Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

James Kelly is an Important Voice in the Cloning Debate


James Kelly is a man with a spinal cord injury who has taught himself almost all there is to know about stem cell science. He began as a supporter of ESCR and therapeutic cloning, but has since changed his mind.

In this piece he describes a chilling episode in which he claims he was literally muzzled before he could tell Christopher Reeve, whom he had just debated, about adult stem cell successes for spinal cord patients. I have asked him if this really happened, and he assures me it did. Here is that paragraph.

"Later that year I debated the practicality of cloning with Reeve at the New York Academy of Sciences. At Reeve's request I tried to tell him of an adult bone marrow clinical trial for ALS and SCI in Turin, Italy. But as I began to speak I was physically muzzled from behind by the scientific moderator of the debate. While I struggled to pull his hands from my mouth, fifty reporters looked on in stunned silence and Reeve's handlers quickly wheeled him from the room."

There is much in this column worth pondering and considering. The full article can be accessed here.

Andrea Clarke and Futile Care Theory in NRO


The latest twist in the Andrea Clarke futile care case is the hospital's pressure. From my article today on NRO:

"Illustrating the level of hardball some hospitals play against patients and families, the Clarke family's lawyer Jerri Ward told me that St. Luke's agreed to pay the $14,806 transportation costs to transfer Clarke to a hospital in Illinois — more than 1,000 miles away — if the decision to transfer is made on Thursday (4/27). If the family doesn't decide until Friday, the hospital will pay only one-half of the cost of transportation. Thereafter, it would pay nothing."

We need to start paying much more attention to the threat of Futile Care Theory, which undermines patient autonomy and the equal moral worth of all human lives.

“We Never Say No” to Assisted Suicide


I have opined on the proposed chain of suicide clinics in Switzerland. This column demonstrates that the idea of death on demand is not restricted to the more radical members of the euthanasia movement but finds resonance among some bioethicists and self-described "free thinking" humanists. Check it out.

Spain to Grant Great Apes “Human Rights?”


Deutsche Presse-Agentur is reporting that the Spanish ruling party is considering "a parliamentary initiative to grant rights to great apes on the basis of their resemblance to humans...The socialists want to prohibit the 'enslaving' of gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, and bonobos."

This is part of the Great Ape Project, a world-wide animal rights initiative that hopes to grant personhood to great apes (which would lead eventually to other animals being similarly recognized).

Here is a short report on the same story.

Specifics on Texas Statute Imposing Futile Care Theory


For listeners to Ron Thulin, (KAHL, San Antonio, Texas) and anyone else interested in the law permitting Andrea Clarke to be removed forcibly from wanted life-sustaining treatment: The statute permitting Texas hospital ethics committees to impose Futile Care Theory is available at this link . Scroll down to 166.046(e), which provides in part:"The physician and the health care facility are not obligated to provide life-sustaining treatment after the 10th day after the written decision required under Subsection (b) is provided to the patient or the person responsible for the health care decisions of the patient unless ordered to do so under Subsection (g)." Subsection g merely permits a time extension if another facility is likely to allow admission.

This law needs to be changed!

Organ Buying: Survival of the Richest


Organ purchasing is on the rise around the world, either from the destitute who sell their kidneys to, say, pay for a child's surgery, or from China, which reportedly executes prisoners and sells their organs to the highest bidders. Organ buying is an odious practice that continues the ongoing international increase in the commoditization of some human lives.

My wife, Debra J. Saunders, who writes a syndicated political column for the San Francisco Chronicle, firmly rejects the idea so prevalent when this issue is raised: "Who are we to judge?" Her column "American Vampire," criticizes the terminal nonjudgmentalism (my term) that allows people and many in society to excuse, justify, and even preen about using others as so many organ farms. And she makes a key point about using people as a means to an end, to wit: "When utilitarianism becomes a substitute for right and wrong, the end result is a lot more wrong."

Medical Futility On the March


For years I have been warning that bioethicists are getting their ducks in a row to permit them to refuse wanted life sustaining treatment that is removed because it keeps the patient alive, not because it doesn't provide medical benefit. These are value judgments, not medical determinations.

And now they are beginning to come. I commented about a futile care case in Michigan a few days ago, and here's another. I don't know enough about the facts of this case to opine completely, but this sure seems to be a futile care case in action. St. Luke's Hospital in Houston is going to unilaterally remove a woman from life support, even though her family wants her to continue to receive care. (It is as if Michael Schiavo and the Schindlers wanted Terri's care continued but the hospital said no.)

Note that the treatment is apparently being removed because it works, not because it doesn't--which means, in effect, that the hospital ethics committee has declared the patient's life to be futile.

Texas has a terrible law that permits an unelected, self-appointed, anonymous ethics committee to forcibly remove care. Once that happens, the patient has 10 days to find another hospital. These are closed proceedings. I am unaware of any records kept of the evidence presented at the hearings or the deliberations.

These are life and death decisions and it seems to me that there may be a significant constitutional issue here of immense importance. A law permits private decision-making that will result in death without even the right to a public hearing, to cross examine witnesses, or a formal appeal. Someday, someone is going to attack this statute and its constitutional implementation frontally in federal court. I have already urged some attorneys in private that they do just that. Let us hope that fairness and simple justice prevail.

Ants and People are Equal


Are we human beings or "eco-beings?" Not sure exactly what the latter term means, but as used by Albert J. Bergesen, professor of sociology at the University of Arizona in the San Francisco Chronicle, it appears to mean that we are equal with--meaning no better than--rocks, spiders, fungi, trees, and plankton. This is a new strain of radical environmentalism that seems to go far beyond positing a human duty to protect the environment, as Earth Day originally promoted, to saying we are nothing more than one part of nature with, as others have written, no greater claim to existence or use of resources, than any other life form.

This is to mutate the concept of egalitarianism into an extreme quasi-earth religion mysticism. Bergesen writes: "The categorical location of consciousness as human, or animal, and perhaps even plant or rock, river or mountain, may be merely an accident of Gaian birth." (Gaia is the theory that Earth is a living being. Many in the deep ecology movement who support this view humanity as vermin parasites on Gaia.)

Bergesen further states that "tying moral thought to humanism...seems increasingly untenable, for it is a mystification of our fundamental eco-existence as an equal among other living things...We must realize that, as part of nature, we are eco-beings first, and human beings second." (My emphasis.)

What would that mean in practical terms? In this article, Bergesen doesn't say. But if fungi and ants are equal to people, it could mean that we have to substantially sacrifice human welfare to ensure their equal treatment as part of respecting their supposedly intrinsic equal moral worth.

This idea, which is now being expressed in hard Darwinian terms by some and in neo-mystical terms by others, as here with Bergesen, seems to go even beyond the idea of humans and animals being moral equals. We now have some asserting, to paraphrase PETA's Ingrid Newkirk: "A rat, is a pig, is a beetle, is the Potomac River, is a boy."

Futile Care Theory in the News


This case looks like a Futile Care Theory case. The headline, as usual, calls it a "right to die" matter. But it appears to really be a right to live. (I never cease to be amazed at the pack mentality of the MSM.) The hospital wanted to cut off an elderly patient's feeding tube and other treatment because she had terrible heart disease and dementia, and would not have a "meaningful" recovery. Perhaps withdrawing most interventions would be the better call, but that is a value judgment, not a medical judgment. The guardian, objected. The hospital tried to impose its view. But the court has stated that whatever happens, the hospital will not have the power to decide.

Good. That decision properly belongs with patient or duly appointed legal decision makers--or, if necessary, the courts. Doctors and bioethicists should not be allowed to impose their moral views on the quality of a patient's life on others by refusing wanted life-sustaining treatment.

Lord Joffe Spills the Beans


Lord Joffe has authored an assisted suicide bill in the UK House of Lords that, he promises, will restrict assisted suicide to the terminally ill. Only, that is not his goal. As he told the Sunday Times (London), "I can assure you that I would prefer that the [new] law did apply to patients who were younger and who were not terminally ill but who were suffering unbearably," adding, "I believe that this bill should initially be limited."

Of course he wants it limited since that is the only chance it has of passing. Once that happened, then he and his allies could go for the wider license that is the ultimate goal of the vast majority of the euthanasia movement.

Southern Poverty Law Center After Animal Rights Terrorists


Morris Dees is something of a hero of mine for his indomitable struggle against white supremacist organizations such as the Aryan Nation. We have met a few times and he strikes me as a humble, earnest man of high integrity and conviction.

Dees' Southern Poverty Law Center is one of the nation's most credible voices on the issue of domestic terrorism. And it has been warning against the animal rights/liberation threat in this regard for some time. The latest Intelligence Report, published by the SPLC is still on the case. This is important stuff worth taking the time to read.

Tom Cruise and Eating Placenta


I am sure Tom Cruise was kidding when he said he would eat his new baby's placenta. I shrugged it off, and firgured the idea was an urban legend. Then, I began to see some items that it is not unheard of. Which got me to thinking: The placenta is a human organ. Wouldn't eating one be a form of cannibalism? Just when you think you have heard of everything...

Suicide Clinics for the Mentally Ill


There is an ongoing pretense in assisted suicide advocacy the euthanasia/assisted suicide is merely a medical matter of "last resort" that is to be reserved only for dying people when nothing else can be done to alleviate suffering. But this planned assisted suicide clinic that will "serve" the mentally ill as well as physically ill in Switzerland, belies the notion. And, it is the logical consequence of accepting euthanasia consciousness. (Read the extended story about Dignitas founder here.)

First, killing is not a medical act, as this Dutch clinic demonstrates. The people involved are not doctors and in Switzerland, doctors are not supposed to engage in assisted suicide in their professional capacities. Second, it isn't about terminal illness. Many clients of the suicide clinics have not been dying. Which is also logical: If personal autonomy rules--as it does in assisted suicide ideology--dying has nothing to do with it. Finally, in the end it is about near death on demand. If you own your own body, which is the bottom line premise of radical individualism, they you have the right to dispose of it when and where you will.

Many advocates are too politic to state this, or actually don't want to go that far and naively believe that "guidelines" will protect against abuse. Yet, the Hemlock Society funded Dr. Phillip Nitschke for years as he attempted to develop his "peaceful pill" suicide concoction. And Nitschke was, at the time, calling for the peaceful pill to be available in supermarkets for anyone who wants it, including "troubled teens."

And people of good will, particularly in the media, just refuse to believe the evidence of this when it is placed before them. I remember being on an NPR radio program once. My debating opponent was Dr. Bert Keizer, a Dutch nursing home doctor and author of Dancing With Mr. D. (If you want to see the coldness of euthanasia in action, read that book!) In any event, I pointed out during our debate that Keizer had admitted to euthanizing a man even before his lung cancer diagnosis was final. The host sputtered angrily: I was an alarmist. Surely, I was attacking Keizer without justification!

But then, Keizer coolly admitted it. The host was speechless. Throughout the rest of the interview, he kept desperately looking for justifications for Keizer's actions. He simply refused to believe the truth that this wasn't just about dying people for whom nothing else can be done to alleviate suffering. (I saw this same media tendency during the Kevorkian reign.)

Because people desperate want to believe that a little killing will be all right. After all, it is only about compassion and choices (the new name of the Hemlock Society), don't you see.

Private Money Still Avoiding ESCR and Cloning


This story details what we have heard before: The private money is voting with their closed checkbooks about the prospects for the near and mid range futures of embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning. Issues of uncertainty of the technology, patent disputes, the continuing moral controversy, etc., is keeping the private money from investing in massive quantities. If this were half as sure a thing as some ESCR advocates imply, or sometimes state, you would have to beat the private money away with a stick.

On the surface, that is why Big Biotech is spending millions on a propaganda juggernaut to convince state taxpayers to give their hard-earned tax dollars to private companies and their university business partners to do the research. In CA, under Proposition 71, there is supposed to be a payback to the state if the research turns to gold. But get this: It only applies if the grant recipient is a public entity like a university. Money given to the private sector is a pure gift. Talk about pork: Snort! Snort!

But despite states now ponying up billions in funding over the next decade--evan as infrastructures collapse around their ears--we will still hear that the feds need to cough up hundreds of millions more, so much so, that it will be hard to spend it all. Which is puzzling--unless it really isn't just about the money. You see, saying no to federal funding means that the official public policy of the country holds that it is wrong to destroy human life in research, and moreover, to make human life for that purpose. Allowing open funding, would give the moral stamp of approval of the country. Thus, in the end, it seems to me that this dispute is less about the money and more about whose values and ethics ultimately will control society as we move into the biotech century.

Animal Rights and Paralyzed Rats Helped by Adult Stem Cells


This story from Wired remains anecdotal, but it illustrates two important points: First, there is far more going on to help people with degenerative conditions than therapeutic cloning or embryonic stem cells. In this experiment, rats were injected with a hydrogel, similar to that found during gestation around the developing spinal cord, and also implanted bone marrow stem cells. The results were truly encouraging: "Not only did the rats show unprecedented neural regrowth, they also recovered much of the limb function they had lost when the researchers initially injured them."

But just as significantly from the perspective of the advance of science, these kinds of experiments simply could not be done without using animals. Animal rights/liberationists continually assert that it is useless to use animals in medical research since they are not identical genetically to humans. It doesn't matter how often assertion is proved false, they just keep making it.

But these rat experiments show that a potential approach to helping people with chronic, long term paralysis due to spinal cord injury may be doable. Without these rats--which were paralyzed intentionally to test the procedure--we wouldn't have any way of knowing this.

Animal liberationists can pretend that animal research offers little human benefit. They are clearly wrong. With a few exceptions, they don't have the candor to state they want to give up these advances to ensure that animals don't suffer because, in their view, "a rat, is a pig, is a dog, is a dog." We all feel pain, so we are all morally equal.

If we go down the animal rights/liberation road, our suffering will be the primary consequence.

A Reader Makes an Interesting Point About the Media and Cloning


This note from a reader seems right to me: "I have noticed in stories about Hwang's research, the media almost always gets SCNT right. But when it comes to an initiative or funding in the U.S. they always get it wrong and overtly refuse to get it right. It is really curious. Maybe it is because Hwang clearly claimed to have cloned embryos and his papers say exactly that, or maybe it is because when possible votes from Average Joe American are involved, obfuscation is the name of the game."

At Last: Cloning Accurately Depicted


This Bloomberg report about how Harvard and California's Geron Corporation plan to try to accomplish what Woo-suk Hwang lied about doing: human cloning and extraction of embryonic stem cells. No surprise there. But what is refreshing is that the story reports accurately that human cloning creates a human embryo, which, when intended for use in research, is to be destroyed. From the story: "U.S. researchers at Harvard University and in California said they first will create 'cloned' human embryos in the lab by combining women donors' egg cells with DNA provided by other adults. The scientists will then isolate and extract stem cells from the embryos."

See, New York Times: It isn't that hard.

Killing for Organs?


Russian doctors have been arrested for being part of a plot to take patients' organs for sale on the black market. This is one small piece in a larger puzzle involving organ sales and exploitation of poor and sick people around the world. Losing the concept of the intrinsic moral value of human life leads to very dark places.

National Geographic on Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cells


This is a good story on the potential benefits of umbilical cord blood stem cells. Check it out.

“Choice” as a One Way Street


This column goes where the entire "Futile Care Theory" (aka medical futility) movement wants to take us. If you don't want to receive life-sustaining treatment, you should have the absolute right to refuse. If you do want it, you may or may not get your way depending on whether the powers that be determine that, 1: your life is worth living, and 2: it is worth spending money on.

Columnist Froma Harrop says that people like Terri Schiavo should not be kept alive, even if that is what is wanted by family and/or advance medical directive, unless the patient or family pays the entire tab. In other words, no public funding to sustain the lives of certain people.

She also states that it would be acceptable to keep elderly people comfortable on the public tab when they are unable to care for themselves. But why? If we can determine that some of us have no business being alive, why not others? Indeed, it might cost more money to care for a debilitated elderly or a quadriplegic disabled person for years and some would denigrate these people as having lives of little value or productivity. Indeed, why waste time removing wanted care? Why not just administer the lethal jab and get it over with quickly? That now happens regularly in the Netherlands, which has trod this road before us.

These attitudes are dangerous precisely because they excuse medical discrimination by a polite name. This is not to say, of course, that we shouldn't worry about resources. We should. But there are many other ways to conserve resources and prioritize expenditures without discarding people.

Here's the nub of the issue: Once we presume the right to judge someone else's moral value and right to continued existence, whether one lives or dies depends on who has the power to decide. And that leads to tyranny against the weak.


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