Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

World’s Destitute Often Die in Agony


One of Dame Cecily Saunders’ few regrets, the great medical humanitarian told me when I interviewed her for my book Culture of Death, was that hospice–which she pioneered–was not widely available in the developing world. Too many dying poor people continue to die in agony, she told me, characterizing the situation as a “tragedy.” If only she had more time, the then octogenarian said sadly. Bringing hospice to the world’s poor would be her work’s focus.

Saunders died in 2005 (here is my tribute to her in the Weekly Standard.) Alas, things have apparently not improved since. From, “Dying Without Morphine,” by Ronald Piana in the New York Times:

IMAGINE watching a loved one moaning in pain, curled into a fetal ball, pleading for relief. Then imagine that his or her pain could be relieved by an inexpensive drug, but the drug was unavailable. Each day, about six million terminal cancer patients around the world suffer that fate because they do not have access to morphine, the gold standard of cancer pain control. The World Health Organization has stated that access to pain treatment, including morphine, is an essential human right.

I don’t like every good public policy being elevated into a “right.” There is too much of that. I mean, if everything good and laudable is a “right,” the very concept loses its potency. And it doesn’t actually accomplish the goal. But human exceptionalism certainly dictates that we have a duty to remedy this awful situation.

Enough semantics. More from the piece:

If it were just about the money, the solution — subsidized access — would be obvious. However, the issue is complicated by a dizzying array of bureaucratic hurdles, cultural biases and the chilling effect of the international war on drugs, which can be traced back to the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs that standardized international regulation of narcotics.

Driven by its lopsided concern over the illicit use of opioids, a class of drugs that includes heroin, the Single Convention drove countless, onerous country-level restrictions on morphine use, for fear that it would be abused.

I am sure that is true, and Piana gives examples of success stories, such as in Uganda.

But his remedy seems incomplete. The best way to overcome these issues is promote prosperity in these countries–not dependency. That means fostering economic growth, expanding electrification using whatever means are at hand, and reforming cultures to eradicate corruption and value the rule of law. 

That’s difficult these days, what with sectarian chaos, the radical environmental movement’s inhumane war on humans that seeks to hobble economies in the name of “saving the planet,” and the general lack of access to sophisticated medical care in many of these countries.

Good for Piana for pricking our consciences. Bringing palliation to the poorest among us is a very worthy cause.

It should remind those of us in the prosperous West that the quality of life we enjoy did not arise by accident.

“We Like Abortion”


I have highlighted that the “pro choice”  movement is coming out as pro-abortion. The goal is a “reverse reversal of Roe v. Wade” as too restrictive, to permit an absolute right to abortion at any time for any reason.

More evidence: Writing in the politically progressive In These Times, Sady Doyle reviews a pro abortion book and enthuses, that she really likes fetus killing. From, “Abortion Isn’t a Necessary Evil: It’s Great:”

Personally, I like abortion. I’ve never needed one. I’m still glad to have the option. I’m glad for the people I’ve known who got pregnant at the wrong time, with the wrong people, and didn’t have their lives ruined by it.

If Pollitt gets her way, more of us might feel free to admit that, hey: We like abortion.

But some women have had their lives ruined by their abortions. They regret it every day.

I understand why someone who doesn’t think a fetus is a human life would think it should be legal, or even if human, available in restricted circumstances.

But pro-abortionists know human fetuses are fully human–and they still celebrate the killings. That’s very ugly.

Abortion–like slavery in the 19th century–has profoundly distorted and decayed our society’s moral sensibilities. It isn’t a healthy thing.


UCLA Neurologist: Jahi “Alive!” “Awake!”


I know and deeply respect Dr. Alan Shewmon, professor emeritus in neurology at UCLA. He is a world renowned expert on the brain, particularly dealing with pediatrics. 

A source has sent me a declaration under penalty of perjury that Shewmon signed on October 3, 2014, testifying that Jahi McMath is not only alive, but now also awake! From his declaration (my emphases):

Based on the materials provided to me so far, I can assert unequivocally that Jahi currently does not fulfill the diagnostic criteria for brain death. The materials include extensive medical records from St. Peter’s University Hospital, which I am still in the process of reviewing, videos of Jahi moving her hand and her foot in response to verbal requests by her mother, images from an EEG done in her apartment on 9/1/14, images of a brain MRI scan done at Rutgers on 9/26/20-14, and heart rate variability analysis by my colleague Dr. Calizto Machado based on the EKG channel from 9/1/14 EEG. 

Wait, there’s more:

Jahi does not currently fulfill criteria for brain death on several grounds. First and foremost, the videos and the personal testimonies to me of several trustworthy witnesses of her motor responsiveness (yourself [lawyer Nolan], Drs. DeFina and Machado) leave no doubt that Jahi is conscious and can not only hear but even understand simple verbal requests (“move your hand,” “Move your foot,” even, “move your thumb.”)

Thus, the very first of the “three cardinal findings in brain death,” according to the American Academy of Neurology’s Practice Permiters for Determining Brain Death in Adults (and all other diagnostic criteria for brain death that have ever been proposed, for that matter)–namely “coma or unresponsiveness”–is not fulfilled.

More, Jahi now has periods:

Corpses do not menstruate. Neither to corpses undergo sexual maturation. Neither is there any precedent in the medical literature of a brain-dead body beginning menarche and having regular menstrual periods.

The MRI:

Jahi’s recent MRI scan shows vast areas of structural preserved brain, particularly the cerebral cortex, basal ganglia and cerebellum. There is major damage to the corpus callosum and the brainstem, particularly the pons…corresponding to to the severe brainstem dysfunction that has been documented in her progress notes from St. Peter’s. 

By contrast, the relative integrity of the cerebral cortex no doubt underlies her ability to understand language and to make voluntary motor responses.

Shewmon doesn’t blame the original diagnosing doctors.

Clearly, Jahi is not currently brain dead. Yet, I have no doubt that at the time of her original diagnosis, she fulfilled the AAN diagnostic criteria, correctly and rigorously applied by the several doctors who independently made the diagnosis then…

She is an extremely disabled but very much alive teenage girl.

Shewmon doesn’t believe in brain death–not from a religious but a scientific perspective. That is a heterodox position, with which I disagree when the condition is accurately diagnosed.

But no matter. He is not an advocate but medical doctor and scientist with an excellent worldwide reputation.

This is the kind of evidence I said was necessary for this case to go forward. The heft of Shewmon and Machado’s reputation compel the case be reopened. 

Sometimes, we would be better heeding family observations than smugly assuming–as I have often seen in these kinds of cases–that they are only seeing what they want to see.

Good for Jahi’s family. Good for Bobby Schindler and the Terri Schiavo Life and Hope Network that went to their aid. And good for attorney Chris Dolan, who took a very unpopular case. 

Standing up to widespread scorn and derision is never easy–but so worth doing in the cause of what you see to be right.



Womb Transplant “Consumerist,” Not “Medical”


The story of a successful birth post uterus transplant has been promoted understandably as a “feel good” saga of joy and the awesome power of modern medical science. But I have a different take.

Uterus transplants are “consumerist” procedures–as distinguished from “medical”–performed at sometimes great expense to enable lifestyle choices or help make dreams come true. As such, I believe they should be looked at differently than the usual healthcare.

But to the story. From the Telegraph report:

The parents of the first baby to be born from a transplanted womb have told of their delight. The boy’s birth took place in Sweden after surgeons at the University of Gothenburg performed the pioneering transplant procedure.

The baby was delivered by caesarean section in the 31st week of pregnancy. He weighed 3.9 pounds — normal for that stage of pregnancy – and both mother and child are now at home doing well…

British experts said that they were preparing to carry out a similar procedure next year. It could help 14,000 British women carry their own child.

Some would say that there nothing intrinsically different in transplanting uteri than hearts, livers or kidneys. They are all organs. 

Except there is.  Kidney, liver, heart, etc. transplantations are serious and very expensive, non-elective surgeries.  They are performed to save lives or restore essential functions. They also require expensive post-surgery drugs to suppress immune response–which also can carry some risks, deemed acceptable because of the urgent nature of the patients’ illnesses.

In contrast, transplanting a uterus is wholly elective, obviously performed to allow a woman to gestate and give birth. In other words, she has a bodily dysfunction, but is not sick. Indeed, her physical health is put at peril from the procedure, whereas doing nothing will not endanger her life or hurt her health. And given that the child is delivered early, there could be some risk to the baby.

This is a classic example of how on one hand we yell about out-of-control health care costs–and claim that shortages require that we ration care to the elderly, the disabled, the dying etc., based on quality of life judgmentalism. 

At the same time, we keep expanding the scope insurance or government-covered procedures intended to facilitate lifestyle choices or make dreams come true–even though they are not treating health-deteriorating illness or saving lives. Consider: If NHS covers potentially 14,000 transplants, what “medical” procedures will the technocrats decide not cover?

Finally, consider the paradox: If a woman wants a baby, we will allow womb transplants, biological colonialist exploitation of the destitute for their eggs or gestational capacities, one day, cloning, etc.. On the other, we slaughter tens of millions of fetuses each year–most killed for lifestyle facilitation purposes–and claim it is a fundamental right.

Meanwhile, countless children have no parents and desperately yearn to be adopted into loving homes.

I certainly hope mother and child do fine. And I get that the parents are very happy. But that shouldn’t be the only consideration.

So, sorry if I don’t ooh and aaah. But I don’t think this is a good trend. 

“Lethal Ageism” and Its Cure


I delve into the deadly threats posed to our elderly loved ones by contemporary culture of death trends in my current First Things column.

I discuss some issues we have explored here at HE recently, such as the joint euthanasia killings of elderly couples in Belgium and Rahm Emanuel’s intention to die at 75 because after that, life isn’t much worth living–attitudes that are slipping into public policy.

Then, I get into the explicit advocacy among some in bioethics for a “duty to die.” From, “Lethal Ageism:”

Writing in the Hastings Center Report in 1997, bioethicist John Hardwig was even more explicitly lethal in his ageism, actually advocating that our venerable ones have a “duty to die” when they become dependent.

A duty to die is more likely when continuing to live will impose significant burdens—emotional burdens, extensive caregiving, destruction of life plans, and yes, financial hardship—on your family and loved ones. This is the fundamental insight underlying a duty to die.

A duty to die becomes greater as you grow older. . . . To have reached the age of say, seventy-five or eighty without being ready to die is itself a moral failing, the sign of a life out of touch with life’s basic realities.

Think about that. In essence, that is what Emanuel advocates between the lines. Hardwig is just more candid.

Next, I pivot to the potential cure. 

The antidote for lethal ageism is to assure our elderly at every opportunity that caring for them is an honor not a burden—a great gift not just a moral duty.

Sure, it can be tiring, but so what? We’ve all known people who cared for their elderly parents because it was the right thing to do, only to discover later that they were the prime beneficiaries. And we’ve known some who didn’t step up to the plate and later regretted their failure bitterly.

I quote a friend who left a successful career to care for his dying mother, and how that is the best thing he has ever done. Then, I conclude:

St. Paul put it this way: Love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” We must love our elderly in just this way if we are to make them feel welcome and safe in an increasingly hostile world.

We are responsible collectively for our elderly worrying so deeply about being “burdens.” We also have the ability to undo the existential damage we have inflicted.


Texas Aborts Abortion


The Texas abortion regulations have withstood federal appeal. From the Houston Chronicle story:

A divided federal appeals court ruled Thursday evening to allow Texas’s tough new abortion regulations to take effect, a decision that is expected to force all but seven clinics in the state to close…

The provisions require abortion doctors to obtain admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and abortion facilities to meet the standards of hospital-style surgical centers.

Is it not ironic that Planned Parenthood says only 3 percent of its business is abortion, yet closes its clinics en masse when the abortion going gets tough? What about all those breast exams they claim to be about?

Will the Fifth Circuit take it en banc? Don’t know. 

Will the case go to the Supreme Court if it survives the Fifth? I think so.  Will it survive the Supremes? Don’t know.

Could this case help lead to a pro-abortion reversal of Roe v. Wade? I think so. At least, that is where the pro abortion activists will now try to go.

Horrible Home Health Care in Province of Death


I call it “Euthanasia Land:” When medicalized killing is advocated, it is always in the context of oh, so caring doctors, loving families, committed caregivers, and stalwart patients making “last resort” decisions.

Then, when real world care inadequacies are exposed–the actual context in which killing decisions are made–somehow, euthanasia never gets mentioned. It isn’t even a tickle in the back of the mind.

Example: Quebec has legalized a radical euthanasia bill, clearly not limited to the terminally ill–als requiring complicity from all Q-licensed physicians. Yet the Montreal Gazette writers ignore the killing agenda in an editorial rightfully decrying the shabby state of the province’s home health care system. From, “Homecare in Quebec is Profoundly Inadequate:

One bath a week. That is how low the standard of care has fallen for some elderly Quebecers in need of homecare, a publicly funded service that is supposed to allow ailing people to live at home with dignity so they don’t have to be institutionalized.

The office of Quebec’s ombudsman delivered another damning report last week, painting a dire portrait of health and social services, especially for seniors…Among the disturbing findings of the ombudsman’s report were regional disparities, lengthy waits for service even after need was determined, and levels of care being influenced by the presence of family members or the patients’ perceived resources.

Add to this a lack of quality control, widely diverging standards, insufficient evaluations — and in some cases a lack of time actually spent in patients’ homes by personnel

How does a major newspaper in the Canadian Province of Death square “profoundly inadequate” services for the elderly and medicalized killing? It doesn’t even try. Euthanasia Land.

Let’s connect the dots, people! Nous allons relier les points gens!

Yes, of course the Gazette editorialized in favor of the euthanasia law.

Claim: Jahi “Interactive” and “Responsive”


I have read the petition filed on behalf of Jahi McMath’s mother to reopen the case and declare her daughter alive. Here is the gist:

Petitioner [Jahi's mother] is in possession of current evidence, including MRI evidence of the integrity of the brain structure, electrical activity in her brain as demonstrated by EEG, the onset of menarche…and her response to audible commands…demonstrating that Jahi McMath’s brain death was not “irreversible.”

This is a crucial contention. For brain death–or heart death, for that matter–to be “dead” the system failure must be irreversible. The contention here is that because some capacities returned, her condition was not factually irreversible, and hence, she is alive.

Back to the petition:

Petitioner’s experts will testify that Jahi may have, at the time of Dr Fischer’s examination, demonstrated evidence of brain death due to swelling of her brain…but, now that the swelling has receded, and she has had time to receive proper post incident medical care, she has demonstrable brain function.

Note, this isn’t evidence, it is an offer of proof. There also may be more evidence of brain function than listed in the petition.

At some point, I would expect sworn declarations under penalty of perjury from the experts claiming that Jahi is alive. If I can get them, I will describe here. 

This case should be heard and the evidence presented. But it had better be convincing. Too much is at stake societally for a claim of this nature to be made frivolously.

Or to put it another way: Jahi’s family deserves one bite of the apple. But only one bite.

By the way, the case should not be decided based on money, but whether Jahi is alive or dead.

HT: Thaddeus Mason Pope’s Medical Futility Blog.

Court Petition to Declare Jahi McMath Alive!


According to the State of California, Jahi McMath has been dead since December 9, 2013, when she went into cardiac arrest after catastrophic side effects from throat surgery.

Oakland Children’s Hospital doctors insisted she was brain dead, that is, she had experienced total brain failure. Under California law, brain death is dead. 

When the doctors stated their intention to remove the life support from Jahi, her mother sued. A brouhaha ensued.

A judge appointed an independent physician from Stanford to examine the girl, and he too found she was dead. The judge declared her dead and the state of California issued a death certificate.

But the compassionate judge also pushed the parties into a settlement that released Jahi to the coroner–still on a ventilator–and thence to her family. She was taken out of state.

At the time, I wrote here and elsewhere that I thought she was dead. But I also said that if her body did not deteriorate–as almost all brain dead bodies do–my eyebrows would be raised. Over the last few months my eyebrows have migrated past my receding hairline.

I also wrote that if she was found to not actually be dead, there would be “hell to pay.” That bill may be coming due if the McMath attorney Chris Dolan, succeeds in having the state declare her alive. From the San Francisco Chronicle story:

Nearly 10 months after doctors found that Oakland teenager Jahi McMath was brain dead, an attorney for her family has petitioned an Alameda County judge to have her declared “alive again.” “I have medical experts, including world-class experts on brain death, who will testify she is not brain dead,” attorney Chris Dolan said Wednesday, calling a judge’s refusal last year to compel a hospital to care for her “a grave injustice.”

Oakland Hospital has been just abysmal in its PR in this case–and that maladroit insensitivity continues:

Hospital officials did not return our call seeking comment. However, in their court filing, attorneys for Children’s said Grillo’s ruling upholding the death declaration was “well-supported in fact and law.” What’s more, they said, Dolan missed the deadline to request a rehearing by seven months, and therefore the court no longer has jurisdiction to hear it.

Dolan argues that the court does have the legal authority to rule “in the interests of justice, which are literally those of life and death.”

Good grief. This isn’t about legal procedure. If evidence exists that she is alive, the hospital should be supporting that data coming out.

If evidence exists that Jahi is alive, it needs to be heard! That’s what we do in death penalty cases, after all: Permit new evidence even after procedural deadlines have passed.

Dolan is a well-respected lawyer. He is not saying that Jahi’s mother believes she is still alive, or that family members have detected interactivity in their deep love for her. He is not contending that the California law on brain death is wrong.

He is saying objective medical tests demonstrate that she is not brain dead. Or to put it another way, Dolan apparently believes that he can prove to the court, based on evidence, that Jahi McMath has positive brain function. If so, she is not dead.

Please note, this isn’t the same thing as saying she is awake. A persistently unconscious person is alive. A brain dead person isn’t in a coma, but deceased.

If Dolan successfully proves the case, there will be much hell to pay. There will be consequences.

Fasten your seat belts: This is going to be a bumpy ride!


Dutch Shrinks Kill More Mentally Ill Patients


Dutch euthanasia rates keep rising, and the killable caste continues to expand. From, the story:

There were 4,829 official cases of euthanasia in the Netherlands last year, an increase of 15% on 2012, according to the annual report of the regional monitoring committees…

In total, there were 42 reports of people who underwent euthanasia because they suffered severe psychiatric problems, compared with 14 in 2012 and 13 in 2011.

Dementia was the reason behind 97 cases, mainly early stage dementia in which patients were able to properly communicate their wish to die.

And let’s not forget the elderly “tired of life,” experiencing social/financial difficulties, or living in a nursing home.

Then, after reporting the increased lethality and expanding categories, the story throws in the usual ridiculous bromide:

Euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands under strict conditions.

Ow! My stomach hurts from laughing so hard and so bitterly.

Hear me now or forget me later: Once a society determines that killing is an acceptable response to human suffering, there are virtually no limits to the kinds of suffering that qualify for killing.

The Cowardly God Complex of Transhumanism


Ah, those paradoxical transhumanists: They disdain human exceptionalism–and then assure that human ingenuity will enable us to live forever with the powers of a superhero. 

And talk about hubris and delusions of grandeur. Maybe that’s why Psychology Today published Zoltan Istvan’s “Three Laws of Transhumanism.” 

Why, Wesley, what are the TLofT? I am glad you asked:

1) A transhumanist must safeguard one’s own existence above all else.

Really? Over one’s own children? If it means pushing people out of the lifeboat on the Titanic to save oneself? That’s a prescription for cowardice.

2) A transhumanist must strive to achieve omnipotence as expediently as possible–so long as one’s actions do not conflict with the First Law.

God complex alert! Sorry. No human being–or post human, should one ever come into being–will ever be omnipotent. Or omniscient, for that matter. And even uploading one’s mind into a computer won’t make one omnipresent, although I admit Google comes close.

3) A transhumanist must safeguard value in the universe–so long as one’s actions do not conflict with the First and Second Laws.

So, if necessary we can destroy planets, wipe out civilizations, and make species extinct, if that is required to save post-humans or give them the illusion that they can achieve omnipotence?

Like I always say, I am not worried about transhumanism succeeding in the creation of post humanity. But its values: Those are very worrying.

Istvan’s piece is just one small example why.


Darwinist Denies Human Exceptionalism in NYT


The New York Times is consistently anti-human exceptionalism, never missing an opportunity to publish articles that seek to reduce humans to just another animal in the forest.

Today, the Sunday Review section has University of Washington biology professor, David P. Barash, bragging that he works to destroy faith in his classes (“The Talk”), insisting to his students that science and religion are incompatible.

That kind of ideological indoctrination is par for the disturbing course in universities, but not an issue with which I grapple. However, I would be remiss not to point out that this learned scientist–as so many of his ilk–also engages in profound reductionism by denigrating the unique moral value of humans beings. From, “God, Darwin, and my College Biology Class (my emphases):

Before Darwin, one could believe that human beings were distinct from other life-forms, chips off the old divine block. No more. The most potent take-home message of evolution is the not-so-simple fact that, even though species are identifiable (just as individuals generally are), there is an underlying linkage among them — literally and phylogenetically, via traceable historical connectedness.

Moreover, no literally supernatural trait has ever been found in Homo sapiens; we are perfectly good animals, natural as can be and indistinguishable from the rest of the living world at the level of structure as well as physiological mechanism.

Except we are. Human exceptionalism doesn’t rely on provable “supernatural traits,”–not sure what he means by that.  But we alone are creative. In the 1 billion years of life on this planet, no other species has created a sonnet or drawn even the most rudimentary picture on a cave wall or rock outcropping.

No animal has created philosophy. No animal comprehends right and wrong, good and evil. No animals fashion moral codes. 

These are distinctions with a huge moral difference regardless of whether we evolved into these natural human capacities through random means, design, or creation.

Indeed, Barash invokes those very moral concepts with regard to suffering–the driving impetus for anti-human exceptionalists:

But just a smidgen of biological insight makes it clear that, although the natural world can be marvelous, it is also filled with ethical horrors: predation, parasitism, fratricide, infanticide, disease, pain, old age and death — and that suffering (like joy) is built into the nature of things.

The more we know of evolution, the more unavoidable is the conclusion that living things, including human beings, are produced by a natural, totally amoral process, with no indication of a benevolent, controlling creator.

But these aren’t ethical horrors at all in the natural world. Indeed, without death and its many causes, natural selection could not operate.

“Ethics” only come into play when the actions or consequences that Barash invoke involve human agencyIndeed, why is it only humans take such offense at these issues? Why do only we make moral judgments about any of this?

Because we are exceptional. 

And what other species works so empathetically to mitigate suffering? Perhaps that’s a spark of something indefinable that Barash chooses not to see.

The other day, a friend and I were playing a round of golf and came upon a downed deer, a juvenile male and had clearly been severely injured in a rutting fight. If I had a gun with me, I would have shot the suffering, dying animal. 

We stopped golfing and urgently waved down a grounds keeper to get help.  He took one look and immediately called the clubhouse, assuring us help would be called. He later told us the deer expired before an animal control officer could arrive.

I mention this not because what we all did was special, but because–for humans–it wasn’t! Any other species coming upon the dying deer would have either eaten it or ignored its travail.

That’s a huge difference, the importance and meaning of which Barash’s oh, so rational mind appears unable to comprehend.

No matter. I always get a chuckle out of ideologues, who so smugly claim the mantle of defender of objective science to push their anti-human exceptionalism (and often, as here, anti-religious) views: They always invoke aspects of our intrinsic uniqueness they huff and puff to deny.

P.S. The Times carries another column about how we are supposedly responsible for mass extinction, and what we can do to save endangered species. One question: If we are not exceptional, how could we cause such a thing–and moreover, why would we care? 

Who Decides the Harm in “Do No Harm?”


Medical futility disputes often involve the question of harming the patient. Family/patient believe they should decide what constitutes “harm” in these cases, and that for the patient/family, the greatest harm would be death.  Hence, they insist that efficacious treatment to extend life continue–as the way to avoid harm. That is, after all, a fundamental purpose of medicine when staying alive is wanted.

Bioethicists and some doctors believe that they get to decide what constitutes “harm.” Thus, if a patient is unlikely to recover or ever lead a “meaningful” life, they insist on being able to stop wanted treatment. 

Religion is also a large factor in many of these situations. The secularist view sees suffering as the worst harm. Many religions, particularly more traditional approaches to Catholicism, Islam, and Judaism, death. Thus, forcing treatment to cease is often viewed as disrespecting freedom of religion.

At the same time, many futilitiarians believe in judging “harm” on a the macro level. They look beyond the patient to perceived emotional harm to the family–and the morale of the reluctant medical team–as well as financial harm to society by “investing” resources on the patient supposedly more wisely spent elsewhere.

So who gets to decide the meaning of “harm” in a particular situation–the patient/family or the technocrats?

Canada has established a bureaucratic board to make these decisions when doctors/bioethicists and patients/families disagree. From the Toronto Star story:

In Ontario, intractable, life-and-death disputes between physicians and patients’ families sometimes end up before a unique provincial body charged with wading into complex issues of medicine, ethics and faith. The little-known Consent and Capacity Board (CCB) — the only one of its kind in North America, perhaps anywhere — is a working laboratory for the most pressing issue facing Canada’s healthcare system: the end of life.

When a physician’s treatment proposal is challenged by a family member whose loved one can no longer communicate their wishes, doctors can make an application to the CCB. The Board then convenes a hearing within seven days, often in hospital board rooms, headed by a lawyer, a public member and a medical professional, typically a psychiatrist.

The panel’s job is a mix of legal arguments and character analysis. It must ultimately determine an incapacitated patient’s “prior wishes” or “best interests.” The panel must then issue a binding order within 24 hours of the hearing’s conclusion — a remarkably fast and economical process relative to the courts.

It seems to me that these futility cases are so relatively few and far between that coercion should rarely–if ever–be used.

These are subjective decisions. Establishing bureaucratic boards would sow mistrust for the system and validate the concept of “death panels.”

And talk about the potential for abuse of power. Why should strangers to the patient be given so much authority,in effect, empowered to impose their values over those of the family?

No. Education and continual mediation should be the watchword. Doctors should be brutally frank about the consequences of continuing care. But barring very rare circumstances, the patient/family should have the final word.

Children Support Parents’ Joint Euthanasia


If this doesn’t scare you, nothing will.

A doctor has agreed to murder euthanize a healthy elderly Belgian couple who don’t want ever to live apart–and their three children approve. One even procured the death doctor. From the Daily Mail story:

Their son, John Paul, 55, approached their doctor to request their euthanasia – which was legalised in Belgium in 2002 – but the doctor refused because there were no grounds for it. John Paul found another doctor willing to perform the killings in an unnamed hospital in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium in which 82 per cent of euthanasia cases are performed.

Francis said he and Anne were grateful for the arrangement. ‘Without our son and our daughter, it would never have succeeded,’ he said. ‘We are not sad, we are happy,’ he continued. ‘When we were told we could leave life together smoothly we were on a little cloud. It was as if we had spent all that time in a tunnel and suddenly we came into the light again.’

The couple’s daughter has remarked that her parents are talking about their deaths as eagerly as if they were planning a holiday. John Paul said the double euthanasia of his parents was the ‘best solution’. ‘If one of them should die, who would remain would be so sad and totally dependent on us,’ he said. ‘It would be impossible for us to come here every day, take care of our father or our mother.’

Imagine knowing your children don’t want you depending on them–because that is really what is being said.

If I told my mother I supported her euthanasia at 97, it would make her want to kill herself! Good grief.

The story is wrong that this would be the first joint euthanasia in Belgium of elderly couples–which I have covered here at HE at least twice before. It has also happened in Switzerland.

But that’s the way euthanasia rolls. Culture of death, Wesley? What culture of death?

Assisted Suicide as “Last Resort” Fantasy


Many supporters of assisted suicide are well-meaning, really thinking that it would only be done in the proverbial “last resort” scenario. But that’s a fantasy, as we will discuss below.

The bioethicist, Art Caplan, is one such last resortist. He used to oppose assisted suicide but now believes it can work under “strict guidelines”–such as waiting periods and terminal illness–and then, only as a last resort. From his, “Physician-Assisted Suicide: Only as a Last Resort,” published on Medscape:

The other restriction I would look for with respect to assisted suicide is to first offer people palliative care, hospice — options that do not involve taking the person’s life. If they say, “I’m in pain”; if they say, “I’m spiritually upset,” then we ought to try to address that first before we say, “Here’s a pill; goodbye.”

It does seem to me that good palliative care and good hospice care are crucial as fundamental components of what assisted suicide should be about. We do not want to encourage people toward assisted suicide. We may want to include it as an option but absolutely the option of last resort…

Assisted suicide may work but only with adequate protections, adequate controls, adequate oversight, and adequate regulation to make sure that people do not think, “I better do this because I am a burden to others” or “I am going to do this because nothing else out there can help me with my pain, suffering, or depression.” Those are not adequate ethical circumstances to support someone ending his or her own life.

Sorry. Assisted suicide is never practiced only as a “last resort.” Consider:

1. “Offering”hospice is not a “last resort” measure. Some who would be helped might turn it down and get assisted suicide anyway.

2. Suicide prevention is an essential hospice service. Denying that intervention no different ethically than denying pain pills.

3. Most assisted suicides in Oregon and Washington do not involve “last resort” situations in which a patient is in intractable pain for which nothing can be done to eliminate suffering.

4. The laws don’t require “last resort,” application only.

5. There is no “adequate oversight” by regulators in Oregon. The law relies almost entirely on physician self-reporting and the Oregon Health Department, which oversees the law, has no budget or authority to conduct investigations if the guidelines are violated.

6. The only real requirement in Oregon, Washington, and Vermont is diagnosis of terminal illness reasonably likely to cause death within 6 months. Some people last for years with that diagnosis. A few never die of the diagnosed condition at all.

7. The most common reasons for committing assisted suicide in Oregon/Washington are not wanting to be a burden, worrying about losing the ability to engage in enjoyable situations, etc..These existential issues are very important and certainly need attention of caregivers–but they are not “last resort” problems, at least as that term is commonly understood.

8. Oregon rations health care on Medicaid, such as life-extending (as opposed to curative) chemotherapy, but always pays for assisted suicide. Two cancer patients even received letters refusing chemo but assuring that assisted suicide would be paid.

9. Studies show how impersonal the death bureaucratic process can be. Example: Kathleen Foley–perhaps the nation’s palliative care doctor–and suicide expert, the psychiatrist Herbert Hendin, revealed the paper-thin protection Oregon’s guidelines provide. From their ignored-by-the-media study published in the Michigan Law Review:

He [the prescribing death doctor] stated that after talking with attorneys from the Oregon Medical Association and agreeing to help aid Joan in death, he asked Joan to undergo a psychological examination. The doctor reported that…”I elected to get a psychological evaluation because I wanted to cover my ass.”

The doctor and the family found a cooperative psychologist who asked Joan to take the Minnesota Multiphasic Inventory, a standard psychological test. Because it was difficult for Joan to travel to the psychologist’s office, her children read the true-false questions to her at home. The family found the questions funny, and Joan’s daughter described the family as “cracking up”over them. Based on these test results, the psychologist concluded that whatever depression Joan had was directly related to her terminal illness, which he considered a completely normal response… [Me: Can we say “rubber stamp?]

The psychologist’s report in Joan’s case is particularly disturbing because without taking the trouble to see her, and on the basis of a single questionnaire administered by her family, he was willing to give an opinion that would facilitate ending Joan’s life. The physician’s attitude toward the consultation surely played a part in his receiving a report that did not meet professional standards.

Assisted suicide is sold as “last resorts” to a wary public. Some, like Caplan, even believe it. 

But it is not applied that way in the real world. Moreover, once society widely accepts killing for suffering, the outcome is Belgium. That hasn’t happened here yet. But if the country generally swallows the hemlock, it will.

Charles Frankel 1974: It’s Eugenics Time Again!


I follow some transhumanist conversations. These would-be remakers of the human race claim the mantle of humanitarian freedom lovers. But their hearts pump dark authoritarian blood.

For example, some have recently argued that parents should be prevented from teaching traditional religion to their kids, while at the same time, people should be licensed to bear children. So much for freedom.

Transhumanists also explicitly reject human exceptionalism–as the necessary predicate to remake humans in their own image. Thus, J. Hughes yearns for redesigning chimps to have higher intelligence to teach us that we are not special, and indeed, merely another animal in the forest.

It is important to remind ourselves that these are not new attitudes, and that they lead to very bad places. 

The eugenics movement first blazed this trail, hoping to achieve generally the same means, albeit with cruder means. Thus, we saw involuntary sterilizations, advocacy for social Darwinism by the likes of Margaret Sanger, and in Germany, murder of those deemed deleterious to proper “racial hygiene.”

All of this brings up an important article from back in 1974 by philosopher Charles Frankel, who prophetically warned that the eugenics monster had escaped its cage. From, “The Specter of Eugenics:”

The new genetics, though it stresses heredity, has paradoxically proved to be capturable by this idea of the omnipotence of society. “Society” will simply engineer heredity. In the words of the late Hermann Muller, a Nobel laureate, programs of planned eugenics provide the opportunity to guide human evolution, to make “unlimited progress in the genetic constitution of man, to match and re-enforce his cultural progress and, reciprocally, to be re-enforced by it, in a perhaps never-ending succession.”

Sure sounds like transhumanism to me.

More prescience from Frankel:

Existing practices provide a setting in which the idea of broad eugenic planning may seem hardly more than an extension of what is known and accepted. We endorse compulsory vaccination and chest X-rays for school schildren. Why not mass genetic screening or other methods for avoiding the transmission of hereditary defects or for accomplishing the improvement of the human stock?

This is already proposed in some quarters:

A host of gathering trends in our society favors this easy transition: the pressures for population control; the declining death rate; the growing costs of supporting the old, the sick, and the handicapped; the size of the welfare population and the resentments caused by its existence; the altered standards regarding abortion; the movements in law and morals which, with accelerating force over the last generation, have facilitated the decline of the family and of the marital idea.

Remember, this was written forty years ago. And he nailed it!

We always think that we have the wisdom to do new and radical things. But human nature is what it is. Utopianism leads to despotism. Frankel was worried:

The most astonishing question of all posed by the advent of biomedicine, probably, is why adults of high intelligence and considerable education so regularly give themselves, on slight and doubtful provocation, to unbounded plans for remaking the race.

The factor responsible is not biomedicine; something else can be the catalyst tomorrow. It is the larger idea which has shaped the major traumatic events of the last three hundred years of modern history. What unites the Puritan radicals, the Jacobins, the Bolsheviks, the Nazis, and the Maoists is the deliberate intention to create a “new man,” to redo the human creature by design.

That is the modern idea of Revolution, an idea not entertained in the ancient world except as a matter of faith, miracles, and the destruction of temporal things. It is what has lifted revolution in the modern world above purely mundane concerns like overthrowing tyranny, or putting more capable or decent people into power, and has made it a process of transcendent meaning, beyond politics or pity, and justifying any sacrifice.

Add in the transhumanists’ desperate yearning for immortality, and you have the potential for a perfect Utopian storm.

The partisans of large-scale eugenics planning, the Nazis aside, have usually been people of notable humanitarian sentiments. They seem not to hear themselves. It is that other music that they hear, the music that says that there shall be nothing random in the world, nothing independent, nothing moved by its own vitality, nothing out of keeping with some Idea: even our children must be not our progeny but our creations.

Frankel died in 1979, but he still has much to teach. Society take warning.

Of Course Assisted Suicide is for the Non-Dying


If more journalists would read this blog, they wouldn’t be surprised by these things. 

The New Scientist reports that Swiss assisted suicide isn’t about terminal illness! Whaddy know? From the story:

It’s a tourism boom, but not one to crow about. The number of people travelling to Switzerland to end their lives is growing. And it seems more and more people with a non-fatal disease are making the trip.

An ongoing study of assisted suicide in the Zurich area has found that the number of foreign people coming to the country for the purpose is rising. For example, 123 people came in 2008 and 172 in 2012. In total 611 people came over that period from 31 countries, with most coming from Germany or the UK, with 44 per cent and 21 per cent of the total respectively.

Neurological diseases, only some of which are fatal, were given as the reason for 47 per cent of assisted suicides for the years 2008 to 2012, up from 12 per cent in a similar study of the same region between 1990 and 2000. Rheumatic or connective tissue diseases, generally considered non-fatal, such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis, accounted for 25 per cent of cases in the new study.

Of course this is happening. It can’t not happen! Once a society accepts the premise that killing is an acceptable answer to human suffering, the definition of “suffering” that justifies killing continually expands.

And notice that the virus is catching. In the UK, for example, the discussion isn’t about how to prevent these suicides by tourism, but to legalize assisted suicide so people don’t have to leave home to be made dead.

But that’s not happening here, Wesley! That’s debatable, but here’s the thing: The USA is still wary about the suicide agenda. If we ever embrace it as a society, we too will experience the free fall off the moral cliff. It’s simple logic.

Why Many “Scholarly Studies” Can’t Be Trusted


Back in college, I wrote a line in my senior major thesis stating that history is like the Bible, you can make it prove almost anything. I think the same thing has often been said about statistics.

To which, we should, alas, add many “scholarly” and “scientific” studies. Too often the authors of “studies” decide what they want to prove first, and then do just that.

That would seem to be the case in a study by the University of Chicago’s International Human Rights Clinic. It appears to have set out to prove that sex selection abortion isn’t happening in the USA (even though there is now an early test marketed to predict gender) . From, “The United States has a Femicide Problem,” by Rachel Lu in The Federalist:

It [the study] wears its political agenda on its sleeve, presenting a list of “myths” (used by the pro-life movement to justify laws against sex-selective abortion) and replacing them with “facts” (meant to show that such laws are unnecessary).

The presentation builds to “Myth #6” (“The primary motivation behind laws banning sex-selective abortion in the United States is to prevent gender-based discrimination”) which is replaced by “Fact #6” (“Restricting access to abortion is the primary motivation for sex-selective abortion bans.”) It’s refreshing they are so obvious about their allegiances. Why muddy the waters with pretensions to academic detachment when abortion rights are on the line?

Exactly. The study is intended primarily as political advocacy to counter pro-life efforts to ban eugenic sex-selection abortion–happening now in the West–proposals that force pro-abortion advocates out of their “pro-choice” crouch.

Back to Lu. The study found evidence of sex-selection abortion and buried it in the weeds:

I advise pulling up the study yourself and flashing ahead to page 16, where the authors admit: “Our study of pooled ACS data confirms Almond and Edlund’s study with regard to the third births of foreign-born Chinese, Indian and Korean families that have already given birth to two girls…”  

The authors pulled a bit of a fast one on their [pro-choice] journalistic admirers by burying the single most important piece of information in a forest of far-less-relevant facts, graphs, and meanderings about methodology. Amazingly, they don’t even bother to tell us what sex ratio they found for the single most critical, two-daughter case. Did they figure people wouldn’t be interested in that niggling little number? 

Or do they just prefer to hide unwelcome data in plain sight by shining a bright spotlight on those statistics that are friendlier to their political agenda? It’s a neat little bit of misdirection. Move over, David Copperfield.

So a study sets out to disprove “pro-life myths” and finds strong evidence to the contrary, and doesn’t follow the trail where it actually leads. Too typical.

Of course, not all studies are advocacy in disguise. But here’s the problem: There are enough advocacy studies that it discredits by association good and objective work.

And that intellectual corruption hurts science and the humanities. People aren’t moved any more by “studies”–including those that should impact their thinking–because so many are really vehicles intended to push or defend ideological agendas.

Anencephalic Babies Not Good as “Dead”


Throughout my campaign on behalf of the human exceptionalism and the equal dignity of all people, utilitarian bioethicists and others have challenged me about anencephalic babies, that is, those born with parts of their brain missing.

They aren’t persons, indeed, aren’t really human, the argument has gone. They are as good as dead. We should be able to harvest their organs!

No, I have countered. These profoundly disabled babies are fully human, fully equal, human beings born with a terminal condition. They are “us,” not “them” — and should always be treated as a subject, not an object.

Now, Baby Angela — born with anencephaly — is alive and apparently thriving at age 6 months. From the Rhode Island Catholic story:

Baby Angela smiles as a visitor tickles her feet. She wiggles and coos, moving her head from side to side. “She’s doing great,” Angela’s mother, Sonia Morales, told a Rhode Island Catholic reporter last week. “She’s almost 14 pounds, and she’s growing well.”

In May, Angela underwent a three-hour surgery to close an opening at the top of her head, as she has anencephaly, a neural tube defect in which portions of the brain, skull and scalp do not form in whole or in part during embryonic development.

She was also born with an encephalocele, another neural tube defect characterized by sac-like protrusions of the brain and membranes that cover it through openings in the skull. During the surgery, doctors removed the encephalocele, and closed the opening. Morales, a parishioner at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Providence, said doctors predicted Angela would likely be stillborn or die within a few hours or days following her birth. But on September 23, Angela will turn six months old.

None of us is disposable. None of us is as good as dead.

Our Modern Terror of Rhythm of Life


My friend, the San Francisco Chronicle columnist Caille Millner, has a good column out today about the “Slow Reading” movement. I’ll let her tell you about it. From, “Learning How to Read Again, This Time Slowly:”

Like the earlier movement for Slow Food, the idea behind Slow Read is that our current approach to something fundamental is making us unhealthy. If Slow Foodies were convinced that McDonald’s hamburgers were killing off culinary traditions and making us all obese, Slow Readers are suspicious that reading “thought pieces” on our mobile devices are making us shallow and stupid. They want us to sit down and read books, preferably without digital interference.

Reading is good. But I am not sure about focusing on reading as an issue of health and wellness:

More: It seems to me that pushing reading as a health issue reflects how fearful we have become amid our incredible societal successes. We live longer, healthier, and more prosperously than at any time in history–and it is never enough. We are scared of limits and morally offended by the prospect of natural decline.

Before enjoying Millner’s column, I read a long story about Peter Thiel in the Telegraph. He wants to “cure death.” From the story:

The ‘life extension project’, Thiel says, is as old as science itself. ‘It was probably even more important than alchemy. Finding élan vital, the water of life, was of greater interest than finding something that could transmute everything into gold…

On a fundamental level, the question is whether ageing can be reversed or not…If it is possible to understand biological systems in informational terms, could we then reverse these biological processes, including the process of ageing? I do think that the genomics revolution promises a much greater understanding of biological systems and opens the possibility of modifying these seemingly inevitable trajectories in far more ways than we can currently imagine.

I am not against researching to find treatments for diseases, of course. But this obsession with somehow “curing death” seems rather pathetic. To me, it is an indication of such worry–of death, of limitations, of decline–that it moves into a denial of reality.

Ironically, many who proclaim the mantle of “rationality”–and disdain those who find their hope in faith–are the most devoted to the search for an unfindable Fountain of Youth. Interestingly, the wisdom of the great faiths urge memory of our coming deaths as the key to finding the best ways of living.

Thiel is part of the transhumanist movement, fueled by terror of death and so disdainful for of human limitations that it wants to “seize control of human evolution”–as if we have the wisdom–to achieve immortality and the ability to recreate ourselves in and our own image:

I’m gonna live forever

I’m gonna learn how to fly (High)

I feel it coming together

People will see me and cry

The other day, I posted about Ezekiel Emanuel’s stated desire in The Atlantic to die at 75. The entire piece reeked of abject terror of decline and limits:

The fact is that by 75, creativity, originality, and productivity are pretty much gone for the vast, vast majority of us…Dean Keith Simonton, at the University of California at Davis, a luminary among researchers on age and creativity, synthesized numerous studies to demonstrate a typical age-creativity curve: creativity rises rapidly as a career commences, peaks about 20 years into the career, at about age 40 or 45, and then enters a slow, age-related decline…

How do we want to be remembered by our children and grandchildren? We wish our children to remember us in our prime. Active, vigorous, engaged, animated, astute, enthusiastic, funny, warm, loving. Not stooped and sluggish, forgetful and repetitive, constantly asking “What did she say?” We want to be remembered as independent, not experienced as burdens.

I’m 65. Certain changes have already started. Am I happy about that?  No. Sometimes, I get depressed. More often though, I laugh about being on the downside of the mountain.

But I think working to stay healthy and agile–and emotionally adjust to the world being run by those younger than me, perhaps the hardest part–is much better than pounding my head vainly against reality:

For the rhythm of life is a powerful beat

Puts a tingle in your fingers and a tingle in your feet

Rhythm on the inside rhythm in the street

And the rhythm of life is a powerful beat

Back to Millner: She concludes her piece on Slow Reading on a far healthier note:

Reading isn’t dieting. Who needs to feel more shame about what they’re not doing right? Who needs yet another reason to feel inadequate?

Speaking for myself, I know why my philosophy reading group has made me happy, and it’s nothing to do with my health…Instead, what worked was pleasure: the social pleasure of talking about something serious with people whose opinions I respect, the ecstatic pleasure of wrestling with something impossible until it becomes clear, and the bodily pleasure (we always pick places with good wine) of the experience. It counteracts all the disgust I feel from being hit by a tsunami of Internet foolishness every day.

So that’s my advice to the Slow Read movement — do what the Slow Food people did and emphasize pleasure, not the fact that it’s good for us…

Ahh. Don’t you feel better already?

Exactly. At some point we have to set aside the fear and just live the ride.


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