong, not only because of what it does but what it will lead to once society accepts using living human beings as mere instrumentalities. I hope if I am ever faced with this dilemma that I would have Mark's courage and ethical integrity to refuse to be complicit in such wrongdoing--but one never knows until the crisis comes.

This is why it is far easier to simply go along with the utilitarian flow. People who do never find themselves in such a pickle.

No one said that living an ethical life was easy. But as these issues play out, now is the time to think very deeply about the many "what ifs" that may confront us in the years to come: Because pondering these matters well before the time of testing offers the best chance to develop the courage and fortitude to make the right choice.


Pelosi Demagoguery and Political Hype About Embryonic Stem Cell Research

Either Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi doesn't know what is actually happening in biotechnology or she doesn't care. Actually, I think it is both. The other day, she went into utter hype mode about ESCR that was reminiscent of the bad old days when the only agenda of the Democrats and the media was, "Get Bush!" (Come to think of it, it still is.) From the story:

We've had a situation where it's faith or science - take your pick. We're saying science is an answer to our prayers," the San Francisco Democrat said
We've been through this faith nonsense repeatedly here at SHS, so I won't regurgitate it all again, except to note that it is very dangerous to demean rational and important ethical concerns as nothing but "faith," which is a personal and private matter, and thereby assert that ethics must be sacrificed on the altar of naked science. Science without ethics leads to very dark places, exploitation, and oppression.

Moreover, her diatribe ignores the facts. The previous administration poured huge amounts of resources into all kinds of stem cell and other biotechnology research, nearly $200 million for human ESCR, probably a billion or so for animal ESCR, probably a couple of billion for adult stem cell research, and much more for other forms of biotechnology. Money for research increased during the Bush years, but facts often elude Pelosi.

And then came the hype: ESCR is the same thing as universal and affordable health care for all:
"The justification, I think, is clear, in terms of the progress that has been made. The need is urgent, in terms of what it translates to in the family life of all Americans," she said. "And at a time when we are going forward with affordable, accessible, quality health care for all Americans, the investment in basic biomedical research is really essential--a fundamental principle of that universal access to quality health care.

"It will take us to a place where we will have personalized, customized care... it will address disparities in health care that exist. And we need science, science, science, science, science in order to do that. So I'm standing my ground."
Most of the real advances have been in adult and alternative methods--and Obama scrapped the requirement to fund alternatives. The issue has nothing to do with "accessible health care for all." In fact, if these technologies ultimately involve human cloning, they look to be very expensive. And if we are going to have "affordable, custom made treatments, they are going to be with IPSCs or some other alternative method.

It is really bad when the third most powerful leader of the United States is both demagogic and clueless at the same time. For Pelosi it isn't really, science, science, science, science, science, science, but politics, politics, politics, politics, politics.


Friday, April 17, 2009

Telling Paramedics Not to Resuscitate Dying Patients in the UK: Okay with SHS

The UK is permitting terminally ill patients to be listed on a register so that they are not resuscitated by paramedics in the event of a medical emergency. From the story:

Health Service paramedics have been told not to resuscitate terminally-ill patients who register on a controversial new database to say they want to die.

It has been set up by the ambulance service in London for hundreds of people who have only a few months to live so that they may register their 'death wishes' in advance. It is believed to be the first in the country, but other trusts around the country are expected to follow suit to comply with Government guidelines which state that patients' wishes should be taken into account, even at the point of death.
Similar plans exist here in the USA, and I'm not opposed to them, assuming proper administration. The problem with the story is how it is framed. It isn't a "death wish," it is refusing unwanted medical treatment as part of an end of life plan of care.

When I was a hospice volunteer, I was explicitly trained to deal with such a situation (which never happened on my watch). If a patient went into a cardiac or other life-threatening event, I was explicitly told not to call 911, but rather, to phone the hospice nurse immediately so she could get there ASAP to ensure proper symptom management. In fact, we always had the hospice number with us just in case of such an event.

But sometimes people panic in the face of sudden medical events and call an ambulance when they shouldn't. Refusing a paramedic CPR when the decision was taken in advance to sign a hospice or other DNR makes sense. But the actual DNR or a listing in a data bank also should be required. Otherwise, when an ambulance is called, the patient should be saved.

A pro lifer in the story worries that the the principle could be extended to the suicidal or people who are not terminally ill. That's a different kettle of fish. But in this instance, setting up a data base to ensure that registered dying patients do not receive unwanted CPR is consistent with the hospice philosophy and proper end-of-life medical care.

Also, I'm not sure where the head line came from about letting "accident victims die." I wonder if the headline writer actually read the story.


Pretense About Limited Nature of Proposed NIH ESCR Funding Guildelines

The NIH has released its proposed rules regarding funding for ESCR in the wake of the Obama revocation of the Bush funding restrictions. The media pretends that they contain firm ethical limits. From the story:

The guidelines restrict funding of work on cells made using certain more experimental methods, such as creating stem cells from a human egg only, a process called parthenogenesis, and a cloning technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer.

They also would prohibit funding of work on embryos created specifically for research purposes, with the aim of keeping the money going to work using cells taken from embryos that parents donated after they decided not to try to use fertility clinic embryos to create a pregnancy.

They also lay out guidance to make sure parents know and agree to how the embryos would be used, and limit the use of federal tax money to create certain human-animal hybrids.

The guidelines apply only to research using federal funds and would not affect what scientists do using private funds or even state funds.
That last comment also applied to the Bush policy, and I don't recall it being reported so prominently. And the headline, "U.S. Stem Cell Rules Limit Funding to IVF Clinics," makes no sense since the clinics wouldn't get the money, but rather, the scientists who made stem cell lines from embryos obtained from clinics, but never mind. The point is that the NIH had no choice but to prohibit funding for the creation of embryos for research--whether by cloning or IVF methods--since that would violate existing federal law (the Dickey Amendment).

But as I have reported at SHS previously, the political campaign has begun to destroy the Dickey Amendment. Should that happen, it would be legal for the Feds to fund human cloning, the making of embryos for research, and just about anything "the scientists" wanted to do in this regard. Once that happened, the NIH would likely revise these guidelines to permit funding for those activities.

President Obama has already signed Dickey into law for this year. But expect the struggle over Dickey t0 erupt within the next few years during the annual budgetary process. And if a bill passes sans the Amendment, there is no question in my mind that Obama would sign it. He just wants the Congress to do the dirty work.


Family Caregiver Alliance Subtly Insinuates Assisted Suicide into the Care Giving Mix

This is subtle, but I think, very alarming. The Family Caregiver Alliance touts itself as a resource for people providing care for family members and others. From its "End of Life Choices" published on the FGA Web site:

Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA) seeks to improve the quality of life for caregivers through education, services, research and advocacy... FCA provides direct family support services for caregivers of those with Alzheimer's disease, stroke, head injury, Parkinson's and other debilitating disorders that strike adults.
Sounds good, and I am sure it is. But then it gets scary: One of the "resources," indeed the first listed after the group itself (due to alphabetization), is the assisted suicide advocacy group Compassion and Choices.

In light of that listing, following statement about care giving for people who are dying takes on a decidedly darker tone:
As death nears, most people feel a lessening of their desire to live longer. This is not a matter of depression. Instead, they sense it is time to let go, perhaps as in other times in life when one senses it is time for a major change. Examples might be leaving home, getting married, divorcing or changing jobs. Some people describe a sense of profound tiredness, of a tiredness that no longer goes away with rest. Others, who may have overcome many adversities in their lives, reach a point where they feel they have struggled as much as they have been called upon to do and will struggle no more. Refusing to let go can prolong dying, but it cannot prevent it. Dying, thus prolonged, can become more a time of suffering than of living

Family members and friends who love the dying person may experience a similar change. At first, one refuses to admit the possibility of a loved one dying. Then one refuses to accept the death happening. Lastly, one may see that dying is the better of two bad choices, and be ready to give the loved one permission to die. As mentioned, the dying are distressed at causing grief for those who love them, and, receiving permission to die can relieve their distress. There is a time for this to happen. Before that, it feels wrong to accept a loss, but after that it can be an act of great kindness to say, "You may go when you feel it is time. I will be okay."
They don't come right out and say it--and hospice organizations are also listed as resources--but the C and C endorsement, and the choice of words used, would seem to be at least a "between the lines" endorsement of assisted suicide as a means of "letting go"--both to benefit the cared for and the care giver.

The section on "Making the Decision," adds credence to my concern:
Is it time to let go? Or time to give a loved one permission to die? There are three ways to help decide. First, look at the medical situation. Has the illness really reached its final stages? When it has, the body is usually moving on its own toward dying, with strength declining, appetite poor, and often the mind becoming sleepier and more confused. Treatments are no longer working as well as before, and everyday activities are becoming more and more burdensome. In a sense, life is disappearing. Second, talk with people you trust. Discuss the situation with the family members and friends who seem to be able to see things as they are. You might also talk with people who are not personally involved. [Me: Meaning C and C?] Choose the people whose judgment you trust, not just those with an official role of giving advice. [Me: Meaning physicians, clergy, mental health professionals?] Most importantly, what does the dying person think? Third, listen to your heart. Try to see beyond your fears and wishes, to what love and caring are saying to you. What is really best for the one who is dying, and for the others around? Given that death is unavoidable, what is the kindest thing to do? It might be holding on. It might be letting go.
Because it endorses Compassion and Choices and links directly to the assisted suicide group, this text, which might otherwise seem to be reasonable, is not benign. When care giver advocates swallow the hemlock, vulnerable patients may be put at real risk.


Medical War Against the Elderly: British Medical Journal Reveals Undertreatment of Elderly Stroke Patients

The UK's medical war against the elderly (especially the frail) seems undeniable. First, there was age-based rationing at the NHS. Then, a nurse whistle blower lost her nursing license for publicly telling the truth about elder neglect at a hospital. Now, the British Medical Journal reveals that elderly stroke patients are often short-shrifted on what should be a routine medical treatment for stroke. From the press release (here's the abstract:

Older people are less likely to receive drug treatment after a stroke compared to younger people, despite the fact that treatment is equally effective, finds a study published on today. There is also some indication that women may be less likely to receive treatment than men, but patients' social and economic circumstances are not linked to differences in treatment, the findings show...

After a stroke, patients should receive a combination of drugs to help prevent another stroke. This is known as secondary drug prevention. The drugs used are blood pressure and cholesterol lowering drugs, and anti-clotting drugs. Previous studies have suggested that elderly people, socially disadvantaged people and women are less likely to receive medical interventions compared to younger, affluent people and to men. So researchers based in London decided to test this theory for stroke treatment...

Rates of secondary drug prevention were generally low--only 25.6% of men and 20.8% of women received treatment. This did not vary by socio-economic circumstances. However, older patients were substantially less likely to receive cholesterol lowering treatment (26.4% of patients aged 50-59 received treatment compared with 15.6% of patients aged 80-89 and just 4.2% of those aged 90 or more).
We're not even talking about rationing of high end technology here, but basic and inexpensive drugs.

Some of this seems to reflect inadequate education about the benefits of these medicines. But the "substantially" lower rate of treatment, apparently based on age, is very revealing. And while the recent posts I have done on this issue have been about stories in the UK, there is no way that the problem is restricted to the British Isle.

I think we need to look to cause as much as effect. This study and the story of the nurse illustrate the subversive impact of the bioethical "quality of life" ethic--that is fast supplanting the Hippocratic "equality of life" approach--on medicine. The bioethicists might respond by denying they support discrimination--they see themselves as liberals, after all (although they really are not)--only "rational" withholding of high tech and expensive care based on the bioethical principle of distributive justice. But this excuse ignores the impact of ideas and how they can impact actual practice in the trenches. As a logical species, we take accepted premises where they lead. In this situation, the idea that ill elderly patients have less value based on quality of life, causes people to perceive such people as different from other patients, resulting in divergent health care provision. So much for respecting our elders.

The only antidote to the poison we have swallowed is human exceptionalism--the understanding that each human being has equal value based simply and merely on being human.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

War Against Elderly Patients in the UK--Nurse Struck From Rolls for Exposing Abuse

A nurse in the UK reveals terrible abuse and neglect of elderly patients at a hospital in the UK. You'd think the powers that be would give her a medal. Nope. As I reported here yesterday, Margaret Haywood secretly filmed and proved how badly patients were being treated. Her reward? She's lost the right to be a nurse. From the story:

Nurse Margaret Haywood has been struck off the register with immediate effect after secretly filming for a BBC Panorama programme exposing neglect of elderly patients in a hospital.

Nurse Margaret Haywood secretly filmed the neglect of elderly patients Photo: PA Miss Haywood, 58, recorded appalling conditions at the Royal Sussex Hospital in Brighton for a BBC documentary screened in July 2005. She said: "I was convinced that it was the right thing to do at the time as, in fact, I had reported the issues and nothing had been done.
Yes, well the-powers-that-be don't like to be made to look bad--and so Nurse Haywood, you are a nurse no more! And with that, a very dangerous and insidious message has been sent to all medical personnel: You witness abuse and we decide to do nothing about it, you keep their mouths shut--or else!

And don't think neglect doesn't happen here in the USA. Backstage today, I heard an appalling story from an SHSer, of an elderly relative becoming dehydrated in a nursing home, and when it was discovered, of the Sisyphean effort it is taking just to get an IV put in ta vein to hydrate the relative and save the person's life!

Some days I want to pull out my hair.


Gene Complexity Makes Disease Prediction--and Transhumanism--Very Difficult

A new report shows that predicting for health outcomes and creating genetic fixes for common diseases is very difficult. From the story:

The era of personal genomic medicine may have to wait. The genetic analysis of common disease is turning out to be a lot more complex than expected.

Since the human genome was decoded in 2003, researchers have been developing a powerful method for comparing the genomes of patients and healthy people, with the hope of pinpointing the DNA changes responsible for common diseases. This method, called a genomewide association study, has proved technically successful despite many skeptics' initial doubts. But it has been disappointing in that the kind of genetic variation it detects has turned out to explain surprisingly little of the genetic links to most diseases...

One issue of debate among researchers is whether, despite the prospect of diminishing returns, to continue with the genomewide studies, which cost many millions of dollars apiece, or switch to a new approach like decoding the entire genomes of individual patients.The unexpected impasse also affects companies that offer personal genomic information and that had assumed they could inform customers of their genetic risk for common diseases, based on researchers’ discoveries...

Unlike the rare diseases caused by a change affecting only one gene, common diseases like cancer and diabetes are caused by a set of several genetic variations in each person. Since these common diseases generally strike later in life, after people have had children, the theory has been that natural selection is powerless to weed them out.

"Weed out:" Now, there's an interesting term to apply to human beings.

Alas, we see parents already "weeding out" embryos that test positive for adult onset diseases or disabilities, part of the emerging new eugenics. And to see the way the wind is blowing, embryos are being weeded out if genetic testing shows they will have the wrong hair color.And consider this: If it is very hard to figure out the genetic causes of common disease, it will be difficult squared about transhumanist yearned-for enhancement techniques, such as increasing intelligence, stature, or other desired transhumanist morphologists.

I am certainly not against research into genetic causes for diseases. What we do with this information, of course, will be the rub.


Two Blogs to Check Out About Biotechnology

I put much time and effort into reporting stories here at SHS about stem cell research, human cloning, and other matters of biotechnology. But because SHS covers broad areas of concern and interest--and to keep our ponderings varied and lively--of necessity I may miss important stories in this area that you might want to know about.

But David Prentice doesn't miss them. He has a highly informative blog exclusively devoted to stem cell research. David's blog is a clearing house of stories in this field, and is of great value--particularly to those interested in the astounding number of adult stem cell research successes that keep coming down the pike. Regardless of your ethical perspective on these matters, if you care about stem cell research you will want to check out David's daily posts. Here is the link.

Jennifer Lahl, head of the Center for Bioethics and Culture, also has a good blog on these matters called The Human Future. Jennifer's interests are somewhat broader, also including transhumanism, IVF, protecting women from the dangers of egg extraction, and etc. Her blog is here.

Both of these writers and thinkers provide good information and may include matters of interest to you that I am unable to cover here. Their opinions are their own of course, and if you disagree, take it out on them.

Check David and Jennifer out, but y'all come back now. Hear?


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

NHS Meltdown: Blow the Whistle on Neglect of Elderly Patients--and You Take the Fall

Our world is so upside-down. A nurse secretly filmed terrible neglect of elderly UK hospital patients--and she is sanctioned for misconduct! From the story:

An undercover nurse who carried out secret filming to reveal the neglect of elderly patients on a hospital ward was found guilty of misconduct. The Nursing and Midwifery Council ruled that Margaret Haywood, 58, had prioritised the filming of the BBC Panorama programme and not fulfilled her obligations as a nurse.

The Undercover Nurse programme, screened in July 2005, showed poor conditions at the Royal Sussex Hospital in Brighton. But chair of the panel, Linda Read, said that Ms Haywood "suspended her obligations ... to protect and support the health of individual patients" by making the film.
No she embarrassed the powers that be who permitted the neglect in the first place. That will teach anyone who wants to tell the people of the UK how bad things are getting in their hospitals!


I Was Right About Diabetes Story: No Big Headlines, Only Muted Coverage

Yesterday, I wrote about a diabetes human trial using adult stem cells in which some of the patients were able to go off insulin. I predicted at the time that it wouldn't make big time headlines--as would happen if the exact same achievement happened with human patients using embryonic stem cells: From my blog:

We know that if this were an embryonic stem cell success, the headlines would swamp reportage of the financial crisis. But this is the wrong kind of stem cell success, so I expect, at most, muted coverage.
That's precisely what it received, muted coverage. New York Times; crickets chirping. Ditto, the Washington Post. And ditto again, the L.A. Times. No Boston Globe. No San Francisco Chronicle. Some on-line coverage in health and science publications. CNN had a small story. Time did too, not big though. Just what I expected. Hey, it did make the Times of India!

You see, successful human treatments don't count as news if they are from adult stem cells. That doesn't fit the media narrative that ESCR is the future. That is why a prospective Geron ESC human trial that might or might not work, got more coverage than these stories of an actual major success did put together.

Pathetic, biased, non journalism. Just pathetic.


Adult Stem Cell Repair Successful in Horses to be Tried on People

People who have badly damaged tendons may soon find relief from their own adult stem cells. From the story:

A stem-cell repair technique that has already been used to fix hundreds of injured race horses is to be tested for the first time in people with damaged Achilles tendons.

Privately owned British biotech firm MedCell Bioscience Ltd said on Wednesday it would start clinical tests within 12 months and planned to run a larger confirmatory study at several European hospitals in 2011.

Patients will receive injections containing millions of their own stem cells, which have been extracted and multiplied up in a laboratory, and can regenerate new tissue to repair damaged regions. More than 1,500 race horses have been treated using the same process and follow-up data suggests a 50 percent reduction in re-injury over a three year period, compared with conventional treatment.
Mr. Ed is pleased. Oops. I'm aging myself, aren't I?


Stowers Institute Only Has Itself to Blame as MO House Restricts State Funding of Life Sciences

When the Stowers Institute Crowd financed and passed Amendment 2, it not only created a constitutional right to do human cloning research in Missouri, but as I pointed out during the campaign, it added a superfluous provision stating that if one kind of stem cell research received state support, other kinds could not be discriminated against. The purpose was--as we warned and the pro A. 2 debaters denied--to set the stage for state funding of Stowers and other efforts in the fields of ESCR and human cloning.

The ploy expected legislators to fund unethical research so that ethical research could also be funded. But that tactic has blown up in its face. The Missouri Legislature funds life sciences, but carefully restricts its scope so as to not put taxpayer money into areas that would also require cloning or ESC research to be funded. From HB 7, section 7.020, which just passed the MO House by a whopping 114-37 vote:

No later than December 31, 2009, the Life Sciences Research Board shall submit to the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Chairman of the House Budget Committee an annual report containing, at a minimum: a description of each grant awarded... These funds shall be used exclusively on projects in the fields of animal science, plant science, medical devices, biomaterials and composite research, diagnostics, nanotechnology related to drug development and delivery, clinical imaging, or information technology related to human health.
A court recently validated this approach against lawsuits claiming somehow that the state has to fund ESCR. Meanwhile, the Stowers Crowd continues to whine that it can't get researchers to move to MO to conduct unethical research because of these unfair restrictions. From the story:
"Expansion [of the Stowers Institute] probably now is more threatened by economic realities than it is by political realities. The economics of building a $300 million building are much different today."

"Political realities" translate to the parts of Missouri where much stem cell research is opposed. Although Stowers, founder of American Century Investments, heavily supported a successful 2006 referendum to amend the state constitution to protect certain forms of stem cell research
[Me: actually SCNT cloning research, but the Star is the most biased newspaper in the country when reporting on this issue], some Missouri lawmakers vowed to continue fighting against that research.

[William] Neaves said that had made it difficult to recruit top scientists, but now the institute is encouraging a pair of prominent stem cell researchers in Massachusetts--who had funding from the Stowers--to bring their labs to Kansas City. That funding is set to expire next year and will not be renewed. Both Kevin Eggan and Chad Cowan are considering whether to establish research programs at the Kansas City institute, Neaves said.
Stowers literally has billions, and it can fund whatever research it pleases. Its threats of funding restrictions to these researchers unless they move to Stowers, thus, must be seen as being about bully politics, not financial inability.

This is the power of non cooperation. Its message is clarion. Good for the legislators of MO for not buckling.


Lead Into Gold: Al Gore to Fund IPSCs

Al Gore is set to head a venture capital foray into the very promising field of induced pluripotent stem cell research. From the story:

Former vice president Al Gore is entering the stem cell arena with an announcement today of a $20 million biotech venture in the hot area of "induced pluripotent" stem cells. Induced cells are attracting interest from researchers and biotech firms as an alternative to embryonic stem cells. Induced cells are made by inserting four genes into ordinary skin cells, and they offer a new path for "regenerative" medical treatments.

"I just think it's a very important breakthrough that is filled with promise and hope," says Gore, a partner with the venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, which is backing the research. "I think this is one of those good news stories that comes along every once in a while."
Too bad President Obama doesn't see it the same way: He revoked President Bush's executive order that would have required that promising areas of "alternatives" (to ESC) research, such as IPSCs, receive federal funding.

I could make a lame joke about Gore adding to carbon emissions by the lights that will be left on by these researchers and the emissions they will cause when driving to work, but I'll let it pass. (Isn't that snarky? I made the joke but pretended I didn't. I hate that!) Gore sees a real chance to make money in this field and he is grabbing it.



SF Chronicle Columnist Gets It Right on Foie Gras

Think of the animal rights movement as predators that threaten an entire herd: All the animals are under threat but it is the weak, stragglers, or isolated that face the most concerted attack.

Thus, while all animal research facilities are under threat, Huntingdon Life Sciences is the most vilified and its contractors and service providers most subjected to ancillary targeting. Why HLS? It was weakened, when years ago, a British television program showed a puppy being abused at a HLS facility. (Those responsible were fired and prosecuted, and properly so. Management had a turn over, and despite repeated attempts to pin further charges of abuse on HLS, to my knowledge, all have proved unfounded.) But that video set HLS apart, and it has been subjected to an unremitting and sometimes violent campaign to drive it out of business ever since. Activists know that if they can destroy HLS, no animal using industry is safe.

Similarly, all food industries are hated by animal rights activists, but steak and KFC is too popular to drive out of business or get politicians to ban. But foie gras, a specialty food made from overfeeding ducks and geese before slaughter to fatten their livers, is not a big part of most people's diets and so pressure on liberal politicians can lead to legal bans, as will take effect in CA beginning a few years from now. In San Francisco, liberal Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi (who I know and like from having worked with him during the Nader 2000 Presidential Campaign) wants SF to "commend" restaurants that refuse to serve foie gras. Not that big a deal as these matters go, but San Francisco Chronicle editorial writer and columnist Caille Millner (who is a colleague of Secondhand Smokette and a family friend) hits the nail on the head about the illogic of the anti-foie gras craze. From her column:

It's an easy issue - say "the geese" (even though nearly all foie gras is made from duck now) "have a tube put down their throats so that they can be force-fed," and people shudder. Most people are prone to anthropomorphize, so they imagine how horrible it would be to have a tube shoved down their own throat (ducks do not have voice boxes or gag reflexes; they breathe through their tongues) and agree that it's a horrible process that must be stopped. San Francisco's leadership was the latest to hop on this bandwagon, passing a "commendation" for local restaurants that remove foie gras from their menus.

Never mind that there are only three foie gras producers in the United States, all small farms that are paragons of humane treatment compared to our country's countless factory farms. "We were the first farm to use a humane auditor," said Rick Bishop, animal welfare officer for Hudson Valley Foie Gras in Ferndale, N.Y. "If you're a good farmer, you'll do this in a way that doesn't cause any distress to the ducks. We've always fought misinformation by having an open-door policy at our farm. Anyone who wants to see what we're doing is welcome to visit and observe at any step of the process." All three foie gras farms in the United States use open pens for their ducks and have very low mortality rates.

That squares with my research for my upcoming book (out in the fall).

Animal rights activists are trying to destroy the foie gras industry, not because it is cruel or causes terrible suffering to the birds. They want to destroy it because in the view of the movement, "Meat is murder." Thus, the entire herd is under threat but foie gras is a straggler, and so it is being specially targeted in the hopes that it will set a precedent for the eventual ban on other meat products which activists want none of us to be able to consume.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Conscience Clause Court Victory in Illinois

A federal judge has issued a temporary restraining order against the Governor of Illinois, protecting two pharmacists from having to dispense "Plan B" contraceptive pills due to religious objections. From the story:

A central Illinois judge has ruled that the state can't force two pharmacists with religious objections to abortion to dispense emergency contraception. Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Belz issued a temporary restraining order Friday until he can hear arguments against the rule from druggists who object on religious grounds.

The pill reduces the chance of pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of sex. The pharmacists believe it's tantamount to abortion.

Belz is the same judge who sided with the state and dismissed the lawsuit filed in 2005 by Luke VanderBleek and Glenn Kosirog, who own five northern Illinois pharmacies between them...The Illinois Supreme Court ruled in December that the pharmacists' case must be heard. The court decided then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who issued a rule in 2005 ordering pharmacies to dispense the so-called "morning-after" pill, had made statements indicating there would be no exceptions. "You cannot enact a law that targets people because of their religious objection," Manion said Monday.

I hate it when the media report stories about these kinds of matters and state that so and so "believes" something. I don't know the answer to this question: But either Plan B works as an abortifacient or it doesn't. It isn't a matter of "belief."

In any event, this doesn't mean that the pharmacists have won the case. It merely means the rule can't be enforced for now. However, it does mean that the judge believes that the pharmacists could win their case, which is a clear change since his original ruling.

The issue of conscience clauses is just getting warmed up. It will be a huge bioethical issue for years to come.


Another Study Showing Adult Stem Cells Get Newly Diagnosed Diabetics Off of Insulin

Great news: We have previously had human trials in which patients were weaned off of insulin with adult stem cells. Now, another study with newly diagnosed diabetes patients has achieved a similar success: And, it is written up in the Journal of the American Medical Association. From the abstract:

During a 7- to 58-month follow-up (mean, 29.8 months; median, 30 months), 20 patients without previous ketoacidosis and not receiving corticosteroids during the preparative regimen became insulin free. Twelve patients maintained this status for a mean 31 months (range, 14-52 months) and 8 patients relapsed and resumed insulin use at low dose (0.1-0.3 IU/kg)...Two patients developed bilateral nosocomial pneumonia, 3 patients developed late endocrine dysfunction, and 9 patients developed oligospermia. There was no mortality.

Conclusion After a mean follow-up of 29.8 months following autologous nonmyeloablative HSCT in patients with newly diagnosed type 1 DM, C-peptide levels increased significantly and the majority of patients achieved insulin independence with good glycemic control.

We know that if this were an embryonic stem cell success, the headlines would swamp reportage of the financial crisis. But this is the wrong kind of stem cell success, so I expect, at most, muted coverage. I'll keep an eye on how the media deal with (or ignore) this important breakthrough and report back tomorrow.


Terminal Nonjudgmentalism is Epidemic: Time fetes the Death on Demand Fanatic Philip Nitschke

I shouldn't be surprised by anything the MSM does today in boosting social outlaws into cultural icons. For example, when Jack Kevorkian was at the top of his deadly game--even offering extracted kidneys from a disabled assisted suicide victim for transplant in a news conference--Time invited him as an honored guest to its gala 75th anniversary party where Tom Cruise ran up to shake his hand.

Now in "Foolproofing Suicide with Euthanasia Test Kits," Time gives the Down Under "Dr. Death," Philip Nitschke the star treatment. Nitschke has called for the right of troubled teens to get access to suicide pills. He advised an Australian woman named Nancy Crick on how to commit suicide--and in the public advocacy leading up to the deed, told the press she had terminal cancer. After she committed suicide in the presence of assisted suicide advocates--not Nitschke since he didn't want to risk legal consequences--those in attendance applauded when she took her poison. When Crick's autopsy showed that she was not terminal, Nitschke shrugged, said he knew it all along, and supported anybody's right to commit assisted suicide for any reason whatsoever. Nitschke also developed the so-called peaceful pill, a concoction of household goods that can make you dead. He holds how-to-commit suicide seminars all over the world.

That should rate him unequivocal condemnation. But Time swoons at his newest gambit: an assisted suicide test kit to make sure your poison makes you die. From the story:

Now, in an effort to provide certainty to those contemplating suicide, one of the world's leading euthanasia advocates plans to sell barbiturate testing kits to confirm that deadly drug cocktails are, in fact, deadly. "People who are seriously ill don't want to experiment," says Dr. Philip Nitschke, the physician known as 'Dr. Death' for his efforts to legalize euthanasia in his native Australia. "They want to know they have the right concentration of drugs so that if they take them in the suggested way it will provide them with a peaceful death."

The kits, which will debut in Britain in May and retail for $50, include a syringe that allows users to extract half a milliliter of barbiturate solution without breaking the sanitary seal. "Clearly sterility doesn't matter given that death is the desired outcome," Nitschke says. But the solution deteriorates slower in a sterile environment, allowing those with painful conditions to "lock it away in the back of the cupboard in case things gets too bad."
One point of the story is to say that if we legalized assisted suicide, Nitchke's valuable work wouldn't be necessary:
Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, believes that Nitschke has gone too far, but says his behavior is a function of a system that fails to address the needs of people living in pain. "The answer is not DIY kits or books, but a fully safeguarded law that protects the vulnerable and gives terminally ill adults the choice of an assisted death. Regrettably, without such a law, activism like this is likely to continue."
Baloney. Assisted suicide is illegal now and all manner of people are being offed at suicide clinics in Switzerland. We in the USA have traveling suicide clinics known as the Final Exit Network, whose fanatic members certainly don't limit their suicide "counseling" to the terminally ill. And if you legalized assisted suicide, say, for the terminally ill, the clinics would still "serve" the despairing disabled and the elderly tired of living. And once the law allowed this cohort to be served, there would still be the mentally ill--who already have a constitutional right in Switzerland to assisted suicide. And also, healthy spouses who want to go with their dying partner.

Oh, Wesley! Now you go too far. No I don't. It is already being planned

The head of a controversial assisted-suicide group in Switzerland says he will seek legal permission to help a Canadian woman and other healthy people like her kill themselves, raising startling new issues in the emotional debate over euthanasia. Betty Coumbias, an elderly Vancouver resident, has indicated she wants to die alongside her husband, George, who suffers from severe heart disease...

Mrs. Coumbias explains in the documentary, The Suicide Tourist, why she would take her own life despite being generally healthy. "From the day we got married, [my husband] was all my life," she tells Mr. Minelli. "I love my two daughters, but I love him more, and I don't think I can face life without him, and since we read about Dignitas, we felt what would be better than to die together, you know, to die in each other's arms?"

We are in a moral free fall into an abyss which has no bottom. And to borrow a famous quote from Chris Matthews about another matter, the MSM is getting a thrill up its collective leg.


Secondhand Smoke Named One of Top Fifty "Business Ethics Blogs"

This is a nice surprise. A professional site called Online MBA Guide has named SHS one among the "50 Best Business Ethics Blogs." We weigh in at #45. Thanks MBA Guide!


Monday, April 13, 2009

Stanley Fish Ain't for Conscience Clauses for Medical Professionals

As I often say, the culture of death brooks no dissent. Now, none other than the celebrated academic Stanley Fish--perhaps best known for promoting post modernism (although he says he is an anti foundationalist, and who cares anyway)--claims that doctors and nurses who don't wish to take human life should just get over it. From his NYT (of course) blog:

What's the big deal [if doctors refuse to perform some procedures], for after all, "If a procedure is legal, a patient will still have the ability to access that service from a medical professional or institution that does not assert a conflict of conscience" (HHS News Release, August 21, 2008).

But should patients be asked to add to the problems they already have the problem of having to figure out (if they have the time) which providers will be willing to treat them? When a professional hangs out his shingle doesn't he offer his services and skills to the public and not just to members of it who share his morality? Isn't it a matter of conscience (in Hobbes's sense) to abide by the rules that define the profession you've signed up for?
But taking life is definitely not what many doctors and nurses "signed up for." Indeed, forty years ago, they would have all been expected to refuse to abort, at least when the request was for an elective abortion, and certainly would have been expected never to euthanize. And it is only very recent trends that have put doctors and other medical professionals in the situation where they may be expected to take life rather than save it.

Medicine is changing, becoming almost as much an on-demand lifestyle choice enhancing technocracy as it is a healing and palliating profession. Some in the field may wish to deprofessionalize themselves by becoming on-demand deadly service providers; the customer is always right. But we should protect those still-professionals who choose to remain wedded to the orthodox Hippocratic view of what it means to be a doctor, or for that matter, nurse, pharmacist, etc.

I doubt Fish would object one iota if doctors refused to be complicit in executions. Nor would I. But surely, if doctors can refuse to have anything to do with the execution of murderers, even if it is merely to declare death, they they should be equally protected against legal medical procedures that kill.

But that's the thing about post modernism, or anti-foundationalism, or whatever: There is no such thing as concrete concepts of right and wrong or universal principles. It all just depends.


Animal Rights Extremists Post Pictures and Bios of "Informers, Infiltrators, Snitches and Agents" Online

This could be very dangerous to the health and safety of FBI agents and others: The radical North American Animal Liberation Press Office--run by Dr. Jerry Vlasak, who has yearned for the murder of animal researchers--has created a Web site containing photos of FBI Agents, animal rights activists who have cooperated with law enforcement, and others. Worse, there is a thinly veiled call for some of these people to be harmed, or even murdered. (I have decided not to link this.) At the top of the list of names, how the person allegedly harmed the animal liberation movement, and photos of the people, is this quote (my emphasis):

For the sake of clarity, let us be uncomfortably honest: to snitch is to take a life. By words and by weapons, each day lives are taken in the most egregious of crimes. When this happens in the courtroom, we call it "cooperation". I call it violence, and I call anything done to keep an informant out of the courtroom "self defense." -- Peter Young, animal liberation prisoner
Readers of SHS will recall that when some Santa Cruz animal rights radicals left wanted posters in coffee shops with the names and addresses of animal researchers, it resulted in one of the researcher's home being fire bombed and his children having to escape down a rope escape ladder from a smoke-filled house. Simultaneously, the car of another listed researcher was destroyed by a bomb.

This is volatile and very dangerous stuff. It is intended to intimidate. It is intended to impede law enforcement. It is intended to result in people getting hurt. I think it goes beyond free speech and could result in someone being made dead. That would be a Rubicon, no turning back.


Environmental Radicals Arrested in UK: Charged with Plot Against Power Plant

Radical environmentalism is growing, I fear, and its activists are increasingly willing to act against the interests and needs of human beings. In the UK, more than 100 people were arrested, charged with plotting to sabotage a power plant, which could have left tens of thousands of people without power. From the story:

Officers swooped on environmental protesters as they prepared a mass raid that could have disrupted supplies to tens of thousands of homes. The demonstrators are thought to have gathered at night in readiness to move on Ratcliffe-on-Soar power-station, Nottinghamshire. Detectives later revealed they recovered specialist equipment that suggested the group represented a "serious threat" to the station's safety...

Supt [Mike] Manley said: "In view of specialist equipment recovered by police, those arrested posed a serious threat to the safe running of the site.
Radical environmentalism is becoming a serious problem on many fronts. Some of these people won't be happy until we revert to being hunter-gatherers. Check that: until we revert to being mere gatherers.


And Yet Another Assisted Suicide Story Without Presenting One Opposing View

This is standard operating procedure in the MSM these days, but it is always worth pointing out: The media are so wildly biased on some issues, they report about them as if there were only one side to the debate. Assisted suicide is fast becoming one of those monochrome issues from which opposing views are airbrushed out of the big picture as surely as Trotsky was erased from old photos of the Bolshevik Revolution by Stalin.

In Washington, where many doctors and hospitals are refusing to cooperate with the killing agenda--as is their right under the law--pro assisted suicide campaigners are ramping up the pressure to coerce complicity. The Seattle Times, byline Laura Kate Zaichkind dancing a jig to the tune fiddled by Compassion and Choices (formerly Hemlock Society), has written a second story about pressure being placed on doctors to write lethal prescriptions. True to form, no contrary opinions are included. From the story:

The organization [C and C] distributed a letter signed by six physicians Friday to all doctors in the state who have practices treating patients who might be terminal or deal with end-of-life decisions and care. The letter urges them to support patients who decide to use Death With Dignity...

Compassion and Choices urges physicians statewide who are willing to participate in the act to contact the organization so patients struggling to access the service can be referred. The nonprofit also is encouraging the state medical association and county medical societies to use Compassion and Choices to help provide education about the act. "There's clearly much work to be done," said Dr. Tom Preston, Compassion and Choices' medical director.
And what about letting readers know the reasons why doctors might want to say no? Perhaps an interview with a non cooperating physician or views from an assisted suicide opponent? Not on your life: Just like Zaichkind's story last week reporting on one man's inability to receive assisted suicide presented only one side of the issue, she apparently can't comprehend that there might actually be reasons for the non cooperation campaign.

It used to be that reporters knew that there were two (or more) sides to controversial stories. Apparently they don't teach that in journalism school anymore.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Great Stem Cell Debate: Lines That Divide Released by the Center for Bioethics and Culture

The CBC has produced and now released The Great Stem Cell Debate: Lines That Divide, a documentary that will soon be aired on television and perhaps in theaters. Jennifer Lahl, the CBC's head, has worked her finger to the bones getting this film done and distributed. (Yes, I am in it.) I have seen a rough cut. It is informative, engaging, and provocative.

Anyway, more about when the film can be seen when I have more information. But hit this link for a preview (for Facebook members only). And this link for a shorter preview (featuring moi), and if you are so inclined, the link to purchase a DVD.


Another Example of How Science is Being Corrupted by Politics and Desire for Funds

George Bush was often accused of politicizing science. But the real truth is that science has been corrupted from within by too often slouching into blatant ideological advocacy or money-driven agendas.

And here's an unintended admission of that very point. The New York Times Magazine ran a story a few weeks ago on a global warming skeptic named Freemon Dyson called "The Civil Heretic." The current edition's letters to the editor are all opposed to Dyson's view--a standard approach for the NYT that I believe uses its letters-to-the-editor pages as another way of editorializing (in addition to editorials, imbalanced op/ed pages, and news stories). But one letter stood out in its clear admission that the "science" of global warming is not science as much as politics. From the letter by Monika Kopacz, a Ph.D. candidate in applied mathematics and atmospheric sciences, Harvard University:

It is no secret that a lot of climate-change research is subject to opinion, that climate models sometimes disagree even on the signs of the future changes (e.g. drier vs. wetter future climate). The problem is, only sensational exaggeration makes the kind of story that will get politicians'-- and readers'-- attention. So, yes, climate scientists might exaggerate, but in today's world, this is the only way to assure any political action and thus more federal financing to reduce the scientific uncertainty.
Whoa: Now there's an admission worth noting! Clearly, we should put little stock into what these "scientists" tell us about the global warming because they are not providing objective facts from which we can glean proper policy options. Rather, they are intentionally and sensationally exaggerating their findings to win political points, promote their favored policy outcomes, and get more money for research.

I doubt she meant it this way, but Kopacz's letter is as pure and succinct an indictment of the ongoing corruption of science as I have yet seen.


Why the Courts Have Become a Leading Edge in the Coup de Culture

This interview by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is frightening in its candor about how she apparently perceives her job as one of establishing "right" policy--which, in her case are of the Left Intellectual Elite--as opposed to interpreting and applying law as it was created by the political branches of government, that is to say, by the people. In an interview with the New York Times, she explains why she believes the rulings of foreign judges should be considered in interpreting US constitutional and statutory law: From her interview:

Justice Ginsburg said the controversy was based on the misunderstanding that citing a foreign precedent means the court considers itself bound by foreign law as opposed to merely being influenced by such power as its reasoning holds. "Why shouldn't we look to the wisdom of a judge from abroad with at least as much ease as we would read a law review article written by a professor?" she asked.

She added that the failure to engage foreign decisions had resulted in diminished influence for the United States Supreme Court. The Canadian Supreme Court, she said, is "probably cited more widely abroad than the U.S. Supreme Court." There is one reason for that, she said: "You will not be listened to if you don’t listen to others."
We are supposed to care whether Canadian rulings--which hew sharply to the left--are cited by foreign judges more than those of the US Supreme Court? We are supposed to care if another country's courts interprets its laws and constitution the way we do ours? Our judges are supposed to be diplomats to make other countries feel we respect their views?

Baloney. This is an excuse for a power grab. And in Ginsberg's attitudes, you see clearly why many judges "move," or "mature," or "grow"--pick the word--from "left" to "right:" Left is where the power is. Left allows judges to remake society according to their own personal views.

Let's not kid a kidder: The foreign cases that the former head of the ACLU Ginsberg cites will only be the ones with which she agrees--generally from Western Europe or Canada, that reflect her leftist views on social, economic, and environmental issues. And in crafting cases she hopes will be popular with our betters abroad, she will cater to these same leftist perspectives. You sure won't see her citing Islamic court rulings on the rights of women! So it isn't being foreign that is important, it is finding a hook upon which you can hang your legal hat to justify your ideological ruling.

And make no mistake: the judges who hold Ginsberg's views happily conflate their political desires with the mandates of the constitution, meaning that we are in witnessing a bloodless revolution led by judges that is intent on overthrowing the traditional standards of Judeo-Christian/humanistic moral philosophy of our (the US's) founding, which I believe remain the majority belief of the people. But "the judges" think that such views are for rubes. They are intent on refashioning society based on a utilitarian/hedonistic/radical environmentalist ideology to which they subscribe.

And that is why we see so many cases decided today that create constitutional rights that nobody ever knew existed--in order to force the country to adopt policies that the few think should apply to the many. And in that is a profound loss of freedom.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

NHS Meltdown: Spending Doubles for Bureaucracy

It would be one thing if the NHS bureaucrats were delivering improved care. But for years now, under the general heading "NHS Meltdown," I have chronicled failure after sometimes deadly failure of the socialized medical service to the people of the UK. But that hasn't stopped spending for centralized controllers from shooting through the stratosphere. From the story:

Government spending on central bureaucracy in the health service has more than doubled in five years, research has found.

Opposition politicians said the figures demonstrated that the NHS had become a "bureaucratic black hole" under Labour, with money diverted away from the front line to pay an increasing army of administrators.
And get this!
The report found that while staff numbers rose by 18 per cent in five years, the amount spent on them rose by 48 per cent. The rise in the number of administrators outstripped the rise in numbers of doctors and nurses.
Ai, yi, yi: If half of this is true--and the NHS disputes--centralized control is clearly not the way to go. And certainly, we don't want utilitarian bioethicists calling the shots as to who gets care and what procedures are or are not covered--as happens in the UK with the Orwellian named National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). Alas, there are reports that the foundations for just such a committee have already been laid here in the USA--and they would apply to both public and private health care. The expected denials have also been filed.

I am told by sources closely connected to Big Time Washington DC to expect a law requiring universal coverage to pass this year. The red lights are blinking like mad and the sirens are blaring about what kind of system we should work hard to avoid. Then there are the intractable issues of whether to include abortion in basic coverage, illegal aliens, mental health, etc. And make no mistake: Futile Care Theory will be part of this mess.

If mandatory universal coverage gets pushed this year, and it is unlikely to be next year because of the elections, it is going to be an A # 1 political conflagration.


Obama Hypocrisy on Global Warming: Do as I Say, Not as I Do

Our latest episode of hypocrisy by those who are the most high strung over the predicted collapse of civilization due to "climate change," (i.e., Al Gore taking limos and private jets), is our intrepid President Obama. He who is so concerned about carbon footprints and promoting "slow food" (locally produced) actually had a chef fly about 850 miles round trip just to make pizza. From the story:

Barack Obama liked a restaurant's pizzas so much he has flown the chef 850 miles round trip to make some at the White House. The US President got a taste for Chris Sommers' pizza while campaigning in St Louis, Missouri, last year. After Mr Obama's election win, Chris offered to deliver frozen pizzas to the White House but was told he couldn't because of security concerns.

So he took 20lb of dough and three gallons of sauce to Washington. Chris was due to cook lunch at the White House yesterday, reported He said: "It’s surreal. It's a huge honour."
An honor it was, indeed. But if President Obama really believed that taking unnecessary airline flights is a cause of global warming, he should have been consistent with his ideology and waited until business took him to St. Louis before getting that catered pizza. When in DC, he should use the local talent. There's supposedly a planet to save, don't you know.

Yes, this is a small matter. But with these guys it always seems to be, "Do as we say, not as we do."


Friday, April 10, 2009

The No Longer Shocking Assisted Suicide Scene from Soylent Green

I was shocked by this assisted suicide scene when Soylent Green first came out-in the early 1970s--and believe me, I was not alone. As the audience left the theater, we assured ourselves, "It can't happen here."

How wrong we were. No one dreamed that less than 40 years later assisted suicide clinics exactly tike the one depicted in the movie--absent the beautiful videos--would legally operate in Switzerland, and would service hundreds of people from around the world. Had you told us that a ghoul named Jack Kevorkian, who dreamed of conducting human vivisection, would assist the suicides of some 130 (mostly disabled) people to general societal applause, we would have thought you mad.

We had no idea that as the movie was playing around the world, a Dutch judge would quasi legalize euthanasia, resulting in the Netherlands careening off a moral cliff to the point that physicians would proudly write treateses in learned medical journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine, about how they lethally inject seriuosly ill and disabled babies. Nor would we have believed that in Oregon, doctors would prescribe lethal prescriptions for patients they had never met--much less treated--before being consulted by a patient wanting to be made dead.

Back to SG: Sol, the E.G. Robinson character, kills himself because he can no longer live in the dystopian future depicted in the movie--which includes government tyranny, a priviledged life for the elite while the rest live in chaos (also a theme in Blade Runner), rampant financial corruption, and such over crowding that all the wild places are gone. Sol has solved the mystery of Soylent Green and asks his cop pal Thorn, played by Charlton Heston, to "prove" that he is right.

This clip skips the scenes after the assisted suicide, in which Thorn follows Sol's body to a processing plant, and cuts to the climax in which Charlton Heston screams what became an iconic line in movie history.

I have brought this scene up in discussing euthanasia/assisted suicide more than once here at SHS, and it occurred to me that some of you might not have seen it. For your consideration...

HR 1822: Proposal to Ban Sex and Race Selection Abortions

China's one child policy has led to a terrible problem with sex selection abortion, leading to tens of millions fewere females than males, causing a crisis in gender distribution that threatens to undermine China's stability. From the story:

Selective sex abortion causes 32 million excess males in China April 10th, 2009 Selective abortion in favour of males has left China with 32 million more boys than girls, creating an imbalance that will endure for decades, an investigation released on Friday warned. The probe provides ammunition for those experts who predict China's obsession with a male heir will sow a bitter fruit as men facing a life of bachelorhood fight for a bride.
It seems to me that such sex selection is ipso facto bigoted and sexist, and should be prevented. They not only do discrimination-based abortions fly in the face of human exceptionalism, but further the drive to establish a new eugenics.

A House bill, H-the Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass Prenatal Nondiscrimination Act of 2009 (don't ya just love the way legislation is named?) would prevent sex and racially-based abortion. From the bill:
Sec. 249. Discrimination against the unborn on the basis of race or sex

(a) In General- Whoever knowingly-- (1) performs an abortion knowing that such abortion is sought based on the sex, gender, color or race of the child, or the race of a parent of that child; (2) uses force or the threat of force to intentionally injure or intimidate any person for the purpose of coercing a sex-selection or race-selection abortion; or (3) solicits or accepts funds for the purpose of financing a sex-selection abortion or a race-selection abortion; or attempts to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.
Civil penalties would also apply as well as injunctive relief.

I think this is a good thing because the message of passing such a law--even in the face of difficulty in enforcement--would promote universal human equality. But the bill should be expanded to include discrimination against sexual orientation--in case a test is ever developed to determined whether a fetus will have a predisposition to being gay--as well as disability. Such a law would pull us back from the eugenic notion that not only do we have a right to have a baby, but to have only the baby we want.

But I know this is spitting in the wind, at least with the current Congress and with President Obama wanting zero federal and state regulations over abortions. Alas, even the most blatant and lethal discriminatory attitudes are countenanced by our cultural elites if they are imposed against fetuses.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma may soon pass a sex selective abortion ban of its own. If it does, expect the lawsuits to fly.


The Push To Force Doctors to Lethally Prescribe in Washington Continues

Dollars to donuts that Compassion and Choices brought this story to the reporter: Apparently a pancreatic cancer patient wanted assisted suicide and couldn't find a doctor to do the deed. (Note how the story reporter, Laura Kate Zaichkin, blatantly employs the usual pro-assisted suicide perspectives and buzz words, and somehow she forgot to include comments from any opponent of assisted suicide or a hospice professional to get a three-dimensional perspective on the situation.) From the story:

Stephen Wallace died at home Tuesday morning--but not on his terms.

The 76-year-old Benton City man, who was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer a month before his death, died in pain as the cancer spread to his kidneys, liver and lungs, making him unable to speak, stand or eat.

It's exactly how he didn't want to die. Wallace's last wish was to be prescribed life-ending medication by a local doctor. He wanted to be able to take the medication himself and die surrounded by family in the home he built three decades ago. "My dad made up his mind a long time ago," said Steve Wallace of West Richland, Stephen Wallace's son. "There was no question. He knew what cancer could do to a person."
Interestingly, when Dame Cecily Saunders, the founder of hospice was asked how she wanted to die, she said, "Cancer." When asked why, she said that it would give her time to say goodbye and she knew that her symptoms would be controlled. And indeed, she did and they were.

The primary point of the story is to "shame" area doctors and hospitals to participate in assisted suicide. But there appears a secondary purpose as well--beginning to soften the ground to loosening the "guidelines." (This same approach was taken early in the Oregon experience with a story brought to the Oregonian about how hard it was to get cancer and Alzheimer's patient Kate Cheney, dead. But that story blew up in the assisted suicide movement's face) But I digress:

"There was nothing. It was roadblocks." Steve Wallace said. "Dying with dignity looks good on paper. But when you take it off the blackboard and try to apply it, it has no merit."

Though a few doctors on the west side of the state are willing to participate in physician-assisted death, there seems to be no one in the Mid-Columbia, said Dr. Tom Preston, Compassion and Choices' medical director. He said...doctors tend to want to avoid the paperwork requirements and instead keep end-of-life care between patient and physician, he said...

Nicole Austin, executive director of the Benton Franklin County Medical Society, a professional organization for doctors, said ..."The way (the law is) written, it might defer physicians from participating." Austin said some items in the law, such as being required to list the patient's underlying condition as the cause of death instead of participation in Death With Dignity, rub some physicians the wrong way.

Yes, the law requires doctors to lie about assisted suicides on death certificates. That way, no one can ever really know what's going on.

Finally and predictably, the story becomes an advertisement for Compassion and Choices:

So what's left to do for those who want to access the Death With Dignity Act. (State Hospital Association spokeswoman Cassie] Sauer said, "Compassion and Choices is the place that's really going to help people." But the organization is limited because it relies mainly on word of mouth to point patients to physicians who might help, Preston said.

Compassion and Choices encourages those who might want to use the act to start investigating sooner rather than later. The group provides a form letter on its website ( for patients to give their doctor to start the conversation about end-of-life wishes.
Why doesn't C and C just put reporter Zaichkinon the payroll and be done with it? It would be more honest that way.


Thursday, April 09, 2009

Is Child Organ Potential Donor Not Really Dying? Not Dead Yet Raises Important Questions

I recently reported on the case of a baby in Canada, described in the media as dying, whose parents wanted her to be an organ donor. The non heart beating donor protocol was attempted, but the baby didn't die, and so she was taken off the donor pool as is proper ethics in organ transplant medicine. The parents are upset by this and want their baby's organs to go to a particular child in the hospital. The post was about how this isn't right and that the entire system of organ transplant medicine depends on ethics, proper triage, and altruism to be successful.

But now the disability rights community is raising a red flag alarm. Not Dead Yet's blog has an extensive post that the child may not be terminally ill, but disabled, and that the apnea may go away as time progresses. This raises very important questions. From the NDY blog:

From where I sit, the hospital other professionals commenting on the story have a lot of explaining to do. Here's my starting list of questions I want answered:

--How does this child's disabilities differ from the majority of non-terminal children with the same condition?
--Was the possibility of treating the apnea ever seriously considered?
--Given the possibility of improvement of apnea over time, why is ventilator assistance being withdrawn?
--Is this child really "dying" or is this a "quality of life" decision? Shouldn't we try to be clear about which type of situation we're talking about?
These are good questions, not accusations. Some might say, "What business is it of yours?" The proper care of infants and their protection is everybody's business, that is to say, it is a societal obligation. I hope that we learn more about this situation in the days to come.

Good for Not Dead Yet for all it does to ensure equality for all people with disabilities.


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Nickolas Kristof Illustrates Media Ignorance About Animal Rights

Nicholas Kristof is a famous New York Times columnist who has now weighed in on animal rights. Except he hasn't. Animal rights is not the same thing as animal welfare, e.g. improving the humane treatment of animals, a good and noble cause. Rather, it is an ideology that equates human and animal moral worth and further, holds that human beings have no right to own animals, use animals, or eat animals. Indeed, the true animal rights advocate doesn't believe there should be any domesticated animals at all.

Besides using terms too loosely--which adds to the power of animal rights ideologues because they get conflated in the public's mind with being nicer to animals--who does Kristof turn to for an education about animal rights? Why of course: Peter Singer. But Singer doesn't really believe in animal rights. He is a utilitarian who believes that the outcome which best serves the interests of the individual or group with the highest "quality of life" is the proper course. Which is why he believes that infants can be murdered by parents--because he asserts they are not persons and hence if the baby interferes with the interests or happiness of the parents, or even hypothetical as yet unborn siblings, they can be done in.

Despite this advocacy for the worst kind of immorality, Singer is constantly turned to by clueless people like Kristof to tell them what is ethical. That always blows my mind.

But Singer is also a slippery character, in that he often masks the hardness of his true beliefs in the popular media. As in this exchange. From Kristof's column:
I asked Mr. Singer how he would weigh human lives against animal lives, and he said that he wouldn't favor executing a human to save any number of animals. But he added that he would be troubled by the idea of keeping one human alive by torturing 10,000 hogs to death.
See? He doesn't answer the question about weighing human and animal lives--and comes up with the stupid hog torture hypothetical as a way of deflecting Kristof from the fact that he doesn't think that it is relevant whether one is a human being or an animal in determining moral worth. Besides, what does it mean to say he would be "troubled?" Typical bioethicseze. Slippery.

Here's the point about believing in human exceptionalism: You don't need to be slippery. You can just say what you mean and let the hate mail come pouring in. For example, Peter Singer's life is worth more than that of any animal, and would be even if he developed serious problems with his frontal lobe, and, from his perspective, was thereby rendered a lower "quality of life" form than a pig.


Artificial Volcanoes to Combat Global Warming: Is This What Happens When an Administration "Puts Science First?"

I cannot believe that a science advisor to the POTUS (President of the United States) would seriously suggest that we study creating an artificial volcano that shoots pollution high into the atmosphere in order to combat global warming. But apparently he has. From the story:

The president's new science adviser said Wednesday that global warming is so dire, the Obama administration is discussing radical technologies to cool Earth's air. John Holdren told the Associated Press in his first interview since being confirmed last month that the idea of geoengineering the climate is being discussed. One such extreme option includes shooting pollution particles into the upper atmosphere to reflect the sun's rays. Holdren said such an experimental measure would only be used as a last resort. "It's got to be looked at," he said. "We don't have the luxury of taking any approach off the table."
This is what happens when ideological hysteria swamps critical thinking. Perhaps I am ignorant, but wouldn't it take a tremendous amount of pollution to be shot into the upper atmosphere to materially impact the amount of sunlight reaching the earth? And how many artificial volcanoes would have to be set up--and at what cost? Hey, I know: Let's also set up huge fans all around the world to blow the air around and let that cool the planet!

Good thing the scientists are back in control of public policy.


Competing Medical Futility Bills Introduced in Texas--One to Stop It, One to Defend it

The current Texas Futile Care law is a disgrace, permitting star chamber ethics committees to force patients off of wanted life sustaining treatment, with family given a mere 10 days to find another hospital. This often proves impossible because these are expensive patients for which to care.

The last effort to revoke the law, which appeared to have a good chance of passage, was surprisingly blocked when the Catholic bishops of Texas supported a competing bill. (Some Catholic hospitals promote Futile Care Theory, which would seem to be contrary to Catholic moral teaching, as I exposed in this NRO piece two years ago.)

The resulting impasse doomed the revocation, and the same political paradigm may presage the same political paralysis this session, as two competing futile care bills have been introduced. The first bill--the one I support--is HB 3325, which would permit an attorney to represent the family/patient at the committee hearing, give the patient/family a list of volunteers willing to help, and most importantly, require life-sustaining treatment to continue pending transfer (however long it took). From Section 3 of HB 3325:(4)(b)(e):

If the patient or the person responsible for the health care decisions of the patient is requesting life-sustaining treatment that the attending physician has decided and the review process has affirmed is inappropriate treatment, the patient shall be given available life-sustaining treatment pending transfer under Subsection (d). The patient is responsible for any costs incurred in transferring the patient to another facility.
In contrast, HB 2964 retains the right of hospitals to cut off treatment over patient/family objection, but extends the time limit from 10 to--gasp how courageous--14 days. The only good thing I see in this bill is the establishing of tube-supplied sustenance as a treatment that cannot be withdrawn after 14 days if that is the only life-sustaining treatment being provided. From the bill:
The physician and the health care facility are not obligated to provide life-sustaining treatment, except for the provision of artificial nutrition and hydration, unless providing the artificial nutrition and hydration would hasten death or seriously exacerbate other major medical conditions and the risk of serious medical pain or discomfort that cannot be alleviated based on reasonable medical judgment outweighs the benefit of continued artificial nutrition and hydration, after the 14th calendar [10th] day after the written decision required under Subsection (b) is provided to the patient or the person responsible for the health care decisions of the patient.
I would prefer a total revocation of futile care empowerment altogether, but that isn't politically feasible, apparently. But here's a compromise to support: Roll the food and fluids provision of 2964 into the requirement of continued care pending transfer provided in 3325. Then, you wouldn't have futile care imposed where the only life supporting treatment is providing sustenance, while at the same time, no patient could be abandoned to forced withdrawal of wanted treatment.

But don't hold your breath. 2964 is an explicit defense of Futile Care Theory! The only bill that would eliminate most of the injustice that is the heart of futile care is 3325. My worry is that like last time, the real point of 2964 is to cynically confuse and divide the anti futile care forces, thereby allowing the current unjust law to remain firmly in place.


Altruistic Desires Are Not the End All and Be All in Organ Donation

A very sad case in Canada is testing the ethics of organ donation at a Canadian hospital. A terminally ill baby was going to be allowed to die naturally and then after cardiac arrest, be an organ donor under the "Non Heart Beating Cadaver Donor Protocol." But the baby didn't die as planned and the donation has been called off, about which the parents are not happy. From the story:

Two-month-old Kaylee has a fatal brain condition called Joubert Syndrome, which has caused a malformation of her brain, leaving her unable to breathe without a machine when she sleeps. With no way to save their child's life and not wanting to see her suffer any longer, Kaylee's parents, Jason Wallace and Crystal Vitelli, wanted to take her off life support and donate her heart to another baby in need.

They thought Tuesday would be their last day with their daughter. Wallace said that Kaylee was expected to fall asleep in the operating room Tuesday evening and then be taken off life support. If she died within two hours, her heart would be removed for a transplant. But doctors called off the surgery when she did not fall asleep as thought.

Wallace said he wants doctors to try again. "If she's going to die, we got to keep trying," he said. "I want my child to pass on because she can't survive, and to save that child." Dr. Jim Wright, chief of surgery at the Hospital for Sick Children, told reporters late Tuesday that Kaylee is no longer a candidate for a heart transplant at this time. He said that is subject to change, however.
We can all sympathize with the parents' anguish and desire that some good come out of their family's tragedy. But more is at stake here than this baby and the hoped-for recipient. If the baby's time has not really yet come, it hasn't yet come. More to the point, the ethics of the entire system must be maintained or the whole system could fall into chaos.

The parents, for example, want their baby's heart to go to a particular child at the same hospital. But it isn't--and shouldn't be--their say. The donation is not to a particular person but to the system, which of necessity utilizes triage, the dispassionate and fair management of which is vital to managing the system and maintaining public confidence:

Wallace and Vitelli have already decided who they would like to receive their baby's heart. Her name is Lillian O'Connor and she is in the neonatal unit in the floor below Kaylee at SickKids...But SickKids says there is no guarantee the heart will go to Lillian. Deciding who will receive the heart depends on who is at the top of the transplant waiting list, based on their urgent medical need...

Medical ethicist Kerry Bowman of Mount Sinai hospital in Toronto told CTV Newsnet that hospital officials are following both legal and ethical protocols. "Obviously they are going to great length to respect protocol," he said Tuesday. "They are respecting two lives here."
We too often hear about hospitals that seem to cut corners in organ transplantation. Now, one is acting ethically and it's is being, in my view, implicitly criticized in this story for not doing what the parents want. But if the emotions of the moment came to control actions in these matters, the entire system would collapse and who received organs would depend on who one knew or being in the right place at the right time--rather than the orderly, if frustrating, current system that strives to provide equal access to treatment. Good for hospital administrators keeping their heads and following the rules--even when it hurt their hearts.


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Dr. Oz Tells Michael J. Fox He is Wrong About Embronic Stem Cells

I hate it when celebrity disease victims are used for political purposes--as was the case, I fear, with Big Biotech and Parkinson's patient Michael J. Fox, who has spent years telling the country falsely that the Bush ESCR funding policy was keeping people like him from being cured, because that is what he was being told. On Oprah the other day, Fox tried to say that again--but was set straight--gently, as was proper, by a Columbia Medical School professor and (I guess) Oprah regular guest named Dr. Oz. From the show transcript summary (go to page 11):

Michael says America has a lot of ground to make up when it comes to stem cell research. "We had eight years where there was no forward progress and some things people don't even understand," he says.
That's ludicrous and ignorant, of course. Billions have been spent in human ESCR in the USA alone in the last ten years. But they have problems, they cause tumors and may not be usable directly for Parkinson's (absent cloning) due to tissue rejection problems.

But Dr. Oz says the embryonic stem cell debate is "dead," which interestingly, is not recounted in the transcript overview, but was stated clearly in the video of the pertinent section of the interview. He then states in the "last year we have advanced 10 years:"
Thanks to recent scientific discoveries, Dr. Oz says [embryonic] stem cells aren't the only solution. [Me: No, he said they probably weren't going to work] "We went to a place we never thought we would go," he says. "I can take a little bit of your skin, take those cells and get them to go back in time so they're like they were when you were first made."

Dr. Oz says these skin cells, which contain your genes and are less prone to cancer, will be the ones that are ultimately used to cure Parkinson's. "I think we're single digit years away from making a big impact in the lives of [people with] Parkinson's disease, but also diabetics and heart attack victims," he says.
He is referring to a different kind of stem cell than ESCs, and that is the induced pluripotent stem cells.

I hope Oz is right about the prospect to treat Parkinson's and the time frame he predicts. But I am not sure he is right about the science being settled or the stem cell debate being over. Remember, this is an issue that is much bigger than the sum of its parts, not only scientifically, but what it symbolizes about right and wrong and the value of human life, simply and merely because it is human.


Monday, April 06, 2009

Belgian Euthanasia of Woman on Hunger Strike

I will say it until I am blue in the face, and then I will keep saying it: Euthanasia guidelines are not really there to be followed and actually protect the vulnerable. They are there to give the illusion of control.

Consider: In Belgium, which has Dutch-style euthanasia, an elderly woman wanted euthanasia but didn't qualify under the law. She got it anyway after a hunger strike. From Derek Humphry's blog:

A 93-year-old Belgian woman has died after going on a 10-day hunger strike last month to force doctors to help her die, her family said. Amelie Van Esbeen, born in 1916, was surrounded by family members at a home where she lived for the past five years...Van Esbeen ended her hunger strike on March 24 and made a written euthanasia request which was accepted by a different doctor who helped her die on Wednesday around noon, her family said. (Report from Expatica, Beligum)
Like I said, guidelines are not really meant to protect, just give the illusion of control.


My Two Cents Worth: I urge HHS to Revise, but not Revoke the Bush "Conscience Clause" Regulation

In my role as a Senior Fellow in Human Rights and Bioethics at the Discovery Institute, I sent a formal comment to the Department of Health and Human Services opposing its intent to revoke the Bush Conscience clause. Instead of revoking it, I urge that it be revised to prevent it from being relied on by physicians to impose futile care theory or other form of discriminatory refusal of care against the elderly, people with disabilities and the dying. I then suggested principles to follow to construct a conscience clause that is sufficiently nuanced and limited in scope to protect the rights of health care workers and prevent discrimination against patients. From my comment:

In revising the rule, I urge the following principles to be embodied into an amended Conscience Clause:

-- It should protect medical professionals against being discriminated in their employment because they refuse to perform--or be complicit in, as in referral requirements--medical procedures that are intended to terminate the life of a human organism or human being, whether an embryo, fetus, or born member of the species. To put it succinctly, no medical professional should be forced to take, or participate in the taking, of a human life.

--It should distinguish generally between elective procedures--e.g., interventions not immediately necessary to save the patient's life or prevent serious physical harm--and non-elective procedures. Refusing elective procedures should be granted greater protection then non elective procedures.

--To prevent conscience clauses from becoming safe harbors for discrimination, the requested procedure should generally be what violates the conscience of the health-care professional, not bias against the patient. In this way, for example, an oncologist would not be able to refuse to treat a lung-cancer patient because the patient smoked, nor could a pharmacist refuse to fill a prescription for drugs to fight AIDS because she believes the patient is gay.

--Finally, those covered by conscience clauses should be bona fide health-care professionals such as nurses, pharmacists, and physicians...
I conclude with a call to bridge the bitter divisions that are rending our society.
President Obama has made a point of declaring that his administration will seek to enact policies that bridge the cultural divides that rend the American culture. Revising the Bush Conscience Clause would accomplish this worthy goal by respecting the morality and values of medical professionals who, in good faith, disagree with the current course of law and medical ethics, while not binding professionals of different views from following the same course.
This last point, I think, is quite telling about President Obama's pledge to bridge our differences. But this revocation, coupled with his actions revoking the Bush "alternatives" stem cell funding rule, demonstrate to me that he intends to divide and conquer, not compromise and heal. If the HHS merely revokes the Bush conscience clause, my suspicions will be more than confirmed.


Fewer Auto Deaths: How About Some Credit Where it is Due for Ralph Nader?

Where is the institutional memory of the media? A truly good news story has come out about how last year we had fewer automobile accident deaths since the 1960s. There are many reasons for this, with the story focusing on high gas prices last year for reducing the miles driven. Increased seat belt use is also mentioned, amazingly without crediting my pal Ralph Nader who has spent most of his adult life promoting auto safety. From the story:

Several states have pushed tougher seat belt laws that allow law enforcement officers to stop motorists whose sole offense was failing to buckle up...

Seat belt use in 2008 climbed to 83 percent, a record. Fourteen states and the nation's capital had rates of 90 percent or better. Michigan had the highest seat belt use rate with 97.2 percent, followed by Hawaii with 97 percent and Washington state at 96.5 percent. Massachusetts had the lowest rate, 66.8 percent, while it was under 70 percent in New Hampshire and Wyoming.

Many states have tried to improve their enforcement of driving laws and public outreach. In South Dakota, for example, state troopers are required to devote several hours a year to give presentations discouraging drunken driving or promoting seat belt use.
The report should also mention air bags, which are now taken for granted, but for which Ralph fought years to require as an auto safety feature.

None of this would likely have happened, at least not when it did--but for a young attorney taking on General Motors in the early 1960s with the book Unsafe at Any Speed, and in the acrimonious afterwards in which GM tried to pound this piqsqueak upstart into the dirt--only to be the one to receive the big black eye.

Ralph Nader is one of the great humanitarians of the 20th Century who has been disdained and forgotten in the media due to their pique over the 2000 election. But to see why RN was known as "St. Ralph," the person of last resort for many suffering profound injustice, see the documentary An Unreasonable Man, which vividly depicts why he was my hero during my teenage years long before I ever met him.

There should be editorials in our remaining newspapers tomorrow thanking Ralph for the part he played in all of this. But don't hold your breath. So I'll say it: Thanks so much, Ralph, for helping save so many lives and preventing so many devastating injuries.


"Calling Dr. Death! Calling Dr. Death:" Advertising for Kevorkians in Montana

Compassion and Choices (formerly Hemlock Society) has been mighty peeved lately that so many ethical doctors are refusing to supply assisted suicide prescriptions to their patients. As I noted yesterday, Montana's doctors are apparently refusing to cooperate with the suicide agenda, and so C and C has issued a pitch for willing death doctors to jump to the fore in Montana with their prescription pads in hand.

It's ethical. Really! And polls show that many doctors support "aid in dying," don't you know? (Unmentioned is that virtually every professional medical organization in the world opposes euthanasia/assisted suicide.) And, why, did you know that assisted suicide is consistent with the Hippocratic Oath? From its blog:

"The Hippocratic Oath demands this foremost from physicians: Do No Harm. Prolonging the suffering of a dying person is doing harm. Offering a choice to end the suffering, if that is what the person desires, is the way to do no harm."--Dr. Richard Ikeda, M.D., Director, Health for All Community Clinics, Sacramento.
Such redefining of the Oath is a typical obfuscating tactic for this movement. But here is what the Oath actually states:
I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone. I will not give a lethal drug to anyone if I am asked, nor will I advise such a plan; and similarly I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion. But I will preserve the purity of my life and my arts.
This was at a time--unlike today--when people did literally die in agony with nothing physicians could do to help. And still, assisting the suicides of patients was considered unequivocally wrong.

The blog ends with a plaintive call for Death Doctors to come forward:
The majority of physicians, who support legal aid in dying, are now able to practice medicine according to their own deeply held values and beliefs, without fear of government interference. The court has removed government restrictions on physicians who support aid in dying but have had to tell their patients "no" in the past.
In Oregon, C and C facilitates the great majority of assisted suicides, with many lethal prescriptions written by doctors who never treated the patient but were only consulted by patients (generally, at the referral of C and C) to access assisted suicide--not receive actual medical care. Several years ago, I wrote about the shocking internal memo from a (now former) administrator of Kaiser Permanente Northwest (HMO), asking plan doctors to assist the suicides of plan members who were not their own patients. The same will probably happen in Washington, and now, the group is advertising for death doctors to come forward in Montana.

Assisted suicide is Kevorkianism. Calling Dr. Death!


Terry Pratchett Writes About the Marginalization of People with Alzheimer's

The prolific British author Terry Pratchett has a moving and frank article about what it is like to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's. There is much to digest, including how the medical system in the UK seems inadequate to address serious conditions such as this requiring specialized care. But I think this is the heart of the piece. From Pratchett's column:

It occurred to me that at one point it was like I had two diseases--one was Alzheimer's and the other was knowing I had Alzheimer's. There were times when I thought I'd have been much happier not knowing, just accepting that I'd lost brain cells and one day they'd probably grow back or whatever...

It is a strange life when you "come out". People get embarrassed, lower their voices, get lost for words. Part of the report I'm helping to launch today reveals that 50 per cent of Britons think there is a stigma surrounding dementia. Only 25 per cent think there is still a stigma associated with cancer.

The stories in the report--of people being told they were too young or intelligent to have dementia; of neighbours crossing the street and friends abandoning them--are like something from a horror novel. It seems that when you have cancer you are a brave battler against the disease, but when you have Alzheimer's you are an old fart. That's how people see you. It makes you feel quite alone.

The isolation and marginalization of people with Alzheimer's and other serious illnesses is a terrible problem in our society--caused in part by fear, certainly--but also because we have devolved into a society so steeped in hedonism that when one can't climb rocks or have sex four times a week, many think, "What's the point of that bloke even continuing on?" (Yes, that's hyperbole, but the point is valid.)

I recall my last hospice patient's rueful statement to me about why he had wanted to commit assisted suicide with Kevorkian for 2 1/2 years after his diagnosis with ALS (until "coming out of the fog" and being glad to be alive). Bob told me that it wasn't his progressive disability that made him want to die: As difficult as that was, he adjusted with each new "mini death," (as he put it). Rather, he told me:
First my friends stopped visiting me. Then, my friends stopped calling me. Then they stopped calling my wife and I felt like a token presence in the world.
If it is our human duty to love each other--and I think that is the quintessential human obligation--then nobody should be abandoned or isolated or marginalized because they are ill or disabled. Too often, the excuse of "I don't want to upset him," or "I wouldn't know what to say to her," is actually (as understandable as this is), "I don't want to be upset," or "I don't want to be reminded of my own mortality and vulnerability to loss of health and vitality." And this easily morphs into applauding the "choice" of a person in fear of such isolation or perceived burdensome existence, to take the poison pill of assisted suicide.


Sunday, April 05, 2009

Non Cooperation in Assisted Suicide Spreads to Montana

When I have time, I intend to list the hospitals and institutions that have said no to assisted suicide in Washington. Now, apparently the same spirit of non cooperation with being complicit in assisted suicide that sprang to life in that state in the wake of the passage of I-1000 has spread to Montana, where a judge imposed assisted suicide as a constitutional right. From the story:

Four months after a District Court judge ruled that physician-assisted suicide is a right protected under the state's constitution, terminally ill patients say they're having trouble finding physicians willing to prescribe drugs that would hasten their deaths.

Denver-based advocacy group Compassion & Choices held a conference call Friday to read a statement from a 67-year-old Missoula woman who is dying of ovarian cancer. "I feel as though my doctors do not feel able to respect my decision to choose aid in dying," Janet Murdock said. "Access to physician aid in dying would restore my hope for a peaceful, dignified death in keeping with my values and beliefs."
I am sorry, nobody has the right to force doctors to have a patient's blood on their hands. The woman has the right to medical care, palliation, and support of her community--and I hope she receives it. With proper care, she can be almost assured a peaceful passing. But while it is certainly true that she may have the right to ask for a lethal prescription--she doesn't have the right to receive it--at least not yet. Meanwhile, not a word about suicide prevention in the story from the "compassionate" representatives of Compassion and Choices.

This case aside, apparently the Montana Medical Association, of which I have been very critical, has changed course. Where the leader of the group once said the MMA had "bigger fish to fry" than worry about assisted suicide--now with a different president--it seems to understand that assisted suicide is a lunker when it comes to the destruction of medical ethics:

After District Judge Dorothy McCarter's December ruling, the Montana Medical Association adopted a policy that states the group: "does not condone the deliberate act of precipitating the death of a patient."

The policy states that the organization acknowledges that some treatments to eliminate pain and suffering could hasten a patient's death, but "does not accept the proposition that death with dignity may be achieved only through physician-assisted suicide." Dr. Kirk Stoner of Plentywood, president of the MMA, says assisted suicide goes against the group's ethics. "Our reason for being is to care for our patients," he said.
This is excellent. Because something is legal--in this matter due to judicial activism in the extreme--that doesn't make it right. I hope every doctor in Montana puts a plaque in his or her office declaring, "This is an assisted suicide free zone."


PETA Admits It Kills Adoptable Cats and Dogs

The more I observe PETA, the more bizarre it seems to me. It claims to love animals, and yet it euthanizes more than 90% of the animals it takes in. Why does PETA have to do this? Animal shelters are able to euthanize animals too sick, injured, or aggressive to be found good homes. Moreover, it does not have a formal adoption program, it has admitted to the Telegraph, and it kills adoptable animals. From the story:

Peta insists that homes could not be found for the dogs and cats, usually because they were in such poor health or because they were "unsocialised" and aggressive, usually because of bad treatment by their owners.

But the organisation, which does not run its own animal adoption programme and does not accept animals into its care elsewhere, admitted to The Sunday Telegraph that some treatable and adoptable animals were also among those killed by lethal injection.

"We are doing the dirty work that others won't," said Daphna Nachminovitch, vice-president for cruelty investigations. "We are proud to be a shelter of last resort that takes in old broken animals and gives them a humane end. "America is facing an epidemic of overpopulation. Six to eight million unwanted pets are turned in to shelters each year and half of them have to be euthanised. Our euthanasia programme is no secret."It's a societal problem. We're not going to turn our backs on these animals just so that our figures look good. We're not saying that all the animals we euthanise are suffering from incurable conditions. But overpopulation is a crisis. It's a matter of actually finding a good home."
Doing the dirty work of finding homes for adoptable animals?

Let me translate: Animal rights ideology wishes to see all domesticated animals cease to exist. This includes pets. I believe PETA wants every dog, cat, cow, sheep, sterilized, and out of existence as the current animals die off. (This is Gary Francione's position.) PETA also believes that domesticated animals are slaves, and that this is by definition suffering, and so even adoptable animals are better off dead. Further, I suspect, they euthanize adoptable animals because only vegans are deemed acceptable to the group as people entitled to receive an animal. If I am right about this, that would preclude placing cats in homes because without meat products, cats go blind.

I can't prove the above suspicions, but they are utterly consistent with PETA's ideology. Whatever the case, PETA should be investigated to determine how hard they try to find adoptable homes for those animals, how long they keep adoptable animals, and whether a 90%-plus kill rate is justifiable. Besides, I'll bet local humane societies--not to be confused with HSUS--could give them a hand in finding these animals homes. In the meantime, maybe somebody should infiltrate PETA, as its members are fond of doing animal industries, and take secret videos to prove the cruelty.


Friday, April 03, 2009

Terminal Nonjudgmentalism Alert: Forbes Asks Peter Singer to Name His "Five Favorite Animals"

This makes me gnash my teeth: Would any respectable magazine ask the racist David Duke to be part of a benign feature story, say, "What are Your Five Favorite Animals?"

Of course not. But Forbes--a money magazine--decided to to give Peter Singer that very forum. Peter Singer believes it is acceptable to murder babies if they don't suit the interests of the family. (As far as I know, the odious Duke never advocated that anybody be killed.) Singer usually uses babies with Down syndrome or other disabilities as examples of the killable--although it is the purported non personhood of the baby that makes him or her disposable without moral qualm. Thus, in this view, a girl who gives birth and stuffs the baby in the toilet did nothing wrong so long as she painlessly killed the child beforehand, and a mother who can't stand the idea of raising a child with developmental disabilities can snuff him instead.

But this is how the Forbes writer, Courtney Boyd Myers, sanitized Singer's views:
He has drawn critical attention for his secular, utilitarian views on bioethics, such as his belief that in some cases, malformed infants should receive euthanasia. But he is also known for his tolerance toward ideas that differ greatly from his own.
Unlike those nasty absolutists who think baby killing is wrong. They are so intolerant!

This fluff nonsense illustrates so much of what has gone so desperately wrong with us: We celebrate the very people that are pushing us off the moral cliff. But hey, he likes human beings as among his five favorite animals. From the story:
Humans have done, and are still doing, immense damage to other animals, including other humans. We may yet destroy our planet and every other animal living on it. Yet I cannot leave them out of a list of my favorite animals. Nature itself is by no means benign. A world without humans would still involve a lot of pointless suffering, and it would continue indefinitely. The evolution of mammals intelligent enough to think ethically and develop a scientific understanding of our universe offers the only hope that one day things may be better.
But this is insipid, for it strongly implies that someday human beings might be able to interfere with the tooth and claw of nature and make it more benign. The only people I have ever heard of who think that way are some transhumanists who believe that uploading animal consciousnesses into computers could end predation.

Steve Forbes stopped giving money to Princeton when that university besmirched itself by giving Singer a prestigious chair. (Here's a portion of a talk I gave at Princeton unloading on the university for that decision.) And now his magazine (I think he is still publisher) provides him with a pulpit to appear cuddly, burnishing Singer's claim to respectability. No wonder Peter Singer's values are triumphing. Unbelievable.


Thursday, April 02, 2009

Serious Complications from Living Kidney Donation Should Rule Out Live Donor Organ Selling

Following up on my SHS post from earlier today that disagreed with Sally Satel's push to legalize a market in live kidney donation to ease the organ shortage, I did a little digging on the risks. Although the surgery is generally considered quite safe, and donors appear to live as long as non donors after the surgery is over, it still carries very grave risks. For example, there is arterial bleeding, which as one study laid out pretty starkly, sometimes leads to death, morbidity, or serious complications. From the study:

In 213 surveys returned (24%), 66 and 39 episodes of arterial and venous hemorrhage were reported, respectively. Among arterial control problems, 2 resulted in donor death and 2 resulted in renal failure; 19 episodes required transfusion. Open conversions in laparoscopic nephrectomy or late reoperations for hemorrhage were reported for 29 cases. Locking and standard clips applied to the renal artery were associated with the greatest risks.


Significant hemorrhagic complications occur with living kidney donation in both open and laparoscopic approaches. Loss of arterial control jeopardizes donor life and health, especially when it occurs in the postoperative period.
It may be one thing for someone to choose to risk these complications in order to give someone a kidney because they are a relative or simply out of the pure goodness of their hearts. But it is quite another to seduce sellers into such a market--who would mostly be the poor or the desperate--and persuade them into risking life and health for money, or a mortgage down payment, or health insurance--some of Satel's suggested enticements. There is a word for that, and I am afraid it is exploitation.


Pushing an Organ Commodities Market

Psychiatrist Sally Satel, of the American Enterprise Institute, has written about being diagnosed with eventual renal failure and her efforts to jump ahead of the organ waiting list (before going on dialysis) by finding someone to give her a kidney. (Her efforts failed until the author Virgina Postrel heard of Satel's illness and gave her one of hers--an act of utter selflessness since the two women did not know each other at the time.) Ever since her illness, Satel has been pushing for the creation of an organ market in which people would be able to sell a kidney, a slice of liver, etc. From her latest piece pushing the idea in the Wall Street Journal:

My colleagues and I suggest a system in which a donor can accept a reward for saving the life of a stranger. A third party (the government, a charity or insurer) would provide the benefit and newly available organs would be distributed to the next in line--not just to the wealthy. Donors would be carefully screened for physical and emotional impediments to safe donation, as is currently done for all volunteer living kidney donors. Moreover, they would be guaranteed follow-up medical care for any complications.

Many people are uneasy about offering lump-sum cash payments. A solution is to provide in-kind rewards, such as a down payment on a house, a contribution to a retirement fund or lifetime health insurance, so the program would not be attractive to people who might otherwise rush to donate on the promise of a large sum of instant cash.

Not only will more lives be saved through legal means of donor rewards, but fewer people will haunt the black-market organ bazaars of places like China, Pakistan, Egypt, Colombia and Eastern Europe. The World Health Organization estimates that 5% to 10% of all transplants performed annually -- perhaps 63,000 in all -- take place in these clinical netherworlds.
These rationalizations do not change the fact that it would be the poor who would be selling--not well off people like Satel. Also, note that she uses the term "safe donations," and potential "health complications" as if the two were not partially mutually canceling.

It is true that most living donors recover fully. But not all. I know one living donor who had a very hard time for awhile post surgically. On the other hand, a good friend's son donated a kidney without any problems. But some people have died giving their kidneys or had other serious complications. Finally, people willing to go to the black market for organs do so because they don't want to wait in line--and may not care if people are being killed to save them, as has happened in China. So opening up an organ market would not stop the biological colonialism that is a scourge in the developing world.

Organ buying would transform vital body parts into a commodity and add to the growing threat of human instrumentalization. Utilitarianism can be appealing. People who need organs are understandably desperate to increase the organ supply, which is a very worthy goal. But the lives and well being of the healthy matter as much as those of the sick. Organ markets are a bad idea that would open the door to a terrible potential for exploitation.


Logical Outcome of Assisted Suicide Advocacy: Swiss Suicide Clinic to Aid Healty Woman Kill Herself

I don't know why anyone would be surprised by this story. Assisted suicide advocacy rests on two fundamental ideological premises: First, that we own our bodies and it is the "ultimate civil liberty" to decide on the time, manner, and place of our own demise. Second, that killing is an acceptable answer to the problem of human suffering. Once these values are accepted, preventing death on demand becomes logically unsustainable.

The death on demand agenda is now being openly voiced in Switzerland, by the head of one of that country's suicide clinics. Apparently, the healthy wife of a terminally ill, suicidal husband, wants to die alongside him via assisted suicide. From the story:

The founder of the Swiss assisted-suicide clinic Dignitas revealed plans today to help a healthy wife die alongside her terminally ill husband. Ludwig Minelli described suicide as a "marvellous opportunity" that should not be restricted to the terminally ill or people with severe disabilities...Mr Minelli said that anyone who has "mental capacity" should be allowed to have an assisted suicide, claiming that it would save money for the National Health Service.
Clarification time out: When Minelli says "capacity," he means the ability to make a decision and communicate it, not absence of depression or mental illness. His group already won a ruling from the Swiss Supreme Court granting a constitutional right to assisted suicide for the mentally ill. Also, the capacity premise is embodied into the laws in Washington and Oregon that merely require that the suicidal person be "capable," not that they be free from depression.

Back to the story:

He said that he expected to go to the Swiss courts to seek a ruling in the controversial case of a Canadian couple who have asked to die together. "The husband is ill, his partner is not ill but she told us here in my living room that, 'If my husband goes, I would go at the same time with him'," he said.

Mr Minelli, a human rights lawyer, tells The Report on BBC Radio 4 tonight that the British had an "obsession" with the requirement to be terminally ill. "It is not a condition to have a terminal illness," he said. "Terminal illness is a British obsession.
Actually, it is a political tactic, also followed here in the USA to get people used to the idea of suicide as a human right.

Cue Minelli:

As a human rights lawyer I am opposed to the idea of paternalism. We do not make decisions for other people. "We should have a nicer attitude to suicide, saying suicide is a very good possibility to escape"
Minelli is not a fringe player, he is just more honest then some of his other brethren and sistren in the euthanasia movement. For example, Rita Marker discloses in her book Deadly Compassion, that Derek Humphry and Anne Wickett assisted a joint suicide of Wickett's parents because the father wanted to die and her mother was emotionally incapable of refusing to go too.

Death on demand for anyone with a non transitory desire to die is either the goal of the movement--or, given its ideological premises--is the inevitable ultimate outcome of assisted suicide advocacy. So let's--finally--have an honest debate about this issue: As Lincoln said about America not being able to remain half slave and half free because it would eventually become all one or the other; so too, assisted suicide.


Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Shades of Sarah Palin: Earliest Humans Cared for Special Needs Children--Scientists Surprised

Fossil evidence has been found that the earliest humans cared for--rather than abandoned or killed--their disabled young. From the story:

The discovery of the oldest known infant born with a skull deformity hints that, contrary to popular belief, early humans might not have immediately abandoned or killed their abnormal offspring, a new study says. Many mammals are known to reject newborns with severe deformities. Scientists had therefore assumed that ancient humans behaved likewise...

But this child would likely have required "special need care" to have lived as long as it did, she said. Deliberately killing unwanted offspring "is not an uncommon practice among mammals, including great apes," our closest genetic relatives, Gracia noted...But the new discovery shows that the fossil youngster's condition "was not an impediment to [receiving] the same attention as any other Middle Pleistocene Homo child," the study authors write (prehistoric time line).

The surprise comes because many scientists see us as just animals. But there is something--dare I say it, exceptional--about the human species, and apparently this distinction that makes such a huge difference has been part of us from the time we first began to emerge/evolve/were created (take your pick).

Yes, yes, I know: Human societies have killed or exposed disabled children. Heck, the Dutch do today in their neonatal units--indicating to me that Dutch society has experienced a serious ethical regression from the most ancient of times. But this story vividly illustrates that being human is something different in kind from any other known life form that has ever existed in the universe.

No, human exceptionalism is not arrogant. It is indisputable.