Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

“Why the Hell Didn’t I Die?”


Assisted suicide is Oregon's shame. The Portland Oregonian's David Reinhard, one of the best observers of assisted suicide in Oregon, points out some of the problems in this excellent column.

Stem Cells Could Treat Juv. Diabetes in Early Trials: No Thanks to the Juv. Diabetes Research Foundation


There may be hope on the way for people with juvenile diabetes, as this piece by Michael Fumento ably describes. And no, it won't be from embryonic stem cells, but from adult stem cells obtained from the spleen.

There is one problem holding back human trials: there is not yet enough money. Lee Iacocca is coming through. But the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation inexplicably has refused to fund this research even though the technique CURED mice with advanced stage juvenile diabetes, a breakthrough so potentially important it was published in Science, one of the most prestigious science journals in the world.

Another Transhumanist Attempt at Proslytizing


This is my book review of the newest entry in transhumanist apologetics, Making Better Humans, published in the Washington Examiner.

Secondhand Smoke Going on Short Hiatus


I will be traveling for the next week or so and will be unable to wax eloquent here. Catch you all on the flip side.

Much Ado About Very Little


The media is in a mini-frenzy because the Field Poll in California reported that support for physician-assisted suicide is running at about 70%. This seems an enormous margin. But legalization usually polls well so long as people are being asked the question in the abstract. However, history shows that when voters are forced to contemplate real policy proposals and the potential reality of assisted suicide becoming legal, support for PAS always plummets like a crowbar thrown off a bridge.

Examples: In 1991, support for an initiative to legalize PAS/euthanasia began with support above 70%. The measure was defeated 54-46% Again, in 1992, Californians supported a legalization initiative above 70%. It too lost by 54-46%. In 1994, support in Oregon was above 70%. The assisted suicide measure won, but by a bare 51-49%. In 1998, Michigan had a legalization initiative that began with a high 60% support. It lost by a whopping 71-29%. Finally, in Maine in 2000, support for legalization again ran above 70%. The measure ended up losing by 51-49%.

So the moral of the story? The more people learn about assisted suicide and euthanasia, the less they like it.

Post Script: As soon as states voters turn down legalization measures, support for assisted suicide usually rises back above 60% as if the election never happened. Go figure.

Another Adult Stem Cell Success in Human Patients


Apparently patients' own adult stem cells are an effective treatment for urinary incontinence. The stem cells taken from the arms of the patients transformed into both skin and muscle cells, helping cure or substantially treat the incontinence.

Reactions to My Article on Million $ Baby


I have been receiving much e-mail both praising and castigating my take on Million $ Baby. I have been told, "It's only a movie," repeatedly. I know that. But movies have the power to mold popular attitudes. That is why so many anti-tobacco activists want Hollywood to stop portraying smoking as cool and glamorous. This message touched me the most and reflects the point I was trying to make in my column:

"Bravo for your perceptive comments on Million-dollar Baby. I am a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the shoulders down by a diving accident 40 years ago when I was 20. I was entering my third year of college at the time. The previous year I had skied on the varsity ski team. After my accident I completed both a baccalaureate and master's degree and since my graduation have been a geography professor in our local community college,teaching full time since 1991. Each semester I have more than a hundred students in my classes. I've traveled extensively throughout the world, to Europe, Africa, South America, Mexico, Canada, and to Hawaii 13 times. I'm married to a beautiful, accomplished woman recently declared by our local newspaper to be the "eighth most influential person" in our city. I am active in our community, sitting on local governmental committees and participating in a local church. I have served as Academic Senate Secretary, vice president and president over a six-year stint as a Senate member. I have a full, satisfying life, with numerous friends and engaging activities. I have decried the implicit message in Clint Eastwood's movie to everyone who will listen. To claim that he had no intent to promote the despicable notion that even severely disabled people cannot live full and satisfying lives is disingenuous at best and blatant falsehood at worst. Euthanasia threatens those in society -- the old, sick, and disabled -- who most need society's protection..."

Should Machines One Day Be Given the Right to Vote?


Apparently so, according to this statement just in from the World Transhumanist Association:

"In response to the emerging debate over "robot ethics" the Board of Directors of the World Transhumanist Association unanimously adopted this statement on artificial intelligence on March 1, 2005: The WTA supports the development of more capable artificial intelligence for the benefit of humanity. Any AI system that is powerful enough to pose a potential risk must be designed with adequate safeguards. Should future forms of artificial intelligence become sentient, they would be entitled to moral consideration. Nobody should be discriminated against on the basis of their morphology or the substrate of their implementation. Any person brought into existence, whether through "natural" or "artificial" means, has the right to a life worth living. Like biological parents, creators of AI-persons have a responsibility for their progeny's welfare and might in some cases be held accountable for their actions. As the prospect of general machine intelligence draws closer, more thought needs to be devoted to working out the legal, ethical, social, and security implications, e.g. to determine under what conditions artificial intellects or copies of existing persons should be given property rights or voting rights, and whether new public policies will be needed to ameliorate structural unemployment. The development of advanced AI could be the most important event in history, and it should be approached carefully, with clear thinking and serious moral engagement."

People with significant cognitive incapacities, like Terri Schiavo, are denigrated as human non-persons by most transhumanists (and their less radical cousins in bioethics). But man-made contraptions might one day not only be given moral and legal rights, but also the franchise. Indeed, the current big cheese of the World Transhumanist Association, bioethicist James Hughes, writes in Citizen Cyborg that some humans should be considered "sentient property" if they lack sufficient cognitive capacity to granted moral worth as a "person." (Here is my review of Citizen Cyborg.) Such is the future envisioned through the misanthropic lenses of radical transhumanism.

Here’s My Take on Million $ Baby


Clint Eastwood missed a great opportunity to show how real champions overcome adversity.

Robert Novak has Cloners’ Number


Big Biotech's dishonest drive in the states to legalize human cloning by calling it something else, say, somatic cell nuclear transfer or merely stem cell research, is beginning to be exposed by the wider media. Columnist Robert Novak has it right in this column about the cloning fight in Massachusetts.

Science Without Moral Limits


I have been warning of late that science and bioethics have grown so ideological that many in these and related fields assert that there is a constitutional right to do science. (Evidence of the growing attention being paid to these issues can be found in this press release issued by Georgia Tech.) This early advocacy marks the beginning stage of a project to construct an intellectual foundation in the professional science and law journals that will later be used to support a legal challenge against the government regulation of science. (I predict the first case will seek to strike down a state law prohibiting human cloning.)

The ideas presented so far to support the right to human cloning have fallen generally along these lines: First, the United States Constitution specifically speaks of the advancement of science. This means the government may not restrict science except for truly urgent purposes. Second, women have the near-absolute right to abortion; hence, third, people also have a near-absolute right to procreate; meaning, fourth, that reproductive cloning should be permitted (once it is safe), in addition to which, prospective parents enjoy a concomitant right to genetically engineer their progeny, again assuming safety.

That's painting with an extraordinarily broad brush, but don't ever think these folk do not mean precisely what they are saying.

Is there a constitutional right to engage in human cloning if not for procreation? Again, according to a growing body of thought among science ideologues, the answer is, yes. Some claim that any and all research, not just cloning, is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution since publishing the results of experiments is a form of expression. If this idea were enacted by a legislature, or more likely, imposed by the courts, it would mean that only the most compelling state interest would permit government to prohibit any area of experimentation that researchers might devise.

Another argument, recently voiced in the Yale Journal of Health Policy, Law and Ethics, contends that the Supreme Court case of Lawrence v. Texas created, by analogy, a right to engage in therapeutic cloning. The idea is that since, according to the Supreme Court, "repugnance" served as the primary basis for Texas outlawing homosexual sodomy, and since the Court ruled that repugnance was an insufficient basis for Texas legislating in the area, then under Lawrence, therapeutic cloning similarly cannot be banned since it is only repugnance at the "unnatural" that has caused some states to outlaw human cloning for biomedical research.

These arguments reflect an arrogant attitude that only scientists have the right to decide what is moral in science. Like the breeze that becomes a full blown gale, they also presage an intense and supremely important public policy fight, the denouement of which will determine whether science continues to serve society or instead, comes to dominate it.

Hunter Thompson was no Warrior


The son and daughter-in-law of the late Hunter Thompson told the Rocky Mountain News that Thompson lived and died as "a warrior." Baloney. A warrior lives and dies in the service of others; a family, a tribe, a country. A warrior is bound by a code of honor. Thompson lived and died for himself. Thompson accepted nobody's rules but his own. Indeed, that was his appeal for many. He did what he wanted to simply because he wanted to do it, including commit suicide so as to not experience the difficulties associated with aging. Thompson may have been many things, but warrior was not one of them.

My Take on the Radical Cloning Agenda


In this article, published in the Center for Bioethics and Culture on-line weekly newsletter, I describe how radical the human cloning agenda has become in just a few short years.

Virginia Does Stem Cell Research Right


The Virginia legislature has passed legislation that will fund (assuming the governor signs the bill) adult and umbilical cord stem cell research. No cloning or embryonic research will be financed. Virginia also outlaws human cloning, although some observers contend that the wording of the law may open loopholes.

Chuck Colson Pounces on Washington Cloning Mendacity


Chuck Colson's Breakpoint exposes his millions of listeners and readers to Washington's pending "anti-cloning" legislation, a bill that pretends to outlaw human cloning, but which actually legalizes human somatic cell nuclear transfer, implantation of resulting cloned embryos, and gestation of them through the ninth month.

Oregon’s Assisted Suicide Law Not Endangered by U.S. Supreme Court Case


The media is reporting that the Bush Administration is trying to overturn Oregon's assisted suicide law in the Supreme Court. I wish. What is really at stake is the power of the federal government to enforce federal law uniformly in all fifty states. I describe the case in this article published by National Review Online.

Proposition 71 Going to Court


Two lawsuits have been filed against Proposition 71. True to form, most of the media zeroed in on the religious beliefs of some of the litigants. The media has decided that the cloning controversy is one of religion versus science, and nothing is going to knock them off that approach. But it seems to me that the affiliation of the litigants isn't important. What matters is whether the filed cases have factual and legal merit. Let's hope the courts restrict their judgments to those issues and ignore the religion baiting by the media.

I knew that some folk were contemplating taking legal action but I was not part of any discussions toward that end. I haven't seen the suit yet and I am not familiar enough with election and administrative law to know whether these cases have merit. I do support taking any and all action consistent with law and integrity to force the California Regenerative Medical Institute to toe the letter and spirit of California law. These people have to realize they are being watched very carefully. Otherwise, given the paucity of checks and balances written into Proposition 71, the temptation to engage in cronyism, conflicts of interest, and ideological science is just too great.

Supreme Court Takes Up Assisted Suicide Case


Good news from Washington: The United States Supreme Court will rule next year on whether the Attorney General of the United States had the right to interpret the federal Controlled Substances Act as prohibiting the use of drugs regulated by the feds for use in assisted suicide on the basis that under FEDERAL LAW, assisted suicide is not a legitimate medical use of such substances.

Of course, as usual, the MSM gets the story wrong. For example, CBS claims that the ruling will determine whether the federal government can penalize doctors who participate in assisted suicide generally. But that isn't true. If the federal government wins this case, assisted suicide will still be legal in Oregon and if doctors prescribe non federally controlled substances for use in assisted suicide, there would be nothing the federal government could do.

I will write more fully on this matter soon. But the important point about this case is that it is about federalism, but not in the usual sense of "states rights." It is actually a "federal rights" case that will determine whether the Controlled Substances Act can be enforced consistently throughout the country.

CBS also juxtaposes the Oregon assisted suicide controversy with the plan of the odious Michael Schiavo to begin today the process of dehydrating Terri to death. CBS claims that both cases are about the "right to die." Actually, neither are, since there isn't such a right. In Oregon terminally ill patients have the right to ask for a lethal overdose. They don't have the right to receive it. The right is all the doctor's. Schiavo deals with the right to refuse medical treatment, which the Supreme Court already ruled was not the same as assisted suicide. Still, given that legalized assisted suicide would eventually lead to open euthanasia as a medical treatment, and given that medical decision making is allowed to be made by surrogates when a patient can't decide for themselves, the joining of the two cases may be factually wrong but is still figuratively right.

Children Need Meat


A new study shows that it is harmful to withhold meat from young children. Tell that to PETA. Never mind. They won't care.

St. Louis Business Journal Obfuscates the Language of Biotech


One would expect the St. Louis Business Journal to publish an editorial supporting Big Biotech's desire to promote human cloning as a potential gargantuan profit-making technology in the fields of science and medicine. The editors are certainly entitled to their opinion. But what is so outrageous about this editorial--typifying the contempt some proponents of human cloning apparently have for democracy--is the misuse of words and the muddying of crucial definitions and distinctions to win political points. For example, if you read this editorial, you might think that the Missouri legislation referenced by the editorial is seeking to outlaw all types of "stem cell research," which is, of course, nonsense. You might even believe that it seeks to outlaw embryonic stem cell research that uses leftover embryos from IVF treatments. That too, would be wrong. The legislation is quite explicit that it seeks to outlaw all "human cloning." That is a different kettle of fish, as I am sure the editorial writers know. They just don't want you to know it.


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