Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Lying by Pretending Hospice Doesn’t Exist


I once complained to my wife about how frustrated I was that euthanasia activists lie. She replied that if they are willing to kill, they are certainly going to be willing to lie.

I thought of that nugget of wisdom reading a column in The Guardian by Bronnie Ware, a  pro euthanasia palliative nurse who lies by omission (or is inexcusably ignorant of hospice)–another frequent tactic in assisted suicide advocacy. From, “I Regret the Way We Are Dying:”

Many were initially terrified of dying or would spend some time in denial of what was to come. As their suffering increased however, even those in denial came not only to accept their inevitable passing, but to wish for it. I cannot count the amount of times I heard, “I just wish I could die”.

Having witnessed many different deaths, there is no doubt that the physical suffering of a dying person is cruel and unnecessary. If someone allows their pet to suffer that much, it is called animal cruelty. Yet, we allow our fellow humans, people with the ability to clearly express their desire to die, to continue to suffer.

It is shameful that Ware leaves the impression that nothing can be done in these situations other than let these patient who just “want to die” to suffer on with out intervention or just give morphine and wait. But that is flatly not true.

Hospice experts–again not the same thing as a palliative nurse–know that the “I want to die now” problem is often treatable and can generally be ameliorated. They do it all the time.

They also know that a request for suicide can be a statement that something more needs to be done. Thus an essential aspect of hospice–almost as important as symptom control–can be suicide prevention.

As a hospice volunteer I have seen such interventions in action. I have seen the “I want to die now” wail change to “I wouldn’t have missed this time for anything!” Indeed, that is almost a hospice cliche.

And this paragraph really reveals the core mendacity of her piece!

Dying is not only a physical experience, but also an emotional one. So rather than finding solutions only through intellect, we need to consider the feelings of those who are dying.

With the subject of death so taboo in our society, it is heartbreaking to see the isolation that a patient experiences when having to deal with the emotions associated with their approaching passing. This is why the idea for end-of-life midwives makes so much sense.

But hospice is precisely about ensuring that patients don’t die in isolation. Good grief.

The founder of hospice, the great medical humanitarian Dame Cecily Saunders, was adamantly opposed to assisted suicide and euthanasia. She told me that facilitating killing denies the intrinsic dignity of the dying patient. (It should also be noted that some “dying” patients don’t and get kicked out of hospice. I have seen that too).

The harm that misleading articles such as Ware’s cause–by killing hope–will never be measured. But there is hope. Even in the most dire circumstances as life comes to a close.

More Baloney Over Hobby Lobby in the NEJM


The New England Journal of Medicine is a cultural wrecking ball. Whenever it turns to ethics, it reliably sides with the culture of death–pro assisted suicide and health care rationing–or against conscience rights of those who dissent from the reigning moral orthodoxy. For example, it disdains the right of medical professionals to refuse participation in abortion.

Now, it has published a shallowly reasoned, follow-the-liberal-advocacy-meme article bemoaning the limited and eminently reasonable Hobby Lobby decision. From, “When Religious Freedom Clashes with Access to Care:”

The Court’s decision allows the beliefs of employers of various sizes and corporate forms to trump the beliefs and needs of their employees, potentially influencing the types of care that will be affordable and accessible to individuals and permitting employers to intrude on clinician–patient relationships.

It did no such thing.

Employers offer salaries for work. Part of the “package,” as it is called, often includes health insurance.

Employers have always made decisions about whether to offer this benefit and the extent of the policies offered. And no one suggested–until now–that they were interfering with doctor-patient relationships in the decisions they made about the kind of insurance to offer as wages.

But once the government seized centralized control over these decisions–and used the cudgel of Obamacare regulations to impose the politically progressive moral view on everyone in the guise of regulating healthcare–it suddenly became a right to have employers pay for certain procedures, even if the person who owns the business believes it would be sinful to so participate in the action.

That’s what happens with centralized control. Government power is used to impose a preferred moral view.

Then comes the NEJM hysteria:

Finally, in the wake of Hobby Lobby, we may anticipate challenges to other medical services that some religions find objectionable, such as vaccinations, infertility treatments, blood transfusions, certain psychiatric treatments, and even hospice care.

Good grief: What religions opposes hospice care? Christian Scientists, I suppose, because they don’t believe in most medical care–for themselves. I don’t think CS theology considers it sinful for an employer to purchase medical insurance. Indeed, I am not sure that faith accepts the concept of sin.

But here’s the larger point. The Hobby Lobby decision (and subsequent actions) restricted its terms to the HHS mandate re birth control–which the editorial acknowledges.

There’s a reason. Under the law, these issues must be looked at on a case-by-case basis because the Religious Freedom Restoration Act allows the government to prevail if it has a compelling interest, not to mention analyzing whether the least restrictive method was used by the government and the bona fide nature of the complainant’s religious objection.

Hence, as I wrote at The Corner, a refusal to cover blood transfusions or inoculations for infectious disease would be looked upon more skeptically than covering medically unnecessary contraception.

Also, publicly traded companies like, say Chevron, will never be deemed to have a “religion” because they have millions of owners, thereby further limiting the potential scope of the ruling. 

Bottom line in my book: The HHS mandate was intended to prepare the way for an eventual order for free abortion, free sex change surgery (already happening), free IVF, and perhaps, assisted suicide. One reason–beyond politics–for the rage is that the case throws a minor impediment in the way of using health care to transform the culture into the secular progressive image.



Great Apes Cannot be Slaves


Because of the ridiculous politically correct times in which we live, I have to start this post by decrying the illegal poaching of great apes and the captivity of ape young that is threatening their numbers in the wild.

But we can decry such criminal activities–in support of our human exceptionalism duties toward these endangered animals–without equating the wrong that is being done to human slave trafficking.

But that is precisely what one ape protection organization does. From a story in Business Insider:

Thousands of great apes are killed or trafficked into “slavery” each year in a multi-million dollar illegal trade that is driving some of man’s closest relatives towards extinction, conservationists said Tuesday. “Organized criminal networks, involving corrupt government officials, threaten great apes with extinction by trafficking them to be used as performers or pets,” said Daniel Stiles, from the Project to End Great Ape Slavery (PEGAS), a campaign group launched Tuesday to raise awareness of their plight.

“To capture one infant ape, as many as 10 apes are ruthlessly killed… The orphans are sold into what can only be called slavery, as great apes are the closest species to humans,” he added.

No! The kidnapping of the school girls in Nigeria and selling them as “wives” is slavery. The sex trafficking of children around the world is slavery. The poaching of apes is not slavery.

The words we use matter. Equating the sheer evil of the examples above with the wrongful slaughter and capturing of apes is to reduce “slavery” to something less than the wholly evil activity it is.

Abusive actions done to animals can be, as here, vile.  But we should not conflate them with the worst evils done against humans. It creates a false equivalency, which in this case, was the explicit point.

Centralized Healthcare Hurts the Dying


We should look with great trepidation at the experience of the NHS for what Obamacare’s centralized control is bringing our way–I mean beyond bitter societal division currently tearing the country apart.

The care of the dying vividly illustrate my point. Years ago, too many dying people on the NHS were allowed to die in agony. So well  meaning palliative care experts created the Liverpool Care Pathway, a compassionate care plan for the dying that sought to ensure patients were treated like individuals and given the pain control, etc. they needed.

But then the centralized controllers reduced a care plan to a bureaucratic memo, resulting in the Pathway becoming a sclerotic practice-medicine-by-the-numbers mess that sustantially lost the idea of treating patients as individuals and not only opened the door to back door euthanasia, but also saw non terminally ill people put into comas and dehydrated to death.

After a public outcry and bureaucratic defense, the Pathway was finally euthanized and consigned to the bureaucratic burial ground.

Now, a new (obvious) 5-point plan is emerging. From the British Medical Journal report:

The five priorities for care listed in the response were:
- The possibility that a person may die within the next few days or hours should be recognised and communicated clearly, decisions about care should be made in accordance with the person’s needs and wishes, and these should be reviewed and revised regularly.

- Sensitive communication should take place between staff and the dying person and those important to them.

- The dying person, and those identified as important to them, should be involved in decisions about treatment and care.

- The people important to the dying person should be listened to and their needs respected and met as far as possible.

- An individual plan of care, which includes food and drink, symptom control, and psychological, social, and spiritual support, should be agreed, coordinated, and delivered with compassion.

Why do we keep remaking the wheel? Dame Cecily Saunders showed the way with hospice care.

Whatever. And here comes the bad news:

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence plans to develop new clinical guidelines on the care of dying adults and end of life care for children. These guidelines will inform the development of a quality standard for end of life care for children and an update of the current standard for adults. From October 2014, inspections by the Care Quality Commission will incorporate the priorities as part of the inspection of end of life care.

Sigh. Centralized planners never learn. The answer isn’t more bureaucracy! It is reinvigorating the medical professionalism that centralized control over health care has done so much to enervate.

This is the kind of “medicine” that Obamacarians have planned for us. Beware.

IVF With Donated Eggs Can be Deadly


A new study reports that women who use donated eggs in IVF have a greater likelihood of dying. From the Daily Mail story:

Women who have IVF babies using donor eggs could be much more at risk for a common but potentially dangerous complication of pregnancy, warn researchers. A new study shows a threefold higher risk of hypertension – high blood pressure – and an even higher risk of pre-eclampsia.

Pre-eclampsia is a severe disorder of high blood pressure in pregnancy that is potentially fatal for the mother and baby and the only cure is to deliver the baby surgically. The use of donor eggs in IVF (in vitro fertilisation) is increasingly common among older women trying for a baby who have no eggs of their own.

The numbers are pretty startling:

But French researchers say the pregnancies of egg donation patients are at a higher risk of disorders caused by high blood pressure, than the pregnancies of IVF patients using their own eggs. They found almost one in five pregnant women using a donated egg developed hypertension, compared with one in 20 women using their own eggs during IVF.

Altogether 11 per cent of women using donor eggs suffered pre-eclampsia, compared with less than three per cent of women using their own eggs.

These risks don’t even count the hazard faced by egg donors, which can include infertility, infection, perhaps cancer, and death.

We have rushed into IVF and surrogacy with few regulations and a lot of profit-making. Some are paying devastating consequences.


Don’t Force Doctors Into Gun Control Decisions


We are told constantly that we have to control medical costs. Then, we expand what is considered “health care.”

Latest example: Force doctors into decisions about gun permits. From a column in The Atlantic:

The American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians and U.S. Surgeon General nominee Vivek Murthy are calling gun violence a public health crisis. Physicians, including family doctors and general practitioners, are increasingly seen as a crucial link in the prevention chain.

It may be a crisis, but not of the kind we usually associate with public health, such as an epidemic caused by a virus. In other words, the causes of the problem are cultural, not medical.

No matter. Some now advocate that doctors become central in the decision about who can have concealed weapons permits. Why? Most gun killings aren’t perpetrated by those concealed weapons permits. Who cares?

“When you do a transportation physical, there are forms that ask about cardiac, respiratory, emotional, neurological, and psychiatric conditions,” Goldstein explained. “If, for instance, one has neuropathy, dementia, or a cardiac condition, you would want to know how severe it is. We could develop such forms [for concealed weapons permits] relatively quickly and educate providers about what the expectations are.”

But determining whether a person could be a danger with a concealed gun is much more a subjective question than the objectively testable question of whether a patient is in imminent danger of having a heart attack while driving.  

Again, who cares? Let’s put even more burdens on doctors than they already carry:

Although law enforcement has the last word in granting or denying a gun permit after taking into consideration a slew of factors, doctors are no doubt the most qualified to assess patients’ physical, mental, and emotional challenges. A 2013 Annals of Internal Medicine article argued that doctors can play various roles in the gun policy dialogue: from researchers and policy advocates to managers of patients’ fear of victimization.

What about privacy? What about malpractice lawsuits if a “medically certified” person kills someone with a gun?

Will health insurance have to pay for doctors to review their patient’s records and give an opinion?

Will applicants without a doctor, or a doctor not deemed qualified to opine on the question, have to get a physical or psychiatric exam from another doctor?

Will the decision be medical or ideological? And since the problem of gun violence isn’t about concealed carry permits, how long before doctors would have to sign off on anyone who wants to buy a gun?

The health care system’s ability to serve the actual health care needs of the American people is already strained to the tearing point. Leave doctors alone to do their real jobs. Stop health care imperialism.

GG Bridge Suicide Barrier Violates Right to Death


We are told continually by the “right to die” crowd that suicide/euthanasia is the “ultimate civil liberty.” Indeed, these purveyors of suicide argue that we all of the RIGHT to determine the time, manner, method, and place of death.

If that is so, the Golden Gate Bridge District Board of Directors are civil rights abusers! From the San Francisco Chronicle story:

The decades-long effort to build a suicide barrier on the Golden Gate Bridge succeeded Friday as the transportation district’s Board of Birectors OKd funding for nets that will be installed about three years from now.

Of course, some people–like me–believe that the lives of all suicidal people are equally worth trying to save, whether the cancer patient afraid of losing dignity or the disgraced business owner who wants to become food for the sharks.

To be consistent, the suicide-is-a-right crowd should criticize the barrier as a profound insult to liberty and personal autonomy.

But that won’t play politically. Thus, they pretend that some suicides aren’t suicide (the “aid in dying” gooey euphemism) to avoid the logic of their own position. 

But its mendacious sophistry–like so much of assisted suicide/euthanasia advocacy. 

Animal Testing Boosts Transplant Medicine


Animal research is vital to human welfare. Latest example: A great advance in organ transplant medicine. From the BBC story:

A new technique can preserve organs for days before transplanting them, US researchers claim.

“Supercooling” combines chilling the organ and pumping nutrients and oxygen through its blood vessels. Tests on animals, reported in the journal Nature Medicine, showed supercooled livers remained viable for three days, compared with less than 24 hours using current technology.

If it works on human organs, it has the potential to transform organ donation.

Here’s why the breakthrough is so important:

One of the researchers, Dr Korkut Uygun, from the Harvard Medical School, told the BBC the technique could lead to donated organs being shared around the world. “That would lead to better donor matching, which would reduce-long term organ rejection and complications, which is one of the major issues in organ transplant,” he said.

Those, like PETA, that say animal testing never produces human good are lying.

Those who oppose animal research have to be ready to state that advances such as this are unethical because it took what I call the “grim good” of animal research.

Starving Patients Who Eat Next Stop on Slippery Slope


No line in bioethics is ever fixed.  Rather, the push to eradicate the boundaries that keep medical professionalism tied to Hippocratic values (sniffed at as “paternalism” by many in the field) continues unabated, with new boundary lines created, consolidated, and then moved again into ever-more extreme territory.

Some call this, the “slippery slope.” Case in point: Suicide by starvation, known as VSED (voluntary stop eating and drinking). Not only do bioethicists say doctors should participate in this method of suicide by palliating the pain starvation and dehydration causes, but also DO IT FOR THE PATIENT if they stated they wanted to die by VSED in an advance directive and they become mentally incapacitated.

More: They want nursing home or hospital personnel to starve such patients to death even if they willingly eat and drink! From a commentary in the Journal of Clinical Ethics by Thaddeus Mason Pope, about the Margot Bentley case:

Mrs. Bentley may have the capacity to “communicate a choice.” But this is just one component of capacity. 

She does not understand the relevant information., does not appreciate the situation and its consequences, and cannot reason about treatment or care options…If the test for capacity is really this low, then current “consent” will often trump even the clearest prior instructions.”

When it comes to eating and drinking by mouth it damn well should! What if the patient said she didn’t want to be turned, whether in advance or currently? Should that be honored even if it leads to terrible bed sores? No! Turning is basic humane care.

But Pope, in a Twitter exchange with me, said yes. That ” medical paternalism” is over, apparently regardless of the cost.

Please note that this isn’t refusing medical treatment–like a feeding tube–but denying basic humane care, e.g. oral sustenance.

And this should really chill your blood:

Medical, ethical, and legal commentators are reaching near consensus that capacitated patients may make a contemporaneous choice of VSED.

Far less clear is whether individuals can choose to VSED in advance, as an exercise in prospective autonomy. Fortunately, physicians and philosophers are developing the theories, tools, and maxims to help define how and when the practice of advance VSED can be legitimately and safely [!!!] implemented.

In other words, we want to make sure these people die, now we just have to figure out how to get there.

I call this “gotcha” killing. The statement of the person when fully compettent trumps the actions or, perhaps (why not?) statements of the same person if they become mentally incapacitated, even if they eat, and perhaps, even if they ask to eat. 

It’s also another frontal assault on medical professionalism. But more on that later.

Slip-Slidin’ Away/ Slip-slidin’ away/The nearer your destination/ the more you slip-slidin’ away.

Fish Rights!


Animal activists continually try to corral the acceptable methods and use of animals. 

Sometimes this is great. But sometimes, it seems more as if the intent is to handcuff  human thriving–even materially restrict diets. 

Now, we are being told that fish deserve the same welfare standards as mammal food animals. From the abstract of “Fish Intelligence, Sentience, and Ethics:

A review of the evidence for pain perception strongly suggests that fish experience pain in a manner similar to the rest of the vertebrates.

Although scientists cannot provide a definitive answer on the level of consciousness for any non-human vertebrate, the extensive evidence of fish behavioural and cognitive sophistication and pain perception suggests that best practice would be to lend fish the same level of protection as any other vertebrate.

Realize, that implementing such rules would mean the complete end of sport fishing, material and industry-destroying restrictions on commercial fishing, and tremendous burdens on fish farming.

Animal welfare is important. But so is human welfare. That too often gets lost in these “ethical” discussions.

Wisconsin Democrats Endorse Assisted Suicide


Disability rights activists are, generally speaking, part of the Democratic coalition. They also, generally speaking, are the country’s most effective opponents of assisted suicide.

I hope my disability rights activist friends take note that the Wisconsin Democratic Party has now explicitly endorsed assisted suicide. From the 2014 Wisconsin Democratic Party Platform:

We believe in freedom of reproductive choice, family planning, and the individual’s right to choose death with dignity including physician‐assisted end‐of‐life.

I have always thought that opposing assisted suicide should be a major liberal agenda item, as liberals used to be about protecting vulnerable populations. Some, like Robert P. Jones, still do.

Too bad that the WI Democrats have, instead, embraced the culture of death.

Dutch MDs: Prepare to Kill More Alzheimer’s Patients!


A Dutch report shows that Alzheimer’s disease will cause more deaths soon than lung cancer. From the story:

Dementia will be the biggest cause of death in the Netherlands by 2030, overtaking lung cancer, the public health institute RIVM says in a new report…

Lung cancer accounted for 8% of deaths in 2012, followed by dementia and heart problems. In 2030, dementia will be behind 12% of deaths while lung cancer will account for 9%, the RIVM figures show.

Dutch doctors now kill Alzheimer’s disease patients in the Netherlands under the euthanasia law. I guess the time has come for them to order increased quantities hypodermics and the poison with which to keep up with the demand!

Presbyterians OK with Killing Born Babies


The Presbyterian Church USA General Assembly has been making a lot of news on the same sex marriage issue. But this vote has my eyebrows raised. The convention voted no on protecting babies born alive after a failed abortion. From the failed motion:

1. Call for the Presbyterian Mission Agency and member congregations to enter a two-year season of reflection upon the plight of children unwanted by human society, both born and not-yet born, and to purposefully seek to enter the pure worship of God by offering aid, comfort, and the Gospel to those responsible for the care of our most desperate orphans (including those who survive abortion procedures): parents, siblings, church and community leaders, and the medical profession.

2. Direct the Moderator of the General Assembly and the Stated Clerk to issue statements that denounce the practice of killing babies born live following an abortion procedure, such as was revealed in the Dr. Kermit Gosnell clinic in Philadelphia.

There was more to the motion, which supported a pro-life perspective. But it is breathtaking that the Church wouldn’t even agree to “reflect” on protecting the lives of born babies and denounce Kermit Gosnell-style murders.This is akin to refusing to oppose the terminal neglect of unwanted infants, even infanticide.

This isn’t a matter of protecting “reproductive rights.” A baby that is born is no longer in his or her mother’s body and thus nothing is being done to interfere with her privacy or autonomy.

Peter Singer believes that unwanted infants can be killed in the same manner as they can be aborted. Apparently, so does the Presbyterian Church, USA.

No to Coerced Vasectomy


A Virgnia plea deal is coercing a man into a vasectomy. From the CBS story:

A Virginia man who has fathered children with several women has agreed to get a vasectomy to reduce his prison term by up to five years in a child endangerment case that has evoked the country’s dark history of forced sterilization.

None of the charges against Jessie Lee Herald, 27, involved a sexual offense. Shenandoah County assistant prosecutor Ilona White said her chief motive in making the extraordinarily unusual offer was keeping Herald from fathering more than the seven children he has by at least six women. “He needs to be able to support the children he already has when he gets out,” she said, adding that Herald and the state both benefit from the deal, first reported by the Northern Virginia Daily.

There may be–nay, is–good cause for not wanting Herald to sire any more children. But coercing someone into surgery and sterilization as part of a criminal justice case is just plain wrong.

This isn’t the same as force-feeding prisoners on hunger strikes, which I support if and when their health is materially compromised or their lives endangered. That is about protecting health and welfare of the prisoner, which is the job of the prison authorities.

This is using surgery as a form of punishment and/or a utilitarian benefit to society. We should not go down that road.

Facts about “Voluntary Stop Eating and Drinking”


The invaluable Patients Rights Council (for whom I am a paid consultant) has published a badly needed fact sheet on the newest craze in suicide advocacy–self starvation/dehydration–known in death promoting parlance as Voluntary Stop Eating and Drinking, or VSED.

Here are some excerpts from the PRC Fact Sheet:

2. Is VSED suicide? Yes. VSED is intended to cause death. Suicide is defined as “the  act or an instance of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally especially by a person of years of discretion and of sound mind.”

Suicide advocates often pretend that suicide isn’t really suicide. But starving oneself to death is as much suicide as self-hanging or jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.

Suicide, of course, is not against the law. But unlike other methods of suicide, it is almost impossible for authorities or doctors to prevent the death. Example: You can stop a person from jumping off a bridge or cut them down when they are hanging. But you can’t force feed people because that is medical treatment, which they have the right to refuse.

(One day, I fear, it will be illegal for doctors to save the lives of suicide victims if they state they don’t want medical treatment. One day? It already happened in the UK to Kerrie Woolterton, who swallowed anti-freeze and was allowed to die by her doctors without treatment)

Back to the Fact Sheet:

6. I’ve read that VSED is painless. How can that be true when the symptoms of dehydration are so gruesome? Many advocates of VSED say it is painless, however their claim is based on the requirement that individuals receive medical supervision including pain and symptom control as they dehydrate to death… Without powerful sedatives and other palliative measures (and, sometimes even with such measures), dehydration deaths have been described as horrific. 

How bad can dehydration be? Well, Kate Adamson said it was worse agony than having abdominal surgery with inadequate anesthesiahorrors that she experienced.

9. Can health care providers refuse to support VSED? If a competent person stops eating and drinking, health care providers cannot force feed that person (either orally or by tube feeding). To do so could legally constitute the crime of battery. 
However, health care providers are not compelled to provide drugs to deal with the symptoms of death by dehydration. Instead, with kindness and firmness, they can explain their willingness to alleviate those symptoms through the effective and simple means of providing food and fluids. 

That’s precisely what they should do.

One of the worst things about promoting VSED is the potential for confusion. Patients sometimes stop eating and drinking when they have entered the active dying process. At such times, it is medically inappropriate to force sustenance upon the patients.

VSED promotion can make the families of such naturally dying people believe that forbearing from forced feeding is akin to assisting their suicides–leading to inappropriate actions that harm the loved one, or unnecessary guilt. Indeed, I am often approached by such people who worry (inaccurately) that they helped kill grandma.  

Promoters of VSED are causing great harm–all in the name of “compassion,” of course.

For more on my views about this controversial issue, hit this link.



Same Media that Ignored Gosnell Push Dead Babies in Septic Tank Lie


Remember when the media ignored en masse the mass murderers/late term abortions of the monster Kermit Gosnell? Remember the empty seats at the trial? Remember the important stories that were never written?

In that highly newsworthy circumstance, the media knew what it didn’t want you to know. 

But notice how quickly this same media spread the word–nay, ​breathlessly reported one unsubstantiated local Ireland story–that the bodies of long-dead babies were found discarded in a septic tank at a long closed home for unwed mothers run by nuns. Example, the Washington Post.

In a town in western Ireland, where castle ruins pepper green landscapes, there’s a six-foot stone wall that once surrounded a place called the Home. Between 1925 and 1961, thousands of “fallen women” and their “illegitimate” children passed through the Home, run by the Bon Secours nuns in Tuam. Many of the women, after paying a penance of indentured servitude for their out-of-wedlock pregnancy, left the Home for work and lives in other parts of Ireland and beyond.

Some of their children were not so fortunate. More than five decades after the Home was closed and destroyed — where a housing development and children’s playground now stands — what happened to nearly 800 of those abandoned children has perhaps now emerged: Their bodies were piled into a massive septic tank sitting in the back of the structure and forgotten, with neither gravestones nor coffins.

One itty-bitty problem: It isn’t true. From a commentary in Forbes by Eamonn Fingleton

Today the Irish Times has published a reader’s letter that has further undercut the story. Finbar McCormick, a professor of geography at Queen’s University Belfast, sharply admonished the media for describing the children’s last resting place as a septic tank. He added: “The structure as described is much more likely to be a shaft burial vault, a common method of burial used in the recent past and still used today in many parts of Europe…

The one “fact” that turned all this from a disturbing national story into a screaming global sensation is one that is almost certainly false.

The Post (which ran two stories on the “septic tank” babies) and other outlets have been forced to issue correctives.

So we are left with an interesting question: Why would real murders of babies–that took place in the present day–be all but ignored, while a false report of disrespectfully discarded bodies from many decades ago be reported high profile internationally?  

Answer: The former story reflected badly on abortion, so beloved by most in the media, while the latter validated their anti-Catholic bigotry–particularly their disdain for that church’s views toward sexual morality and pro-life activism.

This is one example of why the public’s trust in the media is in the, well, septic tank. They earn every ounce of our disdain. 

Total Brain Failure is Death


The Jahi McMath controversy–the subject of my post yesterday and much subsequent heated discussion–brought the brain death controversy back into the news.

It’s a difficult concept, and so I wrote a piece for Human Life Review explaining why I think that properly determined brain death is the demise of the patient.

In researching the article, I turned to a white paper written by the splendid President’s Council on Bioethics–with stellar pro-life scholars on board such as Robert George and William Hurlbut–about the question. It was very helpful. From my “Total Brain Failure is Dead:”

Part of the continuing intensity of the brain-death controversy may be due to nomenclature. According to a white paper put out by the President’s Council on Bioethics in 2008, the term “brain-dead” causes much public confusion. First, this term (like heart death) wrongly implies that there is more than one kind of death:

Whatever difficulties there might be in knowing whether death has occurred, it must be kept in mind that there is only one real phenomenon of death. Death is the transition from a living mortal organism to being something that though dead, retains a physical continuity with the once-living organism. (My emphasis.)

Second, describing a deceased person as brain-dead “implies that death is a state of cells and tissues constituting the brain.” Rather, “what is directly at issue is the living or dead status of the human individual, not the individual’s brain.”

Finally, the Council noted that death “is a clinical state or condition made evident by certain ascertainable signs.” In other words, there are measurable indicia of life—or its absence—that can be determined in the clinical setting.

The Council recommended replacing the term “brain death” with the more comprehensible “total irreversible brain failure,” or “total brain failure,” for ease of wording. This is very helpful and elucidating: Just as a patient has unquestionably died when her heart and lung functions have irreversibly collapsed, so too has the human being ceased to be once her brain has totally failed.

I understand why some people believe brain death is a subterfuge to allow the instrumental use of catastrophically cognitively disabled patients. As I have noted often, some bioethicists definitely want to go there with regard to unquestionably living patients in conditions like Terri Schiavo’s.

But I still believe the evidence convincingly demonstrates that total brain failure is dead. Whether or not you agree, I hope you will find the article helpful. It intends to remove confusion about what the concept of brain death describes–and what it doesn’t–toward the end of helping facilitate an informed debate.


What if Jahi McMath is Alive?


A news story reports that Jahi McMath, declared dead by the State of California, is being maintained at a Catholic hospital in New Jersey. More, that she may be becoming responsive. From the San Jose Mercury News story:

KPIX reported that she is receiving round-the-clock care and has responded to commands, moving specific parts of her body when asked. Attorney Christopher Dolan, who represents Jahi’s family, would not comment on her location.

In a statement to Bay Area News Group, he said that “Jahi’s physical condition is much better than when she was at Children’s Hospital,” adding that predictions that her organs would shut down and her heart would cease pumping had not come to pass. “I have seen Jahi and none of what Children’s (Hospital) said would happen to her as inevitable physical death has occurred. I have seen much more movement in Jahi, response to her mother’s touch and voice and what appears to be movement in response to voice command.”

We should be cautious here. But if​ these changes are indeed occurring–which will need to be demonstrated by objective medical testing–she isn’t dead.

What might that mean?

First, that she would become entitled to receive benefits for her care. To prevail, in my opinion, Jahi’s mother would have to prove evidentially that her daughter is alive by demonstrating, for example, that she has reflexes that originate in the brain.

Second, it would challenge the concept of brain death in the minds of many, forcing the medical community on the defensive. At the very least, I think it would lead to universal and rigorous mandatory criteria for its determination, something now sorely lacking. It might also require application of the more sophisticated brain scanning techniques now coming on line, which have shown that many people thought to be in a persistent unconscious condition, are actually aware.

Third, it would create a nightmare firestorm for Children’s Hospital of Oakland, not only legally but with regard to the trust in which it is held by the local community.

Fourth, it would validate Judge Evilio Grillo’s wisdom–achieved via a settlement–that sometimes it is better not to coerce dissenting families in medical controversies to give up their quest for the “miracle.” In this regard, it would also validate the work of Bobby Schindler and the Terri Schiavo Life and Hope Network, who and which, stuck their necks out pretty far in this case to help Jahi’s family.

Fifth, and ironically, it would empower those bioethicists who want to expand organ harvesting from the dead to the profoundly cognitively disabled. Dead isn’t what matters, these advocates say, but the loss of “personhood.” They would make Jahi’s case as a battle flag to pressure society to stop worrying about brain death and start harvesting unquestionably living people like Terri Schiavo.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The bodies of young people who are brain dead sometimes last far longer than those of adults. The key question is whether she has demonstrable brain function. If so, there will be hell to pay.

Surrogate Asked to Abort and Sex Select


I am not a fan of surrogate mothering. I am particularly opposed to commercial surrogacy, as it reduces gestation to a matter of breeding and can, in particular, lead to the profound exploitation of the surrogate mothers–known in the dehumanizing industry parlance, as ”gestational carriers.”

The Daily Mail has a story about a surrogate who had two feel-good experiences, but then got out of the trade because she came to see its dehumanizing aspects. From the story:

In more recent times, she entered into a third arrangement, this time with a ‘well known’ and ‘mega rich’ couple from the entertainment industry, who she can’t name for legal reasons – and who were due to pay her a ’significantly higher’ fee than she had been offered previously. ‘It was like hearing the neighbor’s kid crying. I think it would have been harder for me if I hadn’t bonded with the dads’

Unlike with the first two couples, she found it impossible to ‘bond’ with these people, who treated the process like ‘a business transaction’; so much so that Ms Szalacinski started referring to herself as a ‘commodity.’

Actually, no matter how nice the biological parents might be, as they said in The Godfather, “It’s not personal, it’s business.”

Back to the story:

Not only were the couple initially insistent on having a boy – testing the embryos five days after fertilization for gender – but when they eventually settled on two female embryos, they asked Ms Szalacinski to ‘reduce’, or terminate, one of them if they both ‘took,’ because they didn’t want to raise twins.

“Reduction” is the industry euphemism for targeted abortion. In other words, if one of the twin fetuses had been killed, the other child would still be a twin, but with a dead sibling. Imagine knowing that there but for where the forceps went would be thou!

Then came the eugenics that is rife within the industry:

Additionally, the picky couple were eager to choose a ‘particularly attractive’ egg donor, despite the fact that her eggs were ’sub-par’, because, according to Ms Szalacinski, they were ‘obsessed with looks.’ ‘I couldn’t believe that this kind of misogyny exists. My moral compass kept flicking off and I had to walk away,’ she says.

Good for her. But women who really need the money may not have that strength and might find themselves participating in actions they consider wrong and immoral–with potentially devastating emotional consequences.

This story reflects the ultimately crass nature that lurks at the bottom of the baby-making industry. Not only do many buyers believe they have a right to a child by any means necessary, but to the child they want.

Sometimes, surrogate mothers are collateral damage, and few care. See the Center for Bioethics and Culture’s (for which I am a paid consultant) excellent documentary, Breeders. It’s not all peaches and cream!

Adopt. Adopt. Adopt.

Push for Child Assisted Suicide in Scotland


Fresh off of Belgium’s legalizing euthanasia for children, child “advocates” in Scotland seeks to enable dying kids to commit assisted suicide. From the London Times story (subscription pay wall):

In a submission to MSPs, the group called Together (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights) states: “In the consideration of the age threshold of 16 proposed in the bill, the health and sports committee should note that terminal illnesses do not discriminate based on the age of a person and accordingly, neither should health care.

“The UN committee on the rights of the child is clear that a child who is capable of forming his or her own views should be assured the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child. “The views of a child must be given due weight in accordance with their age and maturity.”

In essence, the argument here is that assisted suicide is a human right. (Some death advocates call it the “ultimate civil right.”) If so–as I have noted frequently over more than 20 years–there really is no way to limit access to suicide facilitation. Human rights apply to all, not just some.

Note. Assisted suicide for adults isn’t yet legal in Scotland, and they are already pushing it for children. What does that tell you? (The legalization proposal is so radical it would allow for the creation of a new profession of non medical euthanasia/suicide facilitators.) 

Assisted suicide advocates used to promise that it was going to be restricted to the adult, terminally ill for whom nothing else could be done to alleviate suffering (a false premise).



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