Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Obama Calls for “Conscience Clause” Rights While His Administration Destroys Existing Conscience Clause Rights


President Obama spoke at Notre Dame today, an invitation that created divisions within the Catholic Church that are beyond our scope or concern here. But in reading about the president's speech, I was reminded of how adept Obama is in saying one thing while doing just the opposite; such as claiming in his speech to support a conscience clause for health professionals on the issue of abortion (which would also apply to assisted suicide, etc.). From the story:
He called for an effort to "honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded in clear ethics and sound science, as well as respect for the equality of women," Obama said.

Obama plans to revise a Bush-era "conscience clause," which would cut off federal funding for hospitals and health plans that didn't allow doctors and other health-care workers to refuse to participate in care they believe conflicts with their personal or moral beliefs. Women's health advocates and abortion rights supporters say it creates a major obstacle to family planning and other treatments.

No, Obama--or at least his administration (is there a difference?) plans to revoke the Bush conscience clause, not revise it. That is hardly honoring heterodox thinkers' consciences.

And if we are going to base policies on "sound science," how about starting with the biological fact that embryos and fetuses are living human organisms? Alas, during the campaign, then Senator Obama said such determinations are above his "pay grade." (Not anymore, they're not.) Pretending that human embryos and fetuses are not "human life" (what are they, Martian?) may not resolve these contentious ethical issues, but if our policies are going to reflect "sound science," so that we can create policies based on "clear ethics," then the biological facts should quit being fudged.

Perhaps the administration will change from the radical course it has steered to date on these important matters. More likely, Obama will continue to say moderate things--to great cheering in the media--while his administration acts immoderately; as in the revocation by Obama not only of the Bush ESCR funding policy, but also, the requirement that the government fund "alternatives" to using embryos in finding pluripotent stem cells, which has been bearing great fruit in the induced pluripotent stem cell field.

So far, the president has had at least two great opportunities to steer a moderate course--first by maintaining required funding for alternatives research, and second, in maintaining formal policies that fully honor the consciences of those with whom he disagrees on human life issues--and he rejected the moderate course each time. Which brings to mind another trite old saying; talk is cheap.

The Beauty of the Pescadero, California


Secondhand Smokette and I needed to get away and relax: So, we escaped to a coast town south of San Francisco called Pescadero for a night of Bed and Breakfast. I have a new camera, so I thought I'd see what it could do. Here are a few of the pics with which I am most pleased. I hope you are too.

Flowers were everywhere:

Seagulls and fog:

As I began shooting, this horse kept putting his head in and out of the window--almost as if he was showing off.

A tree grows in the wetlands:


Oklahoma Legislature Votes Unanimously to Outlaw All Human Cloning


Oklahoma's Legislature has voted unanimously to outlaw all human cloning from the state, and prohibit the importation of the product of human cloning. From the story:
Legislation to ban human cloning easily cleared both the House and the Senate on Friday and heads to the governor. House Bill 1114 would make it illegal "for any person or entity, public or private, to perform or attempt to perform human cloning; participate in an attempt to perform human cloning; ship, transfer, or receive the product of human cloning for any purpose; and import the product of human cloning for any purpose."
Knowing that the devil is in the details, I looked up the bill (H.B. 1114), and here is how human cloning is defined: .
"Human cloning" means human asexual reproduction, accomplished by introducing the nuclear material of a human somatic cell into a fertilized or unfertilized oocyte whose nucleus has been removed or inactivated to produce a living organism (at any stage of development) with a human genetic constitution.
Good. This is the first true human cloning ban to pass in a long time. Unless the governor vetoes the bill and that veto is upheld, it looks like Oklahoma has pushed back against brave new world.

More Final Exit Network Busts--This Time, for Manslaughter


Final Exit Network was strongly suspected of assisting the suicide of Jana Van Voorhis, a severely mentally ill woman in Phoenix. The MSM ignored the story, but it was pushed strongly by New Times, an alternative newspaper. Now, its journalism seems to have helped lead to indictments. From the story:
Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas announced a few minutes ago that investigators from his office have busted four people on murder [actually, manslaughter and conspiracy to commit manslaughter] charges in the 2005 "assisted suicide" death of a seriously mentally ill Phoenix woman...

The four defendants -- who include retired Scottsdale resident Frank Langsner, a retired college professor -- have been charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Langsner and Wye Hale-Rowe, another so-called "exit guide" from the Final Exit Network (a national assisted suicide outfit based in Georgia), also are facing manslaughter charges.

Phoenix police records (and reporting by New Times) showed Langsner and Hale-Rowe, both in their 80s, were present when 58-year-old Jana Van Voorhis...killed herself by inhaling helium through a hose, with an oxygen-eliminating hood snugly over her head. Langsner and Hale-Rowe (a retired family therapist and great-grandmother from Aurora, Colorado) then staged the scene at Van Voorhis' Phoenix condo to make it look as if the woman had just gone to sleep in her bed and died of unknown causes.
As much as this law enforcement attention is to be applauded, Final Exit Network isn't doing anything different than what Kevorkian did, and indeed, is eerily similar to the approach to assisted suicide by Dignitas in Switzerland (except FEN makes house calls) and what happens under the Dutch euthanasia laws. In fact, as I have discussed, FEN's death on demand views reflect the mainstream of the assisted suicide movement--demonstrated by its former leader being elected vice president of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies.

More as the story develops.

Still Time to Sign Up for “Never Again” International Anti-Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide Symposium


The date is fast approaching for the Second International Symposium on Assisted Suicide being held at the National Convention Center near Dulles Airport in Virginia on May 29-30. I'll be there listening and speaking, as will Rita Marker, Alex Schadenberg, Diane Coleman, Margaret Dore, Bobby Schindler, Ian Dowbiggen, William Toffler, and more. Be there or be square. Here's the link for more information.

Gallup Poll: Majority of Americans Now “Pro Life”


A few weeks ago I posted about a surprising Pew Poll that reported a dramatic shift toward the pro life position on abortion in the last year. Now the respected Gallup Poll has reported similar findings and discovered that for the first time, a majority of people identify themselves as "pro life." From the poll:
A new Gallup Poll, conducted May 7-10, finds 51% of Americans calling themselves "pro-life" on the issue of abortion and 42% "pro-choice." This is the first time a majority of U.S. adults have identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup began asking this question in 1995.

The new results, obtained from Gallup's annual Values and Beliefs survey, represent a significant shift from a year ago, when 50% were pro-choice and 44% pro-life. Prior to now, the highest percentage identifying as pro-life was 46%, in both August 2001 and May 2002.
Deeper in the poll, we find that 53% believe abortion should be legal in "some" circumstances, while 23% say it should never be legal and 22% believe it always should be legal. The "some" circumstances would, of course, include for the life of the mother, as well as rape and incest, so I am not sure how to evaluate that.

As I looked through the poll, it seems the conservative views have moved more towards pro life--up 5 points from 66 to 71% in the last year--as well as "moderates"--up a whopping 7 percent, from 38-45% toward the pro life view.

Why has this happened at a time when the newly elected government would appear to fall into the abortion should be legal in all circumstances camp? For one thing, abortion did not drive the election. But more to the point, the extreme (to use Gallup's term) views on abortion of those now in charge may be the reason for the shift that clearly seems to have taken place. People understand that abortion is an important moral issue, and they push against those who see it as akin to an appendectomy. However, I also think that if the government were conservative and trying to eliminate all abortion rights, you might see the same dramatic shift in attitudes from the other direction.

The important question is what this means, if anything: With two respected polls showing a distinct move in the pro life direction, I think the government will try to keep the matter as a low priority concern among voters. If I am right, look for the Freedom of Choice Act--which would eliminate all state and federal restrictions on abortion--to remain moribund, at least until after the 2010 midterm elections. On the state level, where most pro life battles are fought, pro life political activists may have an opportunity in many states to further their cause--but they should also be careful not to overplay their hand.

Pushing Health Care Rationing by Misdirection


I have noticed lately that the political left, which most supports health care rationing (and which, ironically, yells the loudest about HMO care restrictions), argues disingenuously for the agenda through the time-tested tactic of blatant misdirection.

Classic example, the fuzzy and reliably emotive Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman. In her most recent column, "A Rational Talk About Rationing Care," Goodman illustrates her thesis by citing the the non-rationing example of President Obama's late grandmother, who decided to receive a hip replacement after a fall even though she was terminally ill. From Goodman's column:

I was also struck by the way the president framed Toot's treatment as one of the "difficult moral issues" surrounding healthcare costs. Indeed, folks on the right saw this story as Obama's warning about rationing ahead. But aren't there places at the end of life where ethics and economics, compassion and cost, dovetail rather than conflict?

There are "difficult moral issues" ahead. But is this one of them? Is a healthcare system that offers "everything" to everyone--hip replacements to terminally ill patients--morally superior? Or suspect? Can't we decide when more is not more?

I won't second-guess decisions in those last weeks of Toot's life any more than I would second-guess my own family's decisions as the avalanche of choices rolled toward us in my mother's last months. But I do think that what our system may need is not more intervention but more conversation. Especially on the delicate subject of dying.
Oh, so wise! I'll brew the coffee. But what has that got to do with rationing?
Today more than one-fourth of Medicare dollars are spent in the last year of life. Most people want to die "peacefully" at home but 80 percent die in hospitals. So, much of our money goes to the kind of death we don't want.
I am not sure her statistics are right, but even so, what has that got to do with rationing?
It's true that the financial incentives of our medical system are geared toward intervention, but so are the emotional incentives. Doctors are in the business of fixing, trained to write "hope" on the prescription pad. These professionals are often uncomfortable amateurs in the business of talking about their "failure": death.
I am sorry, but doctors should offer hope. Moreover, Goodman is behind the times about financial incentives. But again, what has any of this got to do with rationing? Ah, here it comes:
In the wake of the Terri Schiavo case, the "living will" became a common document. On websites now, "The Five Wishes" are downloaded as family talking points that go beyond "pulling the plug." But denial is still the default position. And maybe the destructive position.

It turns out that end-of-life discussions between doctors and patients do not produce fear and depression. Recent research shows these conversations result in less aggressive treatment, lower stress, a better quality of life for dying patients and comfort for those who will mourn them.

If this is rationing, I call it rational.
Read my lips: That's not rationing. Rationing is when you want care and are refused it due to age, state of health or disability, or perhaps for committing lifestyle crimes such as smoking or being overweight. And here comes the the usual pabulum we see too often these days:
Doing everything can be the wrong thing. The end of life is one place where ethics and economics can still be braided into a single strand of humanity.
More like a single strand of emotional mush. If and when Goodman really wants to have a direct discussion about the hard and discriminatory realities of health care rationing, I'm game. But this column isn't it.

Dueling Texas Futile Care Bills Once Again Cause Gridlock


I wrote earlier about my worry that two competing bills filed in Texas about the state's discriminatory futile care law--one to put on a few bows of surface reform, the other to end the right of hospitals to refuse wanted life-sustaining treatment--would end up in gridlock. This wasn't prescience, it was precisely what happened two years go.

Alas, history is repeating itself. From the story:

Those who want to extend the time some hospital patients may live before their life support is cut off are worried that their proposal is running into a wall at the Capitol. Legislation by state Rep. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, would require life-sustaining treatment to continue for patients whose condition is deemed futile by doctors until a transfer to another medical facility can be arranged, if their family requests it.

Currently, hospitals can stop life support after 10 days in certain cases if the patient is terminally or irreversibly ill and cannot express treatment wishes. "No other state in the country has a law that Draconian," Hughes said. "The balance of power is completely shifted against the patients and the families."

Extending the time families have from ten to more days--as the phony "reform" bill would do--would accomplish nothing other than to validate futile care theory. More to the point, it would be an almost pointless exercise since Texas hospitals seem to have a tacit understanding that they will honor each other's futile care determinations. If that is true, it wouldn't matter whether the time was ten days or six months. What is required is for hospitals that wish to overrule patient/ family values be required to continue treatment pending transfer--otherwise as cost containment becomes increasingly the watchword, the futile care law could be used to dump patients due to their expense of their care.

But the medical establishment wants their raw power to tell patients and families, in effect, "We reserve the right to refuse service," to remain unimpeded. And catch the typical disingenuous misdirection of the law's defenders:

While critics call the Texas law extreme and restrictive, doctors and hospitals describe it as useful and unique. Among other things, doctors say, it addresses the details of advance medical directives and holds officials accountable for honoring living wills.

"We knew it was a groundbreaking statute. It does so many neat things for patient care," said Dr. Robert Fine of Dallas, who testified against the bill. He represented the Texas Medical Association and Baylor Health Care System.
No, the part of the law under attack permits physicians and bioethics committees to overrule patient advance directives. As for establishing "so many neat things for patient care," that is true--if you believe in the duty to die.

The time has come to litigate this injustice vigorously, and for lawyers to get into the files of these hospitals and bioethics committees and expose the dirt!

SHS Funnies


Once we have national health insurance, the Death Angel will be given a medal instead.

Changes Coming to SHS


In the next few weeks, if all goes according to plan, you will notice some changes around here at SHS. My site will be added to the First Things family of blogs, which should increase our already steadily growing traffic and may--I'm not sure about this--change our look. I believe the site will still be accessible at, but there will also be a link for FT surfers to get to us. I will also post some of what I do here at the FT Blog, often in an abridged entry, as I have been for the last few weeks.

I am most pleased about this: The more of us talking and pondering human exceptionalism and the other issues we deal with here, the more people with which to interact, and I hope, the better your blog-perusing experience will be.

Stay tuned...

Mother “Sacrifices” Herself: Delays Cancer Treatment to Have Her Child


This is a sad but glorious story of selfless maternal/paternal love, but I think that at one time, it would have been the expected course: A doctor recounts the decision of a woman diagnosed with brain cancer to delay surgery in order to bring her baby to birth. From the story:

For the neurosurgeon, the verdict was clear: An immediate operation was needed to remove the growing tumor. The invasive and complicated surgery -- under many hours of general anesthesia -- was likely to greatly increase the risk of fetal injury or death...

The oncologist said that if the surgery were delayed until the child was ready for life outside the womb, the cancer would probably be untreatable. The obstetrician said that if the mother-to-be agreed to the recommended surgery and subsequent chemotherapy, the fetus was unlikely to survive. The woman was faced with a heartbreaking choice -- her own survival or her child's.

The young couple spoke quietly to each other in their native language for a few minutes as the specialists waited. Even I, who had chosen to study pediatrics because I loved children, reluctantly acknowledged that the woman's care was the medical priority. Wouldn't I -- wouldn't everyone? -- opt for life-saving intervention for myself? Wouldn't we all yield to the natural instinct to survive?

The young woman's voice was firm as she turned back to the specialists. She wanted to delay surgery for four weeks, until after her baby could be born with the odds in its favor.

No not everyone would. I have a friend who was diagnosed with breast cancer during a pregnancy. She delayed treatment for several months until her child could be born. She died nine years later from the disease, never once regretting her decision.

Back to the doctor's reminiscence: The woman fell into a coma and the baby was delivered at 28 weeks. She had the tumor removed and lived long enough to see her baby:

One morning, a week later, I was overjoyed to see the young woman, her head shaved and bandaged, make her way into the NICU and approach her baby's incubator, step by careful step as she leaned on her husband's arm. After tenderly gazing at the tiny girl, she reached in to stroke her baby's soft, thin skin. Her hand inched toward her daughter's. The baby responded by clasping her mother's outstretched finger, bringing tears to her parents' eyes -- and ours. The new parents didn't need to know that the grasp was an involuntary reflex; to the young mother, it was a sign that her baby had felt her love.
The headline described the young woman as a "mother to be." That is flat-out wrong: She was already a mother, which was why she decided that her baby's life was most important.

No Girls Allowed! Sweden Okays Gender Eugenic Abortion


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

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

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

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

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

Hyenas are People Too


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

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

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

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

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

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

Fetal Farming Research Ongoing in Animals


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Adult Stem Cells Used to Prevent Tumors in ESCR


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

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

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

Michael Barone on how Global Warming is Becoming Religion


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

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

SHS Funnies


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Even the Scientists Now Criticize the ESCR Hype


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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