Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

More Hope for Paralyzed Patients From Adult Stem Cells


A researcher in the UK is going to begin treating spinal cord injury patients with their own nasal stem cells, and has gotten a big story in the Telegraph and the Guardian. This technique has proved very hopeful in animals and in Portugal, where Dr. Carlos Lima has treated some three dozen human patients in recent years with their own tissues, as I reported last year. Patients have had some feeling and movement restored from this procedure. Umbilical cord blood stem cells seem also to offer promise for paralyzed patients.

And embryonic stem cells and therapeutic cloning? They are being left in the dust. But politicized scientists continue to insist they offer the best chance for treatments. If that is their story, they should stick to it. But when and if the people see it as false, the great cloning and stem cell debate will be won.

Hollywood Producer: Jack Kevorkian is Another Martin Luther King--Biopic Planned


When Jack Kevorkian was at the height of his fame for assisting the suicides of people with disabilities, (he cared so much he once admitted he could not remember their names), he was invited to the Time magazine 75th anniversary party where Tom Cruise rushed up to shake his hand.

According to the new Bio Edge, Kevorkian may soon be lionized in a movie biopic. Gee. I wonder if the movie will describe how Kevorkian's ultimate goal was "obitiatry," that is, conducting medical experiments on those he was euthanizing. I wonder if it will point out that five of his many victims were not even sick upon autopsy. I wonder if the producers will depict him in medical school acting on his death obsession by staring into the eyes of dying patients and taking their pictures, for which he first earned the nickname "Dr. Death."

Hollywood producer Steve Jones has compared Kevorkian to Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. What an insult to two great men. I wonder if Jones knows or cares that Kevorkian repeatedly went to prisons seeking the right to conduct medical research on prisoners who were being executed? They were going to die anyway, he reasoned, so he might as well get some good use out of them. It was pure quackery, of course. And Kevorkian only turned to ill and disabled people when he was not allowed to get his sick hands on those being put to death.

Supposedly Ben Kingsley might play Kevorkian. What a travesty that would be. Lionizing a criminal like Kevorkian tells us how twisted some in the cultural elite have become.

Embryonic Stem Cells from Cloned Embryos May Not be Safe for Use in Treatments


A study reported on by The Scientist.Com claims that there has been no improvement in the efficiency of animal cloning since the birth of Dolly ten years ago. (Only 1-5% of attempts result in live births.) But the problem is a mystery since cloned embryos and fertilized embryos "look alike."

Of acute interest, this problem of unknown cause, may make therapeutic cloning treatments dangerous. From the story: "These findings don't bode well for those hoping to see stem cell therapy a reality anytime soon either, according to Wolf Reik, at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge, U.K. "Even if cloned [animal] embryos are born, many are not normal and die prematurely; these late effects are not caused by early deficits in gene expression, and that's what this study shows," said Reik. Consequently, stem cells used therapeutically may appear perfectly normal initially, with problems arising only later, he cautioned."

None of this is a problem with adult/umbilical cord blood stem cells. When this truly penetrates the public's consciousness, the debate will be won.

Paul McCartney’s Misplaced Animal Rights Priorities


When Sir Paul McCartney's previous wife Linda died, he donated in her name to fight cancer and to PETA, in support of animal rights. It seemed to me this was donating at cross purposes, since if PETA gets its way, cancer research will be badly impeded.

Now, this opinion column in the London Times takes McCartney to task for caring more about abused animals in China (which is appalling to everyone) than abused and oppressed people.

Here is the key quote: "China imprisons and executes thousands of dissidents who dare to criticize the regime. Sixteen years after the protest in Tiananmen Square dozens of those arrested remain in prison. One man, Yu Dongyue, is still imprisoned for having thrown paint on the portrait of Mao Zedong in Tiananmen Square,an act of "counterrevolutionary propaganda and incitement" for which he was sentenced to 20 years.

Sir Paul and Lady Heather are so exercised by the plight of some cats and dogs that they will now refuse to travel to China, and are demanding a worldwide boycott of Chinese goods.

As for the imprisonment and judicial murder of thousands of dissident human beings, not a pip from either of them."

Definitely worth a read.

Latest On Legalizing Infanticide in the Netherlands


The Dutch Government is moving to expeditiously legalize infanticide. It has now created a commission to create the rules for the legal killing of "seriously suffering" babies. This is a tremendous violation of human rights. Shame on the Netherlands and the general lack of protest around the world.

The "patriarch of bioethics" Joseph Fletcher once called infanticide "post birth abortion." Apparently the Dutch agree. Note this quote from a high official, "We wanted to respond to the needs of doctors to create clarity in how to deal with ending the life of seriously suffering newborns as well as the legal consequences of late abortions," Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner and Junior Health Minister Clemence Ross-van Dorp wrote in a letter to parliament.

For shame.

The AP Also Can’t Describe Therapeutic Cloning Accurately


This gets so old: In Missouri there is a pending fight over an initiative to legalize human therapeutic cloning. The Missouri Secretary of State has been sued for permitting the signature petitions to be released. The basis of the suit is that the petitions claim that the initiative bans "human cloning," when in fact, the initiative would explicitly legalize it, while not permitting cloned babies to be born. (As I have had to restate ad nauseum, biologically, the act of human cloning is asexual reproduction performed via somatic cell nuclear transfer, or SCNT. This act of cloning culminates in the creation of a new human embryo. Human cloning is not the birth of a cloned baby.)

It isn't that hard. Really. Yet, here is how David A. Lieb, the AP reporter, described therapeutic cloning in the story about the lawsuit: "But the proposal would allow what's known as therapeutic cloning, or somatic cell nuclear transfer. In that procedure, the nucleus of an egg is replaced with the nucleus from something such as a skin or nerve cell. The altered egg then is stimulated to grow in a lab dish, and researchers remove the resulting stem cells." (Here is the link.)

What did Lieb (or his editor) leave out? Ah, yes: the fact that SCNT creates an embryo, which is a new human life. That is what grows, not the egg, which ceases to exist upon the successful completion of cloning just as it ceases to exist upon the completion of natural conception. The stem cells are derived by destroying the embryo. Thus, in therapeutic cloning human life is created for the purpose of destroying and harvesting it, which is one reason why it is so morally controversial--and I suspect, why it is almost never accurately described in media reports.

The MSM is totally in the tank for therapeutic cloning, but one would hope that there would be one writer in one outlet with the professional integrity to accurately describe the act of human cloning. But I am not holding my breath.

(Full disclosure: I have been informally advising opponents of the initiative on a pro bono basis, but have not been involved in the litigation.)

“Death on Demand” Nitschke Moving to New Zealand


Phillip Nitschke, the "Down Under" Kevorkian is moving to New Zealand because Australia has wisely outlawed some of his suicide promoting activities. For those who don't know of him, Nitschke was paid by the Hemlock Society (now merged into Compassion and Choices)to develop the "peaceful pill," a suicide concoction that he told the National Review Online should be available to "troubled teens." In fact, his ill-fated interview with Kathryn Jean Lopez of NRO was the first step of a long and winding road that led to the current outcome.

As a side note, after his interview with NRO, I traveled to Australia to out Nitschke as a death-on demand-fanatic. It was a week of media feeding frenzy in most electronic and much of the printed media--including a front page story in the Australian exposing Nitschke for importing a plastic "Exit Bag" from Canada for use in suicides--illustrated by a photo of me holding said Exit Bag and the suicide instructions that came with it.

It was great advocacy, but I can't take much credit for it. I was merely the (very willing) public face of a concentrated effort by Australia Right to Life and other anti-euthanasia activists to expose Nitschke for the fanatic he is. But I am proud that my trip served as a catalyst that has now culminated 4 1/2 years later in his being forced to leave the country in order to carry on his twisted suicide promotion activities.

Take Pregnant Pigs Out of the Florida Constitution


A few years ago, animal rights/liberation activists successfully convinced Florida voters to grant pregnant pigs the state constitutional right to have enough space within which to turn around. Now, that may be a perfectly fine and humane animal husbandry policy. But, pigs do not belong in human constitutions.

Human constitutions should be about guaranteeing human rights and establishing our democratic methods of governance. Animal protection measures belong in legal statutes. In this way, it isn't the animals having a "right," but rather, humans having the affirmative obligation to act toward them in appropriate ways.

But, of course, protecting pigs was not the point of that exercise. Blurring the crucial distinction between animals and humans was the real agenda. Indeed, there were only two pig farms affected and they slaughtered their entire herds after the right was granted--to the applause of the animal rights movement, which saw the killing as a way to reduce animal suffering.

Now, Florida voters may be given a chance to make amends. According to this story, an initiative may appear on the ballot that would, as part of an effort to "clean up" the Florida Constitution, take the pregnant pigs out of the Constitution and place the requirements for their care into an animal welfare statute. Let's hope that the voters understand why this is so important. (I take no position on the other issues mentioned in the story that would also be affected by a positive vote.)

Arizona Public Policy Communicates Message that Human Cloning is Immoral


This bit of good news escaped me until this weekend: Arizona has passed two laws that impact the debates over human cloning and embryonic stem cells. The first, 35-196.04, prohibits the use of any public monies for human cloning. And, unlike phony bans so often seen at the state and federal level, the Arizona law uses a scientifically accurate definitions of the term, e.g., "human somatic cell nuclear transfer, commonly known as human cloning."

SCNT is accurately defined, too, to wit: "For the purposes of this section, "human somatic cell nuclear transfer" means human asexual reproduction that is accomplished by introducing the genetic material from one or more human somatic cells into a fertilized or unfertilized oocyte whose nuclear material has been removed or inactivated so as to produce an organism, at any stage of development, that is genetically virtually identical to an existing or previously existing human organism."

I emphasized the words "to produce an organism" because that is what cloning does. It doesn't produce a baby. It isn't the act of implantation. It isn't the creation of stem cells. It produces a new human organism. After that, there is no more cloning. The only question is what to do with the organism that was created.

The second law, 41-1518, prevents business that engage in human cloning or embryonic stem cell research from receiving tax credits available to other businesses.

The key message being communicated by Arizona passing these laws is that using human life as a harvestable crop is immoral.

Why the New York Times Lacks Credibility


I am often involved in public controversies reported about in the New York Times. In my more than ten years of such work, the repeated examples of biased reporting in that newspaper are almost beyond recounting.

What drives me the most nuts is not so much the sneering or condescending tone the paper's reporting often takes, but the paper's nasty habit of leaving out important facts that do not further the story line the Times wants to push. For example, Times' stories almost never mentioned the highly relevant fact that Michael Schiavo was living with another woman and had two children by her as he sought Terri's death.

Along these same lines, today's Times has a front page story on Woo-Suk Hwang's ethical lapses in obtaining eggs for therapeutic cloning, which I blogged on yesterday. Toward the end of the article, the story shifts from describing his bad ethics to defending therapeutic cloning. While the story mentions cloning embryos when describing the egg issue, it leaves that fact out entirely when actually describing the process of "therapeutic cloning," which, readers are told, consists merely of "converting one of a patient's adult cells into an embryonic cell, and then converting that cell into new adult cells to replace any damaged tissue."

This description omits the crucial point: In somatic cell nuclear transfer, the nucleus of the adult cell is fused with the egg to create a new human embryo through asexual means--the act of human cloning. The embryo is developed for about a week and then destroyed to obtain its stem cells. This is not merely reverting an adult cell to a stem cell. It is creating a new human organism, a human life, for the purpose of destroying and harvesting it.

The point of the inaccurate reporting is to conveniently skip past the part that causes people to be wary of the therapeutic cloning enterprise. This is bad journalism and an example of bias-by-omission for which the New York Times is becoming infamous.

Human Egg Issue Takes Down Hwang


Woo-Suk-Hwang, the world's first human cloner, has resigned all public posts because he paid for the human eggs used in cloning research and then mislead the journal Nature about it. (He will continue his research.) This may well doom the international cloned embryonic stem cell bank that Hwang intended to create.

Ethics are a huge issue in this cloning debate. One of many problems is how to procure human eggs for use in cloning (one per try), which can be an onerous and even, dangerous process for the women "donors." As Hwang stated, "We needed a lot of ova [eggs] for the research but there were not enough ova around."

In the face of this problem, look for pro-cloners to begin to attempt to loosen ethical guidelines involving egg procurement.

And consider this: If eggs are a problem now, when relatively few are required for research, what will it be like should tens of millions be required for therapeutic cloning treatments. Some researchers say they will be able to be obtained by morphing embryonic stem cells into eggs. But that will take years and much testing, if it can be done at all. Using animal eggs would create mostly human chimeras, which would be an ethical problem in itself. Then there are the destitute women of the world, which many feminists and others worry will be exploited as so many egg farms. They are a more readily available source for eggs and would be easy to exploit.

I have said it before and I will keep saying it: Human cloning is inherently dehumanizing; for the clone, for women, and to society.

Happy Thanksgiving to One and All


Thanks to everyone who tunes into Secondhand Smoke. Have a wonderful holiday.

Euthanasia and Health Care Rationing in Europe


This thoughtful commentary, published in the Brussels Journal, worries that Europeans, which have a form of health care rationing already in place to keep public health programs afloat, may turn to euthanasia as a form of controlling costs. Here is the key quote:

"In Europe there are medical treatments, operations or drugs which are not available to persons above a certain age, or to persons who are considered too sick, or to anyone at all. Political authorities, claiming to be the guardians of solidarity in society, decide who is allowed to get what kind of treatment, operation or drug. Soon euthanasia might be the price the solidarity principle of the welfare state imposes on those people whose health care is costing society the most. Politicians in Belgium and the Netherlands have already granted their citizens a "right to die" by means of a lethal (and cheap) euthanasia injection. Is this a new "freedom" that the state, which is constantly restricting every other aspect of our lives, generously bestows on us? Or does it boil down to "economic euthanasia," which enables governments to save money by eliminating those that cost the welfare state too much?" (My emphasis.)

Such predictions do not warrant our becoming smug. We are experiencing some of the same problems with managed care. The Bioethics Movement is hot to impose health care rationing. If assisted suicide/euthanasia is ever legalized widely here in the U.S., it too could quickly become about money.

Think about it: The drugs for killing cost less than $100. It might cost $100,000 to give patients proper care so they don't want euthanasia. As I noted in Forced Exit, if the same percentage of Americans die by euthanasia,as are (under) reported in the Netherlands, it would amount to about 175,000 euthanasia deaths each year. Many of these would be the most expensive patients to care for. This is one reason I have often asserted that I that if assisted suicide/euthanasia is ever legalized here, Wall Street investors in for-profit HMOs will be dancing in the streets.

More Good News About Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cells


I have reported here about how one paralyzed woman in South Korea gained some feeling and mobility using umbilical cord blood stem cells. One patient, of course, does not an efficacious treatment make. But this study adds substantially to the belief that UC stem cells are going to do marvelous things. Rats with spinal cord injury enjoyed moderate improvement using umbilical cord blood stem cells. But pro embryonic stem cell Senators are preventing the feds from creating an umbilical cord blood stem cell bank, which everyone supports on an ethical basis, thereby delaying the day when these treatments could reach suffering patients. Shame on them.

Embryonic Stem Cell Debate Now Primarily About Human Cloning


Bioethicists Art Caplan and Glenn McGee push for full federal funding of human cloning research in this opinion column. As is usual for articles such as this, the bioethicists claim, "A clear majority of Americans favor embryonic stem cell research. Yet there are no meaningful federal funds for such research." First, clear majorities oppose therapeutic human cloning, as the Virginia Commonwealth University poll I blogged about recently demonstrates. Majorities only support ESCR if the embryos destroyed are leftover from IVF and are going to be discarded anyway. Second, funding for cloning research is barred by the Dickey Amendment, which prohibits federal money being spent to support research that destroys human embryos. The Dickey Amendment has been passed every year since 1996, and signed by both Presidents Clinton and Bush. Third, there are no federal proposals that I know of to fund therapeutic cloning, only ESCR using leftover IVF embryos.

The bioethicists also claim that the dreaded issue of women being exploited for their eggs would be somehow more ethically handled in the U.S. than it was by Woo-Suk Hwang. Perhaps. But we have had sufficient research protocol ethical breaches here to cast great doubt on this assertion--including one involving Caplan that led to the death of a human subject in a gene therapy experiment. (The lawsuit filed by the parents of the dead young man was settled confidentially, so we will never know the full details.)

If Caplan and McGee want to get exorcised over a lapse in biotech funding, they should be shouting from the rooftops against those ESCR-supporting United States Senators who are thwarting a federal proposal to federally support an umbilical cord blood stem cell bank. (The senators, hiding behind their right to unanimity, are holding the bill hostage to overturning Bush's ESCR funding restrictions.) These senators like to ooze compassion in public about regenerative medicine, but are more than willing to secretly hold up proven treatments to gain a political advantage. I will be writing more about this in coming weeks.

Inexcusably, Caplan and McGee claim that last April Hwang "held a news conference at which a stem cell research subject walked after having been bedridden for 19 years." This is so disingenuous. The researcher wasn't Hwang. And the stem cells in question came from umbilical cord blood, not cloned or natural embryos.

Bioethicists Promoting Reproductive Cloning


I like Bio Edge, which scours the world for cutting edge biotech and bioethics stories, which are adeptly summarized and sent to subscribers via e-mail. The writers generally get things right, but this Bio Edge story is both behind the times and factually wrong. It states that bioethicists are beginning to support reproductive cloning, once it is safe, and they give one example--as if this kind of advocacy were something new. But many bioethicists have long supported safe reproductive cloning as part of the fundamental right to procreate that supposedly exists in the Constitution and is seen as guaranteeing us all the right to have babies by any means necessary.

The Bio Edge story also states, "Without a single exception, responsible stem sell scientists are outspoken foes of reproductive cloning," and that they want it banned. But as I pointed out a bit ago in the Daily Standard, Ian Wilmut, the creator of Dolly and currently doing human therapeutic cloning research in the UK, has come out in favor of reproductive cloning, again assuming safety. Wilmut is not only a "responsible" stem cell scientists, he may be the world's preeminent stem cell researcher with the possible exception of Woo-Suk Hwang, the creator of the first human clones.

In my experience in debating these issues, there is no light separating the scientists and the bioethicists on the issue of reproductive cloning. Many also see genetic engineering of progeny as a part of the fundamental right to procreate.

Saletan Likes Questions Better Than Answers


I really like Will Saletan's writing on biotechnology in Slate. I don't always agree with him. Heck, I often don't agree with him. But he has a healthy skepticism about the political debate we are having on cloning/stem cells, and he unleashes it without fear or favor, including against those with whom he agrees.

This is a good example of Saletan's approach: He rakes my very good friend William Hurlbut over the coals, but is no less testy about Hurlbut's debating opponent, Laurie Zoloth.

One of the points Saletan makes in the article that I find troublesome is that he likes questions better than answers. Questions can certainly be interesting. And answers are not always readily attainable. It takes work and often, quite a bit of soul searching. But at some point, we have to come up with answers if we are to have a stable and orderly society based on the rule of law. This is not to say, of course, that once an answer is obtained, the question can never again be asked. I believe very deeply in the value of challenging orthodoxies. But my experience in the biotech debates is that the scientist/bioethicists are the ones who have become the most dogmatic, and Saletan's reporting on the Hurlbut/Zoloth debate demonstrates this point quite vividly.

(Example, Saletan reports Zoloth dismissing the moral value of the embryo as an uninteresting question. Perhaps to her. But the success of Hurlbut's ANT advocacy internationally demonstrates that Zoloth doesn't speak for the millions of people who do find it interesting. This means that the issue should still be debated and pondered, not shrugged off because you think you have a winning political hand.)

More Ugly Truths About Assisted Suicide


A Swiss assisted suicide organization called Dignitas has helped a depressed woman kill herself in Germany. True, the woman presented a fake medical report, stating she was very ill. But the head of Dignitas said it didn't matter since, "in any case every person in Europe has the right to choose to die, even if they are not terminally ill." (As a result of the suicide, the Swiss doctor who prescribed the pills based on a faked medical report also killed himself.)

This is reminiscent of Dr. Philip Nitschke in Australia counseling a "terminally ill" woman named Nancy Crick about how to go about committing suicide. (Assisted suicide advocates who were present clapped when she swallowed the poison pills.) But when it was discovered upon autopsy that Crick was not actually dying, Nitschke said he'd known it all the time and shrugged it off: She wanted to die, he sniffed, so no big deal.

These stories tell us many things about assisted suicide, but I will only mention two here: First, assisted suicide isn't a medical act. Dignitas is not operated by doctors. Indeed, under Swiss law, doctors are not permitted to assist suicides in their professional capacities.

Second,assisted suicide is ultimately, about death on demand. After all, if assisted suicide is about honoring "choice" and "ending suffering," how can it be limited to the dying? As these two examples, and the broader cases among the Dutch and Belgians have clearly shown, it won't be. Restricting hastened death to the dying is just a political tool to get people used killing as an acceptable response to illness or one of life's other serious difficulties.

Chimp Becomes Litigant: Granted Habeas Corpus


I have been warning for some time now that the animal liberation movement seeks to change the law so that animals can be litigants in lawsuits. (What would really happen is the animal liberationists would be the litigants, with the animal as the unknowing "beard.") Well it has happened in Brazil. I don't have a link, but here is the story. (Hat tip: Center for Consumer Freedom.)

"Correio da Bahia (Brazil)
October 6, 2005
Historic Decision Recognizes Chimpanzee as Legal Subject
At a hearing, the decision of a judge that granted habeas corpus to Suíça was discussed.
By Ciro Brigham

[translated from Portuguese]

Suíça, the chimpanzee who died on September 27, 2005 at the Salvador zoo, just became part of Brazilian legal history: She is the first animal to be recognized as a "legal subject" in a legal action. The judge, Edmundo Lúcio da Cruz, who analyzed the petition for habeas corpus submitted to the "9th Criminal Court" by petitioner/lawyers Heron José de Santana and Luciano Rocha Santana, ruled in favor of the chimpanzee. The decision was made on September 28 and published in the "Official Diary" on October 4th, World Animal Day, the same date that honors Saint Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals.

"Animals are not able to bring actions in court, in the same manner as persons, since they are only legal objects and are treated as property." This ruling, given a few years ago by a judge in Rio de Janeiro to a lawyer petitioning for the liberty of a bird imprisoned in a cage, is outdated. To the joy of Bahia's animal protection groups, Judge Edmundo Cruz has very different thoughts."

If an animal is being mistreated, it is a human obligation to remedy the situation. But no animal should have the right to petition a human court for a legal remedy as if it were human. Moreover, granting animals a legal status as a litigant, is to state that the animal is a person. Persons can sue those who wrong them in tort. Thus, such thinking would surely quickly "evolve" into animals bringing lawsuits in tort for money damages (with the damages or court ordered attorney's fees going to animal liberationists).

Imagine the harm to scientific advancement if a lab rat could sue for assault and battery because it was the subject of a medical experiment. Consider the consequences if a horse or a cow could sue to be freed from involuntary servitude. Animal liberationists would use the legal system to drive animal-using businesses into the dirt. Indeed, I have no doubt that is the plan.

But turning animals into the moral equals of humans will not only result in great human harm, such as stunting medical progress, but even more perniciously, distort our self perception into being just another animal in the forest. If that is who we think we are, that is precisely how we will act.

Another Adult Stem Cell Success--And It Makes the New York Times!


Skin stem cells have been used to grow blood vessels. The good news just keeps on coming.


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