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Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

“Artificial Life” is Not “Real Life?”



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

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

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

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

Do you agree with the Health Minister?

Yes - Artificial life is not real life.

No - Life is the most precious thing.

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

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

One Consequence of Coup de Culture is Death/Sex Decadence



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

We can break this downward spiral only by seeing clearly what is happening and refusing to participate in it.
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Irish Socialized Medicine Shortchanges the Terminally Ill



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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

Hit it Phil!

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

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

Roll up, roll up for the suicide tour.
Roll up, roll up for the suicide tour.
Roll up AND THAT'S AN INVITATION, roll up for the suicide tour.
Roll up TO MAKE A RESERVATION, roll up for the suicide tour.
The magical suicide tour is coming to take you away,
Coming to take you away.
The magical suicide tour is dying to take you away,
Dying to take you away, take you away.
Take you today.
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Daschle’s Dishonesty by Omission in the Great Health Care Debate



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

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

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

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

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

Animal to Human Xenotransplantation Takes a Big Leap Forward



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

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

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

American Public Equally Split About Abortion



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The Pew Poll has published its latest results, dealing with gun control--beyond our scope here--and abortion. Given the politics of our rulers in Washington DC--which can only be described as pro-choice absolutists--I was surprised to note that the country appears evenly divided on the legality of abortion. From the poll:

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted March 31-April 21 among 1,521 adults reached on landlines and cell phones, also finds public opinion about abortion more closely divided than it has been in several years. Currently, 46% say abortion should be legal in most cases (28%) or all cases (18%); 44% believe that abortion should be illegal in most (28%) or all cases (16%). Since the mid-1990s, majorities have consistently favored legal abortion, with the exception of an August 2001 survey by ABC News/Washington Post.

The proportion saying that abortion should be legal in all or most cases has declined to 46% from 54% last August. The decline in support for legal abortion has come entirely in the share saying abortion should be legal in most cases (from 37% to 28%); 18% say abortion should be legal in all cases, which is virtually unchanged from last August (17%). Currently, 44% say abortion should be illegal in most (28%) or all cases (16%), up slightly since last August (41%).
If these polls are true, it seems to me that pro life people don't vote based on their beliefs, or perhaps better stated, for many, the issue has a low priority as a deciding factor in their voting decisions.

SHS Funnies



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We need our newspapers!

The problem is the quality of the editors:





The problem is the quality of the reporters:





The problem is the quality of the public:




The problem is also the bias.

When transhumanism becomes routine:


Legislation Filed to Prevent “Mandatory Psychological Screening” of Children



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I never thought it would come to this, and I am not a fan of Ron Paul. But... Paul and others have introduced H.R. 2218, called the "Parental Consent Act." The purpose of the bill is to prevent children from being subjected to mandatory mental-health screening without the express, written, voluntary, informed consent of their parents or legal guardians. From the bill:

(a) Universal or Mandatory Mental Health Screening Program--No Federal funds may be used to establish or implement any universal or mandatory mental health, psychiatric, or socio-emotional screening program.

(b) Refusal To Consent as Basis of a Charge of Child Abuse or Education Neglect--No Federal education funds may be paid to any local educational agency or other instrument of government that uses the refusal of a parent or legal guardian to provide express, written, voluntary, informed consent to mental health screening for his or her child as the basis of a charge of child abuse, child neglect, medical neglect, or education neglect until the agency or instrument demonstrates that it is no longer using such refusal as a basis of such a charge.

(c) Definition--For purposes of this Act , the term `universal or mandatory mental health, psychiatric, or socio-emotional screening program; (1) means any mental health screening program in which a set of individuals (other than members of the Armed Forces or individuals serving a sentence resulting from conviction for a criminal offense) is automatically screened without regard to whether there was a prior indication of a need for mental health treatment;
We already have children being given birth control and abortions without parental consent, and I understand, even psychotropic drugs. And here's something I thought I would never write at SHS--From Paul's speech introducing the bill:
The New Freedom Commission on Mental Health has recommended that the federal and state governments work toward the implementation of a comprehensive system of mental-health screening for all Americans. The commission recommends that universal or mandatory mental-health screening first be implemented in public schools as a prelude to expanding it to the general public. However, neither the commission's report nor any related mental-health screening proposal requires parental consent before a child is subjected to mental-health screening.
I had never heard of the Commission on Mental Health. Here it is, established by President Bush, no less.

The idea that Americans should all have routine mental health screenings is, pardon the pun, nuts. Whatever the motive for the recommendation, it would eventually be about calling people with politically incorrect views and attitudes a "mental health problem." (For example, political conservatism has been called a mental illness.)

Alas, it seems to me that preventing mandatory mental health care screening for kids who have no indication of disturbance, is, in this day and age necessary. The fact that the bill almost surely has no chance of passage proves the reasonableness of the concern.

Shameless Specter Blames “GOP Health Policies” for Death of Jack Kemp



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Jack Kemp died yesterday of cancer, with which he was only diagnosed in January. By the time it was caught, it had spread throughout his body. Those who knew him mourn, and those who didn't, like me, give a tip of the hat in appreciation to the pubic service of a respectable politician.

But Arlen Specter--shamefully--used the occasion of Kemp's death to justify his political switch to again becoming a Democrat. From the story:

"Well, I was sorry to disappoint many people. Frankly, I was disappointed that the Republican Party didn't want me as their candidate," Mr. Specter said on "Face the Nation." "But as a matter of principle, I'm becoming much more comfortable with the Democrats' approach. And one of the items that I'm working on, Bob, is funding for medical research."

Mr. Specter continued:"If we had pursued what President Nixon declared in 1970 as the war on cancer, we would have cured many strains. I think Jack Kemp would be alive today. And that research has saved or prolonged many lives, including mine."

Who blocked cancer research? Nearly $5 billion a year has been spent by the National Cancer Institute in the last three years. Obama wants to raise that to $6 billion, about a 15% increase. But it isn't as if cancer research was dying on the vine. Besides, the Democrats have been in control of Congress for the last two years and it wasn't as if Bush was a big vetoer of spending bills.

One can certainly argue that the cancer research budget should be higher. One can also justify changing parties because one believes in increased spending. But to say that but for GOP policies Jack Kemp "would be alive today," is shameful demagoguery of a self-obsessed politician willing to use the death of a former colleague to justify his own desperate political maneuvers.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised. The same kind of bovine manure was shoveled after Ronald Reagan died of Alzheimer's when some said that "but for Bush's stem cell funding policies," Reagan would have been cured. Some politicians just stink.

More “Science” Word Engineering: “Global Warming” to become “Atmospheric Deterioration”



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The science intelligentsia and our betters among the liberal elite want what they want--and they aren't about to be constrained by the rules of fair and honest debate to get it. Thus, in the euthanasia debate--which itself is a word that once did not mean mercy killing but was co-opted by early euthanasia activists--changed to euphemistic phrases such as "death with dignity," and we were told that dying people can't commit "suicide," rather they seek "aid in dying." (For a detailed overview of the euthanasia movement's many iterations of words and phrases for mercy killing, see Rita Marker's and my, "Words, Words, Words.")

As we have discussed often here at SHS, Big Biotech and its advocates have completely roiled the waters by creating a postmodern science lexicon in which terms cease to be precisely defined and become whatever suits the needs of advocacy: Thus, embryonic stem cell research caused problems because of the word "embryonic." So, that word was dropped and the subject became just "stem cell research" or "early"stem cell research." For the same reasons, embryos ceased to be embryos, and became "pre-embryos" or "just a ball of cells," with scientists even denying they were living organisms. When people reacted negatively to the word "cloning," in the phrase "therapeutic cloning," Big Biotech's proponents scrapped the the C-word and the process morphed into "a form of stem cell research" or SCNT, which we were also told did not create an embryo--making one wonder how Dolly the sheep was born since she had to have started as an cloned sheep embryo.

Now, the climate hysterics are about to enter the word engineering game. Recent polls have shown that relatively few people care a whole lot about "global warming." And so, it's back to the old lexicon drawing board. From the story:
The problem with global warming, some environmentalists believe, is "global warming." The term turns people off, fostering images of shaggy-haired liberals, economic sacrifice and complex scientific disputes, according to extensive polling and focus group sessions conducted by ecoAmerica, a nonprofit environmental marketing and messaging firm in Washington.

Instead of grim warnings about global warming, the firm advises, talk about "our deteriorating atmosphere." Drop discussions of carbon dioxide and bring up "moving away from the dirty fuels of the past." Don't confuse people with cap and trade; use terms like "{cap and cash back" or "pollution reduction refund."
Cap and cash back! If cap and trade is adopted, it is going to cost us a fortune in higher prices from food to fuel! The only cash "going back"--and it will be billins--will be to firms of the kind in which Al Gore has business interests that will broker the carbon trading system put in place.

I don't know about y'all, but I am mighty sick of this kind of verbal engineering, which is explicitly designed to hinder rather than promote free and open debate. Hopefully, the people are too sophisticated and jaded by now to be so easily manipulated.

Nitschke: We Don’t Want You in the USA Either



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Poor Philip Nitschke, so unliked, misunderstood, and unwanted. Here he is on a mission of mercy to permit old people to take Mexican animal euthanasia drugs if they are tired of life and to ensure that troubled teens to have access to the "peaceful" suicide pill in grocery stores. (Yes, he really said that.) He counseled Nancy Crick on suicide and lied to the media saying she was terminally ill. He imported and sold plastic suicide bags, but was stopped by the Australian authorities after yours truly busted his little enterprise in The Australian.

He travels from Australia, to New Zealand, and thence to the UK holding how to commit suicide classes, being fawned over by media, but he's still not happy. And now, when he was willing to bring his compassion and talents to the UK, he apparently got a poor reception. So now he wants to live in the USA. From the story:

Philip Nitschke is considering moving to the US to continue his campaign for voluntary euthanasia after a hostile reception from British immigration authorities on the weekend.

The Australian campaigner known as "Doctor Death" said last night that until he was detained at Heathrow airport for nine hours on Saturday he had been considering moving to Britain to escape Australia's increasingly tight restrictions on the dissemination of information on how to kill yourself. "That looks unlikely now, because after that reception I guess the British will be less likely to let me stay," Dr Nitschke told The Australian. "I'm not sure, but we might be forced to move to the US, which still has freedom of speech and increasingly looks like a less hostile environment."
This guy pushes suicide for anyone who wants it. He is not welcome here, either.

Culture of Death Watch: The Media Are Becoming Increasingly Pro Suicide



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Pay close attention to how the story I am about to discuss from the Philadelphia Inquirer was written to give a favorable impression of a suicide.

It is about a woman named Rona Zelniker, who killed herself because of a disabling disease. Note that the word "suicide" is never used except in a brief reference to the Oregon law. There is no doubt that was deliberate: The (assisted) suicide movement has convinced many in the media not to use that term except in cases of transitory distress or teenagers--because it is judgmental and has a negative connotation. Can't have that: Suicide for reasons of disease or disability should be viewed positively.

Note too, that the issue of suicide prevention is never raised and that Zelniker's children supported her suicide. As usual, no real interviews from opponents of assisted suicide or mental health experts who help people cope with such difficult situations, and only one brief quote from Ira Byock who testified against legalizing assisted suicide in New Hampshire.

Even the title of the story is skewed: "Debating an End of Life Decision," when the only reason Zelniker's life ended was that she killed herself. From the story, byline Michael Vitez:
A year ago, when a doctor finally diagnosed the brain disease that had been making it harder for her to walk without falling, Rona Zelniker told her son and daughter that she was going to end her life while she still could, before complete disability set in. Her children were grateful for the way she prepared them, and for the time they had together at the end. "I must have cried 150 times in the last year," said Keith Zelniker, 32, her son. He scheduled off the week she was planning to die, writing on his work calendar, "bereavement time."
I'm sorry: I know we aren't supposed to criticize family members in cases such as this, but if my mother told me she wanted to kill herself and I said, in effect, "Okay, I'll put it in my calendar," she would really want to do herself in!

Zelnicker was going to have a Final Exit Network suicide until those meanies in Georgia law enforcement arrested four members of the network. So, she had to die alone:
Zelniker was enraged, but undeterred, in February when Georgia authorities charged four members of the Final Exit Network with assisted suicide, a felony. The Final Exit Network halted all trips to the bedside, fearful of more police sting operations... So on March 18, Rona Zelniker, one month shy of 61, with a progressive and incurable brain disease called Sporadic OPCA, ended her life alone, in the spare bedroom of her condominium, adjacent to the golf course, in an active-adult community in Monroe Township, Middlesex County, just off Exit 8 of the New Jersey Turnpike. Zelniker pulled a clear plastic hood over her head, fastened the bottom around her neck with Velcro, opened two helium canisters with tubes leading into the hood, and soon enough was unconscious, and then dead, in her black recliner.
The kids could not have been more supportive:
Keith and his sister stayed with their mother on Monday and Tuesday, said final goodbyes, and left at 10 p.m. "She didn't want us to see her with a bag on her head and helium tanks next to her," Keith said...This made him angry. "Things are so taboo," he said, "you have to do this backroom. This is like an abortion before Roe v. Wade."
Well, let's just open the euthanasia clinics and be done with it.

But she was so organized up to the end!

Rona Zelniker managed every last detail of her death. She emptied her closets to the Salvation Army. She changed her car title into Keith's name. She listed her condo with a Realtor, figuring it would take two months to begin showing it.

She shopped for the funeral home, and even bought a biodegradable urn for her ashes, which she left on the kitchen counter. In a three-page to-do list found near her body, she covered every detail, right down to the E-Z Pass: "Return tag, close account and get refund." She even left an extra $20 and a note for the cleaning lady, Nalva, scheduled to come in two days, "to clean out the fridge and freezer."

That's eerily like the play/movie 'Night Mother, that depicts a desperate conversation between a mother and suicidal daughter as the daughter organizes her things in preparation for killing herself. But at least in the movie, the mother tries to talk her out of it. Of course, unlike now, when the play and movie were produced, society opposed suicide.

Like previous similar sympathetic stories and documentaries that have shown on TV, the effect of this story is deliberate; to make suicide more acceptable. It was why Zelniker's children or some pro assisted suicide advocate contacted the media to get her story into print. The reporter made sure to fulfill expectations.

There can be little doubt our culture is becoming pro suicide. Culture of death, Wesley? What culture of death?

Coup de Culture Alert: Wanting to be “Extraordinary” Without Working for It



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From time to time I have pointed out the sad yearning so many seem to feel that their lives would not seem so lacking if only they could somehow be extraordinary--without having to actually work to achieve anything special. This desire is often the basis of movies and television shows (wonderfully explored in the provocative television program The 4400, which I reviewed here). It is the reason for the popularity for on line computer games like Second Life, and is the core dogma of religious transhumanism, where a gene modification here, or a cyber implant there, will make one immortal, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, you get the drift.

Even as millions of children still die in destitution from diseases like malaria and measles, malnutrition, dirty water, etc., we in the decadent West are pouring fortunes into the effort to enable anyone to become extraordinary without personal effort. This phenomenon is discussed in an interesting column published by futurist Andy Miah in the Guardian, who notes that the European Parliament has appointed a commission--is that all we ever do anymore?--to look into the ethics and science of enhancement. (Right, like the EU Parliament would ever enact any meaningful regulation even if it had the power.)

Miah's main purpose in writing is to take a deeper look at where all of this is leading. One problem I see is that the desperate yearning to attain--as opposed to achieve--extra-ordinariness is beginning to distort the purposes of medicine, from a healing/palliating/wellness promoting profession into a lifestyle-enabling technocracy. Miah gets that too and asks an important question. From his piece:
Meanwhile the US has gradually been transforming health care into enhancement care and, perhaps by implication, losing sight of basic healthcare needs. In a world that is increasingly concerned about technological domination and dependence, we are becoming enhancement junkies. We nip here, tuck there, whiten our teeth, reduce the width of our waists, and even go on game shows for the chance of winning expensive, invasive cosmetic surgery. What is it that people seek by undergoing such transformations?
I am not sure, but I suspect that many people have a black hole in their souls where community, or God, or tradition used to be, and they are desperate to fill it.

Miah has his own ideas--to more easily become wealthier, to become more attractive to gain romance, etc.--which are true too, of course, but I think are part of my black hole theory, not distinct from it.

Is this cause for concern? I say absolutely on a number of levels; from misplaced priorities (see children dying from measles), to a concern about what easy extra-ordinariness could do to self motivation, the problem of escapism becoming the cake instead of the frosting, unintended consequences (we are the species that built the unsinkable ship Titanic) etc.

With a few reservations, Miah is far more enthusiastic, his main concern being that enhancement could result in a boring sameness:
The kinds of enhancements we must seek for humanity should not lead us towards a world where we all aspire to look the same as each other, which is a criticism often levelled at the cosmetic surgery industry. Rather, we should encourage human enhancements that amplify human variation. That's what I expect from human enhancement technologies and this is what humanity excels in, as the history of fashion reveals.
But if that trap can be avoided, Miah yearns for a "culture of enhancement":
Once we have expanded the options as far as possible, we will be able to observe how the choices of technological enhancement are as rich and complex as the choices we make about other aspects of our identity.
It always gets down to me-me/I-I in this field, doesn't it? The human enhancement agenda is really just solipsism run amok.

This is all part of the coup de culture, in which a utopian hedonism drives us, like a drug addiction, to ever more radical attempts to find the "high," as our growing collective neurosis about suffering threatens to impose a deadly eugenic utilitarianism upon the weak and vulnerable who can't keep up. It is precisely what Huxley warned against in Brave New World.

SHS Funnies



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Pig learns from Zebra that transhumanism is a pipe dream:


Secondhand Smokette insists this cartoon is really about me. I disagree!


This picture of me on my Blackberry while in Estonia, is irrelevant to her baseless accusation!

Pushing Doctors into a “Dual Mandate” and the “Attack on Doctors’ Hippocratic Oath”



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Physicians are being pushed steadily into an untenable position. On one hand, they are professionally obligated to render optimal care to each patient based on individual need. On the other hand, they are increasingly being looked to by bureaucrats and bioethicists as serving another role--for society--as the rationing arms of cost control.

The effect of this would require doctors to give optimal care to some patients but not others, probably based on mandatory invidiously discriminatory categories of age, disability, perhaps even politically incorrect lifestyles such as smoking and obesity (but never, for example culturally acceptable risky behaviors like promiscuity). This dual mandate, if adopted, would place doctors and other health care professionals in a terrible conflict of interest--duty to patient versus duty to society--carrying with it the real potential to tear health care apart.

The Hudson Institute's Betsy McCaughey has noticed and raised the alarm in an important column in Investors Business Daily, entitled "Attack on Doctors' Hippocratic Oath." From the column:
Patients count on their doctor to do whatever is possible to treat their illness. That is the promise doctors make by taking the Hippocratic Oath. But President Obama's advisers are looking to save money by interfering with that oath and controlling your doctor's decisions.

Ezekiel Emanuel sees the Hippocratic Oath as one factor driving "overuse" of medical care. He is a policy adviser in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and a brother of Rahm Emanuel, the president's chief of staff. Dr. Emanuel argues that "peer recognition goes to the most thorough and aggressive physicians." He has lamented that doctors regard the "Hippocratic Oath's admonition to 'use my power to help the patient to the best of my ability and judgment' as an imperative to do everything for the patient regardless of the cost or effects on others."
So yet another core patient protection in the Oath is under attack. This is nothing less than the deprofessionalizing of medicine, and turning physicians into health care technocrats.

McCaughey continues:

But President Barack Obama is pledging to rein in the nation's health care spending. The framework for influencing your doctor's decisions was included in the stimulus package, also known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The legislation sets a goal that every individual's treatments will be recorded by computer, and your doctor will be guided by electronically delivered protocols on "appropriate" and "cost-effective" care.
Translation: Health care rationing; futile care impositions, assisted suicide--always cost effective; and a "duty to die" if your care becomes too expensive.

This is not alarmism:

Heading the new system is Dr. David Blumenthal, a Harvard Medical School professor, named national coordinator of health information technology. His writings show he favors limits on how much health care people can get. "... Now that Blumenthal is in charge, he sees problems ahead. "If electronic health records are to save money," he writes, doctors will have to take "advantage of embedded clinical decision support" (a euphemism for computers instructing doctors what to do).
At which point medicine will cease to be a profession, as I mentioned above. And it will come at a great costs to individuals:
In critiquing the Hippocratic Oath, Dr. Emanuel calls for training medical students "to move toward more socially sustainable, cost-effective care." He says the trend "from 'do everything' to palliative care shows that change in physician norms is possible." What he fails to see is that government should not be interfering in decisions about when it's time to say enough is enough to medical care.
McCaughey is spot on and her critique illustrates a truth I have only recently fully comprehended: The political Left isn't about freedom, it is about power. And what greater power is there than bureaucrats and utilitarian bioethicists deciding whether you are treated or denied care, indeed, whether you live or die?

No wonder Obama wants his power grab, euphemistically called, "health care reform," through the Congress without any meaningful debate.

The Problem of Technology When “Virtue” Becomes Passe`



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In keeping with our discussion today of the power of technology--and adding in Yuval Levin's insight that society has replaced "promoting virtue" with "preventing suffering" as its overriding purpose--you end up with this story: A man is accused of using the Internet to assist the suicide of a mentally disturbed young man who lived 4000 miles away. From the story:
A British woman tried to alert U.S. police four years ago to an online predator she believes coaxed her emotionally fragile son to kill himself. Mark Drybrough, 32, hanged himself July 27, 2005 in his home in Coventry, just east of Birmingham in the English midlands. He was recovering from a nervous breakdown and under psychiatric care.

After his death, his family found two months' worth of online correspondence he'd had with a person known variously as Falcon Girl and Li Dao. "In his conversation with Mark, he was claiming he'd watched somebody else die on camera to try to encourage Mark to do it," his mother, Elaine Drybrough, said in an interview from her Coventry home. "I think he's been enjoying himself."

Police in Saint Paul, Minnesota are now investigating area resident William Francis Melchert-Dinkel, 46, for allegedly using the Internet to encourage, advise and assist people to commit suicide, possibly including Carleton University student Nadia Kajouji. Ottawa police said she had been in contact with Melchert-Dinkel. In the messages to her son, Elaine Drybrough said Falcon Girl was at times "quite loving -- he calls people 'honey' and ... making a bit like he's being helpful or whatever. I think his entire coaxing and persuasion (convinced) him to go ahead with it. (But) as far as we know, he did not die on camera."
With the growing power of all things technological, it becomes a matter of urgent concern to strengthen virtue within society. But the minute you bring up that concept, people start screaming about moralism--such as when the story broke in the UK--which I reported here at SHS--about the 13-year-old boy becoming a father. The nation became all atwitter and pundits tub-thumped about the need to reestablish moral values in England!!--except no one had any suggestions about how to go about that task for fear of being accused of religiosity or fuddy-duddyism.

So we are stuck with "choice" as the foundation--and that leads to terminal nonjudgmentalism, one consequence of which is sad stories such as this.

Why Things Are Spinning Out of Control



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This video vividly explains how computer technology's geometric growth is profoundly changing the world--with results that may be beyond or ability to control. Secondhand Smoke notwithstanding to the contrary, by opening this particular Pandora's box, we may have finally found the place in which we became be too smart for our own good..

SHS Funnies



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Sometimes the truth really hurts:


Piraro's views are whacky but his daily cartoon is one of the best out there. This one really hit my funny bone.

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