Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Desire to Detect Prostate Cancer Early Disdained as “Religious” Pursuit by American Cancer Society Spokesman


I never cease to be amazed at the sense of superiority that drips from the pores of some people who work in the sciences. I find this quite irritating, which was brought to a head for me this morning when I read a story about prostate cancer screening.

For years, we have been told repeatedly and often to get screening tests for cancer because, logically enough, the earlier you catch the disease the greater the likelihood of surviving. That remains true of cancers such as of the breast--get those mammograms--and the colon--get those colonoscopies. But apparently, research increasingly indicates that this general rule may not necessarily apply to the early detection of prostate cancer.

Whether this is true or not is worthy of reasoned discussion. But catch this looking-down-his-nose comment by a representative of the American Cancer Society about men and doctors who seek to detect prostate cancer early through PSA blood testing. From the story:
"Americans have been getting screened for prostate cancer because there is this religious faith that finding it early and cutting it out saves lives," said Otis W. Brawley of the American Cancer Society. "We've been doing faith-based screening instead of evidence-based screening. These findings should make people realize that it's a legitimate question about whether we should be screening for prostate cancer."
Yes it is a legitimate question, but deciding to screen is hardly irrational, which is what Brawley was saying by calling prostate screening a "religious faith." Indeed, the question has been--and remains--unsettled. For example, last year the Annals of Internal Medicine published this recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force about prostate screening:
Current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms of screening for prostate cancer in men younger than age 75 years (I statement). Do not screen for prostate cancer in men age 75 years or older. [Me: This is because prostate cancer grows so slowly in elderly men that the patient is likely to die from other causes long before the disease becomes life-threatening.]
Whether or not to conduct PSA tests for prostate cancer is a questions men and their doctors should carefully explore. But just because a few studies now show that it may not extend lives doesn't mean that anyone who elects to get a PSA screening is engaging in an irrational medical practice.

NHS Meltdown: Paying Weight Watchers but Rationing Care


The NHS disarray continues. In the scheme of things--with people in the UK unable to get good pain control and hospitals having receptionists examine patients--this is small. But it is symbolic of what happens in socialized systems. From the story:

The Health Service has paid out more than £3 million to the two biggest slimming firms in the country, Weight Watchers and Slimming World, for providing classes to overweight people referred to them by GPs. Since 2006, primary care trusts have bought vouchers entitling more than 70,000 people to free slimming classes.

New NHS fat camp for obese families in Rotherham. While the companies were paid upfront, less than 60 per cent of those who were referred by their GP stuck with the 12-week course, which cost £65 for classmates paying from their own pockets.

Critics lambasted the state-funded schemes as an "appalling" use of taxpayers money by a health service which rations treatment and life-extending drugs for patients with cancer. Meanwhile, obesity experts warned that diet classes were less likely to work if people did not attend them of their own volition, and commit their own money to their efforts.

In 2006, the NHS's rationing body, the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence, recommended that GPs send people to free slimming classes, because it was cheaper than weight loss pills or stomach stapling. Since then, Slimming World has sold more than 53,000 vouchers costing £45 to the NHS at a total cost to the taxpayer of more than £2.3 million.

I know weight control is important to good health, but Weight Watchers is not medical treatment. Moreover, if these people were morbidly obese, they should have received real medical help, not small prepackaged meals or aerobics classes.

Oversight boards like NICE are disastrous on more levels than can be counted. We have to make sure that no equivalent central control is ever imposed on Americans.

“Stem Cell Debate is Over Ethics, Not Science”


I have a piece in today's Sacramento Bee rounding out my critique of the Obama ESCR policy and his rescission of the Bush executive order requiring the Feds to fund alternative sources for funding of pluripotent stem cells. Some of this will be familiar to SHSers, but I think the points I make in the column are too little heard in the world beyond this blog. From my piece:
From the moment President George W. Bush imposed federal funding restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, Big Biotech, patient advocacy groups, celebrities and the media have been obsessed with eviscerating the policy. Indeed, although the Bush administration funded about $175 million in grants for human embryonic stem cell research, and despite the literally billions poured into the field from public and private sources such as the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, or CIRM, and philanthropists, the public was continually warned that embryonic stem cell research in the United States was in danger of withering on the vine due to Bush.

With such abundant funding, that wasn't true. Nor was the charge that Bush's policy was "anti-science" because it funded only research on stem cell lines in existence as of Aug. 9, 2001. But the controversy was never a science debate. It was--and remains--an ethics debate that impacts directly on the importance and meaning of human life. Indeed, the question raised by embryonic stem cell research is whether it is morally right to treat and exploit human life--even at the nascent stage--as a mere natural resource.
I discuss the point that President Obama's new policy--he says--will also involve ethical controls:
Last week, the new president kept a campaign promise to free up federal funding for all embryonic stem cell lines whenever derived. But he also told the country that ethics still matter, stating: "We will support it (embryonic stem cell research) only if it is both scientifically worthy and responsibly conducted. We will develop strict guidelines, which we will rigorously enforce, because we cannot ever tolerate misuse or abuse."

How is that different in kind from what Bush did? Are ethical constraints "anti-science" only if one disagrees with where the lines are drawn
And I get into the Obama and CIRM hypocrisy over resisting legal requirements for the funding of "alternative" sources of pluripotent cells, such as IPSCs, and suggest that there is a reason for pushing embryonic methods:
If pursuing the best and most ethical science were truly the goals, why deflect increased support for this promising research to which no one objects? Perhaps it is because this debate involves more than stem cells taken from embryos "left over" from in-vitro fertilization--as the argument is usually couched--which brings us back to ethics. In the wake of the Obama changes in federal policy, the New York Times editorially threw down a gauntlet, calling for both the rescission of the Dickey Amendment and federal funding of human therapeutic cloning research. Now that the Bush restrictions are history, look for these battles--which again are not science debates--to flare in the years to come. In this sense, embryonic stem cell research threatens to become a launching pad to an ever-deepening erosion of the unique moral status of human life.
That's my story, anyhow. And I'm sticking to it.

SHS as Source for Anti Human Exceptionalism Column Ideas? Fetal Farming Pushed in Huffington Post


I wasn't going to run with this because bioethicist Jacob M. Appel seems to be following the same business model to career success as Julian Savulescu and others: stake out the most wild and radical positions conceivable and you are sure to get attention--and perhaps big speaking fees--as Peter "Professor Infanticide" Singer's $20,000 per pop illustrates. (As I have previously noted here, Appel has supported assisted suicide for the mentally ill, genetic engineering of progeny, and the acceptability of bestiality.)

But this fetal farming boost appeared in the Huffington Post, perhaps the most influential blog on the Left, with millions of readers. And it is pernicious in the extreme. From Appel's column:
Opponents of reproductive choice will object to such a market on the grounds that it will increase the number of abortions -- which will indeed be the logical result. However, such a market might also bring solace to women who have already decided upon abortion, but desire that some additional social good come from the procedure. Like the families of accident victims who donate the organs of their loved ones, these women could well find their decisions fortified by the public benefit that they generate. An additional economic incentive would further assuage any doubts, and might even make the procedure more palatable to otherwise equivocal spouses or partners.
Hmm. That sounds familiar. One week before Appel posted his column, I sarcastically wrote much the same thing here reacting to calls by UK scientists for using abortions as source of organs. From my post of March 11, "Fetal Farming, Here We Come: UK Scientists Say to Use Aborted Fetuses as Sources of Organs":
Hey, I know: When a woman wants an early term abortion, we can pay her to gestate a couple of extra months so her fetus can be of societal use! And imagine the possibilities when artificial wombs are created: We can gestate fetuses to order. The road to fetal farming is already being paved.
I am beginning to think Appel uses SHS as a source of ideas and then restates what I criticize as a positive. Let's look at Appel's conclusion, which reinforces the last point:
Someday, if we are fortunate, scientific research may make possible farms of artificial "wombs" breeding fetuses for their organs -- or even the "miracle" of men raising fetuses in their abdomens. That day remains far off. However, the prospect of fetal-adult organ transplantation is a much more realistic near-term possibility. A market in such organs might benefit both society and the women who choose to take advantage of it.
Again, I don't intend to react to every Appel column because that would support his business model. But that the Huffington Post considers this a legitimate and acceptable argument to run on its site--it would never countenance a racist utilitarian rant--shows, in my mind precisely the dark place where the utilitarian Left is more than happy to go. And it reminds me of the wisdom of the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, who once wrote:
Thousands of medical thicists and bioethicists, as they are called, professionally guide the unthinkable on its passage through the debatable on its way to becoming the justifiable, until it is finally established as the unexceptionable.
That was true when he wrote those words for Commentary in 1988. It was more true when I used this quote in Culture of Death in 2001. And it is true in spades and exclamation points today.

Irresponsibility in Reporting of Natasha Richardson Tragedy


I have been very unhappy about the lurid headlines in the New York Post and elsewhere about the gravely injured Natasha Richardson being "brain dead." That is not only insensitive to her devastated family, but the term is thrown around all too loosely.

Brain death is a popular term for "death by neurological criteria," in which various tests and patient history show that the brain and each of its constituent parts have ceased all functions as a brain. (It does not mean that every brain cell is nonfunctional.) It often gets conflated with a diagnoses of permanent unconsciousness--but is not the same as having a catastrophic brain injury. It is dead.

More responsible press reports have described Richardson as being in very critical condition or having suffered a devastating brain injury. No doubt that is true. And it is clear that irresponsible sources have used the term to reporters, as vulture like, they worm their way into a major celebrity story. But to call someone dead when it isn't clear that her demise has actually taken place, is not only wrong, it is cruel.

And Yet Still More Bad Management at the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine


The CIRM, which doles out $300 million of borrowed money on Californians' credit card each year, has been a disaster from the start. We have seen mismanagement, conflicts of interest, hundreds of millions paid to buy the most expensive buildings designed by the most costly architects, etc., and other follies. And it seems to have become a personal power center for Robert Klein, who authored and penned the deceptive Proposition 71 and has run it ever since as a personal fiefdom.

Among the biggest boosters of the CIRM has been the editorial page of the Sacramento Bee. Now even the Bee seems to have had it up to its figurative neck with Klein and the CIRM's methods. From a Bee editorial:

A 29-member panel called the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee supervises California's $3 billion stem cell research institute. The committee's name was misleading from the start. It's even more so now. Last week, this supposedly "independent" committee met to decide on a new vice chair. The contenders were Art Torres, a former state senator, and Duane Roth, a San Diego Republican with ties to the biotech industry...

So what did the institute's overseers do? They split the difference. In an 11th-hour move on Thursday, the committee decided to create co-vice chairs and appoint Torres and Roth to the positions. They also voted to grant a $75,000 yearly salary to Torres, even though the previous vice chair, Ed Penhoet, had declined one.

Then the editorial gets around to Klein, whose leadership is so reminiscent of the entire financial mess at the federal level in a microcosm--remember Klein wanted $500,000 a year to run CIRM when the state was drowning in a $42 billion deficit--but selflessly settled for $150 K to work part time:

If the stem cell institute had a normal structure, with a strong president handling administrative duties, the selection of the institute vice chair would be less consequential. But because Chairman Robert Klein has such broad authority (Klein wrote the ballot initiative that created the stem cell institute), the vice chair can serve as an essential check on the chair's power.

With its decision Thursday, the oversight board has effectively agreed to subdivide the vice chairs' authority, giving Klein more power than ever. It's a further demonstration that the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee is neither independent, nor a group of citizens, nor much of an overseer of $3 billion in public monies.

The CIRM soap opera reminds me so much of the AIG mess and the broader financial debacle through which we are struggling in a microcosm--pigs feeding at the public trough without a modicum of common sense or understanding of public responsibility.

Klein said during the campaign that he pushed Proposition 71 to find a cure for his son's diabetes. But the way he has run the agency points toward egoism as having subsumed altruism. If Klein is really only about finding cures, he will resign and let a competent manager take the reins of the CIRM.

Come to The Second International Symposium on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide


The Second International Symposium on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide will be held near Dulles Airport on May 29-30. I'll be there (although I don't like the photo in the ad), also Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, Rita Marker, head of the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, Attorney Margaret Dore from Washington State, who has jumped into the fray big time in the last year, Diane Coleman of Not Dead Yet, Bobby Schindler, Terri Schiavo's brother, William Toffler from Physicians for Compassionate Care, Peter Saunders from the UK's Care Not Killing, and many more. Here's a link for more information.

Be there or be square.

NHS Meltdown: Appalling Hospital Conditions


The collapse of the NHS is a horror to behold. Now, stories are coming out of what can only be described as appalling conditions in one hospital. From the story:

The full extent of the horrific conditions at an NHS hospital where hundreds may have died because of 'appalling' care was laid bare yesterday. Dehydrated patients were forced to drink out of flower vases, while others were left in soiled linen on filthy wards. Relatives of patients who died at Staffordshire General Hospital told how they were so worried by the standard of care they slept in chairs on the wards. The 'shocking' catalogue of failures was released yesterday after an independent investigation by the Healthcare Commission...

Among the findings of the report were:
-- Receptionists carrying out initial checks on patients;
--Two clinical decision units--one unstaffed--used as 'dumping grounds' for A&E patients to avoid missing waiting targets;
-- Nurses who turned off heart monitors because they didn't understand how to use them;
-- Delayed operations, with some patients having surgery cancelled four days in a row and left without food, drink or medication;
-- Vital equipment such as heart defibrilators was not working.

The BBC has further details:
About 400 more people died at Stafford Hospital between 2005 and 2008 than would be expected, the Healthcare Commission said. It said there were deficiencies at "virtually every stage" of emergency care and managers pursued targets to the detriment of patient care.
Can you imagine?

Defeat for Futile Care in New Jersey


A case in NJ (Betancourt v. Trinitas Regional Medical Center, Docket No. C-12-09), in which the family of a 73-year-old man diagnosed to be in a persistent vegetative state sued a hospital attempting to unilaterally withdraw extensive life support, has been decided by a judge. Properly, the trial court ruled against the hospital based on patient autonomy, which the judge ruled, cannot be usurped by the courts or the hospital or doctors, but belongs properly to the patient or his/her surrogate decision maker. From the court ruling:
The decision to continue or terminate life support systems is not left to the courts. The position of the hospital argues that the court take the role of surrogate decision maker. The hospital seeks to have the court exercise its judgment in determining the proper course of treatment for Mr. Betancourt, a task...outside the role of this court.

The court concludes that Mr. Betancourt is in a persistent vegetative state and unable to communicate his wishes with respect to the continuation of life supporting treatment. Accordingly the appointment of a guardian is required. The court grants the application of plaintiff Jackqueline Betancourt to be the guardian of her father...As guardian for Mr. Betan court, Ms. Betancourt is his surrogate decision maker. The plaintiff's application to restrain the defendant from discontinuing treatment of Mr. Betancourt is granted. The guardian is authorized to make decisions respecting medical treatment of Mr. Betancourt.
The treatment the guardian seeks is in furtherance of the quintessential purpose of medicine; extending the life of the patient. In this sense, it is non elective and the hospital seeks to stop it--not because it won't extend Mr. Betancourt's life--but because it probably will. Hence, the treatment is fulfilling its purpose. If the hospital won the case, doctors and bioethicists would, in effect, have been given the right to declare that the life of a patient diagnosed in a PVS is futile, and once that principle became well established in law and medical ethics, such ad hoc health care rationing wouldn't end with catastrophically ill people such as this patient.

Please be clear: I am not saying that I would have made the same decision under the same circumstances if it were my mother--who has made very clear to me in an advance directive what she would want and not want. I am saying it is the family's and the patient's values that matter--not the doctors' or hospital staff's, or as the court properly ruled, a judge's.

HT:I learned of this story from the blog Medical Futility, run by Thaddeus Mason Pope, a law professor at Widener University Law School. Pope is a futilitarian and I profoundly disagree with him on this issue. But I know of no better site covering medical futility on a consistent basis than Pope's--and that includes SHS. And he does so in an even-handed and accurate manner, while still making his own views quite clear. If you want to see what is happening in the field of futile care theory, Pope's blog is a must.

Idaho Futile Care Bill S. 1114 Stalled in House Committee--For Now


This is a follow up report about an urgent futile care threat we warned against twice last week at SHS (here and here): After being caught flat footed with the passage of S. 1114 through the Idaho Senate--a bill that would, in part, legalize futile care theory in Idaho and specifically authorize doctors to disregard a patient's advance written directive wanting life-sustaining treatment--opponents have gotten in the saddle. My sources tell me that real damage has been done to the futile care provisions as people began to look at what is really being proposed. As a consequence, a hearing that had been set in the House Health and Welfare Committee has been postponed.

That's good, but the bill--or at least the futile care part of it, since it is an omnibus involving many matters--isn't dead yet. (This is why I hate bills like this, the good has to be stalled to prevent the bad.) Now is the time to finish it off: All who oppose futile care in Idaho have to put their shoulders to the wheel and write their legislators opposing passage in its current form, send letters to the editor of local newspapers warning of the dangers to vulnerable patients, call talk radio, engage Internet chat rooms--any or all would be helpful. Tell your friends. Alert your colleagues. It's Paul Revere time.

I did thirty minutes on the radio to Idaho on the bill today, a good interview. But more needs to be done to spread the word since the Idaho media has not yet leapt to cover the controversy. Meanwhile, I am told, intense conversations are ongoing behind the scenes.

I think the futile care part of this bill can be killed with some more effort. That would be good for medicine, for vulnerable patients, and for the people of Idaho.

Assisted Suicide Group Admits to Undermining Proper Hospice Care


Compassion and Choices, the assisted suicide advocacy group, has admitted to undermining proper hospice care. That's not how they put it, of course. It brags that nearly 100% of Oregon assisted suicides last year--88% with which their representatives were involved--were in hospice. From the C and C press release:
Compassion and Choices, the nation's largest advocate for end-of-life care and choices and steward of the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, today noted that nearly 100% of terminally ill individuals using the law in 2008 were enrolled in hospice. Hospice enrollment among those using the Act increased to 98%, with 59 of the 60 individuals enrolled. Over the prior 10 years of the Act's existence, 86% of patients using the Act were enrolled in hospice, in itself a very high rate of use.
They should be ashamed, not proud. This press release is essentially an admission that its representatives interfere with the proper provision of hospice care, since an essential service of hospice is suicide prevention.

The published statistics from Oregon, for what they are worth, state that only two of the people about which the press release referred, were directed to a mental health consult, which is not the same thing as treatment. In 2007 there were zero referrals. This indicates that the patients who committed assisted suicide received no formal intervention for suicide prevention.

How is withholding suicide prevention is any different than providing inadequate pain control? Hence, Compassion and Choices undermines and interferes with the application of full and proper hospice care. I don't see any other way of looking at it.

Spanish Animal Rights Activists Go Nude to Protest Canadian Seal Hunt


What is it with animal rights activists and nudity? Spanish liberationists have gone naked to protest a Canadian seal hunt. From the story:
Around 100 people stripped naked and lay on the ground in a central Madrid square on Sunday as part of an international day of protest against Canada's annual seal hunt, due to resume next month. The members of animal rights group Equanimal smeared themselves in red liquid to signify a "massacre" of seals by Canada, where the annual seal hunt is due to resume in April. Some wore red underwear, others were totally nude. "We want to sensitise people to the fact that animals are capable of feeling and suffering like us, and to protest against the massacre of hundreds of thousands of seals which is about to begin in Canada," said spokeswoman Silvia Toval
No. That's a protest that will have zero impact on the Canadian hunt. This is about gaining attention in a sophomoric way. It is nothing but an antic. I think Gary Francione is right when he says such nudity events undermine the seriousness of the movement--which I admit, is fine with me.

The Oregon Compassion and Choices Assisted Suicide Enabling Act: C and C “stewarded” 88% of Oregon Assisted Suicides in 2008


The assisted suicide law called the Oregon Death with Dignity Act--as if dying without poisoning yourself to death isn't dignified--should instead be called the Oregon Compassion and Choices Assisted Suicide Enabling Act. It turns out that representatives of the assisted suicide advocacy organization--formerly the Hemlock Society-- are involved with the great majority of the assisted suicide deaths that take place in Oregon.

Physicians for Compassionate Care former president Kenneth Stevens, MD, has gone through the statistics and come up with some startling--and telling--numbers. From his report:
Officers of the assisted-suicide-proponent organization Compassion in Dying/Compassion and Choices of Oregon are authors of Oregon's physician-assisted suicide law and self-proclaim they are the stewards of the PAS law. They have reported that their organization has "participated in more than three/quarters of the state's cases of doctor-assisted suicide." (The Oregonian, March 10, 2005, "Pharmacy Board with review failed assisted suicide" by Don Colburn)
Here are the numbers, tallied by year, and note that last year C and C's rate was a record was 88%:

1998 -- 69%
1999 -- 67%
2000 -- 78%
2001 -- 81%
2002 -- 82%
2003 -- 81%
2004 -- 78%
2005 -- 66%
2006 -- 67%
2007 -- 65%
2008 -- 88%

Total 1998‐2008 --75%
It is important to remember while pondering these figures, that C and C is a very ideological organization that has been using Oregon--and by extension, the people who died under the "C and C Assisted Suicide Enabling Act," for political purposes in its national assisted suicide legalization advocacy campaigns. So the next time you hear one of its representatives soothingly assuring that everything is under control, realize that they are right--it is under their control. Or to paraphrase the opening of old TV show The Outer Limits : They control the horizontal, they control the vertical, they control almost all that you see and hear about assisted suicide in Oregon.

NHS Meltdown: Scandalously Few Pain Control Specialists in UK--and Some Want to Legalize Assisted Suicide?


The deficiencies in the UK's health system are varied and many. And still, euthanasia advocates there push for assisted suicide to be legalized. But the Guardian--a left-wing paper--has just reported that the inability of UK patients to gain access good pain control is scandalous. From the story:
Thousands of Britons are enduring unnecessary pain because of a lack of specialist clinics to ease their suffering, the government's chief medical officer will warn this week in his annual report.

Professor Sir Liam Donaldson will argue that many people are forced to put up with pain which may prevent them working, disturb their sleep, trigger depression and wreck their quality of life when it could have been alleviated with the right help. Almost eight million Britons suffer chronic pain persisting for more than three months, including back pain, migraine and pelvic pain caused by gynaecological conditions, as well as suffering associated with terminal illness. Yet Britain currently has only one pain management specialist for every 250,000 citizens, meaning only one in seven sufferers ever gets to a specialist.
Legalizing assisted suicide in the face of such bad palliation isn't going to solve the problem, it will surrender to it. The reporter even got the connection.
Asked whether better pain relief could, as some anti-euthanasia supporters argue, reduce the demand for doctor-assisted suicide from people with terminal conditions, Donaldson said: "I think this concept of a good death is very bound up with the lack of pain and the sort of serene quality that people enter when they are free of pain, so I guess all of the feelings that surround that are bound up to a large extent with pain."
Good for the reporter of this story for asking the question.

Coup de Culture Alert: Bioethicist Defends Bestiality


Apparently every aberrant behavior is to be normalized, including sex with animals: First it was Peter Singer claiming that bestiality was just two animals rubbing body parts. Then a movie was released sympathetic to the cause. Now, bioethicist Jacob M. Appel, who has called for allowing assisted suicide for the mentally ill and mandatory eugenic genetic screening, also defends bestiality--or perhaps better stated, opposes its legal prohibition--claiming that it might not be abuse, and indeed, "may well be neutral or even pleasurable for the animals."

I have publicly opposed bestiality as a matter of defending human exceptionalism, an issue to which Appel takes specific exception without mentioning me by name. From his column:

Opponents of bestiality often describe themselves as advocates of "human exceptionalism" and express the belief that intercourse with animals debases the dignity of human beings by blurring the lines between people and animals.? (They fail to explain why sex is unique in this manner--why playing Frisbee with a dog, or eating a corned beef sandwich, does not also blur such boundaries). [Me: Surely Appel understands the profound symbolic and intimacy differences between playing frisbee with a dog and having sexual intercourse with her (or him).]

Of course, nobody is suggesting that these critics be forced to sleep with animals, anymore than we would force vegetarians to eat lamb. However, the burden should be placed upon the prohibitionists to explain why a small minority of individuals with non-mainstream sexual interests pose a threat to our overall societal welfare. I leave open the question of how many zoophiles actually live in the United States: The research of sexologists such as Kinsey, as well as a brief survey of the Internet, suggest a considerable number. Needless to say, public animosity--and criminal statutes--likely keep them in the shadows.

Gosh, in the shadows! How cruel.

Sarcasm aside, my one serious foray into this "field," came in the Weekly Standard, in response to objections to legislation in Washington to outlawing bestiality filed in the wake of a man being killed whilst having sex with a horse. If you read the whole thing, I criticized Peter Singer's okaying bestiality and did indeed posit that the real reason for outlawing the practice--beyond the real issue of "abuse" and the surreal concern that "animals can't consent"--is that sex with animals unacceptably undermines human exceptionalism. Here's my conclusion in that regard:
The great philosophical question of the 21st Century is going to be whether we will knock humans off the pedestal of moral exceptionalism and instead define ourselves as just another animal in the forest. The stakes of the coming debate couldn't be more important: It is our exalted moral status that both bestows special rights upon us and imposes unique and solemn moral responsibilities--including the human duty not to abuse animals.

Nothing would more graphically demonstrate our unexceptionalism than countenancing human/animal sex. Thus, when [Washington State Senator Pam]Roach's [anti-bestiality] legislation passes, the law's preamble should explicitly state that one of the reasons bestiality is condemned through law is that such degrading conduct unacceptably subverts standards of basic human dignity and is an affront to humankind's inestimable importance and intrinsic moral worth.
Appel, quoting Brandeis, says outlawing bestiality violates the "right to be left alone." I say permitting it promotes social anarchy, moral disintegration, and a view of humans that is inherently degrading, thereby harming the common good.

In good taste please, what say you?

News Blockade: MSM Ignores Adult Stem Cell Human Trial Success in Treatment of Acute Spinal Cord Injuries


Geron recently obtained FDA permission to try using a potentially risky embryonic stem cell derived treatment developed to treat acute spinal cord injury in a human trial to test the safety of the product. But it turns out that a patient's own adult stem cells appear to already provide the same kind of benefit, and without the risk of tumors found in ES cells. From the story in Science Daily:
Researchers from DaVinci Biosciences, Costa Mesa, California, in collaboration with Hospital Luis Vernaza in Ecuador, have determined that injecting a patient's own bone marrow-derived stem cells (autologous BMCs) directly into the spinal column using multiple routes can be an effective treatment for spinal cord injury (SCI) that returns some quality of life for SCI patients without serious adverse events...

In eight patients who received BMC transplants through various routes and followed for two years, the scientists reported several functional improvements, perhaps the most important of which was improved bladder control. Finally, the researchers noted that one of their cases suffered a gunshot wound and that their study marked the first time a gunshot wound victim had received BMC transplants through multiple routes. "It is important to note," concluded Dr. Silva," that all of our patients with acute injuries improved significantly with no signs of deterioration or impediment of presumed spontaneous recovery."
Excuse me, but why isn't this a headline story? I did a Google search and this, published yesterday, was the only one I could find.

Geron's future human trial made huge news. It's rodent experiments made huge news. But a successful human treatment for the same condition has been ignored by the MSM--as was another promising human trial for chronic spinal cord injury reported previously.

Why the news blockade? Wrong kind of stem cells, apparently: Doesn't make Bush look bad. So typical. So wrong.

Bitter Irony: Washington Suicide Prevention Program Recognized


Here's a bitter irony: A suicide prevention program from the State of Washington has been nationally recognized as an effective resource in saving lives. From the story:
A Washington curriculum for suicide prevention has been recognized by a national resource center as a model program.

The Help Every Living Person curriculum teaches high school students about suicide prevention. It helps students learn to recognize if a friend is thinking about suicide and helps them work on communication skills. The program was created in 2006 by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction with $100,000 from the state Legislature. Washington 9th and 10th graders have been using the curriculum for the past few years and now kids around the country are being exposed to the program.
Too bad the state's voters decided that terminally ill people don't qualify under the category of "every living person." No, for those people who become suicidal, facilitation, rather than prevention, was legally declared a right and proper course. Talk about sending the kids a mixed message!

What I’ve Been Saying: LA Times Columnist Calls on Animal Rights Movement to Condemn Violence


Ever since the animal rights movement came onto my radar, I have urged its leaders to condemn the terrorists within their midst. With the exception of Gary Francione and a few others, the silence among most leadership--particularly from the PETA folk--not to mention the rank and file, has been deafening.

Now, in the wake of further "direct actions" against UCLA animal researchers, LA Times columnist Timothy Rutten has taken note and called, as I have, for action by peaceable rightists to step in and exercise some control. From his column:
Knowledgeable authorities believe a relative handful of people are actually involved in the terrorist acts. A larger group shows up for the marginally peaceful demonstrations, and a slightly larger one provides various kinds of material support. Behind them is a far larger group of individuals who purport to be peacefully concerned with animal welfare, but say they "understand" how some frustrated confreres can be driven to extremes by society's indifference to what they deem a moral imperative.

This sort of wink-and-nod morality is all too familiar to anyone who's had contact with the fringe of the antiabortion movement. The truth is that we here in L.A. are just one psychotic sartori away from the night one of these goofballs decides that a researcher's life is worth less than a white rat's or a monkey's and decides to redress the imbalance...

At the end of the day, though, two things need to happen: Law enforcement officials need to step up their attention to this investigation, because there's a tragedy in the offing if they don't. And L.A.'s extensive network of animal welfare advocates need to make it clear that they repudiate not only the terrorists but all who provide them material and tacit support of any sort.
More should indeed be done from the law enforcement angle, but if I were Rutten, I wouldn't hold my breath for any meaningful condemnation from other animal rights activists. After years of making similar calls, I have concluded reluctantly that arson, vandalism, intimidation, death threats, and other such crimes in the name of animal rights just doesn't upset all that many people within the movement.

Hit and Run Injuring Humans or Animals the Same?


The drive to create moral equivalencies between human beings and animals continues. In California, a bill has been introduced that could treat leaving the scene of an accident involving a car and an animal, the same as a hit and run involving a human being. From AB 1224, authored by Assemblyman Mike Eng:

Existing law requires the driver of any vehicle involved in an accident resulting in injury or death to another person to immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident and to fulfill specified requirements. Under existing law, a violation of this provision is either a felony or a misdemeanor.

This bill would declare the Legislature's intent to enact legislation to include animals, pets, and livestock under the basic "hit and run" statute in order to fine drivers who leave the scene of an accident without trying to contact the owner or local authorities or render aid to the injured animal, pet, or farm animal.
Of course people should notify owners of pets and other animals if they injure them. But trying to render aid to an injured dog could get your hand seriously bitten. And should it be a felony to accidentally kill a cat and move on? Are we going to have to file police reports like we do with humans? Oh well, at least Eng's bill acknowledges that animals are "owned."

Dishonesty Piled Upon Dishonesty by Obama Administration on Stem Cells


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

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

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

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

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

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


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