Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Peter Singer to Court: Make Chimps Persons!


There he goes again. Peter Singer–who has argued that cognitively devastated people should have been used instead of chimps in the creation of the hepatitis vaccine–urges a court to impose chimp personhood on society.

Why? Well, because he wants to destroy human exceptionalism

And what could accomplish that task better than “breaking the species barrier” (his term from The Great Ape Project) by making some animals legally and morally equivalent to people–thereby reducing us (and our self-perception) to just another animal in the forest.

But Singer doesn’t get into that, for obvious reasons, in his Daily News column on making chimps persons. Instead he invokes emotionalism. From “Chimpanzees Are People Too:”

Tommy is 26 years old. He is being held in solitary confinement in a wire cage. He has never been convicted of any crime, or even accused of one. He is not in Guantanamo, but in upstate Gloversville.

How is this possible? Because Tommy is a chimpanzee.

I have pointed out previously in writing about this case, that the Nonhuman Rights Project has not sought to improve Tommy’s welfare. For example, they have not, to the best of my knowledge, called in the animal welfare authorities to conduct an investigation.

If the law permits chimps to be kept in ways harmful to these magnificent animals, change the law to create proper care requirements. Neither Wise–nor Singer–promotes this proper animal welfare approach.

Instead, NHRP is using Tommy for its own ideological purposes. e.g., as an excuse to have a court rule that chimps are equivalent to human beings.

Singer simply asserts that chimps are persons because of their intelligence and supposed rudimentary moral sense.  (No way are chimps moral agents. Only we are.) He then invokes a straw man:

Contrary to the caricatures of some opponents of this lawsuit, declaring a chimpanzee a person doesn’t mean giving him or her the right to vote, attend school or sue for defamation. It simply means giving him or her the most basic, fundamental right of having legal standing, rather than being considered a mere object.

I may have missed it: But I don’t know anyone who has claimed that allowing chimps to be persons would require that they vote.

But it would require that they have equal legal and moral standing in every way–which Singer conveniently forgets to mention.

That goal isn’t about improving their welfare and standards of care–fully in keeping with human exceptionalism–but rather, is aimed at destroying the unique value of human life; AGENDA 1 for animal rights activists.

Singer then brings up an irrelevancy:

Over the past 30 years, European laboratories have, in recognition of the special nature of chimpanzees, freed them from research labs. That left only the United States still using chimpanzees in medical research, and last year the National Institutes of Health announced that it was retiring almost all of the chimpanzees utilized in testing and sending them to a sanctuary.

If the nation’s leading medical research agency has decided that, except possibly in very unusual circumstances, it will not use chimpanzees as research subjects, why are we allowing individuals to lock them up for no good reason at all?

The chimp research decision–note that they can still be used in special cases–was based on animal welfare principles, not animal rights. (Hit this link for my post about the NIH decision.)

Then, the usual Leftist resort to judicial tyranny:

It is time for the courts to recognize that the way we treat chimpanzees is indefensible. They are persons and we should end their wrongful imprisonment.


Note, that Singer slyly uses the supposed abuse of Tommy to argue that we should not be able to use chimps instrumentally at all. Ever. For any reason. 

But as I said, even that, isn’t what the case is really all about. It’s just the pretext. For if some animals can be elevated to personhood, it also means some people will be demoted to non-personhood–essentially dehumanization, for which Singer has advocated for decades. As I wrote some time ago in the Weekly Standard:

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

That is why rights should be seen objectively intrinsic to our humanity. Cut to its core, personhood theory is actually about opening the door to treating some of us as less than human.

Why CA CAN Order Churches to Cover Abortion


I wrote previously about radical California’s order that insurance companies cover elective abortion as “medically necessary” health care. Ridiculous and ideological.

Now, The Federalist reports that the order also applies to insurance purchased by churches. From the story:

While California (like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS) exempts churches from its contraceptive mandate, there is no exception to this bureaucratic abortion mandate. This leaves California churches in the illogical and impossible position of being free to exclude contraceptives from their health plan for reasons of religious conscience but required to provide their employees with abortion coverage.

What?How can they get away with it?

First, the California abortion mandate is a law of general applicability. This means no violation of the First Amendment: Under U.S. Supreme Court precedent, religious freedom doesn’t matter.

But Hobby Lobby! Nope. HL is a limited cased based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The RFRA only applies to federal law, not state.

Since California could care less about religious freedom, we don’t have an RFRA-type law.

But Obamacare forbids states from discriminating against policies that don’t provide abortion coverage. True. Alliance Defending Freedom and Life Legal Defense Foundation are on the case:

Alliance Defending Freedom and Life Legal Defense Foundation have filed administrative complaints with the HHS Office of Civil Rights (which oversees this federal law) on behalf of individual employees and seven California churches forced into abortion coverage in violation of their conscience. 

Go get them, guys, but as the story says, good luck with that.

The Obama Administration is pro-abortion. More, it has amply demonstrated it won’t enforce laws or regulations with which it disagrees. Thus, I would be very surprised if Obamacarians brought its fellow ideological travelers in California to heel.

So sue! Sure. But I have two words for you: “Ninth Circuit”

Bottom line: California has crossed the post-Christian bridge into the anti-Christian era.

The Obama Administration has too.

So have most courts, particularly the Ninth Circuit.

I don’t expect these churches to find legal relief short of the Supreme Court. And that will take years.

As I always say: Abortion–like slavery did in the 19th century–corrupts everything it touches.


Unconscious Patient Heard End Care Push


Sometimes, I think, the medical system is in too big a rush to assume that people with brain damage are out and gone.

This is the fruit of a “quality of life” value system that increasingly infects medicine. Human life matters far less now than the supposed quality of the life expected to be lived. 

That’s very dangerous. Here’s an example: An Australian woman had a stroke. She appeared completely unconscious, but was really awake and aware. And she heard the push by her medical team to end life support. From the story:

Kate Allat is a mother who suffered a stroke at 39. She spent 10 days in a coma after the stroke, and came around in a hospital bed – but her consciousness was a living nightmare. The Daily Mail reports Kate’s mind was functioning perfectly, but everyone around her, including medics, thought she was brain dead. She lay paralysed, without the ability to speak or even breathe on her own, listening as medics discussed switching off life support with her loved ones.

Kate was suffering from “locked-in syndrome” – where you can feel, hear and think – but you can’t communicate at all. It took two weeks for Kate to be able to communicate with medics and loved ones she was mentally alert. “They thought I was in a vegetative state. I couldn’t move a muscle. There was no signal I was in there,” 

Imagine hearing people discuss prognosis and knowing that you could be cut off from life. Brrrr.

I know another such case: Kate Adamson–who said that being without food and water was worse pain than when she was operated upon with inadequate anesthesia–also was misdiagnosed incorrectly as persistently unconscious.

We should remember that before supporting the dehydration of people with extensive brain damage.

There are many lessons to learn from this, among which are:

1. A proper diagnosis of persistent unconsciousness takes months, not days. Don’t be pushed into a decision that can’t be reversed.

2. Never speak in front of an unconscious patient about things you would not want her to hear. She might be awake.

Paralyzed Walk--Without Embryonic Stem Cells!


“Embryonic stem cells are the only hope!” 

Remember? Please do, because it was always a lie and the embryonic hypers knew it. And they castigated those who painted a broader, more accurate portrait of regenerative medicine possibilities. 

Now, a paralyzed man is walking after transplant of his own olfactory cells. From the Guardian story:

A man who was completely paralysed from the waist down can walk again after a British-funded surgical breakthrough which offers hope to millions of people who are disabled by spinal cord injuries. Polish surgeons used nerve-supporting cells from the nose of Darek Fidyka, a Bulgarian man who was injured four years ago, to provide pathways along which the broken tissue was able to grow.

The 38-year-old, who is believed to be the first person in the world to recover from complete severing of the spinal nerves, can now walk with a frame and has been able to resume an independent life, even to the extent of driving a car, while sensation has returned to his lower limbs.

More research to be done, but it turns out that embryonic stem cell “deniers” were right all along. Color me not surprised.

The Surrogate Who Changed Her Mind


What a mess. What a God-awful mess the new reproductive technologies in general—and commercial surrogacy, in particular—are making of family life. What a legal, emotional, and moral mess.

The Center for Bioethics and Culture asked me to sort out one such circumstance from Tennessee that went all the way to the state Supreme Court–and it still isn’t resolved. From, “A Case of Surrogacy’s Gordion Knot:”

Here are the facts: Unmarried Italian citizens—”L.G.” the “intended mother,” and “A.T.” the “intended father,” paid more than $73,000 to pay for “expenses” and “pain and suffering” to “J.J.E.,” the surrogate. She agreed to be artificially inseminated with A.T.’s sperm, to gestate any babies conceived, and then surrender the child and her parental rights to the intended parents. In other words, the baby would be the biological child of the intended father and the surrogate mother. In Tennessee such contracts are called “traditional surrogacy…”

After birth, mom was asked to nurse baby–not part of the contract. That seemed to have bonded mother and child and she decided not to give up her rights. Litigation ensued:

Tennessee law doesn’t explicitly govern this particular circumstance–and so the court applied the law of private adoption, a reasonable approach.

The Court ruled that the mother’s waiver of parental rights before birth was invalid. Since she never waived her rights after the baby was born, the situation resulted in a legal, emotional, and parenting mess:

Cutting through the legalese at the end of the decision’s winding road, here how the whole mess all sorted out:

- A.T., the intended and biological father, is a legal parent of the child, with full rights of visitation, custody, and obligations of support.

- J.J.E., the surrogate and biological mother, is also a legal parent with full rights to pursue custody, visitation, and obligations of support.

- Custody, visitation, support, and other such issues will be made in the child’s “best interests,” not based on the terms of the surrogacy contract.

- The intended mother, L.G., is a legal stranger to the child.

- Surrogacy contracts are enforceable in Tennessee generally, but clauses that violate public policy, as occurred here, will not be enforced.

It is also worth noting that the baby is a U.S. citizen, based on both place of birth and citizenship status of the legal mother.) And what about J.J.E.? What the child will think of all this later in life—and how it will impact his or her wellbeing—is anyone’s guess. But hey, the lawyers probably did well.

I conclude:

The ruling all but begs the Tennessee Legislature to create explicit statutes and regulations to apply in surrogacy situations—which range in the country from legal bans on commercial surrogacy to anything goes.

Good luck with that. Surrogacy itself is the problem, with infinite possibilities for creating discord, chaos, and betrayal. Oh what a tangled web we weave when deploying surrogacy technologies to conceive.

Just because we can do some things technologically, that doesn’t mean we should.


Now UK Media Pushes Suicide by Starvation


The media have become so in the tank for assisted suicide they now treat some suicides more as a necessity than as a choice.

Take the Independent’s headline about an elderly assisted suicide campaigner woman who intentionally starved herself to death. Note the tone of the story. From, “Grandmother Starves Herself to Death After UK Assisted Suicide Laws Left Her ‘No Alternative’:”

An elderly woman has starved herself to death to get around the UK’s tight and restrictive laws on assisted suicide.

I wish they were tight and restrictive. The Public Prosecutor issued directives promising not to usually prosecute family or medical caregivers who assist suicides.

Meanwhile, those trying to change the law insist it will be reserved for the terminally ill. Yet, the self-starved assisted suicide campaigner wasn’t dying:

Octogenarian Jean Davies, who is also a right-to-die campaigner, spent five weeks attempting to end her life and succeeded in doing so on 1 October.

The former math teacher, 86, did not have a terminal illness, but suffered a range of conditions that made her life uncomfortable including chronic back pain and fainting episodes.

She told the Sunday Times: “It is hell. I can’t tell you how hard it is. You wouldn’t decide this unless you thought your life was going to be so bad. It is intolerable.” It is understood that she stopped drinking water on 16 September and was frustrated that her death wasn’t days after, but two weeks.

So, Davies was talking to the media as she starved herself to death?

Talk about terminal nonjudgmentalism! Where was the suicide prevention? Where were those in a position to help save this clearly ideologically driven and depressed woman from herself?

Ms Davies’ four children and two grandchildren were reportedly supportive of her decision.


The point of stories like this is to bully people into legalizing euthanasia. We are supposed to swallow the hemlock that Davies had to kill herself so we were cruel for not making it easy–when the opposite is true.

Someone has to say it: If this report is true, shame on her family. And doubly shame on the media for their crescendo of suicide promotion, e.g., the Brittany Maynard feeding frenzy, 60 Minutes, and now Davies.

Apple/Facebook’s Anti-Woman Egg Freezing Perk


I have been planning to post about Apple and Facebook’s decisions to offer their women employees free egg freezing services to allow them to delay having children. As a friend of mine put it, the policy is just about keeping younger women pounding away at their computers–youth being highly valued by Big Technology.

But then I read my wife’s colleague (and our friend) Caille Millner’s righteous rant against the policies of these proudly politically progressive companies in today’s San Francisco Chronicle. And I decided, heck, Caille did a better job criticizing than I would, so I’ll let her do most of the work. From, “Egg Freezing Perk from Apple and Facebook is Creepy:”

Why offer this at all?

Most of the employees at these companies are paid well enough to afford egg-freezing on their own, should they wish to go that route. Meanwhile, there are plenty of other family-friendly benefits that these companies could have offered women. (It’s worth noting that the option to delay childbearing was offered only to women; there were no free sperm bank visits for men. That’s a statement in itself about who these executives believe must remain responsible for the weight of family life.)

They could have offered on-site day care. (Currently, Facebook offers full-time on-site day care only for dogs; Apple offers none for dogs or humans.)


They could have offered to ease negotiations about flexible work schedules for new parents.

Above all, they could have offered transparent salary scales and guaranteed pay equity. Women feel far better about starting a family when they know they won’t be penalized, either economically or in terms of career opportunity, for doing so.

Pow! Take that Koch Brothers Apple and Facebook

More seriously and potentially consequentially for women, Millner correctly notes that egg harvesting can be an onerous and dangerous procedure:

[E]gg-freezing [is] an intrusive procedure with a limited success rate. It’s a complicated, physically grueling process that provides no guarantees about future parenthood.

Because egg-freezing is such a major procedure, a few of the media reports called the announcements “creepy.” Indeed they are.

Allow me to be more specific: Egg harvesting requires massive hormonal whiplashing of the ovaries so that they release twenty eggs rather than the usual one.

Extraction involves anesthesia and the insertion of a collection needle through the vaginal wall. No fun.

Side effects can include ovary swelling, infection, infertility, increased chance of cancer, and in rare cases, even death.

To which, I will add: When it comes time for the eggs to be thawed and children gestated–it will also be exploit-a-destitute-surrogate time!

Sure, eggs can be thawed, IVF embryos implanted, and babies born when women are above normal child-bearing years. But it’s more difficult.

Consequently, if free egg freezing policies spread–and with “healthcare’s” definition ever-expanding, don’t think that intrusive Obamacare bureaucrats won’t insist eventually that insurance pay for it–women from the developing world will do much of the actual child-bearing. 

These “gestational carriers”–in the IVF industry’s dehumanizing parlance–often are kept in quasi-slave conditions including forced to undergo Caesarians.Oh, and if a baby doesn’t pass eugenic muster, then the surrogate may be pushed to have an abortion or the baby abandoned by the womb renters–something that is already happening.

Millner is absolutely correct. The egg freezing perk is a misogynist wolf in feminist sheep’s clothing with–to mix my metaphors–many long tentacles.

Read Caille’s whole piece: It’s well worth your time. And it saves me from idiotic comments about how a man has no right to express an opinion about the reproductive lives of women.

60 Minutes Proselytizing for Suicide Again


In the wake of the Brittany Maynard media full court press to convince America to accept assisted suicide, comes 60 Minutes, interviewing a woman who was charged with assisting the suicide of her father, later dropped, who has advocated for legalization. Wanna bet there is only one side meaningfully presented?

60 Minutes has long been in favor of assisted suicide, so in the tank for the agenda it even aired a video Jack Kevorkian took of his murder by lethal injection of Thomas Youk. From my 1998 article in the Wall Street Journal, A Snuff Film Comes to Prime Time:”

Mike Wallace morphed into Jerry Springer last Sunday night, as “60 Minutes” aired a videotape of Jack Kevorkian killing Thomas Youk, a 52-year-old man suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The decision to air the program–essentially a snuff film–was protested by disability-rights activists, several media commentators and some religious groups. A CBS spokesman brushed off the criticism, claiming that “60 Minutes” was merely “allowing Kevorkian to tell his story.” It’s a flimsy excuse. The program had two clear purposes: to boost ratings and to serve as propaganda for legalizing euthanasia…

If viewers wanted hard-hitting journalism to go along with their voyeurism, they were disappointed. The acerbic Mr. Wallace, who usually can be counted on to ask hard questions, treated Dr. Kevorkian with kid gloves. This is not surprising. It was Dr. Kevorkian who sought out Mr. Wallace, a well-known advocate of legalized euthanasia, as his interlocutor.

I will never forget Wallace repeatedly asking Kevorkian:”Is he dead yet? Is he dead yet?”

60 Minutes was also there to boost K when he was released from prison. From my 2007 article for NRO, “Dr. Death Returns:”

Jack Kevorkian is set to be released from prison today. Don’t expect Dr. Death to keep a low profile. He is already scheduled to appear on 60 Minutes, where he will be interviewed by euthanasia proponent Mike Wallace. After that, the rest of the media is likely to extravagantly tout Kevorkian as the compassionate, if eccentric, retired doctor who helped desperate, terminally ill people put themselves out of their misery.

And that is exactly what happened. Why, I hear the Muppets are going to soon include a fuzzy Jack Kevorkian puppet!

Make no mistake: 60 Minutes won’t be engaging in journalism Sunday night. Once again, it will be proselytizing for suicide. 

Brittany Maynard vs. Michael Landon


I wrote my first anti-euthanasia article for Newsweek. Here is a small piece of, “The Whispers of Strangers,” which lamanted my friend Frances’ suicide under the influence of Hemlock Society (now Compassion and Choices) how-to literature:

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

As originally written, the last phrase read, “that those who fight to stay alive in the face of terminal disease–like Michael Landon–are powerful uplifters of the human experience.”

Some readers might not remember Landon. He was a very popular television actor, who died young of pancreatic cancer in 1991. I have been thinking of him again lately amidst the media frenzy over the planned suicide of cancer patient Brittany Maynard.

So, I compared the media’s treatment of the two in my current First Things article:

Landon’s grit and determination inspired the nation. When he died a few months later, praise for his unshrinking courage led the obituaries. “Goodbye Little Joe,” in People, exemplified the media’s approach:

As word of his condition spread, thousands of letters of encouragement and sympathy arrived daily. Scores of friends visited the house and stood vigil at the gates of the ranch. “I have X amount of energy,” said Landon, “and what I have, I want to spend with my family.” Landon’s youngest children, Sean, 4, and Jennifer, 7, were “emotionally distraught,” says longtime friend and business partner Kent McCray, “but Michael passed his strength along to them.”

According to colleague John Warren, Landon also spent time videotaping his last wishes to family and friends. If his friends and family had solace, it was in Landon’s extraordinary calm. Says Flynn of his old friend’s last hours: “It was like going off a diving board. He knew it was coming, and he was brave to the last.

Attitudes have changed about disease and death since then—and, in my view, not for the better. Indeed, today, many might secretly consider Landon a chump for choosing to struggle until his natural death.

I then note how the striking similarity in the media’s take on Maynard’s planned suicide to the praise it once heaped on Landon for “fighting against the dying of the light.”

More, it is striking how the reporting about Maynard’s decision to die resembles the reporting about Landon’s courage twenty-three years ago. For example, People, which once applauded Landon for fighting to the end, now has the mirror-opposite take about Maynard. It even made her a cover story:

For the past 29 years, Brittany Maynard has lived a fearless life—running half marathons, traveling through Southeast Asia for a year and even climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. So, it’s no surprise she is facing her death the same way. On Monday, Maynard will launch an online video campaign with the nonprofit Compassion and Choices, an end-of-life choice advocacy organization, to fight for expanding Death with Dignity laws nationwide.

Suicide has made Maynard an international celebrity. Partly, that’s because she is the perfect icon: young, pretty, newly wed, tragically dying, and transgressive for wanting to kill herself rather than face the rigors of late-stage brain cancer.

And here’s a telling truth about our dissipating times:

But what if Maynard followed Landon’s path instead? She’d still be young, pretty, newly wed, and tragically dying—but there would be no cover stories in People or applause from Rosie O’Donnell. In fact, we would never have heard of her.

I conclude:

If assisted suicide is now considered “courageous” and equates with “death with dignity,” doesn’t that imply that people like Landon who choose to “fight against the dying of the light” are undignified and perhaps less courageous? Maynard isn’t nihilistic. She is just scared.

Those using her tragedy for their own purposes—policy advocacy, ratings, Internet hits, etc.—can’t say the same. The words of Canadian journalist Andrew Coyne keep ricocheting around my brain: “A society that believes in nothing can offer no argument even against death. A culture that has lost its faith in life cannot comprehend why it should be endured.”

Worse, as I wrote here at HE, if Maynard dies on 11/1 as apparently planned, the media will have forgotten who she is on 11/3, as they stampede off to the next emotive story. Sickening.


UK Prosecutors OK Nurse-Assisted Suicide


We live in an era when the rule of law means zero. It used to be: If you don’t like the law, change the law. Now: If you don’t like the law, pretend it doesn’t exist.

UK prosecutors have announced they won’t prosecute doctors or nurses who commit assisted suicide. From the Telegraph story:

Doctors and nurses who help severely disabled or terminally ill people to take their own lives are less likely to face criminal charges after Britain’s most senior prosecutor amended guidelines on assisted suicide. Until now all health care professionals faced a greater chance than others of being prosecuted for helping people to die because of the trust their patients placed in them.

Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said this special deterrent would now only apply to those directly involved in a person’s care.

Well, isn’t that comforting.

No! Once you announce you won’t enforce the law, the rules you claim will be enforced are rightly seen as total mush.

In the UK you can be jailed for making intemperate comments about certain minority groups. But no worries if you help kill some people.



Belgian Euthanasia = 50,000 Yearly US Killings


Belgium has jumped off a vertical moral cliff-from doctor-administered homicide. We have talked about some of the people killed here before, such as the psychiatric patient who was sexually predated by her psychiatrist–so another psychiatrist granted her wish to die. Or the transsexual unhappy with her sex change surgery.

In this post, I just want to point out that 1 in 50 Belgian deaths are from euthanasia–and that is surely too low a number as only those reported are counted and intentional killings from other than lethal injection don’t make the list.

But let’s assume it is accurate. About 2.5 million of us in the USA die each year. So, if we followed Belgium, it would amount to 50,000 euthanasia killings each year. That’s more than can fit into Pac Bell Park in San Francisco.


We Matter More than Giraffes and Begonias!


What is it with the anti-humanism of many on the political left and among scientific secularists? On one hand, they insist that we are just another animal in the forest–not exceptional! On the other, we are ordered to engage in radical self-sacrifice to save the planet and perform other acts of biological altruism.

And they seem to have such an emotional stake in knocking us off our well-deserved pedestal. Frankly, I think it is neurotic.

Now, in the Guardian, the angrily anti-human exceptionalist paleontologist and Nature senior editor, Henry Gee, yells at a television science show presenter for daring to support human exceptionalism in a program about evolution. From his column:

Cox speaks, with the prerequisite Bronowskian awe and reverence, of our uniqueness as a species, that we are the only species capable of doing the things we do, by virtue of attributes such as language and writing. Cox turns his boyishly unfocused gaze of general wonderment from the heavens to the depths of antiquity, the growth of societies and trade and how writing pulled this all together.

It’s this – the assertion of the uniqueness that makes us special – that really gets up my nose, because it’s a tautology and therefore meaningless.

No, it is a self-evident truth. 

Gee then garbles the essence of human exceptionalism, conflating its meaning with making moral judgments about contrasting biological capabilities among species:

Giraffes are unique at doing what they do. So are bumble-bees, quokkas, binturongs, bougainvillea, begonias and bandicoots. Each species is unique by virtue of its own attributes – that’s rather the point of being a species – and human beings are just one species among many.

To posit humans as something extra-special in some qualitative way is called human exceptionalism, and this is invariably coloured by subjectivity. Of course we think we’re special, because it’s we who are awarding the prizes.

We are the only species even capable of thinking about such things. That’s special.

And let me ask Dr. Gee: Which action is the most morally consequential: Murdering a human child, killing a giraffe calf, or uprooting a begonia? If he says murdering the child, he believes in human exceptionalism whether he will admit it or not.

And that gets us to the point: The distinctions between us and the rest of life are moral, not biological. A giraffe’s long neck doesn’t make it morally exceptional, nor does our opposable thumb. Termites can eat wood and we can’t. So what? That is a mere biological difference, irrelevant to our respective moral worth.

But we are better, or at least, more important: Only humans possess true moral agency. Only we value altruism. Only we mitigate suffering, including that of animals. Only we are rational; Only we think abstractly, record history, and strive to impact our posterity positively. Only we engage issues of spirituality and philosophy. Only we try to figure out Truth. Only we care about Truth. Etc. Etc. Etc.

Beavers erect pond dams. They don’t have a choice. It is instinctive. That’s not even in the same class of behavior as humans building Hoover Dam.

Gee disdains human exceptionalism because he is the ultimate relativist​: A crow’s nest is more important to the crow than a human television show, about which the crow is oblivious, so we aren’t exceptional.

That’s not how to judge anything! If that is true, we are no more important that dung beetles or maggots–I mean they care as much about excrement as we do steak (or tofu, for you vegans out there). 

Finally, Gee gets into dogs’ superior sense of smell:

Dogs can presumably recognize their own scents and tell them apart from the scents of other dogs as readily as we’d recognize our reflection in a mirror. Would we humans pass for self-aware, based on scent alone? I think not. Neither, then, should we judge the abilities of other animals by own own, unique, species-specific standards.

Yea pal, well we created dogs! And think of the joy they bring. Name any other species in the known universe that has done anything so exceptional. What further proof do we need?


Missing the Assisted Suicide Gorilla in Room


Good for USA Today for publishing a high profile article on the USA “suicide crisis”–40,000 per year. But the story laments that people no longer much care:

Americans are far more likely to kill themselves than each other. Homicides have fallen by half since 1991, but the U.S. suicide rate keeps climbing.

The nearly 40,000 American lives lost each year make suicide the nation’s 10th-leading cause of death, and the second-leading killer for those ages 15-34. Each suicide costs society about $1 million in medical and lost-work expenses and emotionally victimizes an average of 10 other people.

Yet a national effort to stem this raging river of self-destruction — 90% of which occurs among Americans suffering mental illness — is in disarray.

I’m not surprised. Indeed, I have written about what I call “Invisible Suicide Prevention Day,” on more than one occasion. Worse, suicide prevention organizations–like the media–pretend not to (or don’t) see the 800-pound assisted suicide gorilla in the room.

I believe that assisted suicide advocacy has contributed substantially to the public’s general indifference about suicide. (I would love to see a trustworthy study on that.) Indeed, with the rare exception of a beloved celebrity like Robin Williams or a bullied teen, the issue doesn’t resonate much at all people.

Perhaps that’s also a cost of our libertarian age: It gives us an excuse not to give much of a damn anymore under the guise of supporting freedom.

Still, I don’t see how lengthy articles like reporter Gregg Zoroya’s can lament suicide and not even mention the energetic a pro-suicide campaign around ongoing cancer patient Brittan Maynard–including in USA Today. From the paper’s story about Maynard’s planned suicide:

A young woman who has fearlessly run half-marathons and climbed Mount Kilimanjaro now faces a more daunting task: taking her own life…

Get it? Suicide takes the same grit and determination as climbing an iconic African mountain.

Consider all of the stories on this massive pro-suicide media campaign–People, Time, PBS, NPR, BBC–it’s an international feeding frenzy: These stories are decidedly pro-her-suicide in tone, almost uniformly describing her plan in positive language.  Some then spout the poll-tested pro-assisted suicide nonsense that assisted suicide isn’t really suicide.

But nobody’s really fooled. In fact, showing you how utterly myopic media today are in connecting clearly related dots, assisted suicide isn’t even mentioned in USA Today’s lengthy suicide story.

In for a penny, in for a pound: You can’t fret about suicide–even though that is a righteous position–and not at least discuss whether the ubiquitous pro-suicide message pushed by the euthanasia movement is relevant to the greater problem.

Denmark Banning Bestiality for Wrong Reason


Bestiality is animal abuse, by definition. But the idea that it is abuse because they can’t consent is absurd.

But don’t tell that to the clueless Danes who don’t seem to understand fully why bestiality is wrong. From the story:

“I have decided that we should ban sex with animals. That is happening for numerous reasons. The most important is that in the vast majority of cases it is an attack against the animals,” the food and agriculture minister, Dan Jørgensen, told Ekstra Bladet, a Danish tabloid.According to Jørgensen, one of the factors that prompted his decision was the damage done to his country’s reputation which laws still allow sex between humans and animals.

“And under all circumstances, any doubts about it should go to the animals’ benefit,” he said. “They naturally cannot say no to going along with it. Therefore, it should be banned.”…

The absence of a law on bestiality led to a growth in animal sex tourism industry in the country.

Sigh. It’s much more than that: Animals did not evolve, were not created, and/or were not intelligently designed—take your pick—to be mere outlets for our lust, and using them in this way denigrates the respect we owe them as living beings with intrinsic value. And yes, it is not disrespectful to eat a food animal—food chains, after all, being part of the normal cycle of life—but it would be to use it as a sexual vessel or outlet.

But there is much more to this. From my Weekly Standard article, “Horse Sense:”

Bestiality is so very wrong not only because using animals sexually is abusive, but because such behavior is profoundly degrading and utterly subversive to the crucial understanding that human beings are unique, special, and of the highest moral worth in the known universe—a concept known as “human exceptionalism.”…

Nothing would more graphically demonstrate our unexceptionalism than countenancing human/animal sex…Such degrading conduct unacceptably subverts standards of basic human dignity and is an affront to humankind’s inestimable importance and intrinsic moral worth.

It’s not that difficult.  But the less we say that, the fewer will know that it is true.

Animal sex tourism? Good grief.

Great That We Live in the “Age of Humans!”


Who says we aren’t exceptional? Scientists have renamed the current era, “Anthropocene,” e.g., the age of humans. From the AP story:

It’s an ugly word, one many people don’t understand, and it’s even hard to pronounce, Kress admitted. (It’s AN’-thruh-poh-seen.) That’s why when he opened the Smithsonian’s symposium, he said, “We are living in the Anthropocene,” then quickly added, “the age of humans.” “Never in its 4.6 billion-year-old history has the Earth been so affected by one species as it is being affected now by humans,” Kress said.

Steffen, one of the main leaders of the Anthropocene movement, said in an email that the age of humans is more than just climate change. It includes ozone loss, disruption of nitrogen and phosphorous cycles that are causing dead zones, changes in water, acidification of the ocean, endocrine disruptors and deforestation.

The accuracy of global warming hysteria aside, they talk as if our success as a species is a bad thing.

Of course, without industrialization, we would still be mired in widespread destitution, have short, brutal lives, and would lack the prosperity necessary to pursue science.

And did you notice the hint of earth religion among the Anthropocene pushers?

We should clean up our messes, to be sure.  And pursuing ever-increasing standards of environmental responsibility is the right thing to do.

But I am happy we have thrived as a species. The alternative is too horrible to contemplate

Pro Abortion Magical Thinking About Dead Fetus


I have been predicting (warning?) my pro-life friends that pro-choice is morphing into pro-abortion. Some have smiled, saying in effect, “Bring it on.” 

Be careful what you ask for. Remember, convincing the people isn’t what matters anymore. It is convincing judges.

Meanwhile, the pro-abortion campaign continues, such as this book review of a pro-abortion book in Slate, the ending of which I found both very sad and telling. From, “Abortion is Great,” by Hanna Rosin:

Several years after I had the abortion, I had a third child. Part of me thinks the shadow aborted child stayed with me and created a space for the last one to be born. 

Whatever it takes to get through the night. 

Not that it mattered much:

Does this mean I was plagued by abortion “regret,” as pro-life activists claim, or haunted by my decision? Of course not. I never felt like I had done something awful. The truth is, I hardly thought about it after I did it, because I was too busy working and raising two small children.

And here’s a scary thought: 

Having an abortion left me with a sense of what a great power it is to be able to give life but also a sense that I can trust myself to use it carefully.

It’s always about power to feminists, and the power to bring death is ultimate.

Perhaps the reason Rosin doesn’t regret her abortion is that she conjured magical thinking around the reality of what she has done as a way to keep from thinking about it.

Putting PR Over Safety in Ebola Care?


I am no specialist in preventing epidemics. But this seems nuts to me.

Did Tom Frieden, the head of the CDC, imply that health care workers treating possible Ebola patients keep themselves less than optimally safe? From, “Ebola: Infection Control Needs Rethink,” in MedPage Today:

Frieden said investigators are now closely monitoring procedures for donning and removing protective gear in the hospital. Officials are also considering whether other types of gowns, masks, gloves, and other equipment might reduce the risk of exposure during changes, he said. But he suggested that full hazmat suits are almost certainly not the answer because of the difficulties they create for patient care and for the workers themselves.

And get this!

Frank Esper, MD, an infectious disease specialist at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, told MedPage Today that workers must strike a balance between self-protection and their job responsibilities. “Some institutions are opting to use a full-body hood” instead of face shields and masks, he said. This provides “a lot of protection for the healthcare worker.

“The biggest problem with a lot of this,” he continued, “is that we’re very compassionate when we try to take care of our patients. We want to be able to relate to them, we want them to feel secure.”

He said it makes patients nervous to “see all these hoods and gowns and face masks” and that it runs counter to the goal of providing reassurance to patients.

Are. You. Kidding. Me?

How would you like to be a nurse–with a family–and know that you are kept less than optimally safe in your work so ”patients feel secure”? And what about the wider community?

I have had total trust in the medical experts so far in the Ebola crisis. But that trust is beginning to fray at the seams.  

Stop Suicide Advocacy to Halt Suicide Epidemic


We are in the midst of a “suicide epidemic.” Yet, rather than look at causes, many commenters go shallow to focus on methods.

For example, most suicides are by gun. Thus, at Real Clear Science, Alex B. Berezow advocates gun control. From, “To End Suicide Epidemic, Make Guns Harder to Get:”

A sensible policy to lower the suicide rate in America would be to make gun ownership more difficult. But given our current political climate, that idea is almost certainly dead in the water.

Please. The country is awash in guns. Absent a total confiscation, making guns more difficult to buy–whatever the worth of such a policy–won’t materially impact suicide rates.

Let’s connect some dots: The problem isn’t means, but culture. Media, popular entertainment, and societal decadence are making suicide increasingly acceptable. More, I believe that we are fast becoming a pro suicide culture

Think not? Look at the media tripping over themselves to extol Brittany Maynard! I mean, good grief, she has become an international celebrity–not for anything she has done in life but because she is young and pretty and has announced plans to commit assisted suicide!

Look at the terms used ubiquitously to describe her plan: “Courageous;” “in control;” “on her own terms,” “the only reason to oppose is religious,” etc..

You can’t applaud one person’s planned suicide and then tut-tut about other suicides. It won’t resonate.

And look what is not being said in her case: “Suicide prevention;” “medical care can preserve quality of life,” “suicide is wrong,”etc..

The suicide virus is catching, particularly when the media make it glamorous and turn a suicidal woman into a heroine.

If we want to reduce suicide, we need a societal milieu in which it is a distinctly disfavored action–not for some, but for all. 

Absent that, we had better get used to high suicide rates–both of those approved of by the zeitgeist, and those which all still find appalling.

Doctors Rightly Reject “Anti-Vaxxers’ ” Children


As a kid, I was terrified of polio. This was the era of hospital iron lung wards, in which hulking machines noisily kept scores of children breathing. Believe me, my friends and I were very aware of those!

My parents signed me up to be in the first wave to receive the Salk vaccine series. Within years, polio was on a steep decline and the terror passed.

Which is why it is so stunning to me that about 10% of parents refuse to vaccinate their children against potentially deadly diseases. As a consequences, some preventable diseases–made rare by vaccinations–are on the rebound.

Now, some pediatricians are refusing unvaccinated children as patients. From the NYT story:

There is enough appeal in anti-vaccination thinking among members of the affluent class that certain pediatricians in the city, as they have elsewhere around the country, have made it a policy in recent years to refuse to see children whose parents won’t have them immunized.

A few years ago Pediatric Associates of NYC, which has branches in Murray Hill in Manhattan and Prospect Heights in Brooklyn, chose this course, David Horwitz, a partner in the practice told me, in large part because it simply became untenable to have unvaccinated children sitting in waiting rooms.

Earlier in the story, this interesting anecdote appears:

Amanda Uhry, who runs a consultancy called Manhattan Private School Advisors, which, as its name suggests, helps parents through the private-school application process, said she recently turned down a half-dozen clients when she discovered that they were opposed to vaccination. For a long while she had never inquired about the issue, but a few years ago, a child she was working with missed his kindergarten interview because of whooping cough, which left her stunned.

“I thought, Whooping cough? Who gets whooping cough anymore?” she said.

Why do people think that is?

It is one thing to have an ethical objection to vaccinations. But few “anti-vaxxers” fall into that category. Most are hysterical, trendy, or fall into that way overused category of “anti-science.

I’m usually adamantly opposed to coercion in medicine, But I sympathize with the doctors who refuse to accept the children of anti-vaxxers as patients.

Considering how tiny the world has become–and with the recent influx of poor children from destitute places and concomitant potential to be exposed to prevantable communicable diseases like measles or diphtheria–not vaccinating kids is just plain nuts. 


Big Brained Scientist Says We Aren’t Conscious


There they go again: Count on the New York Times to publish anti-human exceptionalism pieces in its opinion section or magazine at least twice a month.

In this edition, Michael S. Graziano asks the question, “Are We Really Conscious?  I’ll bet you can guess the answer.

First, make humans seem as puny as possible:

What is our relationship to the diversity of life? Darwin answered that one. Biologically speaking, we’re not a special act of creation. We’re a twig on the tree of evolution.

But what a “twig!”

Contrary to Graziono’s reductionism, in the hundreds of millions of years of life on earth, only we are rational. Only we are moral agents. Only we truly create. And only we have escaped the chains of natural selection and taken a step outside of evolution. Indeed, there are those who wish to “seize control of evolution” and intelligently design humans in our own image.

And only we created a new species as joyful and useful as dogs. Hardly a twig.

Also, only we are truly conscious. No we’re not!

The argument here is that there is no subjective impression; there is only information in a data-processing device. When we look at a red apple, the brain computes information about color. It also computes information about the self and about a (physically incoherent) property of subjective experience.

The brain’s cognitive machinery accesses that interlinked information and derives several conclusions: There is a self, a me; there is a red thing nearby; there is such a thing as subjective experience; and I have an experience of that red thing. Cognition is captive to those internal models. Such a brain would inescapably conclude it has subjective experience.

But none of what we think we experience really exists:

In this theory, awareness is not an illusion. It’s a caricature. Something — attention — really does exist, and awareness is a distorted accounting of it.

Isn’t this just a variation of Plato’s shadows on the cave wall? 

And more reductionism from slightly earlier in the piece:

The “attention schema” theory of consciousness…would evolve in any complex brain.

Except it hasn’t in any other species but us (with the possible exception of Neanderthals, to whom we are related).

Granted, I am not a neuroscientist. But my data processing device tells me that Graziano’s theory is one only a big-brained caricaturist could conjure. 


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