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Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

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?
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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.
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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.

PETA Kills More Animals Than Ever



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As we have discussed here at SHS, PETA has killed tens of thousands of dogs and cats at its Norfolk, VA headquarters in the last ten years--apparently including adoptable animals. But based on public records studied by the non profit, food industry-financed Center for Consumer Freedom, the animal rights organization has increasingly resorted to killing and decreasingly to adoption, as the years have gone by.

the CCF is PETA's worst nightmare. Its workers are as edgy and creative as are PETA's activists--giving back to the animal liberationists some of the same grief they give to others. And it has a budget, permitting it to monitor what animal rights group do and say very closely. Understanding that the organization has a bias, over the years I have found its information to be accurate and reliable--the same about which can definitely not be said for PETA. (The PETA employees mentioned in the article linked above, were were eventually convicted of littering when they dumped the animals they killed in containers, which was later overturned on appeal.)

In the past, PETA has been exposed for killing animals transferred from shelters to its headquarters in Norfolk. Some, perhaps many, of these euthanasia deaths may well have been necessary due to the poor condition of the animals. But the number of kills versus adoptions may indicate something else is at work, particularly since its kill to adopt ratio is widening. From the CCF press release:

PETA's "Animal Record" report for 2008, filed with the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, shows that the animal rights group killed 95 percent of the dogs and cats in its care last year. During all of 2008, PETA found adoptive homes for just seven pets. Just seven animals -- out of the 2,216 it took in. PETA just broke its own record.
This adoption rate is the mirror opposite of the local SPCA, according to the press release.

The CCF also created a chart showing the number of animals PETA has received, killed, transferred, and adopted since 1998. For example, in 2000, PETA received 2,681 animal, of which 2,029 were euthanized, 28 transferred, and 624 adopted, for a 75.7/23.27% rate of kill to adoptions. In 2004, the ratio was 85.9% killed and 13.60% adopted. In 2008, only 0.32% were adopted. That's hard to imagine if the animals' welfare was truly the purpose of PETA's work.

Why might PETA be increasingly resorting to the poison injection? In the past, PETA has said that "many" of the animals are not adoptable. That isn't the same thing as all as saying none were.

Having watched PETA closely now for several years, I suspect that at least part of this seemingly inexcusable kill rate has to do with PETA's ideology that perceives human ownership of domesticated animals as, per se, causing suffering--as a consequence of which, PETA may believe the animals are better off dead than adopted into non animal rights households. The CCF hypothesizes it may be a reluctance by PETA to spend money advertising to the wider community--despite a $32 million budget--that there are animals available for adoption.

Whatever the cause, these kill to adoption numbers may be an indication that there is something very twisted about PETA, and that whatever that something is, it is getting worse.

“Single Embryo” IVF May Work Better



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Among the downsides of IVF has been the overproduction of embryos, that were then put into the deep freeze. Because most of these nascent humans will never be gestated to birth, they are now looked upon as mere things to be used in research.

The reason we have about 400,000 embryos in cold storage is that docturs used to believe that creating many and implanting multiple embryos were necessary to maximize the potential of a successful birth. Moreover, creating many embryos could make it less likely that to the woman being treated would have to be repeatedly super ovulated--which carries distinct risks.

But now, studies show this may be wrong. From the story:

The research contradicts the widely-held view that implanting multiple embryos during in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) is more cost-effective, and improves a woman's chances of becoming pregnant. "At a time when there is an intense debate in many countries about how to reduce multiple pregnancy rates and provide affordable fertility treatment, policy makers should be made aware of our results," said the study's lead researcher Hannu Martikainen of the University of Oulu in Finland. "These data should also encourage clinics to evaluate their embryo transfer policy and adopt elective single embryo transfer as their everyday practice for women younger than 40," she said in a statement....

The study, published by the reproductive medicine journal Human Reproduction, found that the live birth rate was five percent higher for women who had only one embryo implanted at a time. The single embryo procedure was also cheaper, especially when health complications due to multiple births were taken into account. "We found that a baby born alive at term using single embryo transfer was, on average, 19,899 euros (26,825 dollars) less expensive than babies born as a result of double embryo transfer," Martikainen said.

Some countries limit the number of embryos that can be created and implanted, and the time has come for the USA to begin to regulate the field.

But don't expect it to be easy. As we have discussed previously, some wish to make embryos for use in research. Some want multiple births. Some fertile people want to use IVF--coupled with pre-implantation genetic diagnosis--to prevent babies from being born with health diseases, for purely cosmetic culling, or sex selection.

But if we moved to a more limited license for creating and implanting IVF embryos, there would be fewer women afflicted with serious side effects, no need for "selective reduction," e.g. aborting one or more of multiple fetuses, no storing of "unneeded" embryos in the deep freeze bringing with it the temptation of objectification, and less likelihood of eugenic selection of which babies should be born.

Still, we have become a society in which very powerful forces think that the right to have a child through any manner desired--or abort a child at almost any time and for any reason--are connected and should be absolute. They will fight tooth and tong to ensure that the current dysfunctional and unethical "anything goes" US approach doesn't change.

Obama Press Conference: Once Again the President is Disengenuous on Embryonic Stem Cell Research Policy



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I was just watching President Obama's press conference and noticed that he once again dissembled on his answer regarding embryonic stem cell research. From the transcript:
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. In your remarks on stem-cell research earlier this month, you talked about a majority consensus in determining whether or not this is the right thing to do, to federally fund embryonic stem-cell research. I'm just wondering, though, how much you personally wrestled with the morality or ethics of federally funding this kind of research, especially given the fact that science so far has shown a lot of progress with adult stem cells but not a lot with embryonic?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Okay. No, I -- I think it's a -- I think it's a legitimate question. I -- I wrestle with these issues every day. As I mentioned to -- I think in an interview a couple of days ago, by the time an issue reaches my desk, it's a hard issue. If it was an easy issue, somebody else would have solved it and it wouldn't have reached me.

Look, I believe that it is very important for us to have strong moral guidelines, ethical guidelines, when it comes to stem-cell research or anything that touches on, you know, the issues of possible cloning or issues related to, you know, the human life sciences. I think those issues are all critical, and I've said so before. I wrestle with it on stem cells; I wrestle with it on issues like abortion.
Except that Obama stated during the campaign that he supports the Freedom of Choice Act that would apparently end any and all regulation on abortion through the ninth month, whether at the federal or local levels. He also refused to support the Illinois version of the Infant Born Alive Protection Act when he was a state senator. He is actively seeking to dismantle the Bush "conscience clause" regulation that protected health care workers with moral qualms about procedures like abortion. If he really wrestled with abortion, he lost the bout!

Back to the president:
I think that the guidelines that we provided meet that ethical test. What we have said is that for embryos that are typically about to be discarded, for us to be able to use those in order to find cures for Parkinson's or for Alzheimer's or for, you know, all sorts of other debilitating diseases, juvenile diabetes, that -- that it is the right thing to do. And that's not just my opinion. That is the opinion of a number of people who are also against abortion.
It seems to me his ESCR policies are almost as wide open as his abortion policies. For example, there was no requirement in the recent EO that the Feds only fund stem cell lines that came from "leftover" embryos. This means the NIH could, theoretically, fund stem cell lines taken from embryos created explicitly for the purpose of being destroyed--an approach the ethics opinion of the National Academy of Sciences supports as perfectly fine and proper.

And by the way, Alzheimer's is not the kind of a disease likely to be cured by embryonic stem cell infusions because it is caused by plaques that attack the whole brain. Why do some believe it is? Because, despite it not being true, as one ESCR-hyping scientist put it several years ago, "People need a fairy tale."

Cue the POTUS:

Now, I am glad to see progress is being made in adult stem cells. And if the science determines that we can completely avoid a set of ethical questions or political disputes, then that's great. I have -- I have no investment in causing controversy. I’m happy to avoid it if that's where the science leads us.
Then why rescind the 2007 Bush order requiring that the Feds fund research into non controversial "alternative" methods, the very kind of policy geared toward bridging our bitter cultural and political divides, a matter he has now twice kept quite mum about--here and in his stem cell speech.

Obama continued:

But what I don't want to do is predetermine this based on a very rigid ideological approach. And that's what I think is reflected in the executive order that I signed.
But that is what he did, base his order on a very rigid ideological approach that views nascent human life is so much chopped liver. Indeed, as far as I can tell, he took federal funding just as far as the law allows, and only expressed an ethical qualm about the only limit he seems to have placed on anything only an ethical qualm about reproductive cloning, a matter with which he is unlikely he to have to deal directly in his term of office due to profound technological challenges that stand between here and the hypothetical birth of the first baby gestated from a cloned embryo.

Sigh. Definitely not the straight talk express.

Deep Ecology Misanthropy Moving Into Mainstream Environmentalism



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Deep Ecology is a neo earth religion, the ideology of which holds that nature should be given equal consideration with people--a concept sometimes called ecological egalitarianism. The explicit rejection of human exceptionalism led adherents into a profound nihilism and anti-humanism in which deep ecologists yearn for a radical human depopulation to under 1 billion.

It is one thing when the fringe speaks in this manner. But as we have noted here at SHS before, such thinking is moving into the popular culture with movies such as The Day the Earth Stood Still, and also, closer to the environmental mainstream with its growing obsessions over climate change and limiting human prosperity. Now, a major UK environmental adviser wants to see his country cut its population in half. From the story:
JONATHON PORRITT, one of Gordon Brown's leading green advisers, is to warn that Britain must drastically reduce its population if it is to build a sustainable society.

Porritt's call will come at this week's annual conference of the Optimum Population Trust (OPT), of which he is patron. The trust will release research suggesting UK population must be cut to 30m if the country wants to feed itself sustainably. Porritt said: "Population growth, plus economic growth, is putting the world under terrible pressure"...

Porritt is winning scientific backing. Professor Chris Rapley, director of the Science Museum, will use the OPT conference, to be held at the Royal Statistical Society, to warn that population growth could help derail attempts to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Rapley, who formerly ran the British Antarctic Survey, said humanity was emitting the equivalent of 50 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year. "We have to cut this by 80%, and population growth is going to make that much harder," he said.
There are decidedly genocidal and tyrannically eugenic implications in such advocacy. Porritt, for example, has called for the UK to adopt a 2 child policy. But that would, at most, keep the population roughly static--assuming immigration was limited. It would not cut the population by half--the UK currently has about 61 million people--meaning much harsher measures would have to be taken than exerting social pressure or enacting legal requirements to restrict family size.

It is of great concern that a key adviser to the government seems to have swallowed the deep ecology poison and still be considered a respectable spokesperson for environmentalism.

Ignorant Independent Science Reporter Accuses Others of Ignorance



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A science reporter named Steve Connor in the UK, has written a diatribe against opponents of ESCR in the Independent. Part of his critique is an unoriginal cheap shot at the Catholic Church and the issue of ensoulment--which is way beyond our jurisdiction here, and moreover, as far as I know, has not been a major part of the debate anywhere. But then Connor goes on to defend the so-called "14-day rule," which permits embryos to be maintained for 14 days for purposes of experiments. From his column:
The reason why it was decided to allow research on human embryos less than 14 days old was because the ball of cells within the developing embryo that actually becomes the baby--as opposed to the placenta and amniotic sac--does not itself develop until after the 14th day.

Embryologists call this tissue the "primitive streak" and its non-existence in IVF embryos younger than 14 days old was why the 14-day limit on researching and growing human embryos is enshrined in British law. We can thank the Warnock Committee, which sat more than 20 years ago, for this insight. It has proved a remarkably robust argument against those who hold the view that a human being with a soul begins at conception.
Again, most of the people who want to argue about ensoulment are advocates who come from Connor's side of the street. It is the instrumental use of human organisms, nascent human beings, that is morally objectionable. And as we have reported here, embryology text books clearly state that human life begins with the completion of fertilization, not after two weeks when the embryo implants or when the primitive streak emerges.

More to the point, Connor gets his science wrong. Some of the cells in the blastocyst--the embryo at about 1 week--do indeed develop into placenta--which is a vital embryonic and fetal organ necessary for its nourishment and development. But some of the cells--remember these are the pluripotent stem cells that are so coveted by scientists because in theory they can become any cell in the body--become the developing baby's liver, skin, blood, etc. They might not have known that 20 years ago when the Warnock Commission sat, but they sure do now.

Moreover, the primitive streak, which is the beginning of the nervous system, is merely the first visible sign of differentiation, that is, the transformation of the preexisting pluripotent stem cells into specific tissue types. But the streak itself is not what becomes the other tissues.

Beyond that, why would the presence of some differentiated cells increase the moral worth of the embryo? It wouldn't, of course. This is just a false line to be used for now to give the masses the illusion of ethical control. But remember, at least for now, human embryos can't be maintained past 10-14 days in the Petri dish. Thus, as we see so often, the 14-day rule is just another example of "the scientists" being willing to prevent only that which cannot yet be accomplished technologically. Besides, we already see advocacy for fetal farming among some bioethicists, as we have pointed out here at SHS.

Finally, the Warnock Commission was led by Baroness Warnock, a crass utilitarian eugenicist, who has made many outrageous claims on the bioethical front, including supporting a duty to die.

Before Connor calls others ignorant, perhaps he should make sure he is not the pot calling the kettle black.

Biological Colonialism Alert: Cash for Organs Plan in Singapore



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If organs can be purchased, it seems obvious to me that the rich will buy and the poor will sell. Singapore's plan to open the door to this form of biological colonialism has raised this very concern. From the story:
Plans by Singapore to allow payments to living organ donors have run into opposition from some lawmakers who fear they may draw indebted foreign workers, according to press reports Tuesday.

One deputy, Halimah Yacob, said the large pool of unskilled foreign workers affected by the financial crisis may turn to donating organs to pay off debts they incurred to get jobs in this affluent city-state...

The issue was debated Monday in parliament where Halimah, a ruling party lawmaker, said some foreign workers "will become a ready, vulnerable pool of organ donors to be exploited and abused."

"To a desperate foreign worker, even a reimbursement of 10,000 (Singapore) dollars (6,600 US) would be attractive compared to going home empty-handed with a huge debt waiting for him," she was quoted as saying by The Straits Times.

Of course that would happen. The problem is, too many of the people who could benefit--and have the power--don't care.

I have always worried that we are heading toward what I call a Blade Runner world: the masses living in quasi anarchy, as the rich and powerful live lives of luxury behind high walls , marked by eugenics and the ability to exploit the weak. Setting up a commodities market in organs is a step down that path.

Leon Kass Awarded National Endowment for Humanites Most Prestigious Honor



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Good for Leon Kass and well deserved! The country's most eloquent and articulate defender of intrinsic human dignity will be giving the NEH Jefferson Lecture, the Endowment's most prestigious honor. From the press release:
Dr. Leon R. Kass, a widely published author, award-winning humanities teacher, and one of America's leading moral philosophers and experts on medical ethics, will deliver the 2009 Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) announced today. The annual NEH-sponsored Jefferson Lecture is the most prestigious honor the federal government bestows for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities.

"Leon Kass is an outstanding scholar, a gifted teacher, and one of our nation's leading humanists," said NEH Acting Chairman Carole M. Watson. "He has brought the wisdom of the humanities to bear on many topics, from bioethics to courtship, and his dedication to undergraduate teaching in the humanities has benefited a generation of students."
Kass was vilified by utilitarian bioethicists during his tenure as head of the President's Council because he opposes human cloning and stands up for human exceptionalism. In an age when the social outlaws and radicals get most of the attention, it is gratifying to see one of the true greats receive the credit he deserves.

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