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Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Kevorkian Place in History Up to Culture Victors



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I was recently contacted by a high school student writing a paper about the historical significance of Jack Kevorkian.  I hadn’t considered that particular aspect of his saga before, and so I took some time answering her. I then made that question the topic of my current column in First Things:

It is too soon to answer what, if any, historical significance Kevorkian will have. I hope none.

If we are a moral society in one hundred years, he will be remembered—if he is remembered at all—as a crass social outlaw, operating at a time of cultural hesitancy, who preyed upon the despairing in pursuit of his own nihilistic ends. But there’s a chance we will not be a moral society.

So, I did my best to be dispassionate:

I think Jack Kevorkian was a symptom—not a cause—of a society that is losing trust in institutions and principles. His success in defying the law for so long was a vote of “no confidence” in the practice of medicine itself and reflected a culture that increasingly extols the atomized self. In other words, we are a becoming solipsistic society: If I want it, that means it is right—so long as I am not hurting you.

We are also becoming a culture that is terrified of suffering and disdains serious limitations. Avoidance of suffering has become a very high cultural priority, sometimes to the point that it takes precedence over preserving life itself. That people can surmount their suffering and adjust to difficult circumstances—and later be glad they are still alive (and this includes the terminally ill)—too often gets lost in the stampede.

Kevorkian understood and exploited these aspects of our culture.

I recount some of the facts that often get lost in the media reporting of the story or that have disappeared down the memory hole, such as his goal of engaging in human vivisection. I conclude:

Many people disagree with my critical assessment and believe that Kevorkian should go down in history as a courageous, if eccentric, pioneer of the putative human right to suicide. As they say, the victors write the history books. The kind of society we leave for our posterity will ultimately determine which view of Kevorkian becomes the reigning historical understanding.

I really hope K goes down badly in history–or better yet, is forgotten altogether. Because if tomorrow’s history books lionize him as a visionary leader of freedom, the culture of the West will be as dead as Kevorkian’s 130 “patients.”

Court Axes California Foie Gras Ban



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A decade ago, animal rights terrorists went after a Napa restaurateur for serving foie gras–​pouring acid on his car, issuing threats, etc.

Typical of the way things go these days, rather than discredit the anti-foie gras movement, my state’s political hacks validated their tactics by passing a ban–both on producing the delicacy and serving it in restaurants–even though the question of cruelty is controversial

That ban has now been tossed by a federal judgeCalifornia farmers still can’t produce foie gras, but restaurants can buy the fowl liver from out-of-state producers, of which there are only a handful.

 

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Refusing Measles Vaccine is Reckless



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The anti-vaccine movement has led to an increase in preventable infectious diseases, such as measles. Now, an infected person at Disneyland apparently caused nine children to get sick–and eight had not been vaccinated. From the CBSLA story:

At least nine people have contracted measles after visiting Disneyland parks in Orange County over the holidays, the state Department of Public Health said Wednesday. The local infected patients, who were from Alameda, Orange, Pasadena, Riverside and San Diego, range in age from 8 months to 21 years old. Just one of the infected individuals had been fully vaccinated.

This is reckless and irresponsible. Fears of autism–which have kept some parents from getting protection for their children–were based primarily on a completely discredited study that was rescinded by the Lancet in 2010. 

It’s not like news travels slowly these days. Some people would rather believe.

That works fine in some areas of human interaction, but not this one. People owe it to their children to protect them from serious disease–as well as to others’ children and adults who may not have been vaccinated. It really is wrong to put people unnecessarily at risk of disease because of baseless fears.

As the Belgian Euthanasia Turns



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What a soap opera.

The planned euthanasia killing of the Belgian murderer and rapist has been put on hold because the death doctor came down with an unexplained case of cold feet. From the De Staandard story (Google translation):

Frank Van Den Bleeken Sunday will still get no euthanasia because of unbearable psychological suffering. Reported that the Cabinet of Minister of Justice Koen Geens. The doctors Van Den Bleeken would assist in the euthanasia procedure have dropped out.

Minister of Justice Koen Geens late Frank Van Den Bleeken transferring Turnhout to the recently launched forensic psychiatric center (FPC) in Ghent. This center is not suitable for long stays, but for people who can be integrated into society. There Bleeken Van Den will be observed.

The idea is an observation with a view to the appropriate treatment or the development of a custom care process. If our country would not prove possible treatment, Van Den Bleeken is probably transferred to the Netherlands.

Why transfer him to the Netherlands? I am told Belgium doesn’t have the capacity to treat vicious sex killers.

I suspect this planned killing came too close to capital punishment, so disdained in Western Europe. Hence, a rare bout of conscience among Belgian death doctors.

It’s all so surreal. Let’s recap the current state of Belgian euthanasia, shall we?

- Euthanasia for a botched sex change surgery? Yes!

- Euthanasia of the mentally ill coupled with organ harvesting? Yes!

- Euthanasia of psychiatric patient sexually exploited by her psychiatrist? Yes!

But so far, no quasi-capital punishment. We’ll see if this shaky death boundary sticks.

Considering the fundamental premises of euthanasia consciousness, I suspect not. Indeed, as I have written here, some bioethicists and euthanasia activists–apparently, including Peter Singer–support (“rational”) euthanasia or assisted suicide for those who find imprisonment unbearable. 

But the Belgian cruel and unusual death with dignity is off for now. Tune in here soon for the next episode of, As the Belgian Euthanasia Turns

Transhumanism Puts Parents’ Wants Over Baby’s Welfare



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I wrote here the other day about how scientists believe they may be able to turn skin cells into usable eggs and sperm. This means, among other things, that two men could become biological parents of a child–with one becoming the mother by having his cell turned into an egg. Then, after IVF created the embryo, the baby would be gestated in an artificial uterus.

Some seem to think this is a good thing. From the Agility Healthy story (Google translation):

Complete male reproductive independence on artificial womb technology, which also made hinge headlines in 2014 ectogenesis-the technical term artificial uterus is in development for the already over 10 years and Future Zoltan Istvan predicted to be available and widely used within of 30 years. In an e-mail to the Daily Beast, Istvan added that “it is very possible that the natural birth begins to disappear in the next 25 to 50 years because of advances in technology.”

A male mother and a male father, with baby gestated in a machine? On Twitter, I asked the Transhumanist Party’s presidential candidate (true!) Istvan why he thought this would be a good thing. He replied:

 

Hi, because more choice is generally better, especially if it eliminates some medical danger.

But mothers are not just gestating machines who supply a warm place to develop and proper nutrients. Babies benefit from the time spent in the womb in ways that would seem impossible to duplicate in a machine.

For example, babies begin to learn language while gestating. From an article in Science:

More recent studies have expanded on the idea of fetal learning, indicating that newborns already familiarized themselves with sounds of their parent’s native language; one showed that American newborns seem to perceive Swedish vowel sounds as unfamiliar, sucking on a high-tech pacifier to hear more of the new sounds. Swedish infants showed the same response to English vowels.

Gestating babies also can hear music. And exercise by the mother can benefit the baby, as well. From the Discovery story:

In another study, presented at last week’s conference, May recruited 60 women at 13 weeks of pregnancy and brought them into the gym three times a week for either aerobic or mixed aerobic and weight training exercise. A control group of women came in to stretch and chat with researchers, keeping their heart rates low.

At 34 weeks—about six weeks before the babies’ due dates—the researchers checked in with the hearts within the wombs. Whether their moms were pumping iron or spinning, the babies in the bellies of exercising moms played along—their heart rates were lower and more variable, another sign of heart health, and pumped more blood with each beat than the tiny hearts inside moms in the control group.

And these two examples don’t even get into the emotional and loving bonds that living mothers give to their babies during the gestational period.

Artificial wombs would certainly have an important place in medicine, for example, saving the life of a child when her mother was incapable of carrying to term.

But they should not become hatcheries (to use the Brave New World term) to gratify lifestyle wants of parents.

And that’s the thing about transhumanism: It is so solipsistic.

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Belgian Rapist to be Euthanized



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Apparently, the Belgian rapist who wanted euthanasia rather than spend life in jail will be snuffed by a doctor forthwith, in a country that rejects the death penalty. From the RTE News story:

Belgian newspaper De Morgen is reporting Frank Van Den Bleeken, who has spent the past 30 years in jail for repeated rape convictions and a rape murder, will be euthanised in prison in the north-western city of Bruges. “Euthanasia will indeed be implemented,” a justice ministry spokeswoman told the Flemish-language newspaper, which gave the date as 11 January .

“Now the time has come,” the spokeswoman added. Mr Van Den Bleeken had for years requested that the state help him end his life due to what his lawyer Jos Vander Velpen called “unbearable” psychological suffering. He received the all-clear to be allowed do so last September.

Good grief.

I call cases such as this, “cruel and unusual death with dignity.” The irony is sharp enough to shatter bones.

Here’s the lesson: Once the monster breaks its chain, there are no real limits to euthanasia consciousness.

Transhumanist Reality Check



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Transhumanists are control freaks. They believe religiously that they can achieve indefinite life through anti-aging research, biotech, cybertech, uploading minds into computers, etc.

But life has a way of showing us that there are limits to human manipulation. Many cancers, it seems, aren’t caused by lifestyle choices as once thought, but chance. From the Reuters story:

Plain old bad luck plays a major role in determining who gets cancer and who does not, according to researchers who found that two-thirds of cancer incidence of various types can be blamed on random mutations and not heredity or risky habits like smoking.

The researchers said on Thursday random DNA mutations accumulating in various parts of the body during ordinary cell division are the prime culprits behind many cancer types. They looked at 31 cancer types and found that 22 of them, including leukemia and pancreatic, bone, testicular, ovarian and brain cancer, could be explained largely by these random mutations – essentially biological bad luck.

The best answer–as we have known for years:

Tomasetti said the study indicates that changing one’s lifestyle and habits like smoking to avoid cancer risks may help prevent certain cancers, but may not be as effective for others. ”Thus, we should focus more research and resources on finding ways to detect such cancers at early, curable stages,” Tomasetti added.

I’m all for that. Indeed, that is one reason I have been skeptical of plans to reduce some cancer screenings as standards of preventive care.

So, transhumanists, put your energy, creativity, and focus into living–which the world’s great religions hold is greatly aided by remembering our pending deaths–as opposed to thinking one can prevent dying.  For as Benjamin Franklin said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Killable



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Slate has published a wonderful series of photos of babies only seconds in the world. 

According to some very prominent bioethicists–past and present–certain, or even any, of these littlest people are killable–either because they are denigrated as human “non-persons” or because they have terminal or seriously disabling conditions. These advocates for infanticide include:

- Peter Singer.

- Joseph Fletcher.

- Udo Schuklenk.

- Jonathan Glover. 

- Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva

- Jacob M. Appel.

- Karl Binding and Alfred Hoche.

It’s already happening (again). Netherlander doctors openly kill disabled newborns under the Groningen Protocol, a bureaucratic killing checklist published with all due respect in medical journals (including the New England Journal of Medicine).

- It is also worth recalling that a representative for Planned Parenthood of Florida once okayed infanticide after a botched abortion in legislative testimony.

So. I applaud the photographs. But, we also have to remember that the right to life of these newbies is under a material threat.  L’Chaim!

A “Death Doula” Loses His Medical License



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There is more to this story than a ghoul suicide facilitator losing his medical license.

Lawrence G. Egbert is part of the suicide “counseling” organization, Final Exit Network. The group assists all kinds of people–including the mentally ill–in killing themselves with helium. Now, Egbert has lost his license. From the New York Times story:

State regulators said that Dr. Egbert had acted as what the network calls an exit guide for six people in Maryland from May 2004 to November 2008. “Dr. Egbert reviewed their applications and medical records and recommended accepting them as members,” said the order, which was signed by Christine A. Farrelly, the executive director of the Board of Physicians. “Dr. Egbert attended their suicide rehearsals. He held each member’s hand and talked to him or her.”

Each of the patients died, the state said, of asphyxiation caused by helium inhalation, and Dr. Egbert “removed the hoods and helium tanks” from the places where the five women and one man died. Those patients had been diagnosed with conditions that included Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

At 87, big deal. These people need jail if they are going to be deterred. Good luck with that!

But let’s look a bit more closely at the FEN and connect some dots:

1. FEN is not a rogue group within the suicide movement, but reflect the actual beliefs of many adherents that facilitated suicide is a fundamental human right.

2. If it is a “right,” it can’t be limited to the few who meet “strict guidelines.” Those are just there to give false assurance anyway, not to actually be enforced.

3. Is helium a medical agent? No more than Jack Kevorkian’s favored agent, carbon monoxide. Should these gases be covered by Medicare as a palliative agent? Of course not.

4. This shows that assisted suicide isn’t really a medical procedure. Death groups like the Hemlock Society Compassion and Choices just support the “medical model” to harness the authority of the doctor to legitimize the suicide cause.

5. That is why Scotland is promoting the idea of “licensed suicide facilitators” and the LA Times recently ran a piece advocating “death doulas” to assist suicides in place of doctors. Kevorkian similarly argued that these proposed death-bringers should be called, “lay executioners.”

6. Even if assisted suicide is legalized for the terminally ill, FEN will still help kill those who don’t qualify under the law. And what will be done about it? Not much.

Look around. We face an existential crisis in which we are becoming a pro-suicide culture. Not for everyone–for now–but for an ever-expanding group that will ultimately lead to death-on-demand for anyone with more than a transitory desire to die.

“Death doulas?” No, death ghoulas!

Support for these groups–and this cause–ultimately becomes a message to despairing and suffering people, in the words of Rhett Butler, “Frankly, my dear: I don’t give a damn.”

Gruber: There Will be Obamacare Death Panels



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Back in 09–when Obamacare advocates castigated those who worried that Obamacare would lead to rationing–Jonathan Gruber said get the law passed first, then refuse treatment later. From the Daily Caller story:

“Let’s get the people covered and then let’s do cost control,” [Gruber said]

Gruber also said that the only way to control costs is to effectively deny treatment. “The real substance of cost control is all about a single thing: telling patients they can’t have something they want. It’s about telling patients, ‘That surgery doesn’t do any good, so if you want it you have to pay the full cost.’”

And guess who decides what “doesn’t do any good” means? Bioethicists–who believe that some lives have greater value than others–and Obamacare technocrats.

And that is known as a Michael Kinsley definition of a gaffe.

CA Animal Rights Activists Raise Egg Prices



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I have noticed that egg prices have gone up about $2-3 per dozen in my local store. There’s a reason: Californians passed a measure banning laying hens from being kept in cages. From the Medical Daily story by Samantha Olson:

The price increase could appear in supermarkets as early as next week, so it’ll be as if consumers are paying more for their egg mother’s upgraded living quarters. Animal advocates believe in abolishing confined cramped cages and crates because, not only does it cause suffering to another living being, but it also increases the chance of Salmonella contamination. 

Sorry, I have dealt with these activists. Salmonella was the least of their actual concerns. What mattered to them was the chickens.

Yes, the welfare of chickens certainly matter. But so does the welfare of poor families that can be hit pretty badly when the cost of food staples rise. Alas, that crucial aspect of the proper animal welfare equation often gets lost–and isn’t given a damn about among animal rights activists.

Indeed, as I recall the campaign leading to this law, animal rights activists assured that prices would not go up significantly.  I knew that was baloney since I was already paying at least $2 per extra per dozen for cage free eggs.

Oh well, some believe the extra cost is simply something to swallow. Writeth Olsen:

Consumers are already increasingly buying cage-free or pasture-raised chickens even though they cost two to three times more than a regular carton from the bosoms of cage-confined chickens. Maybe the price increase won’t bother consumers if they remember what their extra couple of quarters are buying them.

That’s why I pay more willingly.

But that blithe assurance will be very cold comfort to the poor single mother raising two kids on very low salary. The extra dollars she will pay for food inflation means she won’t be able to buy her family something else.

Which is why I prefer labeling on this particular issue rather than an across the state legal mandate. But that chicken has flown the coop.

Debbie Purdy Dies: Case Echoed I Accuse!



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Debbie Purdy, who won a landmark legal case in the United Kingdom requiring the public prosecutor to issue guidelines when assisted suicide would be prosecuted, has died in hospice after refusing to eat. She was 51.

Purdy’s case thrust the legalization of assisted suicide onto the front burner in the UK in 2009, where it remains today.  Ironically, even though she wasn’t terminally ill at the time–and died now because she stopped eating–UK assisted suicide promoters continue to pretend that legalization is about terminal illness.  

Considering Purdy’s case–and the support she received for the right to assisted suicide–it clearly is not. Any such limitation is only the proverbial foot in the door.

I am reminded of the 1941 German pro-euthanasia propaganda movie Ich Klage An! (I Accuse!).  As in the Purdy case, the plot involved a woman who contracts progressive MS.  As she loses abilities, she wants to die. Her physician husband eventually assists her suicide and is arrested. The movie ends with the character looking into the camera, as if the audience were the judges, declaring:

No!  Now, I accuse!  I accuse the law which hinders doctors and judges in their task of helping people.  I confess . . . I have delivered my wife from her sufferings, following her wishes.  My life and the lives of all people who will suffer the same fate as my wife, depends on your verdict.  Now, pass your verdict.

The answer the movie-makers wanted was to validate the husband’s act.  In essence, that is what the Purdy case was also about.

If you agree that the husband acted properly in I Accuse, stop pretending assisted suicide is about terminal illness and admit it is much more about disability–which is why the disability rights movement remains so opposed as they are the primary targets.  It is about allowing killing as an acceptable answer to many causes of suffering, whether terminal or chronic disease, disability, mental illness, or existential despair.  

Indeed, as we have seen in Switzerland, Netherlands, and Belgium, once the fundamental premise us accepted, the sheer force of logic leads to permission for virtual death-on-demand.

Debbie Purdy looked at society and said, “I accuse!”  What is your verdict?

Mine is to never legalize. Ever.

CNN: Maynard “Extraordinary” for Suicide



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The media’s worship of the euthanasia movement is really becoming evident. CNN has named Brittany Maynard one of its “11 Extraordinary People of 2014.” From the story:

Her example sparked a widespread debate about the rights of people with incurable illnesses to determine how and when they will die. Maynard followed through on her plans in November, dying on her own terms.

I guess that means people who decide to go naturally–no matter how courageous their struggle–just aren’t worth noticing.

Of course, such people don’t have a huge propaganda effort behind the way they die pushed by euthanasia groups, the “death with dignity” false meme happily amplified by the media.  

Besides, what made Maynard’s suicide any more extraordinary than 700 other people who have also died by doctor-prescribe death in Oregon? Funny, CNN did not name any of them to their list over the years.

Robin Williams committed suicide and he wasn’t called extraordinary as a result.

Two factors are at play:

First, the mainstream media clearly intends to transform assisted suicide into their new “cause” now that the same sex marriage controversy seems to be coming to a conclusion.

Second: Maynard was beautiful, bringing out CNN’s inner tabloid. 

Be honest: How many readers–whatever their view of legalizing assisted suicide–believe CNN would have named Maynard “extraordinary” for committing assisted suicide if she weighed 200 pounds, wasn’t white (for the same reason kidnapped white girls almost always get more media attention than kidnapped girls of color), or was aged and wrinkled?

Exactly! Is it any wonder the media is viewed with such low regard?

Rare Media Defense of Human Exceptionalism



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The media and the academy love anti-human exceptionalists–and I think for the same reasons. I believe the unremitting assault on unique human value–animal rights, nature rights, transhumanism, bioethics–aims to break the spine of Judeo/Christian moral philosophy (not the faiths, but them too) toward the end of destroying perceived moralism and opening the door to treating the most weak and vulnerable among us as objects.

It is thus rare to see much space devoted in mainstream media outlets to defending human exceptionalism. Hence, I want to compliment Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Joe Golenesi for presenting philosopher Timothy Chappell’s rebuttal to rebut the noxious idea that chimps can be “persons” in a column about Steven Wise’s lawsuit to obtain a chimp write of habeas corpus.

Chappell seems to reject the dangerous notion that our value comes from our capacities of the moment of taking the pulse, but rather, is intrinsic to being human. From, “Is Personhood an Animal Right or a Human Privilege?”: (my emphasis)

What Chappell sees in the application of the checklist is pure horse-before-the-cart-ism. Persons, as Chappell sees it, exist first; the list can still be applied but it’s to a person already-made. This distinctiveness is ours, and ours only to share in what Chappell calls the ‘primary moral constituency’.

It matters that we are a species, and it matters that there are other species. For us though, our primary moral constituency is humankind, and it precedes lists of criteria and properties that might be applied to individual members.

Golenis explains:

Chappell’s notion of the primary moral constituency sets up an arena where we undertake meaningful and reciprocal moral relations—the sorts of relationships that can only exist intra-species, and has ultimately little to do with the power relations inherent in the idea of speciesism.

‘I think we lose something very important if we lose sight of that idea that what species you’re in does actually have some basic moral significance. I think that idea is just true. The basic campaign against speciesism has often been based on misunderstandings of that.’

Chappell rejects the cheap and intellectually vacuous canard–oft aimed in my direction–that because humans have primary value, we human exceptionalists believe that no other species matter:

‘There is often a danger in the debate of making it sound like that only humans matter morally and it’s only with humans that we can have deep and valuable relationships. I think that is patently and obviously false. There have been plenty of individuals for whom their most significant relationships were with beings of other species such as dogs.’

Exactly. The whole concept of animal rights is a misnomer–since no animal would have any rights vis a vis other animals. Instead, the question sounds exclusively on the extent of human duties–with animal rights believers claiming that we have a radical-self-sacrificial obligation to treat animals as we want people treated.

Only we have the capacity to be that (stupidly) altruistic and self-destructive. Ironically, this radical quest proves: We are exceptional!

Good Grief: Now It’s “Death Doulas”



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The Hippocratic Oath is one of the last remaining impediments to the complete deprofessionalization of medicine.

Doctors don’t take it much anymore, but the people still embrace its core purpose as an essential protection of their lives and wellbeing

Now, in the LA Times, a doctor and journalist try to put the Oath out of its misery by taking the primary responsibility for interacting with dying patients away from physicians and handing decision-making over to “death doulas.” From, “The Hippocratic Oath and the Terminally Ill,” by Nora Zamichow and Ken Murray:

If we allow medicine to prolong life, should we also allow it to shorten life for the terminally ill?

We could, however, skirt the controversy entirely: What if we created another class of medical professionals known as death doulas, who could fill a gap between treatment doctors and hospice workers?

Death doulas would, in essence, become suicide facilitators:

In one recent study, 12% of doctors received one or more requests from patients asking about physician-assisted suicide; and an additional 4% received one or more requests for euthanasia. Another recent study put the numbers even higher: 57% of today’s doctors have received such requests.

And other studies show that most of those who ask, when treated properly, are glad they weren’t dispatched.

Back to the suicide pushing:

Don’t we owe it to our doctors to provide guidance in such matters? Do we want each doctor to grapple with these decisions individually?

No, we owe it to doctors not to ask them to participate in any way in killing. Death doulas would just let doctors shirk their professional responsibilities.

Moreover, if any doctors says they “can no longer help the patient,” it is time to get a better doctor!

This article demonstrates once again how the death movement distorts, twists, and subverts everything it touches. You see, a doula isn’t about death and darkness, but about enhancing and increasing the joy of childbirth, e.g. the giving of new life! Here is the definition:

The word “doula” comes from the ancient Greek meaning “a woman who serves” and is now used to refer to a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth; or who provides emotional and practical support during the postpartum period.

The point of the doula is to uplift! It is to help assure that the experience of birth is a positive one that the mother “remembers for the rest of her life.”

“Death doulas” turn that concept on its head.

But Wesley, wouldn’t a death doula be akin to hospice? Quite the contrary: Hospice is about living, not dying. When a hospice professional runs across a patient with a suicidal desire, the team engages to help the patient not want to kill themselves.

That’s an essential service. In direct contrast, death doulas be about making sure the dying gets done.

And who would want to be death doula? At least some would be the kind of people who now facilitate suicides because they like it.

Here’s an example from pro-assisted suicide advocate Lonnie Shavelson’s book, A Chosen Death about the time he witnesses a Hemlock Society leader assist the suicide of a depressed and lonely man named Gene, partially disabled by a stroke. From my description in Forced Exit:

Gene wants to end it all. He contacts an undisclosed chapter of the Hemlock Society and asks its head, a woman given the pseudonym “Sarah,” to assist in his death. According to Shavelson, Sarah has experience in this dark business, having previously assisted a close friend to commit suicide. Sarah found her first killing experience tremendously satisfying and powerful, “the most intimate experience you can share with a person. . . . More than sex. More than birth . . . more than anything,” including being present for “the deliveries of my four grandchildren.”

Jack Kevorkian used to promote a similar idea, which he called a “lay executioner.” Pending Scottish assisted suicide legislation would authorize “licensed suicide facilitators,” and now it’s “death doulas.”

We live in increasingly dark and death-obsessed times.

Can a Man be Both Mother and Father of Child?



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We are speeding toward a time when human skin cells or embryonic stem cells can be morphed into sperm and eggs. The precursor of these gametes have been made in the lab. From the Guardian story:

Scientists have made primitive forms of artificial sperm and eggs in a medical feat that could transform the understanding of age-related diseases and fertility problems.

Researchers in Cambridge made the early-stage sex cells by culturing human embryonic stem cells under carefully-controlled conditions for a week. They followed the success by showing that the same procedure can convert adult skin tissue into precursors for sperm and eggs, raising the prospect of making sex cells that are genetically matched to patients.

The cells should have the potential to grow into mature sperm and eggs, though this has never been done in the lab before. The next step for the researchers will be to inject the cells into mouse ovaries or testes to see if they fully develop in the animals.

What are some of the potential consequences of being able to make unlimited sperm and eggs at will? 

- Unlimited eggs for human cloning;

- Creating mass cloned embryos to research genetic engineering;

- Eugenic manipulation at the egg and sperm stage;

- Human life will increasingly lose its unique value as procreation becomes the scientific equivalent of the Dada Movement in art:

- Twisting and deconstructing family structures until there is no such thing as a “norm;”

- Not only women as fathers and men as mothers, but a man could potentially become both the father and mother of his own child, gestated by a  surrogate or–channeling Joseph Fletcher’s advocacy–by implanting a womb into his abdomen so he could also bear the child:

Skin cells from a woman could only be used to make eggs because they lack the Y chromosome. Those from a male might theoretically be turned into eggs as well as sperm, but Azim Surani, who led the work at the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge, said that on the basis of current knowledge, that was unlikely. “It’s not impossible that we could take these cells on towards making gametes, but whether we could ever use them is another question for another time,” Surani told the Guardian.

No, that is a question for now, when we have the time to discuss fullybefore we attain sufficient technological prowess to accomplish the above–through legal limits and control via funding approvals or rejections.  

Good luck with that, Wesley: The human cloning debate–or non debate–has pretty clearly demonstrated that our fractured moral values will prevent us from doing anything meaningful to impede the approaching Brave New World horrors: Scientists want an unlimited hand. We are so neurotically afraid of suffering that promises of CURES! CURES! CURES! sweep away moral objections. 

And people demand the right to get what they want, no matter what–no matter the potentially deleterious impact on the glue of society, the family.

Today, the transgressive is always celebrated and enabled. 

Of course scientific information derived from these efforts will increase our knowledge. But it seems to me that much of the emotional force behind a lot of this research is a profound anger at the idea of limits and boundaries, a desperate desire for control. 

That may sound exciting. But I don’t think this ends well. What do we want? Social anarchy. When do we want it? Now!

Why Bioethics Should “Fail”



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Julian Savulescu represents all that I find so objectionable about the mainstream bioethics movement.

Rejecting the sanctity/equality of human life, utilitarian in outlook, embracing a eugenics point-of-view, the Oxford professor–what does that tell you?–would lead society in a way opposed by most of the very people bioethics claims to serve.

Savulescu ”gets” that the field has not swept all before it–to which I would add, not for lack of trying.  But he is clueless as to why.

He writes that the alleged problem can be cured by somehow improving the “philosophy.” From, “Bioethics: Why Philosophy is Essential for Progress,” published in the radical Journal of Medical Ethics, which he edits:

Ethics is not peripheral to medicine and research—it is central. What you study will determine what you will find. It is an ethical decision, as is when you will start treating, or whether to stop treatment. One excellent example of hidden ethical values is the concept of futility used to limit treatment. There are many definitions.14 Some are quantitative, such a treatment with a <1% chance of a beneficial effect.

But this is not futile. Imagine that you have had a massive stroke and will die, but there is a treatment that has a 1/10 000 chance of saving your life and returning you to full health. Such a treatment is not futile in the way that trying to sew a decapitated head back on is futile (that is, being incapable of achieving the desired result); it is just very unlikely to achieve the desired result.

What people who deploy ‘futility’ arguments usually mean is the treatment is cost-ineffective. Such judgments are most justifiably made as resource allocation and distributive justice decisions.

The example he gives of “futile” is known as physiological futility, and contrary to Savulescu, bioethics has pretty clearly delineated what medical futility means–a combination of the cost/benefit value system he identifies, mixed with a disdain for life of perceived low quality. 

Thus, the futility question sounds in raw power: Whose values prevail, the patient and/or family, or the Julian Savulescus?

People get that: Medical futility hasn’t (yet) become the rule in health care because it has been insufficiently philosophically masticated, but because patients and families who would be victimized by the policy want no part of it!

We also know that, despite its claim to high regard for autonomy, as an essentially utilitarian enterprise–whether explicit or in outcomes–the field would eventually include coercion. Thus, Savulescu believes the state should require organ donation (which would not make it “donation” at all):

There is a basic moral obligation to donate organs. Why? Because this is not just an easy rescue, it is a zero cost rescue.

Organs are of no use to us when we are dead, but they are literally lifesaving to others. Nonetheless, most people choose to bury or burn these lifesaving resources, and are allowed to.

Yet the state extracts death duties and inheritance taxes, but not the most important of their previous assets—their organs. (My emphasis.)

I agree we should generally be organ donors after death.

Why aren’t we?  Lack of trust, for one thing–easily understood when you read bioethicists urging that doctors be permitted to kill for organs or pushing “presumed consent” that all patients are organ donors–and then in the next breath urge that doctors/bioethics committees be empowered to unilaterally withdraw life-sustaining treatment.

Connect the damn dots!

And, of course, Savulescu wants policy dominated by the “experts,” e.g., people like him:

But for many people working in bioethics or medical ethics, or formulating guidelines or policy, ethics is a ‘hobby’. They have no formal training in ethics. Imagine that I was to sit on a cardiological research funding panel, or review a paper in cardiology, or stem cell science. It would be laughable. Yet I have 7 years formal training in medicine and research. Many people ‘doing medical ethics’ have nothing like that training or experience.

Sorry, a corner barber has as much right to a voice in these subjective issues of public policy as the highest Oxford don. Moreover, who wants Julian Savulescu philosophical clones dominating medical ethics? I sure don’t. 

Savulescu grouses that in his entire career he has rarely accomplished any good:

From time to time, we ought to ask how well we are doing. In my own career, apart from promoting people’s careers, I am only aware of two instances where my work did some good…

It is hard to know how much good or harm we have done. But I think we should at least reflect. Modern medical ethics, as a field, seems to me to have failed in many important respects.

May it continue to be so!

Considering what he perceives to be “good.” if Savulescu succeeds, society will be less moral, the weak and vulnerable will be at greater risk, and a bioethics authoritarianism will be loosed upon the land.

Time to Make Organ Buying a Felony



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This is biological colonialism turned into biological terrorism. ISIS is apparently financing its vicious atrocity campaign through killing for organs and selling them on the black market. From the Daily Mail story:

Islamic State has turned its hand to human organ trafficking to fund terror across the Middle East, it has been claimed. The jihadist group has until now filled its $2 million-a-year war chest from a variety of shadowy sources including oil production, human trafficking and drug smuggling.

But it was revealed today that it has been recruiting foreign doctors for months to harvest the internal organs not only from the bodies of their own dead fighters but also from living hostages – including children – snatched from minority communities in Iraq and Syria.

Corrupt doctors are part of the criminal trade:

The report went on: ‘Surgeries take place within a hospital and organs are quickly transported through networks specialized in trafficking human organs.

Mosuli said that the organs come from fallen fighters who were quickly transported to the hospital, injured people who were abandoned or individuals who were kidnapped.’

We now live in a world in which there are no seeming limits. China has allowed organ tourism for years. The Philippines had to pass a law forbidding non nationals from receiving organ transplant surgery to protect its destitute from avaricious organ peddlers. Pakistan had to pass a law forbidding live organ donation to non relatives.

The doctors and organ merchants are looked upon–quite properly–as criminals. Sometimes they are caught and punished.

But this market is driven by immoral buyers who think their lives are worth so much they are justified in acting in the most immoral ways.

And now, with organ supplies potentially coming from terrorism–and financing the beheaders of Christians and journalists–it is time for us to make organ buying a crime and punish purchasers who come home with new organs. No one should be allowed to save their own lives at the cost of someone else’s murder.

How would we find out? It wouldn’t be that difficult. Organ recipients need continuing medical care. We could make a non bona fide organ transplant a reportable condition by doctors–just like we do spousal abuse or child sexual exploitation,

I don’t support refusing further treatment because that would be a death penalty. But I do think that reporting the buyer should become an ethical and legal responsibility.

When common decency no longer serves to keep society moral, sometimes the law has to step in.

Court Declares Orangutan “Non Human Person!”



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I have been warning you and warning you: It just takes one judge, wanting to make history, to kick the props out from under our tottering societal embrace of human exceptionalism.

In Argentina–next door to Brazil, where a judge was previously poised to grant a writ of habeas corpus to a chimp when the animal died–a court has declared an orangutan a “person.” From the Reuters story:

An orangutan held in an Argentine zoo can be freed and transferred to a sanctuary after a court recognized the ape as a “non-human person” unlawfully deprived of its freedom, local media reported on Sunday.

Animal rights campaigners filed a habeas corpus petition–a document more typically used to challenge the legality of a person’s detention or imprisonment–in November on behalf of Sandra, a 29-year-old Sumatran orangutan at the Buenos Aires zoo.

In a landmark ruling that could pave the way for more lawsuits, the Association of Officials and Lawyers for Animal Rights (AFADA) argued the ape had sufficient cognitive functions and should not be treated as an object.

The court agreed Sandra, born into captivity in Germany before being transferred to Argentina two decades ago, deserved the basic rights of a “non-human person.”

Hopefully, this will be overturned on appeal.

If it isn’t, some will simply shrug.  Others will laugh and roll their eyes.

But indifference is the enemy of maintaining a righteous society and there is nothing funny about erasing human exceptionalism. “Breaking the species barrier,” as Peter Singer put it in the Great Ape Project, will have calamitous impact on human self-regard, and eventually, freedom.  

The animal rights agenda–completely unnecessary to protect animal welfare–won’t elevate animals to the level of humans, but reduce us to the value of animals. And that means that the weakest and most vulnerable–the disparaged and the outcast–will eventually lose their inherent protections based simply on being human

I don’t have time in this blog post to make the argument again: It took an entire book to engage in my A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy.

But my good friend, the novelist Dean Koontz, was absolutely correct–in the same way and for many of the same reasons as C.S. Lewis was in The Abolition of Man–when he wrote in the book’s introduction that from seemingly small shifts, portentous forces are set in motion:

…[I]f they [the animal rights movement] established through culture or law that human beings have no intrinsic dignity greater than that of any animal, the world would not be a better place for either humankind or animals.

Instead, it would be a utilitarian nightmare in which the strong would destroy the weak, in which power-crazed leaders would destroy everyone who loved peace, in which the wealth of the world would be concentrated in the hands of a murderous few, in which mercy would be unknown and the only virtue would be the ability to survive, in which the only right would be the right to die.

These lawsuits have been filed here. This will just fuel the ideologues’ zeal.

Our courts must say no, and do so with unequivocal force and ringing eloquence. Human well-being and liberty are–literally–at stake.

Why Revulsion at Dead Woman Giving Birth?



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So a woman is declared brain dead in Ireland, but not taken off maintenance so her unborn child can gestate long enough to survive. The family wants to bury her.  But a human life can be saved!

This really upsets Emer O’Toole in The Guardian. From, “A Brain Dead Irish Woman’s Body Is Being Used as an Incubator: Be Angry:”

It is right to be angry and upset in the face of injustice… Be angry that a dead woman’s body is being used as an incubator. Be upset that Miss Y was forced to carry her rapist’s child to 24 weeks. These are women’s bodies. These are women’s lives. And that is what matters here.

Why the dripping disdain? Anger at Ireland’s anti-abortion laws is the pretext. But is this case really about abortion?

I understand the family can’t move on. That has got to be terribly painful.

But how is the woman hurt in any way? Her life isn’t affected. She’s gone. Her body isn’t being harmed, but it is benefiting her child–just as she did before her brain failed.

Would the same people think it wrong to try and save the baby in a mechanical incubator? I suspect so. Because, well, the baby should be dead.

Meanwhile, in Italy, another brain dead woman’s baby has been saved. From the The Local IT story:

In what has been hailed a miracle, a baby boy has been born to an Italian woman pronounced clinically dead in October. The 36-year-old woman was 23 weeks pregnant when she was rushed to Milan’s San Raffaele hospital after suffering a brain hemorrhage.

Doctors were unable to save her, but with the agreement of her family, they kept her on life support for the next nine weeks. She was kept alive with equipment that kept her breathing and her blood flowing, while a tube to her intestines fed the growing fetus.

When she reached the 32nd week of pregnancy on Thursday, doctors performed a cesarean, La Stampa reported. The baby boy was born weighing 1.8 kilos and in good health.

A new baby has been born and joins us in the world! Surely, saving a life is worth the effort. I believe that greater good should matter most.

I am beginning to believe that lurking underneath it all, some people loathe the female reproductive function. 

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