Culture: May 2005 Archives

Editorial page editor Ken Neal, in Sunday's Tulsa Whirled, displays both ignorance and disingenuousness on the issue of federal funding for stem cell research. Where to begin with this mess?

It's difficult to understand President Bush's opposition to embryonic stem-cell research.

The president appears to believe that "life" is being destroyed to "save life" if the fertilized human eggs headed for destruction are used for medical research.

Ken, if it's a fertilized human egg, it is life -- a distinct human being that will, unless it's destroyed, grow into a potential Tulsa Whirled subscriber. (You're losing those quickly enough as it is, Ken.)

Much has been made about this president's intelligence. Yet he has demonstrated a very high intelligence, often outthinking and outmaneuvering his opponents. There is nothing stupid about this president.

But he appears to have a mental block on stem-cell research. Or perhaps it is a desire to please the radical right wing, which does seem unable to understand stem-cell facts. The president continually discusses adult stem-cell use, apparently thinking adult stem cells are as therapeutic as embryo cells.

They aren't. They can play a role in fighting disease, but the real potential lies with embryo stem cells. Those stem cells hold
the possibility of curing many problems, including Alzheimer's disease, various spinal cord problems, Parkinson's disease and other maladies for which science might develop cures if given permission and money.

Right, Ken, adult stem cells aren't as therapeutic as embryonic stem cells. They are far more therapeutic. There are actual cures using stem cells from sources that don't require the destruction of human life, but none to date involving embryonic stem cells. Patients with congestive heart failure have been treated with their own stem cells (from bone marrow), resulting in improved heart function. A seven-year-old girl with a severe skull injury was treated with fat-derived stem cells which resulted in new bone formation -- she no longer has to wear a protective helmet. Cord blood stem cells have been used to cure infants who have Krabbe disease, a rare and fatal genetic disorder.

(Hat tip for above links to Joel Helbling, for his handy tabular synopsis of stem cell research from December 2004 through February 2005, based on data from the Stem Cell Research Foundation.)

Back to Ken Neal:

Bush steadfastly opposes "killing life to save life," and if that were an accurate statement he would deserve support in that position.

Yet that statement is tantamount to setting up a straw man to beat on.

No one plans to kill in order to save life.

The president's position is particularly perplexing because he has already approved federal funds for use of embryos fertilized in fertilization clinics before Aug. 9, 2001, provided these embryos were headed for destruction anyway.

This is precisely what science wants: The right to experiment on embryos conceived outside the womb since then. Question: Are embryos conceived before Aug. 9, 2001, any less "life" than those conceived after that date?

To be consistent, the president would have to make that contention.

Here Ken is either sloppy or deliberately deceptive. The date of conception was not an issue in President Bush's directive, which allowed the use of federal funds for research on stem cell lines derived from human embryos prior to the date of his order. That means that the embryos had already been destroyed by that date. Bush's order was intended to remove federal funding as an incentive to destroy any more embryos, regardless of when they had been conceived.

Speaking of straw men, the President isn't challenging science's "right" to experiment on human embryos -- although he should. The issue before the government is federal funding for such inhuman experimentation. Isn't that a chilling way to put it? "Science wants the right to experiment with embryos."

Ken wants freedom for scientists, complete freedom from ethical constraints:

Science is continually advancing in the ways that stem cells taken from embryos, umbilical cord blood and human adults can be used. It is constantly learning. But in order for it to learn, even develop uses for stem cells from other than embryos, it must have the right to experiment without Big Brother looking over scientists' shoulders.

Calling Dr. Mengele! All is forgiven. The Tulsa Whirled is ready to set you up with a new lab and plenty of victims, um, subjects, and without any nosey Big Brothers looking over your shoulder worrying about the sanctity and dignity of human life.

Ken goes on to make a valid point about in vitro fertilization:

All over the country, fertility clinics work daily to help couples conceive. To do that, potential mothers are given fertility drugs resulting in the release of many human eggs. In most cases, there are surplus eggs, most of which are fertilized in a petri dish. Some of these are implanted into prospective mothers, but most are either frozen or discarded.

This is true.

Why not use these embryos for scientific research? Bush and those who support his position never discuss this situation. If one truly believes these fertilized eggs are life, then there would be a hue and cry to find women who would accept them and carry them to full term and develop babies. Some estimates are that there are 400,000 surplus fertilized eggs in these clinics.

There is an organization called Snowflakes Embryo Adoption Program devoted to this purpose.

Or, one would expect a demand to ban fertilization in vitro in order to bring a few of the eggs so fertilized to life. Why are Bush and those who support him so quiet about this?

Fertilization clinics routinely "kill" hundreds, perhaps thousands of embryos, which "pro-life" proponents choose to ignore.

Ken's back with another straw man to beat up. In fact, many pro-lifers make exactly this point. You may recall reading about someone who lost her job earlier this year in part because she thought this fact should not be obscured.

Back to Ken, who is now worrying about President Bush's legacy:

Future historians are apt to wonder why this country chose to follow ignorance and fall far behind the rest of the world in developing cures for dreaded diseases. It is as if an earlier president had banned government research into smallpox, leaving the war on that killer disease to other countries because he had misguided moral scruples against such research.

President Bush should quit listening to a small, but noisy, part of his constituency, remember he is no longer running for office and do the right thing on stem-cell research.

Ken Neal apparently believes that the President is as disingenuous as he is. President Bush actually believes in the sanctity of human life, beginning at conception. His moral scruples aren't misguided, and he is doing the right thing on stem-cell research by announcing his plan to veto federal funding for the destruction of human beings in the name of progress.

In the June 9 issue of the New York Review of Books, Joan Didion has a wide-ranging 8000-word essay of the details of Terri Schiavo's life and death. As familiar as I am with the controversy, it was still eye-opening to see all the key issues, medical details, and turning points outlined in one place.

Here's Didion on the use of language in the public debate over Terri's fate:

During the period this spring when the spectral presence called "Terri" dominated the national discourse, such areas of confusion between what was known and not known and merely assumed or repeated went largely unremarked upon. Taking a position, which had become the essence of that discourse, demanded impenetrable certainty. There were two entire weeks during which it was possible to hear the Schiavo case debated all day and all night and still not get it straight whether there was, as people were actually shouting at each other on the cable talk shows, "anybody home." ("You're wrong, Pat, flat line, nobody home.") Theresa Schiavo was repeatedly described as "brain dead." This was inaccurate: those whose brains are dead are unable even to breathe, and can be kept alive only on ventilators. She was repeatedly described as "terminal." This too was inaccurate. She was "terminal" only in the sense that her husband had obtained a court order authorizing the removal of her feeding tube; her actual physical health was such that she managed to stay alive in a hospice, in which only palliative treatment is given and patients without antibiotics often die of the pneumonia that accompanies immobility or the bacteremia that accompanies urinary catheterization, for five years.

Even after the removal of the feeding tube, she lived thirteen days. The removal of this feeding tube was repeatedly described as "honoring her directive." This, again, was inaccurate: there was no directive. Any expressed wish in this matter existed only in the belated telling of her husband and two of his relatives (his brother Scott Schiavo and their sister-in-law Joan Schiavo), who testified in a hearing on a 1998 petition that they had heard Theresa express the thought that she would not wish her life to be artificially prolonged. One time she was said to have expressed this thought was when Michael and Scott Schiavo's grandmother was on life support. "If I ever go like that, just let me go," Scott Schiavo said that he had heard Theresa say. "Don't leave me there." Another expression of the thought, Joan Schiavo testified, occurred when the two women were watching a television movie about a man on a feeding tube: according to Michael Schiavo's attorney, George J. Felos, what Theresa said was this: "No tubes for me."

This may be the first time that the blue-state readership of the New York Review of Books encounters some of the facts and connections that were well-known to readers of Blogs for Terri but which never seemed to make it into the mainstream media coverage of the case. Didion challenges the conventional wisdom on many fronts -- here, the idea that a "living will" is the answer to the dilemmas presented by Terri's situation:

There was considerable fuzziness here, not least in the reverence accorded the "living will," which seemed increasingly to be another of those well-meant and seemingly unassailable ideas that do not quite work the way we are encouraged to think they work. The chances of being admitted conscious to a hospital without being pressed to produce a living will have become virtually nil, yet any "living will" prepared in advance (as in "advance directive," exactly the document we are pressed to produce) requires us to make specific medical decisions about situations we cannot conceivably anticipate. According to studies cited last year in the Hastings Center Report by a medical researcher and a law professor at the University of Michigan, Angela Fagerlin and Carl E. Schneider, almost a third of such decisions, after periods as short as two years, no longer reflect the wishes of those who made them. The "health care proxy" or durable power of attorney, through which we assign someone we trust to make the decisions we can no longer make, is the better document, but it optimistically presupposes that we will each have with us at end of life "someone we trust."

The further problem with such directives is that they can be construed as coercive: no one wants to be a "burden." Few of us want to be perceived as considering our own lives more important than the ongoing life and prosperity of the family. Few of us will sit with a husband or wife or child in a lawyer's office or a doctor's office and hesitate to sign the piece of paper that will mean, when the day goes downhill, the least trouble for all concerned. For all the emphasis on the importance of "choice," the only choice generally approved by the culture is to sign the piece of paper, "not be a burden," die.

Whatever your position on the Terri Schiavo case, and whether you paid close attention or not when it was happening, this piece is worth your time and attention.

(Hat tip to Galley Slaves for the link.)

Someone call Imperial OSHA


Not the best of the six by any means, but still a very impressive movie. Even knowing how it must end, and even knowing how each scene must end, I still found myself surprised, and I jumped and my jaw dropped at Anakin's actions during the confrontation between Windu and the Chancellor.

The part of the evening that really got my heart going, though, was the trailer for "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe." The title isn't revealed until the end of the trailer, and it was fun to watch my son's face as he began to recognize bits of the story, and he looked back at me with a huge grin of anticipation.

One thing about "Revenge of the Sith" especially bugged me, and it's bugged me since the very first movie:

They were able to build spectacular cities, intelligent and versatile robots, massive and fantastic space vehicles that could leap in and out of hyperspace, and a Death Star that could take out a planet with a single blast.

So how come no one in the Star Wars universe ever figured out how to build a simple guardrail?

The right of the disabled to choose to continue to receive food and water is being contested in court in the United Kingdom.

The Daily Telegraph reports that the General Medical Council (GMC) is appealing a 2004 British High Court decision that gave a terminally ill Lancaster man the right to insist on receiving food and water through a tube, regardless of the opinion of his doctors.

Last summer, the High Court ruled in favor of Leslie Burke, who was diagnosed over 20 years ago with a degenerative neurological condition that will eventually cause him to lose the ability to swallow, while still retaining full awareness. Burke does not want to die of thirst, a process that can take two to three weeks. Because he may also lose the ability to speak by that time, he wants to ensure that his wishes are followed while he can still express them. Burke went to the court to challenge GMC guidelines that would let the doctors, not him, decide whether he should have a feeding tube:

GMC guidelines published in 2002 tell doctors it is their responsibility, rather than that of the patient, to decide whether to withhold or withdraw life-prolonging treatment.

Paragraph 81 effectively allows doctors to withdraw artificial nutrition or hydration from a patient who is not dying because it "may cause suffering, or be too burdensome in relation to the possible benefits".

At the time, the GMC said that the court ruling was unnecessary, that nothing in its standards would require or encourage a doctor to withhold food and water. Now the GMC has filed an appeal, arguing that the ruling gives a patient too much power:

Yesterday, Philip Havers, QC, for the doctors' governing body, said the judge's ruling had effectively "extended the reach of patient autonomy" and redefined the test as to what treatment was in a patient's best interests.

Mr Havers said there was "no evidence" that any member of the medical profession was likely to treat Mr Burke, or apply the GMC's guidance, in the way that he feared.

Follow that? The GMC is saying we're pretty sure we'll give you food and water, but we don't want the law to require us to do it if we don't want to.

In written submissions, however, Mr Havers told the Master of the Rolls, Lord Phillips, sitting with Lords Justices Waller and Wall, that Mr Justice Munby's conclusions put doctors in an "impossibly difficult position".

The result would be that a patient could require a doctor to provide a form of treatment that the doctor considered of no clinical benefit if not harmful.

"Such a conclusion is not in the best interests of patients," said Mr Havers - both as a matter of principle and because it would gravely undermine the "therapeutic partnership based on joint decision-making between doctors and patients".

It would also put the doctor "in an impossibly difficult position, for a doctor should never be required to provide a particular form of treatment to a patient which he does not consider to be clinically appropriate".

Requiring doctors to provide such treatment would undermine the relationship of trust that doctors have with the public they seek to serve, Mr Havers added. It would also be inconsistent with the Hippocratic oath that doctors used to take.

Notice that the GMC is classifying food and water as "treatment," not as basic necessities of life. Notice, too, the gobbledygook about how giving a patient the right not to die of thirst would undermine the "therapeutic partnership" and the "relationship of trust" between patient and doctor.

I think Leslie Burke would not care much about the state of his "therapeutic partnership" with a doctor who is trying to starve him to death.

Read what Burke had to say after last summer's court ruling:

Mr Burke said it seemed as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders. "I am ecstatic," he said. "I can't tell you what it means to me.

"Anybody could be in the same situation so this has far-reaching consequences. It could happen to somebody in a car accident, not just people with a disability.

"A doctor could decide to withdraw hydration and nutrition and effectively starve a person until they die.

"Doctors have told me I'm going to deteriorate to the stage where I need to be hospitalised and need artificial nutrition and hydration. This could be in 15 or 20 years, but my communication and speech is already deteriorating and is a problem now.

"I won't be able to communicate my wishes either way and this could just be withdrawn without my consent. I would be fully conscious the whole time and it could take two or three weeks to die.

"It's not any way to treat vulnerable people. In a civilised society, it can't be right to allow vulnerable people to effectively starve to death."

Hear, hear. Let's pray that the appeals court agrees.

I get Steve Fair's "Fair and Biased" updates via e-mail (subscribe at okgop -at-, and the current update contains the following item from Roll Call magazine about Oklahoma's junior senator:

You won't want to miss the next big blockbuster thriller, "Revenge of the STDs," coming soon to a theater near you.

A takeoff on "Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith," the STD flick -- yes, it's about sexually transmitted diseases -- is a tradition sponsored by Oklahoma GOP Sen. Tom Coburn. (He held six annual safe-sex slide shows during his three terms in the House.)

Coburn has been sending around a "Star Wars"-themed flier touting this year's slide show with a picture of Yoda declaring, "Stop the STDs, we must," and Darth Vader warning, "Never underestimate the power of the STDs."

The spacey flier opens much the same way "Star Wars" does: "Not so long ago, there were only two known sexually transmitted diseases. Today there are more than 25 STDs which infect more than 19 million Americans each year. ..."

Coburn notes that many people are not aware that the human papillomavirus infects 5.5 million Americans each year. "Studies have shown that condoms do not provide effective protection against HPV infection," Coburn states, adding in a "Dear Colleague" letter that as a physician he personally has witnessed the "ravaging effects" of STDs. "In many cases, STDs lurk undetected in the body for months or years before unleashing their terrible effects," he writes.

Coburn is inviting all Members of Congress, staff and interns to attend the slide show on May 26 (one week after the opening of the final installment of the "Star Wars" saga) at 11:45 a.m. in HC-5 of the Capitol. "A free pizza lunch will be served but attendees should be advised that some slides contain graphic images."

Sen. Coburn has been under fire from the Senate Ethics Committee for wanting to continue practicing as an OB/GYN, as he did during his years in the U. S. House. If you can look beyond the Star Wars gimmickry, this presentation illustrates one of the benefits of having legislators who are still connected with a profession. Coburn can speak on this public health threat from experience; other senators are getting information from lobbyists from Planned Parenthood or SIECUS or other pressure groups. Coburn is able to challenge the conventional wisdom about condoms, and to call his colleagues' attention to the fact that condoms can't protect against HPV, which causes cervical cancer, a fact that deserves consideration as Congress debates funding for abstinence-based sex education.

I hope Coburn gets a good turnout, but I wonder about the wisdom of choosing pizza for the entree.

Matt of Overtaken by Events tells us about another non-profit organization with an innocuous name and a positive reputation that has been captured by the forces of political correctness. The YWCA's position page advocates for unrestricted abortion, for the registration of firearms and a ban on handguns, and is "pro-LGBTQ rights," using after-school programs to "promot[e] awareness with workshops on sexuality."

Matt writes: "If you were confused when little Sally came home from her swimming class and burned her training bra, wonder no longer."

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Culture category from May 2005.

Culture: April 2005 is the previous archive.

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