Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Swiss Assisted Suicide Group Investigated for Profiteering


The Swiss Government is investigating the assisted suicide facilitating/tourist host group Dignitas for making money off of helping people make themselves dead. From the story:
Dignitas, which is meant to be a non-profit organisation, is being forced to open its accounts to prosecutors in Switzerland and disclose how much money it is receiving from its controversial business of assisting suicide.
The founder of the group is reported to have become a millionaire by helping at least 870 terminally ill people--an estimated 100 of whom were British--die. It is said to have taken as much as £61,000 from one woman, 10 times its usual fee.

Swiss law allows Dignitas to provide patients with a dose of barbiturate and a room in which their deaths are filmed, to prove they administered the lethal injection. But it remains illegal to help someone die for personal gain.
The money shouldn't be the issue. The killing should. Besides, if assisted suicide is just a medical treatment--which is belied by a lay group providing the "therapy"--shouldn't profit be part of the medical enterprise? Oh, right: This is Switzerland, where plants have individual dignity based on their similar molecular makeup with people, the mentally ill have a right to assisted suicide, and there is a growth industry in suicide tourism.

NHS Breakdown: “Communication Breakdown” Results in Down Syndrome Patient Starving to Death


I feel like ripping my hair out! How can something like this happen in a civilized country? Martin Ryan, who could not swallow after a stroke, was allowed to lie in a bed and starve to death over a period of 26 days! And surprise, surprise--he had Down syndrome. From the story:
Mr Ryan, who had Down's syndrome, died in hospital in Kingston-upon-Thames. An internal inquiry by the hospital found that doctors had thought nurses were feeding him through a tube in his nose. By the time they found out this was not happening, he was too weak for an operation to insert a tube into his stomach.

He died in agony five days later. Mr Ryan's distraught family, from Richmond, South-west London, are convinced he could have been saved by the correct treatment.

One relative said of him: 'Martin will always be the light of my life. He had a quirky sense of humour and oodles of charm. He was often smiling--he loved to go out, liked the movement of the coach and listening to the music.
I am sorry, it can't rest with a mere "our bad," kind of analysis! At best, this was criminal neglect, if it was neglect: I don't believe it is a coincidence that Martin had Down syndrome. I mean, how can anyone starve to death over nearly a month in a hospital and it go unnoticed? Questions must be answered. What was done when the "mistake" was discovered to try and help him? And why was he allowed to "die in agony?"

This travesty should be investigated at the highest levels of government until the full truth is known!

Man’s Wife Cheats: He Wants His Kidney Back


This may ibe the biggest case of ingratitude about which I ever heard: Dr. Richard Batista gave his wife Dawnell one of his kidneys--and then, he says, she cheated on him. Now, as part of the divorce he wants compensation for his lost kidney. From the story:
"There's no deeper pain you can ever express than to be betrayed by the person you devoted your life to," he told reporters. "I saved her life but the pain is unbearable."

The vascular surgeon's lawyer Dominic Barbara said his client wanted $1.5 million in compensation for the kidney as part of a bitter matrimonial break-up which has dragged on for three years. "As part of the litigation we are asking for the value of the kidney that he gave his wife," said Mr Barbara. "In theory we are asking for the return of the kidney. Of course, he wouldn't really ask for that, but the value of it. This has never been done before in the State of New York."
I completely understand the poor man's pain, but sorry: A gift is a gift. Legally, once an offered gift is accepted it belongs to the receiver. Besides, compensating him would be to let him, in effect, sell his kidney, which is a big no can do. The judge should commiserate but firmly reject the claim.

Father Richard John Neuhaus Has Died


Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, who started First Things magazine, has died from the complications of cancer. Like many Martin Luther King liberals, the Left left him, and he became identified as a conservative. From the story:
During the ferment of the 1960s, Neuhaus was identified with progressive causes. Alongside the Jesuit peace activist Fr. Daniel Berrigan and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Neuhaus co-founded "Clergy Concerned about Vietnam." Even after his later turn to the right, Neuhaus continued to admire figures such as Berrigan, saying that although he found their activism misplaced, they shared a profound conviction that public life ought to be shaped by Gospel values.

Neuhaus would later recall that the trigger for his break with the left was the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, legalizing abortion in America. He became an outspoken voice for pro-life causes, helping craft the policy of the Bush administration, for example, on embryonic stem cell research.

I knew Fr. Neuhaus, but it would be an exaggeration to say we were friends. Friendly acquaintances would be more accurate. But he was beloved by those who knew him well. My good friend Jody Bottum, editor of First Things, put it this way in the immediate wake of Fr. Neuhaus's death:
My tears are not for him--for he knew, all his life, that his Redeemer lives, and he has now been gathered by the Lord in whom he trusted.

I weep, rather for all the rest of us. As a priest, as a writer, as a public leader in so many struggles, and as a friend, no one can take his place. The fabric of life has been torn by his death, and it will not be repaired, for those of us who knew him, until that time when everything is mended and all our tears are wiped away.
I admired Neuhaus for his incisive writing style and the way he deconstructed nonsense arguments. He also saw the dark days in which we are entering and as his final illness struck, was preparing to pull more than his weight to strive against the flowing tide. Alas, those of us left behind will now have to pick up that burden, which, given Neuhaus's prodigious intellect, will be a heavy weight indeed. He will be sorely missed.

Judicial Tyranny in Montana


When a very controversial ruling comes down from our rulers in black robes, it is customary that pending an appeal to the highest court, the decision be stayed--that is suspended--until the final decision from a higher court is in. But Montana's assisted suicide maven, Judge Dorothy McCarter, refused, dismissing a request for a stay of her ruling declaring a constitutional right to assisted suicide. This means because she believes in assisted suicide--unless and until a higher court intervenes--it is now legal for doctors to assist suicides of the terminally ill in Montana and there are no "protective guidelines." (Come to think of it, that's more honest, isn't it?) From the story:
A judge here on Wednesday dismissed a request to freeze her own decision upholding Montana's right to physician-assisted suicide until the state's Supreme Court rules on the matter.

The decision means that "as of today" Montanans have the right to physician-assisted suicide, said Stephen Hopcraft, a spokesman for Compassion & Choices, a national end-of-life choice group that worked with a now-deceased Billings man who sought to end his life with physician help while battling terminal leukemia.

Helena District Judge Dorothy McCarter ruled in December that the Montana Constitution guarantees both a right to privacy and to human dignity, which includes the right of terminally ill citizens to choose to end their lives with a doctor's help.
I have no idea what will happen now--the former attorney general who opposed the case is now on Montana Supreme Court and has (properly) recused himself.

This I do know: Judges are becoming too arrogant for our good as a nation. Culture-rending changes in law and morality should not be decided undemocratically by promoting a judge's own ideology through wrenching and twisting constitutional terms to mean things that were not intended when they were enacted. This is especially important because of all the branches of government, the judicial has the fewest checks and balances, thus requiring some humility on the part of judges for the system to work.

Let's hope the Supreme Court issues a stay so that this matter can be heard with the gravity and care it deserves.

Coup de Culture Alert: Media Mislead About Effectiveness of Abstinence Pledges


Once again the media are caught with their, if you will excuse the pun, pants down. A study was released a week or so ago that claimed there is no difference in the initial onset of sex between teenagers who took abstinence pledges and other teenagers. Sounds bad for promoting sexual restraint, doesn't it? Not so fast. It turns out that the study actually compared religious conservative teens who took the pledge and religious conservative teens who didn't, where there is indeed little difference. But between teenagers who took the pledge and the average teen--which is sure what I thought the story was about--there is a big difference. From the expose` in the Wall Street Journal, byline William McGurn:

The chain reaction was something out of central casting. A medical journal starts it off by announcing a study comparing teens who take a pledge of virginity until marriage with those who don't. Lo and behold, when they crunch the numbers, they find not much difference between pledgers and nonpledgers: most do not make it to the marriage bed as virgins.

Like a pack of randy 15-year-old boys, the press dives right in. "Virginity Pledges Don't Stop Teen Sex," screams CBS News. "Virginity pledges don't mean much," adds CNN. "Study questions virginity pledges," says the Chicago Tribune. "Premarital Abstinence Pledges Ineffective, Study Finds," heralds the Washington Post. "Virginity Pledges Fail to Trump Teen Lust in Look at Older Data," reports Bloomberg. And on it goes.

In other words, teens will be teens, and moms or dads who believe that concepts such as restraint or morality have any application today are living in a dream world. Typical was the lead for the CBS News story: "Teenagers who take virginity pledges are no less sexually active than other teens, according to a new study."

Here's the rub: It just isn't true.
In fact, Dr. Bernadine Healy, of US News and World Report crunched the numbers and discovered that the average age of initial sexual intercourse for most teens is 17, but the conservative teens--including abstinence pledgers--wait until age 21! That's a huge difference that translates into fewer unwanted pregnancies, fewer abortions, a lower rate of STDs, and less suffering from the acute emotional difficulties that intense early sexual relationships can cause.

Why push the false story? Part of it is that the study's authors seem to have been engaged in the ubiquitous practice of using the scientific study as advocacy. But that doesn't excuse the media--who should be used to such deception by now, and who certainly check stories the import with which they disagree! But when a story fits the media's own narrative, they often merely print off the press release. On a more fundamental level, I think it is part of the coup de culture. Media reflect the views--and indeed, many consider themselves members of--the liberal elite (as are social scientists), and liberal elites loathe moralizing, which I think they see as the real basis of advocacy for teenage abstinence.

Politicized science, a biased media--all part of the coup de culture that seeks to remake our society--and in my view, not for the better.

How My 2008 Predictions in Bioethics Turned Out


Each year, the Center for Bioethics and Culture asks me to make predictions for the upcoming year about what can be expected in the field of bioethics. I didn't do too badly last year--although when my head told me I-1000 would pass legalizing assisted suicide in WA, and my heart told me (hoped) it wouldn't, I went with my heart. In any event, here is my article for the CBC summing up how I did, beyond the assisted suicide issue. From the newsletter:

I was right that assisted suicide would not be passed legislatively...
I was right that Futile Care Theory would not advance...
I was mostly right about the year in embryonic stem cell and human cloning research:...Here is what I was right about:

-- Research into human iPSCs will advance toward overcoming the need to use viruses in the cell reprogramming...
-- No laws will be passed to permit egg buying for biotechnological research...
-- The Bush ESCR funding restrictions will not be overturned -- There will be no changes in the law about human cloning...

Here is where I was wrong: I predicted that "the first human cloned embryonic stem cell line would be created,"...They tried but the task is apparently very difficult...

I also missed the extent to which human exceptionalism would be undermined : Last year saw the enactment or near-enactment of some of the most radical proposals in history, which I never imagined would come to pass.
1. Spain's Parliament cleared away all procedural impediments to passing the Great Ape Project into law that will create a “community of equals” among human beings, chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas, and bonobos in that country.
2. Switzerland established the intrinsic dignity of individual plants... 3. Ecuador granted “rights” to “nature” that are coequal with those of human beings.
The import of this trend cannot be overstated. We are being led by radical environmentalists and anti human exceptionalists toward an international public policy that will sacrifice human welfare and prosperity “for the animals," or "to save the planet."

And that's the way it was. Next week, my predictions for 2009. Hint: It isn't pretty.

I Learn About The “Georgia Guidestones”


I gave a speech on Sunday hitting on the threats to human exceptionalism. I brought up my concern about deep ecology's call to reduce humankind to under 1 billion, as well as Spain passing the Great Ape Project, Switzerland's "plant dignity," and Ecuador's granting rights to Nature.

During the Q and A, an audience member asked me what I thought of the Georgia Guide Stones. I had never heard of them, but promised to look it up. Here is what I found. From Wikipedia, I learned that that huge granite monoliths were erected by unknown persons in 1979, written in different languages. The Stones' message pushes one world government, and may involve occultism, issues with which we don't concern ourselves here. Some of it is feel good pabulum. But some of the directives do appear to chillingly call for eugenics and the imposition of a deep ecology that would require mass human extermination--issues with which we are very much involved here at SHS. Here is the Stone's message:










Hmmm. This could be the inspiration for the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still.

Haleigh Poutre Abuser Jailed


Haleigh Poutre, the little girl almost dehydrated to death by the State of Massachusetts because she had a severe brain injury, has lived to see her step-father/abuser, Jason Strickland, jailed for twelve-fifteen years. From the story:

A judge sentenced the stepfather of Haleigh Poutre yesterday to 12 to 15 years in state prison for participating in a horrific pattern of child abuse, saying he had deprived Poutre of the "most precious gift" of a normal childhood...

The sentencing of Jason Strickland was handed down three years after the case drew national attention when the state prematurely sought to remove Poutre's life support after she fell into a coma from a near-fatal head injury in September 2005. A few months later, just when the state won court approval to end her life, saying her condition was "hopeless," the 11-year-old girl became alert, breathing on her own and responding to commands.

And therein lies a terrible irony: Had MA finished Haleigh off--which is what the state would, in effect, have been doing by removing her feeding tube--Strickland might have been punished for murder while the state's action, taken to cause her death, would have been merely described as a sad but necessary example of medical ethics. Such are the times in which we live.

NHS Meltdown: Deaths Caused by Hospital Mistakes in UK Up 60%


I ran this cartoon yesterday in an edition of SHS Funnies. But it is apt here, and not in a humorous vein. Tragically, it isn't healthy to go to the hospital under the NHS. In the last two years--think about how short a time that is--hospital-caused deaths are up a whopping 60%. From the story:
NHS records show that 3,645 people died as a result of "patient safety incidents"--including botched operations and the outbreak of infections - between April 2007 and March 2008. The figure was 1,370 higher than two years earlier. Patient groups have warned that the true toll is likely to be higher because some hospitals do not record all incidents.
We have the problem here too, of course. But such a soaring rate in such a very short period of time, reflects deep problems within the NHS.

Don’t Buy Stock in Denture-Making Companies: Adult Stem Cells Grow New Teeth


Wisdom teeth are a rich source of stem cells, and apparently they can be used to grow teeth on demand. From the story:
As long as there are hockey players, there will be niche markets for false teeth. But the real news about the future of dentures is that there isn't much of one.

Toothlessness has declined 60 percent in the United States since 1960. Baby boomers will be the first generation in human history typically to go to their graves with most of their teeth.

And now comes tooth regeneration: growing teeth in adults, on demand, to replace missing ones. Soon. It turns out wisdom teeth are prolific sources of adult stem cells needed to grow new teeth for you. From scratch. In your adult life, as you need them. In the near future. According to the National Institutes of Health.
If this pans out, denture-making companies may go the way of the buggy whip industry.

Embryonic Stem Cell Cancer Issue Remains Unresolved


Scientists have been working on this for nearly a decade now on making ES cells capable of being used directly in therapies. They have been stymied by three primary problems; the potential for tissue rejection (which we will not get into in this post), the cells' propensity to form tumors called teratomas, and the problem of some ES cells appearing to be pre cancerous, making them very risky to inject into a living patient. With regard to the latter issue, it turns out that the healthiest appearing ES cells may be the most dangerous. From a blog entry over at Nature:
Are ruddy cheeks a sign of health or a symptom of sickness? New work from Mickie Bhatia and colleagues at McMaster University suggests that, when it comes to embryonic stem cells, the very qualities researchers use to pick out a robust cell line may in fact be bestowed by precancerous transformations. "Current measurements are not capable of distinguishing the difference between great stem cells and cancer stem cells in vitro," says Bhatia.
The problem, apparently, is that abnormalities are submicroscopic and can't be determined before they transform into specific body tissues (differentiation). This could mean that the potential cancer threat--which is in addition to the teratoma tumor issue--may be very hard to solve:
"This paper shows that human ES lines with submicroscopic genetic abnormalities can display altered growth and differentiation properties suggestive of premalignant change," says Martin Pera who studies embryonic stem cells at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. "In other words, a normal karyotype is not necessarily a guarantee of a normal genetic makeup within a cell line."...One of the "major challenges to the field" is developing techniques that can detect rare, abnormal cells, particularly if the transformations are not due to changes in gene sequence.

Also important, he says, is figuring out just how and when such cells might be dangerous. "Ultimately it may be difficult or impossible to rule out with certainty that a given culture is totally free of abnormal cells."
If that is true, these cells may never be able to meet the potential scientists held out for therapies (which is to be distinguished from bench science use).

Note, this has nothing to do with the Bush policy or using older stem cell lines. It may be a consequence taking these cells out of their sphere of natural development in the living embryo.

What of the alternatives to ESCR? So far, IPSCs also have a teratoma problem--which is one of the signs of pluripotency--and a potential cancer problem caused by using viruses to affect the changes, although the virus issue appears well on its way to being solved. Umbilical cord blood stem cells can be tissue typed more readily than bone marrow and so far as I have seen, have no tumor issues. Adult stem cells do not exhibit tissue rejection (since they are the patient's own cells), tumor formation, or cancer, and are in many early human trials for a variety of ailments, as we have often discussed here.

SHS Funnies


Just another day at the NHS.

Is Everything a Cause for “the Experts” to Worry?


So, a study shows that girls play less energetically than boys. Big whup and, as they say, vive la difference. But some find even this innocuous information a cause for hand wringing. From the story:
Girls tend to play less energetically than boys, because they are more interested in chatting, a new study shows. Researchers found the girls spent six per cent less time in vigorous physical activity than the boys Even at the age of 10, girls are more likely to stand around gossiping than playing games or sports like their male classmates, the research found.
And here's the kicker:
Researchers warn that the trends last a lifetime and could lead to obesity.
Please. But, don't worry "experts:" the men catch up by drinking more beer. And I am sure you are all worried about that, too.

International Endocrine Society: Block Puberty in Kids with Gender Questions


Things continue to go from the strange, to the surreal. The International Endocrine Society is advocating that drugs be given to children with gender identity questions to block puberty, which is already done in some places. From the story:

Transsexual children as young as 12 should be given drugs to postpone puberty and make it easier for them to change sex at the age of 16 if they still want to. That's the suggestion of controversial draft guidelines, the first of their kind, issued last week by the international Endocrine Society.

The guidelines state that transsexual children and young teens who have begun early puberty should be given puberty-blockers to avoid inevitable changes to their bodies, which they perceive as out of line with their true gender. In the worst cases, these changes can drive children to self-harm or even suicide. The idea is to buy thinking time for young people so they can decide if they want to begin a sex change using hormones when they are older...However, surgery should be avoided until the age of 18, the guidelines state.

Let me get this straight. We are going to interfere with a child's biology due to a his or her severe emotional confusion--the seriousness of which I am not denigrating--and basically use medicine to transform a healthy body into one that doctors would treat as an illness if it occurred naturally? Doesn't that about sum it up?

This is getting into very deep and turbulent waters:
But doctors opposed to early treatment say that young people may not fully understand the full consequences of their actions. For example, blocking puberty in boys who later go on to have hormone treatment and surgery that turns them into a woman means that they will never produce mature sperm...Russell Viner of the Institute of Child Health in London cites the case of a transsexual man who had both surgery and hormones to become a man, but still wanted to become pregnant. "That may not have been possible if they'd had early intervention," he says. "When is it reasonable to let a young person remove major life choices?"
Remember the "man" who gave birth that Oprah cooed over?

More to the point, what have we come to when doctors urge that natural and normal physical development be blocked? (Remember "Ashley's Treatment?") Do we know what the impact of such heavy hormonal interference will be on the health of these young people both long and short term? Do we know what psychological impact it will have? If not, doesn't this border on unethical human experimentation? This is how we are twisting ourselves into pretzels from a mindset that cares almost entirely about subjective internal states.

In this regard, an editorial in the New Scientist about this story made some good points:

...some 80 per cent of boys who experience transsexual feelings no longer feel this way when they grow up. There is some evidence that those who persist after the first flush of puberty are less likely to change their minds, but this has been based on a handful of cases. So too has our understanding of the side effects of delaying puberty--or in the case of those who go through with gender reassignment, preventing natural puberty from occurring at all.

The issue becomes thornier still when you consider that the age of puberty is falling. Does, say, a 9-year-old have the emotional maturity to make a decision of this magnitude? Unlikely. Intervention to delay puberty could even be complicated by a broader issue: the possibility that the sexualisation of children at ever-younger ages is raising the numbers with temporary transsexual feelings.
If we are going to let doctors intentionally create unhealthy biological abnormalities in patients, where will it stop? When Body Identity Integrity Disorder sufferers point to things such as this and sexual reassignment surgeries, do they not have a point when they say, "If a child's normal biological development can be arrested in preparation for removing his or genitals, why can't I, as an adult, have my right arm amputated?".

Step-by-step and inch-by-inch we get closer to harming people in the name of helping them.

Fear Mongering For Assisted Suicide in Scotland


Assisted suicide is not really about a "safety valve" against intractable suffering--that is just an assertion intended to soften the political ground, a cynical tactic intended to panic the public into supporting killing as an acceptable answer to human suffering. Scotland is the latest target of the international euthanasia movement, and true to form, the fear mongering is well under way. From the story:
A DETERMINED group of pensioners have taken their right-to-die fight to the Scottish Parliament. Militant Retired have lodged a petition at Holyrood calling for a referendum on assisted death. The group's founder George Anderson said: "If I got to a stage where I was very ill, I would want the right to die to end my suffering. It's all about having a dignified death, rather than seeing people forced to exile themselves in Europe for treatment."
By "treatment," he means assisted suicide. Reminds me of the euphemistic term "healing treatment" used by German eugenicists for the infanticide/euthanasia holocaust that took place there between 1939-1945.

But I digress. Here's the fear mongering:
And it was his experiences of caring for terminally ill patients that led to his decision to fight for choice over assisted death. "I cared for the terminally ill, both young and old, and was left feeling there must be a better way of facing our last days. People die dreadful deaths in hospital, hooked up to machines. At times, it's about changing nappies and keeping their heart beating. And for what?"
What a cruel thing to say. People do not have to be "hooked up." It's as if hospice doesn't exist. And what a message that incontinence makes one's life somehow less worth protecting. Awful. Just awful.

Do you think the reporter would at least bother to call hospice or someone with a different perspective that might present at least a counter balancing view and help people know that dying doesn't make one undignified? Apparently that's too much work. Or, perhaps it is really that there is only one side the media care to hear from any more, and it is the one--as in this story--that pushes the culture of death.

What is Your Prediction for 2009?


An Ironic Illustration of how “Nature Rights” Could Bring Human Thriving to a Screeching Halt


Well, this is rich: The President of Ecuador is one of the first to be on the receiving end of the ridiculous granting of "rights" to nature that he put in Ecuador's new constitution. It seems Correa wants to open up some of the country to mining, which would increase the prosperity of the population. No can do!, say opponents. That would violate the rights of nature. From the story:

[Ecuador President] Correa insists that responsible mining is necessary for Ecuador's development....But Dr. Byron Real López, an expert in environmental law, wrote in a recent report that the Mandate "is concerned with solving important issues...such as the corruption surrounding the indiscriminate granting of concessions. But the proposed law ignores the ecological and social conflicts that mining activity causes...and thus would tend to aggravate them." López argues that the proposed law would violate a number of provisions in the new constitution, such as those protecting the rights of nature and indigenous communities.

I have no idea whether the mining plan is good or bad. But, it should be judged by determining what is best for the people of Ecuador, which includes analyzing the hoped for benefits of the harvest, while also keeping in mind our duty to conserve and protect the environment, both because there is intrinsic value in that, and for the benefit of posterity.

What did Correa expect from this hair brained scheme? Granting rights to nature puts flora, fauna, and perhaps even minerals, on an equal footing with people, giving the no growthers just what they need to stymie prosperity and human flourishing, because, thanks to the new constitution, natural resources are now people too.

We can now see how nature rights, if the concept spreads, would bring most productive human activities to a screeching halt as the earth firsters would have constitutions on their side. What a stupid idea, but one fully in keeping with the cultural currents pushing us toward human unexceptionalism.

Dawkins Yearning for Human/Chimp Hybrid Again


I am not sure why some materialists are so fervently anti human exceptionalism. I suspect they believe that by humbling us into believing our lives are no more important than that of animals, it would undermine Judeo/Christiam moral philosophy in general and theism in particular. Some too, I think, wish to have us sacrifice ourselves to "save the planet," in pursuit of the neo- nature worship that seems to be growing.

This desire leads some materialists to yearn for scientists to find (or create) a human/chimpanzee hybrid that could interbreed with both species, and thereby "break the species" barrier. James Hughes yearned for such a hybrid to be manufactured through genetic engineering in Citizen Cyborg, because he wrote, it would prove humans are not special and undermine what he calls "human racism." Similarly, the crusading atheist and biologist, Richard Dawkins has repeatedly expressed the same desire, for example in supporting the Great Ape Project in an essay in the book of the same name in 1993. (The illustration on the left at the top of this post is a depiction of what such an animal might look from Dawkins' essay.)

Dawkins is at it again at The Edge, answering the question, "What will change everything," he answered, "Breaking the Species Barrier." He writes:
Our ethics and our politics assume, largely without question or serious discussion, that the division between human and 'animal' is absolute. 'Pro-life', to take just one example, is a potent political badge, associated with a gamut of ethical issues such as opposition to abortion and euthanasia. What it really means is pro-human-life. Abortion clinic bombers are not known for their veganism, nor do Roman Catholics show any particular reluctance to have their suffering pets 'put to sleep'. In the minds of many confused people, a single-celled human zygote, which has no nerves and cannot suffer, is infinitely sacred, simply because it is 'human'. No other cells enjoy this exalted status.

But such 'essentialism' is deeply un-evolutionary. If there were a heaven in which all the animals who ever lived could frolic, we would find an interbreeding continuum between every species and every other. For example I could interbreed with a female who could interbreed with a male who could . . . fill in a few gaps, probably not very many in this case . . . who could interbreed with a chimpanzee. We could construct longer, but still unbroken chains of interbreeding individuals to connect a human with a warthog, a kangaroo, a catfish. This is not a matter of speculative conjecture; it necessarily follows from the fact of evolution.
To which I respond, so what? How would that change the moral value of humans vis a vis that of catfish and kangaroos? Besides, the contrary is true: Supporting human exceptionalism could fit within the neo evolutionary paradigm since caring exclusively for one's own species is almost universal within the natural world, and certainly caring for one's own species the most is. Why should we be held to a different standard? The only reason would be because we are exceptional, which also explains why our lives have greater value than animals that our genetic ancestors might once have been able to interbreed with--although even Dawkins would admit that hasn't been true since the emergence of modern man 100-000-1 million years ago.

Dawkins also claims that that the question of why we should be considered separate and apart from the rest of the fauna goes unasked. What world is he living in? Anti-human exceptionalism views are all the rage among the intelligentsia of a certain philosophical persuasion, which is part of what is leading us toward a culture of death. And then there is the popular culture that is moving swiftly in the same direction-think the horrible remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still.

If the species barrier is ever broken, Dawkins says he will experience "a frisson of enjoyment," a fancy way of saying he would experience the same thrill talk show host Chris Matthews reported ran up his leg while listening to President Elect Obama speak. I have to admit that if the Dawkins of the world are successful in destroying society's belief in human exceptionalism, it would send a thrill up my leg too. But unlike his frisson, mine would be of cold fear based on my sure knowledge that doing so would result in the undermining of universal human equality and on the concomitant universal rights that flow, as the UN Charter states, simply from being human.

More Thoughts on Conscience Clauses as Way to Protect Dissenting Health Care Professionals


I have written before--and no doubt will again--that the death culture brooks no dissent. I haven't gotten my mind totally around why this is yet, but I have developed some theories. I think issues such as assisted suicide are part of a (partially unconscious) but clearly unfolding coup de culture. Part of it too, perhaps, is that culture of death adherents are hypersensitive to the charge of supporting moral wrongdoing, and hence want all of us to be complicit in the system--a big reason in my view why the science community had a conniption over the Bush embryonic stem cell policy. Add in that many believe individuals will not be truly free to control their own lives unless virtually all impediments to abortion--and perhaps one day, assisted suicide, and other policies--are removed, and we can begin to see why refusenik medical professionals might be targeted for excommunication from their careers.

Some see conscience clauses as an answer to protect dissenting health professionals in a society that no longer agrees on fundamental issues of morality. I agree, although I don't think the privilege should be absolute. The issue is just coming to the fore of my thinking and I have begun to reflect on it here at SHS. A few days ago, I posted some thoughts on the matter over at the First Things blog. From my FT blog entry:
How ironic that physicians and others who simply wish to adhere to the precepts of the Hippocratic Oath are declared persona non grata in medicine.

Be that as it may, those who believe in protecting medical conscience rights need to begin preparing the intellectual ground to protect dissenting professionals' careers without also opening the door to conscience being used as a club to deny wanted life-sustaining treatments such as feeding tubes by physicians who consider it wrong to maintain patients with a "low quality of life"--a proposal already gaining stream in bioethics known as "medical futility."

To keep from so throwing out the baby with the bathwater, I suggest that we consider at least two crucial distinctions in determining what would be a protected refusal to provide a requested medical intervention; first, between elective and non-elective procedures, and second between treatments and patients. Thus, doctors should be permitted to refuse elective procedures--that is, interventions not immediately necessary to save the patient's life or prevent serious physical harm--if their conscience so dictates, whether it be rhinoplasty, abortion, or assisted suicide. To prevent care refusals from being a mere cover for discriminatory attitudes, the requested procedure should generally be what violates the conscience, not bias against the patient. In this way, for example, an oncologist should not be able to refuse to treat a lung-cancer patient because the patient smoked or was a member of a racial minority.

No doubt there will be nuances within nuances here, so there will be much to consider. But with the rights of conscience likely to be an explosive bioethical controversy in the coming decade, the time to begin planning for the struggle is now.
Other cultural conflicts beyond issues we generally deal with here at SHS have already become part of the conscience issue; such as the recent California Supreme Court ruling permitting a lesbian couple to sue a doctor who refused to artificially inseminate one of the partners due to a religious objection--even though the refusing doctor found another physician willing to perform the treatment for the patient, who was subsequently impregnated.

So there will be much with which to grapple. Not fun, but necessary. At stake--literally--will be whether people of certain religious and moral beliefs will be able to enter and/or remain in the health care field, and whether religiously based hospitals and other institutions will be able to keep their doors open.


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