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Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

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.

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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.
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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.

Man Interferes with Choice of Suicide, Cooperates With Police State



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Can you imagine? A New Jersey man named Jesse Coltrane was communicating on-line with a friend in California when he found out the young man was apparently killing himself. Instead of respecting his friend's autonomy, he became judgmental and interfered! From the story:
During an online conversation Monday night, 22-year-old Jesse Coltrane realized his friend was distraught and even suicidal."At one moment he was cutting his arms," Coltrane explained. Jesse said he only knew the 18-year-old's first name and phone number and tried to convince his friend not to kill himself. The conversation lasted well into the evening while his friend continued cutting his forearm with a razor.

Jesse decided to call a police department in Sacramento and officers were able to track down where his friend lived in California.
Who does Coltrane think he is: His brother's keeper? And now his friend has been hospitalized for observation! Tyranny.

What It Means to be Human: Plant Rights in Switzerland



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In this edition of my podcast What It Means to be Human, I return to Switzerland's Constitution declaring plant "dignity," and what that all means according to a government-appointed ethics committee. It takes really big brained people to worry about the "decapitation" of wild flowers.

Media Malpractice: Miami Herald Still Unable to Report Accurately About Kevorkian



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Another university is paying Jack Kevorkian to speak, and once again the media--in this case the Miami Herald--can't even report the basic facts about him correctly. From the story, byline Julie Levin:
Dr. Jack Kevorkian will speak from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at Nova Southeastern University in Davie. Organizers expect a large crowd to hear the longtime advocate for a terminally ill patient's right to die. "He represents a very important perspective on the issue of life and death through assisted suicide," said Don Rosenblum, dean of NSU's Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences. The school is hosting Kevorkian as part of its Distinguished Speakers Series that corresponds with its theme of ``Life and Death."...

He eventually served eight years in prison in Michigan on a second-degree murder conviction for an assisted suicide in which he, not the patient, turned the device on. Released in 2007, he continues to advocate for a terminally ill person's right to choose suicide.
Such a short story and the only thing the Herald reported accurately--we assume--was the time and place of the speech! First, the issue isn't "suicide" but assisted suicide. Second, he didn't "turn a device on" in the murder of Thomas Youk: He lethally injected him--and then took the video of the killing to Mike Wallace for airing on 60 Minutes. Finally, he has never advocated limiting assisted suicide to the terminally ill. Indeed, most of Kevorkian's clients were not dying, but were disabled. Five weren't even sick upon their autopsy. In fact, in his 1991 book Prescription Medicide, he looked forward to eventually establishing euthanasia clinics that would even be open to people who felt morally duty-bound to end their own lives.

And let us not forget that Kevorkian's ultimate goal was a license to practice "obitiatry," that is human experimentation on living people he was euthanizing.

Is it really that hard to report accurately, Miami Herald?

Failure of Human Animal Hybrid Cloning Could Spark Human Egg Market



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A few weeks ago, I posted about bitter complaints being made by scientists in Brave New Britain that the government had not yet funded the creation of human/animal hybrid cloned embryos. The scientists charged that morality might have played a part in the non funding--a terrible thought that was later laid to rest by the assurance that morality has nothing to do with science funding in the UK.

But now, the scientists at Advanced Cell Technology are claiming that using animal eggs to make human cloned embryos doesn't work. From the story:
Researchers who tried to use mouse, cow and rabbit eggs to make human clones said on Monday the effort failed to produce workable embryos but added that they showed human cloning should work in principle. Mixing human and animal cells does not appear to program the egg properly, said Dr. Robert Lanza of Massachusetts-based Advanced Cell Technology.

But using human cells did reprogram the egg cell or oocyte and activate the genes needed to make a viable embryo, Lanza and colleagues reported in the journal Cloning and Stem Cells.
It isn't surprising that animal eggs don't work, since even ennucleated eggs (those that have had their nucleus removed) are more than mere empty shells. And it remains to be seen whether the intricacies of cloning will ever work reliably in humans.

What this does seem to mean, however, is that there is no immediate way around the egg dearth that is materially impeding the development of human cloning technology. With each cloning attempt requiring one human egg, tens of thousands of eggs will likely be needed just to perfect the technique--assuming it can be perfected. To ever use cloning as a treatment modality could take many times more. Thus, look for pressure to increase from "the scientists" for the creation of an egg market in which women would be paid to produce eggs for science--with potential devastating health consequences to the sellers.

“Abolitionist” Gary Francione Laments State of Animal Rights Movement



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Gary Francione, who argues that to be authentic all animal rights believers must be vegan and lead by example (I agree with him on this), is unhappy. He worries that the animal rights movement is falling backwards because of the "humane meat" campaigns that, in his mind, have made carne respectable to consume for some who were once abstainers. As evidence, he points out that the Food Standards Agency in Britain has found that the number of people eating a partly or completely vegetarian diet fell from 9 per cent in 2007 to 7 per cent in 2008. As evidence that the humane meat movement is undercutting animal rights, properly understood, he quotes from an article by former vegetarian Tessie Williams. From his column:
The reason for Williams' return to meat: "I see my decision to return to meat as part of a bigger change in Britain's food culture. We've shifted away from the old-school "meat is murder" approach, and now well-sourced meat is seen as healthy and natural.
I agree with Williams that meat is a natural food for human beings. And I have often criticized equating animal slaughter for food with the murder of human beings as misanthropic. But, Francione is absolutely right about the impact of humane meat: If it becomes widely accepted among animal advocates, it will devastate the pure animal rights concept, which asserts that human beings have no right to use animals for any instrumentalized purpose, no matter how beneficial to us:
This is where the happy meat/animal products movement is leading. And it is certainly not confined to Britain. In the United States, animal protection organizations promote initiatives such as California's Proposition 2, which will do nothing to help animals but will falsely reassure humans that animals are being given significantly improved "humane" protection.

The underlying premise of the modern "animal protection" movement is that it is acceptable for humans to use animals as long as they are treated "humanely." Those who support this position may want better treatment than the welfarists of the 1940s or 1950s sought, but the principle is the same: use does not matter; only treatment does. That is a fundamental difference between the abolitionist approach and the approach adopted by the large new-welfarist organizations. The abolitionist position rejects all animal use and sees creative, nonviolent vegan education as the primary strategy to employ.
Francione is also upset with PETA's oft-utilized stunt of using soft core porn to sell vegetarianism:
It is unclear to me why PETA and those who think that this sort of thing is acceptable do not recognize that sexism and speciesism are very closely linked. As long as we continue to commodify women, we will continue to commodify nonhumans. Sexism is not only inherently objectionable; it is a most ineffective way to increase consciousness about nonhumans. PETA has been promoting its sexist anti-fur campaign for over almost 20 years now. Has it had any effect? The fur industry is stronger than it has ever been.
Yes, well PETA's first and foremost rule is to garner attention for itself. Sex sells and ads such as the one not played on the Superbowl are guaranteed attention-getters--particularly from the teenage boy crowd.

Gary Francione is an idealist and a principled advocate. But in promoting veganism he is both pushing against nature and a society that is increasingly geared toward indulging desires rather than promoting virtue. I understand his pain.

American Journal of Bioethics Review of Secondhand Smoke: The Negative



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This is the second post on the review of SHS in the current American Journal of Bioethics. We have already highlighted the positives that Yale University bioethicist found with SHS, and now I would like to reply to his criticisms. Latham writes:
To be clear: This [human exceptionalism] is a world-view, not an argument. Smith is not a philosopher. Do not come to SHS for a clear statement of the justification for his human exceptionalism, or for a rigorous discussion of the methods by which we can ground human rights without consideration of human capacities. Smith is a polemicist, and like any polemicist, he can be maddening.
Well, Secondhand Smokette would agree with that last point. And yes, I am a polemicist, although I hope in the best sense of that term. But that isn't all I am and I don't just make assertions, nor do I tub thump and name call. Indeed, I have argued often for the reasons why human exceptionalism is both right philosophically and morally compelled, as well as the necessary predicate to universal human rights. I devote a whole chapter on that issue in the new book on animal rights that will be out in the fall. But Latham is right: I don't do philosophy per se. I do policy and ethics.

Here I think Latham is completely off base:
Someone could oppose, on principle, the dehydration of Terri Schiavo without minimizing the extent of her disability and without demonizing Michael Schiavo—but Smith is not that person. Someone could oppose the destruction of embryos in research even while recognizing that research's exciting and unique medical potential—but that is not Smith, either. On SHS, the messy world of facts always magically lines up with the core moral theory.
That's just not true. First, I never said she wasn't catastrophically devastated. I wrote there were good reasons to believe that she wasn't PVS, but more to the point, that it didn't matter whether she was unconscious or not. Moreover, I didn't "demonize" Michael Schiavo. I was sarcastic about him, yes. But I pointed out many facts that in my view made him unworthy to be her guardian and in charge of her care. These ranged from his living with another woman he called his "fiance" and having children with her--while still claiming all the rights of a husband--to telling a malpractice jury he would care for her the rest of her (naturally long) life--only to refuse antibiotics so she would die within months of the money being deposited in the bank in 1993, money that he would have inherited. I was more critical of the terrible handling of the case as I saw it by the courts. For facts on what I wrote about this tragic matter, do a search at the Weekly Standard site, where most of these articles were published.

As to ESCR, I never denied that scientists were excited about the field. Indeed, I have always written that this was an ethics debate not a science debate. I have also posted about the advances that have been made in ESCR. I have, however, been very critical of the hype in which the pro side has engaged and focused on advances in human trials with adult stem cell research and otherwise that the MSM and many bioethicist advocates for ESCR tend to downplay or ignore. I have also deconstructed the nonsense that the field has been starved for funds and exposed the junk biology and term redefinition utilized ubiquitously by ESCR proponents to win a political debate, which I have justly called a corruption of science.

Latham then makes a very common complaint made by bioethicists:
Smith's second-most maddening attribute is his tendency to slap the title "bioethicist" onto people who take positions he disagrees with. If they are really bad, they’re "elite bioethicists" or "utilitarian bioethicists." Smith normally talks about bioethicists: in more or less the same tone that Charles Dicken's Mr. Micawber used in describing Uriah Heep.
That's a good line about Uriah Heep, but this complaint is typical of the way in which I believe mainstream bioethicists--another term I use--seek to avoid being nailed to the wall. As I wrote about a similar complaint made by a reviewer of Culture of Death in the Hastings Center Report:
I must say that I am growing weary of my critics' constant whine that my book paints with too broad a brush. In my view, that is merely a way of insulating bioethics from any meaningful or systemic criticism. But just as one can criticize the general belief system of, say, Republicans -- even though there are differences among those in the GOP -- it seems fair to me to mount a macrocriticism of bioethics.
The only way to do that, it seems to me, is to find terminology to identify those with whom I disagree. Many bioethicists have certainly used labels to describe me: I have been called a "conservative" (as does Latham), "anti-science" a "bio-Luddite," even an advocate for "the endarkenment," etc. In fact, it seems to me that Latham's attitude demonstrates that the default position of bioethics as what, Progressive, and it shows. Look at the vituperation and uttter disrespect directed against Leon Kass by many in the field when he--a heterodox thinker in the field--was named to head the President's Council on Bioethics. Besides, what's wrong with calling a bioethicist, a well, bioethicist?

Latham concludes with a good criticism and a pointed question that deserves an answer:
Finally,the "links" section is fairly lame, including only websites of the institutions with which he is officially affiliated. Both the Hastings Center’s Bioethics Forum and the American Journal of Bioethics's own blog.bioethics.net link to him, but he does not link back. Why not?
I plead guilty to having a lame links section. I used to have a better one that did link to AJOB's blog. But when I changed the look of the blog, I accidentally erased the old template,which included links that allowed readers to buy my books. I don't have a student assistant or an intern to do such things for me, and I simply haven't had the time to reconstruct the site as it was before.

Thanks again to Latham for taking the time to review SHS and to the AJOB for publishing it. I really appreciate it.

American Journal of Bioethics Review of Secondhand Smoke--The Positive



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This blog has received a formal review by Yale University bioethicist Stephen R. Latham. I am most pleased that it is a mixed review with some very nice compliments as well as pointed criticisms, and I very much appreciate Latham's even handedness. (When Culture of Death came out, I recall one bioethicist reviewer called it the book that should never have been published!)

A thoughtful review deserves a respectful response. I will divide my reaction into two parts. The first--this one--will highlight the positive comments he made. I'll discuss what he found objectionable about SHS (and my work generally) in the next post.

Latham "gets" a lot of what I am attempting to accomplish here. From the review (AJOB: 9(2): 65–66, 2009):

...Smith’s beliefs are not religiously grounded, but are based in a secular view of the intrinsic worth of all humans as such, regardless of developmental stage or capacity. He is a staunch advocate of what he calls "human exceptionalism"--the view that the human species is unique among living creatures in the degree to which it should command respect and enjoy rights. Or, as Smith summarizes it in the intro to his blog: "Human life matters." [Credit to my wonderful friend Mark Pickup who coined that slogan.]

On Smith's "human exceptionalist" view, a great range of bioethical theory improperly undermines human rights by coupling rights not to our humanity simpliciter, but to our possession of certain capacities—consciousness, perhaps, or "moral personhood," or mere sentience...Thus Smith's critique runs in two directions: against those who, like embryonic stem-cell researchers and assisted-suicide advocates, use capacity arguments to justify what Smith regards as the immoral destruction of humans; and against those who, like animal rights extremists, use a different sort of capacity argument to extend rights--in his view, improperly--to non-humans, even at the expense of humans (as when People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals [PETA] activists seek to shut down medical experimentation on animals).

This core critique gives SHS an unusual combination of variety and unity.
[He then gives several examples of my posts too long to reproduce here.]

That's a pretty good summary of why I see mainstream bioethics, animal rights, radical environmentalism as threats (in their own ways) to vulnerable human beings and universal human rights.

Latham further writes:
Smith actually covers a fair bit of bioethics-related news from all around the world. [Me: That's in no small part due to the many SHSers who take the time to send me stories.]... For another, he is a serious and vocal opponent of disability discrimination--something that a number of liberal bioethicists fail culpably to talk much about. Smith has also been a hospice volunteer, and has worked hard to advance the cause of better pain control at the end of life.
I think the "quality of life" ethic that so many mainstream bioethicists embrace lead toward thinking less about discrimination based on disability. But be that as it may, protecting people with disabilities--regardless of whether they are physical, developmental, or cognitive--is part of the very point of human exceptionalism.

Latham continues:
And finally, Smith is entertaining. He is a good enough writer that you can share his humor and feel his anger from one post to the next. He is that guy you always used to argue with in college. His rhetoric drove you nuts, but he made you think—and it was fun even when the disagreements were serious.
I really appreciate that. I work hard to make this blog informative, interesting, and persuasive. I think being entertaining promotes all of those ends.

In the next post, we'll discuss Latham's criticisms of SHS.

Euthanasia Blues



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I first posted this disability rights protest song about euthanasia a few years ago. Given the flow of events, and the many new SHSers who might not have seen it, I decided it was worth
repeating.

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