Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Haleigh Poutre: Mistakes Were Made


A panel investigating the near dehydration of 12-year-old Haleigh Poutre, the little girl beaten nearly to death and left with serious brain injuries, have concluded that mistakes were made leading to the court ordering her removed from all life support. To say the least. But how can we expect otherwise when bioethicists and doctors now measure the quality of a patient's life based on cognitive criteria and judges are often all too willing to see such people as being better off dead?

A classic example of this was the Ron Comeau case, which was the first "food and fluids case about which I ever wrote all the way back in 1994. Post Script: Comeau eventually died in a nursing home of pneumonia. But because he wasn't dehydrated, he was able to reconnect with his family from which he had been estranged.

North Korea May Kill Disabled Newborns


New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote a few years ago when he visited North Korea, that there were no disabled people in the capital, Pyongyang. He was told that they were all being cared for in the country. Kristof, didn't believe it, writing, "The darker explanation is that North Korea systematically exiles mentally retarded and disabled people from the capital, so as not to mar its beauty.'

When I read that column, the hairs stood up on my arm. I felt like yelling, "They haven't been moved you idiot, they have been killed!" I wrote a letter to the editor suggesting that possibility, which was not published.

But I never forgot that column. Now, it looks like I was right. A defector claims that disabled babies are killed in hospitals or homes soon after their births, a practice that is encouraged by the state.

Dutch doctors kill disabled babies too. But, it's "different" with them because they are motivated by compassion rather than eugenics. So even though the result is a killed baby, the Dutch tell us we have no right to be upset.

China Finds Willing Buyers for Organs


This is ugly: The Chinese sell the organs of executed prisoners and find willing buyers in Japan and elsewhere. China is also beginning to move toward accepting euthanasia, and we all know about the human rights impact of their "one child" population control policy. China's harsh utilitarian ethics and values should not be permitted to lead the world. It is up to the United States to assert and promote a better way, one that understands and promotes the intrinsic equal moral equality of every human individual.

Read the Beliefs of an Animal Rights Fanatic in his Own Words


Jerry Vlasik has justified murder in the name of animal liberation before a senate subcommittee. Here,he goes almost as far when interviewed by an animal liberationists publication. Some key quotes:

"Killing an animal abuser, who is not an innocent bystander, is morally defensible, and if they had the power to do so, animals would do it."

'All animal abusers should be politely asked to stop killing animals in their work and explain to them the scientific fraud in animal experimentation, as I was. If they refuse, they should be told to stop immediately, or suffer the consequences. If they still refuse, then they should be stopped by whatever means necessary."

Admittedly, Vlasik is more radical than most animal liberationist leaders. But he represents a sizeable minority. Note also his seeming desire for there to be a radical reduction in the human population, demonstrating a loose tie-in with the ideology of deep ecology that views humans as vermin on the living planet.

What is the Fallout of Hwang Cloning Scandal?


Robert P. George and Eric Cohen have written a good piece in today's NRO about the domestic fallout from the Hwang cloning scandal. Their most important point is that "the scientists" are not merely objective observers as the media (and they) often pretend, but are instead involved in an explicitly political campaign to persuade society to accept human research cloning.

Scientists have every right to participate in politics, of course. But the rub comes when they pretend that a subjective political or moral opinion is instead, a statement of objective science. Worse, as I hope to detail in a future extended article, sometimes they resort to the propaganda techniques of lying or telling half truths, while still pretending that their assertions are merely scientific observations. This is corrosive to science itself.

In any event, check out the piece. It's worthy of your consideration.

A Few Thoughts on My Excellent Adventure in the UK


I spent a very interesting and enjoyable week in London, speaking, meeting people involved in the issues about which I engage, doing a little BBC and other media, and generally enjoying the town. A few thoughts: The UK is a wonderful country but it seems to be heading down a bad utilitarian road when it comes to health care. Part of this, I think, has to do with the resource crisis in the National Health Service, and part with a changing belief system that we see throughout the West.

The assisted suicide bill is just a small part of it. Of equal concern are the draft regulations published to govern the Mental Capacity Act passed last year. Alas, most of the problems that opponents of that bill predicted appear to be coming true. Specifically, the draft regulations would lock Futile Care Theory (medical futility) into concrete law.

The draft regulations require absolute fealty to the pre-stated desires of an incapacitated patient who signed an advance directive requiring termination of treatment. But if the advance directive instructed that care be given, according to the terms of the draft rules, they would not have to be followed. Rather, patient and family desires would be merely one factor in determining whether the continued treatment are in the "best interests" of the patient. More alarmingly, this analysis would not be restricted to medical issues, or even quality of life judgments, but could also include issues such as the desire to be a good citizen, altruism, and the like. Talk about opening the door to a duty to die!

On the positive side, I met with some leading disability rights activists who are beginning to understand the threat that these policies pose to disabled and dependent people. Hopefully, if the disability rights community engages these issues with the energy and commitment we have seen from their colleagues here in the States, they can have a very salutary effect.

I hope to write more about these matters as time allows. In the meantime: Cheers!

Finally a European Official Criticizes the Dutch


Carlo Giovanardi, an Italian government official, is in hot water for likening the pending legalization of infanticide in the Netherlands to what happened during World War II in Germany, when doctors murdered hundreds of thousands disabled infants and adults. I am not a big fan of raising the Nazi specter, partly because nothing we are talking about today matches that mother of all death cultures in scope or magnitude, and partly because, ironically, bringing up the Nazis allows people deserving of strong criticism to deflect the reproach. Thus, Giovanardi says that killing disabled babies is what the Nazis did, and the Dutch merely retort (correctly) that they are not Nazis, allowing his deserved and righteous criticism falls on happily deaf ears.

Not that there isn't a rough analogy: German doctors were hanged at Nuremberg for having committed infanticide, an act some Dutch doctors do today with near impunity, and which will soon be formally legalized. The apologists for the Dutch claim that their infanticide and the German euthanasia program were different: The former, they claim, is based in compassion and patient welfare, the latter was steeped in bigotry.

Well, a killed baby is a killed baby, but even beyond that point, the Dutch defense doesn't exactly hold water: The German euthanasia program was considered a "healing treatment," and seen as a compassionate act that was best for the killed infant as well as the family and society. Moreover, it was driven by doctors and not by "the Nazis."

It's too involved to go into here, but it is an important issue worth revisiting in this age of creeping medical utilitarianism. I hope to write at greater length about this matter soon.

For now, let us say good for Signore Giovanardi. It is about time someone important in Europe began calling the Dutch on the carpet for their infanticide program.

Don’t Learn Wrong Lesson About Animal Testing


There is an awful story here in the UK about 6 human subjects who were catastrophically injured during a test of a new drug being developed to treat leukemia. One may be in a coma for up to a year.

Many questions have been raised about whether the experimenters followed necessary safety protocols, and etc.. There have also been conflicting reports in the media here about whether there were adverse affects noted in some animals during that stage of the research, with the company firmly claiming that to the contrary, there were no red flags raised. It will take time to sort that out, but we do know that the human trials went forward resulting in a tragedy reminiscent of a gene therapy experiment out of the University of Pennsylvania that went terribly wrong a few years ago in which one young man died.

This story from the Times warns that animal models are not precise predictors of how humans will react to drugs. This is true, of course. But we shouldn't learn the wrong lesson. I have no doubt that animal liberationists will declare that the case (assuming that animals did not react adversely to the drugs) proves animal testing to be useless for the development of human medicines--an oft made charge. In fact, the reverse is true. Adverse animal testing have often warned of dangers before use was tried in humans, thereby saving lives. Indeed, in the U of P case, monkeys had died from the experimental therapy, but the medical experiment in humans proceeded anyway and the human subject was not warned before agreeing to submit to the experiment. This led to a lawsuit and confidential settlement in which, no doubt, much money changed hands. (Confidential settlements of this sort deprive the public of much needed transparency. See Ralph Nader's and my book, No Contest: Corporate Lawyers and the Perversion of Justice in America.)

Animal testing is not the be all and end all of medical research, but it remains a crucial component--which is why it is legally mandated in law and was made an essential part of the Nuremberg Code.

Really Nice Review of Consumer’s Guide to a Brave New World


This writer gets it. He takes on transhumanism and offers some kind words for Consumer's Guide. Hat tip David Prentice.

Good News on Baby MB


The Court ruled in favor of the parents in the Baby MB case. Good. This is one of those "benefit of the doubt" cases, in which the benefit should go to life and respecting the desires of the child's parents. Doctors and bioethicists, however well intentioned, should not be able to substitute their values for those of patient or, as in this case, family. This is not to say that a parent's desire to receive (or reject)treatment on behalf of their child should never be overruled. But it seems to me that unless the parental choice rises to the level of abuse (such as refusing normal life saving surgery or insisting, say, demanding repeated amputations for a baby dying of gangrene), the values of doctors or bioethicists should not rule.

Dueling Schiavo Books to be Released


Both the Schindler family and Michael Schiavo have books coming out about the Terri Schiavo case. To me, the core legal problems faced by the Schindlers were the failure of the original trial lawyer to create an adequate trial record and the refusal of Judge Greer to truly apply a clear and convincing evidence standard to determining that Terri would want to be dehdyrated. As for the media: Its abiding refusal to report the many reasons why Michael should not have been permitted to remain guardian is a case study in bias and journalistic malpractice.

UK Report: Baby MB Case to be Decided Today


As I write this post, the Baby MB case decision is about to be announced. If the Court rules that doctors are permitted to unilaterally refuse life support, it will be a huge step forward for the medical futility movement, that persumes to permit bioethicists and doctors to, in effect, declare that some lives are not worth living. If the parents prevail, it will reaffirm the important principle that in these difficult cases, family decision making about "quality of life" and whether to continue treatment belong ultimately to patients and families.

Meanwhile, I spoke last night to interested parties at the Parliament on euthanasia and attended a very substantive debate on the same topic on Monday night. I was very impressed with the quality and substance of the debate and was quite pleased that the opponents of euthanasia carried the question from the audience.

UK Embroiled in NHS Financial Problems


Here in the UK, the NHS is all the news. It is bleeding red ink. Money problems are apparently leading toward health care rationing. The BBC had a big story about elderly people being denied coverage for care that might have been due under the rules of the Service. And yet the assisted suicide legalization bill continues to be promoted by its backers. It is as if one hand does not know what the other hand is doing. More to come...

Ian Wilmut May Lose Science Prize


I have been hearing from some folk that my post on Wilmut taking false credit as the cloner of Dolly is much ado about nothing. It was his lab, this thinking goes, so who cares who actually came up with the concept and did the actual work?

Well, apparently some scientists do. Wilmut received a presitious science award from a German science foundation and was given a substantial money prize for successfully cloning Dolly. Apparently, the award did not also include Keith Campbell, who Wilmut now says did most of the actual cloning work. Wilmut's admission has led the prize awarders to consider rescinding the honor and demanding their money back.

I think this Wilmut contretemps is a symptomatic of a more abiding problem with the politicization of science in general and of a certain loosening of standards about who should receive credit for advances the science community itself.

Fighting for Credit for Dolly


Apparently several people are now claiming credit for Dolly now that Ian Wilmut admits he didn't actually do the cloning.

Heading for the UK


I will be in the UK for the next week speaking and meeting people about the euthanasia threat over there and sundry other bioethical issues. Probably won't get to Blog much. But you never know.

I am interested in comments on the Hippocratic Oath controversy. Please feel free to weigh in.

Thanks to all who visit Secondhand Smoke.

Bradford Short’s Short History of the Hippocratic Oath


Bradford Short is an Anglophile, with a capital A. He knows his English history. He has jumped to my defense on the Hippocratic Oath issue. It is too long to post here, but this link will take you to his Blog entry at The Fact Is. Thanks for covering my back, Bradford.

A Physician’s Response re Hiopocratic Oath


This longish thoughtful response to my column on the Hippocratic Oath is worth posting on its own. This physician believes the Oath is a "living document," that must change with the times. Well, doctors sure don't swear by Apollo anymore, but I think this idea of a living Oath means that it can be deconstructed, which is precisely what is happening. In any event, here is the letter and my brief further response will follow:

"The oath is much more like a secret handshake than it is like the constitution of the United States. We look to it with reverence in that it reminds us that our duty to our patients is a sacred one. But it is not really possible to take it literally, unless you cherry pick. The oath forbids surgery and abortion. It enjoins us to teach our art to the sons of other practitioners (at no charge. Whatever you think of these strictures, you have to agree that they form no part of modern medical practice. Furthermore, the maxim "first do no harm" has a nice ring, but is not nearly as applicable to medicine today as the equally ancient and revered "you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs". We do a lot of harm with our surgery and chemotherapy. We do much more good, of course. The notion of avoiding all harm takes the life out of any possible risk/benefit approach to treatment.

I think that it is more realistic to view medical ethics as common law than as a compendium of defined, easily stated principles. We mostly learn it at the bedside, from our peers. Usually the lessons are dministered in medical school and residency by teachers and residents who are actually engaged in treating patients. It is absorbed through the skin, not memorized. Remarkably, most doctors end up with pretty much the same notions of what constitutes medical right and wrong. But the rules are not written in stone, and can be changed by societal pressures - not necessarily for the better. The notion that any form of euthanasia is unacceptable is still held by most of my colleagues, I think. It could change - it has, in some places. The idea that a doctor's loyalty is to his patient before anything (no good stewards of society's resources)is still almost universal among the people that I deal with.

The canon of medical ethics is a living "document" in exactly the way that the American constitution is not. The Hippocratic Oath is not our constitution."

It seems to me that the Oath should be neither akin to a secret handshake or a viewed as a constitution. But it should be embraced as establishing principles that all doctors are honor-bound to follow, summarized as "always put your patient first" (with a few examples given). As to the surgery issue, my understanding is that the doctors practicing under the Hippocratic tradition used different techniques and thus foreswore surgery (imagine what surgery would mean then before anesthesia and an understanding of microbiology), but I was interested to note that Hippocratic physicians were to refer patients wanting surger to a different type of doctor qualified to perform it.

Viewing it as a "living document" grants a license to undermine it and even change its meaning 180 degrees. Moreover, from what I can tell, the current versions of the Oath are destroying it by turning it more into pabulum than core principles.

Bill Gates Could Have Paid the Whole Cost of Prop. 71


Bill Gates gave $400,000 to fund the campaign for Proposition 71. In other words, he was willing to pay chump change--for him--to help persuade the people of California--already tens of billions in debt--to dig even deeper into our empty pockets to chase after the rainbow of therapeutic cloning research.

This story says he's worth over $50 billion. Well, good for him. But if he thinks cloning is so darned important, he can afford to pay for it--all of it--himself.

More on Column on the Hippocratic Oath


The Christian bioethicist Nigel Cameron published a book on this matter some years ago, called The New Medicine: Life and Death After After Hippocrates. For those interested, here is the Amazon link.


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