Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

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.

Leslie Burke Has Lost His Case--Sort Of


I received a call today from London telling me that Leslie Burke lost his case to require that he receive food and water through a tube should he become unable to swallow. I am striving to obtain the decision now. However, news reports appear to indicate that as long as a patient is competent and can communicate, he or she has the right to life-sustaining treatment. But if they cannot communicate or are not competent, the doctor decides.

If this is true, Leslie can take some comfort. But it is a huge victory for personhood theory, a bioethical belief that attributes moral value based on quality of cognition rather than humanhood (against which I have written often), thereby providing UK doctors and bioethicists with a powerful tool for medical discrimination against the mentally incapacitated. More when I know more.

Late Embryo Farming for Cells or Organs


In Will Saletan's fourth installment in Slate, he demonstrates further how embryonic stem cell research is not going to remain in the Petri dish. Now, some apparently have decided to draw the line that cannot be crossed (yea, right) at the transition point from embryo to fetus, meaning 8 weeks or so. That would permit cloning, implantation, and harvesting or drug testing of late stage embryos. I don't know if Saletan approves or disapproves. This isn't the point. What he has done ably is reveal a mindset that, by a process of continual redefinition of terms and stretching of moral boundaries, will steadily move cloning through implantation, organ harvesting, birth, and into genetic engineering. The goal is unfettered research. Coming next, by the way, the claim that there is a constitutional right to do scientific research, which if imposed by the courts, would mark the end of any meaningful societal controls over science.

More From Will Saletan


In the third of his five part series on the cloning and embryonic stem cell controversies in Slate, Will Saletan describes how scientific definitions and moral boundaries are steadily being, shall we say, stretched, to justify permitting biotech researchers to undertake certain areas of research that might otherwise provoke societal resistence based on moral grounds. As I have repeatedly written, changing definitions in science for political purposes is to corrupt science.

Saletan predicts that current "boundaries," will also be shifted as the research advances. Bingo! He will provide more details in his next article.

The Government Pushes Back Against Animal Rights Terrorism


Members of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), which threatens, intimidates, vandalizes property, and terrorizes executives and employees of the research lab and of companies that do business with them (and their families), are facing law enforcement action and civil suits, as discussed in this article in the Southern Poverty Law Center "Intelligence Report." Here is an example from the report of what law abiding people have been subjected to merely because they were somehow associated with medical testing involving animals.

"In the federal criminal case, SHAC USA's "targets" suffered real-life, off-line consequences as a result of the online threats. Shortly after the Web site postings, the identified targets' homes, cars and personal property were vandalized — rocks thrown through windows, the exterior of homes spray-painted with slogans, cars and boats vandalized, and, in one instance, a target's car overturned in his driveway. HLS and its business associates' facilities also experienced vandalism and smoke bombs, while online attacks shut down computer systems. To make matters worse, the SHAC USA Web site reported many of these harassing acts after they occurred, fueling the fire."

Such behavior has no place in public policy activism. Yet PETA refuses to condemn SHAC or other lawbreakers such as ALF (Animal Liberation Front). Sometimes that which we don't condemn, we implicitly condone.

My Lunch with the Schindlers


I had a wonderful lunch yesterday with Terri Schiavo's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, during their brief visit to N. California. They appeared well and healthy, while of course, still grieving Terri. They are planning to move forward from here in a very productive manner in the hope of preventing future dehydrations and imposed "futile care" life-sustaining treatment withdrawals. More here as their plans solidify.

Cloned Fetal Farming: Here We Come


For the last year I have been jumping up and down and hollering that therapeutic cloning isn't really about embryonic stem cells. Rather, once the research is finished in the Petri dish, it will be moving to cloned fetal farming for organ harvesting and use in drug testing. Thus, New Jersey has passed a law permitting cloning through the ninth month and other state legislatures had similar proposals before them. (Here is an article describing the law I wrote before its passage.)

Now there is more evidence being produced by Slate's biotech reporter, Will Saletan. Saletan, an excellent journalist on these matters (although I often disagree with him), is now writing a five-part series demonstrating that cloned fetal farming may be the actual target of therapeutic cloning. I have linked here to the second article. You can get to the first from there. I'll post others as they come out and perhaps add a few comments.

And Now Another Potential Source of Stem Cells: Foreskins from Circumcision


According to this story, foreskins may provide treatments for neurological diseases. If true, it is not only good news for suffering patients, but a rich potential source of jokes for Jay Leno.

Adult Stem Cells Now Treating 65 Human Ailments: Embryonic Stem Cells Treating Zero Human Ailments


This report by the Do No Harm Coalition is very heartening. Adult stem cell research is moving forward at an amazing pace, virtually ignored by most media, giving rise to suspicion that many reporters are advocates and that ASC cures are the "wrong" cures. Imagine if this number and variety of ailments were being treated with embryonic stem cells! The headlines would be deafening. I remain convinced that the moral and ethical debate against human cloning will be won when and if it becomes clear that a thriving regenerative medical sector can be developed without resorting to human cloning.

Animal Rights Arsonists


Animal liberationist thugs continue to try and prevent Oxford University from opening a research center that would conduct crucial medical experiments with primates. Now, they have burned down an Oxford boathouse. Worse will come next unless law enforcement and co-believers squelch this criminality. And don't shrug this off because it occurred in England. A good rule of thumb: Tactics that begin in the UK on this issue, usually soon come here.

Yours Truly Taken To Task For Allegedly Inaccurate Article


I have heard from one of the authors of the journal article supporting the right of doctors to amputate healthy limbs for sufferers of a new mental health disorder known as Bodily Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID). He is unhappy with me. Neil Levy claims I misrepresented his and co-author Tim Bayne's work in an article I wrote for the Center for Bioethics and Culture. (Here is the link to my original article.)

Levy wrote: "You write that we advocate 'abandoning the patient' by acceding to their request to amputate a healthy limb. First, as you fail to mention, we conclude that the question is difficult, but we think that 'in some cases' it 'might' be acceptable to accede. Second, you misprepresent our views by taking them out of context. You say that we write, 'in full post modernist mode, just because a limb is biologically healthy, does not mean that the leg is real. Indeed, they argue, "a limb that is not experienced as one's own is not in fact one's own." If we had implied anything such thing, we would deserve your mockery. But it should be clear, from even a cursory reading, that we intended to claim not that if the patient believes the limb is not theirs it is not. We couldn't be claiming any such thing, because we distinguish between somatoparaphrenia, which is a delusion in which the patient denies ownership of the limb, and BIID, in which there are no false beliefs. The claim, rather, is that acknowledging ownership is normally a necesary condition for full ownership. Think of disowning a child. This is an act which does not alter the biological relationship, but alters the lived relationship. There is nothing 'postmodernist' about this. If you were familiar with norms in analytic philosophy you would hesitate to make such an accusation: no one is more vocal in denouncing facile relativism about truth.

Third, we do not advocate abandoning the patient. Once again, a careful reading of the article would indicate that amputation is recommended only as a last resort: so long as there is genuine and significant suffering and there is no alternative treatment that is effective. If there is such an affective treatment developed, than it is obviously preferable."

My response was as follows:

"Thank you for writing.

It was a 550 word opinion piece. It is very clear that the term abandonment was mine and not yours, as was the opinion and interpretation that cutting off a healthy limb would be an act of abandonment. I never claimed you believed in abandoning a patient.

I quoted you accurately about the healthy limb not being the patient's, an amazing statement in my view. Whether or not a patients "owns" the limb, does not make it any less real. And the point I was making is that autonomy is getting recklessly out of control in bioethics advocacy, and in jurisprudence as well, ergo the quoting of the Montana court case. I probably should have said that "as a last resort," you would permit amputation. But you would still allow amputation.

I certainly had no intention of misrepresenting your article. I don't believe I did. I believe the essence of what I wrote is true."

(I would also note that the abstract of the article, which the authors wrote, states that they argue, "BIID suffers meet reasonable standards for rationality and autonomy: so as long as no other effective treatment for their disorder is available, surgeons ought to be allowed to accede to their requests," in other words, cut off healthy limbs.)

Anyone interested in investigating this matter more fully, the cite is Journal of Applied Philosphy, Vol.22, No. 1, 2005.:

My Obituary for Dame Cecily Saunders


I checked around, and from what I could tell, the death of the great founder of the modern hospice movement was completely ignored by the American media. What a travesty. Had she promoted policies that promoted suicide or other destructive medical approaches to the ill or disabled, she would have been given a big send off. But apparently, providing great succor and hope to the dying and their families isn't worth taking the time to applaud. Such are the times in which we live. I hope this piece is worthy of her memory.

More Proof that Assisted Suicide is not about Terminal Illness--Or the Practice of Medicine


A Canadian MP has introduced an assisted suicide legalization bill that not only permits the assisted suicides of people with "severe mental pain" who are not terminally ill, but also allows the person who assists to not be a medical professional. "Aiding another person to die with dignity" is not precisely defined so it would also seem to permit active homicide with the consent of the killed person. This bill seems primarily aimed at legally enabling assisted suicide advocacy groups to get into the business of hastening the deaths of members. The Canadian bill is a more honest piece of legislation than most of its kind in that it openly promotes the actual goals of the assisted suicide movement.

Time for Peaceful Animal Liberationists to Speak Up


El Paso professor Steven Best continues to urge animal liberationists to engage in lawlessness and intimidation on behalf of "animal liberation." Once again, he analogizes animal husbandry to human slavery: "We are abolitionists. We don't want to reform them [vivisectionist companies], we want to wipe them off the face of the earth. We will fight, and die if necessary, to free the slaves." If he succeeds and destroys medical researchers ability or willingness to conduct animal testing in medical research, it would cause untold human suffering by preventing the development of efficacious treatments.

The increasing radical nature of the animal liberation movement and its seeming inability to distinguish between truly evil acts perpetrated against humans and the humane and proper use of animals, betrays a woeful moral obtuseness that is truly disturbing. More on this soon in an extended article, with special attention once again having to be paid to the zealots at PETA.

Dame Cicely Saunders Has Died


Dame Cicely Saunders, MD, the founder of the modern hospice movement, died in the hospice she founded. She was one of the great medical humanitarians of our era and I had the great honor of spending about an hour with her preparing for my book Culture of Death. Ralph Nader once said that it is a sign of our times that Jack Kevorkian is the most famous doctor in the world. It should have been Dame Saunders. May she rest in peace.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Has It Right on Euthanasia


Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams worries that in the end, euthanasia will be about cutting costs. The United Kingdom government's response to the Leslie Burke case demonstrates the reality of this concern. The ruling body of the Church of England just voted overwhelmingly against legalizing euthanasia. Good for them.

Dutch Pediatrician Medical Society Unanimously Backs Eugenic Infanticide


The Dutch continue their vertical plunge off the moral cliff. Now, there are guidelines for killing disabled and dying babies. The "strict" guidelines that are to supposedly govern the murder of infants will no more be followed than have been the other euthanasia guidelines in the Netherlands. This approach, of reporting infanticide to a coroner, is just a way station to the explicit legalizing of baby killing. Shame on the Dutch and shame on those elements in the U.S. that are trying to normalize infanticide as a "compassionate" act.

New Schiavo-Inspired Law in Louisiana


The first of what I hope will be an outpouring of state laws to prevent future Terri Schiavo cases just passed in Louisiana. This law prevents spouses living with another love interest, or who has been convicted of a violent crime, from making the medical decision to end life-sustaining treatment on behalf of their disabled husband or wife. As readers will recall, Michael Schiavo was allowed to remain as Terri's guardian despite the intense personal conflict of interest of living with another woman and having two children by her.


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