Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

London Times Editorial Against Grave Robbing Animal Liberationist Fanatics


There is great harm being done to human welfare by the the animal rights extremists, as the London Times points out.

Alder/Smith Part 3


The assisted suicide debate continues.

Betrayal of the Voters! Proposition 71 Bait and Switch


It will pay for itself, supporters of Proposition 71 told voters. State residents will pay less for health care. Day after day it was one pie-in-the-sky promise after another. But now, the California Council on Science and Technology, has recommended that the state receive zero dollars in royalties from the billions it will borrow to fund this corporate welfare boondoggle. It might chill private investments, don't you know. Not coincidentally, the Council is a state-funded body made up of private university and private sector firms--the very interests that will be lining up at the pork barrel once Proposition 71 grant money begins to flow!

What is chilling private investments is the low likelihood of success of turning cloned human embryos into efficacious medical treatments any time soon. What is chilling private investments is that embryonic stem cells cause tumors and can't be used in humans. What is chilling private investments is the roaring success of adult stem cell research, which is already treating 65 human maladies. Indeed, the lack of private investments is why Big Biotech and their allies at "patents R us" university research centers sold this swamp land of a law to California voters with a $25 million war chest in the first place.

The arrogance of it all! The question is whether the people will put up with this too as Proposition 71 backers keep yelling, CURES! CURES! CURES!

The Adler/Smith Debate on Assisted Suicide Continues


Should the United States Supreme Court uphold the right of the federal government to prohibit the use of federally controlled substances in assisted suicide, even where it is legal, such as in Oregon? Or, once a state legalizes assisted suicide, in the name of federalism, must the federal government acquiesce to the state law? We debate: You decide.

Animal Liberationists Grave Robbers Drive Farmers Out of Business


This is a terrible story: A farm family in the UK has been targeted for death threats, vandalism, intimidation, and similar attacks against residents of their town for the last several years by animal liberationists. Their great sin? They raised guinea pigs for use in medical research. Now, the liberationists have finally driven them out of business by robbing the grave of a beloved family member. The farmers went out of business in the hope that the liberationists will give the body back.

This shameful episode deserves the strongest condemnation. If it can happen there, it can happen here. And no one who makes proper and humane use of animals is safe.

My Debate With Jonathan Adler About Pending Supreme Court Case Involving Oregon’s Assisted Suicide Law


A few months ago, the National Review's Jonathan Adler and I debated the upcoming Supreme Court case, Gonzales v. Oregon. The case will determine whether the federal government must permit federally controlled substances to be used in assisted suicide in Oregon, or whether it can pursue its own federal public policy on the issue with regard to the regulation of narcotics under the Controlled Substances Act. Adler believes that Oregon should win because federalism leaves the regulation of medical practice to the states. I counter that both the states and feds can have distinct public policies about the matter and that the states do not have the right to impose their views on the regulation of federal law.

It is important to note that this exchange took place before the Supreme Court decided Gonzales v. Raich, which permitted the feds open latitude to enforce federal anti-marijuana laws even in states that permit medical marijuana, and even if the marijuana was grown at home. If anything, the Raich decision strengthens my position. ( My take on Raich as it might impact Gonzales v. Oregon is reprinted here.)

The debate will be published one exchange at a time all this week at this link.

Check Out the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide


The International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide is a splendid organization dedicated to educating the public about the dangers of euthanasia and assisted suicide. I am honored to be affiliated with the Task Force as an attorney and consultant. Indeed, it was Rita Marker's book Deadly Compassion that convinced to enter the work in which I am now engaged. (Rita is the head of the Task Force.)

I mention this because periodically, the Task Force publishes the "Update," a newsletter filled with the latest news on assisted suicide, euthanasia, futile care theory, food and fluids cases, and the like. The Update is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in these important issues. Here is the link to the just released current issue. And here is the link to the Task Force's WEB site. It's well worth the mouse click.

Skin Cells May Become Stem Cells Says Washington Post


This piece is another of many recent research advances demonstrating the astonishing potential of adult stem cells. This story describes how skin cells have been reverted to embryonic-like stem cells. The potential consequence is that cloned embryos might not be needed to obtain the treatment benefits that the proponents of therapeutic cloning have claimed that procedure could provide. (The process would involve fusing an embryonic stem cell, like those already approved for federal funding by Pres. Bush, with the patient's own skin cell.)

Good for the Washington Post for printing it, and for Rick Weiss, the Post science reporter for reporting it. Weiss is pro therapeutic cloning and has implied that opponents of these technologies are Taliban. But he is also a good journalist. For example, when President Ronald Reagan died, some biotech boosters used the event to push embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning as a way of helping cure people with Alzheimer's. They still do. But Weiss was the only mainstream reporter and the Post the only major outlet of which I am aware to report that stem cells are very unlikely to be a viable treatment for Alzheimer's. When asked why biotechnologists were permitting Alzheimer's victims and their families to believe an untruth that ES cells offered them hope, Weiss quoted one as stating cynically that "people need a fairy tale." So much for compassion.

Most establishment media outlets continue to underreport adult stem cell successes. And they usually continue to list Alzheimer's as one of the diseases that may be cured by cloning or ES cell research. But these two Post stories are pleasant exceptions.

The “Case of the Chilled Witness”


My point about academic opponents of all human cloning being threatened with career ramifications if they support abolitionist bills, is being discussed in the National Review's blog, The Corner. Here is a specific example from The Corner of this anti-democratic and anti-academic freedom phenomenon:

From Shawn Mitchell, a member of the Colorado state senate:

As a (then) Colorado State Representative, I sponsored a bill to ban so-called therapeutic human cloning, in 2001 if I remember correctly.

A dean of the Department of Natural Sciences from a local university campus agreed, to my surprise, to testify in favor of the bill. She agreed with most the conservative critique of human cloning: the science isn't there; the promises are overblown; adult stem cells are providing therapies now; and even if it did work, creating human life to kill it for the benefit of others is morally and ethically problematic.

A day before the hearing on the bill, she apologetically called to say that she had been spoken to by university leaders, and she would be unable to testify. I don't know what threats were made, only that an academic willing to speak out against cloning was silenced by the administration.

By the way, the story might be a little more interesting if you know the campus was part of the University of Colorado system, whose president just departed after failing to quell scandals ranging from the football sex and booze scandal to Ward Churchill's anti-American rants. Suppressing youthful hedonism or leftist incitement is unthinkable but muzzling a dissenter to the scientific agenda is par for the course.

In case Mr. Stuttaford asks, I never publicly identified the dean. If she was unwilling to risk professional damage, I wouldn't force her. I was grateful for her initial willingness and frustrated at the bullying that silenced her."

This is a huge story. It might be tough to report because most of the chilled witnesses and professors don't want their names out for fear of job ramifications. But it is a story that needs to be told because it reflects a growing intolerance on university campuses and within the science and bioethics establishments for heterodox views.

Intellectual Stalinism of Science Establishment Revealed


This story from the Washington Post does not directly involve the issues about which I advocate. But it reveals a mindset that I see on a continuing basis. An editor of a science journal connected with the Smithsonian decided to publish an article by Steven Meyer on the theory of intelligent design. (Meyer is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, as am I. We are friends.) The article was peer reviewed and the reviewers agreed that it had scientific merit and should be published.

As soon as the article was published, the long knives came out. The editor was subjected to vicious attempts to ruin his professional career. Strident demands were made that he be fired. Lies were told, his personal life was investigated, false rumors were circulated, accusations were even made that he was on the take and had not actually had the article peer reviewed. All false, as revealed by a government investigation.

I have been told numerous times of the same tactics being threatened or employed against heterodox thinkers in the human cloning controversy. Scientists who want to testify in favor of a ban on all human cloning are warned that if they do, their careers are over, that they will be branded "anti-science" and no longer be invited to participate in seminars or write book chapters. If they don't have tenure, they will never get it. If they do, they will be shunned, shunted to a corner and forced to teach "punishment" freshman classes, rather than their usual advanced or post grad courses. (This happened to Dr. David Prentice at Indiana State University.)

This is the point: The leaders of science have become woefully ideological, to the point that they are willing to stifle discourse and crush academic freedom. In the end, they won't succeed in insulating their views from criticism. But they could destroy the good reputation of science as a venerable field, and transform it into being perceived by a weary public as merely another area of special interest advocacy.

New Stop the Presses! York Times Publishes Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cell Breakthrough Story!


It is getting harder and harder to ignore the tremendous gains being made for regenerative medicine in the "non embryonic" sectors. Here is a great success, reported in the New York Times no less, wherein scientists have found how to garner thousands of stem cells from umbilical cord blood. Already these cells have been turned into liver tissue. Had this been done with ES cells, it would have been on the front page. But I shouldn't grouse. This may be the beginning of the end for the wall of near-silence in establishment media about the tremendous advances being made in adult and umbilical cord blood stem cell research. As I have repeatedly stated, should it ever become clear that the cures and treatments can be achieved without human cloning, the debate will be over.

Screening Out Embryos With Gene for Curable Cancer


The UK continues to steadily widen the manipulation of procreation, this time, to permit parents to screen embryos so as to not have babies with a gene that causes a usually curable eye cancer. So, now we have gone from screening out embryos that would have a terminal disease such as cystic fibrosis, to a curable disease. And we screen for sex selection. Eventually, we will screen (or abort) about things that are not explicitly disease-related, such as propensity to being overweight or obese. After all, the child with a curable cancer will have a difficult time while being treated. He or she will be in pain, will be afraid, and will cry. The thinking is: Better to never be born.

But if preventing distress in our children is the motive for never letting them be born, the fat child may experience more suffering, over a far longer time than the relatively brief period it takes to cure the eye cancer. (Believe me, I know, having been overweight as a child. I cried myself to sleep for years.) If it is okay to spare the child with a likelihood of contracting a curable cancer from ever being born, why not also spare the child who might be fat from enduring the agony of life? (This isn't farfetched. I recall a poll taken a few years ago in which about 13% of respondents agreed it was acceptable to abort if parents find out their kid would be fat.) This is a very dangerous mindset that presumes we have the wisdom to decide who has a right to live and who are better off never existing. And there don't seem to be any brakes.

And Now--Ugh--Some Defend Bestiality


There is an awful case in Washington of a man killed during sexual congress with a horse. Apparently, this occurred at a farm known among those who engage in that sort of thing for permitting animals to be used as sexual objects, and yes, unfortunately, video taping is involved. I only mention it because there is actually a bit of resistance to passing a law making bestiality illegal in Washington. Also, the reasons some give in support of such a law include, "animals can't consent to sex," and "it is animal abuse." Both are true, of course, and are sufficient rationales to support outlawing bestiality (as most states already do). But at the most profound level, they are inadequate rationales for the ultimate reason why bestiality is so very wrong.

Peter Singer, the Princeton bioethicist and father of the animal liberation movement, has notoriously written that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with bestiality since, when an animal and a human copulate, it is just two animals rubbing body parts. This is where I believe the true nub of the issue is to be found. Singer is an adamant foe of human exceptionalism and nothing would demonstrate our unexceptionalism more than countenancing human/animal sex. Thus, it is at this philosophical nexus, even more than the animal abuse angle, that I believe most urgently requires an unequivocal societal condemnation through law of bestiality.

As unpleasant as this topic is, I am gathering my thoughts on the matter and plan to write more extensively on the subject. Yuck.

Now Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cells Advance


It looks like a type of umbilical cord blood stem cell may have the properties sought by scientists for use in medical treatments. This is known in science-speak as pluripotency, that is, the ability to morph (differentiate) into different tissue types. This is another bit of interesting news that the New York Times will also probably not report. But don't forget, with adult stem cells, as I described the other day, differentiation may not be necessary.

Britain Leads the World Toward a New Eugenics


The UK may now permit embryo screening for sex selection. China and India have legal and illegal sex selection already, leading to a wide imbalance of males over females. Other biotechnologists propose screening out embryos who might get cancer in their adult lives. Increasingly, child bearing is becoming solipsistic, where the child is conceived to satisfy the needs and wants of the parents, rather than about receiving fulfillment through unconditional love and acceptance of the child we receive.

We are at the beginning of a new eugenics in which some of us now presume to act on the belief that we are entitled to have not just a child but "the right child." The next step is clearly genetic engineering when the technology permits. All of this is part of the increasing attack on the idea that human life has equal intrinsic moral worth simply because it is human.

Adult Stem Cell Breakthrough: Successful Treatment of Kidney Failure in Rats


If this had been done with embryonic stem cells, it would be on the front page of the New York Times, but I doubt the "Gray Lady" will even report the story. But Secondhand Smoke will: Adult stem cells have now proven successful in treating acute renal failure in rats. Not only that, but they do so without having to be first differentiated into a specific kind of cell. This could be very good news for suffering patients who want treatments brought quickly to the clinic. If differentiation isn't required for adult stem cells to provide medical benefit, the time from experimentation to actual clinical availability is likely to be considerably shortened.

This isn't something that embryonic stem cells appear to be able to do safely. One of the big problems with using ES cells in treatments is that their differentiation cannot be controlled, as a consequence of which, they often cause deadly tumors in animal studies.

Moreover, if differentiation is not needed to gain benefit from adult stem cells, it is an arrow through the heart of one of the biggest arguments made by promoters of embryonic stem cells. This argument is that ES cells exhibit "plasticity," that is, they have the ability, as the advocates often say, to "become any kind of cell in the body." This ubiquitous assertion omits an essential modifier, "in theory," and hence, is a scientifically inaccurate statement. Scientists think this will be possible--they just haven't been able to do it yet.

But I digress. This adult stem cell success is not the first experiment in which stem cells aided regeneration of tissues and organs when injected in their undifferentiated state. If this proves true over a wide swath of conditions--still to be demonstrated--the "plasticity" argument will be deflated.

According to the story, human trials may not be very far off. Let's hope it all works out. A lot of lives could be saved if our own bone marrow or other stem cells could treat acute kidney failure.

PETA Alpha Wolf Unrepentant at Offending African-Americans


I wrote recently about the offensive PETA Animal Liberation Project, which compares lynched blacks with slaughtered cattle and makes other similar implied minorities-are-no-better-than-animals photographic juxtapositions. Civil rights groups are rightly expressing outrage. While an organization spokesperson appeared to be backtracking by claiming the group was reevaluating its advocacy campaign, Ingrid Newkirk, the fanatical head of PETA, remains rigidly unrepentent. She writes in her blog that "we are all animals, so get over it," and derides those who find it a great wrong to lynch blacks but not see an equal injustice in killing animals for food, "selfish little supremacists."

Keep it up, Ingrid. Such displays are finally penetrating beneath the veneer of PETA as a wacky, but well intentioned animal welfare outfit, and exposing the raw anti-human ideology that lurks beneath. PETA's leaders really believe there is no moral distinction to be made between human beings and animals. That is misanthropy, pure and simple.

My DSL is Down


Hard to blog with dial up. I'll be back at it as soon as this technical issue is resolved.

PETA’s Racist Animal Liberation Project Causing Outrage


As I expected, PETA's equating animal husbandry with the evil of the American slave system is provoking outrage. As it should.

Pew Poll: Assisted Suicide Not as Popular as Advertised


A new Pew Poll is out with some very interesting results. First, only 44% support making it legal for doctors to assist the suicides of patients. When the terminology is changed to permit doctors to give their patients the means to make themselves die, the number is still only 51%. This is a far cry from the 70% polling data that proponents of euthanasia/assisted suicide generally tout as the level of public support.

My sense is that people generally would rather not think about it. They are certainly not marching in the streets demanding the right to be killed by doctors. But, with the exception of disability rights activists and pro lifers, most people aren't motivated to actively fight legalization schemes, either.

As to "stem cell" research, the public seems to support it in pretty large and growing numbers. I am not surprised. First, if asked whether I supported "stem cell research," I would say yes since that broad category includes adult stem cell research and experiments with umbilical cord blood stem cells. It is telling that the issue of adult stem cells is not mentioned in the poll. Second, the question is whether (embryonic) stem cell research is supported, not whether the federal or state governments should fund it, which is a different question. There are many people who support the research but oppose federal funding. Third, Big Biotech is spending millions promoting ESCR, which is sure to have an impact. Fourth, the media is still playing Ginger Rodgers to Big Biotech's Fred Astaire, and remains fixated on describing the debate as being restricted to leftover IVF embryos that are going to be thrown out anyway. At the same time, the media generally fails to report or underreports the abundant--and ever-expanding--adult stem cell successes, which could make ESCR for medical cures unnecessary. And, the PEW polling questions did not ask the public's opinion on human cloning,making embryos for use and destruction in research, or creating human/animal cloned chimeras. That is where the real heat is now in biotech (moving toward fetal farming in the years to come). Polling those issues would have given us a better picture of where the public is on the all-important human cloning debate.

There is other interesting data in the poll, much of which is beyond the scope of this WEB log. It looks as if Americans' attitudes toward abortion are moving closer to the pro-life side (favor more restrictions but not outright overturning Roe v. Wade), pro death penalty, and increased, albeit still minority, support for gay marriage. Check it out.


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