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Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Obama to Revise or Rescind Bush Conscience Clause?



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It was a given that the Obama Administration would attack the "Bush Conscience Clause." And that process has begun. But it may a revision rather than a rescission, and indeed, perhaps one I could support. From the story:
The administration took the step because the regulation was so broadly written that it could provide protections to health care workers who object not only to abortion but also to a wide range of health care services, said the HHS official, who asked not to be named because the process had just begun.

"We've been concerned that the way the Bush rule is written it could make it harder for women to get the care they need. It is worded so vaguely that some have argued it could limit family planning counseling and even potentially blood transfusions and end-of-life care," the official said. After a 30-day comment period, the regulation could be lifted entirely or it could be modified to make the protections more specific, the official said.

"We support a tightly written conscience clause. We recognize and understand that some providers have objections about abortion, and we want to make sure that current law protects them," the official said. "We want to be thoughtful about this."
I too thought that the Bush Regulation was too broadly written--for example, it could be construed to apply to futile care impositions--and was disappointed in its lack of nuance. Thus, if the rule were revised, rather than rescinded, so as to protect health care workers who refuse elective procedures, e.g., not needed to protect the life of or to prevent serious harm to the physical health of the patient, and moreover, to ensure that it is the procedure (such as assisted suicide) and not the patient that is objected to, a better federal conscience clause could come out of this.

However: I think there is a more than even chance that the reasonable tone is all politics and will not survive the actual rule revision process. I will keep an eye on this as the bureaucratic process grinds slowly forward.


I Am Now Associate Director of International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide



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I was recently asked to assume more responsibilities for the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide. I agreed and am now its associate director. This new gig will include speaking, writing, and media on the specific topic of euthanasia/assisted suicide. It will not affect nor limit my broader work on bioethics, animal rights, and human exceptionalism as a Senior Fellow in Human Rights and Bioethics with the Discovery Institute, which is not connected with the Task Force. Nor will it impact my consultancy with the Center for Bioethics and Culture. How fortunate I am to be affiliated with such good people and organizations.

And please remember to keep in mind that SHS is my personal blog. The views I express here are my own and not necessarily those of the organizations with which I am affiliated.

This is the first real job I have had since 1985! As my first official task as associate director, may I suggest that you check out my Task Force boss Rita Marker's appearance on Fox News yesterday regarding the Final Exit Network assisted suicide arrests? Here is the link.
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The Neo Inquisition: Stifling Freedom of Thought



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Jet lagged from my recent journey to Ireland/UK, where there is an 8 hour time difference, and up at 3:30 AM, I decided to see what I had missed at The Corner and ran across an entry by Jonah Goldberg discussing a debate between two philosophers, Alvin Plantinga and Daniel Dennett. Plantinga apparently claims that Darwinian theory is compatible with faith and theism, while Dennett is one of the new atheists who believes science has proven religion to be wrong.

I don't know the work of either man, and since that is not my field and is beyond our scope here at SHS, and I don't want us to get into the religion versus science, science versus religion controversy here. But what caught my eye was a plea made by a "live blogger" of the event who is terrified at being identified by peers and colleagues as someone who tends to sympathize with Plantinga's approach. From the account of the anonymous blogger:

I was at the talk. It was packed with professional philosophers and graduate students in philosophy, most of whom sided with Dennett. I wrote live comments on the debate/session. I prefer to remain anonymous for various reasons, in particular because I am inclined towards Plantinga's position over Dennett's and were this to become well-known it could damage or destroy my career in analytic philosophy. This is something I prefer not to put my family through. I almost didn't publish these comments at all, but as far as I could tell, this would be the only public record of the discussion.

Friends, if you can identify me, I request that you keep my identity secret. I am sharing my thoughts as a service to the philosophical community and all those who have an interest in such debates. But I prefer not to suffer at the hands of my ardently secular colleagues. This is not to say that all secular analytic philosophers are this way; they most certainly are not. But enough of them are that I cannot risk being known publicly.
If the blogger is correct about the impact of colleagues knowing his or her world view--and can there be any doubt that his or her fear of consequences is reasonable in the current atmosphere?--we are in an era of the neo Inquisition. There may not be burnings at the stake, literally, but the careers of anyone straying from certain Orthodoxies will be subjected to searing pain and being reduced to ashes. And the perpetrators will always find some other excuse than their utter intolerance of diversity of opinion and lack of respect for truly free thought.

We have seen the same kind of McCarthysim that the blogger worries about in analytic philosophy directed at life scientists who oppose human cloning and ESCR for ethical reasons. Ditto the screeds against climate change skeptics, etc. And imagine what would happen to the most erudite and astute bioethicist seeking tenure at a major university if it became known she she was pro life.

The Left still screams about McCarthyism and the blacklist, and that's fine. A lot of injustices were perpetrated in that era based on what people believed or on their past associations. If that was wrong--and I sure think it was--how is this any different?

The atmosphere of fear on our campuses and within our professional societies hurts freedom and undermines intellectual integrity by making the open exchange of ideas too costly for those holding minority views to speak out. And the irony is that free thought is being snuffed out by the very people who call themselves free thinkers and who screamed the loudest about the importance of free speech and respecting dissident views in the 60s when they were the in the minority.

Holding Plastic Bags Over the Heads of People in Final Exit Network Assisted Suicides



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I have been following various aspects of the FEN activists' arrests. But this aspect of the story really caught my attention. SHSers will recall that I mentioned the book A Chosen Death in a previous post, and how its author Lonny Shavelson watched a Hemlock operative kill "Gene" by preventing him from tearing off a plastic bag she had put over his head.

Well now, it appears that the FEN activists may have done the very same thing! From the story:
At the Dawson County residence on Wednesday, [Ted] Goodwin [head of FEN and vice president of the World Federation of the Right to Die Societies] allegedly walked the undercover agent through the steps and demonstrated how he would hold the agent's hands to stop him from removing the exit bag, Bankhead said.

The GBI said that after the death occurs, "all evidence is removed from the scene by the 'guides' and discarded, as evidence indicated happened in the Cumming case."
Can you imagine holding someone down as they suffocate to death?

Kevorkian Against Final Exit Network Assisted Suicide Method!



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Jack Kevorkian, who painted the delightful picture above, helped kill people--other than Thomas Youk, who he lethally injected--via an assisted suicide machine in which the client flipped a switch opening the valve of a canister containing carbon monoxide. Yet, he has come out against the alleged approach to assisted suicide taken by the arrested Final Exit Network assisted suicide practitioners. From the story:
Southfield attorney Mayer Morganroth said Kevorkian, once referred to as Dr. Death, believes a doctor should always be involved in any type of assisted suicide.

"Other than that, he's not allowed to express any views about the methods they use," Morganroth said Thursday. "That's a limitation on his parole. The only thing he can say is that he disagrees with the methods and one of the reasons is that there should be a doctor present."
FEN activists didn't use carbon monoxide: They allegedly used helium. I can see why Kevorkian would object!

As to having a doctor present for assisted suicide, he wasn't one for most of his assisted suicides since he had lost his license to practice. Moreover, he was a pathologist and had not treated living patients since his medical training in the 1950s. Moreover one more time, Switzerland doesn't require a doctor's presence, and doctors in the Netherlands now give a book to patients who don't qualify for euthanasia on how to commit "auto euthanasia," which is their euphemism for suicide.

Finally, FEN activists may be fanatics, but unlike Kevorkian, they never advocated conducting human experiments on the people they were helping to kill.
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Resisting “Assisted Suicide Guidelines” in Montana



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Compassion and Choices (formerly the Hemlock Society) has played a crafty game of pretense about the ultimate goals of its assisted suicide campaign. In debates (including those in which I have participated), in media interviews, in press releases, etc., its representatives have claimed that C and C wants only a very narrow legalization of "aid in dying," and that to be under strict regulatory control to ensure against abuse.

Well, now that the drive to legalize assisted suicide has gained some traction, the ideological zeal of the group's leadership has caused them to go off that carefully tailored script. Kathryn Tucker is the legal director of C and C who got a sympathetic judge to impose a state constitutional right to "die with dignity" on Montana. As I noted in the Weekly Standard--contrary to her assertions made in the story quoted below--the ruling is audaciously broad, to the point that it could be read as opening the door to near death on demand and a license for doctors to lethally inject patients. Nevertheless, Tucker is now on record against creating any regulations to govern assisted suicide in Montana in the wake of the court ruling. From the story:

Kathryn Tucker, a lawyer for Compassion and Choices, an advocacy group for what members prefer to call "death with dignity," said lawmakers shouldn't feel the need to pass any legislation. "There are some guidelines (in the ruling). It's not a free-for-all," she said.

The guidelines set in McCarter's ruling mirror the "most significant" aspects of Oregon and Washington's laws allowing physician-assisted suicide. There are extra restrictions in those states, but Tucker said those aren't necessary. It's very unusual that a physician would be governed by a statute telling them how the (sic) practice medicine," she said. "Montana doesn't need to import these laws."
This kind of brazen two-faced advocacy epitomizes the C and C approach. Remember, this is the group behind AB 2747 in California, a statute that explicitly instructs doctors how to practice medicine by prescribing what they must tell patients diagnosed with one year or less to live! And in its original version, it required doctors to do in that regard whatever the patient instructed--such as sedate and dehydrate--or refer to a doctor who would.

Moreover, the laws she doesn't want imported are the very laws C and C helped write and create--arguing all the while that such a careful and regulated approach was necessary to proper "aid in dying" practice to protect against abuse.

The reason Tucker, her boss Barbara Coombs Lee, and others in the movement can exhibit such chutzpah is that they know that ignorant or biased reporters won't hold them to account for the paradoxes of their arguments. But they are letting the cat out of the bag as to their actual goals.

And that is good. Wouldn't it be nice to have an honest debate about what the assisted suicide movement is really all about instead of this pretense of a limited safety valve for the terminally ill?

Arrested Final Exit Network Activist Part of Assisted Suicide Establishment



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In the wake of the arrests of four assisted suicide activists from the Final Exit Network, I believe an effort will be made to cast them as fringe characters within the movement.

Don't believe it. One of the four is Ted Goodwin, who is the head of the FEN. Goodwin has been a stalwart in the movement for many years, to the point that in 2008 he was elected vice president of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies, the international umbrella organization to which most euthanasia/assisted suicide organizations belong. That means, unless he resigns in the meantime, he is next in line to be elevated to the chair of president in 2010. (Goodwin resigned as head of FEN. In an earlier version of this post, since corrected, I erroneously stated he resigned as VP of the WFRTDS.)

The World Federation of Right to Die Societies doesn't advocate for restricting assisted suicide to the terminally ill. Its 2006 "Toronto Manifesto" states:
The World Federation of Right to Die Societies (an international non-governmental organization) is aware of the increasing concern to many individuals over their right to die with dignity. Believing in the rights and freedom of all persons, we affirm this right to die with dignity, meaning in peace and without suffering.

All competent adults--regardless of their nationalities, professions, religious beliefs, and ethical and political views--who are suffering unbearably from incurable illnesses should have the possibility of various choices at the end of their life. Death is unavoidable. We strongly believe that the manner and time of dying should be left to the decision of the individual, assuming such demands do not result in harm to society other than the sadness associated with death.

The voluntarily expressed will of individuals, once they are fully informed of their diagnosis, prognosis and available means of relief, should be respected by all concerned as an expression of intrinsic human rights.
What constitutes unbearable suffering is whatever the suicidal person decides is unbearable suffering--as Compassion and Choices stated in its Seven Principles--meaning in the context of the Manifesto, it could be just about anything from cancer, to disability, to mental illness, to an elderly person being tired of life.

Along similar lines, in 1998 the WFRDS issued the Zurich Declaration, signed by some medical professionals within the movement--including Philip Nitschke who in another context advocated that troubled teenagers be allowed access to suicide--again illustrating the nearly open ended license that is the end goal of the movement. From the declaration:
We believe that we have a major responsibility for ensuring that it becomes legally possible for all competent adults, suffering severe and enduring distress, to receive medical help to die, if this is their persistent, voluntary and rational request. We note that such medical assistance is already permitted in The Netherlands, Switzerland and Oregon, USA.
"Severe and enduring distress" is so loose and broad a definition you could drive a hearse through it.

Remember this: The soothing assurances that assisted suicide is merely a last resort choice for the terminally ill only when nothing else can be done to alleviate suffering is demonstrably false. Goodwin's beliefs in this regard are well known, and he never advocated for a terminal illness limitation. Most people on both sides of the issue knew what the FEN was doing and that their dark work was not limited to people who were dying. In other words: He wasn't elected to high leadership in the international euthanasia movement by accident.

More Declarations of Non Cooperation with Washington Assisted Suicide



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Right is right and wrong is wrong--regardless of legality: Another hospital has opted out of Washington's assisted suicide law. From the story:
Sunnyside Community Hospital will not participate in the state's new Death With Dignity Act that takes effect next week, a decision likely to be followed by other hospitals in Yakima County...In announcing the hospital's decision Wednesday, chief executive Jon Smiley said members of the board, medical personnel and local residents felt that "this act does not meet the standards of a majority of people in our community."
Assisted suicide shouldn't meet the standards of any physician or community. That realization will take time to reestablish after decades of "death with dignity" advocacy. But this is a good step in that direction. If enough health care facilities and physicians follow this leadership in Washington, Oregon, and Montana, perhaps it will sink in that prescribing poison is not a legitimate medical practice.

Then, the "choice" crowd will try and force participation, which will bring a huge clash over conscience clauses.

Final Exit Network: Search Warrants Issued in Phoenix Case



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I wrote earlier today about the arrest of Final Exit Network operatives. I mentioned in that post about the Phoenix case in which a mentally ill woman--it was contended--was assisted in suicide by a group representative. I had reported that matter previously here at SHS, and now search warrants have apparently been issued in the case. From the Phoenix News Times that, unlike the MSM, covered the story previously:
This just in: Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas is about to announce the issuance of search warrants in the 2006 assisted suicide of a mentally ill Phoenix woman.

The case, which involved volunteers coming to town to help 58-year-old Jana Van Voorhis kill herself, was first reported by New Times staff writer Paul Rubin in this cover story. The volunteers were part of the nonprofit Final Exit Network, an offshoot of the now-defunct Hemlock Society--one of them was a senior citizen who'd traveled all the way from Colorado to "help" with the suicide.

The case was particularly troubling to the experts interviewed by Rubin because Van Voorhis suffered from chronic mental illness--and the volunteers apparently tried to stage the suicide as if Van Voorhis had killed herself without their assistance. It was only thanks to detective work from the Phoenix Police Department that the Final Exit Network's involvement came to light.
Again, this isn't compassion or the facilitation of liberty. Participating in serial assisted suicides is crass abandonment of the vulnerable to fulfill one's own obsessions.

The Power of Love is the Power of Life



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Day after day we are assaulted with the idea, fundamental to the assisted suicide movement, that some lives are not worth living and hence, not worth protecting from suicide. This advocacy, I believe, does not really promote liberty and freedom, but rather, endangers lives--of the elderly, people with disabilities and mental illnesses, and those with terminal or chronic diseases--by confirming their worst fears about their futures and their human worth.

Contrary messages are sometimes made, as I strive to report here at SHS and elsewhere, but do not seem to penetrate as deeply as the "death with dignity" meme, perhaps because they require a deeper empathy and lack the power of repetition. Along this line, I think it is important to acknowledge the death of Christopher Nolan, a man profoundly disabled by cerebral palsy who wrote about the power of love in his life. From Raymond Arroyo's blog:

He published his first book at 15, a collection of poems appropriately titled Dam-burst of Dreams. His second book won Britain's prestigious "Whitbread Book of the Year:" in 1988. It was called Under the Eye of the Clock, a biographical work in which he refers to himself as Joseph Meehan. At one point in the book Nolan writes of crying upon the realization that he is not like other children: "Looking through his tears he saw [his mother] bent low in order to look into his eyes. '... Listen here Joseph, you can see, you can hear, you can think, you can understand everything you hear. You like your food, you like nice clothes, you are loved by me and Dad. We love you just as you are.'

Pussing still, sniveling still, he was listening to his mother's voice. She spoke sort of matter-of-factly but he blubbered moaning sounds. His mother said her say and that was that. She got on with her work while he got on with his crying. The decision arrived at that day, was burnt forever in his mind. He was only three years in age but he was now fanning the only spark he saw, his being alive and more immediate, his being wanted just as he was....

It important to note that Nolan gained the insight of the sheer equal worth of his life before the the assisted suicide movement and medical utilitarianism, with which we are now badly infected, had metastasized to the point that many people approve people like Christopher going to Kevorkian or being flown to Switzerland for a dose of suicide tourism.

During the Q and A session after my recent speech at the Parliament Building in London, a representative from Not Dead Yet UK dramatically described the increasing fear and anguish he feels as a man with serious disabilities at being viewed by many in society as having a life not worth living. "The despair is hard to combat," he said.

We must all strive against the devaluing message he reported and with all of the energy we possess. One way is to point to Christopher Nolan's vivid life and its clear illustration that the true answer to the difficulties of human suffering isn't killing, it is love.

Final Exit Network “Ring” of Suicide Assisters Arrested



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The Final Exit Network is dedicated to assisted suicide. More honestly than some in the euthanasia movement, its members openly acknowledge that the "ultimate civil liberty" should not be limited to the terminally ill.

It has long been suspected that some members of the FEN are not willing to wait until the law changes to assist in suicides. Some old time SHSers may recall the case in Phoenix in which it seemed pretty clear that a FEN member helped assist the suicide of a woman with a mental illness.

Nothing came of that case in terms of criminal culpability, but now some arrests have been made in a series of assisted suicides in several states. From the story:
Four members of an alleged assisted suicide ring were charged Wednesday with helping a 58-year-old Georgia man end his life, and investigators in eight other states were looking into whether the group was involved in more deaths.

The FBI is also probing the Final Exit Network, an organization whose Web site said it is "dedicated to serving people who are suffering from an intolerable condition." It wasn't immediately clear how many deaths were being investigated. On Wednesday, investigators raided the homes of the group's volunteers in seven of the states, a group office in Georgia and a company in Montana that authorities said supplied items used in suicides, according to a news release from authorities in Arizona, where another death was being investigated...The four were charged with assisted suicide, tampering with evidence and a violation of Georgia's anti-racketeering act.
The victim's mother says her son was depressed but if he had the "courage" to kill himself with help, she doesn't want to see any arrests.

Well, it isn't up to her. I know other cases apparently involving the FEN in which bereaved family members were horrified at what happened and yearned to see justice done.

When we ponder this matter, I think it is important to understand that people who are this deeply involved in helping make other people dead are what I call "death fundamentalists," that is, they are not just selfless altruists, but act on a deep ideological belief and an odd form of twisted desire. Lest you think that judgment harsh, allow me to quote from A Chosen Death, written by Lonny Shavelson, who is pro assisted suicide and observed "Sarah" from the Hemlock Society as she plied her trade. On page 75, she tells Shavelson that after assisting her first suicide of a good friend, she came to relish--one is tempted to say "get off"--on the experience:
I firmly believe now that the most intimate moment you can share with a person is their death. More than sex. More than birth. More than anything. I was at the deliveries of my four grandchildren, and my experience with Naomi's death was above that.
Later in the book, Sarah murders "Gene," who tries to back out of his assisted suicide after swallowing the poisonous concoction Sarah prepared, but is prevented by Sarah who brutally holds a plastic bag around his head as she croons, "The light Gene, go toward the light." As I noted in Forced Exit, Shavelson writes of witnessing this involuntary killing, but did nothing to stop it and never called police.

So, let's see where this case leads. If they did the deed or deeds, I hope the judge throws the book at them. But don't count on serious punishment. The idea of suicide as a "necessity" for people in difficult circumstances is gaining traction, putting the most vulnerable among us at a terrible risk.

Memories of Ireland and London



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I am back in California sinking with my fellow citizens beneath the waves of red ink, jetlagged and scratchy from a persistent chest cold, but gratified that the speaking trip to Ireland and London was (I think), quite successful. Here are a few photos I took for your (hoped for) enjoyment. Thanks to all SHSers for your continuing support. We are growing, but more about that another time.

Here is a light pole in Dublin. I like the color matching with the (rare) blue sky:


I play with my face and the dome at the Dublin City Hall.


Not your typical staid statue in Dublin.


A foggy morning in Maynooth.



Pub food!


Isle of Wight


There is only one London.

“Scientific Studies” Whiplash: Wine Causes Cancer! Wine Prevents Cancer!



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I have concluded that too much money is being spent to pay for "scientific studies," which after all, have to find something to report to earn their keep. This often leads to much confusion. Take for example a new study that looked into the life-course of women, reports that drinking even one glass of wine a day can increase cancer, to the tune of 15 extra cases per 1000. From the story:

Consuming just one drink a day causes an extra 7,000 cancer cases--mostly breast cancer--in UK women each year, Cancer Research UK scientists say. The risk goes up the more you drink, whether spirits, wine or beer, the data on over a million women suggests. Overall, alcohol is to blame for about 13% of breast, liver, rectum, mouth and throat cancers, the researchers say.

But wait! A similar study published a few years ago showed that drinking moderately has no impact on cancer. Moreover, according to studies relied upon by the National Cancer Institute, drinking red wine can reduce cancer. Except a different study said even one large glass of wine increases cancer risk. I'm getting whiplash.

The moral of the story is that we have too many studies.

We are all going to die, and if we live moderately, the time of that great passing will be postponed. Or maybe not. I think we should give some academic a $5 million grant to conduct a study on the question.

“Politics in the Guise of Pure Science “



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I have been warning for some time that ideological advocacy often masks as objective scientific reporting--both in the media and the journals--allowing political activists to promote various agendas by bootstrapping their views to the widespread respect society has for the scientific process. Now a much bigger fish than SHS has expressed the same concern. John Tierney, science columnist for the New York Times (of all places, since some of its stories are classics in conflating politics/ideology and science) ponders the problem, riffing off of a book by Roger Pielke Jr. called The Honest Broker. From Tierney's column:

Most researchers, Dr. Pielke writes, like to think of themselves in one of two roles: as a pure researcher who remains aloof from messy politics, or an impartial arbiter offering expert answers to politicians' questions. Either way, they believe their research can point the way to correct public policies, and sometimes it does--when the science is clear and people's values aren't in conflict... But too often, Dr. Pielke says, they pose as impartial experts pointing politicians to the only option that makes scientific sense. To bolster their case, they're prone to exaggerate their expertise (like enumerating the catastrophes that would occur if their policies aren't adopted), while denigrating their political opponents as "unqualified" or "unscientific."

I am afraid this phenomenon reflects the toxic cultural times in which we live. Science, like everything else in society is going show business--by which I mean it is driven to a fairly large degree by the desire for money, hope for fame, and ideological stridency. The field increasingly reminds me of the cruel social pecking order we often see develop among high school kids, in which the cool or hep students--to use the terminology of my time--have all the fun while the nerds find themselves socially rejected, or even, targeted for bullying. Indeed, scientists who dare to challenge the "in" view about publicly provocative issues are often viciously attacked and even driven from their careers--as I have certainly witnessed happen to more than one friend because they took the anti-cloning/ESCR view in the stem cell debates.

Tierney mentions a different example of trying to shoot the messenger of unpopular views from Pielke's book. Several years ago, the John P. Holdren, now President Obama's science adviser, pulled a Torquemada when Bjorn Lomborg became an apostate to the Science Establishment's ideological view about the environment:

Dr. Holdren called it his “scientific duty” to expose the “complete incompetence” of the book’s author, Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish political scientist. Dr. Holdren was one of the authors of an extraordinary 11-page attack on the book that ran in Scientific American under the headline, “Science defends itself against 'The Skeptical Environmentalist'"--as if "science" spoke with one voice. After reviewing the criticisms, Dr. Pielke concludes that a more accurate headline would have been, "Our political perspective defends itself against the political agenda of 'The Skeptical Environmentalist.'"
I think Tierney completely understates McCarthyite atmosphere that stifles free thinking and intellectual freedom within the scientific community. But good on him and Dr. Pielke for noticing that science is being corrupted by politics and ideology. It is one thing for an outsider to sound the alarm. But when a respected voices from the choir loft speak up, perhaps "the scientists" will find the courage and humility to change.

What’s It All About Alfie? Coup de Culture Hitting UK Hard



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It has been a very dispiriting experience to see how things are in the UK. The country's leadership seems lost in a fog of relativism and intent to destroy many of the cultural attributes of society that made the country great.

There is the Brave New Britain, oft written of here, of course. But the subject of this post, I think, is a very good example of how the "hedonism" aspect of the coup de culture causes terrible problems--and the leadership that should be striving to reverse things instead keep pushing the very devolution of standards that led to the moaned about problem in the first place.

The country is all atwitter because a 13-year-old boy named Alfie Patten (pictured left) became a father. The lad and his 15-year-old girl friend have had their pictures all over the place with their baby. People are demanding to know how things have come to this pass that children are giving birth, etc.. (There is speculation that Alfie might not be the actual sperm provider since the girl was apparently sleeping with several boys and money is exchanging hands about the story, illustrating another aspect of the problem. But that is no matter to the point of this post.)

With the widespread upset about Alfie in mind, consider the story in the Sunday Times of London yesterday, in which a front page story reported about how the government is urging parents not to teach their kids right from wrong when it comes to sex. From the story:
Parents should avoid trying to convince their teenage children of the difference between right and wrong when talking to them about sex, a new government leaflet is to advise. Instead, any discussion of values should be kept "light" to encourage teenagers to form their own views, according to the brochure, which one critic has called "amoral"...

It advises: "Discussing your values with your teenagers will help them to form their own. Remember, though, that trying to convince them of what's right and wrong may discourage them from being open.
How do they think that is going to help reduce the phenomenon of 13-year-old fathers and 15- year-old girls with several boy friends at once all enjoying "privileges"? If they wanted to produce a society that scratches every itch, indulges every desire, and casts responsibility to the wind, like we increasingly have today, I can't think of a better way to make it so than for parents to stand back indifferently and let children in heat from the hormonal explosion of puberty decide on their own what is right and wrong in sexual ethics. They sure don't do that about smoking tobacco!

It isn't just the sex. It is the symbolic importance of this story, which I think illustrates vividly the collapse of moral and critical thinking in which we are being engulfed. Insanity.

SHS in the Telegraph:”Right to Die Can Become Duty to Die”



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After three rousing speeches and media appearances with David Prentice in Ireland on cloning and ESCR, I am off today over the Irish Sea to London, where I will speak Monday night in the Parliament Building about assisted suicide. Ahead of the event, I was asked by my sponsors to write a piece for placement in the UK Media. I was delighted that it made today's Telegraph. From my column:

Imagine that you have lung cancer. It has been in remission, but tests show the cancer has returned and is likely to be terminal. Still, there is some hope. Chemotherapy could extend your life, if not save it. You ask to begin treatment. But you soon receive more devastating news. A letter from the government informs you that the cost of chemotherapy is deemed an unjustified expense for the limited extra time it would provide. However, the government is not without compassion. You are informed that whenever you are ready, it will gladly pay for your assisted suicide.

Think that's an alarmist scenario to scare you away from supporting "death with dignity"? Wrong. That is exactly what happened last year to two cancer patients in Oregon, where assisted suicide is legal.
I opened with that story--oft discussed here at SHS--because of the rationing that is taking place in the NHS: It's use in the UK as a form of resource preservation is a threat that I hope will be considered in the latest round of emotionalized assisted suicide agitation that appears almost daily in the media.

For example, MS patient Debbie Purdy sued to ensure that her husband could take her to Switzerland for assisted suicide without legal consequence. She lost--technically--but the court all but said that the authorities would not pursue the matter should that event take place. Her campaign is being used by advocates--among other "suicide tourism" deaths--as reasons to legalize in the UK on the premise that people who want to die should be able to kill themselves with the help of a doctor at home, rather than be "forced" to fly overseas. (Rarely mentioned, is that Purdy not terminally ill.)

But that could place sick and vulnerable people at considerable risk of feeling duty-bound to put themselves out of their families or society's misery. I point out that Oregon studies show that most patients receive poison prescriptions in Oregon for existential reasons rather than pain:
Much as I sympathise with her [Purdy's] plight, such a guarantee would lure us on to the slippery slope where the old and the sick come under pressure to end their lives. A study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine last year, for example, found that doctors in Oregon write lethal prescriptions for patients who are not experiencing significant symptoms and that assisted suicide practice has had little do with any inability to alleviate pain--the fear of which is a chief selling point for legalisation...

When a scared and depressed patient asks for poison pills and their doctor's response is to pull out the lethal prescription pad, it confirms the patient's worst fears--that they are a burden, that they are less worth loving. Hospices are geared to address such concerns. But effective hospice care is undermined when a badly needed mental health intervention is easily avoided via a state-sanctioned, physician-prescribed overdose of lethal pills.
I conclude:
Oregon has become the model for how assisted suicide is supposed to work. But for those who dig beneath the sloganeering and feel-good propaganda, it becomes clear that legalising assisted suicide leads to abandonment, bad medical practice and a disregard for the importance of patients' lives.
I am convinced that assisted suicide can be stopped in the UK, as opponents have there before. I hope this column contributes to that continuing struggle.

Hawaii Shows Backbone Against Assisted Suicide



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The passage of assisted suicide in Washington is not yet causing a major revamping of the political field. Hawaii's assisted suicide legislation looks like it isn't going to make it this year. From the story:
The Hawaii Legislature will not take up a proposal to allow assisted suicides in the state. House Judiciary chairman Jon Riki Karamatsu said Wednesday he will not hear a bill that would allow terminally ill adults to get a lethal dose of medication to end their lives. Karamatsu says advocates of the measure haven't pushed strongly for the bill to be heard this year. He says he's open to considering it in the future.
The apparent lack of energy by advocates is a surprise. Perhaps, they had counted the votes and realized it wasn't in the cards. In any event, Rep. Karamatsu deserves congratulations and thanks.

Another IVF Tragedy Illustrates How “Assisted Reproduction” Increasingly Epitomizes an “Entitlement Culture”



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In Japan, a woman underwent IVF and was implanted, seemingly a happy pregnancy. Then, things proved to be terribly wrong. From the story:

A Japanese woman was likely impregnated with the fertilized egg of another woman by accident during an in vitro procedure last year, hospital officials said Thursday. The woman, who is in her 20s, aborted the pregnancy when she was told of the potential mix-up at the government-run hospital in Kagawa prefecture, about 330 miles (530 kilometers) southwest of Tokyo. She is now suing the local government for 20 million yen ($222,000), according to news reports.

Hospital officials apologized for the mistake at a news conference Thursday. "She was very happy after undergoing such a difficult procedure and becoming pregnant, but unfortunately a mistake had been made," said Yuzo Matsumoto, director of the Kagawa Prefectural Central Hospital.

This is an example of the hedonism I have been warning against in discussing the coup de culture. People believe they have the right to obtain whatever they want, however they want it, and then reject it if they are not fully pleased. In this case, the woman wanted a baby. But she was implanted with a baby she did not want so she had it destroyed in utero. And then she sues.

Another woman may want a baby and use a sister's, or even a stranger's egg in the fertilization process, happy to carry a baby that is not hers biologically, but is in love. But the child's mother is really her aunt, and perhaps even a stranger. We have seen the potential cost of such "novel" arrangements in the desperate yearning of the adopted to find their natural parents.

Another woman has five embryos implanted and three destroyed through "selective reduction," thrilled to have "twins," when she really had two of five quintuplets, and the two living babies will eventually know that they are only in life through the luck of where the abortionist's tools happened to land.

Another want-to-be mother hires a poor woman to be her substitute womb because she has health problems, or doesn't want stretch marks or her career track affected by the pregnancy, and then contractually forces the woman to give up a child she gestated and bonded with for 9 months--potentially impacting the child as well as the birth mother since mother/child bonding begins before birth. Another couple go through IVF, have their embryos tested, and toss out those that might get adult onset cancer, for all we know destroying the person that might have found cancer's cure.

None of us is allowed to comment about any of this because the rules of the modern age tell us we may never moralize about or judge a woman's "reproductive choices." But then another woman upsets that particular applecart by having 8 children, added to 6 she already has, all through IVF. Finally the choice-is-everything crowd gets upset about something (other than the loathed pro lifers.) But by what right? They have profoundly undermined the power of society to expect people to adhere to reasonable norms.

As for me, I think it is all upsetting, and--yes I will say it--the field increasingly epitomizes a society that thinks we are all entitled to everything we want, regardless of the moral costs in the lives harmed or sacrificed in the obtaining. But wisdom tells us that sometimes we have to live within limits and make do as best we can. That hurts individuals, and we should all be there to empathize and help ease the pain. But it also helps build a healthier society. It is a forgotten lesson that is costing us dearly.

Fetal Stem Cells Cause Tumors in Human Patient: Should Geron ESCR Human Trial License be Reconsidered?



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This story is disturbing and raises questions about whether the FDA's license to Geron to conduct human embryonic stem cell experiments should be suspended pending further studies. In Israel, a child treated with fetal stem cells developed tumors four years after receiving fetal stem cell treatments. From the story:

The boy, now 17, received the stem cells in 2001 at a Moscow hospital and four years later scans showed brain and spinal tumours, PLoS Medicine reports. Israeli doctors removed the abnormal growth from his spine and tests suggest it sprouted from the stem cells...

The boy in question was treated for a condition called Ataxia Telangiectasia--a genetic disease that attacks the brain region controlling movement and speech. He received three courses of foetal stem cell injections to the brain and the fluid surrounding the spine. Four years after his first injection he was investigated for recurrent headaches and his doctors at the Sheba Medical Centre in Tel Aviv found two tumours--one in the spine and one in the brain at the same sites the injections had been given.

A year later, when the boy was 14, the doctors removed the non-cancerous tumour from his spine and it was found to contain cells that could not have arisen from the patient's own tissue and had in all probability grown from the donated stem cells. Although they were unable to sample the growth in the boy's brain, the scientists believe this probably arose from the injected stem cells too.

It is worth noting that this particular condition impairs the immune system. Nonetheless, a reason embryonic stem cells cause tumors in animal models is their hyper activity,which makes their proliferation hard to control. Adult stem cells don't seem to have this problem. Fetal stem cells are less "youthful"than embryonic, but more than adult, and thus this tumor finding raises renewed questions about using ES cells in humans at the present time--a worry expressed by supporters as well as opponents of ESCR:
They [commenting scientists] say the findings "do not imply that the research in stem cell therapeutics should be abandoned." Nonetheless, they say more work should be done to assess the safety of this therapy.
Which brings us to the Geron license from the FDA. Geron's work with its product has been exclusively with mice, which were not kept alive nearly the four years it took for this patient to develop stem cell-caused tumors. This raises a question of whether, in light of this report, the FDA should revisit its go ahead to Geron to use ES cell-derived cells in human beings,particularly since it might take years to learn whether the product causes tumors.

And while we are on the subject, it is important that the patient-subject consent forms that will be used in these experiments--which have not yet been made public--be carefully reviewed. The paralyzed patients who will participate in Geron's safety trials are full ambulatory at this moment. But these unknown persons will be seriously injured sometime soon. Within a week or two of their injuries, facing potential paralysis from spinal cord injury, they will be approached by Geron to be test subjects, since the product designed for acute cases, not people with long-term paralysis. This will be a very emotional time in which these patients will be in deep emotional distress at the prospect of never walking again. In such an urgent crisis situation, it will be particularly important that all participants be made unequivocally aware of the potential risks, that these adverse events might take years to develop, and indeed, that being the subjects of such potentially risky experiments, that they might have to be monitored for the rest of their lives. Or to put it more succinctly: the consent, when given, must be fully informed.

More Proof That Assisted Suicide Activists Will Seek to Force Doctors to Participate



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The culture of death brooks no dissent, I have repeatedly warned. That means the assisted suicide agenda, if it is widely successful, will one day seek to force all doctors to participate in the mercy killings of their patients--either by doing the deed personally, or referring them to a death doctor they know will write the poison prescription (or eventually, lethally inject the curare).

More proof: Barbara Coombs Lee of Compassion and Choices (formerly Hemlock Society), is in a dither about the Bush conscience clause regulation that prevents employers from discriminating against medical professionals who refuse to participate in assisted suicide (as one example) on moral grounds. From her blog:
That meddlesome regulation encouraging healthcare workers to obstruct needed treatment considered offensive to their personal beliefs, went into effect January 19. It's still in place. I'm determined to continue blogging about this issue until it is repealed.

Congress, the administration, or both must act to restore the needs of patients to their rightful priority over the morality of providers...We're in a clash between ideologues and pragmatists--people who place their own dogmatic beliefs above all, and people inclined to rely on pragmatic solutions in times of need or crisis.

So, doctors who believe in the orthodox view of the Hippocratic Oath, who understand that assisted suicide is not a medical treatment regardless of how it is redefined, are to be told to get with the program or go sell shoes for a living. There are to be no opt outs.

Then Lee goes paranoid:
But the stated purpose of this rule is to urge ideologues into action. It encourages them to go to work where they can impose their beliefs on the maximum number of medical patients.
Yea, like people want conflict. Besides, she has it exactly backwards: The purpose of the rule is to protect doctors and nurses against the those who seek to reduce medicine from a profession governed by rigorous ethical standards and unyielding principles of patient protection, into a technocracy of highly trained service providers--exactly the devolution, it is worth noting, that will be needed to effectuate a regime of socialized health care.

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