Saturday, December 29, 2007

Reaffirming ethical medical research

The London Free Press
By Rory Leishman
In the aftermath of the recent breakthrough in somatic cell reprogramming that has rendered embryonic stem cell research virtually obsolete, all of us – scientists and non-scientists alike – would do well to reconsider and reaffirm a cardinal principal of Western Civilization: Thou shalt not deliberately kill an innocent human being.
For the past several years, the practitioners of embryonic stem cell research have systematically violated this most basic of moral axioms, by killing human embryos for the purpose of extracting their pluripotent stem cells. Proponents of the procedure held out the promise, which was never fulfilled, that embryonic stem cell research might lead to cures for a variety of disabilities and diseases ranging from spinal cord paralysis to multiple sclerosis.
It happens that we all began life as a human embryo – that is to say, as a tiny, developing human being from fertilization to the end of the first eight weeks of gestational age. The hard and inescapable truth is that in harvesting human embryonic stem cells, researchers inevitably kill the donor human being.
As a proponent of the sanctity of human life, United States President George W. Bush cannot condone such death-dealing medical research, no matter how promising, so he announced in 2001 that his administration would restrict funding for human embryonic stem cell research to 60 already existing stem cell lines “where the life and death decision has already been made.” In response, many critics maligned Bush as a mindless Christian with a heartless lack of compassion for all of the patients who desperately hope for a cure derived from embryonic stem cell research.
Following an extensive debate on this same issue, the Parliament of Canada enacted legislation in 2004 which authorizes medical researchers to harvest human embryonic stem cells from so-called surplus human embryos produced for reproduction in an in vitro fertilization clinic. Given this precedent, one can only wonder what other human beings might next be designated as surplus to Canadian needs and consigned to death for the potential benefit of others.
Meanwhile, in November, two teams of researchers, one led by Shinya Yamanaka in Japan and the other by James Thompson in Wisconsin, confirmed that they have succeeded in reprogramming adult skin cells to behave like pluripotent embryonic stem cells that can be coaxed into growing into all the main tissue types in the body including muscles, neurons and heart cells. Dr. Robert Lanza, one of the foremost authorities on stem cell research, has hailed this achievement as “a tremendous scientific milestone – the biological equivalent of the Wright brothers’ first airplane.”
Richard Doerflinger, deputy director of the secretariat for pro-life activities for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, was no less enthusiastic: “It’s a win-win,” he exclaimed. “The scientists can get all the benefits they think they might get from embryonic stem cells, and the rest of us can applaud and support it.”
While it sometimes seemed that only theologically orthodox Christians and Jews were concerned about the fundamental ethical dimensions of the debate over embryonic stem cell research, that was not the case. Thompson says he, too, has always had concerns about killing human embryos. He told the New York Times: “If human embryonic stem cell research does not make you at least a little bit uncomfortable, you have not thought about it enough.”
Yamanaka, a father of two, concurs. Eight years ago, he first looked down a microscope at a human embryo in an in vitro fertilization. In recalling this revelatory experience, he said: “When I saw the embryo, I suddenly realized there was such a small difference between it and my daughters. I thought, we can’t keep destroying embryos for our research. There must be another way.”
Thanks mainly to Yamanaka and Thompson, we now know that, indeed, there is a better and easier way to acquire pluripotent human stem cells for medical research. It follows that there is no longer any scientific or medical excuse for continuing with death-dealing, human embryonic stem cell research. The sooner this morally debased line of scientific inquiry is stopped, the better.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Muslim attack on Maclean's

The London Free Press
By Rory Leishman

In a flagrant attack on the historic rights of Canadians to freedom of the press, the Canadian Islamic Congress has filed three human rights complaints against Maclean’s magazine and its editor-in-chief, Kenneth Whyte, accusing them of spreading “hatred and contempt” for Muslims, by publishing an article by Mark Steyn on October 23, 2006, entitled “The Future Belongs to Islam.”
The article in dispute is an excerpt from Steyn’s best-selling book “America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It.” Consider the implications: By the logic of the CIC’s attack on Maclean’s magazine, the owners and operators of Canadian libraries and bookstores could also be charged with violating the human rights of Muslims, by making not just Steyn’s article, but his entire book widely available to Canadians throughout the country.
In attacking Maclean’s magazine, the CIC is not acting alone. It has the support of the Ontario Federation of Labour. In a statement backing the CIC, OFL executive vice-president Terry Downey said: “We want to make sure there’s dignity and respect for all individuals in the province.”
That the leaders of the CIC and the OFL betray such contempt for freedom of the press is lamentable, but not altogether surprising. It might be supposed, though, that at least the human rights commissioners of Canada – the purported guardians of our historic rights and freedoms – would summarily reject the CIC’s complaints against Maclean’s.
But not so. At a press conference in Toronto on Tuesday, Faisal Joseph, CIC legal counsel, confirmed that the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal has accepted the CIC’s complaint and scheduled hearings in the case for June 2-6, 2008. Likewise, the Canadian Human Rights Commission has likewise accepted the CIC complaint, while the typically dithering Ontario Human Rights Commission has yet to decide whether it will pursue the matter or not.
What has gone wrong? How could such a gross violation of freedom of the press occur in Canada – a country that used to have one of the best records in the world for respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms?
The problem can be traced to the overweening powers of Canada’s human rights tribunals. Alan Borovoy, general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, underlined the danger last year after the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada filed a human rights complaint against the Western Standard for republishing a set of Danish cartoons that many Muslims found offensive. In an article in the Calgary Herald, Borovoy wrote: “During the years when my colleagues and I were labouring to create (human rights) commissions, we never imagined that they might ultimately be used against freedom of speech.”
Borovoy explained that the restrictions on speech in the codes were intended to apply only to communications that fostered discrimination on such bases as employment or housing. Instead, human rights tribunals have adopted such expansive interpretations of these speech restrictions that a newspaper or magazine could get into trouble for publishing even a truthful article about conflict in the Middle East, Bosnia, Rwanda or elsewhere that is likely to expose at least one of the parties to contempt.
Such considerations evidently mean nothing to Canada’s power-grabbing human rights commissioners and they also have scant regard for the original understanding of the codes they enforce. Otherwise, the British Columbia Tribunal and the Canadian and Ontario human rights commissions would have promptly dismissed the CIC’s complaints against Maclean’s as entirely without merit.
As it is, Maclean’s is standing by its right to freedom of the press. In a forthright statement on the issue, Whyte avowed that he would rather have the magazine go bankrupt than surrender to the CIC’s demand for equal space to respond to Steyn’s lengthy article.
Meanwhile, Tom Flanagan, professor of political science at the University of Calgary and former campaign manager for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has waded into the controversy. He urges: “All who write and speak in the public domain should rally to Mark Steyn’s defence. If so called human rights commissions can be used against him, they can be used against anyone who dares to express an idea worth debating.”

Saturday, December 01, 2007

New Life Matters

The Interim
December, 2007

In a remarkable article entitled "New Life Matters" which was published in the National Post on November 6, Margaret Somerville, the founding director of the Centre for Law, Ethics and Medicine at McGill University, acknowledged: "The fetus is a new human life," and she added: "That matters ethically, and should matter legally."
Quite so. Somerville advanced this argument in the course of discussing criminal assaults on pregnant women. She noted: " In the past three years, at least five pregnant women, along with their babies, have been killed in Canada in violent attacks." Yet in every case, the offender could only be charged with killing the mother. There is no provision in the Criminal Code of Canada prohibiting the deliberate killing or injuring of a baby in the womb.
That does not sit well with most Canadians. In a recent Environics Poll, 72 per cent said they would support legislation making it a separate crime to kill or injure a fetus during a criminal attack on the mother. In this same poll, Canadians were asked: "At what point in human development should the law protect human life?" In response, 34 per cent of the women and 26 per cent of the men said from conception on. Altogether, 62 per cent said the law should protect babies at some time prior to birth.
As it is, thanks to the calamitous 1988 ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada in Morgentaler, Canada has no law protecting human life in the womb from abortion. Canada also has no law prohibiting the killing or wounding of a baby in the womb by any means other than abortion, because, in conformity with the policy preference of the Supreme Court of Canada, Parliament has specified in section 223 of the Criminal Code that: "A child becomes a human being within the meaning of this Act when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother."
One is reminded of the immortal words of Mr. Bumble: "If the law supposes that, the law is a ass – a idiot."
Somerville observed in her article: "Seeing the fetus as an unborn victim of crime … causes us to see the fetus as what it is, an early human life. Those who support abortion must be able to square that fact with their belief that abortion is ethical in certain circumstances."
Somerville counts herself among those who believe that abortion is ethical in certain circumstances. It follows by her own logic, that she must also believe it is ethical in certain circumstances to kill an innocent human being.
That proposition is dead wrong. Our Judeo-Christian civilization is based on the principle: "Thou shalt not kill." And it follows that no circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever justify the deliberate killing of an innocent human being either inside or outside the womb.
As a medical ethicist, Somerville should champion the sanctity of all human life, but, like so many of her trendy academic colleagues, she fails to do so. At least, though, she supports an unborn victims of crime act as well as some restrictions on abortion, including the enactment of an informed-consent law stipulating that prior to consenting to an abortion, "the woman must be given information about the mental and physical health risks abortion poses."
Somerville also favours the adoption of a fetal pain awareness act requiring a physician to advise a woman who is contemplating a later-term abortion about scientific evidence indicating that after 20 weeks, an abortion causes the fetus to die "in excruciating pain." Somerville furthermore proposes that under this same law, the woman would "have to be offered anaesthesia for the fetus, which it would be her choice to take or decline."
The mind boggles. How can anyone suggest that the law should allow a mother to refuse anaesthesia to her baby prior to an abortion and thereby condemn the child to death in excruciating pain? Surely, Somerville will promptly reconsider this barbaric suggestion.
In concluding her article, Somerville underlined what should be an obvious truth -- that "having no law [on abortion] is not a neutral stance. It contravenes values that form part of the bedrock of Canadian society."