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Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Court Petition to Declare Jahi McMath Alive!



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According to the State of California, Jahi McMath has been dead since December 9, 2013, when she went into cardiac arrest after catastrophic side effects from throat surgery.

Oakland Children’s Hospital doctors insisted she was brain dead, that is, she had experienced total brain failure. Under California law, brain death is dead. 

When the doctors stated their intention to remove the life support from Jahi, her mother sued. A brouhaha ensued.

A judge appointed an independent physician from Stanford to examine the girl, and he too found she was dead. The judge declared her dead and the state of California issued a death certificate.

But the compassionate judge also pushed the parties into a settlement that released Jahi to the coroner–still on a ventilator–and thence to her family. She was taken out of state.

At the time, I wrote here and elsewhere that I thought she was dead. But I also said that if her body did not deteriorate–as almost all brain dead bodies do–my eyebrows would be raised. Over the last few months my eyebrows have migrated past my receding hairline.

I also wrote that if she was found to not actually be dead, there would be “hell to pay.” That bill may be coming due if the McMath attorney Chris Dolan, succeeds in having the state declare her alive. From the San Francisco Chronicle story:

Nearly 10 months after doctors found that Oakland teenager Jahi McMath was brain dead, an attorney for her family has petitioned an Alameda County judge to have her declared “alive again.” “I have medical experts, including world-class experts on brain death, who will testify she is not brain dead,” attorney Chris Dolan said Wednesday, calling a judge’s refusal last year to compel a hospital to care for her “a grave injustice.”

Oakland Hospital has been just abysmal in its PR in this case–and that maladroit insensitivity continues:

Hospital officials did not return our call seeking comment. However, in their court filing, attorneys for Children’s said Grillo’s ruling upholding the death declaration was “well-supported in fact and law.” What’s more, they said, Dolan missed the deadline to request a rehearing by seven months, and therefore the court no longer has jurisdiction to hear it.

Dolan argues that the court does have the legal authority to rule “in the interests of justice, which are literally those of life and death.”

Good grief. This isn’t about legal procedure. If evidence exists that she is alive, the hospital should be supporting that data coming out.

If evidence exists that Jahi is alive, it needs to be heard! That’s what we do in death penalty cases, after all: Permit new evidence even after procedural deadlines have passed.

Dolan is a well-respected lawyer. He is not saying that Jahi’s mother believes she is still alive, or that family members have detected interactivity in their deep love for her. He is not contending that the California law on brain death is wrong.

He is saying objective medical tests demonstrate that she is not brain dead. Or to put it another way, Dolan apparently believes that he can prove to the court, based on evidence, that Jahi McMath has positive brain function. If so, she is not dead.

Please note, this isn’t the same thing as saying she is awake. A persistently unconscious person is alive. A brain dead person isn’t in a coma, but deceased.

If Dolan successfully proves the case, there will be much hell to pay. There will be consequences.

Fasten your seat belts: This is going to be a bumpy ride!

 

Dutch Shrinks Kill More Mentally Ill Patients



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Dutch euthanasia rates keep rising, and the killable caste continues to expand. From, the DutchNews.nl story:

There were 4,829 official cases of euthanasia in the Netherlands last year, an increase of 15% on 2012, according to the annual report of the regional monitoring committees…

In total, there were 42 reports of people who underwent euthanasia because they suffered severe psychiatric problems, compared with 14 in 2012 and 13 in 2011.

Dementia was the reason behind 97 cases, mainly early stage dementia in which patients were able to properly communicate their wish to die.

And let’s not forget the elderly “tired of life,” experiencing social/financial difficulties, or living in a nursing home.

Then, after reporting the increased lethality and expanding categories, the story throws in the usual ridiculous bromide:

Euthanasia is legal in the Netherlands under strict conditions.

Ow! My stomach hurts from laughing so hard and so bitterly.

Hear me now or forget me later: Once a society determines that killing is an acceptable response to human suffering, there are virtually no limits to the kinds of suffering that qualify for killing.

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The Cowardly God Complex of Transhumanism



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Ah, those paradoxical transhumanists: They disdain human exceptionalism–and then assure that human ingenuity will enable us to live forever with the powers of a superhero. 

And talk about hubris and delusions of grandeur. Maybe that’s why Psychology Today published Zoltan Istvan’s “Three Laws of Transhumanism.” 

Why, Wesley, what are the TLofT? I am glad you asked:

1) A transhumanist must safeguard one’s own existence above all else.

Really? Over one’s own children? If it means pushing people out of the lifeboat on the Titanic to save oneself? That’s a prescription for cowardice.

2) A transhumanist must strive to achieve omnipotence as expediently as possible–so long as one’s actions do not conflict with the First Law.

God complex alert! Sorry. No human being–or post human, should one ever come into being–will ever be omnipotent. Or omniscient, for that matter. And even uploading one’s mind into a computer won’t make one omnipresent, although I admit Google comes close.

3) A transhumanist must safeguard value in the universe–so long as one’s actions do not conflict with the First and Second Laws.

So, if necessary we can destroy planets, wipe out civilizations, and make species extinct, if that is required to save post-humans or give them the illusion that they can achieve omnipotence?

Like I always say, I am not worried about transhumanism succeeding in the creation of post humanity. But its values: Those are very worrying.

Istvan’s piece is just one small example why.

 

Darwinist Denies Human Exceptionalism in NYT



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The New York Times is consistently anti-human exceptionalism, never missing an opportunity to publish articles that seek to reduce humans to just another animal in the forest.

Today, the Sunday Review section has University of Washington biology professor, David P. Barash, bragging that he works to destroy faith in his classes (“The Talk”), insisting to his students that science and religion are incompatible.

That kind of ideological indoctrination is par for the disturbing course in universities, but not an issue with which I grapple. However, I would be remiss not to point out that this learned scientist–as so many of his ilk–also engages in profound reductionism by denigrating the unique moral value of humans beings. From, “God, Darwin, and my College Biology Class (my emphases):

Before Darwin, one could believe that human beings were distinct from other life-forms, chips off the old divine block. No more. The most potent take-home message of evolution is the not-so-simple fact that, even though species are identifiable (just as individuals generally are), there is an underlying linkage among them — literally and phylogenetically, via traceable historical connectedness.

Moreover, no literally supernatural trait has ever been found in Homo sapiens; we are perfectly good animals, natural as can be and indistinguishable from the rest of the living world at the level of structure as well as physiological mechanism.

Except we are. Human exceptionalism doesn’t rely on provable “supernatural traits,”–not sure what he means by that.  But we alone are creative. In the 1 billion years of life on this planet, no other species has created a sonnet or drawn even the most rudimentary picture on a cave wall or rock outcropping.

No animal has created philosophy. No animal comprehends right and wrong, good and evil. No animals fashion moral codes. 

These are distinctions with a huge moral difference regardless of whether we evolved into these natural human capacities through random means, design, or creation.

Indeed, Barash invokes those very moral concepts with regard to suffering–the driving impetus for anti-human exceptionalists:

But just a smidgen of biological insight makes it clear that, although the natural world can be marvelous, it is also filled with ethical horrors: predation, parasitism, fratricide, infanticide, disease, pain, old age and death — and that suffering (like joy) is built into the nature of things.

The more we know of evolution, the more unavoidable is the conclusion that living things, including human beings, are produced by a natural, totally amoral process, with no indication of a benevolent, controlling creator.

But these aren’t ethical horrors at all in the natural world. Indeed, without death and its many causes, natural selection could not operate.

“Ethics” only come into play when the actions or consequences that Barash invoke involve human agencyIndeed, why is it only humans take such offense at these issues? Why do only we make moral judgments about any of this?

Because we are exceptional. 

And what other species works so empathetically to mitigate suffering? Perhaps that’s a spark of something indefinable that Barash chooses not to see.

The other day, a friend and I were playing a round of golf and came upon a downed deer, a juvenile male and had clearly been severely injured in a rutting fight. If I had a gun with me, I would have shot the suffering, dying animal. 

We stopped golfing and urgently waved down a grounds keeper to get help.  He took one look and immediately called the clubhouse, assuring us help would be called. He later told us the deer expired before an animal control officer could arrive.

I mention this not because what we all did was special, but because–for humans–it wasn’t! Any other species coming upon the dying deer would have either eaten it or ignored its travail.

That’s a huge difference, the importance and meaning of which Barash’s oh, so rational mind appears unable to comprehend.

No matter. I always get a chuckle out of ideologues, who so smugly claim the mantle of defender of objective science to push their anti-human exceptionalism (and often, as here, anti-religious) views: They always invoke aspects of our intrinsic uniqueness they huff and puff to deny.

P.S. The Times carries another column about how we are supposedly responsible for mass extinction, and what we can do to save endangered species. One question: If we are not exceptional, how could we cause such a thing–and moreover, why would we care? 

Who Decides the Harm in “Do No Harm?”



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Medical futility disputes often involve the question of harming the patient. Family/patient believe they should decide what constitutes “harm” in these cases, and that for the patient/family, the greatest harm would be death.  Hence, they insist that efficacious treatment to extend life continue–as the way to avoid harm. That is, after all, a fundamental purpose of medicine when staying alive is wanted.

Bioethicists and some doctors believe that they get to decide what constitutes “harm.” Thus, if a patient is unlikely to recover or ever lead a “meaningful” life, they insist on being able to stop wanted treatment. 

Religion is also a large factor in many of these situations. The secularist view sees suffering as the worst harm. Many religions, particularly more traditional approaches to Catholicism, Islam, and Judaism, death. Thus, forcing treatment to cease is often viewed as disrespecting freedom of religion.

At the same time, many futilitiarians believe in judging “harm” on a the macro level. They look beyond the patient to perceived emotional harm to the family–and the morale of the reluctant medical team–as well as financial harm to society by “investing” resources on the patient supposedly more wisely spent elsewhere.

So who gets to decide the meaning of “harm” in a particular situation–the patient/family or the technocrats?

Canada has established a bureaucratic board to make these decisions when doctors/bioethicists and patients/families disagree. From the Toronto Star story:

In Ontario, intractable, life-and-death disputes between physicians and patients’ families sometimes end up before a unique provincial body charged with wading into complex issues of medicine, ethics and faith. The little-known Consent and Capacity Board (CCB) — the only one of its kind in North America, perhaps anywhere — is a working laboratory for the most pressing issue facing Canada’s healthcare system: the end of life.

When a physician’s treatment proposal is challenged by a family member whose loved one can no longer communicate their wishes, doctors can make an application to the CCB. The Board then convenes a hearing within seven days, often in hospital board rooms, headed by a lawyer, a public member and a medical professional, typically a psychiatrist.

The panel’s job is a mix of legal arguments and character analysis. It must ultimately determine an incapacitated patient’s “prior wishes” or “best interests.” The panel must then issue a binding order within 24 hours of the hearing’s conclusion — a remarkably fast and economical process relative to the courts.

It seems to me that these futility cases are so relatively few and far between that coercion should rarely–if ever–be used.

These are subjective decisions. Establishing bureaucratic boards would sow mistrust for the system and validate the concept of “death panels.”

And talk about the potential for abuse of power. Why should strangers to the patient be given so much authority,in effect, empowered to impose their values over those of the family?

No. Education and continual mediation should be the watchword. Doctors should be brutally frank about the consequences of continuing care. But barring very rare circumstances, the patient/family should have the final word.

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Children Support Parents’ Joint Euthanasia



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If this doesn’t scare you, nothing will.

A doctor has agreed to murder euthanize a healthy elderly Belgian couple who don’t want ever to live apart–and their three children approve. One even procured the death doctor. From the Daily Mail story:

Their son, John Paul, 55, approached their doctor to request their euthanasia – which was legalised in Belgium in 2002 – but the doctor refused because there were no grounds for it. John Paul found another doctor willing to perform the killings in an unnamed hospital in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium in which 82 per cent of euthanasia cases are performed.

Francis said he and Anne were grateful for the arrangement. ‘Without our son and our daughter, it would never have succeeded,’ he said. ‘We are not sad, we are happy,’ he continued. ‘When we were told we could leave life together smoothly we were on a little cloud. It was as if we had spent all that time in a tunnel and suddenly we came into the light again.’

The couple’s daughter has remarked that her parents are talking about their deaths as eagerly as if they were planning a holiday. John Paul said the double euthanasia of his parents was the ‘best solution’. ‘If one of them should die, who would remain would be so sad and totally dependent on us,’ he said. ‘It would be impossible for us to come here every day, take care of our father or our mother.’

Imagine knowing your children don’t want you depending on them–because that is really what is being said.

If I told my mother I supported her euthanasia at 97, it would make her want to kill herself! Good grief.

The story is wrong that this would be the first joint euthanasia in Belgium of elderly couples–which I have covered here at HE at least twice before. It has also happened in Switzerland.

But that’s the way euthanasia rolls. Culture of death, Wesley? What culture of death?

Assisted Suicide as “Last Resort” Fantasy



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Many supporters of assisted suicide are well-meaning, really thinking that it would only be done in the proverbial “last resort” scenario. But that’s a fantasy, as we will discuss below.

The bioethicist, Art Caplan, is one such last resortist. He used to oppose assisted suicide but now believes it can work under “strict guidelines”–such as waiting periods and terminal illness–and then, only as a last resort. From his, “Physician-Assisted Suicide: Only as a Last Resort,” published on Medscape:

The other restriction I would look for with respect to assisted suicide is to first offer people palliative care, hospice — options that do not involve taking the person’s life. If they say, “I’m in pain”; if they say, “I’m spiritually upset,” then we ought to try to address that first before we say, “Here’s a pill; goodbye.”

It does seem to me that good palliative care and good hospice care are crucial as fundamental components of what assisted suicide should be about. We do not want to encourage people toward assisted suicide. We may want to include it as an option but absolutely the option of last resort…

Assisted suicide may work but only with adequate protections, adequate controls, adequate oversight, and adequate regulation to make sure that people do not think, “I better do this because I am a burden to others” or “I am going to do this because nothing else out there can help me with my pain, suffering, or depression.” Those are not adequate ethical circumstances to support someone ending his or her own life.

Sorry. Assisted suicide is never practiced only as a “last resort.” Consider:

1. “Offering”hospice is not a “last resort” measure. Some who would be helped might turn it down and get assisted suicide anyway.

2. Suicide prevention is an essential hospice service. Denying that intervention no different ethically than denying pain pills.

3. Most assisted suicides in Oregon and Washington do not involve “last resort” situations in which a patient is in intractable pain for which nothing can be done to eliminate suffering.

4. The laws don’t require “last resort,” application only.

5. There is no “adequate oversight” by regulators in Oregon. The law relies almost entirely on physician self-reporting and the Oregon Health Department, which oversees the law, has no budget or authority to conduct investigations if the guidelines are violated.

6. The only real requirement in Oregon, Washington, and Vermont is diagnosis of terminal illness reasonably likely to cause death within 6 months. Some people last for years with that diagnosis. A few never die of the diagnosed condition at all.

7. The most common reasons for committing assisted suicide in Oregon/Washington are not wanting to be a burden, worrying about losing the ability to engage in enjoyable situations, etc..These existential issues are very important and certainly need attention of caregivers–but they are not “last resort” problems, at least as that term is commonly understood.

8. Oregon rations health care on Medicaid, such as life-extending (as opposed to curative) chemotherapy, but always pays for assisted suicide. Two cancer patients even received letters refusing chemo but assuring that assisted suicide would be paid.

9. Studies show how impersonal the death bureaucratic process can be. Example: Kathleen Foley–perhaps the nation’s palliative care doctor–and suicide expert, the psychiatrist Herbert Hendin, revealed the paper-thin protection Oregon’s guidelines provide. From their ignored-by-the-media study published in the Michigan Law Review:

He [the prescribing death doctor] stated that after talking with attorneys from the Oregon Medical Association and agreeing to help aid Joan in death, he asked Joan to undergo a psychological examination. The doctor reported that…”I elected to get a psychological evaluation because I wanted to cover my ass.”

The doctor and the family found a cooperative psychologist who asked Joan to take the Minnesota Multiphasic Inventory, a standard psychological test. Because it was difficult for Joan to travel to the psychologist’s office, her children read the true-false questions to her at home. The family found the questions funny, and Joan’s daughter described the family as “cracking up”over them. Based on these test results, the psychologist concluded that whatever depression Joan had was directly related to her terminal illness, which he considered a completely normal response… [Me: Can we say “rubber stamp?]

The psychologist’s report in Joan’s case is particularly disturbing because without taking the trouble to see her, and on the basis of a single questionnaire administered by her family, he was willing to give an opinion that would facilitate ending Joan’s life. The physician’s attitude toward the consultation surely played a part in his receiving a report that did not meet professional standards.

Assisted suicide is sold as “last resorts” to a wary public. Some, like Caplan, even believe it. 

But it is not applied that way in the real world. Moreover, once society widely accepts killing for suffering, the outcome is Belgium. That hasn’t happened here yet. But if the country generally swallows the hemlock, it will.

Charles Frankel 1974: It’s Eugenics Time Again!



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I follow some transhumanist conversations. These would-be remakers of the human race claim the mantle of humanitarian freedom lovers. But their hearts pump dark authoritarian blood.

For example, some have recently argued that parents should be prevented from teaching traditional religion to their kids, while at the same time, people should be licensed to bear children. So much for freedom.

Transhumanists also explicitly reject human exceptionalism–as the necessary predicate to remake humans in their own image. Thus, J. Hughes yearns for redesigning chimps to have higher intelligence to teach us that we are not special, and indeed, merely another animal in the forest.

It is important to remind ourselves that these are not new attitudes, and that they lead to very bad places. 

The eugenics movement first blazed this trail, hoping to achieve generally the same means, albeit with cruder means. Thus, we saw involuntary sterilizations, advocacy for social Darwinism by the likes of Margaret Sanger, and in Germany, murder of those deemed deleterious to proper “racial hygiene.”

All of this brings up an important article from back in 1974 by philosopher Charles Frankel, who prophetically warned that the eugenics monster had escaped its cage. From, “The Specter of Eugenics:”

The new genetics, though it stresses heredity, has paradoxically proved to be capturable by this idea of the omnipotence of society. “Society” will simply engineer heredity. In the words of the late Hermann Muller, a Nobel laureate, programs of planned eugenics provide the opportunity to guide human evolution, to make “unlimited progress in the genetic constitution of man, to match and re-enforce his cultural progress and, reciprocally, to be re-enforced by it, in a perhaps never-ending succession.”

Sure sounds like transhumanism to me.

More prescience from Frankel:

Existing practices provide a setting in which the idea of broad eugenic planning may seem hardly more than an extension of what is known and accepted. We endorse compulsory vaccination and chest X-rays for school schildren. Why not mass genetic screening or other methods for avoiding the transmission of hereditary defects or for accomplishing the improvement of the human stock?

This is already proposed in some quarters:

A host of gathering trends in our society favors this easy transition: the pressures for population control; the declining death rate; the growing costs of supporting the old, the sick, and the handicapped; the size of the welfare population and the resentments caused by its existence; the altered standards regarding abortion; the movements in law and morals which, with accelerating force over the last generation, have facilitated the decline of the family and of the marital idea.

Remember, this was written forty years ago. And he nailed it!

We always think that we have the wisdom to do new and radical things. But human nature is what it is. Utopianism leads to despotism. Frankel was worried:

The most astonishing question of all posed by the advent of biomedicine, probably, is why adults of high intelligence and considerable education so regularly give themselves, on slight and doubtful provocation, to unbounded plans for remaking the race.

The factor responsible is not biomedicine; something else can be the catalyst tomorrow. It is the larger idea which has shaped the major traumatic events of the last three hundred years of modern history. What unites the Puritan radicals, the Jacobins, the Bolsheviks, the Nazis, and the Maoists is the deliberate intention to create a “new man,” to redo the human creature by design.

That is the modern idea of Revolution, an idea not entertained in the ancient world except as a matter of faith, miracles, and the destruction of temporal things. It is what has lifted revolution in the modern world above purely mundane concerns like overthrowing tyranny, or putting more capable or decent people into power, and has made it a process of transcendent meaning, beyond politics or pity, and justifying any sacrifice.

Add in the transhumanists’ desperate yearning for immortality, and you have the potential for a perfect Utopian storm.

The partisans of large-scale eugenics planning, the Nazis aside, have usually been people of notable humanitarian sentiments. They seem not to hear themselves. It is that other music that they hear, the music that says that there shall be nothing random in the world, nothing independent, nothing moved by its own vitality, nothing out of keeping with some Idea: even our children must be not our progeny but our creations.

Frankel died in 1979, but he still has much to teach. Society take warning.

Of Course Assisted Suicide is for the Non-Dying



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If more journalists would read this blog, they wouldn’t be surprised by these things. 

The New Scientist reports that Swiss assisted suicide isn’t about terminal illness! Whaddy know? From the story:

It’s a tourism boom, but not one to crow about. The number of people travelling to Switzerland to end their lives is growing. And it seems more and more people with a non-fatal disease are making the trip.

An ongoing study of assisted suicide in the Zurich area has found that the number of foreign people coming to the country for the purpose is rising. For example, 123 people came in 2008 and 172 in 2012. In total 611 people came over that period from 31 countries, with most coming from Germany or the UK, with 44 per cent and 21 per cent of the total respectively.

Neurological diseases, only some of which are fatal, were given as the reason for 47 per cent of assisted suicides for the years 2008 to 2012, up from 12 per cent in a similar study of the same region between 1990 and 2000. Rheumatic or connective tissue diseases, generally considered non-fatal, such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis, accounted for 25 per cent of cases in the new study.

Of course this is happening. It can’t not happen! Once a society accepts the premise that killing is an acceptable answer to human suffering, the definition of “suffering” that justifies killing continually expands.

And notice that the virus is catching. In the UK, for example, the discussion isn’t about how to prevent these suicides by tourism, but to legalize assisted suicide so people don’t have to leave home to be made dead.

But that’s not happening here, Wesley! That’s debatable, but here’s the thing: The USA is still wary about the suicide agenda. If we ever embrace it as a society, we too will experience the free fall off the moral cliff. It’s simple logic.

Why Many “Scholarly Studies” Can’t Be Trusted



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Back in college, I wrote a line in my senior major thesis stating that history is like the Bible, you can make it prove almost anything. I think the same thing has often been said about statistics.

To which, we should, alas, add many “scholarly” and “scientific” studies. Too often the authors of “studies” decide what they want to prove first, and then do just that.

That would seem to be the case in a study by the University of Chicago’s International Human Rights Clinic. It appears to have set out to prove that sex selection abortion isn’t happening in the USA (even though there is now an early test marketed to predict gender) . From, “The United States has a Femicide Problem,” by Rachel Lu in The Federalist:

It [the study] wears its political agenda on its sleeve, presenting a list of “myths” (used by the pro-life movement to justify laws against sex-selective abortion) and replacing them with “facts” (meant to show that such laws are unnecessary).

The presentation builds to “Myth #6” (“The primary motivation behind laws banning sex-selective abortion in the United States is to prevent gender-based discrimination”) which is replaced by “Fact #6” (“Restricting access to abortion is the primary motivation for sex-selective abortion bans.”) It’s refreshing they are so obvious about their allegiances. Why muddy the waters with pretensions to academic detachment when abortion rights are on the line?

Exactly. The study is intended primarily as political advocacy to counter pro-life efforts to ban eugenic sex-selection abortion–happening now in the West–proposals that force pro-abortion advocates out of their “pro-choice” crouch.

Back to Lu. The study found evidence of sex-selection abortion and buried it in the weeds:

I advise pulling up the study yourself and flashing ahead to page 16, where the authors admit: “Our study of pooled ACS data confirms Almond and Edlund’s study with regard to the third births of foreign-born Chinese, Indian and Korean families that have already given birth to two girls…”  

The authors pulled a bit of a fast one on their [pro-choice] journalistic admirers by burying the single most important piece of information in a forest of far-less-relevant facts, graphs, and meanderings about methodology. Amazingly, they don’t even bother to tell us what sex ratio they found for the single most critical, two-daughter case. Did they figure people wouldn’t be interested in that niggling little number? 

Or do they just prefer to hide unwelcome data in plain sight by shining a bright spotlight on those statistics that are friendlier to their political agenda? It’s a neat little bit of misdirection. Move over, David Copperfield.

So a study sets out to disprove “pro-life myths” and finds strong evidence to the contrary, and doesn’t follow the trail where it actually leads. Too typical.

Of course, not all studies are advocacy in disguise. But here’s the problem: There are enough advocacy studies that it discredits by association good and objective work.

And that intellectual corruption hurts science and the humanities. People aren’t moved any more by “studies”–including those that should impact their thinking–because so many are really vehicles intended to push or defend ideological agendas.

Anencephalic Babies Not Good as “Dead”



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Throughout my campaign on behalf of the human exceptionalism and the equal dignity of all people, utilitarian bioethicists and others have challenged me about anencephalic babies, that is, those born with parts of their brain missing.

They aren’t persons, indeed, aren’t really human, the argument has gone. They are as good as dead. We should be able to harvest their organs!

No, I have countered. These profoundly disabled babies are fully human, fully equal, human beings born with a terminal condition. They are “us,” not “them” — and should always be treated as a subject, not an object.

Now, Baby Angela — born with anencephaly — is alive and apparently thriving at age 6 months. From the Rhode Island Catholic story:

Baby Angela smiles as a visitor tickles her feet. She wiggles and coos, moving her head from side to side. “She’s doing great,” Angela’s mother, Sonia Morales, told a Rhode Island Catholic reporter last week. “She’s almost 14 pounds, and she’s growing well.”

In May, Angela underwent a three-hour surgery to close an opening at the top of her head, as she has anencephaly, a neural tube defect in which portions of the brain, skull and scalp do not form in whole or in part during embryonic development.

She was also born with an encephalocele, another neural tube defect characterized by sac-like protrusions of the brain and membranes that cover it through openings in the skull. During the surgery, doctors removed the encephalocele, and closed the opening. Morales, a parishioner at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in Providence, said doctors predicted Angela would likely be stillborn or die within a few hours or days following her birth. But on September 23, Angela will turn six months old.

None of us is disposable. None of us is as good as dead.

Our Modern Terror of Rhythm of Life



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My friend, the San Francisco Chronicle columnist Caille Millner, has a good column out today about the “Slow Reading” movement. I’ll let her tell you about it. From, “Learning How to Read Again, This Time Slowly:”

Like the earlier movement for Slow Food, the idea behind Slow Read is that our current approach to something fundamental is making us unhealthy. If Slow Foodies were convinced that McDonald’s hamburgers were killing off culinary traditions and making us all obese, Slow Readers are suspicious that reading “thought pieces” on our mobile devices are making us shallow and stupid. They want us to sit down and read books, preferably without digital interference.

Reading is good. But I am not sure about focusing on reading as an issue of health and wellness:

More: It seems to me that pushing reading as a health issue reflects how fearful we have become amid our incredible societal successes. We live longer, healthier, and more prosperously than at any time in history–and it is never enough. We are scared of limits and morally offended by the prospect of natural decline.

Before enjoying Millner’s column, I read a long story about Peter Thiel in the Telegraph. He wants to “cure death.” From the story:

The ‘life extension project’, Thiel says, is as old as science itself. ‘It was probably even more important than alchemy. Finding élan vital, the water of life, was of greater interest than finding something that could transmute everything into gold…

On a fundamental level, the question is whether ageing can be reversed or not…If it is possible to understand biological systems in informational terms, could we then reverse these biological processes, including the process of ageing? I do think that the genomics revolution promises a much greater understanding of biological systems and opens the possibility of modifying these seemingly inevitable trajectories in far more ways than we can currently imagine.

I am not against researching to find treatments for diseases, of course. But this obsession with somehow “curing death” seems rather pathetic. To me, it is an indication of such worry–of death, of limitations, of decline–that it moves into a denial of reality.

Ironically, many who proclaim the mantle of “rationality”–and disdain those who find their hope in faith–are the most devoted to the search for an unfindable Fountain of Youth. Interestingly, the wisdom of the great faiths urge memory of our coming deaths as the key to finding the best ways of living.

Thiel is part of the transhumanist movement, fueled by terror of death and so disdainful for of human limitations that it wants to “seize control of human evolution”–as if we have the wisdom–to achieve immortality and the ability to recreate ourselves in and our own image:

I’m gonna live forever

I’m gonna learn how to fly (High)

I feel it coming together

People will see me and cry

The other day, I posted about Ezekiel Emanuel’s stated desire in The Atlantic to die at 75. The entire piece reeked of abject terror of decline and limits:

The fact is that by 75, creativity, originality, and productivity are pretty much gone for the vast, vast majority of us…Dean Keith Simonton, at the University of California at Davis, a luminary among researchers on age and creativity, synthesized numerous studies to demonstrate a typical age-creativity curve: creativity rises rapidly as a career commences, peaks about 20 years into the career, at about age 40 or 45, and then enters a slow, age-related decline…

How do we want to be remembered by our children and grandchildren? We wish our children to remember us in our prime. Active, vigorous, engaged, animated, astute, enthusiastic, funny, warm, loving. Not stooped and sluggish, forgetful and repetitive, constantly asking “What did she say?” We want to be remembered as independent, not experienced as burdens.

I’m 65. Certain changes have already started. Am I happy about that?  No. Sometimes, I get depressed. More often though, I laugh about being on the downside of the mountain.

But I think working to stay healthy and agile–and emotionally adjust to the world being run by those younger than me, perhaps the hardest part–is much better than pounding my head vainly against reality:

For the rhythm of life is a powerful beat

Puts a tingle in your fingers and a tingle in your feet

Rhythm on the inside rhythm in the street

And the rhythm of life is a powerful beat

Back to Millner: She concludes her piece on Slow Reading on a far healthier note:

Reading isn’t dieting. Who needs to feel more shame about what they’re not doing right? Who needs yet another reason to feel inadequate?

Speaking for myself, I know why my philosophy reading group has made me happy, and it’s nothing to do with my health…Instead, what worked was pleasure: the social pleasure of talking about something serious with people whose opinions I respect, the ecstatic pleasure of wrestling with something impossible until it becomes clear, and the bodily pleasure (we always pick places with good wine) of the experience. It counteracts all the disgust I feel from being hit by a tsunami of Internet foolishness every day.

So that’s my advice to the Slow Read movement — do what the Slow Food people did and emphasize pleasure, not the fact that it’s good for us…

Ahh. Don’t you feel better already?

Exactly. At some point we have to set aside the fear and just live the ride.

Standing Against Human “Dignity Deniers”



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I devoted my biweekly column at First Things to an article by Charles Foster in the Cambridge Quarterly of Health Care Ethics in support of human dignity.

I start by noting that mainstream bioethics rejects the objective equal value of human life. From, “Standing Against the Human ‘Dignity Deniers’:”

Today’s dominant cultural voices argue that an individual’s moral worth should be predicated upon his or her individual capacities of the moment. This view is most acutely expressed in bioethics, the field that wields tremendous influence over health-care public policies and in the ethical protocols of medicine.

The potential that denying human dignity has to oppress, exploit, harvest, and kill the weakest and most vulnerable among us hangs in the air like malodorous evidence of a ruptured sewer line.

Examples? Of course:

In recent years, prominent bioethicists have proposed various moral status formulas to justify allowing “after-birth abortion” (otherwise known as infanticide), non-voluntary euthanasia of Alzheimer’s patients, and the use of profoundly disabled humans in dangerous medical experiments—just to name a few of the policy proposals that would obliterate our inalienable right to life.

I note that there has been scarce push back to an “undignified bioethics” outside of religious bioethical circles, which exerts little way. And then I quote Foster: 

Our main concern should be not abstract human thriving but the thriving of a particular human being. It is her humanization that should be the object of ethical discussion.

How refreshing, promoting greater humanization rather than depersonalizing the most vulnerable among us. For example, Foster answers the dignity deniers’ objection that part of a good life is altruism—so why not, as has frequently been proposed in bioethics, harvest the unconscious patient’s organs?

Everyone, in fact, has a dignity interest vested in this particular patient. The criminal recognizes that society as a whole is damaged by, for instance, a murder. This is not merely or mainly because, if murder goes unpunished, murders will proliferate and the risk of each one of us being murdered rises. More important is what the fact of the unpunished murder says about the zeitgeist—about the ethical water in which we all have to swim. A society that tolerates murder is toxic, and the toxicity affects the ability of us all to thrive.

The moral heft of the adverse cultural impact of denying intrinsic dignity is also relevant to other lethal bioethical matters such as euthanasia and abortion.

Human exceptionalism–of which our intrinsic dignity is merely a part–is THE issue of the 21st century. Our rights, our liberty, perhaps our very lives, depend on defending it.

That is why I think Foster’s article is an important contribution. We need all the help we can get here in the Alamo.

 

Should Teenagers Plan End-of-Life Care?



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I think the drive to get us all talking about dying may be getting a little out of hand. A new 500 page report funded to the tune of $1.5 million by an anonymous donor–would love to know who that was–has recommended that end-of-life medical care be discussed with teenagers. From the New York Times story:

The panel, which included doctors, nurses, insurers, religious leaders, lawyers and experts on aging, said Medicare and other insurers should create financial incentives for health care providers to have continuing conversations with patients on advance care planning, possibly starting as early as major teenage milestones like getting a driver’s license or going to college.

Come on! Do these “experts” really think that healthy teenagers will be able to maturely and soberly reflect on what they might want if they became seriously ill/injured, or when and under what circumstances they would want to die? 

Methinks that the technocratic obsession with death and pushing us to accept less care in order to save the system money just jumped the shark.

Ezekiel Emanuel: Die at 75



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Can we say, “death panels?” 

Ezekiel Emanuel says he wants to die at 75, with an extended list of woes about old age more than implying that we should too.

Make no mistake: This is the mindset of the medical intelligentsia and technocratic elite, and will be the intellectual predicate of their public policies.

I provide more details over at The Corner.

View to a Kevorkian Kill



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I believe that America’s embrace of the ghoul Jack Kevorkian–that is not name-calling, see below–is a portentous symptom of cultural dissipation.

The current First Things contains a vivid article about one of K’s deaths–who was found to have no illness upon her autopsy–illuminating the real Kevorkian behind the myth.

Psychiatrist Kalman J. Kaplan was contacted by letter several times by Martha Wichorek–doomed to become K’s 70th customer–and had several phone calls with her. (These poor people were not in any real sense ”patients.” K was an unemployable pathologist with no experience after medical school in treating living people.)  

The elderly woman wasn’t ill or disabled, but rather, terrified about a potential future “miserable life.” Despite initiating the contacts, she refused meetings and efforts by Kaplan to reach out. (I have met such people many times in my 21 years fighting assisted suicide. As sad as it sounds, I have found that for some, becoming dead gives their life purpose.)

After a brief hospitalization, Wichorek ceased all communication. Then, Kaplan read of her death in the newspaper. From, “The Death of Martha Wichorek:”

Her autopsy revealed that the late Martha Wichorek had no anatomical evidence of disease. Nor, it turned out, had she been in any pain, other than that connected with some mild age-related arthritis. People who knew her said that up to the end she had been very active, even participating in her church’s fall cleanup. She had raked leaves, helped in painting a basement, and seemed to be generally cheerful. Why, then, had she availed herself of the services of Dr. Kevorkian?

Wichorek was one of five Kevorkian customers found to have not been ill or disabled. This was a consistent pattern throughout K’s assisted suicide/euthanasia campaign. (The first was Marjorie Wantz who complained of pelvic pain, his second death.)

Kaplan lays out the truth about assisted suicide–as seen particularly in the Netherlands and Belgium, which have fallen farther down the cliff than us:

Martha’s case raises broader issues: the availability of assisted suicide to physically sound but depressed individuals; the “quick” solution of death for the elderly when they feel useless; thinking of death as a “right” rather than a fact; and too much social concern with the legal rather than the psychological condition of those contemplating suicide.

He concludes by casting light on Kevorkian’s true evil:

One thing more: Martha Wichorek saw her death as a heroic martyrdom for the cause of euthanasia. Kevorkian, as we know, not only encouraged this kind of thinking but served as its most sanctified prophet. He preached to the very first woman he assisted to her death that the world would thank her for her heroic gesture. Martha had been seeking to give some new kind of meaning to her life. Thanks to Jack Kevorkian and his minions, she succeeded in standing directly on its head the very thing she had 
hoped for.

Precisely what I have observed after discussing K deaths with their relatives. I also experienced the same horrid phenomenon in the suicide of my friend Frances, prematurely dead under the influence of the Hemlock Society, which gave her moral permission to kill herself and taught her how to do it. (I described her death in “The Whispers of Strangers” for Newsweek, my first of–so far–hundreds of anti-euthanasia columns. Frances’ suicide changed my life, causing me to move away from my fulfilling work with Ralph Nader to fight assisted suicide.)

In the end, Kevorkian and Hemlock–now, Compassion and Choices–didn’t deliver meaning, but the end of meaning.

I promised at the top of this already too lengthy post to explain my continuing loathing of Kevorkian. Here’s cold the truth: Kevorkian didn’t care about the people he helped kill. They were merely means to a ghoulish end–obtaining a license for K to vivisect people he was euthanizing.

It’s right there in Kevorkian’s book, Prescription Medicide on page 214:

I feel it is only decent and fair to explain my ultimate aim . . . It is not simply to help suffering or doomed persons to kill themselves” that is merely the first step, an early distasteful professional obligation (now called medicide) . . . What I find most satisfying is the prospect of making possible the performance of invaluable experiments or other beneficial medical acts under conditions that this first unpleasant step can help establish, in a word, obitiatry.

What experiment? On page 34, he expressed an intense desire to “study all parts of the intact, living brain.” Toward what end? On page 243, he explained, “If we are ever to penetrate the mystery of death, even superficially, it will have to be through obitiatry.”

Please reread the above quotes and see how–if–it affects you. It scares me that many will just shrug.

By the time he was released from prison for murdering ALS patient Thomas Youk, Kevorkian was again on top of the world. Rather than being repulsed by his death-obsession and cold utilitarian mindset, the retired obitiatrist was extolled widely in the media as a quirky fighter for compassion and transformed by Hollywood from the cold-blooded exploiter of despairing people, that he really was, into a harmless Muppet figure. He was even played by A-Lister Al Pacino in an HBO movie that the moral ciphers of Show Business buried with awards. 

Kevorkian, like all good sociopaths, knew what moves people. In this sense, Kevorkian is a mirror. What do you see in the reflection?

Chimps are Vicious Killers



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Animal rights activists and others sometimes act as if chimpanzees and bonobos are somehow better than humans, not violent like us.

That was certainly the implication of studies conducted to determine if chimp violence was our fault. Nope. They are vicious killers–not only of prey like monkeys–but each other. From the New York Times story:

Are chimpanzees naturally violent to one another, or has the intrusion of humans into their environment made them aggressive? A new study, published Wednesday in Nature, is setting off a new round of debate around this question. The study’s authors argue that a review of all known cases when chimpanzees or bonobos in Africa killed members of their own species shows that violence is a natural part of chimp behavior and not the result of actions by humans that push chimp aggression to lethal attacks.

The researchers say their analysis supports the idea that warlike violence in chimps is a natural behavior that evolved because it can provide more resources or territory to the killers, at little risk. Critics say the data shows no such thing, largely because the measures of human impact on chimpanzees are inadequate.

Methinks the critics want it to be our fault as that would promote the anti-humanism we see among some chimp boosters, such as blatant anthropomorphist, Jane Goodall.

Don’t get me wrong. Chimp violence isn’t wrong behavior. It isn’t immoral. Chimps can’t act “right” or “wrong.” They are not moral beings. That is beyond their capacities. 

Only humans possess moral agency. That is one of the factors that make us exceptional. And that is why we cast harsh aspersions on those among us–as we should–who act as viciously as chimps or bonobos. 

Euthanizing a Typical Teenager



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There is much piercing truth in this Onion satire:

Best line: “We can give her eyes to someone who will actually read a book.”

Another Conscious “Vegetable”



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As regular readers of this blog know, I loathe the V-word used for human beings instead of peas. 

So, why did I deploy it in my headline? Because another case of a supposedly unconscious man, found to be  actually aware, has apparently been discovered–and many would have denigrated him as nothing but a V before he went into the scanning machine. From the Nature News story:\

A dozen volunteers watched Alfred Hitchcock for science while lying motionless in a magnetic-resonance scanner. Another participant, a man who has lived in a vegetative state for 16 years, showed brain activity remarkably similar to that of the healthy volunteers — suggesting that plot structure had an impact on him. The study is published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

What we don’t know about the brain, the mind, and their workings should make us humble about presuming to dismiss anyone as unconscious and unaware.

And it should make us loathe to dehydrate these helpless people to death. 

P.S. The Nature reporter used the term “brain dead” as a synonym for diagnosed as unconscious. They are not the same thing! A science publication writer should know better. 

Cruel and Unusual Death with Dignity Strikes Again!



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You just can’t make this stuff up.

Belgium is opposed to capital punishment.

Belgium allows widespread euthanasia.

A rapist/murderer–who once would have been subject to execution–now wants to die.

He isn’t sick but wants euthanasia because he doesn’t want to spend life in prison.

The Belgian judiciary said, “Sure!”

So, a doctor will lethally inject a prisoner, but it won’t be considered capital punishment.

Cruel and unusual death with dignity strikes again!

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