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Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

No Girls Allowed! Sweden Okays Gender Eugenic Abortion



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Abortion was supposed to liberate women and protect them from unwanted pregnancies. But with prenatal testing and all, it is increasingly being used as a eugenic search and destroy tool to eliminate unwanted types of children prior to birth. In other words, eugenic abortion mixed with pre-implantation genetic diagnosis in IVF--and I believe, eventually infanticide--is transforming procreation from being about having children to about having only the kind of children we want.

One targeted class of this eugenic technique is girls. In India and China, ultrasound is used to identify female fetuses for elimination--a practice so ubiquitous that a huge disparity now exists between male and female demographics. Now, gender abortion has been approved in Sweden of all places. From the story:
Swedish health authorities have ruled that gender-based abortion is not illegal according to current law and can not therefore be stopped, according to a report by Sveriges Television. The Local reported in February that a woman from Eskilstuna in southern Sweden had twice had abortions after finding out the gender of the child.

The woman, who already had two daughters, requested an amniocentesis in order to allay concerns about possible chromosome abnormalities. At the same time, she also asked to know the foetus's gender.

Doctors at Malaren Hospital expressed concern and asked Sweden's National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) to draw up guidelines on how to handle requests in the future in which they "feel pressured to examine the foetus's gender" without having a medically compelling reason to do so.
The board has now responded that such requests and thus abortions can not be refused and that it is not possible to deny a woman an abortion up to the 18th week of pregnancy, even if the foetus's gender is the basis for the request.
How ironic: In the name of freeing women, Sweden allows open season to be declared on female fetuses (who, let's face it, will be the usual targets of gender selection). India and China have at least outlawed this eugenic cleansing, making those countries more advanced in protecting against gender based eugenics than "enlightened" Sweden.

And the USA? As I reported here at SHS, a bill has been introduced in Congress (H.B. 1822) to prevent gender and racially based abortions: It has no chance of passage.

Hyenas are People Too



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Human exceptionalism is under furious assault on many fronts, with advocates who seek to dismantle it, zealously looking for any and every sign that we are no different, really, from animals.

One of the newest memes in this regard is that animals are moral beings--just like us. I bring this up because University of Wisconsin professor (of course) Deborah Blum in the New Scientist uses the vehicle of a book review to push the notion that animals are moral people too. From the review:
Wild Justice makes a compelling argument for open-mindedness regarding non-human animals. It also argues that social behaviours such as cooperation provide evidence for a sophisticated animal consciousness. In particular, the authors propose that other animal species possess empathy, compassion and a sense of justice--in other words, a moral code not unlike our own.
Well animals clearly cooperate, look at lions on the hunt and cape buffalo or bison making a circle to protect the calves from predators. But that is hardly a moral code, at least not in the human sense.

The book apparently views this so-called "moral code" (which may be Blum's term) as merely evolutionary behavior:

Their definition of morality is a strongly Darwinian one. They see moral actions as dictated by the behavioural code of social species, the communal operating instructions that bond a group safely together, the "social glue" of survival. They believe such codes are necessarily species-specific and warn against, for instance, judging wolf morals by the standards of monkeys, dolphins or humans.
Perhaps, but that certainly isn't true of human beings. We have many different societies with divergent moral codes and behaviors--ranging from flat-out pacifism and chastity, hardly conducive to raw survival--to cannibalism. And that is precisely because our morality is not wholly "dictated" by blind evolutionary forces.

The evolutionary argument seems reasonable, but Blum clearly yearns for animal "morality" to be something more:

My only complaint is that the book is overly careful. The authors try too hard to keep their conclusions non-threatening. I wish they'd attempted to answer that tricky question that nags at me whenever I study a captive animal. As I stand on the unrestricted side of a fence watching a hyena, and it watches me back with deep, wary eyes, which one of us is really the moral animal?
If Blum really doesn't know the answer to that question, I'll help: We are. Hyenas can never be held morally accountable for anything they do. But we can and should be so held. That is a distinction that no amount of anthropomorphizing can erase.
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Fetal Farming Research Ongoing in Animals



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I have oft asserted that the embryonic stem cell debate is not the far end of the instrumental use of unborn humans, but the launching pad. Once the principle is established that early embryos can be used as a natural resource, it won't be long until gestated nascent human life is also targeted.

I believe that most bioethicists and biotechnologists know this, but aren't candid about the prospect because of the political harm that would inflict on the brave new world project. For example, in 2002 the Stanford bioethicist Henry T. Greely, who served on a California bioethics board was challenged when he appeared at a neuroethics conference about the commission's recommended 14-day maximum limit for doing research on cloned embryos--which is now California law. As reported in my book Consumer's Guide to a Brave New World, a transcript of the event showed Greely stating that the limit was political and not meant to be permanent:

That qualification was driven, I think it’s fair to say, largely by two things: a very strong desire to have a unanimous report and the fact that it was fairly straightforward albeit very conservative place to stop, at least for now, based on our current state of knowledge. Before cells begin to differentiate in their functions, it seems very hard for anyone to argue that there is the remotest chance that sentience exists in that small ball of cells...But fourteen days was a good, easy, clear stopping point for now, based on our current understanding. We did not mean that fourteen days would always be the limit; that limit could be changed in the future based on new understandings that would likely come from neuroscience. [See, Neuroethics: Mapping the Field: Conference Proceedings, New York, NY The Dana Foundation, 2002), May 13-14.]
And of course, a few bioethicists have already called explicitly for fetal farming.

I bring this up because fetal farming research is ongoing in animals. The latest report involves using embryonic pancreatic tissue--not embryonic stem cells--taken from pigs to treat diabetes in monkeys. From the story:
By transplanting embryonic pancreatic tissue from pigs to monkeys, Israeli researchers report that they were able to reverse the primates' insulin deficiency. The key, the researchers say, is the embryonic tissue's ability to grow into a new pancreas that uses blood vessels from the host animal. The host blood vessels are not subject to the dangerous immune reaction that has always dogged xenotransplants of mature pancreatic material...

In an earlier study, the researchers found evidence that semiformed pancreatic tissue taken from pig embryos at 42 days of gestation appeared to offer the best combination of characteristics for xenotransplantation. According to Reisner, if they're harvested too early, there may not be enough partially differentiated pancreatic cells. But if taken too late, the tissues' ability to grow into a new organ is diminished, perhaps because they contain too few stem cells, while their ability to cause immune rejection increases.
While this study involves inter-species transplantation, it would be far more logical to use tissues from aborted fetuses or even aborted cloned fetuses intentionally generated for the purpose of transplantation to achieve the same end in humans. In this regard, note that it was necessary to wait until the 6th week to harvest the tissue.

If and when an artificial womb is created, and if and when scientists figure out how to clone human beings and gestate them beyond the first few days of development--the apparent current state of the technology--the pressure will be on to permit this research to proceed. And the arguments in its favor will be the same as those made today about ESCR and early human cloning research: A developed embryo or fetus isn't a "person;" the embryo/fetus will never be born so what does it matter; the embryo/fetus value isn't as important as Uncle Charlie whose Parkinson's we can cure," etc.

Believe me, if I get this, so do "the scientists" and their enablers in bioethics and Big Biotech. Indeed, I believe that they have no intention of ever permitting any reasonable permanent ethical parameters to be established that would limit the areas of research where this field can go. (They will sometimes agree to limit that which cannot yet be done technologically, but as Greely's comment reflects, those restrictions are always subject to change.) Moreover, it is worth noting that cloned fetal farming has been explicitly legalized by statute in New Jersey.

Since "the scientists" won 't engage in self restraint, it is and will be up to society to set those standards for them through democratic processes. Of course, if that happens, the next step will be lawsuits filed to establish a constitutional right to conduct scientific research.

Human Skin “Art” to Hang Someday in Australian National Gallery?



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A tattooed man plans to donate his skin to the Australian National Gallery when he dies. From the story:
An Australian man whose body is covered in tattoos has pledged to donate his skin to the National Gallery when he dies. Retired teacher Geoff Ostling displays his tattooed skin at his home in Sydney, Australia. The 65-year-old has pledged to donate his skin to the National Gallery in Canberra after his death...

"People can be squeamish about it. Portraits painted on human skin hang in galleries around the world. They don't tell you that, of course, and valuable books were also covered in human skin."
Be that as it may, I hope the National Gallery refuses the donation. Hanging the man's skin would along the line of the "cadaver sex art," we discussed here at SHS last week. Respect for human exceptionalism and the dignity of human life would be hindered if we treated a dead human as akin to a bear skin rug.

Adult Stem Cells Used to Prevent Tumors in ESCR



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This gets a bit complicated: In mice, scientists used adult stem cells to prevent embryonic stem cells used to treat spinal cord injury from forming tumors. From the story:
Transplanted embryonic stem cells are recognized as a potential treatment for patients suffering from the effects of spinal cord injury (SCI). However, in studies using embryonic stem cells transplanted into SCI laboratory animals, a serious drawback has been the development of tumors following transplantation.

Publishing in the current issue of Cell Transplantation (Vol. 18 No.1), a team of Japanese researchers describe their study that demonstrates a way to eliminate the problem of tumor growth by co-transplanting bone marrow stem cells (BMSCs) along with embryonic stem cells. "Our study results suggest that co-transplanting BMSCs induce undifferentiated embryonic stem cells to differentiate into a neuronal lineage by neurotrophic factor production, resulting in suppression of tumor formation in SCI model mice," said corresponding author Dr. Masahide Yoshikawa of the Nara Medical University. "...

A control group of mice that only received ES cells developed tumors at the grafted site and their behavioral improvement ceased after three weeks. No tumors developed in the co-transplantation group and behavioral improvement continued over the five-week study. To date, no effective medical therapy has been available for SCI patients. While ES cells have been thought to represent a potential resource for therapy, the hurdle of tumor formation has impeded efforts.
Unmentioned in the article is that adult stem cells in human trials have restored sensation to spinal cord injury patients with both paraplegia and quadriplegia. But never mind, this could move the future of direct ESC therapies forward.
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Michael Barone on how Global Warming is Becoming Religion



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When science becomes ideology or quasi-religion, it ceases to be science and becomes something else. The brilliant political analyst Michael Barone has weighed in on this concern in a new column (which also deals with gun control, beyond our scope here.) He notes that despite the constant propaganda of the last few years, fewer people today believe in man-made global warming then just last year. And he ponders the whole thing. From his column (with gun references deleted):
For liberal elites, belief in... global warming has taken on the character of religious faith. We have sinned (by...driving SUVs); we must atone (by...recycling); we must repent (by supporting...cap and trade schemes). You may notice that the "we" in question is usually the great mass of ordinary American citizens.

The liberal elite is less interested in giving up its luxuries (Al Gore purchases carbon offsets to compensate for his huge mansion and private jet travel) than in changing the lifestyle of the masses, who selfishly insist on living in suburbs...Ordinary Americans are seen not as responsible fellow citizens building stable communities but as greedy masses, who must be disciplined to live according to the elite's religious dogmas.
Barone nails it, but I think he is only skating on the surface. These issues are moving parts in a far larger phenomenon--the coup de culture--that seeks to replace human exceptionalism with a hedonistic, utilitarian utopianism steeped in an ironically puritanical radical environmentalism, that increasingly disdains us humans as the enemies of "the planet." This is our (so far, mostly nonviolent) cultural version of the Reformation/Counter Reformation, and it is going to take a long time for the the screaming to stop.

SHS Funnies



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What Rat learned when he drove through the San Francisco Bay Area. Goat must be from Berkeley.

Another (Barely) Veiled Threat of Murder by a Notable Animal Rights Radical



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This comes very close to an outright death threat--without quite being one. An animal rights terrorist supporter named Jason Miller has strongly hinted that a UCLA animal researcher could be murdered, and indeed seems to hope that it will happen. From a preface to his piece against animal research in Thomas Paine's Corner:
I'm dedicating this piece to the courageous animal defenders and rescuers comprising the ALF, the Justice Department, the Animal Liberation Brigade, and the other militant direct action groups who are taking the fight to vivisectors and the rest of their ilk comprising the animal exploitation complex. Given the relentless nature of the systemic torment and slaughter of millions of other sentient beings that take place day after day, violent responses from nonhuman animal lovers are inevitable and are a morally acceptable means of extensional self-defense on behalf of the voiceless, defenseless victims. As my close colleague, Dr. Jerry Vlasak, surmised---and I back him 100% on this---the assassination of a vivisector or two would probably save millions of nonhuman animal lives. And given the escalating situation at UCLA, who knows what may happen?

Employing myriad tactics and strategies, those of us pursuing empty cages will prevail, and, as another steadfast ally of mine, Dr. Steve Best, stated in a speech he gave at Oxford in 2005, "wipe vivisection off the map." I yearn for that day.]
A little while back, Best, wrote an essay entitled, "It's War" published in the book Terrorists or Freedom Fighters?, stating in part:


More and more activists grow tired of adhering to a nonviolent code of ethics while violence from the enemy [presumably, he means against animals] increases. Realizing that that nonviolence against animal exploiters in fact is a pro-violence stance that tolerates their blood-spilling without taking adequate measures to stop it, a new breed of freedom fighters has ditched Gandhi for Machiavelli, and switched from principled nonviolence with the amoral (not to be confused with immoral) pragmatism that embraces animal liberation “by any means necessary.”

A new civil war is unfolding—one between forces hell-bent on exploiting animals and the earth for profit whatever the toll, and activists steeled to resist this omnicide tooth and nail. We are witnessing not only the long-standing corporate war against nature, but also a new social war about nature...

This is very scary stuff. And I worry that it presages an era in which civil discourse, comity, and the rule of law will be under concerted assault on many fronts.

Even the Scientists Now Criticize the ESCR Hype



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Science has a good piece in the current issue exposing the hype that has permeated embryonic stem cell research advocacy and its reporting by media. In "A Stem Cell History Lesson," (no link, here's the abstract), University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine researcher James M. Wilson warns against unrealistic boosting of ESCR, as was done previously with gene therapy. His column starts with a recent quote from President Obama:

"At this moment, the full promise of stem cell research remains unknown and it should not be overstated," the president said. "I cannot guarantee that we will find the treatments and cures we seek." Unfortunately, some stakeholders in hESC research have failed to exhibit the same restraint, effectively promising cures for Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, spinal cord injuries, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, macular degeneration, and hearing loss, to name a few.

Obama hasn't really been circumspect, but let's leave that aside. Wilson notes that the same factors pushing ESCR hype, were present in the earlier over-heated enthusiasm for gene therapy that led to the field moving faster than the actual science warranted:
Many of the factors that fueled gene therapy's premature expansion are major drivers of the hESC and iPS research agenda today. A large and vocal population of patients suffering from a wide variety of ailments is pressing for stem cell-based therapies. Disease-specific stem cell research groups are more politically sophisticated than ever, in some cases employing congressional lobbyists. Unrealistic expectations have been fueled by relentless media coverage, driven in part by a factor not present in the gene therapy roll-out: a debate over the ethics of research on human embryos and embryo cells, which has served as a "news hook" that brings media attention to even the most incremental of advances.

It is difficult to avoid getting caught up in the unabashed enthusiasm that attends the emergence of a novel, but untested, therapeutic technology platform, as I myself experienced. Still, January's media coverage of the first U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of a hESC-related clinical trial-an experiment sponsored by Geron..., aimed at spinal cord injuries-was surprising for its lack of restraint. News reports characterized Geron's mere gaining of federal permission to test the cells in patients as a "breakthrough." And in a highly questionable move, Good Morning America accompanied its news report with faux video footage depicting the paralyzed actor Christopher Reeve getting out of his wheel chair and walking again.
I hadn't seen that Good Morning America bit. That's truly shameful. Even Geron says that its product would not work for people, like Reeve, with long-term spinal cord injuries.

Reading Wilson, one would presume that outside forces are primarily to blame for the shameless hype. But from my perspective, it is the scientists themselves who were the main sources for the excess boosterism. They are the ones who goaded on the media and gave false hope to the disease celebrity victims and the advocacy groups.

But such anti-scientific behavior has consequences, such as building pressures to go faster into human trials and therapies than actually supported by the science--which is precisely what happened with gene therapy, as Wilson points out, citing a 1995 committee investigation (Orkin-Motulsky panel) undertaken by the NIH:

The report recommended that researchers get back to basics and develop a more robust understanding of gene transfer in animals. The researchers continued to pursue clinical trials aggressively. And the hype continued until the turn of the century when a confluence of events--the tragic and widely publicized death of Jesse Gelsinger, questions regarding regulatory oversight of gene therapy, bursting of the overall biotech bubble, and stakeholder impatience due to unmet expectations--led to a precipitous decline in financial and public support.
And beginning only three years after the Orkin-Motulsky panel published its report, ESCR advocates were at it again, screaming CURES! CURES! CURES! accompanied by with much bigger drums and much louder cymbals.

I applaud Wilson for trying to put the hype genie back in the bottle. But it is too late. So much energy, money, political capital, and invective against opponents have been spewed from pro ESCR advocates, that truths uttered by responsible scientists like Wilson bounce off peoples' foreheads like a ping pong ball; leaving not a mark.

The New Star Trek Movie: Human/Vulcan Exceptionalism



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Secondhand Smokette and I caught the Star Trek prequel today, and I thoroughly enjoyed it as a fun adventure, but more precisely, as a loving homage to the original series (which I used to watch in the dorm in college, can you believe it?). What was fun is that the young actors playing Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty, Ohura, Chekov, and Sulu, wisely do not do imitations of Shatner, Nimoy, et. al. , and yet take moments in which they eerily capture the essence of the characters as depicted by the original stars. If you are a fan of going "where no man has gone before," you will enjoy this picture very much.

This review by the SF Chronicle's Mick LaSalle, with whose attitudes I generally disagree, is spot on.

A Casualty of Popular Culture’s Pro Assisted Suicide Campaign



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We have discussed the suicide proselytizing in the media and popular culture here many times on SHS. But this story hits the nail! A woman with MS named Angela Harrison watched a television drama in which the protagonist went to Switzerland for suicide tourism--and then killed herself. From the story:

A multiple sclerosis sufferer killed herself after watching a BBC drama about euthanasia starring Julie Walters, an inquest heard. Angela Harrison, 44, took an overdose of drugs after watching one-off drama 'A Short Stay in Switzerland', screened on January 26. She was rushed to Hinchingbrooke Hospital, Cambridgeshire, and died two days later.

The inquest at Huntingdon law court on Thursday heard how Angela, from Eynesbury had battled depression for many years as a result of her MS. She had spoken frequently to her children about her desire to end her life before her condition became totally debilitating.

But her brother Frank Harrison said she had been planning a holiday on a cruise ship in the days before her overdose. He believed watching the harrowing euthanasia drama was the final straw. Mr Harrison said: 'She had decided a long time ago that she would take her own life when the time came. 'I think what brought it on that night was watching that Julie Walters play on television.' The drama, written by Frank McGuinness, was inspired by the true story of Anne Turner, a retired English doctor who in 2006 decided to take her own life at Dignitas because she could no longer bear to live with supranuclear palsy, an incurable degenerative disease.

Promoting assisted suicide--and its romanticizing in the press and entertainment media--has deadly consequences. Will that lesson be learned? No. The argument will just be made--as it has often before--that she shouldn't have had to do it alone.

Washington State Assisted Suicide Non Cooperation Campaign Still Strong



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Washington State's assisted suicide controversy continues to burn. Articles keep coming out complaining that patients who legally qualify for help in killing themselves are being refused, while hospitals and physicians continue to exercise their right under the law to opt out. From the latest story:
Providence St. Peter Hospital and Capital Medical Center officials said Thursday that the hospitals will not participate in physician-assisted suicide under the state's new Death with Dignity law, but instead will refer terminally ill patients to their primary doctors.

Providence Health and Services spokeswoman Karina Jennings said Thursday that the same standard applies for all of its medical facilities and nursing homes in Washington and Oregon. The key reason: Providence is a Catholic health care organization, and physician-assisted suicide is "not a path conducive to our values," she said. "We don't believe that health care providers should be put in the position of taking someone’s life," Jennings said...

Providence hospitals are notifying patients through the Vital Signs newsletter and through paperwork filled out at the time of admission, Jennings said. She said the hospitals will encourage hospice and palliative care but will draw the line at suicide.
Good. Primary care physicians should also say no, so that only death doctors associated with Compassion and Choices do the deed. That would not only keep the number of assisted suicides lower--as it has in Oregon--but it also has the beauty of truth: If Kevorkianism is going to be legalized, lets at least make sure it is seen for precisely what it is.

Stop the Whining About Swine Flu “Alarmism”



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The times in which we live can be so disheartening: The swine flu--known in its politically correct name as H1N1 Flu--appears not to have become the deadly pandemic some feared. But rather than be relieved, some are carping that the government engaged in fear-mongering. From the story:
Did government health officials "cry swine" when they sounded the alarm on what looked like a threatening new flu? The so-far mild swine flu outbreak has many people saying all the talk about a devastating global epidemic was just fear-mongering hype.

But that's not how public health officials see it, calling complacency the thing that keeps them up at night. The World Health Organization added a scary-sounding warning Thursday, predicting up to 2 billion people could catch the new flu if the outbreak turns into a global epidemic.

Many blame such alarms and the breathless media coverage for creating an overreaction that disrupted many people's lives. Schools shut down, idling even healthy kids and forcing parents to stay home from work; colleges scaled back or even canceled graduation ceremonies; a big Cinco de Mayo celebration in Chicago was canned; face masks and hand sanitizers sold out - all because of an outbreak that seems no worse than a mild flu season. "I don't know anyone who has it. I haven't met anyone who knows anyone who contracted it," said Carl Shepherd, a suburban Chicago video producer and father of two. "It's really frightening more people than it should have. It's like crying wolf."
Oh, boo hoo! I remember one story I saw on television of a mother bitterly complaining because her daughter's softball game had been canceled. I mean really! If the government had not taken these steps and the flu had turned out to be a deadly threat, the screaming would never stop.

We are so spoiled. We believe we should never be inconvenienced--but we expect the government to perfectly calibrate its responses and prevent every problem by pushing a button. But that impossible, since we can't precisely know the future.

The CDC did a good and professional job reacting to what seemed a real threat--proving that they have thought about and trained in how to respond to these threats beforehand. I am sure lessons can be learned and improvements made. But realizing this thing could still go the other way, for once, can't we just take the whole matter in stride and, with a sense of gratitude that the illness does not appear to be as serious as originally feared, thank these hard-working professionals for a job well done?

“Artificial Life” is Not “Real Life?”



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The lexicon we use in discussing bioethical issues is important. And look how this newspaper does it in a poll to measure attitudes about refusing unwanted treatment. From the story:
PATIENTS' lives are being artificially "extended beyond what they actually want for themselves", Health Minister John Hill says. He is urging families to have a "serious debate" about the services terminally ill people want and need in the "last days of their lives".

Mr Hill told The Advertiser keeping people alive with machines had a steep emotional and financial cost. "Certainly, when it comes to end of life--and this is not an argument for euthanasia, I don't want to see it interpreted in that way-- we do invest a lot of resources in keeping people alive beyond what they actually want for themselves," he said.

"If you were to do a survey, the vast majority of people would say: 'Look, I want to be let go. I don't want to be strapped to a whole lot of machines and kept going artificially'. But if they don't do that and they don't have the conversation, then the machinery of health kicks in and you can artificially extend life just by using a whole lot of technologies for quite a long time..."

He rejected any suggestion that services would be capped, but said the right clinical decisions had to be made about what medical procedures were necessary. "I'm not saying people should have their lives shortened and it shouldn't be something that's imposed on people," he said.
Refusing unwanted treatment is not the major problem anymore. Today, it is getting that kind of treatment when you want it. But look how the newspaper worded its poll on the issue:

Do you agree with the Health Minister?

Yes - Artificial life is not real life.

No - Life is the most precious thing.

But the minister never said that being on life support is "artificial life" that isn't "real life." He said that people should discuss what they want and don't want. And he said that people shouldn't receive life-support they don't want, but also, that they shouldn't be prevented from receiving the life supporting treatment they do want.

That's not very controversial. But the wording of that poll sends a totally different message that is guaranteed to get the result the paper probably wants.

One Consequence of Coup de Culture is Death/Sex Decadence



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Hedonism--the scratching of every itch, indulgence of very impulse, breaking of nearly every norm--is very much central to our ongoing coup de culture. Hedonism has consequences, one of which is decadence, which is defined as:
A process, condition, or period of deterioration or decline, as in morals or art; decay.
Decadence is all around us, of course, indeed so ubiquitous and varied that I usually leave these stories alone. But this one, I think, hits squarely on the concept of human dignity and its ongoing subversion. An "artist" in Germany has created a display of cadavers "copulating." From the story:
A new exhibition featuring preserved dead bodies having sex opened in Berlin on Thursday with critics saying a maverick German anatomist dubbed "Doctor Death" has gone too far this time.
No he hasn't: Why would anyone think there is such thing as "too far" anymore?
The couple, part of Gunther von Hagens's exhibition "The Cycle of Life", is the "low point in his tastelessness", Michael Braun, culture expert from the conservative CDU party told AFP. The couple, part of Gunther von Hagens's exhibition "The Cycle of Life", is the "low point in his tastelessness", Michael Braun, culture expert from the conservative CDU party, told AFP. Von Hagens said his copulating couples show the sexual act in "bracing clarity".
Ah, the elevated vision of the artiste:
The exhibition "offers a deep understanding of the human body, the biology of reproduction, and the nature of sexuality".
No, it's just cadaver porn.
Van Hagens is no stranger to controversy and his many critics accuse him of deliberately shocking people in order to gain publicity, rather than furthering science as he claims.
Ya think?
Three years ago he opened a factory-cum-museum in eastern Germany manufacturing "plastinated" sections of cadavers to supply researchers and medical students and charging visitors to watch the process. "I am firmly convinced that he just breaks taboos again and again in order to make money," Kai Wegner, another CDU lawmaker, told AFP. "It is not about medicine or scientific progress. It is marketing and money-making pure and simple."
But breaking "taboos" is all that matters in a hedonistic culture crumbling from the destruction of social cohesion. Further, hedonism denigrates human exceptionalism by reducing us to the level of instinctive and self indulgent beings living for the next, ever more nihilistic, thrill.

We can break this downward spiral only by seeing clearly what is happening and refusing to participate in it.

Irish Socialized Medicine Shortchanges the Terminally Ill



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Dying people in Ireland are having a hard time accessing vital hospice services under the country's socialized medical system. From the Story:
TERMINALLY ill patients are being put on waiting lists for vital end-of-life care as a result of the State's long-term failure to adequately invest in hospice services. Figures released to the Irish Examiner show that on a single day last week, more than 130 people facing imminent death were told it could be weeks before they would be able to access a hospice due to a lack of resources.

The figures, released by the Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF) ahead if its national fundraising day tomorrow, show on April 27 a total of 133 patients suffering from terminal cancer, renal and respiratory illnesses were told they could not immediately access the pain relief service. In the country's three main facilities (the Dublin- based Harold’s Cross, Blackrock and St Francis services), 42 terminally ill patients had to be refused in-patient, home care and day care for an average of five days.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the country is beginning to see advocacy for assisted suicide.

Face Transplants Good: Our Reactions Against People With Disfigurements, Not Good



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I guess face transplants--wherein a patient receives the "face" of a cadaver--are news because they are new. But I don't see why anyone would oppose them--at least as a reconstructive procedure. Case in point: The first American woman to receive this procedure after her face was literally blown away by a shotgun blast, has stepped forward to explain what it has meant to her. From the story:

When Connie Culp heard a little kid call her a monster because of the shotgun blast that left her face horribly disfigured, she pulled out her driver's license to show the child what she used to look like. Years later, as the nation's first face transplant recipient, she's stepped forward to show the rest of the world what she looks like now.

Her expressions are still a bit wooden, but she can talk, smile, smell and taste her food again. Her speech is at times a little tough to understand. Her face is bloated and squarish. Her skin droops in big folds that doctors plan to pare away as her circulation improves and her nerves grow, animating her new muscles.

But Culp had nothing but praise for those who made her new face possible. "I guess I'm the one you came to see today," the 46-year-old Ohio woman said at a news conference at the Cleveland Clinic, where the groundbreaking operation was performed. But "I think it's more important that you focus on the donor family that made it so I could have this person's face."
This is medicine at its best and we should all applaud the beneficence done here and applaud Culp for her courage and fortitude.

Now, this is a dangerous procedure. That means it should only be done in catastrophic circumstances. But you watch, sooner or later someone will want one as an enhancement. When and if that happens, the doctors should refuse.

But here's the question that really has me wondering: Why do we react so viscerally against people who are badly disfigured? The child's cruelty in the story was innocent, but it comes from somewhere within us. And I well remember the astonishingly cruel social fascism directed against my high school's "ugliest" girls. Even adults--myself included--sometimes need to discipline ourselves not to give into what seems a reflex revulsion when we come upon someone who is catastrophically disfigured. This phenomenon is real. What I don't understand is where it comes from, and why.

Michael Savage Banned from UK: But Philip Nitschke Allowed In for the Magical Suicide Tour



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I don't listen to Michael Savage, but it seems odd to me that a talk radio shock jock would be banned from the UK because of things he has said, but that Philip Nitschke would be allowed in despite what he does--teach people how to commit suicide. From the BBC Story on Savage:
Controversial daily radio talk-show host [Michael Savage]. Considered to be engaging in unacceptable behaviour by seeking to provoke others to serious criminal acts and fostering hatred which might lead to inter-community violence. His views on immigration, Islam, rape and autism have caused great offence in the US.
Yet here is what Nitschke has been doing since being allowed in:
Dr Nitschke, who helped four people to die when euthanasia was briefly legalised in Australia, explained the choice people faced: a lingering and possibly painful death in hospital, surrounded by strangers, or a quick, pain-free and peaceful exit at home. [Me: Uttlerly false premise, but what else is new.]He showed a video of Betty, his octogenarian assistant, demonstrating how to commit suicide with a large roasting bag and a can of helium of the kind used to inflate balloons.

His own preferred method, in keeping with his motto, "I'd rather die like a dog", is nembutal, washed down with a whisky. Nembutal is a barbiturate used by vets to put down animals. It is strictly controlled in Britain but available over the counter in Mexico.

He urged his audience to prepare their own "end of life: strategy before they became too old or sick. Much better to stock up now rather than risk the liberty of a loved one, he suggested...He added: "I cannot condone anything that is illegal but I know hundreds of people who have bought nembutal in Mexico and flown back to this country without any problem"
[me: thereby condoning what is illegal].
So, I guess the moral of the story is that in the UK, it is worse to "offend" certain unnamed people than to encourage and teach the elderly, ill, disabled, and despairing how to kill themselves. But such are the weird politically correct times in which we live.

Hit it Phil!

Roll up, roll up for the suicide tour.
Roll up, roll up for the suicide tour.
Roll up AND THAT'S AN INVITATION, roll up for the suicide tour.
Roll up TO MAKE A RESERVATION, roll up for the suicide tour.
The magical suicide tour is waiting to take you away,
Waiting to take you away.

Roll up, roll up for the suicide tour.
Roll up, roll up for the suicide tour.
Roll up WE'VE GOT EVERYTHING YOU NEED, roll up for the suicide tour.
Roll up SATISFACTION GUARANTEED, roll up for the suicide tour.
The magical suicide tour is hoping to take you away.
Hoping to take you away.

Roll up, roll up for the suicide tour.
Roll up, roll up for the suicide tour.
Roll up AND THAT'S AN INVITATION, roll up for the suicide tour.
Roll up TO MAKE A RESERVATION, roll up for the suicide tour.
The magical suicide tour is coming to take you away,
Coming to take you away.
The magical suicide tour is dying to take you away,
Dying to take you away, take you away.
Take you today.

Daschle’s Dishonesty by Omission in the Great Health Care Debate



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Almost Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Daschle has a piece in Newsweek promoting national health care. Some of what he writes is accurate, but the column is utterly disingenuous in not mentioning the rationing issue.

Daschle begins by noting that Medicare and Medicaid are popular programs, and not purely socialized. That is because market economics were put in to the program after their inception, but let us not get into that here. He then claims chirpily, that studies show having a public plan to compete with private ones will reduce premiums for everybody, which is part of cost containment, which we all want! Maybe, but pardon my cynicism.

Daschle then turns to the strongest argument for the creation of a national public plan. From the column:
[A] public plan will guarantee improved access to our health-care system. Today more than 47 million Americans have no health insurance at some point during the year. Nearly 50 percent of all Americans don't have the coverage they expect to have when they seek the care they need. A public plan will virtually eliminate the industry practice of rejecting someone based upon health status or ability to pay. Even more, it maximizes portability (without reliance on employment). Finally, as Medicare patients have demonstrated time and time again, they have significantly better access to doctors for routine care of illness or injury than those on employer-based plans do.
The 47 million is misleading since some of that is based on young people, and even middle-aged--a good friend of mine, for example--who could afford insurance but choose not to buy it. And I think it also includes millions of illegal aliens--who we cannot afford to cover. But there is no doubt that the weakest aspect of our current system is the possibility of losing one's coverage and not being able to afford a private plan, or not qualifying for one due to a pre-existing condition. On the other hand, if pre-existing conditions are to be covered--and we have to find a way to do that--it will be the public plan that gets those folk and I don't see how premiums will be reduced.

But then Daschle goes into disingenuous land:
[W]ith health reform, Americans are likely going to have some kind of choice. Allow a public health-insurance plan or accept the fact that you are in for far more regulation as we construct a new system without it. With real competition, potentially far less regulation is warranted.
Less regulation? Who is Daschle kidding? He has pushed a national utilitarian bioethics council that would tell private and public plans what to cover and what not to cover--how would that be "less" regulation? Daschle has supported rationing, and indeed, our president seems to too, as noted (approvingly, I think) by futilitarian blogger Thaddeus Pope.

Daschle ends with:
Our team is ready to play; it is a new season, and we've waited a long time. The American people have seen affordable health care for all as something out of "Field of Dreams," and they like what they see. Build it and they will come.
Never mind the insipid baseball analogy that infuses the entire column, "affordable health care for all," is nothing but a phony-baloney slogan and I am so sick of politics by slogan. Whatever system we get will hardly be affordable. Indeed, Medicare threatened to sink us into the ocean of red ink even before we went on this drunken borrow and spend binge of irresponsible governance upon which our rulers in Washington have embarked. And if it is rationed, it won't be health care for all either, just for those the least expensive for which to care.

Animal to Human Xenotransplantation Takes a Big Leap Forward



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Scientists in Japan have used animal research to explore a potential way around the organ shortage by growing transplantable organs in sheep made from stem cells. In this case, it is monkey organs, but within a decade, it could be human organs. From the story:

Huddled at the back of her shed, bleating under a magnificent winter coat and tearing cheerfully at a bale of hay, she is possibly the answer to Japan's chronic national shortage of organ donors: a sheep with a revolutionary secret. Guided by one of the animal's lab-coated creators, the visitor's hand is led to the creature's underbelly and towards a spot in the middle under eight inches of greasy wool. Lurking there is a spare pancreas.
This would not be xenotransplantation in the usual sense of the term, since the procured organ would not be the sheep's own, but as I understand it, would be a construct made from human stem cells:
The organ growing on the sheep was generated from monkey stem cells but the man behind the science, Yutaka Hanazono, believes that the technology could be developed eventually to make sheep into walking organ banks for human livers, hearts, pancreases and skin.
I am assuming these are adult stem cells, since the type was not mentioned in the story, which generally means non embryonic. My attempts to find out otherwise were for naught. However, a scientist source I contacted told me, "Has to be ASC; they haven't formed much in the way of an actual organ, in lab or in body, with ESC." However, if I find out differently, I will let you all know. But even then, the IPSCs continue to come on strong, now having been made with blood cells.

So, if this works--always a big if in early research--a patient's adult stem cells could be used to grow a new organ in a sheep, which would then be transplanted back to the human when the time was right:
"We have made some very big advances here. There has historically been work on the potential of sheep as producers of human blood, but we are only slowly coming closer to the point where we can harvest sheep for human organs," Professor Hanazono told The Times. "We have shown that in vivo (in a living animal) creation of organs is more efficient than making them in vitro (in a test tube)... "
So, to those animal rights types: Is it wrong to sacrifice sheep in order to literally save people?

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