Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Investigating Decision to Remove Feeding Tube


Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts intends to investigate the decision by the MA Supreme Court to permit the public guardian to remove the feeding tube from a 12-year-old abuse victim named Haleigh Poutre. She is now, apparently, reacting to her environment (not that I believe reactivity should be a requirement to receive food and water).

And let there be no complaints by those who believe cognitively disabled people should be dehydrated, about the "state" imposing its views on family. This was a decision pushed by the state through a public guardian, and approved by a court.

By all means: Investigate. And let us hope that the conclusion is reached that food and water should not be removed from people based solely on "quality" of life considerations in the wake of a catastrophic brain injury.

Combating Cloning Lies in Iowa


I don't claim a monopoly on wisdom about the issues about which I advocate (some would say, obsess). But I can't stand it when advocates just lie in support of their position. I have blogged on Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack's false assertions that advances in cloning medical treatments require a change in Iowa's ban on all human cloning. But I thought it needed further analysis. Here it is, from today's Daily Standard.

Cornell Medical School Turns Hippocratic Oath to (Mostly) Pabulum


Cornell Medical School has rewritten the Hippocratic Oath. Gone is the proscription against abortion. No surprise there: Foreswearing that particular act was discarded from the Oath decades ago (although it is interesting how recent newspaper stories report that few doctors today are willing to perform abortions).

Now, Cornell has also erased the prohibition against assisted suicide ("I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody who asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.) Killing is not a medical act. Hippocrates understood that. Moreover, putting that power in the hand of a doctor is to give the doctor too much power, given the reliance patients place in their physicians. Hippocrates understood that, too.

The new oath doesn't even require doctors to foreswear sexual relations with patients, another form of potential abuse and imposition. Illustrating the difference between the rich patient-protecting orientation of the original and the mostly non-specific pablum of the Cornell version, compare Hippocrates with Cornell:

Hippocrates: "Whatever houses I may visit, I will come for the benefit of the sick, remaining free of all intentional injustice, of all mischief and in particular of sexual relations with both female and male persons, be they free or slaves." The clear call here is active, requiring doctors never to act in a way that would take advantage of patients, with one specific example, e.g. sexual relations.

Cornell: "That into whatever house I shall enter, it shall be for the good of the sick. [Forget for the moment that most doctors don't make house calls.] That I will maintain this sacred trust, holding myself far aloof from wrong, from corrupting, from the tempting of others to vice." This is a far more passive and vague approach. What does holding oneself "aloof from wrong" mean, anyway? Indeed, what does "tempting others to vice" mean in the context of today's anything goes society?

I do appreciate this addition to the Oath, however: "That I will not withdraw from my patients in their time of need." Never abandoning patients is an important part of being a professional.

Cornell's oath is a pale comparison to the great original. It contains few specifics. It is wide-open to any interpretation any doctor may wish to place upon it.

What a shame. The Oath is seen by patients as a significant protection of their interests. When I tell audiences that few physicians take the Oath anymore, but instead recite watery facimiles, primarily as a "rite of passage" (as described in the Cornell press office story), they always gasp in unhappy shock.

This latest rewrite continues this sad decline.

Assisted Suicide: Consider the Deadly Context


In the wake of the Supreme Court ruling in Gonzales v. Oregon, I have a piece in today's San Francisco Chronicle addressing the context in which assisted suicide would be conducted. Context can be everything, and in a regime of legalized assisted suicide, it would be deadly.

Truth in Advertising


The old photo posted on the site was about 6 years old, so I have updated it with one taken about 2 months ago. I am so middle aged! How did that happen?

Another Fraudulent Scientific Paper


This time, in the Lancet. It would seem that the current methods of peer review definitely need reviewing.

Comments about Gonzales v. Oregon from Dr. Eric Chevlen


My co-author of Power Over Pain wrote me an interesting note about the recent SCOTUS opinion on assisted suicide: "I began to read the Gonzales decision last night. I noticed something very interesting in the first few paragraphs of the majority opinion. It refers to Oregon as being "the first" state to legalize PAS. I would have written "the only" rather than "the first." The latter formulation carries a tacit expectation that more will follow...I think that that choice of words revealed the heart's desire in Justice Kennedy's heart. He also refers to the CSA controlled substances in question as being used, in lower doses, to treat pain. The fact is that nearly 100% of the people who die via PAS die from an overdose of barbiturates, not of opioids. Barbiturates are not analgesic. Thus is another myth perpetuated."

This would substantiate my suspicion that the decision was somewhat result-oriented. It also demonstrates that the courts (and media) are often wrong on basic facts.

Another Case of Bad Reportage


I am quoted in this Christian Science Monitor story about the Supreme Court assisted suicide decision. What irritates is that I pointed out this Pew Poll result to the reporter who interviewed me, noting that to support and opposition to assisted suicide was evenly divided 46-45%. (I blogged this poll a few days ago.) Instead of citing the poll question about assisted suicide, which would have been accurate, the reporters instead cited a different question about the "right to die," which was defined in the poll as the right to remove unwanted life support--a completely different issue. They noted 84% support.

But this question is irrelevant to the subject of the story, and seemed designed to rebut my assertion that the assisted suicide movement has been moribund. In other words, they cited the wrong poll number, making it appear that assisted suicide is far more popular than it actually is.

Clueless or biased? You decide.

It’s Not Over ‘Till It’s Over


This story demonstrates why we should be very wary of removing feeding tubes. An eleven year-old little girl named Denise Monteiro was apparently beaten by her step-father. She was diagnosed as PVS. Doctors said she would never improve. The court ordered her removed from respirator and tube feeding. She breathed on her own and apparently is beginning to respond. New tests have been ordered.

Whether or not Denise improves, it seems to me she should not be removed from food and water, based solely on her cognitive capacity. Nutritional termination can only have one result: Death. As a consequence, I believe the decision to withdraw or withhold such care should be treated differently than other such decisions. Benefits of doubt should go to providing nutritional sustenance. Indeed, in my view, absent clear written instructions by the patient or the presence of other urgent medical issues, dehydration should never be done based on the decisions of others, particularly if they are steeped in quality of life considerations about the lack of a life worth living.

More Bad News From Korea: This Time About Umb. Cord Blood Experiment


The woman who was paralyzed for 19 years and had partial movement and feeling restored through umbilical cord blood stem cells has had a terrible setback. The story says it was an infection, but it also appears that she may be the victim of unethical human experimentation. The bottom line: Today she is worse off than she was before receiving the experimental treatments.

This brings up an important point I try to adhere to: I always point out that one apparent successful treatment does not a cure make. I have said this about Dennis Turner, who apparently received a substantial remission from Parkinson's with his own brain cells. I said so about this woman. These are early experiments. The promise seems real. But we must not hype adult stem cells in the way proponents of cloning and ESCR have too often hyped those approaches.

The First Calls Are Heard for Robert Klein’s Head


Robert Klein, the primary mover behind Proposition 71, made a big mistake by becoming the head of the California Center for Regenerative Medicine. Now, he is in growing political trouble. The Center is beset with problems, including lawsuits and a distinct tendency toward arrogance and hubris. Now, the Center for Genetics and Society, a liberal group involved with biotechnology, is calling on Klein to step down. The Center is right. But he won't. And that will be to the benefit of those who oppose Proposition 71.

Gonzales v. Oregon: Much Less Than Meets the Eye


The media is touting Gonzales v Oregon as some huge victory for assisted suicide. It is a victory for that agenda, I admit, but not a big one. As I noted yesterday, the ruling was quite narrow and all of the puffing and spinning in the world won't change that. Besides, I don't see people marching in the street demanding that doctors be given the right to kill their suicidal patients. My prediction (and I am usually right in such matters, but not always), is that this opinion will only have a mild impact on the debate.

For my extended views, read my article on National Review Online.

The Constitutional Right to Clone


I have been warning anyone who will listen, that the intellectual foundation is being laid to create a constitutional right to conduct scientific research. A new book, Illegal Beings, is touted by its publisher as advocating something akin to that approach. Specifically, the book argues that there is a constitutional right to engage in reproductive cloning.

Science has entered upon a trajectory of anything goes. The primary question thus becomes: Does society have the will to properly regulate science? We had better. Otherwise, science will dominate society.

Gonzales v. Oregon a Very Narrow Ruling


I have now read the majority opinion. It wasn't judicial activism. Indeed, the Supreme Court's majority decision is not a broad endorsement of assisted suicide. In essence, the Court ruled that the Attorney General exceeded his authority in interpreting the Controlled Substances Act. Primarily, the AG is criticized for seeking no outside authorities for his conclusion. I think that is a strong criticism of the Ashcroft approach. I have always stated that the better way would have been to do a formal Notice of Rulemaking and get a wide array of opinions. The Court also seemed to indicate that an interpretation of a purported medical use of controlled substance should come from the Secretary of Health and Human Services, rather than the AG.

The Court also seemed to rule that the Congress would be authorized to create uniform national standards for the medical use of controlled substances. That has been tried with the Pain Relief Promotion Act a few years ago, which failed to surmount a senate filibuster.

The forces supporting assisted suicide will spin this as the Court's imprimatur on doctors hastening death. It is no such thing. It is a narrowly crafted law steeped in the arcania of administrative law.

On Mike Gallagher Show Tomorrow


I usually don't post my media appearances, as many are regional and I don't want to clutter up the site with such notices. But for anyone who might be interested, I will be on the nationally syndicated Mike Gallagher Show tomorrow, at about 8 WST.

U.S. Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Oregon


The vote was 6-3. I haven't read the decision, but it appears from this early news report, that the Court has ruled that the Feds have no right to implement its own public policy against prescribing controlled substances to kill people if those who want to die are very sick. How ironic. The Feds can go after medical marijuana users, when that drug is used to palliate suffering. But it can't go after doctors who prescribe controlled substances to intentionally kill. Here is a link to the majority opinion. Here is a link to Scalia's dissent. And Thomas's dissent.

This is just another way of saying that human life doesn't matter simply because it is human, but that it matters only when the life in question passes quality of life muster. Thus, under this line of thinking, if a state legalized, say, the prescription of controlled substances for suicide based on a suicidal woman's children dying, the feds would not have to go along?

Scalia, in dissent, points out a truth that intentionally causing death is not a medical act.

But don't confuse the majority opinion with truth. What is really happening is the Court, as it often does in cultural issues, is reflecting elite liberal views, and if nothing else, the drive to legalize assisted suicide is an elite liberal political movement.

Media Shore Up Cloning by Underreporting Hwang


I have continued to pay attention to how the media has reported the Hwang fraud, in comparision to how his supposed "breakthrough" was covered, not to mention other important stories. Unsurprisingly, as I predicted when the story first came to light, the media have reported as little as they can get away with, in as low key a fashion. The coverage by Newsweek and Time are the two examples I offer in this piece in today's NRO.

Raelians Offer Hwang a Job


And this news article takes it--and them--seriously.

Media Goes in Tank For Vilsack


As I suspected, the media is just swallowing the tripe served up by Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack about new medical treatments from nuclear transfer requiring a change in the Iowa law. THERE HAVE BEEN NO NEW TREATMENTS. THERE HAVE NEVER EVEN BEEN EMBRYONIC STEM CELLS TAKEN FROM CLONED EMBRYOS!

You'd think the media would ask the governor to explain. But that would require real journalism instead of merely reporting off of press releases. Example: Des Moines Register. Ditto the Associated Press.

Vilsack: A Stupid Politician? Or Just Disingenuous?


Tom Vilsack, the Governor of Iowa, wants to overturn the ban on human cloning in that state. To justify the change, he claims there have been many medical advances created using cloning (nuclear transfer), which, of course, is just, plain baloney. Here's the money quote from his state of the state speech:

"A strong community embraces change. New discoveries require new approaches. One area that calls for a new approach is the area of medical research. Several years ago we limited medical research involving nuclear cell transplants at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. At the time we never dreamt that new treatments dependent upon such transplants would be developed so quickly. Well, they have been, and as a result we should revisit our ban on nuclear cell transplants. We should remove the restrictions and allow life saving treatments to be administered to Iowans here in Iowa rather than forcing them to leave our state. A strong community would never do otherwise." (My emphasis.)

There have been no "new treatments" developed with nuclear transfer. None. We now know post Hwang that there haven't even been any cloned embryonic stem cell lines created. Vilsack is either woefully ignorant or utterly disingenuous.


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