Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

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.

More Evidence that the Biotech Agenda is “Anything Goes”


Harvard's Doug Melton is one of the nation's foremost biotech researchers into embryonic stem cells. He was interviewed recently in Discover magazine. You need to be a subscriber to access the entire article. So, I have reprinted a few choice quotes from the piece below, which provide further evidence that therapeutic cloning will not long remain in the Petri dish. Scientists like Melton apparently believe that when it comes to science, anything goes. (HT, Dorinda C. Bordlee, executive director of the Bioethics Defense Fund.)

"What would happen if scientists injected human stem cells into a monkey embryo? What would grow? A human heart, a human brain, a toe?" 'That,' he says, 'is a kind of new biology that I find a million times more interesting than these specious arguments over whether life begins at fertilization.'"

"I find that when most people say ethics what they really mean is morals, and that it has to do with their religious beliefs. No one's really trying to do unethical things."

"So now let's look ahead: Fast-forward two generations from now, and I will contend that it will be possible, by medical advances, to make cloning a child by nuclear transfer safer than natural childbirth- that the cloned embryos will have a defect rate of less than 1%." (My emphasis.)

"It would take too long to talk about the various religious views of why one should isolate embryonic stem cells, and not, and whether cloning should be allowed. I don't really want to get into it, and the reason is I don't think it's fundamentally interesting. It largely has to do with the trivial concern of trying to put a tag on when life begins. What I do think is deeply interesting is the issue of chimeras."

The interviewer asked Melton if there is any instance he can imagine that would simply cause him to halt stem cell experiment. "I think it's uninteresting to live in a society where one is so afraid of the unknown that you won't try new things. I'll think about the dangers, because I haven't thought about them enough. I should think about why one shouldn't do that experiment."

Embryonic-like Stem Cells From Human Placentas?


Scientists may have discovered stem cells in human placentas that are pluripotent. If true, with 4 million births in the USA each year, there would be plenty of these stem cells obtainable. Isn't it amazing? The afterbirth is looking like a tremendous potential source of moral and ethical medical treatments, as are our own bodies' stem cells.

Michael Fumento vs. Animal Liberationists


I didn't see the piece authored by the splendid Michael Fumento that caused the seething anger expressed by animal liberationists in these "hate" letters. But they, and Fumento's replies, although more sarcastic than I would choose to be, are quite educational. Worth a read.

The Good News on Adult Stem Cells Keeps on Rolling


This analysis of recent research in The Lancet demonstrates that bone marrow stem cells look to be very promising to cure a wide array of diseases. Here is a key portion, with my clarifying comments in italics:

"We now know that bone marrow-derived stem-cells circulate systemically and actively migrate into damaged tissue to contribute to spontaneous repair. [Bone marrow stem cells go to the area of damage and stimulate healing.] Experimentally, therapeutic benefit occurs in numerous disease models20,21 [ 20, 21] but, importantly, repair by bone-marrow-derived stem cells does not stop at the laboratory door. [Bone marrow stem cells are already treating human maladies.] Safety data from 50 years of clinical bone-marrow transplantation... Controlled trials have shown significant benefit of marrow-derived stem-cell therapy in myocardial infarction [heart attack], 22 and trials are planned or underway in chronic cardiac failure, stroke, and other diseases: reports of successful adult stem-cell therapy in patients with corneal disease have just appeared. The next few years, not decades, will show whether adult stem-cell treatments are to join the mainstream therapeutic arsenal."

If this research indeed pans out in the next few years, it will transform the debate over human cloning. The resulting collapse of the argument that cloning is necessary for CURES! CURES! CURES! will allow people to focus on the dangers of cloning and genetic engineering to the human future. Moreover, the patient groups may finally figure out that they've been used by some in the biotech advocacy community to push a political agenda with questionable assertions.

Full article citation: The Lancet
Vol: 365 Issue: 9477, June 18 - 24 2005

Stem-cell therapy: hope and hype
Neil Scolding,
University of Bristol Institute of Clinical Neurosciences, Department of Neurology, Frenchay Hospital, Bristol BS16 1LE, UK

More Evidence that Animal Liberationists Seek Human/Animal Equality


Adding heft to my article published two days ago in the NRO, is this article published in The Guardian. I believe that the writer, Richard Ryder, is a mentor of Peter Singer. He coined "speciesism," which is discrimination against animals, deemed by liberationists (and many bioethicists) to be as odious as racism. The idea here is that feeling pain is what grants to an organism equal rights.

Pursuing this line, Ryder calls for UN action to bring animals into moral and legal equality with people. He claims that human/animal moral equality is required by Darwinist thinking because animals are our genetic relatives. Darwinism isn't my field. But wouldn't this be contrary to Darwinism since we would be acting against our own interests as a species by accepting this dubious advice?

It certainly would be to destroy the belief in human exceptionalism, which of course, is the point. But this is a very dangerous course. Being exceptional in the known universe not only gives humans special rights but also special obligations and duties, including the need to care for each other, the environment, and to never gratuitously cause animals to suffer. But if we are not special, why should we take on the burdens that come with the status? Or, to put it another way, once we see ourselves merely as another animal in the forest, that is precisely how we will act.

I am coming to believe that with the exception of the jihad, animal rights/liberation is one of the most subversive threats to human welfare and human rights in the present day.

Animal Liberation Theology


PETA's new "Animal Liberation Project" begins with the assertion, "We are all animals." PETA doesn't mean this statement to reflect a biological truth, but rather, to create a moral equivalency between animals and humans. Animal rights/liberation ideology is dangerous in my view, precisely because it denies human exceptionalism, a philosophical belief that not only gives humans special rights, but also unique responsibilities. I expound on this more deeply in this piece published today on National Review Online.

A Cloned Dog Has Now Been Born


Dogs have for years proved to be impossible to clone. No longer. Woo Suk Hwang, the human cloner, has now succeeded in bringing a dog clone to birth.

Why is this important? Biotechnologists are solving the technical difficulties that have made cloning to birth difficult and dangerous in animals. Monkeys are likely to be the next breed of cloned animals born. As I have written previously, cloned monkey embryos have been successfully implanted in uteruses and have gestated for weeks. Sooner or later, a cloned monkey will be born.

After that, unless we place reasonable ethical and legal brakes on this research, will come human cloned fetal farming (as evidenced by Will Saletan's articles in Slate), and eventually, reproductive cloning.

My 2001 Article on “Frist Principles”


I will be doing the Tony Snow radio program tomorrow during the 11 o'clock hour (EST) and we will be talking stem cells. I have no doubt that Senator Frist will come up, so I looked up an old column of mine from 2001 about the "Frist Principles," which the senator suggested serve as an overarching guide to ESCR.

Much of what I wrote still holds up. For example, I predicted that limiting ESCR to leftover IVF embryos would never hold: "We [opponents of federal funding] have also argued that the IVF-barrier argument is actually a bait and switch tactic to desensitize the people to the harvesting human life. Once that slide down the slippery slope is accomplished, we believe, scientists will quickly shift to making human embryos for the purpose of destruction and harvest in human experimentation and will eventually push for federal funding of human cloning."

I was exactly right. Therapeutic cloning is all the rage today and the New York Times recently editorialized in favor of federally funding it. In California, Proposition 71 will dole out hundreds of millions of taxpayer (borrowed) dollars into cloning research.

Back to Frist: As I wrote the other day, by merely supporting federal funding of ESCR without also insisting on adoption of the rest of his "principles," Frist has simply surrendered his principles. I ended that old column by asking, "Who is the real Sen. Bill Frist? We will soon find out." Indeed, we have.

Leslie Burke’s Partial Victory


I have now read the Leslie Burke decision. Rather than being a loss, as depicted in much media, it was really a substantial victory--albeit one that continues to leave out people with profound cognitive impairments. Here is how the current issue of the Weekly Standard has described it:

"The English Patient's Day in Court

Two months ago in these pages ("The English Patient," May 30), Wesley J. Smith wrote about the plight of Leslie Burke, a 45-year-old Englishman with a progressive neurological disorder who was suing Britain's National Health Service, lest they euthanize him by refusing to provide a feeding tube when he is no longer able to swallow.

Though Burke technically lost his appeal last week, he still won what his lawyer correctly characterized as "a significant practical victory for Mr. Burke and others in his situation." While Burke can't be guaranteed he'll continue to receive artificial nutrition and hydration should he lapse into a persistent vegetative state, neither will a doctor be able to hasten his death against Burke's wishes based upon some "futilitarian" calculation that a severely disabled life is not worth living.

The Burke decision is not ideal, but it does seem to have drawn an important ethical line in the sand. In this increasingly utilitarian age, that's no small achievement."

That's about right. But the Burke decision does demonstrate that the law in the West, under the tutelage of bioethicists, is slowly accepting "personhood theory," which, in essence, is a two-tiered system for judging human worth. Those with cognitive and communicative capacity enjoy what are commonly called human rights. Those lacking sufficient cognitive capacities or perhaps, those who cannot communicate, are denigrated as non persons (although the law has not yet used that term). As I have described many times in print, many bioethicists believe that human non persons not only have no right to live, but can be used as natural resources, e.g., in medical experiments or organ harvesting.

Saletan, Part 5


In his fifth installment in Slate, Will Saletan warns that artificial wombs are coming in which cloned fetuses could be gestated without implantation in human uteruses. Moreover, he notes, the law is not keeping pace with the advance of the science nor are our leaders apparently cognizant of the ongoing twisting of scientific "ethics" to justify treating nascent human life as so many harvestable crops (my term). He writes:

"Step by step, science is erasing the moral distinctions that kept us safe and sane. Artificial wombs erase the line between in vitro embryos and implanted embryos. Whole-embryo organ culture erases the line between therapeutic and reproductive cloning."

Meanwhile, the mainstream media, typically missing the forest for the trees, remains fixated on whether the federal government will fund stem cell research that destroys leftover IVF embryos and on speculation that the Frist announcement to overturn the Bush policy will (they hope) harm the president politically. But this discussion is already bordering on quaint. As Saletan has demonstrated, scientists are busily untethering themselves from almost all moral and ethical restraints. We know what they want. The question still to be decided: Do we intend to go along?

Senator Frist Surrenders His Own “Frist Principles”


I am not in the least surprised by Senator Frist's position on overturning the President's policy on embryonic stem cell research. Four years ago he stated he favored federal funding for ESCR on condition that only leftover embryos from IVF treatments be used to derive the stem cell lines.

But Frist's support for funding for ESCR was not supposed to be a stand-alone proposal. Rather, Frist envisioned the (then proposed) federal funding of ESCR as one part of an overarching federal policy that the good senator humbly labeled the "Frist Principles." Under the Frist Principles funding of ESCR was to be joined with the outlawing of all human cloning. In other words, Frist advocated trading greater funding for ESCR in return for a total ban on human somatic cell nuclear transfer.

One can agree or disagree with that position. But by explicitly not conditioning his support for expanded federal funding of ESCR with the passage of a cloning ban, Frist has surrendered his own supposed principles.


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