Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

British Scientists Tout Future Cure for Blindness with ESCs: What Would You Do If It Really Works?


The headline of this story from the Times of London--"Blind to be Cure with Stem Cells"--is really putting the cart before the horse--it hasn't even been tried yet, after all. But such hype is par for the course. From the story:
British scientists have developed the world's first stem cell therapy to cure the most common cause of blindness. Surgeons predict it will become a routine, one-hour procedure that will be generally available in six or seven years' time.

The treatment involves replacing a layer of degenerated cells with new ones created from embryonic stem cells...This week Pfizer, the world's largest pharmaceutical research company, will announce its financial backing to bring the therapy to patients. The treatment will tackle age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the most common cause of blindness.
We have seen such stories planted in media before. But I think this one is notable because private money is being put into the development of the treatment--venture capital has been, heretofore, notably scarce in ESCR. Thus, I think it is fair to say that when a very big drug company puts money into a potential therapy, there is at least a decent chance it will work.

And that brings up an important question for those who oppose ESCR. What if it works and bending our ethical views could lead to our seeing again, but staying true to our beliefs would mean continuing vision impairment? Being forced to choose between better health and proper ethics is a foreseeable consequence of opposing ESCR, fetal farming, therapeutic cloning, and the like.

Some people have already grappled seriously with this question. Mark Pickup is an extremely close friend. He suffers--literally--from advanced and progressing MS, and so this issue is not merely an interesting intellectual exercise to him. Mark has written very clearly that he would refuse to receive ESC therapy, even if it meant foregoing a total cure, because to do otherwise would violate his Catholic faith and implicate him in the termination of a human life. From his column:
Here's the problem for someone like me: I do operate with moral constraints and conscience. My Christianity demands it. I cannot participate in, or take advantage of, therapies developed using embryonic stem cells. It is unacceptable for my life to get better at the expense of another.

Non-embryonic stem cell sources are fine. If, however, the therapy involves the killing of another human being in the form of an embryo then I must forego treatment, accept life in a wheelchair, and whatever lies in store for me with an aggressive, degenerative disease...

Is the allure of an embryonic stem cell therapy tempting? Absolutely! But I must resist and, with God's help, I will resist. It is better to lose the use of my body than to lose my humanity.
I strongly believe that using human life--even at the most nascent stages--as a mere natural resource is profoundly wrong, not only because of what it does but what it will lead to once society accepts using living human beings as mere instrumentalities. I hope if I am ever faced with this dilemma that I would have Mark's courage and ethical integrity to refuse to be complicit in such wrongdoing--but one never knows until the crisis comes.

This is why it is far easier to simply go along with the utilitarian flow. People who do never find themselves in such a pickle.

No one said that living an ethical life was easy. But as these issues play out, now is the time to think very deeply about the many "what ifs" that may confront us in the years to come: Because pondering these matters well before the time of testing offers the best chance to develop the courage and fortitude to make the right choice.

Pelosi Demagoguery and Political Hype About Embryonic Stem Cell Research


Either Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi doesn't know what is actually happening in biotechnology or she doesn't care. Actually, I think it is both. The other day, she went into utter hype mode about ESCR that was reminiscent of the bad old days when the only agenda of the Democrats and the media was, "Get Bush!" (Come to think of it, it still is.) From the story:
We've had a situation where it's faith or science - take your pick. We're saying science is an answer to our prayers," the San Francisco Democrat said
We've been through this faith nonsense repeatedly here at SHS, so I won't regurgitate it all again, except to note that it is very dangerous to demean rational and important ethical concerns as nothing but "faith," which is a personal and private matter, and thereby assert that ethics must be sacrificed on the altar of naked science. Science without ethics leads to very dark places, exploitation, and oppression.

Moreover, her diatribe ignores the facts. The previous administration poured huge amounts of resources into all kinds of stem cell and other biotechnology research, nearly $200 million for human ESCR, probably a billion or so for animal ESCR, probably a couple of billion for adult stem cell research, and much more for other forms of biotechnology. Money for research increased during the Bush years, but facts often elude Pelosi.

And then came the hype: ESCR is the same thing as universal and affordable health care for all:
"The justification, I think, is clear, in terms of the progress that has been made. The need is urgent, in terms of what it translates to in the family life of all Americans," she said. "And at a time when we are going forward with affordable, accessible, quality health care for all Americans, the investment in basic biomedical research is really essential--a fundamental principle of that universal access to quality health care.

"It will take us to a place where we will have personalized, customized care... it will address disparities in health care that exist. And we need science, science, science, science, science in order to do that. So I'm standing my ground."
Most of the real advances have been in adult and alternative methods--and Obama scrapped the requirement to fund alternatives. The issue has nothing to do with "accessible health care for all." In fact, if these technologies ultimately involve human cloning, they look to be very expensive. And if we are going to have "affordable, custom made treatments, they are going to be with IPSCs or some other alternative method.

It is really bad when the third most powerful leader of the United States is both demagogic and clueless at the same time. For Pelosi it isn't really, science, science, science, science, science, science, but politics, politics, politics, politics, politics.

Telling Paramedics Not to Resuscitate Dying Patients in the UK: Okay with SHS


The UK is permitting terminally ill patients to be listed on a register so that they are not resuscitated by paramedics in the event of a medical emergency. From the story:

Health Service paramedics have been told not to resuscitate terminally-ill patients who register on a controversial new database to say they want to die.

It has been set up by the ambulance service in London for hundreds of people who have only a few months to live so that they may register their 'death wishes' in advance. It is believed to be the first in the country, but other trusts around the country are expected to follow suit to comply with Government guidelines which state that patients' wishes should be taken into account, even at the point of death.
Similar plans exist here in the USA, and I'm not opposed to them, assuming proper administration. The problem with the story is how it is framed. It isn't a "death wish," it is refusing unwanted medical treatment as part of an end of life plan of care.

When I was a hospice volunteer, I was explicitly trained to deal with such a situation (which never happened on my watch). If a patient went into a cardiac or other life-threatening event, I was explicitly told not to call 911, but rather, to phone the hospice nurse immediately so she could get there ASAP to ensure proper symptom management. In fact, we always had the hospice number with us just in case of such an event.

But sometimes people panic in the face of sudden medical events and call an ambulance when they shouldn't. Refusing a paramedic CPR when the decision was taken in advance to sign a hospice or other DNR makes sense. But the actual DNR or a listing in a data bank also should be required. Otherwise, when an ambulance is called, the patient should be saved.

A pro lifer in the story worries that the the principle could be extended to the suicidal or people who are not terminally ill. That's a different kettle of fish. But in this instance, setting up a data base to ensure that registered dying patients do not receive unwanted CPR is consistent with the hospice philosophy and proper end-of-life medical care.

Also, I'm not sure where the head line came from about letting "accident victims die." I wonder if the headline writer actually read the story.

Pretense About Limited Nature of Proposed NIH ESCR Funding Guildelines


The NIH has released its proposed rules regarding funding for ESCR in the wake of the Obama revocation of the Bush funding restrictions. The media pretends that they contain firm ethical limits. From the story:
The guidelines restrict funding of work on cells made using certain more experimental methods, such as creating stem cells from a human egg only, a process called parthenogenesis, and a cloning technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer.

They also would prohibit funding of work on embryos created specifically for research purposes, with the aim of keeping the money going to work using cells taken from embryos that parents donated after they decided not to try to use fertility clinic embryos to create a pregnancy.

They also lay out guidance to make sure parents know and agree to how the embryos would be used, and limit the use of federal tax money to create certain human-animal hybrids.

The guidelines apply only to research using federal funds and would not affect what scientists do using private funds or even state funds.
That last comment also applied to the Bush policy, and I don't recall it being reported so prominently. And the headline, "U.S. Stem Cell Rules Limit Funding to IVF Clinics," makes no sense since the clinics wouldn't get the money, but rather, the scientists who made stem cell lines from embryos obtained from clinics, but never mind. The point is that the NIH had no choice but to prohibit funding for the creation of embryos for research--whether by cloning or IVF methods--since that would violate existing federal law (the Dickey Amendment).

But as I have reported at SHS previously, the political campaign has begun to destroy the Dickey Amendment. Should that happen, it would be legal for the Feds to fund human cloning, the making of embryos for research, and just about anything "the scientists" wanted to do in this regard. Once that happened, the NIH would likely revise these guidelines to permit funding for those activities.

President Obama has already signed Dickey into law for this year. But expect the struggle over Dickey t0 erupt within the next few years during the annual budgetary process. And if a bill passes sans the Amendment, there is no question in my mind that Obama would sign it. He just wants the Congress to do the dirty work.

Family Caregiver Alliance Subtly Insinuates Assisted Suicide into the Care Giving Mix


This is subtle, but I think, very alarming. The Family Caregiver Alliance touts itself as a resource for people providing care for family members and others. From its "End of Life Choices" published on the FGA Web site:

Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA) seeks to improve the quality of life for caregivers through education, services, research and advocacy... FCA provides direct family support services for caregivers of those with Alzheimer's disease, stroke, head injury, Parkinson's and other debilitating disorders that strike adults.
Sounds good, and I am sure it is. But then it gets scary: One of the "resources," indeed the first listed after the group itself (due to alphabetization), is the assisted suicide advocacy group Compassion and Choices.

In light of that listing, following statement about care giving for people who are dying takes on a decidedly darker tone:
As death nears, most people feel a lessening of their desire to live longer. This is not a matter of depression. Instead, they sense it is time to let go, perhaps as in other times in life when one senses it is time for a major change. Examples might be leaving home, getting married, divorcing or changing jobs. Some people describe a sense of profound tiredness, of a tiredness that no longer goes away with rest. Others, who may have overcome many adversities in their lives, reach a point where they feel they have struggled as much as they have been called upon to do and will struggle no more. Refusing to let go can prolong dying, but it cannot prevent it. Dying, thus prolonged, can become more a time of suffering than of living

Family members and friends who love the dying person may experience a similar change. At first, one refuses to admit the possibility of a loved one dying. Then one refuses to accept the death happening. Lastly, one may see that dying is the better of two bad choices, and be ready to give the loved one permission to die. As mentioned, the dying are distressed at causing grief for those who love them, and, receiving permission to die can relieve their distress. There is a time for this to happen. Before that, it feels wrong to accept a loss, but after that it can be an act of great kindness to say, "You may go when you feel it is time. I will be okay."
They don't come right out and say it--and hospice organizations are also listed as resources--but the C and C endorsement, and the choice of words used, would seem to be at least a "between the lines" endorsement of assisted suicide as a means of "letting go"--both to benefit the cared for and the care giver.

The section on "Making the Decision," adds credence to my concern:
Is it time to let go? Or time to give a loved one permission to die? There are three ways to help decide. First, look at the medical situation. Has the illness really reached its final stages? When it has, the body is usually moving on its own toward dying, with strength declining, appetite poor, and often the mind becoming sleepier and more confused. Treatments are no longer working as well as before, and everyday activities are becoming more and more burdensome. In a sense, life is disappearing. Second, talk with people you trust. Discuss the situation with the family members and friends who seem to be able to see things as they are. You might also talk with people who are not personally involved. [Me: Meaning C and C?] Choose the people whose judgment you trust, not just those with an official role of giving advice. [Me: Meaning physicians, clergy, mental health professionals?] Most importantly, what does the dying person think? Third, listen to your heart. Try to see beyond your fears and wishes, to what love and caring are saying to you. What is really best for the one who is dying, and for the others around? Given that death is unavoidable, what is the kindest thing to do? It might be holding on. It might be letting go.
Because it endorses Compassion and Choices and links directly to the assisted suicide group, this text, which might otherwise seem to be reasonable, is not benign. When care giver advocates swallow the hemlock, vulnerable patients may be put at real risk.

Medical War Against the Elderly: British Medical Journal Reveals Undertreatment of Elderly Stroke Patients


The UK's medical war against the elderly (especially the frail) seems undeniable. First, there was age-based rationing at the NHS. Then, a nurse whistle blower lost her nursing license for publicly telling the truth about elder neglect at a hospital. Now, the British Medical Journal reveals that elderly stroke patients are often short-shrifted on what should be a routine medical treatment for stroke. From the press release (here's the abstract:
Older people are less likely to receive drug treatment after a stroke compared to younger people, despite the fact that treatment is equally effective, finds a study published on today. There is also some indication that women may be less likely to receive treatment than men, but patients' social and economic circumstances are not linked to differences in treatment, the findings show...

After a stroke, patients should receive a combination of drugs to help prevent another stroke. This is known as secondary drug prevention. The drugs used are blood pressure and cholesterol lowering drugs, and anti-clotting drugs. Previous studies have suggested that elderly people, socially disadvantaged people and women are less likely to receive medical interventions compared to younger, affluent people and to men. So researchers based in London decided to test this theory for stroke treatment...

Rates of secondary drug prevention were generally low--only 25.6% of men and 20.8% of women received treatment. This did not vary by socio-economic circumstances. However, older patients were substantially less likely to receive cholesterol lowering treatment (26.4% of patients aged 50-59 received treatment compared with 15.6% of patients aged 80-89 and just 4.2% of those aged 90 or more).
We're not even talking about rationing of high end technology here, but basic and inexpensive drugs.

Some of this seems to reflect inadequate education about the benefits of these medicines. But the "substantially" lower rate of treatment, apparently based on age, is very revealing. And while the recent posts I have done on this issue have been about stories in the UK, there is no way that the problem is restricted to the British Isle.

I think we need to look to cause as much as effect. This study and the story of the nurse illustrate the subversive impact of the bioethical "quality of life" ethic--that is fast supplanting the Hippocratic "equality of life" approach--on medicine. The bioethicists might respond by denying they support discrimination--they see themselves as liberals, after all (although they really are not)--only "rational" withholding of high tech and expensive care based on the bioethical principle of distributive justice. But this excuse ignores the impact of ideas and how they can impact actual practice in the trenches. As a logical species, we take accepted premises where they lead. In this situation, the idea that ill elderly patients have less value based on quality of life, causes people to perceive such people as different from other patients, resulting in divergent health care provision. So much for respecting our elders.

The only antidote to the poison we have swallowed is human exceptionalism--the understanding that each human being has equal value based simply and merely on being human.

War Against Elderly Patients in the UK--Nurse Struck From Rolls for Exposing Abuse


A nurse in the UK reveals terrible abuse and neglect of elderly patients at a hospital in the UK. You'd think the powers that be would give her a medal. Nope. As I reported here yesterday, Margaret Haywood secretly filmed and proved how badly patients were being treated. Her reward? She's lost the right to be a nurse. From the story:
Nurse Margaret Haywood has been struck off the register with immediate effect after secretly filming for a BBC Panorama programme exposing neglect of elderly patients in a hospital.

Nurse Margaret Haywood secretly filmed the neglect of elderly patients Photo: PA Miss Haywood, 58, recorded appalling conditions at the Royal Sussex Hospital in Brighton for a BBC documentary screened in July 2005. She said: "I was convinced that it was the right thing to do at the time as, in fact, I had reported the issues and nothing had been done.
Yes, well the-powers-that-be don't like to be made to look bad--and so Nurse Haywood, you are a nurse no more! And with that, a very dangerous and insidious message has been sent to all medical personnel: You witness abuse and we decide to do nothing about it, you keep their mouths shut--or else!

And don't think neglect doesn't happen here in the USA. Backstage today, I heard an appalling story from an SHSer, of an elderly relative becoming dehydrated in a nursing home, and when it was discovered, of the Sisyphean effort it is taking just to get an IV put in ta vein to hydrate the relative and save the person's life!

Some days I want to pull out my hair.

Gene Complexity Makes Disease Prediction--and Transhumanism--Very Difficult


A new report shows that predicting for health outcomes and creating genetic fixes for common diseases is very difficult. From the story:

The era of personal genomic medicine may have to wait. The genetic analysis of common disease is turning out to be a lot more complex than expected.

Since the human genome was decoded in 2003, researchers have been developing a powerful method for comparing the genomes of patients and healthy people, with the hope of pinpointing the DNA changes responsible for common diseases. This method, called a genomewide association study, has proved technically successful despite many skeptics' initial doubts. But it has been disappointing in that the kind of genetic variation it detects has turned out to explain surprisingly little of the genetic links to most diseases...

One issue of debate among researchers is whether, despite the prospect of diminishing returns, to continue with the genomewide studies, which cost many millions of dollars apiece, or switch to a new approach like decoding the entire genomes of individual patients.The unexpected impasse also affects companies that offer personal genomic information and that had assumed they could inform customers of their genetic risk for common diseases, based on researchers’ discoveries...

Unlike the rare diseases caused by a change affecting only one gene, common diseases like cancer and diabetes are caused by a set of several genetic variations in each person. Since these common diseases generally strike later in life, after people have had children, the theory has been that natural selection is powerless to weed them out.

"Weed out:" Now, there's an interesting term to apply to human beings.

Alas, we see parents already "weeding out" embryos that test positive for adult onset diseases or disabilities, part of the emerging new eugenics. And to see the way the wind is blowing, embryos are being weeded out if genetic testing shows they will have the wrong hair color.And consider this: If it is very hard to figure out the genetic causes of common disease, it will be difficult squared about transhumanist yearned-for enhancement techniques, such as increasing intelligence, stature, or other desired transhumanist morphologists.

I am certainly not against research into genetic causes for diseases. What we do with this information, of course, will be the rub.

Two Blogs to Check Out About Biotechnology


I put much time and effort into reporting stories here at SHS about stem cell research, human cloning, and other matters of biotechnology. But because SHS covers broad areas of concern and interest--and to keep our ponderings varied and lively--of necessity I may miss important stories in this area that you might want to know about.

But David Prentice doesn't miss them. He has a highly informative blog exclusively devoted to stem cell research. David's blog is a clearing house of stories in this field, and is of great value--particularly to those interested in the astounding number of adult stem cell research successes that keep coming down the pike. Regardless of your ethical perspective on these matters, if you care about stem cell research you will want to check out David's daily posts. Here is the link.

Jennifer Lahl, head of the Center for Bioethics and Culture, also has a good blog on these matters called The Human Future. Jennifer's interests are somewhat broader, also including transhumanism, IVF, protecting women from the dangers of egg extraction, and etc. Her blog is here.

Both of these writers and thinkers provide good information and may include matters of interest to you that I am unable to cover here. Their opinions are their own of course, and if you disagree, take it out on them.

Check David and Jennifer out, but y'all come back now. Hear?

NHS Meltdown: Blow the Whistle on Neglect of Elderly Patients--and You Take the Fall


Our world is so upside-down. A nurse secretly filmed terrible neglect of elderly UK hospital patients--and she is sanctioned for misconduct! From the story:
An undercover nurse who carried out secret filming to reveal the neglect of elderly patients on a hospital ward was found guilty of misconduct. The Nursing and Midwifery Council ruled that Margaret Haywood, 58, had prioritised the filming of the BBC Panorama programme and not fulfilled her obligations as a nurse.

The Undercover Nurse programme, screened in July 2005, showed poor conditions at the Royal Sussex Hospital in Brighton. But chair of the panel, Linda Read, said that Ms Haywood "suspended her obligations ... to protect and support the health of individual patients" by making the film.
No she embarrassed the powers that be who permitted the neglect in the first place. That will teach anyone who wants to tell the people of the UK how bad things are getting in their hospitals!

I Was Right About Diabetes Story: No Big Headlines, Only Muted Coverage


Yesterday, I wrote about a diabetes human trial using adult stem cells in which some of the patients were able to go off insulin. I predicted at the time that it wouldn't make big time headlines--as would happen if the exact same achievement happened with human patients using embryonic stem cells: From my blog:
We know that if this were an embryonic stem cell success, the headlines would swamp reportage of the financial crisis. But this is the wrong kind of stem cell success, so I expect, at most, muted coverage.
That's precisely what it received, muted coverage. New York Times; crickets chirping. Ditto, the Washington Post. And ditto again, the L.A. Times. No Boston Globe. No San Francisco Chronicle. Some on-line coverage in health and science publications. CNN had a small story. Time did too, not big though. Just what I expected. Hey, it did make the Times of India!

You see, successful human treatments don't count as news if they are from adult stem cells. That doesn't fit the media narrative that ESCR is the future. That is why a prospective Geron ESC human trial that might or might not work, got more coverage than these stories of an actual major success did put together.

Pathetic, biased, non journalism. Just pathetic.

Adult Stem Cell Repair Successful in Horses to be Tried on People


People who have badly damaged tendons may soon find relief from their own adult stem cells. From the story:
A stem-cell repair technique that has already been used to fix hundreds of injured race horses is to be tested for the first time in people with damaged Achilles tendons.

Privately owned British biotech firm MedCell Bioscience Ltd said on Wednesday it would start clinical tests within 12 months and planned to run a larger confirmatory study at several European hospitals in 2011.

Patients will receive injections containing millions of their own stem cells, which have been extracted and multiplied up in a laboratory, and can regenerate new tissue to repair damaged regions. More than 1,500 race horses have been treated using the same process and follow-up data suggests a 50 percent reduction in re-injury over a three year period, compared with conventional treatment.
Mr. Ed is pleased. Oops. I'm aging myself, aren't I?

Stowers Institute Only Has Itself to Blame as MO House Restricts State Funding of Life Sciences


When the Stowers Institute Crowd financed and passed Amendment 2, it not only created a constitutional right to do human cloning research in Missouri, but as I pointed out during the campaign, it added a superfluous provision stating that if one kind of stem cell research received state support, other kinds could not be discriminated against. The purpose was--as we warned and the pro A. 2 debaters denied--to set the stage for state funding of Stowers and other efforts in the fields of ESCR and human cloning.

The ploy expected legislators to fund unethical research so that ethical research could also be funded. But that tactic has blown up in its face. The Missouri Legislature funds life sciences, but carefully restricts its scope so as to not put taxpayer money into areas that would also require cloning or ESC research to be funded. From HB 7, section 7.020, which just passed the MO House by a whopping 114-37 vote:
No later than December 31, 2009, the Life Sciences Research Board shall submit to the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Chairman of the House Budget Committee an annual report containing, at a minimum: a description of each grant awarded... These funds shall be used exclusively on projects in the fields of animal science, plant science, medical devices, biomaterials and composite research, diagnostics, nanotechnology related to drug development and delivery, clinical imaging, or information technology related to human health.
A court recently validated this approach against lawsuits claiming somehow that the state has to fund ESCR. Meanwhile, the Stowers Crowd continues to whine that it can't get researchers to move to MO to conduct unethical research because of these unfair restrictions. From the story:
"Expansion [of the Stowers Institute] probably now is more threatened by economic realities than it is by political realities. The economics of building a $300 million building are much different today."

"Political realities" translate to the parts of Missouri where much stem cell research is opposed. Although Stowers, founder of American Century Investments, heavily supported a successful 2006 referendum to amend the state constitution to protect certain forms of stem cell research
[Me: actually SCNT cloning research, but the Star is the most biased newspaper in the country when reporting on this issue], some Missouri lawmakers vowed to continue fighting against that research.

[William] Neaves said that had made it difficult to recruit top scientists, but now the institute is encouraging a pair of prominent stem cell researchers in Massachusetts--who had funding from the Stowers--to bring their labs to Kansas City. That funding is set to expire next year and will not be renewed. Both Kevin Eggan and Chad Cowan are considering whether to establish research programs at the Kansas City institute, Neaves said.
Stowers literally has billions, and it can fund whatever research it pleases. Its threats of funding restrictions to these researchers unless they move to Stowers, thus, must be seen as being about bully politics, not financial inability.

This is the power of non cooperation. Its message is clarion. Good for the legislators of MO for not buckling.

Lead Into Gold: Al Gore to Fund IPSCs


Al Gore is set to head a venture capital foray into the very promising field of induced pluripotent stem cell research. From the story:

Former vice president Al Gore is entering the stem cell arena with an announcement today of a $20 million biotech venture in the hot area of "induced pluripotent" stem cells. Induced cells are attracting interest from researchers and biotech firms as an alternative to embryonic stem cells. Induced cells are made by inserting four genes into ordinary skin cells, and they offer a new path for "regenerative" medical treatments.

"I just think it's a very important breakthrough that is filled with promise and hope," says Gore, a partner with the venture-capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers, which is backing the research. "I think this is one of those good news stories that comes along every once in a while."
Too bad President Obama doesn't see it the same way: He revoked President Bush's executive order that would have required that promising areas of "alternatives" (to ESC) research, such as IPSCs, receive federal funding.

I could make a lame joke about Gore adding to carbon emissions by the lights that will be left on by these researchers and the emissions they will cause when driving to work, but I'll let it pass. (Isn't that snarky? I made the joke but pretended I didn't. I hate that!) Gore sees a real chance to make money in this field and he is grabbing it.


SF Chronicle Columnist Gets It Right on Foie Gras


Think of the animal rights movement as predators that threaten an entire herd: All the animals are under threat but it is the weak, stragglers, or isolated that face the most concerted attack.

Thus, while all animal research facilities are under threat, Huntingdon Life Sciences is the most vilified and its contractors and service providers most subjected to ancillary targeting. Why HLS? It was weakened, when years ago, a British television program showed a puppy being abused at a HLS facility. (Those responsible were fired and prosecuted, and properly so. Management had a turn over, and despite repeated attempts to pin further charges of abuse on HLS, to my knowledge, all have proved unfounded.) But that video set HLS apart, and it has been subjected to an unremitting and sometimes violent campaign to drive it out of business ever since. Activists know that if they can destroy HLS, no animal using industry is safe.

Similarly, all food industries are hated by animal rights activists, but steak and KFC is too popular to drive out of business or get politicians to ban. But foie gras, a specialty food made from overfeeding ducks and geese before slaughter to fatten their livers, is not a big part of most people's diets and so pressure on liberal politicians can lead to legal bans, as will take effect in CA beginning a few years from now. In San Francisco, liberal Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi (who I know and like from having worked with him during the Nader 2000 Presidential Campaign) wants SF to "commend" restaurants that refuse to serve foie gras. Not that big a deal as these matters go, but San Francisco Chronicle editorial writer and columnist Caille Millner (who is a colleague of Secondhand Smokette and a family friend) hits the nail on the head about the illogic of the anti-foie gras craze. From her column:

It's an easy issue - say "the geese" (even though nearly all foie gras is made from duck now) "have a tube put down their throats so that they can be force-fed," and people shudder. Most people are prone to anthropomorphize, so they imagine how horrible it would be to have a tube shoved down their own throat (ducks do not have voice boxes or gag reflexes; they breathe through their tongues) and agree that it's a horrible process that must be stopped. San Francisco's leadership was the latest to hop on this bandwagon, passing a "commendation" for local restaurants that remove foie gras from their menus.

Never mind that there are only three foie gras producers in the United States, all small farms that are paragons of humane treatment compared to our country's countless factory farms. "We were the first farm to use a humane auditor," said Rick Bishop, animal welfare officer for Hudson Valley Foie Gras in Ferndale, N.Y. "If you're a good farmer, you'll do this in a way that doesn't cause any distress to the ducks. We've always fought misinformation by having an open-door policy at our farm. Anyone who wants to see what we're doing is welcome to visit and observe at any step of the process." All three foie gras farms in the United States use open pens for their ducks and have very low mortality rates.

That squares with my research for my upcoming book (out in the fall).

Animal rights activists are trying to destroy the foie gras industry, not because it is cruel or causes terrible suffering to the birds. They want to destroy it because in the view of the movement, "Meat is murder." Thus, the entire herd is under threat but foie gras is a straggler, and so it is being specially targeted in the hopes that it will set a precedent for the eventual ban on other meat products which activists want none of us to be able to consume.

Conscience Clause Court Victory in Illinois


A federal judge has issued a temporary restraining order against the Governor of Illinois, protecting two pharmacists from having to dispense "Plan B" contraceptive pills due to religious objections. From the story:

A central Illinois judge has ruled that the state can't force two pharmacists with religious objections to abortion to dispense emergency contraception. Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Belz issued a temporary restraining order Friday until he can hear arguments against the rule from druggists who object on religious grounds.

The pill reduces the chance of pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of sex. The pharmacists believe it's tantamount to abortion.

Belz is the same judge who sided with the state and dismissed the lawsuit filed in 2005 by Luke VanderBleek and Glenn Kosirog, who own five northern Illinois pharmacies between them...The Illinois Supreme Court ruled in December that the pharmacists' case must be heard. The court decided then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who issued a rule in 2005 ordering pharmacies to dispense the so-called "morning-after" pill, had made statements indicating there would be no exceptions. "You cannot enact a law that targets people because of their religious objection," Manion said Monday.

I hate it when the media report stories about these kinds of matters and state that so and so "believes" something. I don't know the answer to this question: But either Plan B works as an abortifacient or it doesn't. It isn't a matter of "belief."

In any event, this doesn't mean that the pharmacists have won the case. It merely means the rule can't be enforced for now. However, it does mean that the judge believes that the pharmacists could win their case, which is a clear change since his original ruling.

The issue of conscience clauses is just getting warmed up. It will be a huge bioethical issue for years to come.

Another Study Showing Adult Stem Cells Get Newly Diagnosed Diabetics Off of Insulin


Great news: We have previously had human trials in which patients were weaned off of insulin with adult stem cells. Now, another study with newly diagnosed diabetes patients has achieved a similar success: And, it is written up in the Journal of the American Medical Association. From the abstract:

During a 7- to 58-month follow-up (mean, 29.8 months; median, 30 months), 20 patients without previous ketoacidosis and not receiving corticosteroids during the preparative regimen became insulin free. Twelve patients maintained this status for a mean 31 months (range, 14-52 months) and 8 patients relapsed and resumed insulin use at low dose (0.1-0.3 IU/kg)...Two patients developed bilateral nosocomial pneumonia, 3 patients developed late endocrine dysfunction, and 9 patients developed oligospermia. There was no mortality.

Conclusion After a mean follow-up of 29.8 months following autologous nonmyeloablative HSCT in patients with newly diagnosed type 1 DM, C-peptide levels increased significantly and the majority of patients achieved insulin independence with good glycemic control.

We know that if this were an embryonic stem cell success, the headlines would swamp reportage of the financial crisis. But this is the wrong kind of stem cell success, so I expect, at most, muted coverage. I'll keep an eye on how the media deal with (or ignore) this important breakthrough and report back tomorrow.

Terminal Nonjudgmentalism is Epidemic: Time fetes the Death on Demand Fanatic Philip Nitschke


I shouldn't be surprised by anything the MSM does today in boosting social outlaws into cultural icons. For example, when Jack Kevorkian was at the top of his deadly game--even offering extracted kidneys from a disabled assisted suicide victim for transplant in a news conference--Time invited him as an honored guest to its gala 75th anniversary party where Tom Cruise ran up to shake his hand.

Now in "Foolproofing Suicide with Euthanasia Test Kits," Time gives the Down Under "Dr. Death," Philip Nitschke the star treatment. Nitschke has called for the right of troubled teens to get access to suicide pills. He advised an Australian woman named Nancy Crick on how to commit suicide--and in the public advocacy leading up to the deed, told the press she had terminal cancer. After she committed suicide in the presence of assisted suicide advocates--not Nitschke since he didn't want to risk legal consequences--those in attendance applauded when she took her poison. When Crick's autopsy showed that she was not terminal, Nitschke shrugged, said he knew it all along, and supported anybody's right to commit assisted suicide for any reason whatsoever. Nitschke also developed the so-called peaceful pill, a concoction of household goods that can make you dead. He holds how-to-commit suicide seminars all over the world.

That should rate him unequivocal condemnation. But Time swoons at his newest gambit: an assisted suicide test kit to make sure your poison makes you die. From the story:

Now, in an effort to provide certainty to those contemplating suicide, one of the world's leading euthanasia advocates plans to sell barbiturate testing kits to confirm that deadly drug cocktails are, in fact, deadly. "People who are seriously ill don't want to experiment," says Dr. Philip Nitschke, the physician known as 'Dr. Death' for his efforts to legalize euthanasia in his native Australia. "They want to know they have the right concentration of drugs so that if they take them in the suggested way it will provide them with a peaceful death."

The kits, which will debut in Britain in May and retail for $50, include a syringe that allows users to extract half a milliliter of barbiturate solution without breaking the sanitary seal. "Clearly sterility doesn't matter given that death is the desired outcome," Nitschke says. But the solution deteriorates slower in a sterile environment, allowing those with painful conditions to "lock it away in the back of the cupboard in case things gets too bad."
One point of the story is to say that if we legalized assisted suicide, Nitchke's valuable work wouldn't be necessary:
Sarah Wootton, chief executive of Dignity in Dying, believes that Nitschke has gone too far, but says his behavior is a function of a system that fails to address the needs of people living in pain. "The answer is not DIY kits or books, but a fully safeguarded law that protects the vulnerable and gives terminally ill adults the choice of an assisted death. Regrettably, without such a law, activism like this is likely to continue."
Baloney. Assisted suicide is illegal now and all manner of people are being offed at suicide clinics in Switzerland. We in the USA have traveling suicide clinics known as the Final Exit Network, whose fanatic members certainly don't limit their suicide "counseling" to the terminally ill. And if you legalized assisted suicide, say, for the terminally ill, the clinics would still "serve" the despairing disabled and the elderly tired of living. And once the law allowed this cohort to be served, there would still be the mentally ill--who already have a constitutional right in Switzerland to assisted suicide. And also, healthy spouses who want to go with their dying partner.

Oh, Wesley! Now you go too far. No I don't. It is already being planned

The head of a controversial assisted-suicide group in Switzerland says he will seek legal permission to help a Canadian woman and other healthy people like her kill themselves, raising startling new issues in the emotional debate over euthanasia. Betty Coumbias, an elderly Vancouver resident, has indicated she wants to die alongside her husband, George, who suffers from severe heart disease...

Mrs. Coumbias explains in the documentary, The Suicide Tourist, why she would take her own life despite being generally healthy. "From the day we got married, [my husband] was all my life," she tells Mr. Minelli. "I love my two daughters, but I love him more, and I don't think I can face life without him, and since we read about Dignitas, we felt what would be better than to die together, you know, to die in each other's arms?"

We are in a moral free fall into an abyss which has no bottom. And to borrow a famous quote from Chris Matthews about another matter, the MSM is getting a thrill up its collective leg.

Secondhand Smoke Named One of Top Fifty “Business Ethics Blogs”


This is a nice surprise. A professional site called Online MBA Guide has named SHS one among the "50 Best Business Ethics Blogs." We weigh in at #45. Thanks MBA Guide!

Stanley Fish Ain’t for Conscience Clauses for Medical Professionals


As I often say, the culture of death brooks no dissent. Now, none other than the celebrated academic Stanley Fish--perhaps best known for promoting post modernism (although he says he is an anti foundationalist, and who cares anyway)--claims that doctors and nurses who don't wish to take human life should just get over it. From his NYT (of course) blog:

What's the big deal [if doctors refuse to perform some procedures], for after all, "If a procedure is legal, a patient will still have the ability to access that service from a medical professional or institution that does not assert a conflict of conscience" (HHS News Release, August 21, 2008).

But should patients be asked to add to the problems they already have the problem of having to figure out (if they have the time) which providers will be willing to treat them? When a professional hangs out his shingle doesn't he offer his services and skills to the public and not just to members of it who share his morality? Isn't it a matter of conscience (in Hobbes's sense) to abide by the rules that define the profession you've signed up for?
But taking life is definitely not what many doctors and nurses "signed up for." Indeed, forty years ago, they would have all been expected to refuse to abort, at least when the request was for an elective abortion, and certainly would have been expected never to euthanize. And it is only very recent trends that have put doctors and other medical professionals in the situation where they may be expected to take life rather than save it.

Medicine is changing, becoming almost as much an on-demand lifestyle choice enhancing technocracy as it is a healing and palliating profession. Some in the field may wish to deprofessionalize themselves by becoming on-demand deadly service providers; the customer is always right. But we should protect those still-professionals who choose to remain wedded to the orthodox Hippocratic view of what it means to be a doctor, or for that matter, nurse, pharmacist, etc.

I doubt Fish would object one iota if doctors refused to be complicit in executions. Nor would I. But surely, if doctors can refuse to have anything to do with the execution of murderers, even if it is merely to declare death, they they should be equally protected against legal medical procedures that kill.

But that's the thing about post modernism, or anti-foundationalism, or whatever: There is no such thing as concrete concepts of right and wrong or universal principles. It all just depends.


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