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Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Today is “Terri’s Day:” The Fourth Anniversary of the Death of Terri Schiavo



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Today is "Terri's Day." It is the fourth anniversary of the end of Terri Schiavo's ordeal of death by dehydration. This cruel end was not a necessary death. It was forced upon her by judicial fiat even though she was not terminally ill, did not require a respirator or kidney dialysis, and had a loving family eager to care for her for the rest of her natural life.

Terri's family believed and believes that she knew when they visited and reacted with joy. But even if she was unaware, she remained a beloved daughter and sister, fully worthy of life and care.

The Schindler family has marked this sad day with the following statement:
Four Years Ago Today, Terri Schiavo Dies After Almost Two Weeks Without Food or Water.
Four years ago today Terri Schiavo died. By the order of Judge George W. Greer, Terri died a slow barbaric death by starvation and dehydration over a period of almost two weeks. We have been posting stories of the events that occurred on each of those days not only in respect for Terri's memory, but a reminder that in this moment countless people are suffering slow, agonizing deaths in hospice, nursing homes, and hospitals in America and around the world.
I wish that Terri's death had convinced people that dehydration is wrong--at least when it has not been explicitly and knowingly requested in writing by the patient ahead of time. Alas, it does not appear to be so. But we can say this: Nobody can ever say again about the dehydration deaths that are happening in all fifty states and around the world as you read these words, "I didn't know." I believe we are all morally accountable for the positions we take on this important ethical issue.

“The Last Great Act of Living,” or How My Dad Taught Me How to Live by Showing Me How to Die



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The always wonderful Canadian bioethicist Margarette Somerville has a terrific and thoughtful article about dying, disability, and the great meaning that can be found in these times of difficulty. It's a long piece and I can't do justice to it--for that you will have to read it for yourselves. But we can present the gist as an appetizer.

She first identifies one of the driving forces behind the euthanasia movement. From her column:
Euthanasia allows people to feel that although they can't avoid death, they can control its manner, time and place. It's a terror reduction or terror control mechanism that operates at both the individual and societal level. So if we believe legalizing euthanasia would be a very bad idea, we need to develop and communicate other ways to deal with our fear of death.
An answer to terror is unleashing "the human spirit:"
It's a term I use in a religiously neutral sense, in that it can be accepted by people who are not religious and those who are, and, if religious, no matter what their religion. By it I mean the intangible, immeasurable, numinous reality that all of us need access to in order to find meaning in life and to make life worth living; that deeply intuitive sense of relatedness or connectedness to all life, especially other people, to the world, and to the universe in which we live; the metaphysical--but not necessarily supernatural--reality which we need to experience to live fully human lives...
The key is finding hope:
Hope is the oxygen of the human spirit; without it our spirit dies, with it we can overcome even seemingly insurmountable obstacles...Even terminally ill people can have hope--what we can call "mini-hopes"--for instance, to stay alive long enough to see a grandchild born, to attend a daughter's wedding, to see an old friend the next day or to see the sun rise and hear the birds' dawn chorus.
But ensuring hope requires action from us:
We must accept old or dying people's gifts, especially those gifts that are of the essence of themselves, recognizing that they and the person who gives them are unique and precious, as are their lives or last days on earth. In confirming the worth of these gifts we confirm the worth of the giver, and the old or dying person needs that confirmation.
Somerville concludes:
The challenge is to maintain death as the last great act of human life, a final human act through which we can still find meaning and, I suggest most importantly, pass meaning on to others. In other words, in our dying, we need to be given the opportunity to leave a legacy of meaning. .
I saw Somerville's vision vividly brought to life when my father fell badly ill, declined, and then died from colon cancer. I watched an already wonderful man-- grow. Through the crucible of failing health, Dad strived boldly to develop a secure sense of himself that had escaped him during his difficult youth, the horrors of war, and even the success of having become a mechanical engineer despite never having gone to high school.

As he struggled with cancer, he sat day after day overlooking his beloved cactus garden contemplating the meaning of it all. He had no formal religion, and kept his thoughts in this regard to himself. Once, when I asked him what he believed, he would only say, "I have my beliefs." And he never lost touch with life. For example, this was the time when I was transitioning out of active law practice--foregoing a very good living for a time of great financial insecurity--and Dad was not amused. I was called to account and we had a profound conversation over a lingering lunch at a Pasadena restaurant about life and its purpose.

Dad had his bad moments, of course. And I am sure there were tears and fears he expressed in private to my mother. But mostly what I saw was fortitude. It didn't come easily: He worked to achieve it, aided immensely by the gratitude he felt at being loved by family and friends. I saw him rally and experience a year of health his doctors said he wouldn't have. And, when that time passed, I saw him decide to stop fighting and let nature take its course. Dad died in a Veteran's hospital hospice on Lincoln's birthday in 1984, a better man than he had ever been on the day that was his last.

The idea of assisted suicide and euthanasia wasn't even considered by our family. At that time, it wasn't even an issue in the public's consciousness. But, there is no way Dad would have gone that route. He found his dignity, his transcendence, by finding hope and purpose in his dying, just as Somerville describes.

I only hope that when my time comes, I have it within me to emulate my father. This much I know: The way Dad died was the last of his many great gifts to me. I still love him so much and miss him every day.

(The photo is of my parents in 1945 upon Dad's return from World War II)
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Idaho SB 1114 Futile Care Theory Authorization Bill Is Apparently Dead for This Year



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Great news from a behind the scenes source: I have just been told that SB 1114, the bill that would have explicitly legalized futile care theory in Idaho, has died for the year. It almost snuck by, but when opponents learned about it, they mounted an 11th hour campaign to prevent passage. That campaign seems to have succeeded.

More details when I know more, but I have this on very good and trustworthy authority. It's a shame that some good things got delayed, but we cannot permit "optional" bioethics committees to force people off of wanted life-sustaining treatment--indeed, overturn explicit written instructions by the patient in an advance directive--based on the institutional culture or the committee's or physician's values.

I am told conversations will continue to make the bill acceptable. That's fine with me. But in the meantime: Huzzah!

Upside Down Medicine in Oregon: Paying to Kill, but Not to Extend Life



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Oregon's Health Services Commission has published the list of covered treatments under the state's rationed Medicaid law. Comfort care is high on the list, and includes assisted suicide. But the overseers of rationed care explicitly state that treatment to extend life if the prognosis for living five years is poor, will not be covered. From the Prioritized List, page SI-1:

COMFORT/PALLIATIVE CARE It is the intent of the Commission that comfort/palliative care treatments for patients with an illness with <5%> expected five year survival be a covered service. Comfort/palliative care includesthe provision of services or items that give comfort to and/or relieve symptoms for such patients. There is no intent to limit comfort/palliative care services according to the expectedlength of life (e.g., six months) for such patients, except as specified by Oregon AdministrativeRules.

It is the intent of the Commission to not cover diagnostic or curative care for the primary illness or care focused on active treatment of the primary illness which are intended to prolong life or alter disease progression for patients with <5%> five year survival.

Examples of comfort/palliative care include:..

5) Services under ORS 127.800-127.897 (Oregon Death with Dignity Act), to include but not be limited to the attending physician visits, consulting physician confirmation, mental health evaluation and counseling, and prescription medications.

Such is the compassion of the culture of death--and the future of all health care if the utilitarian health care rationers ever are put in charge.

Vulture: Nitschke to Create Overdose Testing Suicide Kit for Use in UK



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Philip Nitscke is the Australian answer to Jack Kevorkian who has spent years as a media darling opining that "troubled teens" should have access to suicide pills, teaching people how to commit suicide, creating the "peaceful pill," a concoction of everyday products that can kill, and selling plastic Exit Bags for use in suicide--which I helped induce the government bring to an end when I exposed his little marketing scheme in The Australian during a 2001 anti euthanasia national speaking tour in Australia.

Now, he is invading the UK with his ghoulish proselytizing. From the story:
Australian pro-euthanasia campaigner Dr Philip Nitschke plans to launch testing kits for people to check the strength of drugs they have bought to commit suicide in the UK this year, a British newspaper has reported.

Quoting Deliverance, the newsletter of Dr Nitschke's organisation, Exit International, The Observer said the kits, which have chemicals that change colour when mixed with lethal barbiturates, would be released in May. The launch coincided with Dr Nitschke's planned tour of Britain, and the kits would be available for about STG35 ($A72). "We decided to launch in the UK because of its enlightened attitude; many of the things we can do in the UK are banned in Australia," the paper quoted Nitschke as saying.
People like this should be shunned. But media love him. I once debated N long distance on CNN. Before the program, the producers were tripping over themselves in embarrasingly gushing language and excited tones to thank him, thank him, for deigning to be on their program. His ego stoked, he benignly told them they were quite welcome.

In my view, he has buckets of blood on his hands.
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SHS Continues to Grow



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I thought I would look at a few of the statistics for SHS this evening. I am pleased. In the last 30 days, we have had more than 45,000 visits by some 36,000 distinct visitors. That's about the size of a good crowd at Dodger Stadium. And the dailies are up a couple of hundred a day over a month or two ago.

Since I put up the flags a little more than three months ago, we have been visited by people from 167 countries out of 192 or so in the world. Our newest addition is Angola. So, we are definitely international. I also receive some very nice private correspondence these days reacting to SHS from all over the world.

Tell your friends and neighbors to jump on in: The water's fine. Thanks to all for supporting and contributing to the success of SHS.

“Man” to Have Twins



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I know it is considered rude to point out in our postmodern times when facts are contrary to the narratives. And we have been through this before with greater fanfare. But having resisted posting the "story," it finally became too much when I saw it reported again today for the umpteenth time in the last week.

Yes, another transsexual"man" is pregnant (don't forget, the first one is pregnant again)--only this time with twins! Call Oprah! Back in the real world, no man is giving birth, much less to twins. A woman is. From the story:
A 25-year-old transsexual man in Barcelona has announced that he is pregnant with twins, prompting debate in Spain about the ethical use of reproductive technology.

Ruben Noe Coronado Jimenez, who is reportedly nine weeks pregnant, interrupted hormone treatments and postponed plans to have a full sex-change operation in order to get pregnant because his 43-year-old girlfriend could no longer have children.
You couldn't make up that last paragraph. But here's the point: He may be legally a man (although in this case I don't think that has happened yet,) but biologically where reproduction does not depend on narratives--only organs, hormones, and gametes--she is a biological woman. Women give birth every day. No story!

Forced Speech: Pushing Against Conscientious Objection by Medical Practioners to Abortion in California



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The following post will be about abortion and conscientious objection thereto by medical professionals. But it could just as easily be about assisted suicide, or using embryonic stem cell therapies, or pulling feeding tubes, because the principles are the same--as are the reasons for the attempted coercion of medical professionals to cooperate with life terminating medical procedures.

I have been reporting that doctors and other medical professionals who wish to hold to an orthodox Hippocratic view of medical professionalism are going to increasingly be forced by law to either be complicit in these actions or become podiatrists. The most blunt method of destroying Hippocratic medicine in this manner is the new Victoria, Australia law requiring doctors to either perform an abortion upon request, or find another doctor for the patient who will. That requires a doctor to have blood on his or her hands (from the conscientious objector's POV) regardless of their moral beliefs regarding abortion.

A more common form of coercion is to require doctors to provide information to patients about the availability of procedures that intentionally kill a human being. The latest example of such legislation is SB 374 in California, that would make it a crime not to provide patients with information about the legality or availability of abortion, and which could also be grounds for stripping the doctor or nurse practitioner of their license to practice. Worse, if the professional has a conscience objection, he or she must still participate in ensuring that the patient receives detailed information about deciding whether or not to have an abortion. From the legislation:
SEC. 4. Section 123462 of the Health and Safety Code is amended to read:...(e) Each physician and surgeon, nurse practitioner, and physician assistant described in subdivision (d) has an affirmative duty of reasonable disclosure to his or her patient of all available medical choices with respect to the patient's personal reproductive decisions. Failure of a physician and surgeon, nurse practitioner, or physician assistant to fulfill this duty shall constitute unprofessional conduct and grounds for suspension of the licensee's license, unless all of the following circumstances exists: (1) The licensee refuses on moral or religious grounds to provide disclosure pertaining to an available medical choice. (2) The licensee immediately informs the patient, either orally or in writing, that other medical choices may be available.(3) The licensee promptly assists the patient in finding a licensee who will fully fulfill the duty of reasonable disclosure to the patient.
Let's skip the preliminaries and get right to the real point: The purpose of such legislation is not to make sure women know they have the right to an abortion. How can anyone not know? Besides, a woman need only look in the Yellow Pages, go to a Planned Parenthood or high school health clinic, or do a Google search to find more information about abortion than can be absorbed. And don't be surprised if we follow the lead of the UK, where abortion clinics may soon be allowed to advertise on television.

No, this bill isn't about informing patients. Rather, its coercive purposes are (at least) threefold: First, to control thinking. Second, to drive Hippocratic professionals out medicine and sweep aside the penetrating message their non cooperation in killing in the medical context sends. Third, to win an important battle primarily about the symbolism that a victory achieved over dissenters would send to medical professionals and the society alike. And don't be surprised when laws are passed preventing the medical professional from giving an opinion about the moral propriety of such decisions. I mean, if you are going to control speech, control speech.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: The culture of death brooks no dissent.

And Now for the Important Stem Cell Work: Increasing Bra Cup Size



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Well, it was bound to happen. Adult fat stem cells are going to be used to increase breast size. From the story:
A stem cell therapy offering "natural" breast enlargement is to be made available to British women for the first time.

The treatment could boost cup size while reducing stomach fat. It involves extracting stem cells from spare fat on the stomach or thighs and growing them in a woman's breasts. An increase of one cup size is likely, with the potential for larger gains as the technique improves.

A trial has already started in Britain to use stem cells to repair the breasts of women who have had cancerous lumps removed. A separate project is understood to be the first in Britain to use the new technique on healthy women seeking breast enlargement.
It beats silicone, but really. And it sure shows how therapy quickly morphs into "enhancement." There are also potential risks. And ponder this: What if abundant curves go out of style again? Breast reduction surgery?

Another Final Exit Death Reported



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Apologists for assisted suicide, such as the Los Angeles Times editorial board, pretend that the Final Exit Network is a fringe group that does not reflect mainstream assisted suicide advocacy, rather than, as I have clearly demonstrated here, at SHS, within the very heart of the assisted suicide movement. FEN activists have been arrested in one case, and new deaths undertaken with their participation are coming out all the time.

Here's the latest, of a depressed elderly man tired of living. From the story:
Max Lom was depressed. His eyesight had failed. Simple tasks, like reading the newspaper, had become an exercise in futility.The 88-year-old Sarasota man wanted to die, although physically, he was healthy, according to his daughter.

Last May, he swallowed a handful of pills in the hope of never waking. It didn't work, but the suicidal thoughts lingered, his daughter said.Shortly after, Lom began communicating with Final Exit Network, a national organization whose members provide support to those seeking a "peaceful end." Lom was found dead Jan. 4 from breathing helium gas with a plastic bag over his head, a Sarasota County Sheriff's Office report said. Family members are outraged at the group, as Lom wasn't terminally ill or suffering...

Lom's daughter, Helen Lom, believes the group essentially convinced him to take his life. Final Exit Network officials have denied any involvement in Lom's death."They might not have put the hood over his head, but they basically gave him the recipe book," said Helen Lom, who lives in Switzerland.
How is this facilitated suicide any different than what happens in Oregon, Washington, and now Montana? Lom used helium and a bag, in Oregon death doctors prescribe intentional overdoses of drugs. Different medium, same result.

Don't give me that nonsense about Lom not being terminally ill. That limitation is a stage managed pretense to get people to accept the principle that having doctors (or others) assist the suicides of people based on "choice" and killing as an acceptable answer to human suffering. As a logical species, once that principle is swallowed by the population, the pretense of terminal illness is quickly forgotten and you get the Netherlands and Switzerland--in which the depressed and mentally ill people are allowed assisted suicide, and doctors even give out a book teaching patients how to kill themselves when they don't technically qualify for euthanasia.

The real debate we should be having is whether suicide clinics should be legalized help anyone with a non transitory desire to be made dead. Everything else--as so much of our corrupted public discourse these days--is disingenuous and a premeditated act of intentional misdirection.

Fetal Farming is Not a Pipedream: History of Living Fetal Experiments



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I have written here often that the embryonic stem cell debate is merely the opening stanza of a much broader agenda that would instrumentalize unborn human beings for use in experiments, treatments, and for body parts. Alas, using fetuses in such a crassly utilitarian way has already been done. Back in the late 1960s, there were a series of experiments on living fetuses--to the general applause of the scientific community.

I learned of this horror from a wonderful book by Pamela Winnick called A Jealous God: Science's Crusade Against Religion. Lest you think it is a religious attack on science, Winnick is a self-described secular Jew, who sees science--better stated scientism--attacking the very concept of intrinsic human dignity.

A Jealous God should send chills up the spine of anyone who believes in human exceptionalism and the sanctity/equality of human life. In a discussion germane to the subject of this post, she writes on page 24 of her book:

In a 1968 study called the "Artificial Placenta," a twenty-six week old fetus, weighing more than a pound, was obtained from a fourteen-year-old girl, presumably from a therapeutic abortion. Along with fourteen other fetuses, it was immersed in a liquid containing oxygen and kept alive for a full five hours.
She then quotes from the study itself

For the whole 5 hours of life, the fetus did not respire. Irregular gasping movements, twice a minute occurred in the middle of the experiment but there was not proper respiration. Once the profusion [pumping in of oxygenated blood] was stopped, however, the gasping respiratory efforts increased to 8 to 10 per minute…After stopping the circuit, the heart slowed, became irregular and eventually stopped…The fetus was quiet, making occasional stretching limb movements very much oke the ones reported in other human work…[T]he fetus died 21 minutes after leaving the circuit.
Winnick then reports that rather than being appalled, the scientists lauded this living fetal experimentation:

The study won the Foundation Prize Award from the American Association of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

These experiments were stopped because an outraged Congress--led by Senator Ted Kennedy--reacting to an outraged public, outlawed such a crassly instrumental use of fetal human beings. But today, with human exceptionalism under siege, the opening of the drive to revoke the Dickey Amendment, which would allow federal funding of the creation and destruction of embryos for research, the assertion throughout secular bioethics that "personhood" rather than "humanhood" is what counts morally, with "the scientists" trumpeting the potential CURES! CURES! CURES! that could flow from the instrumental use of nascent human life--and relevantly, people with significant cognitive impairments--it is all too easy to see Congress easing the prohibition against living fetal experiments once human cloning is perfected and an artificial uterus devised so that scientists could experiment on developing human life.

And the justification for these experiments would be the same ones we hear today with regard to ESCR: They will be tossed out anyway, so we might as well get some use out of them; they will never be born anyway, so what's the harm? They aren't persons, so we should have no moral qualms.

Come to think about it, the scientists who took that poor, potentially viable fetus and stuck him or her in a tank rather than providing life-sustaining treatment after the therapeutic abortion--which would seem to have had to have been via induced labor, since the delivered baby was alive and intact--probably said, "Oh well, it's being aborted anyway: We might as well get some good use out of it." Come to think of it further, if this is true, it wasn't fetal experimentation at all, but living infant experimentation.

A Jealous God is highly recommended reading for all SHSers. Here's my book review published in First Things.

(The footnote for the study quote is: G. Chamberlin, "An Artificial Placenta," American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, vol 100, no 615 (1968.)

Decrying Too Much Suicide Details in Media



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I agree with the perspective of this column in the Guardian. But it is missing a crucial element. From the column "Warning: Media Reports on Suicide Can be Fatal," byline Ben Goldacre:
[O]ne important cause of suicide seems to have been missed...[I]t has been shown repeatedly that suicide increases in the month after a front page suicide story. There is also evidence that the effect is bigger for famous people and gruesome attempts.

Overdoses increased by 17% in the week after a prominent overdose on Casualty (watched by 22% of the population at the time). In 1998 the Hong Kong media reported heavily on a case of carbon monoxide poisoning by a very specific method, using a charcoal burner. In the 10 months preceding the reports, there had been no such suicides. In November there were three; then in December there were 10; and over the next year there were 40.

And it's not pie in the sky to suggest the media should be careful in how they discuss suicide. After the introduction of media reporting guidelines in Austria, there was a significant decrease in the number of people throwing themselves under trains.

So organisations such as the Samaritans suggest that journalists avoid crass phrases such as "a successful suicide attempt". They suggest that journalists avoid explicit or technical details of suicide methods, for reasons you can now understand. They suggest that journalists include details of further sources for help and advice, since an article about suicide represents a great opportunity to target people at risk with useful information. And they recommend avoiding simplistic explanations for suicide.
That's fine, as far as it goes. But something very important is missing in this analysis.

Are there any more sensationalized suicides in the world today than assisted suicide of people who are ill or disabled? Good grief: We repeatedly see detailed and justifying depictions of assisted suicides--even actual footage of the deaths themselves--not to mention overt proselytizing for assisted suicide by advocates for "death with dignity" in the media. Press conferences called by assisted suicide advocates to extol the self killings of people who were dying or disabled receive wide and uncritical coverage. Relatives often flock to the microphones to compliment their loved one's fortitude. How-to-commit suicide gurus are given celebrity status and kid gloves treatment by press from here to Timbuktu. The language is even euphemized to make the these suicides more acceptable to the general public, as in, "It isn't suicide, it's aid in dying."

I went into Greenacre's archive and looked back more than a year: Nothing about that at all. The omission of any mention of these glaring examples, many of which took place just within the last few months in the UK--while discussing copycat suicides from more than a hundred years ago--is troubling. But it points up a profound disconnect in the media that threatens people who are ill or have disabilities as surely as the celebrity suicide threatens impressionable youth.

Resurrecting the “Useless Eater” Approach to Health Care: Don’t Let Consciousness Get in the Way of the Dehydration Agenda



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So, now that we know that many people thought to be unconscious--are actually awake and aware--some might think that would cause bioethicists to step back from the dehydration agenda. As I have long predicted, not on a bet! An article published in the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy by Oxford bioethicists Guy Kahane and the always crassly utilitarian Julian Saveulescu, makes it clear that demonstrable awareness should be no bar to ending the lives of these disabled patients.

This is a 22 page article, and I obviously can't post it all here, even if there weren't copyright issues. But here is the gist: From their article's abstract:

Neuroimaging studies of brain-damaged patients diagnosed as in the vegetative state suggest that the patients might be conscious. This might seem to raise no new ethical questions given that in related disputes both sides agree that evidence for consciousness gives strong reason to preserve life. We question this assumption... We argue that enjoyment of consciousness might actually give stronger moral reasons not to preserve a patient's life and, indeed, that these might be stronger when patients retain significant cognitive function.
Who are these conscious people who should die? Those in what has come to be called the mimial conscious state. From the body of the article (no link available, my emphasis):
Such patients have, at best, only the most rudimentary desires, and they clearly do not have enough sapience to enjoy most objective goods--the goods of friendship, knowledge, achievement, and the like. Do they at least have experiential interests?...It is, however, plausible to assume that such patients do feel pleasure and pain--that they do have experiential interests...

Would this, in itself, be a reason to keep this patient alive for as long as we can? ... Such a patient clearly benefits from going on living in the sense that this means that, over time, she will enjoy more experiential goods. But this patient does not possess self consciousness or a desire to go on living, and little to no psychological connectedness over time. It is thus not clear that she would be significantly harmed if her life ended earlier than was possible. And, given that, considerations of distributive justice may tell against continuing to sustain the life of such a patient at great cost.
They thus claim that even if Terri Schiavo wasn't in an unconscious state, she was killable:
In the final month of her life, the parents of Terry Schiavo insisted that she was in MCS, not VS. But we have argued that the discovery of consciousness in patients diagnosed as in VS hardly settles the ethical questions on the side of continuing life-sustaining treatment. If the patient is in the MCS, it might rather be that we have no or only weak reasons to sustain her life, and some further positive reasons not to sustain it.
But what about patients who can communicate and are clearly aware, sometimes called the "locked in state?" Their lives are even less worth living because of possible mental anguish!

Kahane and Saveulesku are resurrecting the odious concept of the useless eater. If they get their way, tens of thousands of people around the world will be dehydrated or lethally injected to death.

The Curtain Opens on Act II of the Great Stem Cell Debate: Now Pay Us to Create and Destroy Human Embryos



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I have written repeatedly in the last two weeks about how "the scientists" are moving their duplicitous anything-goes-in-biotech campaign to the next stage, now that the curtain has come down on Act I with the slaying of the hated Bush funding restrictions. In the opening of Act II, we will see intense lobbying for the Feds to fund the creation of embryos for use in research--meaning that human life would be brought into being solely for the purpose of being destroyed--a first in human history.

Standing in the way is the Dickey Amendment, a provision that is passed yearly as part of the budgetary process. The Dickey Amendment prohibits federal money from being used to create embryos for research, or in their destruction. President Obama just signed the budget bill that contained Dickey, but next year might be different. As I have reported here at SHS, the NYT and Nature have both editorialized for the end of Dickey. And now a story in Science strongly hints at the same agenda in an otherwise forgettable report about where all the research money will come from to fund the Center for Regenerative Medicine now that we Californians can't sell our junk bonds.

From the story (no link--CIRM Close-Hauled, Seeks Bonds to Sustain Headway, Constance Holden, Science 27 March 2009: Vol. 323. no. 5922, pp. 1660 - 1661):

The Center for Genetics and Society, a public interest group in Oakland, California, has hinted that the state may find better ways to spend its money now that the economy is tanking and NIH is no longer inhibited by the Bush policy. But scientists point out that as long as NIH has to comply with the Dickey-Wicker Amendment prohibiting research with human embryos, federally funded researchers will have to look to private or state-supported sources like CIRM for new ES cell lines. They also argue that in California, as elsewhere, a strong local establishment makes scientists more competitive when it comes to getting federal grants.
Well, that's a patently false statement. Under Obama the Feds can fund research on any ESC lines that are made from whatever means: We just can't fund creating embryos for research, or the destruction of any embryo.

But inaccurate reporting aside, the question before the house is why "the scientists" want federal money to create and destroy embryos. Or to put it another way, what's up here?

At least two things: First, in a word; cloning. ESCR with "leftover" embryos was merely the launching pad for using developing human life as a natural resource. The Brave New World agendas of genetic engineering, fetal farming, transhumanist recreationism, familial anarchy, generally will require human cloning to perfect. Human cloning is proving very difficult to work out. It will be very expensive to perfect.

Second, societal approval: Federal funding would give society's explicit imprimatur to this instrumentalization of embryos (and later, fetuses), thereby allowing "the scientists" to feel good about what they are doing as they cash the checks that finance the work. (One reason the Bush policy was so reviled is that it sent a powerful implicit message that destroying human life for use in research is morally wrong.) Indeed, even more than money, it seems to me that the science leadership insist that they be looked up to and adored. Having us all pay to custom make embryos via fertilization and/or SCNT cloning for research would restore the relationship between the science sector and society to the "proper" place, from "the scientists'" POV: They do whatever they think is right, they decide what is ethical, and we pay them to do it.

Oregon Study Proves That People Who Want Assisted Suicide Need Care, Not Kevorkianism



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A new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, illustrates--yet again--that assisted suicide in Oregon has not been about unbearable suffering that can't be controlled--as the scaremongering of its salesmen and women would have it, but fears about the future. From the Abstract:
Fifty-six Oregonians who either requested PAD [physician assisted death] or contacted a PAD advocacy organization completed a survey indicating the importance of 29 reasons for their interest in PAD on a scale where 1 was not important and 5 was very important; 28% of people referred from the PAD advocacy organization enrolled in the study.

Results Forty-one patients died by the end of the study; 18 received a prescription for medication under the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, and 9 died by lethal dose of medication. The most important reasons for requesting PAD, all with median scores of 5, were wanting to control the circumstances of death and die at home; loss of independence; and concerns about future pain, poor quality of life, and inability to care for one's self. All physical symptoms (eg, pain, dyspnea, and fatigue) at the time of the interview were rated as unimportant (median score, 1), but concerns about physical symptoms in the future were rated at a median score of 3 or higher. Lack of social support and depressed mood were rated as unimportant reasons for requesting PAD.
These are important issues that need to be addressed with committed compassion. But assisted suicide does the opposite: physicians who write lethal prescriptions confirm the patient's worst fears, and thereby abandon the patient. Add in that 88% of these deaths are facilitated by the zealous assisted suicide boosters of Compassion and Choices, who often refer suicidal patients to ideologically death doctors who are not there to treat or palliate the patient, but write a lethal prescription--rank Kevorkianism--almost always without reference to a mental health professional for suicide prevention--and the abandonment becomes nearly complete.

The article suggests a better answer:
At the time they express initial interest in PAD, Oregonians are motivated by worries about future physical discomfort and losses of autonomy and function. When confronted with a request for PAD, health care providers should first work to bolster the patient's sense of control and to educate and reassure the patient regarding management of future symptoms.
Or to put it more polemically, care yes, Kevorkianism, no.

Medical Elite at War With Hippocratic Oath



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Yes, yes, I know: Very few doctors take the Hippocratic Oath anymore--which I have repeatedly written about here at SHS and elsewhere--because it interferes with modern cultural norms (and that includes the Hippocratic proscription against having sex with patients). But surely, physicians who still adhere to orthodox Hippocratic values should be able to practice medicine in the specialty of their choosing under what was until not very long ago, the expected approach for all doctors.

Apparently not--at least according to the medical elite. The New England Journal of Medicine has become the latest publication to publish an opinion piece that, in essence, tells physicians who don't want to violate the Hippocratic Oath to get out of areas of medicine where non Hippocratic procedures are now allowed. From the column by Julie D. Cantor, M.D., J.D. attacking the Bush conscience clause regulations:
Medicine needs to embrace a brand of professionalism that demands less self-interest, not more. Conscientious objection makes sense with conscription, but it is worrisome when professionals who freely chose their field parse care and withhold information that patients need. As the gatekeepers to medicine, physicians and other health care providers have an obligation to choose specialties that are not moral minefields for them. Qualms about abortion, sterilization, and birth control? Do not practice women's health. Believe that the human body should be buried intact? Do not become a transplant surgeon. Morally opposed to pain medication because your religious beliefs demand suffering at the end of life? Do not train to be an intensivist. Conscience is a burden that belongs to the individual professional; patients should not have to shoulder
Why do I suspect she wouldn't be opposed to futile care theory? But that aside, the hubris is palpable--particularly the thinly veiled attack on Catholicism and the canard that the faith "demands suffering at the end of life." Also, realize that if the issue is a physician refusing to participate in assisted suicide--which the Bush conscience regulations also protect--it would mean that any doctor who didn't want to help kill patients might have to become podiatrists.

Cantor, M.D., J.D. concludes:
Health care providers already enjoy broad rights--perhaps too broad--to follow their guiding moral or religious tenets when it comes to sterilization and abortion. An expansion of those rights is unwarranted. Instead, patients deserve a law that limits objections and puts their interests first. Physicians should support an ethic that allows for all legal options, even those they would not choose. Federal laws may make room for the rights of conscience, but health care providers--and all those whose jobs affect patient care--should cast off the cloak of conscience when patients' needs demand it. Because the Bush administration's rule moves us in the opposite direction, it should be rescinded.
I italicized the key phrase that I think should be carefully pondered when thinking about this post: Cantor would seem to support the government legally forcing physicians who practice OB/GYN to perform abortions. That same coercive principle could also force internists, family care specialists, oncologists, hospice physicians, cardiologists, anesthesiologists, etc., to perform assisted suicide wherever that non medical act is redefined as a legal "treatment."

I keep saying it: The culture of death brooks no dissent. But there is no reason why Hippocratic doctors have to cooperate with their own undoing. One antidote I suggest: Mass public recitations of the principles of the Oath by physicians to prove they are not cowed by the likes of Dr. Cantor, M.D., J.D.

Lead Into Gold: No Thanks to Obama, Another IPSC Breakthrough



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Meanwhile back on the ranch, scientists continue to progress with the development of induced pluripotent stem cells, an ethical "alternative" to ESCR--because no human life is destroyed in the derivation of the cells. Now, using human tissues, IPSCs were created without potentially dangerous viruses and genes by none other than James Thomson, the first scientist to derive human embryonic stem cells. From the story:

By reprogramming skin cells to an embryonic state using a plasmid rather than a virus to ferry reprogramming genes into adult cells, the Wisconsin group's work removes a key safety concern about the potential use of iPS cells in therapeutic settings.

The new method, which is reported in today's (March 26) online issue of the journal Science, also removes the exotic reprogramming genes from the iPS equation, as the plasmid and the genes it carries do not integrate into an induced cell's genome and can be screened out of subsequent generations of cells. Thus, cells made using the new method are completely free of any genetic artifacts that could compromise therapeutic safety or skew research results, according to the Science report...

The resulting cells, says Thomson, are remarkably similar to embryonic stem cells and show the same capacity to proliferate indefinitely in culture and diversify into all the cell types of the human body.

Under President Bush's 2007 executive order, this type of research was required to be federally funded as a way to surmount the bitter cultural divides over biotechnology and its impact on the intrinsic importance of human life. In other words it was pro ethics and pro science. This is the very kind of policy President Obama promised that he would pursue as president--but instead, he stealthily broke that promise by revoking the Bush order.

Human IPSCs were only announced in November 2007. The advances made since then have been breathtaking, with some of the most notable scientists in biotechnology--Thomson, Ian Wilmut (of Dolly the sheep fame), Yamanaka--in the field. Let's hope they and/or other alternatives someday render ESCR scientifically superfluous.

Here's a link to the Abstract of the paper.

Scottish Assisted “Narrow” Assisted Suicide Bill Again Demonstrates That the Movement is Not About Terminal Illness



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There is a bill pending in the Scottish Parliament to legalize assisted suicide. It's author recently "narrowed" the bill to protect the vulnerable. But the narrowed bill would explicitly legalize assisted suicide for people with disabilities, once again clearly demonstrating that the "death with dignity" movement is not about a "choice" for the dying. From the story:
Ms MacDonald has narrowed her proposals to cover only three specific categories of people who believe their lives have become intolerable. It includes those with a progressive, degenerative conditions; those who have suffered a trauma such as crashes or sports injuries, leaving them entirely dependent on others; and those with terminal illness.
No wonder the disability rights community is up in arms about assisted suicide

Also note that the story contains not one quote from anyone opposed to assisted suicide. Opponents are merely mentioned as having somehow skewed a constituent canvas that the bill's author took.

Typical.

Poverty is the Answer: Radical Environmentalism Leading Us to a New Form of Human Sacrifice



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I have written how radical environmentalism is becoming distinctly anti-human. With the fervent ideology of Deep Ecology, it is explicitly stated. But some of what we are witnessing among the neo Greens is a drive to sacrifice human flourishing and prosperity--without the explicitly stated misanthropic dogmas.

This willingness to sacrifice human welfare is reaching a fever pitch among those who believe that global warming is a crisis of unimagined proportions--a belief that can border on quasi-religion or pure ideology. An article by David Owen--pushing the importance of economic decline to saving the planet--in the New Yorker illustrates the point. From his column:
[T]he world's principal source of man-made greenhouse gases has always been prosperity. The recession makes that relationship easy to see: shuttered factories don’t spew carbon dioxide; the unemployed drive fewer miles and turn down their furnaces, air-conditioners, and swimming-pool heaters; struggling corporations and families cut back on air travel; even affluent people buy less throwaway junk.
Most of us view our current economic crisis with alarm. Apparently, Owen sees it is a positive:

The environmental benefits of economic decline, though real, are fragile, because they are vulnerable to intervention by governments, which, understandably, want to put people back to work and get them buying non-necessities again--through programs intended to revive ordinary consumer spending (which has a big carbon footprint), and through public-investment projects to build new roads and airports (ditto).

And the answer, apparently, is more of the same decline we are now experiencing:
The ultimate success or failure of Obama's [anti-global warming] program, and of the measures that will be introduced in Copenhagen this year, will depend on our willingness, once the global economy is no longer teetering, to accept policies that will seem to be nudging us back toward the abyss.
So, people need to be poorer, with all the concomitant increase in human suffering and shorter lives that would result from lower levels of prosperity. And remember, he only writes here about the well off areas of the world. But you can bet that he and his co-believers would strive mightily to stifle development in now destitute areas of the world--dooming perhaps billions of people to lives of continued squalor, disease, and lower life expectancies.

More to the point of what we discuss here at SHS, human beings are a logical species: We take our ideas where they lead! (Thus, once Americans accepted the verity of Jefferson's "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal..."it doomed slavery, because servitude and equality are incompatible.) For the same reason, once we accept the fundamental premise of the piece--that we must sacrifice human prosperity to "save the planet"--the misanthropic ideology of Deep Ecology--humans as a viral infection afflicting Gaia--with radical depopulation as the cure--consider the genocidal implications--become a logical next step

And thus we see how the healthy environmentalism that cleaned up filthy rivers and reduced Los Angeles air pollution is quickly mutating into an implicit and explicit anti-humanism that is in danger of leading to becoming so degraded in our self perception, that we could reach the point of being urged (forced?) to become human sacrifices on Gaia's altar.

Unlimited Appetite: More Pressure from “The Scientists” for Feds to Fund Embryo Creation and Destruction for Use in Research



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The appetite from some sectors of the biotechnology community for funding and ethical license, is never satiated. Only days after President Obama euthanized President Bush's ESCR policy--and in the wake of the New York Times calling for revocation of the Dickey Amendment that prohibits the Feds from paying for the creation and destruction of embryos in research--the prestigious science journal Nature has added to the political pressure. From its editorial:

When US President Barack Obama lifted the funding ban for research on human embryonic stem cells earlier this month, he did not mention the Dickey-Wicker amendment--legislation that forbids the use of federal funds for research that destroys or creates embryos. It was a missed opportunity to begin a necessary conversation.
There was no ban, but never mind. The point is that Nature wants to destroy Dickey:

In force since 1996, the Dickey-Wicker amendment badly needs updating to fit the current research reality, if not outright repeal...Both the Dickey–Wicker amendment and the new guidelines on human embryonic stem-cell research being drawn up by the National Institutes of Health merit an intense national conversation. In particular, that dialogue should thoroughly explore attitudes towards studying different types of embryos--not just those left over from fertility procedures, but also those that might be specially created for research.
See, the assurances--oft stated--that all "the scientists" want are "leftover" embryos that were "going to be destroyed anyway" was always hogwash, part of a sophisticated propaganda campaign intended to unfetter biotech from any meaningful limitations on the instrumental use of nascent human life. Yet, despite these editorials, the "leftovers" meme will continue to drive most media reports.

Nature also wants to continue the word engineering project we have discussed here over the last several years:
A key requirement for productive dialogue is a common frame of reference. Here, the [me: scientifically accurate] word 'embryo' is a stumbling block. This term refers to everything from a newly fertilized single-celled egg to millions of cells organized into eyelids, ears, genitals and limbs. Yet the latter form, which is present some eight weeks after fertilization, is not only ethically unacceptable for research but also far too old to yield embryonic stem cells.
Why is it ethically unacceptable? Nature doesn't say. And why should anyone believe that embryonic stem cells are "all" that "the scientists" are interested in? I mean, why would anyone believe this platitudinous assurance, when the "leftovers only" promise proved so patently false?
Indeed, some studies indicate that germ stem cells, that develop at about 6 weeks, might be better than embryonic stem cells. We have already seen calls for using fetuses as sources of organs and fetal farming, which would be even more pronounced if cloning were added to the mix to do away with the immune rejection issue. Beyond that, imagine the potential for testing drugs in fetuses,particularly fetuses genetically engineered to have certain medical maladies. Anyone who thinks that embryonic stem cells are the ultimate goal of all of this just hasn't been paying attention.

Here's the bottom line: Now that Big Biotech and its supporters in Big Science and the MSM believe they are in the driver's seat with regard to ESCR, they are intent on pushing the boundaries to the next of many stages--federal funding for the creation and destruction of custom made embryos, including via cloning. But of course, that was the plan all along.

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