Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Dishonesty Piled Upon Dishonesty by Obama Administration on Stem Cells


It wasn't bad enough that President Obama stealthily removed a pro science/pro ethics pluripotent Bush stem cell policy, pretending that he was fighting the forces of anti-science. Now Melody Barnes, the president's domestic policy adviser, has written an article extolling the President's decision. That's fine. But what is quickly becoming the norm for this administration, it is deeply disingenuous, based on crucial factual omissions and straw man put downs. From her column:
From this time forward, decisions about federal funding of stem cell research will be based on scientific principles. In the Obama administration, the scientific community will be empowered, but not unaccountable. Scientists who wish to conduct stem cell research must do so in a responsible manner and the president Obama will not allow scientists to leave our shared values at the laboratory door. But unlike the past eight years, political ideology will no longer trump sound science.
Get it? When they agree with an ethical regulation, it supports science. When they don't it is anti science.

Then she mentions adult stem cell research, leaving out the thousands of human trials for all ranges of diseases and afflictions that are showing such great promise.
We have already seen the benefits of cell-based therapies in areas such as bone marrow transplantation. Today, we do not know and should not overstate the full potential of this research, but we have an obligation to move forward. We have an obligation to our parents and grandparents who suffer from degenerative conditions such as Parkinson's disease. We have an obligation to our children who suffer from chronic diseases such as juvenile diabetes. We have an obligation to veterans who suffer from spinal cord injuries they sustained defending our nation. Stem cell research could cure Parkinson's and diabetes, and help those who thought they would sit in a wheelchair for the rest of their lives walk again.
The clear implication here is that bone marrow is fine, as far as it goes. But to get the real cures we need ESCR--leaving out the fact that adult stem cells have shown tremendous promise in early human trials for most of the conditions she mentions.

Then she seems to be tough on preventing ethical slippery slopes:
The president will vigorously oppose cloning for human reproduction. It is dangerous, it is wrong, and it will not be tolerated. The National Institutes of Health will continue to be prohibited from funding research during which an embryo is destroyed.
Reproductive cloning can't be done yet, and besides, that isn't a ban on cloning. Moreover, the NIH remains "prohibited from funding research during which an embryo is destroyed," not because of Obama's policy, but because it is against existing federal law (the Dickey Amendment) that he didn't have the power to change via executive order. Notice she does not promise a veto of any attempt to change that law, which as I noted in an earlier post, is already being advocated by the Left's primary media outlet, the New York Times.

Then comes the straw man:
Americans may never reach a unanimous decision on the best way to fight disease and improve the health of all Americans, but doing nothing while millions suffer and die is not an acceptable option.
Who ever advocated "doing nothing?"

This administration promised to be transparent: Instead it is opaque. It promised to heal divisions: Instead it is worsening them. It promised honesty, but its policy arguments are profoundly misleading to the point of mendacity.

The only reason he can get away with it is that the media remains immersed in the tank. If that ever changes, Obama could be in deep political trouble.

Deconstructing Obama’s Stem Cell Policy


I have been mouthing off at President Obama's stem cell actions all week, particularly with regard to his silent evisceration of the "alternative methods" federal funding requirement. Toward that end, I did what I do when steam is coming out my ears; wrote a piece for the Daily Standard. From my column:
The mainstream media--still obsessed with discrediting all things "Bush"--focused gleefully on the expected rescission of the restriction that under Bush limited federal funding to embryonic stem cell lines in existence on August 9, 2001. But opening up all existing and future embryonic stem cell lines to federal funding is not all that Obama did. While he made no mention of it in his widely covered East Room speech, a quiet press release issued on Monday stated that in addition to the above change, "Executive Order 13435 of June 20, 2007, which supplements the August 9, 2001, statement on human embryonic stem cell research, is revoked."

That opaque notice tells us absolutely nothing. But a little research makes clear why the administration was so terse: The 2007 executive order required the government to make a point of funding what are known as "alternative methods" for obtaining pluripotent stem cells. These are procedures that don't require the destruction of embryos to derive these powerful cells, which are theoretically able to become any tissue in the body. It is this capacity that scientists say makes embryonic stem cells so valuable.
The hypocrisy of taking away a policy that specifically bridged the bitter divides he promised to heal--pro life versus pro choice, liberal versus conservative, pro ESCR and anti ESCR--led me to this conclusion:
President Obama's silent revocation of alternative-methods funding as a special project of the federal government betrayed the concerted attempts made over the last eight years to find a common way forward in one of the most ethically contentious areas of biotechnological research. So much for bridging the country's cultural and political divides. So much for transparency in governance. So much for taking the politics out of science.
I am sure that this two-faced approach of saying one thing but doing the opposite will be a hallmark of the Obama Administration, at least with regard to issues we deal with here at SHS. For whatever it is worth, I will be deconstructing his policies all along the way.

Oprah Culture Strikes Again


Oprah Culture, named after the hyper successful daytime television powerhouse Oprah Winfrey, is soap opera in real life--which in the cause of destroying moralism so that nobody feels badly over their various dyfunctions--extols people pushing the envelope of cultural values, those involved in the most egregious personal irresponsibility, even criminality.

Oprah Culture permeates the entire media. For example, the media helped hide Kevorkian's macabre goals by focusing obsessively on "suffering" during his nearly decade-long assisted suicide rampage, culminating with Time inviting him to its big 75th anniversary gala a decade ago where Tom Cruise--himself an A-List member of OC--ran up to shake his hand.

Oprah has been guilty repeatedly of pushing Oprah Culture, for example cooing over the "man" who was pregnant. When I was in the UK recently, a "13-year-old father" was all over the front pages for people to stare at like a zoo specimen. Demonstrating the terminal nonjudgmentalism that has grabbed us by the throat, his mother wouldn't comment about her son because she didn't want to interfere with his "business interests." (The boy was marketing his story at the time.)

And now Dr. Phil, Oprah's acolyte, joins the club by holding a televised baby shower for Nedya Suleman who has given birth to 14 babies conceived through IVF even though she is not apparently infertile. From the story:
The Southern California mother of octuplets was given a baby shower of sorts on television's Dr. Phil show, with cribs, bunk beds, upgrades to her new home and nursing help to care for her 14 children - all provided free of charge. Various providers appeared before McGraw's applauding studio audience to pledge their help creating a safe, clean home for Nadya Suleman's 14 children.
I nearly wretched in a grocery checkout line recently when I saw her as the cover story on US magazine.

I am not against assisting Suleman. She needs all the help she can get. But do it privately, and don't put her on television for the enrichment of Dr. Phil, the voyeuristic pleasure of the viewing audience, and as an inspiration to those sad people who, desperately craving celebrity, may come to see the fulfillment of their dreams in acting so irresponsibly they become news!

These anything goes values are part of the coup de culture, hedonism division. And they are not limited to the realm of extreme personal behaviors. The corrupting rot has spread throughout the various levels of our culture--politics, business, science, medicine, journalism, education, etc.--to the point that responsible people feel like suckers. No wonder the roof is falling in.

Fetal Farming, Here We Come: UK Scientists Say to Use Aborted Fetuses as Sources of Organs


Tell me we aren't on the path to using human beings as mere produce: A UK bioethicist has called for using fetal organs from abortions in transplantation. From the story:
Kidneys and livers from aborted foetuses could be given to the desperately ill and ease the organ donor shortage, a leading scientist has claimed. Professor Sir Richard Gardner, an Oxford University stem cell expert, said foetal tissues may offer a more realistic solution to the lack of organs than other technologies being developed.
Realize this would require later term abortions. But that's okay, according to another "expert:"
But Professor Stuart Campbell, who has argued for the abortion time limit to be lowered, had no ethical objections to the proposal. He said many babies were aborted quite 'and if they are going to be terminated, it is a shame to waste their organs'.
Where have we heard that before? It sounds just like "these leftover embryos are going to be tossed out anyway, so we might as well get some use out of them."

Hey, I know: When a woman wants an early term abortion, we can pay her to gestate a couple of extra months so her fetus can be of societal use! And imagine the possibilities when artificial wombs are created: We can gestate fetuses to order.

The road to fetal farming is already being paved.

Feed Me! For Some Bioetech Scientists It is Never Enough


The sense of entitlement is so thick, so embedded within the genome of the biotech research community, that apparently no matter the extent to which they are catered, it is never, ever enough. Only days after they got virtually all they claimed they wanted from President Obama, some scientists are already whining that they might receive less money from other sources that have so far bounteously funded ESCR. From the story, "Stem Cell Descion Worries Some Scientists" in the New York Times:

While praised by scientists, President Obama's decision to lift restrictions on federal financing of embryonic stem cell research could cause state governments and philanthropists to pull back on billions of dollars they have pledged for such work.

A number of states and philanthropies rushed in to fill the gap after President George W. Bush imposed the restrictions in 2001...
"If the federal government starts meeting its responsibilities, then there's really less reason for the state governments to step in," said Dr. John A. Kessler, director of the stem cell institute at Northwestern University.

Fiscal headaches have already caused New Jersey to reduce planned spending on stem cell research, and Massachusetts has trimmed overall life-sciences spending. And California's program may run out of money by the end of the year because the state, hurt by turmoil in the financial markets and its own budget crisis, cannot issue bonds at a reasonable rate. Further, portfolios of wealthy individuals and philanthropies are suffering from the pounding taken by the stock market, a development that could mean a decline in donations from those sources as well. "Hopefully that won't happen, but we have to be ever vigilant, especially at this time where there are fewer and fewer dollars," said Susan L. Solomon, chief executive of the New York Stem Cell Foundation. Because it takes time to win a federal grant, scientists who have access to donated money often achieve research results more quickly, Ms. Solomon said.

Well, then they should have defended the Bush plan! They were overflowing with money and they had a convenient scape goat on which to blame their every failure. They had the best of both worlds!

And here's an interesting note: This is the first time I have seen the billions in funding received by embryonic stem cell scientists reported in a major news outlet. All we have heard before now has been the meme that the industry was staaaaaarving on the vine for cash because of Bush's heartlessness.

Perhaps these scientists haven't noticed but the financial structure is crashing around all of our heads and everyone faces cutbacks. Why should they be exempted? Honestly. They remind me of voracious baby birds always screaming, "Feed Me!"

SHS Spike in Growth Indication of Increased Interest in Issues Bioethical?


We've had a real growth spurt here at SHS. In the last month. We have gone from about 30,000 visits and 25,000 discreet visitors every thirty days to nearly 40,000 visits from about 31,000 visitors. And the last few days have had about 2000 visitors a day. We're not the Daily Kos or Little Green Footballs, but we're not chopped liver either, as the old saying goes. Add in the other blogs reporting on what we do here and some direct media use of my commentary, and the SHS project can only be called a success.

I think we should attribute much of the recent growth to the news:The Final Exit Network suicide arrests, the Obama embryonic stem cell funding change, futile care rearing its ugly head in Idaho, etc. But it could also indicate a more general interest in all things bioethical. I hope so, because the matters with which we grapple here are among the most important facing our society and the world.

Whatever the cause, I am gratified. There may also be a change in the works, that if it pans out, could increase traffic dramatically. More if and as that potential develops.

Should I Have Mentioned That Bush Dared to Call Human Embryos “Human Life?”


I am applauded and criticized for my comments about President Obama's rescission of the Bush "alternative method" executive order over at Belief Net--from the version of the criticism I posted on the First Things blog, which contained slightly different language than I put here on the same topic. Thus, David Gibson wrote:
Why didn't Obama say more about the promise of adult stem cells--and do something to promote that promise? He said that the administration will support "promising research of all kinds, including groundbreaking work to convert ordinary human cells into ones that resemble embryonic stem cells." And yet his executive order yesterday also revoked Executive Order 13435 of June 20, 2007, which provided federal backing for promising adult stem cell research. At First Things, Wesley J. Smith slams this dumb rejection of easily occupied common ground.

ADDENDUM: As a commenter rightly noted in the combox, Obama had to reverse Bush's EO 13435 because of language tacked on to it about embryos as human life etc. (A nice little time bomb left behind.) And Wesley Smith could have and should have noted that. But Obama could easily have included Bush's language, or his own, regarding funding and support for adult stem cell research promotion. Easy, and would have been important in concrete and symbolic terms.
I beg your pardon? Human embryos are human life! That's basic biology. And the post is about alternative methods of obtaining pluripotent stem cells, not adult stem cells. (I know this gets confusing.)

Here's the offending clause from the Bush EO:
(d) human embryos and fetuses, as living members of the human species, are not raw materials to be exploited or commodities to be bought and sold.
So, Obama "had" to rescind the order because the foregoing clause was factually correct? And, to add a point, is also wholly consistent with current federal statutory law? Gee, I'm really sorry I didn't mention that.

But Gibson is also correct: If telling the biological truth in an EO so seared the delicate Obama sensibility, he could have immediately reissued the EO without the offending facts, and publicized it as proof he is trying to cross the cultural divides that rend this country. But, of course, he didn't do that because he's not.

The Great Obama Straddle: Oxymoronic Stem Cell Speech


I'm finally getting around to reading President Obama's stem cell speech. It contains the usual bromides about how we are in danger of falling behind in science, yadda, yadda, yadda. But it also seems oddly oxymoronic to me. First he said:
I can also promise that we will never undertake this research lightly. We will support it only when it is both scientifically worthy and responsibly conducted. We will develop strict guidelines, which we will rigorously enforce, because we cannot ever tolerate misuse or abuse. And we will ensure that our government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction. It is dangerous, profoundly wrong, and has no place in our society, or any society
But then in the very next paragraph, he said:
This Order is an important step in advancing the cause of science in America. But let's be clear: promoting science isn’t just about providing resources--it is also about protecting free and open inquiry. It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it’s inconvenient--especially when it's inconvenient. It is about ensuring that scientific data is never distorted or concealed to serve a political agenda--and that we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology.
But by instituting "rigorous guidelines"--I'll believe that when I see it--he is tying scientists' hands, if you want to look at it ethical constraints in that way, just as Bush did. He just has drawn the line in a different place, apparently at reproductive cloning.

He also seems to be leaving the real dirty work--allowing federal funding for the creation and destruction of embryos and for therapeutic cloning, to Congress--as advocated, not coincidentally, in today's New York Times. Look for that story to develop as the year progresses.

He also said he supported funding of alternative methods: supporting promising research of all kinds, including groundbreaking work to convert ordinary human cells into ones that resemble embryonic stem cells.
But what he did in his executive order signed just after the speech was rescind the very Bush executive order requiring the government to make a point of funding that alternatives research.

So what we had on vivid display yesterday was what I call the Great Obama Straddle: He spoke out of both sides of his mouth within seconds. But always remember, actions speak louder than words, and on issues of concern to SHS, he is quickly moving from very bad to flat out awful.

Taking the Next Bite of the Apple: New York Times Proves That Voracious Research Ambition Not Limited to “Leftover” Embryos


The New York Times' editorial extolling the lifting the Bush stem cell funding policy--as it ignores the purely gratuitous trashing of the Bush order requiring funding for "alternative sources"--is the usual mix of ignorance and ideology that typifies its side's method of arguing this issue. First, it accuses Bush of having appointed "scientific" advisers on the issue based on ideology rather than expertise. But this has always been an ethical debate, not a science debate. Besides, Leon Kass not an expert in both science and ethics? William Hurlbut not an expert? Please.

But here is the point of this post: Note that now it has obtained its way on ESCR funding, the NYT wants to take the next bite of the apple, calling for the rescission of the Dickey Amendment that prevents destruction of embryos with federal money. (The Obama directive allows all stem cell lines created to qualify for federal funding after their creation. He could do no more because the Dickey Amendment would be violated--and this is a law signed each year by Presidents Clinton and Bush since 1996. Obama has not publicly called for it to be rescinded.) From the editorial:
Other important embryonic research is still being hobbled by the so-called Dickey-Wicker amendment. The amendment, which is regularly attached to appropriations bills for the Department of Health and Human Services, prohibits the use of federal funds to support scientific work that involves the destruction of human embryos (as happens when stem cells are extracted) or the creation of embryos for research purposes.

Until that changes, scientists who want to create embryos--and extract stem cells--matched to patients with specific diseases will have to rely on private or state support. Such research is one promising way to learn how the diseases develop and devise the best treatments. Congress should follow Mr. Obama's lead and lift this prohibition so such important work can benefit from an infusion of federal dollars.
Well, that is false. There is plenty of public support--as in my state California that borrows hundreds of millions each year for the research even though we are drowning in red ink.

But let me translate the opaque NYT position: The Times wants scientists to go way beyond the so-called "leftover" embryos, which I have repeatedly written is only the launching pad of the voracious biotech agenda. Indeed, the editorial wants the Feds to fund scientists creating new embryos for use and destruction in research. This is a first in human history--creating human life for the sole purpose of using it as a natural resource and destroying it.

Beyond that, the comment about "specific diseases" is a typically veiled reference to human cloning research. Yet, the editorial doesn't mention that the IPSCs have already done that very thing and that the lines are now being used in drug testing, etc.

And please do not make the naive mistake that it would stop with embryonic stem cells taken from custom made embryos. There are many valuable embryonic and fetal tissues to be studied or used as potential treatment modalities. There is no way that a newspaper that represents--and drives--the views of the Liberal Intellectual Elite will draw any reasonable line over any research on such tissues. Once the artificial womb is perfected that would permit embryos to be implanted and gestated, it will be Katy bar the door!

And lest you think I exaggerate, remember New Jersey has already legalized cloned fetal farming. The Feds outlawed it, but that isn't remarkable since the only things that actually get outlawed are those areas of research that can't yet be done. Besides, the prohibition--always subject to rescission when "the scientists" are ready to enter the field--does not apply to embryos and fetuses gestated in artificial uteruses.

There are powerful forces among us who insist on no brakes in biotech. They want unborn life to be considered the equivalent of chopped liver. If their views prevail, human exceptionalism will be flushed down the toilet and we will cease to have the right to call ourselves a moral society.

The Untold Story: Radical Obama Also Rescinds Executive Order for Alternatives to ESCR


We all know that President Obama rescinded the Bush funding restrictions for ESCR. But that isn't all he did. He also rescinded Executive Order 13435 of June 20, 2007.

What is that? Of course, the Administration didn't have the candor or courage to publicize this part of his nasty work, but the now dead order explicitly required funding for "alternative methods," such as the new IPSCs, which offer so much promise without the ethical contentiousness. For more on that late executive order, see SHS, "Bush to Fund Stem Cell 'Alternatives' Research.) Alternative methods are one of the few areas in which we can all row in the same direction, which I thought this president wanted to do.

I can think of only two reasons for this action, for which I saw no advocacy either in the election or during the first weeks of the Administration: First, vindictiveness against all things "Bush" or policies considered by the Left to be "pro life;" and second, a desire to get the public to see unborn human life as a mere corn crop ripe for the harvest.

So much for taking the politics out of science!

Idaho Futile Care Bill: Doctors Can Unilaterally Decide to Push People into the Grave


I have looked more closely at the awful Idaho futile care bill, S 1114, which I first addressed earlier today. Here are two more extremely objectionable clauses that show the intent to create a duty to die for the most infirm--and expensive for which to care--among us. From section
394504A (6) of the bill
If an ethics committee has determined that the requested treatment is medically inappropriate or futile, but the patient is later readmitted to the health care facility within six (6) months following such ethics committee determination, the attending physician may rely on the prior ethics committee determination and withhold or withdraw treatment consistent with the prior ethics committee determination if the attending physician and one (1) physician member of the ethics committee determine that the patient's condition either has not improved or has deteriorated since the prior ethics committee determination and that the prior ethics committee determination still applies to the patient's condition, and they document their conclusion in the medical chart.
Thank about that! If a patient survived five or six months post ethics committee meeting declaring futility, doesn't it prove the committee was wrong?

But don't worry: The due-process-of-law-denying ethics committee process itself is a sham: It isn't even mandatory:
(8) The ethics committee review as provided in this section shall be purely voluntary. Nothing in this chapter shall require a health care facility to establish or utilize an ethics committee, nor shall this chapter require a health care provider or surrogate decision maker to submit a matter to the ethics committee before withdrawing or withholding health care to a patient.
I guess that means the doctor has the right to just say no based on his or her own biases regarding the "quality" of a patient's life!

Doctors should not have the right to decide whose life is worth living. As German physician Christoph Wilhelm Hufeland stated back in 1806, which I quoted in Forced Exit:
It is not up to [the doctor] is happy or unhappy, worthwhile or not, and should he incorporate these perspectives into his trade...the doctor could well become the most dangerous person in the state.
That was true then, and it is true now. We give physicians the literal power over life and death at each of our perils.

Duty to Die in Idaho! Legislature Close to Passing Futile Care Bill


The legislative process has become so overwhelming, that unless one hires a professional lobbying group to keep track, laws can pass quietly without any public attention at all.

That seems to be the case in Idaho, where the Senate has passed a Texas-style futile care bill. The bill is so bad, it permits doctors who want to refuse wanted treatment to violate a patient's written advance directive. From the bill, S. 1114, section 394504A (4):
If the ethics committee agrees with the attending physician that the treatment requested by the patient, the patient's advance directive or surrogate decision maker is medically inappropriate or futile, the attending physician and health care facility shall take reasonable action to assist the patient or surrogate decision maker to arrange the patient's transfer within fifteen (15) days to another health care provider selected by the patient or surrogate decision maker who is willing to assume the treatment of the patient. The health care facility shall provide reasonably necessary lifesustaining treatment within the capacity and capability of the health care facility until the patient is transferred or until the expiration of the fifteen (15) day period described above, whichever occurs first. Following the patient's transfer or upon expiration of the fifteen (15) day period described above, whichever occurs first, the attending physician and health care facility shall not be obligated to provide additional treatment that has been determined to be medically inappropriate or futile by the ethics committee. The patient or his surrogate decision maker shall remain responsible for the costs incurred in transferring the patient to another health care provider in addition to the cost of any health care provided prior to the transfer.
So what precisely is care deemed medically futile or inappropriate? The term isn't defined precisely, meaning it is what the doctors or ethics committees say it is.

But catch this part of the bill authorizing guardians to refuse or withhold life-sustaining treatment if:
The respondent is in a persistent vegetative state...which is irreversible and from which the respondent will never regain consciousness;(b) The respondent is chronically and irreversibly comatose; (c) The provision of such treatment would merely prolong dying, would not be effective in ameliorating or correcting all of the respondent’s lifethreatening conditions, or would otherwise be futile in terms of the survival of the respondent; or (d) The provision of such treatment would be virtually futile in terms of the survival of the respondent, and the treatment itself under such circumstances would be inhumane.
This idea of "prolonging the dying," used to be called extending life. If that is what the patient wants, it is the quintessential purpose of medicine! If this section of the bill is found to apply to the futile care portion of the proposal, imagine the possibilities to force the most weak and vulnerable out of the lifeboat. Duty to die--here we come!

Obama: No Clones? Not Really.


President Obama lifted the Bush ESCR restrictions--unleashing gushing hyperbole in the media and among "the scientists" about the technology that I frankly don't have time to deconstruct. But Drudge is touting his promise of no cloning. From the story:
President Barack Obama says human cloning is "dangerous, profoundly
wrong" and has no place in society. Obama made the comments as he was signing an executive order that will allow federal spending on embryonic
stem cell research. Some critics say the research can lead to
human cloning. Obama said the government will develop strict guidelines for the research because misuse or abuse is unacceptable. He said he would ensure that the government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction.
This is the typical misdirection we have seen on this issue for years. I predict Obama's opposition to cloning is merely the same old smoke and mirrors, razzle-dazzle, game of hide the ball--choose your cliche.

When the president speaks of "reproduction," he means a born baby. Thus, I predict he will support and sign a bill to explicitly legalize human SCNT--the actual act of human cloning--as has been proposed for years by my Senator Dianne Feinstein and Utah's Orin Hatch, about which I have written previously.

Human SCNT for research, if it can be done in humans, literally creates new human life for the purpose of destroying it--perhaps a first in history. Over time, should the technology become "safe," it will lead to reproductive cloning. But that is years away. In the meantime, President Obama and the rest of the brave new world crowd will redefine--or better stated, misdefine--cloning and outlaw their straw man so they can pretend that cloning has been made illegal when it has been explicitly legalized on the way toward federal funding.

And all along the way, they will unctuously ooze assurances that everything is under control. And they will be right--just not in the way they pretend.

Cynthia Tucker Illustrates the Reason Why Society is Spinning Out of Control


Terminal nonjudgmentalism and a refusal to do anything concrete lest one be thought mean or worse, conservative, is a problem that leads to a wide range cultural subversions--from the suicide counseling of the Final Exit Network to the new eugenics of destroying embryos that tests show will be born with the wrong color eyes or skin shade. This kind of squishy amoralism is quickly leading us toward the coup de culture in which anything goes from reproductive cloning, to the duty to die, to using people with profound cognitive disabilities as sources of organs or medically experimenting on Alzheimer's patients, all of which are already being promoted in the most prestigious medical and bioethics journals.

The opinion columns of Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Constitution Journal provide vivid illustrations of the subversive power of moral paralysis. Writing to oppose Georgia legislation seeking to prevent another Nadya Suleman, who has given birth to 14 children via IVF, Tucker predictably pours on the castigation, sarcastically calling the bill's sponsors, "instant experts on fertility, motherhood and medical ethics" for wanting to actually regulate the out-of-control industry. And what is her answer? From her column:

It's not that Suleman's excesses have been ignored. Her case is already attracting attention from the proper authorities, who have started a healthy (if belated) debate over wayward fertility clinics and their costs, financial and moral. The California Medical Board has started an investigation of Michael Kamrava, Suleman's fertility doctor, who apparently ignored all guidelines for best practices.

Last year, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine adopted guidelines advocating the transfer of only one embryo for women under 35 (Suleman is 33) and no more than two for any woman, except in extraordinary circumstances. Those extraordinary circumstances include older women, for whom the guidelines permit more embryos--but no more than five regardless of age or other factors. The guidelines followed years of pressure from the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and medical ethicists, who cited the risks of multiple births.

Gee, that and $2.00 will buy you a small cup of coffee at Starbuck's.

Guidelines are not legally enforceable and mean nothing in a society in which principle takes a back seat to "choice." Moreover, Italy, Ireland, and Germany have legally instituted reasonable regulations over IVF: If they can do it, why can't the State of Georgia? Moreover again, the bill is based on the very guidelines Tucker extols, so what's her beef?

I guess we are supposed to wring our hands, "debate" the matter, but never actually do anything because that smacks of moralism and an actual belief in right and wrong. Cynthia Tucker continually exhibits the kind of mushy thinking that hates the solution more than the problem, a phenomenon that paralyzes effective action on important moral issues, bringing us to the brink of the ethical abyss.

Media/Obama Conflate Ethics Disputes with “Science”


The media--and I must say, the new Administration--continue to confuse and conflate policy differences with science. And the lifting of the Bush funding restrictions on ESCR is providing the excuse. From the story:
The decision by President George W. Bush to restrict funding for stem cell research has been seen by critics as part of a pattern of allowing political ideology to influence scientific decisions across an array of issues, from climate change to whether to approve the morning-after pill Plan B for over-the-counter sales.
Those are all policy disputes--which belong in the political realm--not science issues. ESCR restrictions were based on important ethical issues. So too Plan B. There isn't a "science" position on whether a powerful contraceptive should be able to be purchased by teenagers as easily as candy and aspirin. The closest to a bona fide science dispute in the above examples is global warming, but the people who are the most "political" are those who say there is no further scientific debate on whether it is happening and whether it is human-caused--when that is patently false.

The MSM and the Science Establishment are part of the Liberal Establishment that wants to take us in certain directions politically and culturally. That's fine, if they were only honest about it. But they don't have the candor to admit they are as political and ideological as their opponents. Instead, they pretend they are objective, indeed, scientific. That may be a good political tactic, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Another Indiciation That Assisted Suicide Isn’t Really About Terminal Illness


Don't get me wrong: I would object to assisted suicide even if it were ever going to be truly restricted to people with terminal illnesses. But of course, that isn't the goal, and it sure isn't the reality. The Final Exit Network illustrate this--although most of the obtuse or biased media continually miss the point, such as Time's hopelessly incompetent reporting

As I have written, FEN has never advocated restricting assited suicide to the terminally ill. The only major American group that does is The Hemlock Society. It didn't used to, but there was a takeover in which the former crackpot model of advocacy led by Derek Humphry--with suicide machine conventions, etc.--was replaced by the smooth and well tailored professional model led by Barbara Coombs Lee and Kathryn Tucker.

With the professional look came a new euphemistic name--Compassion and Choices--more abundant funding, including polling, focus groups, professional PR, etc. C and C now claims to want to restrict assisted suicide, which its focus groups and polling told them to call "aid in dying." But I have yet to see condemnation from Lee or Tucker about the FEN activities that always went well beyond the terminally ill. Moreover, C and C is a member in good standing of the Federation of the World Right to Die Societies, which as I have noted here, does not have a terminal ill restriction in its advocacy statements, and of which one of the arrestees, Ted Goodwin, is vice president.

A recent NPR report--in which a law enforcement agent but no opponents of assisted suicide appeared, which is now real a trend in media--illustrated the vagueness with which the C and C representatives and others have reacted to the FEN charges. From the report (no link):

[NPR correspondent Kathy]LOHR: Another group, Compassion and Choices, lobbies for physician-assisted suicide laws. President Barbara Coombs Lee says outdated laws criminalizing assisted suicide are to blame for this group's practices.

Ms. BARBARA COOMBS LEE (President, Compassion & Choices): People of the Final Exit Network are, kind of testing the boundaries of what is acceptable and unacceptable in these very vague, broad assisted suicide laws. But there are better ways to make laws, you know, than to wait and see what people do on their own, and then go to a court and a trial and a jury and see if that broke the law or not.

Realize that even if an Oregon style law had been in effect in Georgia, John Celmer's alleged assisted suicide would still have been a crime. Hence, FEN would still have been in business to "serve" those for whom the law did not allow legal access to doctors, since it rejects the terminal illness limitation and John Celmer was not dying. Thus unless the assisted suicide license was open to virtually anyone with other than a transitory desire to die, the FEN's of the world would continue their "counseling," and Coombs Lee's statement is nonsensical.

If Coombs Lee really believed her own advocacy meme, she would condemn FEN for both acting outside of the law and in cases well beyond the situation of terminal illness when nothing else can be done to alleviate suffering, the only category for which she claims "aid in dying" is appropriate in her political agitation about the issue.

Sometimes silence is louder than words.

Time Magazine Stinks: Refuses to Get Facts Right About FEN Assisted Suicides


Is it ignorance, laziness, bias, or ineptitude, or all of the above? Not Dead Yet's Stephen Drake exposes why so many people no longer trust so much of what media report: Journalists just can't--or won't--get the facts right, at least about cultural flash issues such as assisted suicide.

Drake, who was interviewed for the article, points out that Time's writer Paige Bowers stated that Kevorkian assisted the suicide of the "terminally ill," when as I have written about so many times, he never once claimed that his assisted suicide activities would be so limited. Moreover, none of the first three assisted suicides were terminally ill as that term is usually defined. Indeed, Marjorie Wantz's autopsy, K's second assisted suicide, showed she (along with at least four others) was not sick at all.

As we have also discussed here at SHS, the FEN explicitly offers to "counsel" suicidal people who are "chronically ill." And yet, Time's reporter made the same false "terminal illness" claim about the group as she did about K. Moreover, as Drake points out, and I have here, the case for which the arrests were made involved a man who had been successfully treated for cancer! From NDY's blog, quoting Drake's letter to Time seeking a correction:

This article could have been something to present a real debate rooted in the current news--whether or not one's perception of one's "quality of life" is a reason for suicide. Instead, the issue has been totally misrepresented as a case in which a group has "helped" terminally ill people in their "right to die" in states that haven't legalized the practice.

In fact, the kind of people this group helps wouldn't be eligible for assisted suicide in Oregon or Washington State...Time magazine failed miserably in its duty to present basic facts accurately. The debate that followed within the article was worthless since it had nothing to do with the story it was supposed to be covering.

I think the public deserves better. Everything I've read about journalist ethics would support that view. I hope that you agree.
I just checked the story to see if it had been corrected. Whaddya know! It has not. From the Time story:

Rather, the group argues that it merely provides a "compassionate presence" for terminally ill people, giving them information about suicide if they request it.

Drake's hope is in vain: Apparently Time's editors don't think the public deserves better.

Pushing Eugenics as “Smart Science”


Bioethicist Jacob M. Appel, who has written that mentally ill people should not be denied the "opportunities" to commit assisted suicide, now pushes mandatory pre-implatation genetic testing in all IVF fertility treatments in order to weed out the unfit (my term) and for whom care would be expensive. But don't call it eugenics! From his column:
The most obvious advantage of mandatory screening is that it will reduce the long-term suffering of the children who are spared disease. At the same time, preventing future cancers will certainly save tax dollars. These savings could be redirected toward researching new therapies and providing quality care for current patients. The money might also help to defer the enormous public costs of fertility therapy, coverage for which a growing number of states now require of private insurance plans...While similar screening cannot realistically be imposed upon individuals conceiving "the old-fashioned way," for obvious reasons of logistics and privacy, these invasive aspects of screening do not apply to IVF.

Opponents of mandatory screening will likely point out that such a rule significantly limits the reproductive autonomy of parents. This is certainly true. However, Western societies have long acknowledged that parental authority cannot undermine the medical interests of a child. Jehovah's Witnesses may not deny their children blood transfusions; Christian Scientists cannot substitute prayer for life-saving antibiotics. As United States Supreme Court Justice Wiley Rutledge wrote in the landmark case of Prince v. Massachusetts, "Parents may be free to become martyrs themselves, but it does not follow that they are free, in identical circumstances, to make martyrs of their children."...

Such crass utilitarian utopianism is precisely what eugenics was all about. And its message is insidious: Those with expensive disabling conditions and diseases are a burden on society and you should not be allowed to be born--as a favor to you!

Then Appel makes a huge gaffe:
The fear expressed by many opponents of genetic screening, both elective and mandatory, is that our civilization is sliding down a slope toward selecting embryos for their skin complexion or their eye-color.
No, the won't do that in the future. No way. They are doing it today!

If IVF can be coupled with mandatory PGD, then every pregnancy can be coupled with mandatory prenatal testing to be sure we weed out all children who are not optimal to the new eugenicists via abortion. Indeed, such mandatory pre natal testing is already being pushed.

And if all else fails, there is always infanticide, as is happening in the Netherlands, with support from some mainstream bioethicists.

Appel is a mainstream bioethicist who is a university professor and has been published in the Hastings Center Report with his call for assisted suicide for the mentally ill. And some bioethicists wonder why I am so worried about the direction in which the bioethics movement seems intent on taking us.

HT: Alice Hatch

Lead Into Gold: IPS Cells Making ESCR “Obsolete?”


The remarkable advances of IPSCs are beginning to subsume ESCR, even among some within the science community. Thus the former head of the NIH and American Red Cross, Bernadine Healy, wrote in U.S News and World Report that IPSC and adult stem cell research successes have "diminished" the prospect that ESCR is the future of regenerative medicine. From her column entitled, "Why Embryonic Stem Cells are Obsolete:
Scientists may be growing impatient, but President Obama has been rightly taking his time in addressing a campaign promise to lift the ban on federal funding for research using new lines of stem cells to be taken from human embryos. Even for strong backers of embryonic stem cell research, the decision is no longer as self-evident as it was, because there is markedly diminished need for expanding these cell lines for either patient therapy or basic research. In fact, during the first six weeks of Obama's term, several events reinforced the notion that embryonic stem cells, once thought to hold the cure for Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and diabetes, are obsolete.
Some new achievements support this proposition. The newest is the creation of patient specific, tailor made neural cells made from Parkinson's disease patients--and without the viruses used in their creation that some feared could cause cancer. From the story:
Borrowing a biological cut-and-paste trick from bacteria, scientists have created the first personalized stem cells for patients that are free of the cancer-causing viruses and genes needed to make them, according to a study published today in the journal Cell.

The stem cells, derived from skin samples provided by five patients with Parkinson's disease, were first transformed back to the undecided state of cells in an early embryo. Then they were used to make the dopamine-manufacturing neurons that are lost to disease.The technique removes a key barrier to using a special class of stem cells called an induced pluripotent stem cell, or iPS cell, to create replacement parts for patients that could be transplanted without risk of rejection -- the ultimate goal of regenerative medicine. "This is a major advance in the field," said Dr. Marius Wernig, an assistant professor at the Stanford Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, who wasn't involved with the study.
Since IPSCs are pluripotent, we still need to worry about teratoma tumors. But with IPSCs being easy to create and not morally contentious--and adding in the remarkable adult stem cell advances--we might just be able to have a morally uncontentious, medically efficacious regenerative medical sector--and without the brave new world threats posed by human cloning.

Why Can’t Society be Unequivocal in Opposing Suicide?


Relativism is the bane of our times, although it is still selectively applied. We tell teenagers to try not to have sexual intercourse, but if you do--which we know you will--then please use a condom. Yet, we still know how to be unequivocal in some areas: We tell kids, "Don't smoke,!", not, "Don't, smoke--but if you do, only use filter-tipped cigarettes," because we know that if we did that it would only result in a lot of tobacco smoke being inhaled.

It seems to me that well meaning people are being seduced into an equivalent stance on suicide, and it would just result in more suicides. Case in point is the column by Atlanta Journal Constitution pundit Jay Bookman, who in supposedly opposing the Forced Exit Network defendants, has fallen for their basic premise that bad health or disability can justify society facilitating suicide in some cases. From his column:

[S]o do my inalienable rights as a human being extend to the right to self-destruction? If my life is truly my own, shouldn't I be able to end it as I see fit? Personally, I think the answer is almost always no. Societal consensus, backed by medical research and experience, dictates that a person in decent physical health who wants to commit suicide is by definition mentally ill--no fully sane person would make such a decision.

But how far does that line of reasoning extend? As a person's physical health declines, that once-bright line begins to blur for many of us. During the Terri Schiavo controversy, for example, I stumbled across the case of David Mack, a Milwaukee police officer who had been shot in the line of duty and lapsed into a vegetative state. Twenty months later, Mack miraculously returned to consciousness only to be horrified at his predicament. The shooting had left him totally paralyzed; he could communicate only by moving his eyes across a spelling board. He told his wife that he wished the bullet had killed him. He begged for a lethal injection or for feedings to stop. Using the spelling board, he would send the same message over and over: "I D-O-N-T W-A-N-T T-O L-I-V-E L-I-K-E T-H-I-S A-N-Y-M-O-R-E."
Of course, it never occurs to Bookman that Mack, who I don't know about, might one day change his mind. And in that assumption, we see vividly why the disability rights movement is so alarmed by assisted suicide advocacy.

Bookman exhibits the very discriminatory attitudes that could result in disabled people being killed, for by explicitly agreeing that life as a quadriplegic is so bad that it takes suicide ideation out of the "mentally ill" category and into the rational category, he has stated that their lives are not worth saving. Yet medical research actually shows that people who become quadriplegic, if given a chance and proper support services, exhibit no greater levels of depression than the general population five years post injury.

If we say some suicides are worth doing, and others worth preventing, we are both sending a message of abandonment to those we agree should be helped, and making it impossible to convincingly tell others that they shouldn't kill themselves, since by definition anyone who is suicidal finds life unbearable. Moreover, people with mental illnesses often suffer far more anguish than the categories for whom Bookman would apparently permit facilitation--which is precisely why both Switzerland and the Netherlands permit assisted suicide for the mentally ill who are otherwise healthy and able bodied.

Once we agree that society should facilitate the suicides of some people, suicide prevention as an effective intervention is effectively over. Bookman's column is the equivalent of telling teenagers not to smoke, but if they do, to use filter cigarettes.


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