Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Only One Child May Live

Steven Mosher paints a horrifying picture of the grim reality of the "One Child" policy in China. As a U.S. State Department representative in Guangdong Province in 1980, Mosher witnessed first-hand the forced abortions of women who committed the "crime" of becoming pregnant for the second time.

Since then, Mosher has become president of the Population Research Institute, a pro-life educational organization "dedicated to protecting and defending human life, ending human rights abuses committed in the name of family planning, and dispelling the myth of overpopulation." PRI has documented the thousands of forced late-term abortions and millions of coerced sterilizations in China, with important implications for targeted population control measures in other developing countries.

According to Mosher, "Population control encourages domestic tyranny of a very personal and deadly sort." This is what happens when alarmist views of overpopulation are somehow translated into public policies that view people as pestilence. Rather than focus on the root issues of poverty through education and economic development, coercive population control measures seek to cure the "disease" by killing the patient.

Human Life Review Article

YouTube Video

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Making Moral Decisions in Medicine

Our guest blogger this week is Matt Tabbut, a second-year med student (and Cedarville alumnus) at Chicago's Rosalind Franklin University.

At this stage of my medical education, I have begun to look at some practical ethics case studies. There are a few beacons, or waypoints, that I use to help guide me in making decisions. Consider the following.

1. Faith - As a Christian, my faith plays a vital role in moral living. This worldview based on Biblical principles and mandates serves as an anchor or foundation upon which to make ethical determinations. At the heart of Scripture is the concept of loving God and loving others. Thus, the Bible establishes immutable, transcendent, and absolute principles that serve as the ultimate authority in my moral and ethical dealings.

2. Reason - Reason is at the heart of all philosophical thought. However, reason alone (i.e. not tempered by a foundation based on principles - see point 1) is a slippery slope leading to consequences that we may not perceive or be willing to accept. But in my moral deliberations, I should not only be able to provide supporting arguments from faith, but should also be able to communicate arguments from reason that can be accepted more universally.

3. Precedent – A good argument can often be made from analogy, and history can help to clarify ethical dilemmas. Finding correlations with other related situations may shed light on the current problem.

4. Instinct - At least in the negative sense, this is sometimes called the "yuk factor," - another way of describing our gut reaction. Though decisions cannot be made solely on feeling, our gut reaction can give insight as we look other well-founded arguments.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Pursuit of 'Happyness'

Actor Will Smith received a Best Actor nomination in 2006 for his role as Chris Gardner, a stuggling single father of a five year-old boy. "The Pursuit of Happyness" was inspired by a true story, and is a moving portrayal of courage, tenacity, and street smarts, as the hero tries to make it as an unpaid intern in a San Francisco brokerage firm. At times homeless, at times lying to make a sale, his career finally takes off, and he eventually makes his fortune on Wall Street.

I enjoyed the movie, but it also bothered me a bit. At the very end, I found myself wondering, "Is that it?" Is money the secret of 'happyness?' The film seemed to be saying that material wealth is the goal we should all strive for.

Aristotle taught that moral virtue was the real secret of happiness, and the most important thing to aim for in life. It is also an unlimited good - in other words, you can never have it in excess. Contrast this with Aristotle's view of wealth, as a means to a more noble end, but never an end in itself.

For more, see Mortimer Adler: Aristotle for Everybody

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Dr. Death is on the Loose

On June 1st, Jack Kevorkian was released from prison, after serving eight years of a longer sentence for second-dgree murder. A participant in at least 130 assisted suicides during the 1990s, he is still unrepentant.

Constrained by conditions of his parole, he can speak publicly about laws to allow doctors to assist in suicide, but he cannot counsel individuals. “You see, I’m still in prison,” he said. “I’m on a tether. I’m on a virtual tether. If you don’t behave, you go back to prison.”

It is interesting to note that the former pathologist has received some sympathy for his views. As a tribute to the public ambiguity about assisted suicide, the original Michigan jury that convicted him could not agree on a capital murder charge.

Think of it -- this was not a case of suicide, for it was Kevorkian who actually injected the lethal medicine that took the life of this particular patient, with the video cameras rolling. And what could be more premeditated than such an act, planned many days in advance, with calls to the press and TV stations?

Yet the jury could not agree on capital murder (murder in the first degree), which could have resulted in a life sentence. Instead, in defiance of logic, they convicted him of second-degree murder, as though this was a spontaneous act of passion.

So Dr. Death is free on parole, with his time shortened for "good" behavior.

New York Times Article

Monday, May 14, 2007

Down Syndrome Babies: An Endangered Species?

Recent developments in genetic testing are revolutionizing the ability to test for a variety of genetic disorders in unborn babies. Before now, this required a difficult, painful, and potentially hazardous procedure called amniocentesis, ususally reserved for expectant mothers over the age of 35. Amniocentesis itself carries a 0.5% miscarriage rate, but it has been used to diagnose such conditions as Down Syndrome, Tay-Sachs Disease, Sickle Cell Anemia, or Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.

Now there is a simple blood test, recommended for all pregnancies, that reduces the risk for moms, but may dramatically increase the number of genetic disorders diagnosed prenatally. If past history is any guide, this means that 90% of women whio are told their baby has Down Syndrome will choose to have an abortion (reference).

What will be the results of such selection? Well, for one thing, fewer babies with diabilities - and this has many parents who advocate for them rather worried:
A dwindling Down Syndrome population, which now stands at about 350,000, could mean less institutional support and reduced funds for medical research. It could also mean a lonelier world for those who remain (NY Times).
Parent advocates are worried that doctors don't know how to handle the genetic information they now so easily obtain with two blood tests and a sonogram. Many physicians agree -- the best way to share a genetic diagnosis is not: "Your baby is going to be mentally retarded, you should have a pregnancy termination."

This does not mean that the future will be easy for parents who decide to carry their diabled child. But parents of the disabled see the new form of testing as one more step towards a society that doesn't welcome any imperfections. Commentator George F. Will called it a "search and destroy mission" for the handicapped (Will has a grown son, Jon, with Down Syndrome). In complaining about the new recommendations, he adds:
What did Jon Will and the more than 350,000 American citizens like him do to tick off the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists? It seems to want to help eliminate from America almost all of a category of citizens, a category that includes Jon (Newsweek).
Imagine a society where every one of us is genetically perfect, where none of us must strive for the small, daily steps of success that mark our physical, emotiojnal, and mental growth. I, for one, would not want to live there.

New York Times Article

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

More on the Supreme Court's Ruling

On April 19th, the U.S. Supreme Court reached a landmark decision. In a 5-4 decision, the Court upheld the 2003 Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act as constitutional. There is much to rejoice about, yet much remains to be done.

The Court has struck a balance between a woman's right to choose to terminate her pregnancy and the "legitimate and substantial" federal interest to preserve fetal life. This balance was at the heart of the Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision of 1992.

Last week's decision is narrowly crafted to line up with Casey, and in no way signals an overturning of Roe v. Wade (1973). On the other hand, it signals a willingness on the part of the Court to consider federal restrictions on abortion for purely moral reasons. The fact that one option for terminating a pregnancy is no longer available does not significantly interfere with women's rights.

Both sides of the issue agree that this recent ruling will encourage states to craft more restrictions on abortion.

For more analysis, read the commentary by Wesley J. Smith.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Breaking News: Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Upheld

By a narrow 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court today upheld a federal law banning the late-term abortion procedure called 'intact dilation and extraction,' better-known by the label 'partial-birth abortion.' This is a major victory for the pro-life cause.

Partial-birth abortion (as we have discussed in an earlier post), has been called by one author "constitutionally sanctioned homicide." Praise the Lord it is no longer sanctioned by law, nor by our courts!

This exciting news is an answer to prayer.

Boston Globe Article

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Whither Human Dignity?

As anyone who hasn't been living on the planet Mars recently must surely know, there was a big furor last week over remarks by veteran broadcaster Don Imus. His injudicious use of racist and sexist remarks about the Rutgers University Women's Basketball team got him fired from his job. His show, "Imus in the Morning," had been carried on 61 stations and generated $20 million in revenues for CBS last year.

Though I won't repeat Imus' remarks here, it is clear why they generated so much reaction. Anytime a person is negatively labeled because of gender or race, this affronts our shared human dignity. And we should be especially careful here, for this has not always been such an obvious evil. It took the civil rights and women's rights movements to raise our awareness, and the work is not yet finished.

Do we as a culture have other blind spots? I think we do. There is another assault on human dignity at work in our midst, only this one based on geography. A whole class of persons has only provisional rights, all because of where they live. Furthermore, the cost of this affrontery is far greater than the indignities suffered by the Rutgers women. For this group, being second-class citizens threatens their very lives.

I am, of course, referring to the unborn. Why are we so quick to recognize prejudice when we hear it in the voice of a cynical sportscaster, but ignore the taking of life through abortion? In fact, we don't even notice, let alone become outraged.

Just wondering.

CNN News Story

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Hype or Real Hope in Biotechnology?

Ethicist Nigel Cameron has called this the "Biotech Century," which is certainly apt, given all of the excitement over new ways to intervene into biology and medicine, even tantalizing research to change our genetic makeup and to lengthen human life.

But here's a sober bit of perspective. "Biotech" has become such a holy grail, attracting a lot of speculative investment money, without much possibility of a tangible return. Consider all of the excitement over human embryonic stem cell research, much of it driven by wishful thinking, and not necessarily a lot of good science (other blog articles on stem cell research).

Finally there comes a voice of reason. Joe Cortright is an economist and corporate VP who calls biotechnology an "idea virus." Cortright questions the mentality of going after investment money based on ideas alone, and rightly points out that biotech won't necessarily generate a lot of new jobs or create new products.

I'm reminded of the hype for "genetic engineering" in the 1990s. There were many start-up companies, and a wave of enthusiasm for these ideas. How many products resulted from the billions of dollars invested, that are actually helping people or treating disease today? Almost none. Oh, and by the way, hardly any of those companies exist anymore. The investors made a slight profit on hype alone, and got out.

The modern enthusiasm for stem cell research is leading to distortions of scientific accuracy in the public media, with the public blindly approving the use of state monies for some very questionable future gains. It's a sophisticated form of snake-oil hucksterism, where the real losers will be you and me, along with any rational understanding of human dignity.

(Article on Joe Cortright)

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A Pearl on Stem Cell Research

Since the bioethics news has been so serious lately, I thought we should take a break this week, and just enjoy my favorite (slightly warped) comic strip, Pearls Before Swine. This one is about stem cell research (just left click to enlarge).

I promise to return to my usual commentary next week!

Pearls Before Swine Web Site

Monday, March 19, 2007

Greeting Cards and Abortion

The latest in the abortion debate seems a bit bizarre. Exhale, a post-abortion counseling group, is now offering a variety of supportive E-cards to send to women who have recently undergone an abortion. The cards include attractive pictures of flowers or mountains. One version expresses the sentiment:
I think you're strong, smart, thoughtful, and caring. I believe in you and your ability to make the best decision. I think you did the right thing.
Another version:
There are no words to express my sympathy for your loss. As you grieve, remember that you are loved. I am thinking of you.
Which version should you send? I guess it depends on however the woman undergoing the abortion regards her actions. It does seem paradoxical to affirm abortion in one card, and yet see it as a great loss in another.

The Web site claims to be "non-judgmental." Links are provided to Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation. I found no direct links to religious or pro-life resources.

Exhale Web site

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Aborting the Less-Than-Perfect

During early fetal development, sometimes the esophagus fails to develop normally, a condition known as esophageal atresia. This happens once in about 3500 pregnancies, and doctors can frequently diagnose this condition by ultrasound prior to birth.

Except that sometimes the doctors are wrong.

In a teaching hospital in Florence, Italy, a woman had an abortion 22 weeks into her pregnancy. She chose this course after two separate ultrasound exams failed to detect the stomach, which the physicians interpreted as evidence for esophageal atresia. After the abortion, the baby was born alive, and doctors realized that he was perfectly normal. Weighting just 500 grams, the baby is now fighting for life in a pediatric intensive care unit. Due to a brain hemorrhage from the attempted abortion, the child is not expected to survive.

Dr. Joe DeCook, a pro-life colleague of mine, put it this way:

Doctors should be really careful when they assume God-like wisdom, and intrude into the realm of suggesting preemptive death as a treatment.

Granted, the hospital claims that their doctors advised the woman to seek further diagnostic tests, and she chose additional input from a private clinic. Yet the physicians should have told her two things:

  • An ultrasound test can sometimes be misleading (as it was in this case)
  • Even if present, a malformed esophgus can be surgically repaired, with a high likelihood of a normal life afterward.

Given the circumstances, the Vatican newspaper said that the child's life had been "thrown away."

Daily Telegraph article

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Stemming the Tide of Controversy

A little bit of perspective can go a long way. If one believes the media, Dr. Catherine Verfaillie is a biased scientist whose research has significant flaws. Just as we suspected all along (they seem to say), the defects in her work "prove" that adult sources of stem cells are of no value, and we must push for federal funding of destructive embryo research.

Admittedly, there were some subtle errors in Dr. Verfaillie's study that caused her to be more modest in her conclusions. Yet her basic premise, that adult stem cells (ASCs) can generate all three of the basic germ layers (from which all other body cells are derived), is still completely supported by other studies. Michael Fumento, writing in the American Spectator, put it this way:

Pointing to flaws in Verfaillie's work to say that ASCs cannot develop into all three germ layers is like declaring that new revelations on the Wright Brothers' methodology call into question whether planes actually fly or that flaws in Thomas Edison's work indicate light bulbs may not light.
Dr. Verfaillie's research led to many other studies that duplicated and extended her work. Here's the actual score:
Adult Stem cells: 1300 clinical trials (over 70 approved treatments)
Embryonic Stem Cells: 0 (that's right, zero: still being tested in animals)
In recent weeks, we also have seen the underreported story that human amniotic fluid may produce "embryonic-like" stem cells that can become all of the tissues of adult organs (see my commentary on this). It seems that the hype and hysteria to destroy embryos for purely speculative gains is overriding common sense.

American Spectator article

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Viable Thinking About Life

Back in 1973, Justice Blackmun in the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision said that states could not prohibit abortion until after "viability." This is the moment when the unborn child could possibly survive outside of the womb. According to Blackmun, "Viability is usually placed at about seven months (28 weeks) but may occur earlier, even at 24 weeks" (Roe v. Wade). Even then, Blackmun acknowledged that such a distinction was arbitrary.

Viability has always been suspect as a measure of the personhood of an unborn child. As Frank Beckwith has said, “Viability measures medical technology, not one’s humanity.” Indeed, advances in medical technology have pushed back the limits. The American Association of Pediatrics now places viability at less than 23 weeks gestation and less than 400 grams weight. According to the AAP, there's no reason to resusitate an infant born before that time.

Amillia Sonja Taylor is breaking all such rules. Born on October 24th, little Amillia weighed 280 grams and was just 240 centimeters long (slightly longer than a ballpoint pen). She arrived just a day less than 22 weeks after conception. Though she has had a few respiratory problems and received careful neonatal care, she is now out of danger, and is going home. It is expected that she will live a normal life.

This miracle story demonstates just how inappropriate the "Blackmun limit" was and is, and should further expose the serious flaws of the Roe v. Wade decision.

What else does tiny Amillia teach us? Perhaps that not all intensive care of preemie newborns is futile. Or perhaps that God is sovereign after all.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Postmodernity Redux

On February 1st, Bill O'Reilly (on Fox News) interviewed actress and now radio talk-show host Whoopi Goldberg about her views on the war in Iraq. O'Reilly commented on Whoopi's influence, which is considerable, then asked her if she knew what she was talking about. In other words, it was a matter of credibility. Along the way, O'Reilly pointed out that he had based his conclusions on a careful examination of the facts. Here, in part, is Whoopi's response:

[W]hen I take a stance on something, all I can talk to you about is how I feel about it and why. And I don't have to justify it . . . And you want to go and get lots of facts and not go from your heart. I go from my heart.
There you have it - a candid admission from the political Left: "My position is based on a feeling." Facts are unimportant, and we can determine our own reality. This subtle denial of any absolute standard of truth is at the heart of the way some people in our society justify their ethical ideas. There's no right or wrong - just opinions.

Story from "The O'Reilly Factor"

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Seeing These Calamities to Their End

January 21st was National Sanctity of Human Life Day. On this day, 34 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion for any reason. Our guest blogger this week is Murray Vasser, President of Cedarville Students for Life.

In 1783 the slave trade dominated the world’s economy and was deeply entrenched in a morally oblivious society. No one suspected that one of the most influential lobbying powers in Britain was about to be overthrown by a twenty-five-year-old divinity student. As part of an academic literary competition, Thomas Clarkson wrote an essay on the slave trade. As he studied slavery, he became consumed with the horror of it: "In the night I had little rest. I sometimes never closed my eye-lids for grief." On his way to London, this struggle reached a climax: "I sat down disconsolate on the turf by the roadside and held my horse. Here a thought came into my mind, that if the contents of the Essay were true it was time some person should see these calamities to their end."

With that resolution, Clarkson and a small group of friends started a movement that changed the world. By distributing pamphlets, signing petitions, and lobbying Parliament, they awoke a nation’s conscience. In 1807 the slave trade was abolished.

Today we live in a society where 1 out of 4 pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) end in abortion, resulting in more American deaths each year than in all past military conflicts combined. Cedarville Students for Life is an organization committed to "seeing these calamities to their end." Join us on Thursday, February 1st @ 7:00 in ENS 245 to hear Mrs. Paula Westwood, director of Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati. She will be speaking on student activism.

If you wish to join Students for Life, or would like more information, the E-mail address is:

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

An Advance in Stem Cell Research

Good news from the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. As lead researcher Dr. Anthony Atala has just reported in the journal Nature Biotechnology, human stem cells can be found in the amniotic fluid.

Stem cells are the "starter" cells that may become various mature cells of the body. Such cells from early embryos are often called "pluripotent" cells, because each one can grow into a variety of adult tissues. Perhaps some day such cells could be used to cure a variety of human illnesses, but harvesting the cells is a real problem, since it requires the destruction of embryos, a violation of the sanctity of human life.

Now comes news that stem cells nearly as powerful as embryonic ones can be found in amniotic fluid. This is the liquid cushion that surrounds babies in the womb. Dr. Atala and his colleagues have used them to make muscle, bone, fat, blood vessels, nerves, and liver cells in the laboratory. Claims Dr. Atala: "I feel these cells are pluripotent like human embryonic stem cells."

If this research works out, and Dr. Atala cautions that any clinical applications lie several years in the future, it will make the destruction of human embryos unnecessary. Imagine, men and women of good faith, both liberals and conservatives, could agree to work together on this one, since this type of stem cell research is ethically completely acceptable.

Will this news make a difference in the divisive debate in Congress? Don’t hold your breath. Already, the House of Representatives has voted to overturn President Bush’s ban on public funding of destructive embryo research, with the Senate due to take up the measure soon.

Reuters News Report

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Language of God

I have always thought that Dr. Francis Collins is a pretty cool guy. When I first met him in 1992, I was impressed by his engaging personality, his love of playing the guitar and riding motorcycles, and his unabashed Christian faith.

Dr. Collins is the head of the National Human Genome Research Institute, and directs the Human Genome Project, the $3 billion project to define the DNA sequence of human beings. The first 'rough draft' was completed in June, 2000, with the essentially complete sequence revealed in April, 2003.

A geneticist and physician, but also an evangelical Christian, Dr. Collins uses these various perspectives to harmonize science and faith in his best-selling book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (Free Press). He refers to the genetic code as "God's Instruction Book," and attests to the creativity and beauty inherent in this most basic blueprint of our biological nature.

After sharing his personal journey into faith, Collins makes a compelling case for his committment to theistic evolution. He criticizes Young-Earth Creationism (YEC) for "ignoring" clear scientific evidence for evolution, and takes Intelligent Design to task for not being "scientific enough."

Now I do not agree with Francis Collins here. I think he is much too hard on YEC, and too dismissive of Intelligent Design. It seems reasonable that our Creator would allow us to see the evidence of His handiwork in the creation around us.

Yet I appreciate Collins' love of God, and his willingness to see that human beings are more than their genes:

[The] DNA sequence alone . . . will never explain certain special human attributes, such as the knowledge of the Moral Law and the universal search for God (p. 140).
This common knowledge of God's Moral Law is why we have such broad agreement on ethical basics across many cultures and worldviews. And the yearning after God can never be ascribed to natural selection and the survival of the fittest.

So read The Language of God with thoughtful care. Despite my disagreements with his evolutionary viewpoint, Francis Collins demonstrates that science and faith are not incompatible. I would be glad to have coffee with him and talk about the things of the Lord. Maybe sometime he'll even give me a ride on his motorcycle.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Year in Review

As we enter the new year, a look back at 2006 may give us perspective. Unfortunately, this has not been a particularly good year for the notion that human beings have inherent value. In fact, human personhood as a concept took a downward turn, replaced by a disturbing 'end justifies the means' mentality. A few examples may serve to illustrate.

The beginning of 2006 saw the public discrediting of Hwang Woo-suk, the stem-cell researcher and media darling. In 2005 he became famous as the first to clone a human embryo to produce stem cells, with their supposed promise of curing a variety of human ailments. When it turned out that Hwang had largely fabricated his results, he was fired, and he now faces a variety of criminal charges.

Yet according to Fortune Magazine, "far from discrediting the field of stem-cell research, the scandal has juiced up the race for cloning patents . . ." In California, and most recently in Missouri, stem cell research has received legal protections and large infusions of public money. Much of the excitement about embryo-destructive research is based on hype and misinformation.

In other news from 2006, the recent approval of over-the-counter sales of Plan B, the so-called "morning-after pill," ignores the real possibility that this so-called pregnancy preventative may sometimes cause an early abortion. See my earlier post on this. I have also discussed both of the above stories in recent editions of the CedarEthics Podcast.

Finally, November 8th saw oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court in two cases involving the federal ban on partial-birth abortion. Three lower courts have decided that the law does not pass constitutional muster. Partial-birth abortion, morally indistinguishable from outright infanticide, will be the most important issue of the new year, with a court decision due next summer (news article).

In the past year, a vague notion of human dignity was often trumped by utilitarian considerations, making it easy to sacrifice less visible human lives for the "greater good." May God help us in 2007 to reverse this trend.