Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Depression a Major Factor in Requests for Euthanasia


Bioedge, which is a great weekly on-line newsletter that summarizes major news stories, professional journal articles, and other reports in bioethics and biotechnology (see link), has reported on a study that finds depression to be a key factor in requests for euthanasia in the Netherlands. The report, which I am striving to obtain, was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. According to Bioedge, "Dutch doctors have found that few patients who ask for euthanasia are making a rational request for a good death," but rather, "researchers say that contrary to their own clinical experience and their initial hypothesis, depressed patients were four times more likely to request euthanasia and half of all requests were made by depressed patients."

This makes sense. And hence, the proper and truly compassionate answer to such requests is suicide prevention and treatment for depression, not death facilitation. Unfortunately, such reports will not dim the zeal for "assisted dying" among the death with dignity crowd.

Grave Robbers Arrested


The alleged perpetrators of the grave robbing to drive that guinea pig farm out of business in the UK have been arrested. Good. The time is more than past for international law enforcement to crush animal liberation terrorism once and for all. Note these other "protest" tactics implemented by the liberationists against the farmers and their neighbors for six long years: "The Hall family, and those associated with them, have been subjected to death threats, hate mail, malicious phone calls, hoax bombs and arson attacks." I wait for the first press release from a mainstream animal rights organization hailing the police for this arrest.

Ian Wilmut is Growing Ever More Radical


Ian Wilmut, the creator of Dolly, used to only want to clone animals for use in genetic engineering. He would never clone humans, he wrote in his book about Dolly. Then, when his animal cloning enterprise went financially belly-up, he moved into human therapeutic cloning experiments, receiving a license to clone from the UK government. Then, he wrote that reproductive human cloning should be allowed if it is safe, at least in some circumstances. Now, he says the UK is too conservative in its cloning public policy, even though it has one of the most permissive cloning laws in the world.

Here are the key quotes reported from a recent speech, as I see them: "We seem to have lost our excitement and confidence in science." No. Science isn't an end, it is a means. Being concerned about the ethics of an area of scientific inquiry is not to lose our excitement about overall scientific potential. Nor is insisting upon proper ethical and moral limits, anti-science. Indeed, many are concerned about the prospect for human cloning precisely because we understand that science usually accomplishes what it sets out to do.

"While it is right to ask real biological questions about the safety and efficacy of such procedures, this is exactly what the licenses for embryonic research are for." No, there is more than efficacy and safety at stake. There are crucial moral and ethical issues that must be resolved.

Then, he warns that lives may be lost because of cloning restrictions. Well, this is just irresponsible alarmism and harem, scarem. One could just as easily assert that every dime taken from adult stem cell research and put into human cloning could cost lives. It is an irresponsible advocacy tactic.

Wilmut clearly sees no moral problem with creating human cloned embryos for use and destruction in research. But many others do. Thank goodness, we don't live in a scientocracy. When it comes to morality and ethics, we all have an equal right to have our say.

New Jersey Receives Stem Cell Grant Requests--And All But One Are For ADULT Cell Research


Now this is telling: After all of the hype about how embryonic stem cell research holds much greater hope for cures than adult stem cell research, after all of the complaining that the field is being held back by funding limitations, here comes New Jersey accepting stem cell research grant applications. And get this: Out of 96, only ONE is for embryonic stem cell research. And it is for training, not bench science (just like what has happened with Proposition 71). Talk about a reality check!

Peter Singer Spouts Off Again


There is nothing new in this Peter Singer opinion piece that he hasn't written before, and more extensively. Being human isn't what matters, it is being a person. In 35 years, we will have euthanasia, therapeutic cloning, etc. Only religious fundamentalists can object; yadda, yadda, yadda. I only link the article because it was published in the elite Foreign Policy magazine, which is a product of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (in this case, perhaps, the peace of the grave). It is always good to be reminded about the dark future for which many in the intelligentsia yearn.

The Paradox of the Philosophy of Human Unexceptionalism


There is an interesting and adoring article about Charles Darwin in today's San Francisco Chronicle Insight section. The author, John Darnton, a New York Times journalist, celebrates Darwin's intellect and his supposed turn from theist to atheist. (I have heard otherwise, but have no idea about the nature of his personal beliefs.)

I am not involved in scientific critiques of Darwinian theory. But I do believe in human exceptionalism, whether as a result of evolution, creation, accident, planning, or alien cloning experiments (as ludicrously proposed by the science cult the Raelians).

I bring this up because the article has a key paragraph that demonstrates the paradox of materialistic thinking vis the moral worth of human life. "For ultimately, if animals and plants are the result of impersonal, immutable forces, she [Darwin's biographer Janet Browne] observes, then 'the natural world has no moral validity or purpose.' We are all of us, dogs and barnacles, pigeons and crabgrass, the same in the eyes of nature, equally remarkable and equally dispensable." (My emphasis.)

That last word of the quote is key. Human exceptionalism is the intellectual foundation of human rights. It is our unique and elevated moral status in the known universe that gives rise to both special (human) rights and unique responsibilities. If we ever come to believe we are no more morally meaningful in the world than a barnacle, then why should we act ethically human any more? Why not give in to impulses? Why not drive other species into extinction if that gives us what we want? Why worry about the care of unproductive people? Indeed, why not permit survival of the fittest in human affairs and return to social Darwinism?

And here is a great paradox in all of this: On one hand the materialists keep pounding on the drum of human unexceptionalism. Humans are nothing special, they assert. No big deal. Get over it and embrace the rationality of meaninglessness. Then, quick as a dime, some of these same folk tell us we are obligated to save the planet and sacrifice our own materialistic welfare for others, and to protect endangered species, etc.

But this is utterly illogical. They can't have it both ways. Either we are special, meaning we have unique moral duties--and special rights--or we are not. Ignoring this point, as history demonstrates, is very dangerous. How we perceive ourselves could not be more important, for it determines ultimately how we act.

Fetal Farming: It Isn’t A Paranoid Fear


As readers of this blog and my other writings know, I have been warning for more than a year that therapeutic cloning will not long remain restricted to using early cloned human embryos in the Petri dish. And, I have pointed out repeatedly that New Jersey has already explicitly legalized "fetal farming," that is cloning, implantation, and gestation through the ninth month.

This story hasn't gained much traction. Will Saletan demonstrated in Slate how biotechnologists are redefining terms and conducting experiments in animals that could lead to this result. (Here is the link.) But other than one opinion column in a New Jersey newspaper, the mainstream media refuses to even report on the radical permissiveness of the New Jersey law, usually referring to it as merely authorizing embryonic stem cell research.

Now, Robert George, a member of the President's Council on Bioethics, has issued a similar clarion warning in the current edition of the Weekly Standard. "Based on the literature I have read and the evasive answers given by spokesmen for the biotechnology industry at meetings of the President's Council on Bioethics," he writes, "I fear that the long-term goal is indeed to create an industry in harvesting late embryonic and fetal body parts for use in regenerative medicine and organ transplantation."

I have experienced the same evasiveness. When confronted in debates, for example, my pro cloning opponents either remain silent or change the subject.

Please read George's piece. Forewarned is forearmed.

PETA Tells Kids That Daddy Might Kill the Dog if he Fishes


PETA is after your children. In the latest outrage, PETA has told children whose fathers fish, that their dads might kill the family pet: "Until your daddy learns that it's not "fun' to kill, keep your doggies and kitties away from him. He's so hooked on killing defenseless animals that they could be next!''

This is more than outrageous. But typical. PETA doesn't care if it undercuts family relationships in the cause of creating human/animal moral equality and making it so that people can't eat meat (or fish) for dinner.

Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cells Treat Spinal Cord Injury!


I have known about this for some time, but because I didn't want to be guilty of the same hyping that is so often engaged in by some therapeutic cloning proponents, I waited until it was published in a peer reviewed journal. Now it has been and the news is HUGE: Korean scientists have used umbilical cord blood stem cells to restore feeling and mobility to a spinal cord injury patient. I have no link, but I do have the report published in Cytotherapy, (2005) Vol 7. No. 4, 368-373.

The patient is a woman who has been paraplegic from an accident for more than 19 years. (Complete paraplegia of the 10th thoracic vertebra.) She had surgery and also an infusion of umbilical cord blood stem cells. Note the stunning benefits: "The patient could move her hips and feel her hip skin on day 15 after transplantation. On day 25 after transplantation her feet responded to stimulation. On post operative day (POD) 7, motor activity was noticed and improved gradually in her lumbar paravertebral and hip muscles. She could maintain an upright position by herself on POD 13. From POD 15 she began to elevate both lower legs about 1 cm, and hip flexor muscle activity gradually improved until POD 41." It goes on from there in very technical language.

The bottom line is this, from the Abtract: Not only did the patient regain feeling, but "41 days after [stem cell] transplantation" testing "also showed regeneration of the spinal cord at the injured cite" and below it. "Therefore, it is suggested that UCB multipotent stem cell transplantation could be a good treatment method for SPI patients." (My emphasis.)

We have to be cautious. One patient does not a treatment make. Also, the authors note that the lamenectomy the patient received might have offered some benefit. But still, this is a wonderful story that offers tremendous hope for paralyzed patients. Typically, it has been extensively ignored in the American media (although it has gotten some foreign press attention). (Can you imagine the headlines if the cells used had been embryonic?)

One last point. This is a patient with a very old injury--making the results even more dramatic.


Engineering Animals With Human Genes


This story is written as if placing human genes in animals is something new. It reports on how UK scientists have engineered mice to contain human genes that are implicated in Down's syndrome. The point is to help the researchers "identify which gene or genes cause each of the symptoms common to people with Down's syndrome," such as heart difficulties and intestinal blockages.

In actuality, such "transgenic" animals have been around for years now. Indeed, before Ian Wilmut cloned Dolly precisely so he could learn how genetically engineer ewes to have human genes so that they would produce proteins that could be extracted from their milk for use in creating pharmaceuticals--a process called "pharming." At the time Wilmut eschewed engaging in human cloning. But when his pharming enterprise went belly up, following the money, he reversed course and is now engaged in human therapeutic cloning. He has even endorsed reproductive cloning if it becomes safe, at least in some circumstances.

But I digress: The issue, it seems to me, isn't whether we should create transgenic animals for the study of human disease. As my friend William Hurlbut has put it, these genes are not the locus of human dignity.

But such experiments do raise important questions that urgently need to be--but are not being--addressed: How much human in an animal is too much human in an animal? How do we regulate, if at all, the creation of human/animal chimeras? Should we outlaw placing animal genes into human embryos?

Irving Weissman of Stanford is planning to make a mouse fetus with a human brain. The time for government to engage these issues is long past due, since scientists have shown little inclination to engage in self-restraint.

Belgian Pharmacies to Sell Euthanasia Kits


A Belgian chain of pharmacies has put together a killing kit for sale to doctors. For $74, physicians can buy kits filled with doses of lethal drugs. Says a lot about how casual killing can become once the law deems it a good thing in some cases. Also, note how cheap killing can be. Caring for patients so they don't want euthanasia could cost tens of thousands more--something to keep in mind before we legalize medicalized killing in an era of strained health care budgets.

Belgium has already fallen down the same slippery slope as the Netherlands. Only instead of taking more than two decades to reach the vertical moral cliff, it has taken a few short years. Anyone flirting with supporting assisted suicide, take note.

The Unconscious May be Able to Hear


I have always believed that Terri Schiavo could hear. This was based on conversations I had with people who were with her, and on the videos posted on the Internet. One in particular struck me: Terri is asked to open her eyes. There is a pause. Her eyes remain shut. Then, they flutter. Then, she opens her eyes. Then, she opens them so wide it wrinkes her forehead. This was no mere reflex.

After the autopsy, those who supported her dehydration pointed to the finding that she was probably blind. Therefore, they said, she could not have reacted to her mother's love.

But she could have if she could hear.

This study demonstrates that unconscious people appear to hear, or at least, their brains react to speech almost like a conscious person's. Whether they can interpret these sounds is not known.

As far as I am concerned, this shouldn't matter. A human life has intrinsic value simply because it is. But some don't believe that. Hence, this study should provide definite food for thought in the ongoing struggle over the intrinsic value of all human life and in establishing proper ethical approaches to caring for those with profound cognitive disabilities.

Adult Neural Stem Cells Help Mice to Walk


And yet another adult stem cell success: This time, human neural stem cells have apparently helped heal spinal injuries in mice. Imagine: Our own cells becoming potent medicine--and all without having to conduct human cloning. More research remains to be done, of course. But scientists who continue to insist that embryonic stem cells offer the "best hope" for treatments are increasingly looking out of touch.

Appeasing Animal Liberation Extremists Will Only Make Them Hungrier


This column about the abject appeasement by the New York Stock Exchange in the face of animal liberationist threats is important. Apparently Huntingdon Life Sciences, which has been subjected to years of terrorist-type intimidation (along with companies with which it does business), to drive it out of business, was going to be listed on the NYSE. That led to the usual threats against the Exchange, and its apparent all-too-common capitulation and appeasement. But if the heads of the NYSE thinks this will buy them peace, just wait until another listed company is subjected to the same kind of assault. Will the appeasers agree to de-list the company?

History tells us clearly that predators are never satisfied by giving in. They only get hungrier--and bolder.

Oregon’s Left Hand Doesn’t Know What Its Right Hand is Doing


Oregon is worried about elder suicide. Yet, it promotes assisted suicide as a legal and legitimate act in cases of terminal illness. This is working at cross purposes. Legalized assisted suicide sends a strong message to all despondent people that suicide is a legitimate answer to human suffering. To state that some suicidal people can have their suicides facilited, while others will receive preventative treatment, is logically inconsistent. If Oregon leaders wish to prevent elder (and youth) suicide, it should unequivocally oppose all suicides. Otherwise, all of their talk is just so much hot air.

Only PETA Would Consider Roach Offspring to be “Children”


PETA is ever about the task of blurring the vital distinctions between humans and animals. One propaganda method routinely employed is to misuse terms or words that apply specifically to humans by associating them with animals. Now, they are even doing it with insects. PETA'a WEB site has a feature of "remarkable animal facts." One concerns a roach: "Wood roaches are monogamous, raise one group of children, and live in one log for their entire life."

The word children is the plural of child. A child is defined as a young human being. An insect's brood are not children. But to PETA, paraphrasing Ingrid Newkirk's infamous assertion, apparently, a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy is a roach.

Have Ukrainian Babies Been Stolen to Supply Body Parts?


This is a very disturbing story from the London Times. It seems that some Ukrainian women have charged that their babies were stolen at birth either to be sold for adoption, or worse, used as crops for body parts. I usually don't post stories such as these, since they often represent urban legends. But the London Times is not a sensationalist publication. And this paragraph from the Times story gives me great pause.

"Video footage seen by The Times shows four foetuses which have clearly had their insides and brains surgically removed, and fragments of a larger baby, about one month old, also with many organs removed."

If true, this is beyond criminal. And it raises an important question: Should human life ever be reduced to the status of a natural resource to be exploited? That is what therapeutic cloning does, currently at the early embryo stage. But what prevents the same arguments heard today for using embryos made for research to be adopted also for later-stage embryos and even fetuses? And as I remind readers at every chance because it is so important, New Jersey has legalized cloning, implantation of cloned embryos, and gestation through the ninth month--surely not a case of poor drafting or unintended effect.

It strikes me that this fundamental principle must hold at all stages of human life, from beginning to end: Humans are not objects. They are not harvestable. Human exceptionalism demands no less.

Proposition 71 Becoming a Farcical Three Ring Circus


This article has pegged the ridiculous joke that Proposition 71 has quickly become. Conflicts of interest, no transparency, not even enough trained researchers to do the cloning that California citizens are borrowing $6-7 billion (including interest) to fund. Here is the key quote: "Proposition 71, already taking on the appearance of a three-ring circus of legislative uncertainty and confusion, nomadic litigation, and serial misrepresentation, with a sideshow of document withholding, took a big step towards becoming a chaotic farce on Friday, September 9, 2005, with the awarding of as-yet-unfunded stem cell research training grants by the Independent Citizens' Oversight Committee (ICOC) to anonymous grantees through a process involving the serial recusal of panel members with undisclosed conflicts-of-interest."

I knew it would be bad, but I didn't think it would be this bad.

Thank You For Your Service, Leon Kass


Leon Kass has resigned his position as the chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics. I will miss his leadership. Kass is one of the great thinkers in contemporary bioethics and a writer of intense talent whose prose reads like poetry. As chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, he did a sterling job stimulating profound conversations about the most controversial biotechnology issues of the day. He even forged much consensus among the Council members in several reports, which must at times have seemed to him like herding cats. Contrary to some previous bioethics commissions I could mention, Kass refused to "stack the deck" by appointing only council members who shared one worldview. Thus, the Council, while unanimously rejecting reproductive cloning, divided bitterly about the propriety of human therapeutic cloning in its first report, Human Cloning and Human Dignity.

Because Kass is our premier apologist for the belief that human life has intrinsic dignity and value, which cuts sharply against the grain of the bioethics movement that views such thinking as irrational and discriminatory against animals (speciesism), he was subjected to intense vituperation and calumny. I responded to these attacks in the National Review Online.

Leon served his country well as chairman of the President's Council. Whether or not one agrees with his philosophy, all should applaud his willingness to enter the arena and for his selfless service. I know he will have more to contribute in the years to come. (He will apparently continue on as an associate member of the President's Council under new leadership.)

Animal Liberationists Harass Official for Euthanizing Strays but Leave Dog-Killer PETA Alone


This story in the Los Angeles Times illustrates vividly how wacky and mean the animal liberation movement has become:

"In recent weeks, one neighborhood in the Larchmont Village section of Los Angeles has been under siege: graffiti scrawlings, stink bombs, menacing midnight phone calls and, in July, a bomb scare that forced an evacuation. Police and political leaders say it's a part of an escalation by animal rights activists in Los Angeles...The protesters' target is David Diliberto, a high-ranking official in the Los Angeles Animal Services Department, whom activists blame for failing to stop the city from euthanizing thousands of stray dogs it picks up each year." (My emphasis.)

EXCUSE ME? As I have blogged and written, PETA routinely euthanizes stray dogs! If these thugs were to be consistent, they would be harassing Ingrid Newkirk. (I don't want them to do this, of course. They shouldn't harass anybody.)

But there is no chance that they will issue so much as a peep of protest over PETA killing more than 10,000 dogs in recent years. For many liberationists, the animals are the pretext. The real philosophical agenda is anti-human, and in this regard, they recognize Ingrid Newkirk as one of their own.


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