Monkey “Head Transplant” Animal Abuse

by Wesley J. Smith

This is so probably a hoax, but respectable media are covering it as if it isn’t, so let’s assume that a mad scientist actually did do a head transplant on a monkey. From the Telegraph story:

According to Prof Canavero, the team led by Xiaoping Ren, connected the blood supply to prove that the animal could survive without suffering brain injury.

They have not yet attempted to join the spinal cords so if the animal survived it would be completely paralysed.

“The monkey fully survived the procedure without any neurological injury of whatever kind,” says Prof Canavero, but said it was only kept alive for only 20 hours after the procedure for ethical reasons.


Connected all the blood supply to the brain, eh? If there was minimal neurological damage–again, please–it would be because they kept the head very cold.

And the cadaver body, how did it do?

This was animal abuse. Two monkeys were killed and mutilated for no beneficial human purpose other than a publicity stunt for the “doctor.”

And if he does do a human head transplant, he should be charged with murder. Taking advantage of a desperate and despairing dying man puts one in the ethical sub-basement.

The Deprofessionalization of Medicine

by Wesley J. Smith

The alarming trend to deprofessionalize medicine continues apace.

Doctors are becoming less physicians and more “service providers.” Patients are now akin to customers. In Canada, this may soon require doctors to kill certain patients on demand.

This has many societal ramifications, brought up in a very good column in the LA Times about a controversy about a Catholic hospital refusing to sterilize a woman because it violates Catholic medical ethics. From, “Why a Catholic Hospital Shouldn’t be Obliged to do a Tubal Ligation,” by Fordham University bioethics professor, Charles A. Camosy:

When healthcare providers are forced by law to violate the values that make them who they are — because of the request of customers demanding goods and services in the free market — it signals the end of medicine as a professional practice.

It makes medicine just another exchange of goods and services, and puts patients in the role of customers, ordering whatever they want from physicians. In such a world, an orthopedic surgeon would be forced to cut off a patient’s perfectly healthy leg rather than insisting that his bodily integrity identity disorder be treated instead. Someone with only months to live could order a knee replacement. And nothing could stop those who are merely “tired of life” from demanding a prescription for a deadly dose of medication.

As I have been warning about for years, that is exactly where we are heading. 

The jurisdiction of healthcare is expanding from purely medical issues to what I call “consumerist” services, e.g., procedures using medical means for a not strictly medical purpose,such as to fulfill lifestyle desires or enhance happiness.

But Wesley, you oppose Futile Care Theory that allows doctors to refuse wanted life-sustaining treatment. Isn’t that deprofessionalization too?

No. Life sustaining treatment–keeping a patient alive when that is what she wants–is purely medical. It is not elective, but necessary to sustain life. (Hit this link for more details of the circumstances in which I think doctors should–and should not–be allowed to say, “no.”)

Camosy makes a strong appeal to allow Catholic hospitals to be Catholic:

If that [the above quote] sounds wrong to you, then you have to say there is no justification for refusing healthcare providers — including Catholic hospitals — the freedom as professionals to determine their own answers to these vexing questions.

If instead we single out religious hospitals and deny them this freedom, it would reveal that a very serious kind of discrimination is present in our culture. And it is the kind of discrimination that not only reveals contempt for the 1st Amendment, but also for the right of all to define and express their identity.

Here’s the thing. The secularists don’t think it is wrong to force doctors to participate in life-taking or religiously proscribed procedures.

They want to force their utilitarian values on all of healthcare–which is one purpose to which Obamacare is being put.

It is all part of the project to reduce the free exercise of religion it mere freedom of worship.

Canadian Doctors Abject Surrender to Euthanasia

by Wesley J. Smith

The complete and abject acquiescence of the Canadian medical establishment to their Supreme Court’s order transforming doctors from healers into killers is both disheartening and astonishing.

One of the most radical transformations in the role of the doctor in medical history is moving forward with such enthusiasm, that doctors appear to be on the verge of allowing patients to tell them when a diagnosable medical condition is “grievous” and “irremediable,”–meaning that even if re-mediating treatment is available and the patient doesn’t want it, they can be killed.

And all doctors will have to be complicit–either by doing the deed or being a death doctor pimp by finding one who they know will.

Look at what the head of Nova Scotia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons has to say about that. From the Herald News story (my emphasis):

Grant said a grievous and irremediable medical condition is subjective and “viewed through the lens of the patient.” “It is the patient’s subjective experience that determines whether the condition is grievous,” he said. “It is the patient’s subjective decision as to whether the condition is irremediable to treatments that the patient would be willing to go through.”

He acknowledged that this is an area of great uncertainty for doctors. “These are words that we don’t use very often in medicine — grievous and irremediable — and we’re now being tasked to participate in a decision of enormous consequence that hinges on those words.”

While no doctor can be compelled to assist in a patient’s death, the draft document says an effort should be made to refer a patient to a willing doctor.

During World War II, the Nazi occupiers tried to force Netherlander physicians to become death doctors and participate in that country’s euthanasia policies. Those courageous doctors refused and engaged in total noncooperation. Some were sent to concentration camps, from whence some did not return. But the peaceful civil disobedience won the day–against Nazis!

What would those heroes think of the Canadian medical establishment? Disgusted and ashamed.

Futile Care Arrogance

by Wesley J. Smith

The Texas Advance Directive Act (TADA) allows a hospital bioethics committee and doctors to veto wanted life-sustaining treatment if they believe the suffering thereby caused is unwarranted–with the cost of care always in the unspoken background.

It is a form of ad hoc health care rationing–death panels, if you will–that place the moral values and opinions of strangers over those of the patient and family. 

Futile care theory would even allow strangers to veto the contents of a patient’s written and expressly-stated advance directive.

Texas Right to Life (among others) has been an adamant opponent of the law, attempting to get it repealed.

This effort has been impeded repeatedly by the Texas Catholic Conference (see my article here) perhaps because the state’s Catholic hospital association likes the law. (Texas Alliance for Life often carries the Catholic Conference’s water on this matter, in agreement on this issue, ironically, with the utilitarian bioethics movement.)

Why? It’s a bit of a puzzlement.

I don’t doubt, they think it is the right thing. But it should also be noted that hospitals benefit financially be refusing wanted but expensive treatment. Perhaps their social justice inclinations see limited resources as best spent on other patients. 

In the wake of the Chris Dunn case, in which the patient–conscience and aware–clearly wanted life-sustaining treatment to continue, TAL defenders of futile care expose the “doctor knows best” arrogance of the futile care movement. From, “Balancing the Rights of Patients and Doctors,” in Public Discourse (my emphasis)

A person in possession of his mental faculties is not morally bound to choose treatments whose negative effects are disproportionate to any good that could come from them.

By the law of transitivity, it would seem to follow that neither his doctor nor his surrogates are either.

Some may say that patients are the only ones able to judge the proportionality of suffering due to life-sustaining treatments. In this case, those treatments decreased the ability of the patient to judge.

I have heard such excuses and rationalizations in futile care controversies again and again: The patient doesn’t really know what is best; the family is acting on guilt; misplaced religious belief is forcing a wrong choice; they should leave such decisions to the “experts.” Bah!

Besides, Catholic moral teaching–at least, as I understand it–allows the patient to decide when suffering being experienced supersedes the benefit, being received. It does not give that decision to doctors or bioethicists.  

Thus St. John Paul II decided not to try and stay alive by any means necessary, he was not prevented from doing so by others as is done in futile care cases. 

The article also exhibits some mendacity by omission when it discusses the refusal by other hospitals to take Dunn, by leaving out important facts:

It is telling that, even with the assistance of the hospital over several weeks to find another care provider, none would accept Chris’s transfer, indicating that other doctors agreed with the attending physician’s prognosis.

But patients caught up in futile care cases usually lose money for hospitals in our capitated funding system.

Moreover, this whole Texas controversy began when Houston hospitals created a futile care policy and agreed to honor such determinations made by other institutions. Heads we win, tails you lose.

If continuing wanted treatment is the wrong thing to do–it should not be decided by a Star Chamber bioethics committee made up of colleagues who reflect corporate or institutional values, meeting in secret with no real transparency or accountability.

Rather, if maintaining life when that is wanted is so egregious as to be inhumane, the controversy belongs in open court, with cross examination, an official record, and a right to appeal.

Bioethics committees have a very important role to play as mediating bodies in the event of treatment disputes.

But they should never be empowered to become institutionally-authorized, quasi-judicial death panels.

Using David Bowie to Promote Assisted Suicide

by Wesley J. Smith

From all accounts that I have read, rock star David Bowie died naturally of cancer.

But a writer in The Guardian strives mightily to tie his natural demise to assisted suicide. From, “David Bowie Planned His Death,” by Ann Neumann:

Bowie may have been a profoundly unique musician, but his secrecy regarding his terminal condition is increasingly common. Death, particularly for those in Bowie’s generation, is becoming something to control – an event to arrange and manage.

He kept his health condition private. And I assume he also received quality medical care and palliation. If that is “arranging” and “managing,” ok. But Neumann makes an unwarranted darker connection:

Boomers’ efforts to change the way Americans die are already being felt. Not willing to linger for years in nursing homes, they’re pressing for the legalization of aid in dying, the legal right to receive a lethal dose of medication from their doctor when they have six months or less to live.

As I have often written, the “six months to live” restriction is a temporary sop, demonstrated by the “linger for years in nursing homes” comment. Indeed, most places where euthanasia/assisted suicide are legal have no such restrictions.

And get this desperate bootstrapping:

Like everything else Bowie made acceptable for his fans – fluid genders, flamboyant, outrageous clothes, dreams of equality and other worlds – this grand and surprising final exit may signal to the 76 million Baby Boomers now facing their own twilight that there’s no harm in going out your own way.

I have no idea what David Bowie thought about assisted suicide. But unless there is something we don’t know, his death had nothing to do with the issue.

It is wrong to try and drag his death into the argument.