Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

The Bioethics Drive to Kill for Organs Grows


The agitation to increase the pool of potential organ donors by allowing people who are unquestionably not dead, but who have profound cognitive disabilities, to be killed for their organs continues. An article in the American Medical News, primarily concerned with organ procurement after "heart death," is the latest example. From the story:
Other critics said the concept of transplanting a heart after cardiac death isn't logical. "If someone is pronounced dead on the basis of irreversible loss of heart function, after all, it would not be possible for heart function to be restored in another body," wrote Robert M. Veatch, PhD, a Georgetown University medical ethics professor, in an Aug. 14, 2008, NEJM essay. "One cannot say a heart is irreversibly stopped if, in fact, it will be
This is to sow intentional confusion. The heart can beat outside the body because it has its own nerve clusters, and no one would say that the body from which it came was not dead. The issue is whether the heart could spontaneously restart beating, not whether the heart itself is so degraded it can no longer function.

Here's the advocacy part:
Veatch said the dead-donor rule should be changed to allow patients or their families to opt for a standard that takes a loss of functioning consciousness (short of brain death) as another kind of death. Physicians could then procure hearts "in the absence of irreversible heart stoppage."

Robert D. Truog, MD, said the Denver cases illustrate the underlying problem in how death is defined to facilitate organ donation and transplantation. He said it is time to reconsider the dead-donor rule. "The existing paradigm, built around the dead-donor rule, has increasingly pushed us into more and more implausible definitions of death, until eventually we end up with such a tortured definition that nobody's going to believe it," said Dr. Truog, professor of medical ethics and anesthesia at Harvard Medical School in Massachusetts.
This is known in the trade as "redefining death," and if it ever comes to pass--people like Terri Schiavo could be called dead instead of unconscious and harvested to death. Moreover, we are not being "pushed" into this. Some want to choose it. It is our job to make sure it doesn't happen.

Obama Not to Rescind Bush ESCR Funding Policy?


I am not sure what to make of this. According to a Politico writer, President Obama many not rescind President Bush's embryonic stem cell funding executive order. He is going to leave it to the Congress. From the story:

Obama pledged during the campaign to lift the restrictions, and political observers had expected him to move swiftly to reverse President Bush's 2001 executive order--most likely with his own executive order.

But the president-elect suggested Friday that he would wait for Congress to weigh in on the issue. "Well, if we can do something legislative then I usually prefer a legislative process because those are the people's representatives," Obama said in a CNN interview. "And I think that on embryonic stem cell research, the fact that you have a bipartisan support around that issue, the fact that you have Republicans like Orrin Hatch who are fierce opponents of abortion and yet recognize that there is a moral and ethical mechanism to ensure that people with Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's can actually find potentially some hope out there, you know, I think that sends a powerful message.
Hmmm. That would be a dramatic reversal of an earlier promise. Moreover, it will take time to accomplish. On the other hand, it would mean that his fingerprints would not be on the deed. Good politics, I think, because he would get credit for signing the bill but not blame for opening the door.

Also, it can lead to a far more radical research license than could be done by the President alone. But legislation is never totally predictable. That uncertainty can also open up opportunities for opponents to educate the President (whose comment about Alzheimer's shows that he needs it) and the public--such as the incredible breakthroughs happening with adult stem cells and the potential of "alternative methods" to heal the breach that this issue has caused to the body politic.

SHS Funnies


After seeing The Day the Earth Stood Still ten times, Rat throws the earth baby out with the human bathwater:

Coup de Culture: Media--One-Sided Panic Mongers


The coup de culture, as I have defined it, is the process by which the reigning cultural value system of human exceptionalism--which is itself founded in the moral philosophy of Judeo-Christianity/humanism-- is being subverted and replaced by a new paradigm steeped in utilitarianism/hedonism/radical environmentalism. The consequence has been an all out attack on the unique importance of human life, pounded constantly into the consciousness of the general population by outlets of popular culture and a biased media.

The coup relies on hyper alarmist rhetoric so that its value presumptions and assertions won't be challenged. Here's a case in point on the radical environmental front. The global warming ideologue James Hansen is once again warning that we are all doomed if we don't immediately destroy (what is left of our) economies so as to stop carbon emissions. We only have four years! From the story:
Soaring carbon emissions are already causing ice-cap melting and threaten to trigger global flooding, widespread species loss and major disruptions of weather patterns in the near future. "We cannot afford to put off change any longer," said Hansen. "We have to get on a new path within this new administration. We have only four years left for Obama to set an example to the rest of the world. America must take the lead."

Hansen said current carbon levels in the atmosphere were already too high to prevent runaway greenhouse warming. Yet the levels are still rising despite all the efforts of politicians and scientists.

Only the US now had the political muscle to lead the world and halt the rise, Hansen said. Having refused to recognise that global warming posed any risk at all over the past eight years, the US now had to take a lead as the world's greatest carbon emitter and the planet's largest economy. Cap-and-trade schemes, in which emission permits are bought and sold, have failed, he said, and must now be replaced by a carbon tax that will imposed on all producers of fossil fuels. At the same time, there must be a moratorium on new power plants that burn coal--the world's worst carbon emitter.

That could lead to brownouts and blackouts. It might well also turn a recession into a depression and cause inflation, to boot. Is such a draconian policy really necessary? What do those who might disagree have to say, and on what do they base their contrary opinions? We don't know. The reporter never bothered to find out.

This kind of media bias is an important issue to which I am going return often because once it is seen clearly, it loses its power to persuade. In subject after subject, whether the culture of death issues, radical environmentalism, or other areas that promote the new cultural order, the media act as conduits for one side. When they report in this way, they cease to be journalists, and play the roll of shill or propagandist.

It seems to me that in a story like the one at hand that seeks to panic us into precipitous action, readers should have been told that China, not the USA, is now the world's largest carbon emitting country. And how could the fact that this is turning out to be one of the coldest winters in a long time be ignored? Or that the computer models upon which so much of this panic is based have not proved reliable? Or that some of the biggest names in climatology don't subscribe to the climate change panic? Or, the fact that sea ice grew at a record rate in the last quarter of 2008? Or, for that matter, that the earth is actually a tad cooler today than when President Bush took office? Such contrary evidence might keep us from acting! The new earth religion demands that we sacrifice our prosperity and flourishing to save the planet, no time for questions or dissent! Otherwise, it will be as the alien says about us in the deep ecology propaganda movie, The Day the Earth Stood Still!

And the funny part is that all of this apocalyptic scare-mongering comes from the side claiming the exclusive mantle of rationalism.

Maryland House Bill 30: De-professionalizing the Care of People With Terminal Illnesses


In addition to pushing assisted suicide, groups like Compassion and Choices yearn for respectability and desire to be seen as legitimate care givers for patients, at least in an informational context. That was part of the point last year when California passed AB 2747, requiring doctors to inform patients with one year or less to live of their terminal care options, such as refusing to eat or hospice. (As originally written, it would have permitted patients to demand to be sedated and dehydrated to death--a back door method of assisted suicide.) If the doctor doesn't wish to so counsel, he or she is required to refer terminally ill patients to another doctor or to organizations that counsel the terminally ill in such matters. Not coincidentally, the bill was co-sponsored by Patty Berg, the good pal of Compassion and Choices (formerly Hemlock Society), that "counsels" the terminally ill, including about assisted suicide. So, while the original euthanasia purpose of the bill failed, assisted suicide groups took a big step forward by becoming approved conduits of information.

Two Maryland Delegates (Bobo and Manno) are now pushing this same line, with House Bill 30. If it passes, groups like C and C will be able to set up shop as an organization "specializing" in providing information for end-of-life care and receive referrals from doctors for patient counseling. No link yet [Update: Here is link], but here is the relevant language filed last year in preparation for the current legislative session:
E- Terminal Condition Care Counseling may include:...3) Information from organizations specializing in terminal condition care that provide information on fact sheets and Internet Websites to convey the information.
It is worth noting that there are no minimal credentials required for the counselors in the legislation, nor any minimal training for qualified "counselors." Isn't that odd? I mean, if this counseling is so important it must be legally required--then isn't its value diminished by setting such a low bar for qualifying to receive physician referrals? (Another clause of the legislation states that the organization need only be on that "specializes in terminal condition case management and consultation.") Indeed, doesn't this open the door to what are, in essence, advocacy groups pushing their agendas in the guise of "counseling?" As such, doesn't this bill actually de-professionalize the field?

Of course patients and their doctors need to work through these important issues together. But proposals such as this are not only unnecessary and very loosely worded, they certainly seem to have agendas that go far beyond ensuring that patients receive appropriate information about proper end-of-life care.


“Choice” is a One Way Street


As I have often said, the culture of death brooks no dissent. The Bush "conscience clause" regulations protecting health care workers from being discriminated against in their employment for refusing to participate in medical procedures with which they disagree on religious or moral grounds, has been attacked in court by six states. From the story:
In filing the lawsuit, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is seeking an injunction to stop the Provider Conscience Rule from taking effect. The lawsuit also asks the court to invalidate the regulation.

Blumenthal said the rule would allow health care providers or pharmacists to deny a patient medical care without explanation or offering the patient a referral or information on alternatives, upsetting the balance between health providers' religious freedom and patients' rights.

It would also override a 2007 Connecticut law that guarantees that all hospitals in the state provide emergency contraception, commonly known as Plan B, to rape victims. That law has been endorsed by Catholic leaders, who initially opposed it, and has not produced complaints, Blumenthal said.
This is just the opening of a drive that will seek to make all health care workers potentially complicit in abortion, assisted suicide, and other such activities in the medical context, that seeks to drive doctors, nurses, and others who believe in the literal interpretation of the Hippocratic Oath out of medicine altogether.

And all too typically, the the story doesn't even bother to present the perspectives of advocates for the other side--surely somebody could have been found to defend the regulations. But it was able to get this surreal quote from the ACLU representative:
Andrew Schneider, executive director of the ACLU of Connecticut, drew a distinction between religious rights and the Provider Conscience Rule. "We have long protected religious liberty rights, but not when it curtails basic rights to reproductive freedom," he said.
Fascinating. Religious freedom is explicitly guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, but reproductive liberty is a "penumbra" that the courts have found to be implied therein. Which should have the first protection under the law and the support of a group claiming to stand up dispassionately for individual civil liberties?

The Death Bureaucracy Begins in Washington State


It is sickening to read the proposed bureaucratic forms that patients and their death doctors will fill out and send to the state when planning assisted suicides. Twenty years ago, people would have called me a total paranoid if I predicted this is what we would become. I wouldn't have believed it myself. Nonetheless, this is where we are as a culture. From the Proposed Rule Making document filed by the now ironically misnamed Department of Health:

I, ______________________________________________________________________, am an adult of sound mind.
First Middle Last
I am suffering from _____________________________________, which my attending physician has determined is an incurable, irreversible terminal disease and which has been medically confirmed by a consulting physician.
I have been fully informed of my diagnosis, prognosis, the nature of medication to be prescribed and potential associated risks, the expected result, and feasible alternatives, including comfort care, hospice care, and pain control.
I request that my attending physician prescribe medication that I may self-administer to end my life in a humane and dignified manner and dispense or to contact a pharmacist to dispense the prescription.

Initial One
I have informed my family of my decision and taken their opinions into consideration.
I have decided not to inform my family of my decision.
I have no family to inform of my decision.

I understand that I have the right to rescind this request at any time.
I understand the full import of this request and I expect to die when I take the medication to be prescribed. I further understand that although most deaths occur within three hours, my death may take longer and my physician has counseled me about this possibility.
I make this request voluntarily and without reservation; and I accept full moral responsibility for my actions.

Signature: County of Residence: Date:

Even the name of the form is propaganda. The death culture, or a death cult?

My Predictions for 2009 in Bioethics


Each year the Center for Bioethics and Culture asks me to prognosticate about the coming year. This year, that duty is painful. I believe we are entering dark days. But it is my job to call them as I see them without honey coating. (This is an abridged version. For more details read the original article.) I predict:

-- The Bush Embryonic Stem Cell Funding Policy is Toast...
-- The Amount of Federal Funding of Human ESCR Will Remain Roughly the Same...
-- New Federal Law Will Explicitly Legalize Therapeutic Cloning...
-- The Federal Government Will Not Fund Human Cloning in 2000;

Assisted Suicide:
-- Washington Assisted Suicide Will Quickly Seem Routine...Any abuses or problems that come to light in WA, will, as in Oregon, be ignored by state authorities and go mostly unreported by the media.
-- The Montana Supreme Court will Create a Constitutional Right to Assisted Suicide...
-- At Least One State Legislature Will Vote to Legalize Assisted Suicide: Look for Hawaii, California, and/or Vermont to legalize assisted suicide through the legislative process.

-- Abortion: The Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA)--which would erase all state laws limiting abortion--will be fought tooth and tong by the pro life movement. It will not pass in 2009...
-- Conscience Clauses:...The Bush Administration passed a regulation at the end of his term protecting such dissenting health care workers from being discriminated against in employment for hearkening to the call of conscience. Look for this rule to be overturned by the Obama Administration, or overturned by legislation...
-- Human Exceptionalism: Timing is uncertain, but look for the European Court of Human Rights to declare that chimpanzees are legal persons in Europe, perhaps this year, but almost certainly by the end of 2010...
-- Futile Care: Texas will not rescind its law legalizing medical futility in 2009...
-- Biological Colonialism: Alas, despite legal attempts to restrict the exploitation of the world's destitute for their body parts, biological colonialism (such as buying organs), will increase in 2009.
I have been asked privately why I would be so publicly pessimistic, even if realistic, in this prediction. The worry is that people might get discouraged. Perhaps, but I hope it will wake people up! I am so tired of hearing, "It can't happen here," that the time has come for all to understand that not only can it happen here, it is happening now. It is now or never to defend the ramparts!

If you'd also like to listen to my predictions, check out the current edition of my podcast, What It Means to Be Human and you can download it into your MP 3.

Don’t Worry: Refusing to Fund Human/Animal Hybrid Cloning Not About Morals


With The Independent on a tear because moral concerns might have been behind the failure of scientists to garner public funding to conduct human cloning with animal eggs, we get this badly needed assurance. From the story:
Reports in the British media that grant applications to create hybrid human--animal embryos for research were turned down on moral grounds, have been rejected by the funding bodies and scientists involved.

The story broke in the Independent newspaper on Monday, which claimed Stephen Minger, a leading stem cell scientist at King's College London, said that the grant applications may have been blocked by scientists on the funding committees who are morally opposed to the creation of cloned hybrid embryos. But when Nature spoke to Minger he said the Independent misinterpreted his comments, adding he did not have any evidence that moral objections led to his proposal being rejected. "I was not saying that religious or moral opposition to the proposal led to its rejection," he said.
Whew, that's a relief. We sure wouldn't want morality to play any role in government funding of scientific research.

Genetic Cleansing and the Corruption of Science Through Political Redefinition


Slate's Will Saletan--a favorite of mine even though we often disagree because he is a very good writer and unfailingly honest in his reportage--is onto the story of the baby girl born in the UK who was selected in--as her siblings were destroyed--because she did not have a gene that can cause adult onset breast cancer. From his column "Eugenics Euphemisms:"
It's happy news. But let's take a closer look at the announcement, starting with the test "before conception." This baby was tested as an embryo in a dish. She was one of 11 such embryos made by injecting drugs in the mother to stimulate production of excess eggs, which were then fertilized with the father's sperm. Six of the embryos had the gene for breast cancer. Three more had "other abnormalities." All nine were "discarded." The other two were implanted, and one became this baby. In sum, at least six human embryos were made and then thrown away because they failed a test.
Saletan then illustrates how science is being corrupted (my word) via redefining terms to make us feel okay with the way we now instrumentalize nascent human life because, well, we want what we want:
We now call such tests "preconception." This is the next step in our gradual devaluation of embryos. First, we said IVF embryos weren't pregnancies. That's technically correct: Pregnancy begins when the embryo implants in the womb. Then we called early embryos "pre-embryos" so we could dismantle them to get stem cells. That was technically incorrect, but we did it because it made us feel better. Now we're adjusting the word conception. Henceforth, testing of IVF embryos to decide which will live or die is preconception. Don't fret about the six eggs we fertilized, rejected, and flushed in selecting this baby. They were never really conceived. In fact, they weren't embryos. According to Serhal, each was just "an affected cluster of cells."
And the slavering media--Saletan being a rare exception--go right along because all of this is part of the coup de culture. (This particular episode mixes utilitarianism and hedonism, by which I mean believing we have the right to fulfill every desire, including both having children and the children we want.)

Saletan also catches the enormity of it all:
"The lasting legacy is the eradication of the transmission of this form of cancer that has blighted these families for generations." Lasting. Legacy. Eradication. Families. Generations. We're no longer talking about protecting an individual. We're talking about cleansing families forever. "We are eliminating the gene from our line," says the happy mother. Serhal agrees: "We are eradicating it from the whole family tree." From the standpoint of efficiency, this is wonderful. But efficiency and collective cleansing are the core principles of eugenics.
And what if science discovers other genes that lead eventually to disease--opt them out too? And what of the unintended consequences? Genes we seek to eradicate might play other beneficial roles. Besides, if anyone thinks this human manipulation will be restricted to preventing disease, I have a beautiful orange bridge that spans the Golden Gate that I'd be happy to sell you. Think of all the tolls you will be able to collect.

SHS Funnies


Pig and I have much in common:

Yes, it's true:

Whining Scientists Always Get Their Way in Brave New Britain


I posted yesterday about how "the scientists" in the UK are whining because their human/cow embryo cloning scheme has not been funded by the government. I said that once their whining hit the papers, things would change quickly, because in the UK--what the scientists want, the scientists get. That process of, ironically, imposing politics onto science funding is now well under way. From the story:
The two research councils that have turned down requests to fund stem-cell studies using human-animal "hybrid" embryos are to be questioned by MPs on both sides of the House of Commons to explain why they have refused to issue the grants.

As revealed by The Independent yesterday, the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) have declined to fund two separate teams of scientists who have been given licences by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to carry out the work. Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on science, said that he had written to the research councils to make sure that the funding decisions were made on scientific grounds alone, rather than being influenced by the personal moral position of anyone sitting on the expert funding panels.
Good grief! Mengele's infamous twin experiments could be justified on "the science grounds alone." They were moral atrocities. That means ethics, which means very little in this utilitarian age that will countenance anything but policy based on moral judgments about the intrinsic importance of human life.

Meanwhile, the BBC points out that just human/animal hybrid cloning is legal, doesn't mean it will be funded. (We'll see about that!) Moreover, it seems that the great IPSC breakthrough may be inhibiting coughing up the pounds to pay for nascent Isle of Dr. Moreau experiments, which could make the funding dearth a "science" rather than a moral decision after all. From the story:
Science has also continued to move on since last year's heated debate. Induced pluripotent stem cells (IPS) are adult stem cells which are made to act like embryonic ones with the ability to become any cell in the human body.

They too have the potential to be used to treat a range of degenerative conditions and also circumvent the need to use human eggs or destroy embryos - although scientists involved admit therapies could still be many years away.

"There has been a lot of movement on this front and this probably has caused the scientific community to reflect a bit - technologies move on very rapidly," says Chris Mason, professor of Regenerative Medicine Bioprocessing at University College London and a member of the UK National Stem Cell Network. "But none of this is mutually exclusive and there is still definitely a role for hybrid research. I simply do not believe that moral reservations are at play - the right proposal will always find the money."
Meanwhile the NHS is in full meltdown as "the scientists" huff and puff about wanting to clone. Prioritize Gentlemen and women. Prioritize.

Defending Human Exceptionism: The Medical Safeguards Project


Some people talk--and some people act. In the latter category are the good people in Massachusetts who operate The Medical Safeguards Project. Understanding that people with developmental disabilities are at particular risk in our increasingly utilitarian health care system, the Medical Safeguards Project literally puts people into hospitals to protect the vulnerable. From the MSP Website:
The Medical Safeguards Project has two major components: health care enhancement, and safeguarding and advocacy...

The health enhancement component is oriented to complementing and assisting, as necessary, primary health care providers in delivering optimal care for clients of the Department of Mental Retardation living in Southeastern Massachusetts. Assisting primary care physicians and other health care providers means...preparing accurate, complete, and up-to-date medical information for a consultation...

The safeguarding and advocacy component focuses on assuring that clients of the Department of Mental Retardation living in Southeastern Massachusetts have family, friends and advocates in their lives, as well as an active and competent guardian who will defend their right to treatment. Our objective is for people to receive the same level of excellent care and support as the most socially valued persons in their community.
I have been privileged to speak to and interact with these valiant and dedicated people. I have heard the harrowing tales of the fights they have waged to ensure that their clients receive proper and humane care. The term, "They walk the walk," definitely applies.

The Problem of “Biological Colonialism”


To The Source asked me to write an essay for its newsletter on what I call biological colonialism. I was pleased to comply. From the article:
Commentators who reflect on this moral crisis [the weakening of the sanctity/equality of life ethic] usually focus on "culture of death" issues such as assisted suicide, abortion, and Terri Schiavo-type cases. But there is another profound threat posed by this ongoing rejection of human exceptionalism; the commoditization and exploitation of the body parts and functions of the poor, effectively treating human beings as mere natural resources to be exploited and/or harvested.
I discuss, at some length, problems such as the rich buying the organs of the poor, womb renting, embryo purchasing, the potential for exploiting destitute women for their eggs for use in human cloning research, and unethical human experimentation. I conclude:
One definition of evil is treating human beings as objects rather than subjects. That is precisely the implication of biological colonialism. While the poor may always be with us, that does not justify our exploiting our destitute sisters and brothers or putting them at risk to improve our own health or fulfill our familial desires. Rather, the proper and humane response to deep poverty is loving and selfless outreach, assistance, and devotion.
A more succinct way to describe my final point is that we should all follow the Golden Rule. And as I wrote the last sentence, it struck me that I haven't heard that term mentioned in a long time. Alas.

Ethics Warning to CIRM Poobah


The ethical and management disaster that is the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine continues to disappoint. Now, a member of the board has received a warning letter from the California Fair Political Practices Commission. From the story:
The California Fair Political Practices Commission warned Dr. John Reed in an official letter that his effort to appeal the denial of a Burnham Institute grant application raised "ethical concerns."

But the commission found Reed did not violate conflict-of-interest laws because the decision denying the grant could not be appealed. The letter was made public Monday by Consumer Watchdog, a public interest group that brought the conflict-of-interest accusation against Reed in late 2007.
So, the man tried to do the wrong thing, but because it was structurally impossible to accomplish the misdeed, he got off with a letter slap-on -the-wrist.

Fine. The law is the law. But bad appearances are bad appearances. Why is Dr. Reed still on the board?

Apology but No Accountability in Starvation Death of Martin Ryan


The hospital that allowed Marin Ryan to starve to death has issued a statement telling Martin's parents and the country that all concerned are very, very sorry that they allowed him to starve to death over 26 days and "die in agony."From the story:

Chief executive Kate Grimes said the trust had apologised personally to Mr Ryan's parents, and that the staff involved 'very much regret' his death.

She said the communications breakdown was 'inexcusable and our staff have learned very serious lessons'. She added: 'Personally, I would also like to say we feel for Mr Ryan's parents over the loss of their much-loved son. We know we cannot make things better for them but we have made major changes to ensure another similar tragedy does not occur.
That's all well and good, and I have no doubt the apology is sincere. But it is inadequate to the profound wrong that occurred in this case. Where is the accountability? Where are the resignations? Why haven't--apparently--any of the derelict caregivers been fired or disciplined by the hospital and their professional organizations? Indeed, why nearly four years after Martin's death is the matter still at the inquiry stage?

I have no doubt that if Martin did not have Down syndrome, heads would have figuratively rolled. Indeed, it isn't vindictiveness but simple justice that demands that this case not be allowed to rest with a simple apology, no matter how sincere or abject.

Denying Funding for Human/Hybrid Cloning in Brave New Britain


"The scientists" in the UK are throwing a tantrum because their funding for the creation of human/cow hybrid embryos has apparently slowed. From the story:
Britain's effort to lead the world in stem cell research with the creation of human-animal "hybrid" clones has ground to a halt through lack of funding less than a year after the controversial technique was legalised.

Funding bodies are refusing to finance the research and existing projects have been run down to the point at which they may end completely within weeks. One of the researchers involved in the work said last night that the grant applications may have been blocked by scientists on the funding committees who are morally opposed to the creation of cloned hybrid embryos derived from mixing human cells with the eggs of cows, pigs or rabbits.
In other words, they don't really know why. It could be there is a lack of money. The UK is in a deep recession--not that "the scientists" think it should affect them. Or, it could be that the research proposals weren't considered of sufficient scientific merit to justify spending the public's money. But I hope they are right and the refusal to fund has been about ethics and morality. To claim that such matters have no place in science policy decisions--particularly when spending the public money--is not only dangerous, it is folly.

Then came the usual fear mongering:
The decision threatens Britain's leading position in the world in terms of creating of stem cells from animal-human hybrid embryos, research which in the US is banned from receiving federal government funding.
Well, I suppose that is technically true. But that's a pretty narrow parameter. It doesn't mean that UK biotechnology itself is falling behind.

I am sure this shot across the bow from the scientists in a left wing paper (The Independent) will prime the pump and get the money flowing. To date, "the scientists" in the UK have gotten just about whatever they want. I doubt this bump in the road will be any different.

But we can always hope.

Crisis in Health Care Funding: Better to Slow Down Research Than Open the Door to a Culture of Death


Articles that worry about the rising costs of health care and hand wring about what we are to do about it are a dime a dozen. Still, Washington Post Science and Medical Reporter David Brown has written a lengthy article that presents a good summary of the problem. From the story:
This difficult truth, which has emerged over the past half-century, is leading the United States and the rest of the industrialized world into a new era of humankind. We are on a collision course between our wish to live longer, healthier lives and our capacity to pay for that wish. Whether we can somehow avoid the collision is perhaps the most important domestic issue of this century. From now on, health care costs will be up there with globalization, terrorism and climate change as a force shaping our world.
So tell me something I don't know--although I think the problem with climate change is more hysteria than reality. Still, the billion dollar question, obviously, is what do we do about the problem of rising health care costs?

One part of the solution might be to reign in the billions of public dollars we pour into medical and scientific research at the federal level and use it to fund current needs. Don't get me wrong: Most research money is well spent. But we are heading into a time in which we will have to triage government. If and when we hit that point--and given the growth in public debt, we may well already be there--it strikes me that we may have to choose between pushing the medically vulnerable out of the lifeboat or dramatically slowing the pace of medical research and scientific advancement.

If that point is reached, we should choose the latter option. I am all for research, but not at the expense of people. Better to do less research than impose a utilitarian medical ethic that denies care to--our countenances the killing of--the elderly, dying, or people with disabilities. Moreover, once the financial crisis ended, we could up the funding for science. But once we went down Utilitarian Road, it would be nigh on impossible to ever get back to a truly moral health care system.

Hopefully, we will find an ethical way to have decent health care system and bounteously fund scientific research too: Never underestimate scientific ingenuity. But if we ever do have to choose, I know which way I will want society to go.

UC Davis Animal Researchers Threatened with Death


Bomb threats should be called what they are: Death threats. Animal researchers at UC Davis are being threatened. From the story:
Police at UC Davis are on high alert while they are investigating a threat made on a controversial Web site targeting two of the university's researchers.

According to UC Davis spokesman Andy Fell, the "Revolutionary Cells Animal Liberation Brigade" posted on a Web site that they had sent mail bombs to the UC Davis researchers late Saturday. The researchers work at the California National Primate Research Center, which conducts tests on primates to try and benefit human and animal health. The center does studies on HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases, asthma, autism and Alzheimer's disease.
This should be condemned unequivocally by everyone, regardless of their beliefs about the use of animals in research. But the silence from most leaders of the animal rights movement continues to be deafening.

Remember, letter bombs were the murder weapon of choice of the UNABOMBER. Such threats may or may not be empty, but they are terrorism.

SHS Funnies


The Culture of Death reaches into elementary school:
Rat: I feel your pain but quitting is not the answer:


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