Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Hwang Influence Politicians With Slush Fund Donations


Woo-suk Hwang apparently used some public money given to his lab for research, to influence politicians. Thank goodness nothing like that would ever happen here. In the USA, science is merely an objective search for knowledge. It's not as if the Science Establishment has mutated the pursuit of scientific knowledge into a special interest that assumes the right to receive ever-increasing levels of public funding and works assiduously to lobby and influence our public officials or anything.

Benefit of Doubt Given to Death in Brain Injury Cases


It seems to me that when someone suffers a serious illness or injury, the benefit of doubt should be given to life. This isn't to say that life support should never terminated (although I certainly think it is immoral to remove a feeding tube based on "quality of life" considerations by those other than the patient). As a hospice volunteer, I believe a time comes to stop trying to maintain life and allow nature to take its course. We have taken this approach in my own family. My father died of colon cancer in hospice care.

But the State of Massachusetts seem to have taken the exact opposite approach with poor Haleigh Poutre. After she was seriously beaten, the public guardian decided within 8 days(!) to cut off her respirator and feeding tube. That is not nearly enough time for the brain to begin to recover, particularly that of a child. This case illustrates a worrying trend in health care: When the injury is to the brain, increasingly the benefit of the doubt goes to death, not life.

More Junk Journalism about Cloning


I could spend all of my time here at Secondhand Smoke illustrating how media refuses to report stories about biotechnology accurately. But that would get old and there are many other things to write about. But this story is just too much: The AP has produced a story, byline Sam Hananel, that makes the following false claim in a story about how a proposed Missouri initiative to legalize ESCR (actually therapeutic cloning) has divided Republicans:

"Sen. Jim Talent, who faces a strong challenge in November from Democratic state auditor Claire McCaskill, has declined to take a stand on the measure. But he has co-sponsored a Senate bill to ban embryonic stem cell research and impose a million-dollar fine and 10-year jail sentence on violators." (My emphasis.)

The story is referring to the Brownback/Landrieu Bill that would outlaw ALL HUMAN CLONING, NOT EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH. The House version has passed twice by large, bipartisan margins (which, of course, goes unreported). It is SILENT about using leftover embryos or creating new ones through fertilization for that purpose. The distinction is real. Indeed, there has never been an attempt at the federal level to outlaw embryonic stem cell research. But the media don't care. You can point out their continual misreporting to journalists on this beat until you are blue in the face, and they just refuse to report it right.

Lessons From UK “Mercy” Killing


A UK woman named Maureen Messent has come forward to admit that she murdered her great aunt in the 1960s, stating she was right because the aunt, Eileen O'Sullivan, was near death from lung cancer. This is a typical apologia for euthanasia that appears regularly in the media, which are somehow always agog as if such articles have never been written before. Still, there are important lessons to be learned here:

1) There is no indication that O'Sullivan wanted to be killed. The killer took it upon herself. This is classic euthanasia thinking. Once killing to end suffering is transferred in the brain from bad to good, what does consent have to do with it? Thus, in the Netherlands, there have been tens of thousands of such murders over the last thirty years with nary a thing done about it. Messent's article demonstrates that in the end, consent easily becomes a mere technicality, easily tossed aside.

2) Killing is not a medical act. The article say that the doctor left morphine, telling the family to palliate O'Sullivan as needed. Messent decided that was a license to kill. But notice that she is not a doctor and that the doctor didn't do the killing. It doesn't take special training to kill somebody. Just a special arrogance. The Swiss permit assisted suicide, but don't permit doctors to do the killing in their professional capacities. Euthanasia is not a medical act.

3. Today, hospice care for the dying is vastly improved: This killing appears to have happened before Dame Cecily Saunders pioneered in-home hospice in 1969, and perhaps before she opened St. Christophers in 1967. The care available for the dying in those days was far inferior to that of today. Hospice has the capability to control the symptoms of dying people without killing them. The lack of mention in this article about hospice, or of the coverage of it (in the BBC, for example), is so typical. I have been to the UK several times speaking out against euthanasia. For some reason, the media never bring hospice up even though the UK gave hospice to the world.

4. Most euthanasia deaths are not "last minute:" Like most pro euthanasia propaganda, the example of the killing depicts the victim as on the verge of death so that the killing shortened life by a mere hours or a few days. But most legal mercy killings are not "last minute." Not in the Netherlands, not in Belgium, not in Switzerland, and not in Oregon.

The media's continual articles and columns extolling suicide and mercy killing is damaging to the crucial understanding that dying is not dead: It is living. And it constitutes abandonment of those in most need of protection by the community.

Self Cutters to Be Given Sterile Blades?


There was a time when people who wanted to hurt themselves were protected from self destructive behavior. No more. Today, we facilitate self harm, as indicated by this story in which UK nurses want to distribute sterile blades to people who want to cut themselves. Unbelievable.

Bloomberg Donation Supports President’s ESCR Policy


It seems that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has donated $100 million to support embryonic stem cell research. This is being touted in the media as somehow opposing President Bush's embryonic stem cell policy (which provides federal funding only for stem cell lines already in existence on 8/9/01).

The opposite is actually true. The President's policy upholds the Dickey Amendment, first enacted in 1996, that forbids the public's money from being used in destructive embryo research. The Dickey Amendment holds that as a matter of federal policy, people who believe that destroying nascent human life is immoral should not be forced to pay for such experiments through their taxes. Private money has always been permitted in federal law to be applied to that purpose.

Thus, Bloomberg is actually materially supporting the President's approach. The mayor thinks that ES cell research is so worthwhile that he's willing to put real money into moving it along. President Bush will not lose a wink of sleep over this. It demonstrates that his policy, and more broadly, the Dickey Amendment, is actually working.

South Korea May Change Its Human Cloning Tune


I hope this story has it right: Apparently in the wake of the Woo-suk Hwang scandal, South Korea is musing with outlawing all human cloning. Good. Cloning is immoral and an affront to human dignity. Moreover, once we start down the cloning road, the experiments would not long be restricted to cloned embryos in Petri dishes but would eventually lead to more radical--such as gestating cloned fetuses. (Live fetal experiments were performed in the 1970s, so there is a history of this kind of ugly research.) Beyond that, widespread cloning threatens women to exploitation for their eggs, as happened in Hwang's own lab. And it would divert tremendous resources away from more urgent current needs and more promising therapies.

Moving into the anti-cloning camp would permit S. Korea to focus its prodigious scientific talent into non controversial areas of inquiry and to better police the experiments that are happening using human patients. Moreover, it would be in accord with the nearly 3-1 vote of the United Nations General Assembly that urged member states to prevent all human SCNT.

Haleigh Poutre Could be Dehydrated Even Though Conscious


One of the misperceptions that arose out of the Terri Schiavo case is that people have to be permanently unconscious before having their tube feeding withdrawn. Not true. Conscious cognitively disabled patients are dehydrated to death in this country all of the time.

It is one thing if a person refuses their own tube feeding. But should a child like Haleigh Poutre be dehydrated based on the value judgments of others about the "quality" of her life? It could happen, as I demonstrate in this article in today's National Review Online.

Should Human Egg Selling be Allowed?


Now, they are looking into the illegal purchase of eggs in the Hwang scandal. Meanwhile, there are legislative proposals to ban the sale of human eggs here in the states. But as seen in an article on egg extraction in the New England Journal of Medicine, some bioethicists promote the purchase and sale of eggs for use in cloning experiments and reproductive therapies. Not too much money, mind you. That might sway decisions. But what isn't "too much" money for a well off bioethicist would be a lot of money for a very poor woman.

Some say in defense of the proposal that we let people sell their blood, so why not their eggs? But most people donate their blood. Those who sell their blood are the poor, and they do it repeatedly to help support themselves. Moreover, blood collection is not nearly as onerous as egg extraction, which can cause significant discomfort and have serious side effects. If egg selling becomes big, the people who will do the selling will mostly be the poor. No wonder so many feminists see cloning as exploitive of women.

Adult Stem Cell Therapy Puts Lupus Into Remission


As to be reported by the Journal of the American Medical Association, in human trials, people with severe lupus have received substantial benefit from their own bone marrow stem cells. This can be a risky procedure because part of the therapy is destroying the immune system with chemotherapy before rebuilding it with the stem cells. (The same type of treatment seems to be helping people with MS stop the progression of the disease.) But it offers great hope to people who have this sometimes devestating auto-immune disease. AND, it was covered by the MSM!

Haleigh Poutre Second Opinion


It appears that Haleigh, the 11-year-old girl who was beaten nearly to death and then deprived of the right to fight for life by court-sanctioned removal of her feeding tube, may have a second chance. She will be reexamined to measure her current apparent responsiveness.

But be warned: Just because she may be conscious, that does not mean she won't be dehydrated to death. Conscious cognitively disabled patients are dehydrated all over the country. I will have more on this soon. But it is important to understand that removing tube-supplied food and water is not limited to those diagnosed as permanently unconscious.

Adult Stem Cells Treating Arthritis in Animals


This is potential good news for people with arthritis. In animal studies, muscle stem cells have been converted into cartilage and used to treat arthritis. As the person who sent this item to me put it only slightly tongue in cheek: "Perhaps the NYT should be notified. But then, they would 'neutrally' report a 'stem cell success', followed by a Bush-bashing statement about how 'stem cell research' is not being funded." Too true. Too true.

Doubts About Transhumanism Transcend Political Ideology


This article from The Guardian (a leftist UK newspaper) is an intelligent, if relatively shallow, discussion of transhumanism. The author discusses issues such as drugs to enhance cognition and what it might mean if parents gave such medicines to their children to aid in learning.

I don't have principled objections to such medicines, assuming safety and proper use; for example, to treat dementia. However, it would seem to be potential child abuse to give such strong medicines that could have unknown impact on the brain to children when we could not possibly know their potential long term side effects.

That issue aside, the biggest problem I have with transhumanism is its hubristic conceit that we have the wisdom to decide which human attributes are better than other human attributes, and that we should design in the former and eradicate the latter. More arrogantly, transhumanists believe we should "seize control of human evolution" and change our progeny at the genetic level so that the parental dictated "enhancements" pass down the generations. This is nothing less than the resurrection of a new eugenics and the emergence of scientism as a new religion, complete with an eschatology akin to a corporeal New Jerusalem.

I have written in some detail about this, and discussed the eugenics potential of transhumanism in Consumer's Guide to a Brave New World.

Free the Finned 50,000!


Animal rights activists are suspected of having "liberated" 50,000 farmed fish in the UK. What a pathetic joke. With all the human misery in the world, one would think these fanatics would have something more important to care about than fish being raised for release into a resevoir where many would eventually be caught and fried up for dinner. This is a small, but telling, illustration of how truly twisted many in the animal liberation movement have become.

More Cloning Gibberish in the Media


The Associated Press continues the junk reporting that is endemic in the mainstream media about human cloning. This time, in referring to a legal dispute in Missouri about the title of a planned initiative that would legalize human cloning for biomedical research, but which contends in its title that it actually bans human cloning, the AP reported:

"At issue is a research procedure known as somatic cell nuclear transfer, in which the nucleus of an unfertilized human egg is replaced with the nucleus from a skin or nerve cell, then is stimulated to grow in a lab dish. The microscopic cluster of cells [more accurately, an embryo] is not implanted into a woman's uterus, but opponents say it still amounts to human cloning."

The highlighted sentence comes to you direct from pro-cloning spin central. It strongly implies that the act of cloning is implantation. But that is nonsensical. Cloning is a word, that in this context, refers to the creation of a new human organism through asexual means, e.g., somatic cell nuclear transfer. Implantation merely permits an existing embryo to be sustained further into development. Thus, that act cannot in any way be construed to be cloning.

But the political campaign to legalize human cloning in Missouri has redefined the term to win a political campaign and the compliant media merely parrots the pro-cloning party line. This is the same media, by the way, which wails and moans so loudly about the supposed destruction of science in America. Yet, in this story, it could care less about scientific accuracy in reporting.

(Full disclosure: I have informally and without charge consulted with Missourians Against Human Cloning and their attorneys in the litigation mentioned above.)

Researching for Dollars


More evidence that science is becoming a special interest: Governor Matt Blunt of Missouri wants to spend $300 million of taxpayer's money on biotechnology. But this is the same Governor Blunt who cut Medicaid so deeply that feeding tubes may not be covered in some cases. Priorities, Governor, Please!

Haleigh Poutre Moved to Rehab Center


Rather than being dehydrated to death, 11-year-old Haleigh Poutre is being moved to a rehabilitation center where she will receive care to maximize her capacities. Haleigh was beaten nearly to death by her mother and step father last September, suffering a catastrophic brain injury. The state guardian got the Massachusetts Supreme Court to order both her respirator and tube-supplied food and fluids terminated. But Haleigh unexpectedly breathed on her own and seemed to react. She now has a chance for life.

I will say it again: We need to reconsider the issue of food and fluids as just another medical treatment. Removing nutrition will result in death. As Haleigh proved, this is not always true of other forms of care. Therefore, we should be loath to remove medically appropriate "artificial nutrition and hydration," barring a written advanced directive or clear and convincing evidence that it would be in the patient's best medical interest. In other words, we should never decide that someone else's "quality of life" is such that we won't even permit them to have food and water.

Ralph Nader’s Mother has Died


My good friend Ralph Nader is grieving the loss of his mother, Rose Nader, who died of congestive heart failure just days short of her 100th birthday.

Mrs. Nader was a pure delight. She always had smile on her face and a kind word on her lips. Her deep love for family was clearly evident to all who saw her interact with her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. It was even more clear from the intensity of love they all gave back to her.

Mrs. Nader's life and accomplishments are worth pausing to remember. A high school teacher, she immigrated to the United States from Lebanon in 1925 after marrying Nathra Nader. The couple eventually settled in Winsted, Connecticut where they ran a successful restaurant and raised their four children: Shafeek, Claire, Laura, and Ralph.

The Naders instilled in their children a deep love of country and a sense of duty to participate in civic affairs. Shafeek Nader (who died in 1986) was the principal founder of Northwestern Connecticut Community College. Claire Nader is a Ph.D. In addition to being Mrs. Nader's primary care giver in recent years, she has been deeply involved in foundation and educational work, including heading the anti-human cloning organization, The Council for Responsible Genetics. Laura Nader is an internationally renowned anthropologist and professor at UC Berkeley. Ralph Nader founded the consumer movement and is a former presidential candidate.

Rose Nader lived a great life. The world is better for her having been among us. She epitomized the American Dream.

More on Weakening of Hippocratic Oath


This is the AMA's Declaration of Professional Responsibility. It too has removed crucial and specific patient protections and replaced them with platitudes and vague terms, the meaning of which can vary from physician to physcian. I plan to write a more extended piece on the undermining of the Oath and what it might portend. Stay tuned.

Media Bias? What Media Bias?


This on-line headline in The Telegraph for a woman who traveled to Switzerland to kill herself takes the cake. "Doctor Dies With Dignity." Swallowing poison pills is "dignity," meaning I guess, that dying naturally is something else. This is really an insidious message that undermines the value of human life.


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