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Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

My Congressional Testimony About Animal Rights



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While I was testifying in person before a Senate subcommmittee last week about assisted suicide, I was also asked to submit written testimony to the House Judiciary Committee, which is considering a bill to toughen the law against animal rights terrorism. The testimony deals primarily with the ideology of animal rights. If you are interested in reading it, you can do so by activating this link.

Animal Rights Terrorism Backfiring in UK



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I think this story is less important than it might seem. The Telegraph is reporting that terrorism by animal rights extremists has backfired politically, creating sympathy and support for the proper use of animals in medical testing. That is well and good. But the terrorists won't care. They don't see themselves as battling for popular support, but rather, in preventing "by any means necessary" activities they deem akin to the cruelest torture. If this is their mindset, what do opinion polls have to do with it?

Moreover, I believe that for many extremists, the animal issue is something of a pretext. These misanthropes vehemently want to "tear down." Thus, if it wasn't the animals, it would be the environment, or global warming, or some other such cause. In this sense, they seem similar to the anarchists of the early 20th Century. Thus, it isn't surprising that our contemporary anarchists--such as those that tore up Seattle a few years ago in a WTO protest--are allies of animal liberationist terrorists.

It is good that the use of animals in medical research has widespread support, of course. This will be helpful in giving governments the backbones to pass anti-terrorist legislation and increase efforts at enforcement. But as I wrote last week in the Daily Standard, I believe that the people who are best situated to talk the crazies back from the cliff are their more peaceable co-believers.

Unfortunately, the non terrorists seem to be less than engaged in this effort. Perhaps this story will convince them that they had better try. Because if someone is killed in the name of animal rights, whatever support the movement now has for "protecting the animals" will sink like a crowbar thrown from a bridge.
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Human Trials Continue with Adult Stem Cells



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This story describes a medical research protocol that will determine whether patients with heart attacks and congestive heart failure can be helped with their own bone marrow stem cells. The difference between stem cell treatments and existing therapies is profound: "The potential new benefit from stem cell therapy is the ability to prevent [heart] muscle loss, whereas other options compensate for muscle loss." In other words, if the stem cell therapy works, the patient will literally be better biologically, whereas the heart drugs for the condition currently in use seek to circumvent and overcome the dysfunction caused by underlying disease.

My Letter in the Current Weekly Standard



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A recent story in the Weekly Standard by Fred Barnes about Governor Matt Blunt stated that he (Blunt) supported the pending Missouri initiative to legalize "stem cell" research. Of course, that isn't accurate. I wrote a letter to the editor about it, which Barnes graciously approved for publication. Here it is:

"Not Always So Blunt

Fred Barnes's profile of Missouri governor Matt Blunt was intriguing, but Barnes makes a common error when he claims that Blunt supports a planned initiative to "allow stem cell research in Missouri" ("Taking a Blunt Approach," May 22). Actually, the initiative Blunt supports would create a right in Missouri's constitution to engage in human cloning for biomedical research (i.e., somatic cell nuclear transfer). SCNT is not a synonym for stem cell research, although proponents of human research cloning like Blunt pretend that it is, for political purposes. To state the matter accurately, Blunt supports creating human embryos asexually for destruction and use in stem cell research, which is why he has gotten in trouble with Missouri's pro-life community."

Eugenic United Kingdom



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The bioethics news out of the UK keeps getting worse. Now, according to The Sunday Times, doctors are performing late term abortions because of minor anomalies that could be surgically corrected, such as having club feet. Last year a baby was aborted at the 28th week because imaging showed it had a cleft palate! Apparently doctors are pushing this eugenic agenda. Those who pooh-pooh slippery slopes, take heed. Meanwhile, as noted earlier here, the UK now permits eugenic embryo selection based on a genetic propensity to adult onset cancer.

We will never know who we are selecting out either because of our desire not to be "burdened" by a disabled child or because we somehow don't want the child to suffer. But choosing death over a propensity to suffer would have deprived us of some of the greatest people who ever lived, not to mention some of the most wonderful who never made the history books. Indeed, by such judgments, if the current technology were available at the time, Abraham Lincoln might never have been born because he would have been tall and homely, with a depressive disorder, while Mother Theresa might have been rejected because she would be diminutive.

This striving for hyper control over our progeny is leading toward some very dark places.
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Feds Funding Stem Cell Research in the Hundreds of Millions in 2005



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I just checked the NIH site to see the funding levels for stem cell research. Here are the actual numbers for fiscal year 2005: Human embryonic, $40 million; non human embryonic, $97 million; Human, non embryonic, $199 million; and, non human, non embryonic, $273 million.

Transhumanism Conference



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I just got home from a transhumanism conference ("Human Enhancement Technologies and Human Rights")being held at Stanford through tomorrow (Sunday). Among the items I learned today are: Feminist bioethics supports genetic engineering so that men can be altered to have babies and women can be freed from the tyranny of menstruation; animals should be enhanced to permit them to become equivalent to humans, including the ability to use the Internet--before, that is, all animal life is transformed into non biological states of existence, which apparently the living planet Gaia requires in order to survive; funding anti-aging research is more important than funding treatment for fighting disease in Africa; we probably should permit people who want to be amputees to achieve their desires; and, freedom requires a maximum morphological license to enhance our biological units.

I covered the conference for the Weekly Standard and will be writing about what it all means in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, Will Saletan from Slate is also in attendance, and I have no doubt he will be weighing in with his impressions soon. When he does, I will link it here.

Peter Singer: Grant Right to Life for Animals but not Babies



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The world's foremost proponent of infanticide, Peter Singer, argues in the Guardian in favor of granting legal rights to great apes and perhaps other animals. Among the rights these animals should possess, he claims, is the right to life. Yet, the same Peter Singer has written that killing a baby is no more problematic morally than killing a fish since neither are, in his view, "persons." I wonder if Singer would support ape infanticide? He does support ape euthanasia, of course. Just as he does people with Alzheimer's.

Singer also wants to grant a right not to be "tortured." Of course, such a right would only apply against humans. If a pack of chimpanzees attacked another pack, torturing and killing, as sometimes happens--no one would suggest that they be "punished" for the "crime," since no crime would have occurred. If humans did that, it would be immoral and criminal, not only because of the pain caused to the animals but because the act amounts to lower than human action. Similarly, if a lion tore a chimp apart, Singer would not suggest that the lion face trial and imprisonment. This is because neither chimps nor lions are moral beings. (Singer's suggestion that apes resent not having favors returned, and so have a sense of justice, is hardly equivalent.)

Of course, we should punish any human who tortures an animal. That is because we are the only beings in the known universe who can--and should--be held accountable for our actions. But the issue Singer is interested in isn't really preventing torture, properly understood, but rather at interfering with necessary medical research.

Singer claims that great apes are not used in research any more. But chimps were unquestionably needed to create the Hepatitis vaccine. It appears increasingly likely that HIV came from chimpanzees who harbor a very similar virus (SIV) and yet, don't get sick from it. This means there is undoubtedly much to learn from performing humane experiments on these wonderful animals to help us find effective treatments or a vaccine for HIV, as two examples.

I don't believe we should use chimps in research lightly. But in an appropriate case to prevent substantial human harm or promote substantial human benefit, and when there is no other reasonable choice, we need to be free to experiment on these wonderful animals--subject always to proper standards of care.

Time for Animal Rights Leaders To Control the Crazies



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I have a piece today in the Daily Standard on the need for "mainstream" animal rights activists to work actively to convince the crazies in their movement to stop the violence and intimidation before somebody gets killed. If that happens, I worry that what little restrain remains among the terrorists would disintegrate, leading to bloodshed. This, in turn would bring about a harsh crackdown by law enforcement, and an utter discrediting of the entire animal rights movement.

Assisted Suicide Advocates Factually Challenged About Senate Hearing



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It was brought to my attention that the euphemistically named Compassion and Choices (formerly, the Hemlock Society), has a notice on its WEB site about yesterday's committee hearing that is pure baloney. The note states, "Witnesses called by the majority talked about the Netherlands and did not attempt to denigrate the Oregon experience. Compassion & Choices' witnesses performed like ROCK STARS. Julie McMurchie, Ann Jackson and Kathryn Tucker all presented strong, fact-filled testimony that was not challenged."

Whether they performed like rock stars, one could say, is in the ear of the listener. But the assertion that none of us tried to "denigrate the Oregon experience" or failed to challenge Tucker's et.al, assertions, is plainly not true. Rita Marker's testimony was all about Oregon. And I weighed in also during the question and answer portion of the hearing. I pointed out that the law permits suicidal patients to go "doctor shopping" when their personal physicians refuse to assist their suicides. These patients often end up with a doctor referred by assisted suicide advocates and that some knew their death doctors two weeks or less before dying by lethal overdose. I called this rank "Kevorkianism." I also emphasized that the statistics reported by Oregon are unreliable because the state depends on death doctor self-reporting--without engaging in any independent oversight--a point picked up in this AP story about the hearing.

The moral of the story? When assisted suicide advocates make supposed factual assertions, take it with a grain of salt the size of a granite boulder.

Austin “Futile Care” Hospital Now Doing Right Thing in Vo Case



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I just received this note from Jerri Ward, the indefatigable lawyer standing in the breach for potential futile care theory victims and their families: "I have good news concerning Yolang Vo. The hospital [St. David's North Austin Medical Center]has extended the deadline until July 17 in order to stabilize Mrs. Vo for home care. The hospital is actively helping with that process. The pieces are starting to fall into place for home care."

Good for St. David's. I believe that most people in these situations want to do the right thing, but have a profound difference about what that "thing" is. I also believe that casting the light of the sun into these cases helps tremendously in convincing hospital administration not to impose medical futility. Nonetheless, credit should be given when credit is due. As Ward also told me, "When hospitals do something good, I think it should be noted."

Written Testimony From Today’s Committee Hearing



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The Senate hearing went well today. Senator Sam Brownback is a true gentleman, who treated both sides of the debate with dignity, courtesy, and respect. For those who are interested, here is my written testimony, primarily about the Netherlands and how it is relevant to the debate here in the USA. I deviated from this approach in my oral presentation in reaction to the pro assisted suicide testimony. Also very worth reading are the presentations by Rita Marker and Diane Coleman. You can also read the pro-assisted suicide advocates at this URL.

Testifying in DC



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I will be testifying before a United States Senate subcommittee on Thursday about the federal role in the assisted suicide debate. My focus will be on the vertical cliff off of which the Netherlands has fallen since it began permitting euthansia. Also testifying will be Rita Marker, head of the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, and Diane Coleman, founder of Not Dead Yet. Kathryn Tucker, the lawyer for the Hemlock Society, now named "Compassion and Choices," will testify for assisted suicide. No doubt, she will stress state's rights, ignoring the profound irony that she once tried unsuccessfully to obliterate the right of any state to prevent assisted suicide by having the Supreme Court declare an assisted suicide Roe v Wade.

When the Committee puts the testimony on-line, I will add a link. Wish me luck!

Futile Care Cases Sprouting in Texas



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I am now convinced that the opening salvo for pushing medical futility to the forefront, which I have been predicting for several years was on its way, has begun. This note was sent to me from Elizabeth Graham of Texas Right to Life, which I reprint here with her permission. Remember, this is just her take, and we don't yet know all of the facts. But I know Elizabeth and she is not given to exaggeration. I have asked Elizabeth why the doctor thinks treatment for the patient is inappropriate and I will post her answer when I receive it.

"We have two new cases this week: one is a pediatric case in Dallas, and the other is in Houston. The Houston family is not ready to go public yet, or I would be shouting for assistance from the rooftops...I was invited to participate in the futility review process at the Houston facility, and it was disgusting and appalling. The attending physician stated that the patient was definitely NOT brain dead, simply brain damaged from a stroke. The patient is NOT experiencing organ failure, meaning her lungs, heart, kidneys, liver,...everything is working. The patient has a trach collar, but she breathes on her own, and she processes food and hydration appropriately. She is free from infection. During the meeting, I pointed out that the withdrawal of food and water would effectively starve the patient to death, and the doctors dismissed me as if I did not understand medical science. I am not sure what exactly is scientific about starvation, but the patient's mother agreed and was bewildered at the discussion of withdrawal of treatment including food and water. Oh yes, did I mention that the patient has NO insurance? The medical folks involved in these cases adamantly avow that financial considerations never enter into the futility decisions; however, I have yet to hear from the family of any patients with good, adequate health insurance.

Our Dallas attorney is working on the pediatric case, and the family was granted some additional days because the facility did not follow proper statutory procedure. This patient has only Medicaid."

One correction: The patient would dehydrate to death, not starve, if tube sustenance were stopped. Talk about a distinction with no meaningful difference! And yes. In the end, futile care theory is about money.

Potential PVS Treatment? It’s Ambien



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The drug that may have awakened patients diagnosed with PVS is the sleep aid Ambien. The American Journal of Bioethics Blog gives more details, although I must say, they don't seem too pleased at the potential.

Holy Cow! Patients in PVS Awakened by Sleeping Pill



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If actually true, this story, published by the usually reliable Guardian, is amazing: Three patients who were unconscious for years in diagnosed persistent vegetative states (PVS), awakened after being given a certain sleeping medication. They interacted with their environment. And then, after four hours, became unconscious again. The story says permanently unconscious, but I doubt that word applies any more.

This definitely needs to be researched and after proper vetting, put into appropriate clinical trials. It also illustrates that we really don't know what is going on inside the minds of people diagnosed as permanently unconscious. Moreover, if this is real--and it sure appears that it is--it should give us great pause before pulling the tube feeding of people diagnosed as PVS. The doctors involved also claimed that the drug could have wider application, hoping that "the drug could have uses in all kinds of brain damage, including Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's."

Doctors Emotionally Scarred by Participating in PAS



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A few studies have looked into the emotional toll on doctors who participate in euthanasia and assisted suicide. This peer reviewed article makes it clear that mercy killing not only hurts the killed, but often the doctors who participate in the killing.

Kansas Boy Was Dead



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The controversy surrounding the declaration of the death of 14-year-old Michael J. Todd by neuorological criteria is over. The family obtained a second opinion and learned, to their sorrow, that their boy was indeed dead. The allegations of insensitive remarks made by a doctor have been denied by the hospital. In any event, these can be very difficult issues and the obtaining of the second opinion was the right way to go.

Animal Liberationists to Hold Terrorist Training Camp



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This is getting so huge: The Telegraph is reporting that animal rights extremists are going to hold a terrorist training camp to export their terror campaign throughout Europe. Included will be lethal means of fighting for "self defense."

The time has long since past for those in the movement who disagree with violence to speak loudly and clearly. This means PETA, which has influence, Gary Francione, who does not support violence, Peter Singer, who seems to have been somewhat ambivalent in the past, and others. Speak now. Speak unequivocally. The crazies might listen to you. They sure won't listen to anybody else.

The Disability Rights Movement Is Fighting Futile Care Theory



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As readers of Secondhand Smoke and my other writing know, I am trying to raise public awareness of futile care theory (medical futility), which I see as a profound threat to patient autonomy and the concept of equal moral worth among all human beings. The disability right movement "gets it" and perceives, accurately in my view, that their members are prime targets for unilateral refusal of wanted life-sustaining treatment. Here is an article against futility from a disability rights perspective.

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