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Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Eluana Englaro Autopsy Ordered



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There has been a lot of off stage speculation about the actual cause of Eluana Englaro's death--in which I intentionally did not engage--inspired by her death coming within days after the beginning of dehydration, a process that usually takes about two weeks. Now, an autopsy has been ordered and so we'll know soon enough whether these worries have any basis in fact. From the story:

The prosecutor's office here on Tuesday ordered that an autopsy be performed to determine the exact cause of death of a 38-year-old woman who had been at the center of a highly controversial right-to-die case. Eluana Englaro died Monday evening four days after feeding tube, which had kept her alive in a permanent vegetative state for 17 years, was removed in accordance with a high court ruing and the wishes of her family. She is believed to have died from kidney or heart failure...

At the time of her death the Senate was in the middle of a debate on an emergency government bill which would have made it illegal for carers of people "unable to take care of themselves" to suspend artificial feeding. On the news of her death the Senate observed a minute of silence but this was then followed by a near floor row with members of the government People of Freedom (PdL) party saying Eluana had been "murdered", while the opposition Democratic Party accused the PdL of "politically exploiting" a personal tragedy.
The only plus I see in this tragedy is that at least there remains a sufficient residual of belief in the sheer importance of human life that her death--and how it happened--still matters.

In any event, I hope she died of natural causes. If not, hold onto your hats!

The Myth of Canadian Health Care Nirvana



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For years we have been told--and I sure used to believe--that the Canadians had the best approach to health care. Single payer funding, privately employed doctors--seemingly, a good mix. Except it's not. From a column by Nadeem Esmail in yesterday's Wall Street Journal:
Canadians often wait months or even years for necessary care. For some, the status quo has become so dire that they have turned to the courts for recourse. Several cases currently before provincial courts provide studies in what Americans could expect from government-run health insurance.

In Ontario, Lindsay McCreith was suffering from headaches and seizures yet faced a four and a half month wait for an MRI scan in January of 2006. Deciding that the wait was untenable, Mr. McCreith did what a lot of Canadians do: He went south, and paid for an MRI scan across the border in Buffalo. The MRI revealed a malignant brain tumor. Ontario's government system still refused to provide timely treatment, offering instead a months-long wait for surgery. In the end, Mr. McCreith returned to Buffalo and paid for surgery that may have saved his life.

Some Canadians have had enough and are suing the government, claiming these long waits are constitutional violations.

And talk about age-based rationing!
Bill Murray waited in pain for more than a year to see a specialist for his arthritic hip. The specialist recommended a "Birmingham" hip resurfacing surgery (a state-of-the-art procedure that gives better results than basic hip replacement) as the best medical option. But government bureaucrats determined that Mr. Murray, who was 57, was "too old" to enjoy the benefits of this procedure and said no.
In Canada, patients are not allowed to pay for their own health care--egalitarianism run amuck. That's why those who can, come to the USA: Even the Provinces sometimes send women here to give birth!

He concludes:
Canada's system comes at the cost of pain and suffering for patients who find themselves stuck on waiting lists with nowhere to go. Americans can only hope that Barack Obama heeds the lessons that can be learned from Canadian hardships.
We need reform here, no doubt. But centralized control leads into a labyrinth.
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Corruption in Legislating: Sneaking National Health Care Into the Stimulus Bill



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This is why people are so jaded and cynical about their own government. The economic stimulus bill that we are told is too important to really debate and must be passed NOW! NOW! NOW! contains sneak provisions opening the door to national health care. From a commentary by Betsy McCaughey:
Tragically, no one from either party is objecting to the health provisions slipped in without discussion. These provisions reflect the handiwork of Tom Daschle, until recently the nominee to head the Health and Human Services Department.

Senators should read these provisions and vote against them because they are dangerous to your health. (Page numbers refer to H.R. 1 EH, pdf version). The bill's health rules will affect "every individual in the United States" (445, 454, 479). Your medical treatments will be tracked electronically by a federal system. Having electronic medical records at your fingertips, easily transferred to a hospital, is beneficial. It will help avoid duplicate tests and errors.

But the bill goes further. One new bureaucracy, the National Coordinator of Health Information Technology, will monitor treatments to make sure your doctor is doing what the federal government deems appropriate and cost effective. The goal is to reduce costs and "guide" your doctor's decisions (442, 446). These provisions in the stimulus bill are virtually identical to what Daschle prescribed in his 2008 book, "Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis." According to Daschle, doctors have to give up autonomy and "learn to operate less like solo practitioners."
We discussed that proposal here earlier, and how it smells an awful like the utilitarian ethics board NICE that controls the UK's NHS. And this control would apply to private heath care too. Think of HMOs being given a good excuse by government bureaucrats to say no to treatment. Why the Left isn't howling is beyond me.

Apparently research would come under the authority of a "czar" too, with the intent to limit advances in the name of cutting costs:
The stimulus bill does that, and calls it the Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research (190-192). The goal, Daschle’s book explained, is to slow the development and use of new medications and technologies because they are driving up costs. He praises Europeans for being more willing to accept "hopeless diagnoses" and "forgo experimental treatments," and he chastises Americans for expecting too much from the health-care system.
Aren't these the same people screaming the loudest about increasing embryonic stem cell research? There's no rhyme nor reason. And doesn't this lead, at least implicitly, to the "duty to die?"

I tried to write in more detail about this yesterday and went nosing through the bill, but it is so long and Byzantine, I gave up. That's the corruption of these omnibus bills. No one knows what is in them--not even the legislators!

The fact that our betters in government want to sneak matters of this import into law without a debate tells us all we need to know about how the people would react to these provisions. And their attempt to use the economic crisis as cover, tells us all we need to know about their integrity and respect for the democratic process. This isn't an issue about whether these government controls should be passed or defeated. For now, the issue is that they should be debated. Otherwise, we are losing the right to call ourselves free.

Good for McCaughey for being the one who broke this into the public eye, and good for Rush Limbaugh and the Drudge Report for turning it into a high profile story.

Eluana Englaro Dies



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Eluana Englaro has died. From the story:
Eluana Englaro, the 38-year-old comatose woman at the center of an Italian right-to-die case, died Monday night despite efforts by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to order doctors to feed her, the clinic said.

She had been in a coma since a 1992 car crash. A moment of silence was observed in the Senate, which was debating a law that would have forced the clinic in northern Italy where she was hospitalized to resume feeding her through a tube after nutrition was stopped at the request of the family.
This was too fast to have been caused by dehydration. Perhaps her body just gave out.

I hope the Italian government looks into this issue in depth and with sobriety. Removing sustenance based on a patient's quality of life is too important to be left to rushed legislation pushed forward in a sensationalist media milieu. But I do think that food and fluids needs to be looked at differently than other forms of care--for reasons I laid out in the wake of Terri Schiavo's death. The law should reflect that.

RIP.

Heading to Ireland and UK to Speak Next Week



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For SHSers in Ireland or London, I will be on your side of the pond next week. I don't have a fully detailed itinerary, but David Prentice and I will appear in either speech or debate formats at several Irish universities, including in Cork on the 17th, a university in Maynooth on the 18th, and at University College in Dublin on the 19th. The issues addressed will be stem cells, cloning, and the brave new world.

In London, I have one public event that I know of: I will speak against legalizing assisted suicide at the Parliament Building on Monday the 23rd I think the time is 7:15 PM. This will be the fourth time I have been honored to present in that venerable symbol of democracy.

I would love to meet anyone who wishes to come.

Have laptop, will travel, so I will strive to keep up with SHS as I can during that time.
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Italian Parliament Debates Eluana Englaro Bill



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As Eluana Englar is being dehydrated to death, the Italian Parliament is debating a proposed law that would prohibit causing cognitively disabled people to die in this manner. From the story:
Italian senators raced Monday to discuss a bill designed to keep a woman in vegetative state from having her feeding tube disconnected, the latest twist in a right-to-die case that has consumed Italy. The bill aimed at keeping Eluana Englaro alive is expected to win quick approval. It is supported by Premier Silvio Berlusconi, whose conservative forces have solid majority in Parliament...

In line with the high court ruling, medical workers on Friday began gradually suspending food and water for Englaro. Citing privacy rules, they have not given updates on the procedure. But Italy's center-right government, backed by the Vatican, has been pressing to keep her alive, racing against time to pass legislation prohibiting food and water from being suspended for patients who depend on them.
Her father testified she had not wanted to be maintained in such a condition. Even so, I wonder if she specifically mentioned being dehydrated to death, and if she did, whether she knew what that really entails, as I posted about here. It seems to me that it is wrong to hold people to what may have been casual statements or oral assertions about their desires that were made without all of the details. After all, shouldn't truly informed consent on such a vital matter be the minimum standard?

Scientists Accused of Cooking Books to Connect Vaccine with Autism



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Just last month, I reported about a cancer study that was found to have manipulated data. Now, according to the Sunday Times, a scientist cooked his data to create a seeming connection between autism and a vaccine. From the story:
THE doctor who sparked the scare over the safety of the MMR vaccine [measles, mumps, rubella] for children changed and misreported results in his research, creating the appearance of a possible link with autism, a Sunday Times investigation has found. Confidential medical documents and interviews with witnesses have established that Andrew Wakefield manipulated patients' data, which triggered fears that the MMR triple vaccine to protect against measles, mumps and rubella was linked to the condition.

The research was published in February 1998 in an article in The Lancet medical journal. It claimed that the families of eight out of 12 children attending a routine clinic at the hospital had blamed MMR for their autism, and said that problems came on within days of the jab. The team also claimed to have discovered a new inflammatory bowel disease underlying the children's conditions.

However, our investigation, confirmed by evidence presented to the General Medical Council (GMC), reveals that: In most of the 12 cases, the children's ailments as described in The Lancet were different from their hospital and GP records. Although the research paper claimed that problems came on within days of the jab, in only one case did medical records suggest this was true, and in many of the cases medical concerns had been raised before the children were vaccinated. Hospital pathologists, looking for inflammatory bowel disease [sometimes associated with autism], reported in the majority of cases that the gut was normal. This was then reviewed and the Lancet paper showed them as abnormal.
The scientist denies the charges, but if they are true, good grief. The study scared enough parents away from the vaccine, that it led, according to the Times, to a "return of the measles."

What are we to make of these kind of stories? Perhaps the problems have always been there but get more airing now. Or has a problem developed because science has become, in a sense, show business--with big bucks made and potential major celebrity status gained for big discoveries or findings of intense danger? Then, there is the issue, oft mentioned here, of some sectors of science becoming intensely ideological, leading some to use the "study" is merely a tool for advocacy. Still, we must keep our perspective: There is no question, that most scientists are honest, ethical, and care a great deal about accuracy, and that such apparent skewing is the exception, rather than the rule.

But something sure seems wrong. There are too many of these kinds of things happening lately. And some are really big: Think of the charlatan Hwang Wu suk, and how far he got with his fraudulent claim, published in Science, that he had created the first ESC cell line from cloned embryos. Perhaps the peer review process is in trouble--some have worried about that before. Perhaps it is global warming, I don't know. But this kind of thing has the potential to badly undermine the public's faith in scientific findings.

The Transformation of Medicine Into a Tool of “Liberation”



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I have posted on the Nadya Suleman matter and her having eight children via IVF. I have also done several radio interviews and have made the following points. First, this is an unregulated field and doctors can basically do just about whatever they like legally. Second, why should we be surprised? We have created a culture steeped in terminal nonjudgmentalism where moral judgements about the "choices" of others are deemed out of bounds and literally hateful. This is leading us toward an anything goes culture. Third, to accommodate the fulfilling of all desires and urges--the "hedonism" aspect of the coup de culture I have been warning about--we are literally transforming medicine beyond its roles of healing and palliating, into an industry of "liberation "to fulfill on-demand lifestyle choices.

And to make sure that no one gainsays these decisions, doctors now face potential consequences for saying no--as Secondhand Smokette points out in her excellent piece on this matter in today's San Francisco Chronicle. From Debra's column "Dysfunctional Familymaking":
Doctors' understandable desire to help infertile couples conceive children has led to medical advances that are not necessarily healthy for children. The new order is great for adults, who now can have children without a partner and in defiance of age limits, but it is not necessarily in the best interests of the children they bear. We have created a society that dictates that all reproductive wishes should be answered. Then we criticize an over-her-head mom--whose own mother fretted that she was "obsessed" with having kids--when the inevitable horrors happen...

You can say her fertility doctors--whoever they are--should have refused to impregnate an overburdened single mother. They should have. However, in August, the California Supreme Court ruled unanimously that a San Diego fertility clinic had no right to refuse to inseminate a lesbian in a partnership on religious grounds. What happens if doctors refuse a single mom, who can sue based on state law banning discrimination based on marital status?
We can either have a society based on reasonably enforceable norms in which we can obtain much of what we desire--but probably none of us can have everything we want. Or, we can focus obsessively, as we do now on radical individualism, in which the most important value is allowing everyone to indulge nearly every personal desire--and no tyranny of the majority to inhibit their personal choices. But that leads to the end of society because eventually there is no commonality. That is one of the fallacies with transhumanism: The idea is for ever individual to recreate themselves into their own designed radical self image--but in all that "me," where does that leave the "us?"

Moreover, now that we have unquestionably opened that door, we are finding no solid philosophical ground for inhibiting "choices" that many would see as destructive. (For example, we have already seen deaf parents use IVF and genetic testing to ensure that they had a deaf child. Their response to criticism was that a deaf child was the kind they wanted, and who is anyone to assume that it is better to hear than not to hear.In the current milieu, that's a hard argument to rebut.) In fact, the Oprahfication of culture often celebrates decisions made far outside the mainstream--as with the "man" (really a woman) who gave birth.

Some of the people squawking the loudest about Suleman's choice to have fourteen children are the most vociferous howlers for unfettered lifestyles. I have one question for them: What do they expect?

Eluana Englaro: Dehydration Begins



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When the President of Italy refused to sign a decree delaying the dehydration death of Eluana Englaro--who some call the Italian Terri Schiavo--it seemed to seal her doom. But now the Prime Minister has moved up an emergency session of the Parliament.

We'll see how that plays out. But the point of this post is the attempt, yet again, to make death by dehydration seem benign. From the story:
Doctors quoted in the leading daily Corriere della Sera said the process leading to Englaro's death would become irreversible within five days. Englaro, now 38, has been in a coma for 17 years as a result of a traffic accident. Her family lawyer Giuseppe Campeis told Corriere: "We are continuing with our (medical) procedure" aimed at ensuring a "gentle death."
It always fries me when they call dying by dehydration a "gentle death." It reminds of of when Michael Schiavo's attorney, George Felos, told reporters when she was on the verge of dehydration:
Frankly when I saw her . . . she looked beautiful...In all the years I've seen Mrs. Schiavo, I've never seen such a look of peace and beauty upon her.
Then Terri's anguished brother Bobby Schindler told the world blood was pooling in his sister's eyes because her tissues were so dry.

The public is always kept from seeing these deaths in the name of patient privacy. But this is how the late Dr. Ronald Cranford--an enthusiastic supporter of dehydration, who testified in support of ending the lives of Nancy Cruzan, Michael Martin, and Terri Schiavo, among others--described the process in sworn testimony in support of dehydrating Robert Wendland, (as quoted from the trial transcript in my book Culture of Death):
After seven to nine days [from commencing dehydration] they begin to lose all fluids in the body, a lot of fluids in the body. And their blood pressure starts to go down.

When their blood pressure goes down, their heart rate up...Their respiration may increase and then the patient experiences what's called a mammalian's diver's reflex where the blood is shunted to the central part of the body from the periphery of the body. So, that usually two to three days prior to death, sometimes four days, the hands and the feet become extremely cold. They become mottled. That is you look at the hands and they have a bluish appearance.

And the mouth dries a great deal, and the eyes dry a great deal and other parts of the body become mottled. And that is because the blood is now so low in the system it's shunted to the heart and other visceral organs and away from the periphery of the body
A pro life neurologist named William Burke, who opposes dehydration, told me about what happens when patients are dehydrated (again, from COD):
They will go into seizures. Their skin cracks, their tongue cracks, their lips crack. They may have nosebleeds because of the dryness of the mucus membranes and heaving and vomiting might ensue because of the drying out of the stomach lining
(Hit this link for a longer article on this topic that I wrote for the Weekly Standard.)

One thing is sure: No one can say anymore, "I didn't know."

Important note: The above quotes refer specifically and only to people who are not otherwise terminally ill and are dying from being intentionally deprived of sustenance due to cognitive disabilities. They do not apply to the situation in which a patient is dying naturally and the body is shutting down as part of the dying process, at which point people often stop eating and drinking. In those cases providing tube-supplied sustance can be medically inappropriate and cause unncessary suffering.

SHS Funnies



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My kind of furniture!


A look into the future unless the bias stops.

Born Alive Infant “Botched Abortion” Doctor Loses License



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I wrote yesterday about a terrible 2006 Florida case, in which an infant allegedly survived an attempted abortion only to be put in a medical waste bag by the owner of the clinic. The doctor didn't show up in time--resulting in the live birth of a baby girl at 23 weeks. Well, today he lost his medical license. From the story:

The Board of Medicine revoked the license of a Florida doctor on Friday accused of medical malpractice in a botched abortion in which a live baby was delivered, but ended up dead in a cardboard box. The board found Dr. Pierre Jean-Jacque Renelique in violation of Florida statutes by committing medical malpractice, delegating responsibility to unlicensed personnel, and failing to keep an accurate medical record.
The doctor did not kill the baby--well, his pre-abortion treatment led to the premature delivery, but that is legal--so I don't know if he faces any potential direct criminal culpability. Probably not. But it should not end here. The co-owner of the clinic who allegedly failed to call for help for the infant when she was born and instead just threw her away, and any staffers who conspired in the act and the subsequent apparent cover up, must face justice.

President Obama’s New “Regulatory Czar” a Believer in “Quality of Life” Health Care



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This could be bad. Cass R. Sunstein, just appointed by President Obama to be "regulatory czar," is a big "quality of life" guy in determining the cost/benefit ratio of government regulations. This is the executive summary of a paper he wrote back in 2003 for the Joint Center for Regulatory Studies, entitled "Lives, Life-Years, and Willingness to Pay." From the paper:
In protecting safety, health, and the environment, government has increasingly relied on cost-benefit analysis. In undertaking cost-benefit analysis, the government has monetized risks of death through the idea of "value of a statistical life" (VSL), currently assessed at about $6.1 million. Many analysts, however, have suggested that the government should rely instead on the "value of a statistical life year" (VSLY), in a way that would likely result in significantly lower benefits calculations for elderly people, and significantly higher benefits calculations for children. I urge that the government should indeed focus on life-years rather than lives. A program that saves young people produces more welfare than one that saves old people. The hard question involves not whether to undertake this shift, but how to monetize life-years, and here willingness to pay (WTP) [what one would pay to obtain a good] is generally the place to begin...In fact, a focus on statistical lives is more plausibly a form of illicit discrimination than a focus on life years, because the idea of statistical lives treats the years of older people as worth far more than the years of younger people.
The paper dealt broadly with how to measure the cost/benefit aspect of government regulations generally, and illustrates how bureaucrats and their enablers are the real kings now. But that aside, its applicability to regulations in a regime of national health care law are obvious and frightening: If regulatory policy is to be based on granting the lives of elderly people a lesser value, it begs for health care rationing that would be supported by terms such as "value of statistical life year," "willingness to pay"--and other such euphemisms that will no doubt be coined--as bureaucrateze cover for blatant medical discrimination.

First “Pharming” Drug Approved



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Dolly the sheep was cloned because the administrator Ian Wilmut, and the team that did the deed, hoped to create a herd of genetically altered sheep through cloning and inserting human genes that would result in the sheep producing milk containing properties that could be extracted and turned into medicine--a process dubbed "pharming." That enterprise failed financially and Wilmut went onto human cloning research before quitting that--good for him--to pursue induced pluripotent stem cell (IPSC) investigations.

Where Wilmut and team failed, a different group succeeded. The first medicine derived through pharming has received FDA approval. From the story:
U.S. health officials on Friday approved the first drug made using genetically engineered animals despite lingering concerns over health and environmental implications. The drug, GTC Biotherapeutics Inc's anti-clotting therapy Atryn, is an intravenous therapy made using a human protein gathered from female goats specially bred to produce it in their milk...

GTC's goats are bred using cells injected with human DNA in a process that it says is a cost effective way to produce human antithrombin, a natural protein to prevent blood from clotting. The company has a herd of about 200 at its Massachusetts facility that it says is otherwise normal and healthy.

The FDA looked at the impact of goats as they aged and reproduced. "We have looked carefully at seven generations of these (generically engineered) goats; all of them are healthy and we haven't seen any adverse effects," said Bernadette Dunham, head of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine.
Some worry that the goats could get into the food supply and object on ethical grounds to genetically engineering animals. I get the concern. However, it seems to me that if efficacious medicine can be obtained in this way more efficiently and productively than is otherwise available--assuming that proper safety precautions have been taken--it is a positive achievement. It could reduce the cost of medicine and make therapies available to relatively small patient groups because drug companies would find it easier to make a profit. I know many will disagree, but that sound you hear is me applauding.

Kevorkian Speech Shows US Flag with Swastika



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This says a lot that is wrong at our universities--where social outlaws are celebrated and given huge speaking fees--and with the murderer Jack Kevorkian. At his recent speech at Nova Southeastern University in Florida, he had an American flag behind him with the Swastika in the field of stars. From the story:
On Thursday night, Jack Kevorkian pulled another stunt in front of an audience of thousands at Nova Southeastern University: "Let's all say the Pledge of Allegiance," he said, then flipped a U.S. flag to reveal a replica on the other side with a swastika where the blue and stars would have been.
Since Kevorkian's obsession was to conduct human experimentation on people he was euthanizing, perhaps he was speaking about himself with the flag stunt.

That thousands of people turned out to see him shows the decadent power of celebrity that is rotting decency and virtue in our culture.

Here We Go Again: Italian Government Stops the Dehydration of Eluana Englaro



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We have discussed the case of Eluana Englaro, who has been unconscious since an auto accident in 1992. Her father won a court order to remove her feeding tube. But for awhile, all hospitals and nursing homes refuse to participate in her dehydration. Mr. Englaro then found a facility that would, but now the Italian Government has passed a 60-day reprieve preventing the dehydration. From the story:

The Italian government today passed a decree to force-feed a woman who's been kept alive artificially since a 1992 car accident, ignoring a letter from the country's head of state, who said he will not sign the law.

A failure to intervene "would make me feel responsible for not coming to the rescue of a person whose life is in danger," Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told reporters in Rome after a Cabinet meeting. Berlusconi said that even if President Giorgio Napolitano doesn't sign off on the decree to make it binding, he will present the same motion as a bill in parliament and pass it in "
two or three days."

Berlusconi's unprecedented action means Eluana Englaro, 38, cannot be disconnected from a feeding tube even though her father won a legal battle to have her treatment suspended. Italy's highest court ruled in his favor Oct. 16.

The reporters sure showed their cards with the term "force-feed," didn't they? Be that as it may, this story is going to get very big. Important principles and values involving human freedom and moral worth are at loggerheads; the intrinsic value of life, the right to make medical decisions for loved ones, etc.

I am with the Italian government. Unless the patient explicitly stated in writing that in these kinds of circumstances they wanted no food and water through a tube, no one else should ever be able to decide that they should be dehydrated to death. Otherwise, we could easily see situations--and I am explicitly not saying this is the situation here--in which the patient is put out of the family's or society's misery. (This situation is not to be confused with cases of people who are dying and can no longer assimilate sustenance, at which time the intervention would be medically inappropriate.)

Standing against dehydration of people with profound cognitive disabilities makes some people very angry. They accuse those of us who take this stand of interfering with family decision making, being vitalists, pushing religion, and as the worst sort of busybodies.

But I see it differently. Dehydration is not like withdrawing other forms of treatment such as antibiotics or CPR since the outcome is certain: The patient is going to slowly dehydrate to death over about a two week period. And the symbolism of the thing is most pressing, speaking volumes about the moral worth and intrinsic equality denied to these people--since if you did such a thing to a dog or a jihadist terrorist, there would be a justifiable and righteous outcry.

So, I hope the Italian government prevails, although I am not hopeful. The judiciary today is mostly on the other side of the road, steeped in utilitarian "quality of life" thinking and justifying their decisions as "choice"--even though in this case Eluana isn't deciding anything. Or to put it succinctly, I see the Terri Schiavo and Eluana Englaro cases as part of the coup de culture moving us away from human exceptionalism and the sanctity/equality of human life.

Update: The President of Italy refused to sign the decree so Eluana begins the long journey to death by dehydration today. More news as it happens here.

AP: Infant Survives Late Term Abortion--Killed by Staff



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This is an awful, awful story: The photo at left is of a 22-week prematurely born infant. According to the AP--no pro life outlet--a more developed infant survived a late term abortion in Florida only to be put in a plastic bag and thrown out by a staffer at the abortion clinic. From the story:

Eighteen and pregnant, Sycloria Williams went to an abortion clinic outside Miami and paid $1,200 for Dr. Pierre Jean-Jacque Renelique to terminate her 23-week pregnancy.

Three days later, she sat in a reclining chair, medicated to dilate her cervix and otherwise get her ready for the procedure. Only Renelique didn't arrive in time. According to Williams and the Florida Department of Health, she went into labor and delivered a live baby girl.

What Williams and the Health Department say happened next has shocked people on both sides of the abortion debate: One of the clinic's owners, who has no medical license, cut the infant's umbilical cord. Williams says the woman placed the baby in a plastic biohazard bag and threw it out. Police recovered the decomposing remains in a cardboard box a week later after getting anonymous tips.
While in the Illinois Legislature, our president said that a proposed state law to protect the lives of such babies was unconstitutional and unnecessary, even referring to babies that survive abortions as "a previable child or fetus, however you want to describe it."If this story is true, she was a born infant--and she was murdered. President Obama should be asked for a comment. Moreover, he should be asked about the Freedom of Choice Act, that would eliminate the Federal Infant Born Alive Protection Act and similar state laws--like the one in Illinois that passed despite his "present" vote--designed to protect babies such as this.

This matter should be investigated thoroughly. If the coroner finds that the baby was indeed alive when she was born, the abortion clinic owner should be prosecuted for murder. If Florida won't act, the Feds should enforce the still-in-effect Infant Born Alive Protection Act.

The Continuing Problem of Advocacy Masking as Objective Studies Published in Professional Journals



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I have written about this before--the phenomenon of political or ideological advocacy masking as objective scientific studies and then published in prestigious medical and other professional journals. (So have others who I admire.) Ironically, in the post I link above, I quoted an article published in the Lancet complaining about biased studies in the UN, the very journal which this post concerns. Apparently, it published a "study" claiming very high Iraqi civilian casualties. (No comments about the Iraq War please.) Now, a polling organization is trying to find the bases for the claims but the authors are refusing to cooperate. From the story:
A prominent group of polling researchers has accused the lead author of a 2006 study suggesting massive civilian deaths in Iraq of violating the polling profession's codes and ethics. The Executive Council of the American Association for Public Opinion Research said Dr. Gilbert Burnham, a Johns Hopkins University professor, had repeatedly refused to cooperate with an eight-month investigation into his research on the Iraqi death toll that made headlines in October 2006 when it was published by the Lancet, a British medical journal.

The widely publicized study headed by Burnham contended that nearly 655,000 Iraqis had died because of the U.S.-led invasion and war in Iraq. "When asked to provide several basic facts about this research, Burnham refused," the council said. It noted that the group's Code of Professional Ethics and Practices calls for researchers to disclose their methodology when survey findings are made public so they can be independently evaluated and verified. "Dr. Burnham provided only partial information and explicitly refused to provide complete information about the basic elements of his research," said Mary Losch, chair of the association's Standards Committee.
Wait a minute! Didn't the editors at the Lancet require Burnham to provide this information before publishing the article as part of the peer review process? This was a widely reported story and everyone assumed that the Lancet would have required the authors to provide proof of their claims. Indeed, its appearance in a venerable journal gave the media the justification to run with the story.

Here's the point: If the peer review process was corrupted somehow, we need to know. If it was short-circuited or ignored, it means the editors published the "study" because they wanted it to be true or for a political reasons. If so, it was a stark betrayal of professionalism and a further corruption of science by ideology that is all too prevalent today. The Lancet owes its readers a full investigation of the article's accuracy and a retraction if the authors cannot emperically justify their conclusions.

Universal Health Care Meltdown in Japan?



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Japan's system of health care boasts of universal coverage and free screenings. But there seems to be trouble brewing in the Land of the Rising Sun exemplified by the tragedy of a patient with serious head injuries dying after he was refused care by 14 hospitals because there was no room for him at the inn. From the story:
After getting struck by a motorcycle, an elderly Japanese man with head injuries waited in an ambulance as paramedics phoned 14 hospitals, each refusing to treat him. He died 90 minutes later at the facility that finally relented--one of thousands of victims repeatedly turned away in recent years by understaffed and overcrowded hospitals in Japan...The Jan. 20 incident was the latest in a string of recent cases in Japan in which patients were denied treatment, underscoring health care woes in a rapidly aging society that faces an acute shortage of doctors and a growing number of elderly patients.
Such problems in Japan have apparently been brewing for the last several years:
Similar problems have occurred frequently in recent years. More than 14,000 emergency patients were rejected at least three times by Japanese hospitals before getting treatment in 2007, the latest government survey showed. In the worst case, a woman in her 70s with a breathing problem was rejected 49 times in Tokyo. There was also the high-profile death of a pregnant woman in western Nara city in 2006 that prompted the government to establish a panel to look into the hospitals' practice of refusing care.
As we move into the upcoming health care debate, I hope the MSM will look into stories such as these as well as the pluses of such socialized systems. But I am not holding my breath.

“How to Save Your Newspaper:” Another Journalism Biggy Misses the Bias Part of the Story



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Yet another media biggie has written an article about the crisis in newspapers--which is all too real--and missed a huge reason for the problem. There must be a template circulating for these kind of articles, because it reflects the media's notorious "group-think" by focusing solely on technology as the cause of the problem. From the column by Time's Walter Isaacson:
There is, however, a striking and somewhat odd fact about this crisis. Newspapers have more readers than ever. Their content, as well as that of news magazines and other producers of traditional journalism, is more popular than ever--even (in fact, especially) among young people.

The problem is that fewer of these consumers are paying. Instead, news organizations are merrily giving away their news. According to a Pew Research Center study, a tipping point occurred last year: more people in the U.S. got their news online for free than paid for it by buying newspapers and magazines. Who can blame them? Even an old print junkie like me has quit subscribing to the New York Times, because if it doesn't see fit to charge for its content, I'd feel like a fool paying for it.
That last statement reminds me of the politicians who tub thump about the patriotism of taxpaying--and then avoid every dime they can, and even some they legally can't. But I digress:
Newspapers and magazines traditionally have had three revenue sources: newsstand sales, subscriptions and advertising. The new business model relies only on the last of these. That makes for a wobbly stool even when the one leg is strong. When it weakens--as countless publishers have seen happen as a result of the recession — the stool can't possibly stand.
Those first two tools wouldn't be so short if journalists would get a clue! As I wrote here in "We Need Newspapers," it isn't just the technology. That alone would be a big problem, but the MSM have also alienated about 1/3 of their potential reader base by repeatedly insulting their intelligence with a highly biased and condescending attitude--even viciousness--toward people with a more conservative or less cosmopolitan bent. Often stories on crucial social controversies only give one side and are clearly trying to drive the way people think. Pertinent facts are ignored. Stories that matter go unreported. Blatant falsehoods spread. And people know they are being spun.

Isaacson concludes:
I say this, too, because I love journalism. I think it is valuable and should be valued by its consumers. Charging for content forces discipline on journalists: they must produce things that people actually value. I suspect we will find that this necessity is actually liberating. The need to be valued by readers--serving them first and foremost rather than relying solely on advertising revenue--will allow the media once again to set their compass true to what journalism should always be about.
Exactly. But that is good, even-handed reportage--not advocacy for the liberal political and cultural POV. Perhaps if newspapers and news magazines quit spitting figuratively in the face of tens of millions potential customers they wouldn't have to worry about shuttering their doors.

The New Definition of Love: Help Your Parents Commit Suicide



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A San Francisco man named John West has alerted the media--in a book--that he helped his parents commit suicide. From the story:
For attorney and author John West, his parents were lifelong sources of comfort, wisdom and pride. But West has been keeping a 10-year-old secret about his parents from everyone, including his two sisters, which he is revealing for the first time in a memoir called "The Last Goodnights." West helped his terminally ill parents commit suicide, a crime in the state of California, where the deaths took place. In revealing his actions, West acknowledges he could face prosecution
Ten years later? Unlikely. In fact, the statute of limitations has passed.

And here's some compassion:

Though his parents had been active for most of West's life, their health deteriorated dramatically in the 1990s.
In 1998, Jolly West was diagnosed with cancer and given six months to live. Kathryn West, meanwhile, learned she had Alzheimer's disease.
Jolly West was the first to approach his son about "the plan" -- he wanted to end his life.

John West agreed to assemble a deadly cocktail of pills that he helped his father, who was 74, take on the evening of Jan. 2, 1999. By morning, Jolly West was dead, his death attributed by everyone except John West to cancer.

Months later, his mother, who was 75, asked him to help carry out a plan of her own. With a heavy heart, he agreed, telling no one of his role in his parents' deaths, not even his two sisters. John West said that his mother was depressed at the time and on anti-depressant medication but that she was mentally capable of making the decision. "As she put it to me, 'I have a right to be depressed. I just lost my husband of 50-some years. I'm...my mind is turning into mush. What's not to be depressed about?'" John West said.

Of course he was interviewed on Good Morning America! Most politically correct outlaws are feted by the biggest of big time media.

Perhaps West can be charged with practicing medicine without a license.

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