February 2014 Archives
February 1, 2014
A case to watch in France
If you follow end-of-life issues and were horrified by the death of Terri Schiavo, here is a name to note: Vincent Lambert.
Lifesite News calls him "France's Terri Schiavo," and there is something to be said for the parallel. Lambert was in a car accident five years ago and is in what is known as a "minimally conscious state." This is a more responsive state than Terri was alleged to be in (though of course that should not matter to one's right to life). Even the doctors seeking Lambert's death acknowledge that he has sensory experiences and is responsive to "pain or well-being." He also appears to react to the presence of his loved ones, and I gather that this is acknowledged by those seeking his death. He is not able to communicate. He is not dying in any way but is tetraplegic.
Dr. Eric Kariger, representing the hospital, and Lambert's wife and nephew all want him starved and dehydrated to death. The argument is that that is what he "would have wanted." Vincent's parents oppose his being killed by starvation and dehydration.
February 2, 2014
February 6, 2014
'For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh'
"For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5).
This is a bit of a cheeky way to respond to a thoughtful and well-written essay by the president of the American Enterprise Institute, Arthur Brooks, that appears in the latest issue of Commentary magazine called "Be Open-Handed Toward Your Brothers". The title itself comes from Deuteronomy 15:11; hence my Biblical rejoinder to Brooks' own Biblical injunction -- as you can guess I'm not totally convinced by his vision of what Commentary calls "a conservative social-justice agenda".
February 8, 2014
"Substance" doesn't mean what you think it means
Via First Things, I found out about this frustrating piece by Charles Krauthammer. Before I get to a discussion of "substance," I want to pause a bit to talk about just how silly Krauthammer is being. First, as Matthew J. Franck points out, there is no "profound disagreement" about when "ensoulment" takes place which lies behind opposition to pro-life efforts. Nor is there any such profound disagreement in the pro-life camp. As a sheer sociological matter, Krauthammer's reference to "profound disagreement" on "ensoulment" is nonsense on stilts. As Franck says, on the pro-choice side there are "sophisticated pseudo-arguments purporting to complicate the question whether, and when, we can call these human beings 'persons' with a right not to be killed by others." But these do not arise from theological hangups about ensoulment. Far from it. Usually they arise from a naturalistic idea that man is not special but rather is just another animal and that it is "speciesist" to treat membership in the human race as per se conferring value.
Another point that Franck doesn't get to is Krauthammer's weird ideas about democratic process. Krauthammer makes the following convoluted suggestion:
[R]egarding early abortions, the objective should be persuasion — creating some future majority —rather than legislative coercion in the absence of a current majority. These are the constraints of a democratic system.
Thanks for the civics lecture, Dr. Krauthammer, but it seems that it is you who needs a review on the subject of democratic process. Please tell us in what state of the union or under what constitutional provision pro-lifers could possibly engage in "legislative coercion in the absence of a current majority"? How is that supposed to work, precisely? And what is its connection to the lack of consensus in America over legislation and early abortion? Please be specific. Because last time I looked, legislation has to be passed by a majority of legislators, so regardless of whether we are trying to protect unborn children early or late in pregnancy, "legislative coercion" is going to happen only if, y'know, a majority of legislators vote for it. So Krauthammer just appears not to know what he's talking about.
I also note in passing that Krauthammer's airy advice to focus on late-term abortion and "get it banned" ignores the little problem of Roe v. Wade and the Supreme Court. To read Krauthammer, anyone would think pro-lifers have been sitting around like a bunch of dummies for the past forty-one years doing nothing effective because no one ever suggested to them trying to ban late-term abortions. I'm sure pro-life activists will all rise up upon reading Krauthammer's column, slap themselves on the foreheads, and say, "Why didn't I think of that?" Then we can just march on out there and ban late-term abortions coast to coast, and it will all be due to the sapience of Krauthammer. Let me know when to contact my legislator on the proposed ban, Dr. Krauthammer, and then please tell us what is going to happen when the pro-aborts sue under Roe within a nanosecond.
February 10, 2014
Margot Bentley to be allowed to keep eating from a spoon
Approximately six months ago I reported on this story: A family in Canada wants a nursing home ordered to starve and dehydrate Margot Bentley, who is an Alzheimer's patient, to death, even though she is receiving no artificial treatment but only spoon feeding.
Now, in a mildly surprising piece of good news for this February, the Supreme Court of British Columbia has ruled that she is taking the spoon feeding voluntarily and that the nursing home may continue to feed her.
I note that the biased news story refers to the goal of Bentley's ceasing to receive food and water "so she can die with dignity." Because dying of dehydration is just so dignified. The news story also refers to "being kept alive by artificial means, including nourishment and liquids." Because food and water taken from a spoon are so darned artificial.
Wesley J. Smith notes that it would have been even better if the judge had made the point that food and water received by spoon not only are not medical treatment but have never legally been regarded as treatment. But it was nonetheless a good decision in which a measure of sanity prevailed. Good for the nursing home for upholding a decent standard of care and sticking to their guns (which is to say, their spoons). Many would have given in long ago and killed the patient.
February 14, 2014
Look into your crystal ball
Perhaps I just don't read enough web sites or the right web sites, but I have seen less chatter about this explosive recent federal court decision than I might have expected. I didn't even see the news linked from Drudge! I found out about it when I was driving and flipped on a very conservative talk radio show on a fundamentalist Protestant station.
A federal judge has ruled that Kentucky must recognize out-of-state same-sex "marriages," thus striking down a portion of the state's same-sex marriage "ban" passed by the voters. The state may appeal but hasn't even said yet if it will appeal. This comes close to home for me, not because I live in Kentucky, but because my state of Michigan has a similar ban, passed by the voters as a voter initiative and made part of the state constitution.
So much, by the way, for the declaration that a federal marriage amendment is not needed. The activist judges are never finished, so yes, it's needed.
Let me note, too, to those reactionaries who attribute our woes to the evils of democracy: Nowhere has this analysis been more clearly erroneous than in the history of homosexual "marriage" in the U.S. (As if Roe v. Wade weren't a clear enough counterexample.) Not invariably, but for the most part and repeatedly, this agenda has been moved forward by liberals in a hurry who get the courts--state or federal--to force their agenda onto a reluctant or opposed electorate.
Finally, my own crystal ball is broken on this one. This was "just" one federal judge trying to force the issue of cross-state recognition of homosexual "marriage." Will the state appeal? Will his ruling be upheld or overturned at the higher federal levels? What do readers think?
February 16, 2014
The ambiguities of the term "totipotent"
Via Wesley J. Smith I learned of this incredibly important recent article by embryologist Maureen Condic. If you are at all interested in the issues of the right to life of early embryos and in the science behind it, go and download a copy of the article immediately. Though I cannot see that Condic actually refers in her article (perhaps it's in the massive footnotes, which I didn't read) to recent research purporting to have created totipotent mouse cells by an extremely simple method of adult cell reprogramming (called the creation of STAP cells), what she has to say is relevant to those claims and is extremely timely.
I had not yet posted about that research for a number of reasons. For one thing, I was waiting for more information. For another, the claimed results had not (as far as I know) been duplicated. (See here for some generalized skepticism about the STAP claims, questioning whether the results will be able to be replicated at all and whether they are even scientifically accurate in their own terms.) For a third, the claims of totipotency in the cells created by the simple method of exposing differentiated cells to stress (such as an acid bath) seemed to rest on the rather shaky evidence that the cells, when subsequently injected into a mouse embryo, migrated all over the embryo including to the placenta. What, precisely, they were doing in the placenta, what sort of placental cells they became, and so forth, remained unanalyzed.
During that time the question was asked in a private Facebook forum, probably apropos of this research, whether, if human cells were de-differentiated to the point of being totipotent, it would be wrong to use them in research. I answered carefully that it would depend on the meaning of "totipotency" and, most crucially, on whether the "cells" were actually human embryos. If human embryos are created in a lab, by whatever method, then it is always wrong to use them in destructive research. In fact, it's wrong to create human embryos in the lab at all. If this process can be carried out in humans and produces embryos, then it is in effect a cloning process, and using it in humans is unethical, however convenient. However, I was extremely dubious that this process was creating mammalian embryos. There were a number of reasons for being dubious. First of all, it seemed implausible that merely subjecting adult cells to stress turns them into embryos! Relatedly, the researchers conjecture that they may be mimicking a process that occurs routinely in the adult body in response to cellular damage as a method of repair. But is human reproduction occurring routinely in, say, men's bodies? Is even mouse reproduction occurring routinely in male mouse bodies? That was enormously implausible. If so, why do we not have virgin conceptions popping up by natural causes from time to time if a virginal female's body responds to cellular stress by producing an "accidentally created embryo"? (Even if the cells produced were not embryos but merely plenipotent, a term I will discuss below, it seems that we would expect a lot more cancers, called teratomas, turning up in adult bodies--for example, in the acidic environment of the stomach. See here. This is a reason to question what is being claimed in this research.) Human reproduction is difficult, even in vitro. That's why human cloning has been so long in coming and has always required an egg. So I was skeptical. Oh, one other thing: Buried in one of the articles is a statement that an unnamed researcher had attempted to insert these allegedly totipotent cells directly into a mouse uterus to see if they would develop as baby mice, with negative results.
Into this atmosphere of uncertainty, Condic's paper comes as a useful and highly informative model of scientific rigor and thoroughness. Though Condic doesn't discuss or question the STAP research directly, she does give us important information about various types of human stem cells and the confusing terminology that surrounds them. If the STAP claims hold up to attempts by other scientists to reproduce the results, Condic's scientific work here will be indispensable to discussion of the ethical implications.
February 17, 2014
The Essence of Modern Liberalism in One Sad Thought
Apropos of our latest discussion with some liberals who stopped by here to once again argue for the madness that it is so-called same-sex “marriage”, I came across this blog post describing a recent conference about religious liberty sponsored by the liberal Center for American Progress (CAP). The post discussed, with appropriate dismay, the not so shocking attitude of today’s liberals who really can’t be bothered by any strong claims of religious liberty, if those claims clash with today's reigning liberal pieties. The author quoted one Sarah Warbelow, who is formally affiliated with the homosexual lobbying organization the Human Rights Campaign (they are the folks who were so proud to host Ellen Page, a/k/a the cute little pixie actress who played Juno in that eponymous film, when Ellen just announced to all the world that she is a pervert), saying the following with respect to religious liberty:
“No one should be humiliated at the dry cleaners”
And this, I submit, is the essence of liberalism today – no one should get their feelings hurt, ever, especially by those who are religious and hold traditional views of morality and sexuality.
This blog has been highlighting the intolerant nature of the left for quite some time when it comes to this issue, and recognition by courts of so-called same-sex “marriage” is just bringing the left’s fasces out sooner rather than later – they want nothing more than to shut out religious conservatives from the public square and have everyone worship their false gods of equality and perversion.
Enough is enough – enough of their false equivalence between race and homosexuality, enough of the bad constitutional law that not only twists the commerce clause, but the original meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment in which much of our current constitutional mischief arises (let’s face it boys and girls – an amendment designed to protect former slaves should not be the basis for any sort of rights for women to kill babies, sexual perverts to redefine the meaning of words, etc.) And yes, let’s stand up and say this means private racist business owners should be allowed to discriminate against black (or other minority) customers; this is just what basic private property rights and freedom of association means.
People since time immemorial will get their feeling hurt, and yes, will sometimes get humiliated at the dry cleaners (or whatever the pre-modern version of said cleaners was back in the day) – government cannot and should not be in the business of making sure everyone’s feeling are O.K.
February 21, 2014
What We're Reading: Horae Paulinae
I've begun lately reading the Horae Paulinae by 18th century apologist William Paley. One of the gems of Christian apologetics, the Horae Paulinae should be much more widely known and widely read. It is eminently readable; I'm finding it difficult to put it down. Appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, I'm not really a "dusty" reader, and my attention span is shorter than I like to admit, so take this as a real recommendation. If you're at all interested in the subject, you will find this book fascinating.
The concept behind the Horae Paulinae is a comparison of the Pauline epistles with the book of Acts. Paley is interested in seeing whether there are such correspondences between and among these texts as will tend to confirm the authenticity (that they are written by Paul) of the epistles as well as the historicity of Acts. He is, in fact, more interested in showing that the epistles were written by Paul rather than a forger than in confirming Acts. I am reading the book more with an eye to the latter question, but the two are epistemically intertwined.
Given my own goals, I have focused on the portions of the book that concern those epistles that are already widely acknowledged even by liberal scholars to have been written by Paul. (That doesn't actually mean that I think the authorship of the other Pauline epistles is open to serious doubt. It's purely a pragmatic decision for an article I may be writing.) So far I have read the sections on Romans and 1 Corinthians, and I'm partway through the section on II Corinthians. I sometimes get distracted by the additional fascinating material in the edition I have borrowed from Esteemed Husband. The editor of this particular edition of the Horae Paulinae is 19th century clergyman T. R. Birks, and he has published his own Horae Apostolicae along with the Horae Paulinae. Birks sometimes drops "teaser" notes at the bottom of the pages of Paley. They say things like, "For a further consideration of this point, including additional remarkable coincidences, see ____" with a reference to a portion of his own book, conveniently printed in the back. Birks, I may say, stands up favorably in comparison to Paley as a judicious collector of arguments on the subject.
February 25, 2014
The oligarch vs. the people
In an earlier entry I pointed out that the homosexual "marriage" issue has, with few exceptions so far, been taken to judges rather than to the people. This is not to deny that public opinions are changing on that subject, under the pressure of absolutely relentless PR from the media and schools, and of course under the teaching of judge-made "law." The point is merely that in America we have had numerous examples of cases where the left has had to get the semi-oligarchy of judges to force their desires on a reluctant public and then has used those rulings as a beachhead or a ratchet (pick your favorite metaphor) from which to drag public opinion ahead to where they want it to be. This pattern, which has been repeated times without number in the past four or five decades, stands as disconfirmation to the opinion that "the people" are inherently untrustworthy and that, as a rule of thumb, a land will be governed better if governed by a small elite--an oligarchy or a monarchy--of the smarter, stronger, and in some undefined sense "better." In the U.S., it has generally been true that what Robert Bork calls the chattering classes, who undeniably have a higher average IQ than the national average, have had on average the worst moral ideas. We should least wish to commit the governance of the nation to our elites, knowing the elites. Yet, because of the idea that the law is what judges say it is, they have again and again been allowed, de facto, to govern the nation, even when their actions are manifestly lawless. Roe v. Wade is, of course, a notorious example.
Back in January another example came up, which I have not yet mentioned: A judge named Nan Nash in New Mexico arrogantly struck down the state's anti-assisted suicide law and imposed an assisted suicide regime on the state. Nash admitted that assisted suicide was against existing New Mexico law but, in essence, said that in that case the law was wrong and must cease to function, that doctors must be permitted to assist in suicide. If this isn't legislating from the bench, I don't know what is. Naturally, there is no sign of the governor's saying, "Judge Nash has made her ruling, let her enforce it," and making it clear that anyone who assists a suicide will be prosecuted. Would that such a thing would happen. The state is merely mulling its options for some kind of appeal. I assume an appeal would be to a higher-level state court.