Surrogacy, making babies, ‘synthetic’ humans and the rising costs

“Motherhood itself is now on trial.”

A leading constitutional lawyer, and one of the leading attorneys (if not the leading one) involved in high profile surrogate parenting cases in the US, made that claim, and not lightly nor without deep knowledge of the issues involved. Harold Cassidy was chief counsel in the first contested surrogacy case in the United States that struck down surrogate mother contracts as unenforceable, the ‘Baby M’ case. Decades later, he’s now sounding alarms about the issue of surrogacy and where it’s headed. In New Jersey especially now, but far beyond ultimately.

Some fervently believe that if gestational surrogacy laws were to be widely accepted they would irreparably change human civilization. Gestational surrogacy is now front and center for debate, not only in New Jersey, but across the nation. It demands attention…

The Baby M court made the following observations: private adoptions are disfavored; the surrogacy arrangement places a child without any regard for the child’s best interests; it circumvents all laws that require counseling of the mother before she surrenders her rights; and the compulsion of the contract makes surrender of the child after birth not truly voluntary or informed. Beyond that, the arrangement exploits women as a “surrogate uterus” or an “incubator” and expects a mother to act as an inanimate object, which denigrates the woman in her role as mother.

Back at that time, Cassidy made the prescient observation of the corrupting influence of money in the purchase of babies. Here he cites one of New Jersey Chief Justice Wilentz’s remarks in the court opinion.

There are, in a civilized society, some things that money cannot buy. In America, we decided long ago that merely because conduct purchased by money was “voluntary” did not mean that it was good or beyond regulation and prohibition. . . There are, in short, values that society deems more important than granting to wealth whatever it can buy, be it labor, love, or life.

That would prove to be a powerfully prophetic statement.

Cassidy went on to become the attorney for a different high profile surrogacy case, this one gestational surrogacy (not the biological mother carrying the child). The mother was Angelia G. Robinson, “AGR” as she would later be known in court papers. It’s a case study in how surrogate parenting can be fraught with problems.

Robinson felt that the girls were her responsibility and that she was the only person in the world who could protect them. The bond and love for the girls who had developed by then and in the ensuing months was far more powerful than anything she ever anticipated. The growing sense of moral obligation to her daughters increased as she realized that her daughters needed their mother.

Read the whole thing, it goes from bad to worse.

Which people involved in the industry of ‘making babies’ knew, all along. Alana Newman was a ‘donor child’, and has devoted herself and her time to both warning of and healing from the impact of reproductive technologies that favor the adults at the expense of the children. The calculus is off, she says.

All of the virtues play into our fertility or marriageability. And if virtues and trustworthiness are too slow to develop, we may miss out on our natural fertility window. If a certain amount of virtues education is not observed after the wedding day there will be more divorces—which I’ve come to understand increases the use of egg donors and surrogates as divorced women in their 40s and 50s seek to remarry and bond their new relationship with a child, or remedy loneliness as single mothers by choice.

Or same-sex couple wanting children, the situation at the heart of longstanding debate. George Weigel puts it bluntly here, in this piece on ‘Children As Commodities.’

Moreover, in their determination to deny reality ”or perhaps reinvent it” the proponents of the D.C. surrogacy bill have adopted a species of Newspeak that would make George Orwell cringe. You can get a flavor of it in a letter written by a friend of mine to his D.C. councilman:

“ . . . in reading the bill I was struck that nothing was said about the child to be born out of the surrogate agreement. Much is said about the rights and responsibilities of the ‘gestational carrier’ (a very strange expression) and the ‘intended parent,’ but nothing is said about the child. The child is treated as a thing to be used as the gestational carrier and intended parent wish. This is the most troubling feature of the proposed law. It gives no indication that one is dealing here with a human person who will have feelings, thoughts, and memories. These are all swept aside as though the child to be born will have no interest in how he or she came into the world, who his or her parents are, and all the other things that are so fundamental to our identity as human beings.”

“Gestational carrier”? The D.C. bill not only treats the child as a thing, a commodity that can be bought and sold; it treats the woman bearing the child in the same way.

Where are the laws regulating these things, asks Margaret Datiles Watts, a DC area attorney who writes on legal issues of bioethics and the family.

Michael Cook called it early, that surrogacy would become “one of the big human rights issues of the first half of our century”.

I hope that the Nobel Peace Prize committee is listening. But I fear that it is not.

The reason is simple: it would offend supporters of same-sex parenting. Every Nobel Peace Prize needs both an acclaimed hero and a despised anti-hero. If the Swedish Women’s Lobby or Jennifer Lahl’s Center for Bioethics and Culture or Alana Newman’s Anonymous Us Project, were the hero, who would be the anti-hero?

The UN Commission on the Status of Women heard Jennifer Lahl just days ago, on Egg Trafficking and Rented Wombs, and How Not To Make Babies.

Some cases of surrogacy go beyond coercive to exploitive. One woman describes her twin children being taken from her at the hospital and given to the father. Until that moment, she had expected to raise her children in shared arrangement with the father, with whom she had a platonic friendship. She was not aware he was using her as a “breeder” for him and his male partner.

“How do we promote reproductive justice for all in these third-party arrangements?” Lahl asked…

“For science to serve rather than hurt us, we must always link what we can do to what we should do,” said Archbishop Auza, the Vatican’s representative to the UN.

Alana Newman is speaking out again on that subject, after the flap between Dolce & Gabbana, and Elton John.

This past week has seen the outrage generated by parents of donor and invitro-fertilization children following a now-infamous Panorama magazine interview conducted with the fashion designers Dolce & Gabbana, wherein Domenico Dolce proclaimed, “You are born to a mother and a father — or at least that’s how it should be. I call children of chemistry, synthetic children.” Immediately, Elton John advocated a boycott of the designers’ products in retaliation for the perceived offense against his two sons, who were conceived via an egg donor and surrogate mother.

Speaking as two donor-conceived young women—alive because of reproductive technologies—we felt an urgent need to respond…in support of Dolce and Gabbana.

So they go on to say

(Elton) John’s children were commissioned in partnership with his spouse, David Furnish, and it is not yet public information which man is the biological father, or if they both are and the children are not fully genetically related…

It is important to note, however, that infants, toddlers, and all of these “miracle” beings are too young to protest their own objectification. We however, are now of age and in a position to speak for ourselves. “Synthetic” indeed is a harsh and inaccurate description of us offspring born by third-party reproduction. Dolce’s word choice was a mistake. But there is much underlying truth in what he said: “life [does] have a natural flow, there are things that should not be changed.” Emphasis ours.

Those of us conceived non-traditionally are full human beings with equal capacity in every regard—no one need question our humanity. It is not our individual, case-by-case worth as humans that is debatable; rather, it is how we value human beings in general that warrants discussion. Has anyone asked John for how much he purchased his kids? How much money he and Furnish paid the boy’s genetic and birth mother for their absence and invisibility?

It’s not brave, this new world of technological capabilities.

Some suggest that spending more money on making children means that they are more loved. Our children are definitively wanted, they say.

“The baby doesn’t care anything about the money,” says marriage and family therapist Nancy Verrier, regarding the issues surrounding surrogacy. “That’s not what hurts the baby. The baby is hurt by the separation, by the loss of that mother that it knows.” This ever-present realization of loss remains with both mother and child throughout their lives. Nature has ensured that mothers and children attach to one another, as it is a trait necessary to our survival; without motivation to love or instinctively care for her child, why would a mother protect her children from potential danger? She wouldn’t, and that would have heralded the end of our species. With this biological connection so immediate and meaningful, why doesn’t society view maintenance of that connection as more imperative?…

Growing up donor-conceived, it has been a great struggle to comply with the commandment “Honor thy mother and thy father,” because in order to obey the desires of one parent we must agree to the obliteration of the other. We plead, we beg: let us honor both our mothers and fathers as essential and irreplaceable.

Campaigns over, 2014 mid-term elections finally here

Thank God.

I probably shouldn’t write anything when feeling this frustrated, that’s my default mode. Generally, it’s a good policy, and I should practice it now. But as I write this, we’re mere hours away from the 2014 mid-term elections, driving the news cycles and campaigns hitting us from mail to telephone calls (many of them a day, every day) to television ads, and yes, there’s very much at stake. All elections are consequential. Haven’t we learned this by now?

Haven’t those who claim distaste for politics (hey, I’m with you, but I cover it for a living so I’m in the thick of it)…haven’t they learned yet that when you don’t exercise your right, privilege and responsibility to vote you abdicate your right to complain about the results?

The past (how many?) election cycles prove not. By the time you read this, polls will be open in most places across the US and the process will begin, to determine what the next two years of governing the nation will be like. Many people will sit out the election again, and this is maddening, given how much is determined in elections, whether mid-term or general (Congressional and Gubernatorial, or Presidential, to oversimplify it). People die in some countries fighting for the right to self-determination in a democracy of the people, by the people and for the people.

But wait…that’s supposed to be America, and government has not carried out that time honored tradition in any number of ways for a while. How can people neglect to vote? Why does anyone able to vote not bother? You cannot complain about anything government does if you don’t at least try to shape what government is, what it can do, and what it can’t do.

There’s so much analysis and commentary out there (and I’ve digested a great deal of it and will spare you), I just want to get to the results of this election and move forward, in whatever shape government takes after Tuesday. Or after the president and lame duck session of Congress does between the day after election day and the January swearing in of the new session of Congress. (Rumor is, it may be plenty.)

I’ve followed news and elections since I was about 8 or 9 years old, certainly by 10 I was reading the daily newspaper with my Dad and following the evening newscasts on one of the three ‘big networks’ of ABC, NBC or CBS . I asked tons of questions and listened intently to the newscasters, but questioned. When Walter Cronkite said at the end of each newscast ‘And that’s the way it is’ on such and such a date, I thought…what if that’s not the way it is, really? Says who? Prove it.

Which is why I’ve always been a dogged journalist, and even as a blogger, have sourced my references and quotes with more attention and precision than some reporters in big media. I didn’t work at Time Magazine for 20 years as an amateur.

And now we face yet another election with many candidates for public office who come off as amateurs. Even if they’re incumbents who’ve been in office for years. Which gets to what’s really irritating about these campaign ads.

Among all the demographic groups they’re targeting, the ‘women vote’ has been a prized one and everyone is talking about it. So who speaks for women?

On the eve of the election, I saw too many times the campaign ad that shows a montage of women with computer devices checking out candidates and complaining to their women friends that the candidate they opposed voted not to include contraceptive drugs in healthcare coverage, while a friend expressed utter disapproval. And ‘did you know that (a certain candidate) voted to defund Planned Parenthood?!’ And the friend responded with shock, ‘that’s basic healthcare for women!’

Wait. Really? You’re pitching this as the scare ad to get the women to vote for you? I’m insulted, and so are many women in this country. We care about this, in a very different way, about women’s health and stopping the juggernaut of the highly profitable Planned Parenthood receiving taxpayer funds for a for-profit industry that already makes so much money on ending women’s pregnancies without informing them of the fundamental truths of the human life they’re carrying, that abortion will terminate the life of that human life, and that the procedure carries a high risk of terrible side effects demonstrable in irrefutable evidence on record.

But aside from that, women care about religious freedom. Because women who hold religious belief of any faith or denomination will likely view the spectrum of life’s issues of liberty and justice differently than those who do not. The latest radio program I did on this the other day was with Marjorie Dannenfelser of Susan B. Anthony List and Helen Alvare of Women Speak for Themselves. They were eloquent and showed understanding and magnanimity far beyond anything I’m hearing in campaign ads from many candidates.

Peggy Noonan wrote this for the Wall Street Journal on Election Eve, and she talks about political graciousness. That would be very nice to hear and see, for a real change. I’ll be satisfied with a fair election, results that reflect the choice of informed and engaged people, citizens respected as Americans more than the identity groups into which they’re sub-divided. And a government that finally reflects and respects this representative republic, gender and age aside, including ‘the least of these’ as the president has referred to many times, which covers both ends of life.

Brittany Maynard ends her life

Prayer vigils and outreach efforts did not fail her. The assisted suicide movement did.

Brittany Maynard was the perfect poster child that movement never had before, short of Hollywood films such as ‘Million Dollar Baby’, ‘You Don’t Know Jack’, ‘Sanctum’, ‘Amore’, and probably others. But those were slick productions, successful as they were in advancing the notion that ‘death with dignity’ was something saleable. They marketed it so well, the idea grew in the public consciousness, among more Americans, that maybe people should be able to have the choice to end their life if they were suffering.

Trouble is, there’s too much wrong with that idea to properly handle quickly enough to reach someone who comes along with a serious diagnosis of a terminal illness and has been stricken to the core with fear. Like Brittany Maynard.

So in the immediate aftermath of this sad but highly publicized story of human vulnerability, suffering, hope and a condition posed as ‘hopelessness’, here are some considerations of friends and colleagues I call on for bioethics stories regularly, who have taken keen interest in the Brittany Maynard story since it first surfaced, but more importantly, in the young woman herself.

Nurse Nancy Valko in The Public Discourse, a week ago:

Groups supporting physician-assisted suicide now call the promotion of Ms. Maynard’s story “a tipping point” in their decades-long push to gain public support for changing laws.

They have needed such a high profile case supporting their cause, because it so profoundly goes against our society’s Judeo-Christian ethic of life.

Society has long insisted that healthcare professionals adhere to the highest standards of ethics, as a protection for society. Without that clear moral compass, it has been said, the physician is the most dangerous man in society. The vulnerability of a sick person, and the inability of society to monitor every healthcare decision or action, are powerful motivators to enforce such standards. For thousands of years doctors (and nurses) have embraced the Hippocratic standard that “I will give no deadly medicine to any one, nor suggest any such counsel.” Erasing the bright line doctors and nurses have drawn for themselves—which separates killing from caring—is a decision fraught with peril, especially for those who are most vulnerable.

As a nurse, I am willing to do anything for my patients—but I will not kill them nor help them kill themselves. In my work with the terminally ill, I have been struck by how rarely such people say anything like, “I want to end my life.” I have seen the few who do express such thoughts become visibly relieved when their concerns and fears are addressed, instead of finding support for the suicide option. I have yet to see such a patient go on to commit suicide.

Valko’s decades-long experience as an acute care nurse, steeped in end-of-life care and palliative care and other issues of medical ethics, gives her far deeper insight and expertise on these issues and the human vulnerabilities involved in them, than agenda driven advocates can access.

Do assisted suicide supporters really expect us doctors and nurses to be able to assist the suicide of one patient, then go on to care for a similar patient who wants to live, without this having an effect on our ethics or our empathy? Do they realize that this reduces the second patient’s will-to-live request to a mere personal whim—perhaps, ultimately, one that society will see as selfish and too costly? How does this serve optimal health care, let alone the integrity of doctors and nurses who have to face the fact that we helped other human beings kill themselves?

Stories like Brittany Maynard’s can feed into a society that is fascinated by tragic love stories, but does not understand how such stories are used as propaganda to promote a dangerous political agenda that can affect us all—and our loved ones.

Personally, I will continue to care for people contemplating suicide or who have made an attempt regardless of their age, condition, or socio-economic status. I reject discrimination when it comes to suicide prevention and care. I hope our nation will do so as well.

Even, and especially, with Brittany Maynard carrying out her plans to end her life  on her terms, at a time of her choosing, for the sake of what she saw as autonomy. The group formerly known as ‘The Hemlock Society’, now known as ‘Compassion and Choices’, claims victory in this assisted suicide.

Advocacy group Compassion & Choices spokesman Sean Crowley on Sunday afternoon said he could not confirm Maynard’s death “in respecting the family’s wishes.”

He added that Maynard “is educating a whole new generation on this issue. She is the most natural spokesperson I have ever heard in my life. The clarity of her message is amazing. She is getting people to consider this issue who haven’t thought of it before. She’s a teacher by trade and, she’s teaching the world.

But what is her death by assisted suicide teaching the world?

Before it happened, noted bioethics expert Wesley J. Smith wrote this (read the whole piece, written while she was still contemplating suicide):

To put it bluntly, whether to legalize physician-prescribed suicide is about much more than Brittany Maynard’s individual circumstances, as tragic and emotionally compelling as that may be.”

Now that her own plight has ended in tragic circumstances of suicide, Smith only said this, for now:

I know that I am supposed to keep quiet and simply offer condolences. Frankly, I doubt her family would want them from me–given how her illness and death were politicized in the cause of using our great empathy for her to demolish laws against doctor-prescribed death and my implacable opposition to that dark agenda.

But, of course, I am saddened. Who wouldn’t be? Her cancer and death, if the report is accurate, are a terrible tragedy. I wish her husband, family, and friends nothing but the best.

Expect suicide advocates to now use her death to stoke emotions even higher around the assisted suicide debate. But emotionalism is the last approach that should be taken in pondering such a radical, culturally transforming agenda and the impact legalization would have and its potential impact on the most weak and vulnerable.

They need our help, everyone’s help, in living natural life to the fullest with the utmost help and companionship for the trial and journey, our help ‘suffering with’ them, otherwise known as true compassion. Not our help in hastening death.

“we are saying poverty is not about money”

“One can be poor in spirituality, poor in ideas, poor in education, and in many other ways.”

Gems of wisdom.

Who is speaking with such bold clarity, and to whom? Nigerian Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama, to a Vatican press briefing during a break in the Extraordinary Synod on the Family.

What he said is compelling.

We are confronted with some issues, and sometimes [they are] quite perplexing. We recently had a big conference on pro-life issues, and in that conference, we came out very clearly to ascertain the fact that life is sacred, marriage is scared, and the family has dignity.

We get international organizations, countries, and groups which like to entice us to deviate from our cultural practices, traditions, and even our religious beliefs. And this is because of their belief that their views should be our views. Their opinions and their concept of life should be ours.

We say, “No we have come of age.” Most countries in Africa are independent for 50, 60, 100 years. We should be allowed to think for ourselves. We should be able to define: What is marriage? What makes the family? When does life begin? We should have answers to those [questions].

We are wooed by economic things. We are told, “If you limit your population, we’re going to give you so much.” And we tell them, “Who tells you that our population is overgrown?” In the first place, children die — infant mortality — we die in inter-tribal wars, and diseases of all kinds. And yet, you come with money to say, “Decrease your population; we will give you economic help.”

Now you come to tell us about reproductive rights, and you give us condoms and artificial contraceptives. Those are not the things we want. We want food, we want education, we want good roads, regular light, and so on. Good health care.

We have been offered the wrong things, and we are expected to accept simply because they think we are poor. And we are saying poverty is not about money. One can be poor in spirituality, poor in ideas, poor in education, and in many other ways.

So we are not poor in that sense. We may be poor materially but we are not poor in every sense. So we say no to what we think is wrong. And time has gone when we would just follow without question. Now, we question. We evaluate. We decide. We ask questions. This is what we do in Africa now.

Reading that, I wanted to stand up and cheer. Where are we hearing such strong voices of clarity and conviction these days?

This is an important voice and message, and we need to pay it respectful attention. Note what Vatican analyst George Weigel said in this piece ahead of the Synod.

The collapse of marriage culture throughout the world is indisputable. More and more marriages end in divorce, even as increasing numbers of couples simply ignore marriage, cohabit, and procreate. The effort to redefine “marriage” as what we know it isn’t, and to enforce that redefinition by coercive state power, is well-advanced in the West. The contraceptive mentality has seriously damaged the marriage culture, as have well-intentioned but ultimately flawed efforts to make divorce easier. The sexual free-fire zone of the West is a place where young people find it very hard to commit to a lifelong relationship that inevitably involves sacrificing one’s “autonomy.” And just as the Christian understanding of marriage is beginning to gain traction in Africa, where it is experienced as a liberating dimension of the Gospel, European theologians from dying local churches are trying to empty marriage of its covenantal character, reducing it to another form of contract.

The Christian understanding of marriage, which is the understanding of a sacramental covenant between man and woman is “beginning to gain traction in Africa, where it it experienced as”…what?…liberating. Imagine that.

It’s time the West becomes aware of and comes to terms with what we – through any number of proxies – have been exporting to Africa and other developing countries.

This Washington Post interview with Bill Gates is revealing.

Ezra Klein: Your letter talks a lot about the myth that aid will just lead to new problems through overpopulation. I was a bit surprised to read you focusing on it. Are fears around overpopulation an impediment in your day-to-day work?

BG: It’s a huge impediment in convincing rich-world donors that they should feel good about these health improvements. Our foundation focused in the 1990s on reproductive health. We weren’t nearly as big then. But we wanted to make contraception available because we thought population growth would make everything so difficult, whether it’s the environment or feeding kids or stability. It was only when we found out about this phenomenal connection between improved health and reduced population growth that we felt: Great, let’s just make the foundation as big as possible to go after these health problems. Because before then the commonsense thing was more kids would make these problems less tractable.

I don’t think people like to say out loud that we want to let these kids die because there are too many of them. But by choosing not to get into health in our early days I was a victim of the myth around overpopulation.

And here we are today:

An African archbishop attending the worldwide meeting of Catholic bishops frankly criticized Western attitudes toward his continent Wednesday, lambasting imposition of foreign cultures on African people.

Africans “have come of age,” said Nigerian Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama. “We should be allowed to think for ourselves.”

“We are wooed by economic things,” said Kaigama, who heads Nigeria’s Jos archdiocese. “We are told if you limit your population, we’re going to give you so much. And we tell them, ‘Who tells you that our population is overgrown?'”

Good. Question.

ACOG and when human life begins

ACOG, as in the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the doctors who care for women through pregnancy and deliver their babies. If anybody knows the origin and development of human life, they should. Or did.

Years ago, they became very political and ideological, and thus very flexible with science and human embryology.

Journalist Mollie Hemingway picks it up from here, in commentary on a Washington Post piece that could have come from the Onion. It’s about the flap over remarks Sen. Marco Rubio made on global warming, and science.

Last week, Sen. Marco Rubio took some heat for saying that he was skeptical of global warming activism. He was asked about the reaction to some of his comments and he noted some hypocrisy he’s witnessed on scientific consensus:

A snip from his response…

All these people always wag their finger at me about ‘science’ and ‘settled science.’ Let me give you a bit of settled science that they’ll never admit to. The science is settled, it’s not even a consensus, it is a unanimity, that human life begins at conception. So I hope the next time that someone wags their finger about science, they’ll ask one of these leaders on the left: ‘Do you agree with the consensus of scientists that say that human life begins at conception?’ I’d like to see someone ask that question.

To which Hemingway responds

Now, it’s probably worth noting at the outset that everything Rubio said in this paragraph was true. Human life begins at conception and nobody is ever asked about whether they deny that.

But let’s look at what the Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza tweeted out in response:

Marco Rubio demanded people look at the science on abortion. So we did.

Hemingway continues:

The blurb for the piece says, “‘Science is settled … that human life beings at conception,’ Sen. Rubio said. We spoke with an expert on the science who didn’t agree.”

The story itself, with the same UpWorthy headline, is written by one Philip Bump and reads, stunningly:

(repeat: reads, stunningly):

We reached out to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, an association comprised of a large majority of the nation’s ob-gyns. The organization’s executive vice president and CEO, Hal C Lawrence, III, MD, offered his response to Rubio.

“Government agencies and American medical organizations agree that the scientific definition of pregnancy and the legal definition of pregnancy are the same: pregnancy begins upon the implantation of a fertilized egg into the lining of a woman’s uterus. This typically takes place, if at all, between 5 and 9 days after fertilization of the egg – which itself can take place over the course of several days following sexual intercourse.”

In other words: Consensus exists (if not unanimously), and the consensus is that uterine implantation is the moment at which pregnancy begins.

We presented that description to the senator’s office, asking if he wanted to clarify or moderate his statement. Brooke Sammon, the senator’s Deputy Press Secretary, told us that “Senator Rubio absolutely stands by the comment.”

Hemingway’s reaction:

Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear…It is somewhat mortifying that the idiocy of this is not immediately apparent to everyone. Did you catch it? Are you smarter than a Washington Post reporter? Do you know that “when human life begins” and “when an embryo implants in the uterine wall” are actually not synonymous statements? I bet you did. Or I bet you could figure that out pretty easily.

See, you will not learn this — or much of anything else about the reality of abortion or unborn human life — from the media, but in fact there is consensus about when human lives begin. It’s almost a tautology to say what Rubio said. It’s like saying “human life begins when human life begins.”

See, here’s what gets me. That the term “consensus” is thrown about so loosely and on such fundamental truths as human life, truths for which there is scientific evidence and about which it’s either embarrassing or ridiculous or both to hear serious people even introduce the idea of consensus. As if there is a consensus on the sun rising and setting each day, as if there is consensus on the idea of “a day” and its parameters and duration, beginning and end.

Anyway, Hemingway then gets into the scientific “consensus” on when human life begins (to continue with this article). And for those who need show and tell, she provides video and emphasis on the parts to pay particular attention to, for better understanding.

So…

Who to believe, bloggers at the Washington Post or embryologists? I’m so confused! And the Post wasn’t just wrong but, like, so embarrassingly wrong as to require a correction, a mea culpa, and a serious amount of soul-searching. (I get a kick out of how the people who make these videos, which are used by medical and media sites, say “Low health literacy costs the US healthcare system between $106 billion to $238 billion each year. Please watch and share a medical animation to raise health literacy!” Indeed!)

You can’t make this up.

OK, so some people tried to gently point out the egregious and embarrassing error to Cillizza and Bump, who have steadfastly refused to correct the piece they promoted.

Stay with this. Hemingway wrote a long piece, but characteristically incisive and clarifying, like a blast of ice water to the face. Because that’s just what it takes, and even then some people won’t flinch.

Please note: Bump thinks the problem is not with his own flawed reporting and comprehension but with Rubio’s statement! Bump thinks this tweet and his piece do something other than make him look extremely bad!

But it gets worse:

(Bump writing here)…

There’s a blurry line between “pregnancy” and “life” in this discussion. When we asked ACOG if the two were interchangeable, we were told that the organization “approach[es] everything from a scientific perspective, and as such, our definition is for when pregnancy begins.” On the question of when life begins, then, the scientific experts we spoke with didn’t offer any consensus.

“Life” is something of a philosophical question, making Rubio’s dependence on a scientific argument — which, it hardly bears mentioning, is an argument about abortion — politically tricky.

Mollie Hemingway rebounds…

Uh, what? Let’s list the problems here:

1) Rubio didn’t mention anything about definitions of pregnancy, so there’s no blurry line in “this discussion” about his statement regarding when life begins and someone else’s statement about when pregnancy begins…

2) It’s probably a good time to mention that ACOG is a group known for its strenuous support of abortion. Beyond the question of why Bump used this group instead of embryologists as sources, there’s also the issue that he’s not identifying them as vehemently pro-choice (as in, they even support partial-birth abortions).

Don’t miss that point. It’s critical to this whole article, and more gravely, to the public debate over abortion, human life, women’s health, and frankly violations of law. Partial birth abortions: see Kermit Gosnell.

But stay with Hemingway for now…

3) No one is mentioned in this piece other than ACOG. Yet Bump claims, “the scientific experts we spoke with didn’t offer any consensus.” This is a difficult claim to swallow…Is there any evidence whatsoever that he spoke with anyone other than the pro-choice group?

4) Dude, life can be a totally trippy thing, I agree, but Rubio was not talking philosophy. He was talking science. And the question of when human life begins is not philosophical, it’s scientific. You might debate when you have the right not to be killed by someone else, be it three months’ gestation, five months’ gestation, or birth. Some deny the right to life of various classes of people long after birth, too. Philosopher and abortion advocate Peter Singer has said children don’t achieve full moral status until after two years. And these are, in fact, philosophical questions. But the scientific question of when life begins is actually pretty straight forward, if mysteriously unknown to some at our biggest media institutions. Or as Dougherty mocked, “Guys, guys. Human ‘life’ is an illusion created by social consensus, WaPo is breaking this whole thing open!” To me Bump’s bizarre statements are more reminiscent of a group of college students from a third-rate public university having what they think sounds like a really deep conversation after passing around the bowl.

So here Hemingway brings readers back to the present ‘Politics vs. Science’, because science has been politicized for an ideological agenda.

If this is long for some readers already, here’s a cue to pay close attention now:

Bump inadvertently hit on something in his final lines, when he wrote, “After all, if someone were to argue that life begins at implantation, it’s hard to find a moral argument against forms of birth control that prevent that from happening.”

Did you know that the definition of pregnancy was changed not long ago from beginning at “fertilization” to beginning at “implantation”? Did you know that this was a political decision? Did you know that some groups have even tried to say that implantation is when “conception” occurs, too?

Before we get into this story of politics and science, I might note a few statements from early in the birth control battles. Alan Guttmacher, former president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and a leader in the International Planned Parenthood Federation said:

We of today know that man… starts life as an embryo within the body of the female; and that the embryo is formed from the fusion of two single cells, the ovum and the sperm. This all seems so simple and evident to us that it is difficult to picture a time when it was not part of the common knowledge.

Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, said, “If, however, a contraceptive is not used and the sperm meets the ovule and development begins, any attempt at removing it or stopping its further growth is called abortion.”

Birth control pioneer Marie Stopes said, “A large number of the opponents of birth control deliberately confuse birth control with abortion. I suppose it is all right for me to explain to you that abortion can only take place when an embryo is in existence. An embryo can only be produced after the sperm cell and the egg cell have actually united, after their nuclei have fused and after the first cell divisions have taken place. The moment that that has taken place you have there a minute, invisible, but actual embryo, and anything which destroys that is abortion, and we never in our clinic do anything which can in any way lead to that destruction. But until the sperm cell has united with the egg cell, no embryo exists or can exist, and anything which keeps the sperm away from the egg cell cannot lead to or be abortion because no embryo can then exist.”

All of these statements are from the first few decades of the 20th century. As technology developed that enabled embryos to be destroyed before implantation, what was so “simple” and “evident” and “common knowledge,” in Guttmacher’s words, suddenly became none of those things.

There’s still much more in this article, fully available at the link and advisable to read and re-read and grasp in its scope. Hemingway realizes it’s long.

So she concludes:

OK, that was a lot to work through. And for people who value the sanctity of all human life, from actual conception to natural death, none of these semantic changes matter one bit. But you can see how they would help those activists with different views on when human lives can be ended.

The thing is that activists can redefine pregnancy all they want and it won’t change the central issue at hand — the question of whether it’s ok to end the life of a genetically distinct human. We won’t resolve that debate any time soon, but obscuring the facts on when and how human life begins will not help matters.

Why are humans spreading anti-humanism?

It’s an ideology that sees humans as the scourge of the earth. How can any human get behind that?

But terribly many are, including people in high places. You can’t get your head around it, if you think straight and with the leveling force of reason. But those qualities aren’t necessarily prerequisites anymore for academics or legal scholars or members of government. And those groups are among the people who believe the world is endangered not by man’s inhumanity to man, but by humanity itself.

One of America’s leading experts in bioethics, Wesley J. Smith, has a new book and companion documentary out about this pernicious ideology, and we talked about it on radio Wednesday.

Wesley spent years that turned into decades fighting assisted suicide and euthanasia that turned his attention to bioethics and (as he said)

the idea that there was such a thing as ‘human non-persons’ and the idea that we could take away basic food and water from helpless human beings, as happened in the Terri Schiavo case, and then, good grief, I saw the issues of embryonic stem cell research come along, and then human cloning and then animal rights as a desire to create moral equality between animals and human beings, and it occurred to me that there is an overarching connection.

These are not just separate distinctions. What connects them is the desire to destroy the idea that there is such a thing as human dignity, which I came to call human exceptionalism. And I called it that not only because human beings have separate and unique value, which we do, but we’re also the only species with obligations and duties. So what duties do we have? We certainly have duties to each other, and we have duties to our posterity. No other species thinks about what will happen to their posterity one hundred years from now. We are the posterity of the founding fathers of the United States. They were thinking of us, and look what they gave us, because they were thinking of us.

We have duties to animals, to treat them properly, to not be gratuitously cruel. We have duties to treat the environment in a proper way. And this book is about how environmentalism has gone from that, understood as the proper role of making sure we dealt with these obligations properly, to, I’m afraid, one that is increasingly being infected with a radical view that sees human beings as the enemy of the planet.

Wesley continues, and the information continues to astound.

Sir David Attenborough, one of the great naturalists, who’s done so much in terms of his wildlife documentaries and so forth, has said that human beings are a plague on the planet. He has actually supported China’s one-child policy, which involves forced abortion, female infanticide, saying it has kept them from growing too big. But think of the tyranny of the one-child policy, eugenics.

It hasn’t stopped the population from growing, but people like Sir David Attenborough say ‘we don’t only have to stop the population from growing, we have to actively cut it.’ And if you’re going to actively propose cutting human population, you’re talking about some very drastic and tyrannous measures to bring down the numbers to ‘save the earth’. It’s very dangerous and it’s anti-human. It’s insidious because it seeks to stop human thriving and it seeks to transform us to seeing ourselves as just another animal in the forest. And then that’s precisely how we’ll act. We’re not animals. We’re not amoral agents. We have moral duties. We think in terms of right and wrong and ‘ought’. “

As he points out, the environmental movement rightly ordered has always been important. But this ideology not only undermines human beings, it also undermines proper environmentalism, which helps create a cleaner and better world for us.

It’s all documented in Smith’s book The War on Humans.

Terri Schiavo family fighting to save teen’s life

“I just think it’s inhumane to not feed my child, to not refer to her by her name, and stop us in our tracks.”

Chilling. It’s happening again. As it has many times over since Terri Schiavo was starved and dehydrated to death on court order in March 2005 and plunged the issues of biomedical ethics, healthcare for the cognitively impaired, ‘living wills’ and advance directives and euthanasia straight into the headlines and center of many family conversations.

This time it’s teenager Jahi McMath, whose family is battling to save her “from doctor-ordered starvation after a routine tonsillectomy left her brain-damaged and unable to breathe on her own.”

Since then, the hospital has been fighting to remove the eighth-grader from all life support, even going so far as to persuade a judge to declare her “legally dead” in the eyes of the state of California, where the law defines death as an absence of brain activity.

That’s the crux of the problem and issue at stake in this case which stands to carry a lot of weight in healthcare decisions for impaired individuals. There are two definitions of death involved, ‘brain death’ and ‘non-heart beating death’, and most people don’t know that or how much depends on which definition is used. Like organ harvesting.

…since the early 1990s, a little-known but disturbing revolution has been occurring in organ donation. A new procedure now called “donation after cardiac death” (DCD) has been quietly added to brain death organ donation in more and more hospitals in the United States and in other countries. It was made possible by linking the so-called right to die with organ donation…

In 1993, a whole issue of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal2 was devoted to discussing a new pool of organ donors — patients who are not brain dead but who are on ventilators and considered hopeless in terms of survival or predicted “quality of life”. In these patients, the patient or family agreed to the withdrawal of life support and to a “do not resuscitate” order. The patient was then taken to an operating room where the ventilator was withdrawn. When (or if, see below) the breathing and heartbeat stopped within about one hour, doctors waited for usually two minutes before then pronouncing cardiac death rather than brain death. The patient’s organs were then harvested for transplant. At that time, this was called non-heart-beating organ donation (NHBD) but since then, some insisted that the term was confusing and the name morphed to donation after cardiac death (DCD). However, since hearts have now been transplanted and thus are obviously not dead, there is a current proposal3 to change the name to donation after circulatory death and keep the acronym DCD.

NHBD/DCD was unknown to the American public until 1997 when many viewers were shocked by a report on the influential US television show 60 Minutes that revealed little-known policies called NHBD at some hospitals that would allow taking organs for transplant from persons who could be, in narrator Mike Wallace’s words, “not quite dead”.

The 60 Minutes story explored the possibility that these NHBD policies were allowing doctors to discontinue life support, administer possibly harmful medications to some potentially salvageable patients, and harvest these patients’ organs for transplants using cardiac rather than brain death criteria.

This CNN article on Jahi McMath highlights the controversies. They are growing more urgent, for the cause of human dignity and the fundamental human rights of the most vulnerable.

And they’re still in flux, and still breaking news. Read and listen carefully to terminology.

The rhetoric of morality in social policy

That heading requires a book instead of a post. But here goes…

The use of moral language is controlled by the thought police of elite media and politics, or at least they try to. So do some bullies in social networking media, who wield it or fight it (depending on the topic) with all their might in the verbal arena. I’d prefer to call it the arena of ideas, which it used to be when Socratic reasoning still mattered, but it’s more a pugilistic boxing arena now with punches thrown and swings taken with words, sometimes mean and angry ones, sometimes deftly honed, sharpened and maneuvered ones that cut a deep slice meant to wound.

Whose morality? is often thrown back at someone trying to reason in moral terms, and it becomes an automatic conversation stopper. So people in the current cultural climate have to learn to argue from reason alone, which still wins the day in the great Catholic intellectual tradition when engaged by anyone open to truth. You can’t argue or debate the definition of marriage in law from the basis of morality anymore. And ‘women’s issues’ has become a runaway train laden with the freight of ‘reproductive justice’ and ‘choice’ and ‘preventive health care services’ and ‘contraceptive coverage’ to stave off the ‘war on women’ and so on.

Where’s this going? Everywhere. I’ve written about semantic engineering since I first discovered the California Medical Association journal’s 1970 editorial.

“It will become necessary and acceptable to place relative rather than absolute values on such things as human lives… Since the old ethic has not yet been fully displaced it has been necessary to separate the idea of abortion from the idea of killing, which continues to be socially abhorrent. The result has been a curious avoidance of the scientific fact, which everyone really knows, that human life begins at conception and is continuous whether intra-or extra-uterine until death. The very considerable semantic gymnastics which are required to rationalize abortion as anything but taking a human life would be ludicrous if they were not often put forth under socially impeccable auspices. It is suggested that this schizophrenic sort of subterfuge is necessary because while a new ethic is being accepted the old one has not yet been rejected”.

Over four decades later, and 40 years of Roe, acceptance and rejection of ethics have ebbed and flowed.

Which gets to some headlines out lately that share the common thread of the use of semantic engineering and rhetorical manipulation to control public opinion about social moral policy. Just as Walter Lippman warned about in the early to mid-twentieth century (especially in Public Opinion,1922).

Just a few random samplings:

President Obama’s campaign for his new economic policy, which is the same as his old economic policy.

The president’s promise of transparency, which is ultimately happening in spite of his administration’s efforts to the contrary.

In truth, I can’t think of a less transparent administration than this one, which keeps using that word as though it means something else.

Then there’s his strong opposition to the Patriot Act, until he became president and found some benefit of not only using but broadening the Patriot Act.In recent months, Barack Obama has forcefully defended the use of the Patriot Act to gather the phone records of every American. But before he was elected president, he had a very different perspective on the issue.

In December 2005, Congress was debating the first re-authorization of the Patriot Act, a controversial 2001 law that gave the federal government expanded power to spy on Americans. And Barack Obama was one of nine senators who signed a letter criticizing the then-current version of the legislation for providing insufficient protections for civil liberties.

The senators focused on Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allows the government to obtain “business records” that are “relevant” to a terrorism investigation. Sen. Obama and eight of his colleagues worried that the provision would “allow government fishing expeditions targeting innocent Americans. We believe the government should be required to convince a judge that the records they are seeking have some connection to a suspected terrorist or spy.”

Congress eventually re-authorized the Patriot Act, including Section 215. A few years later, Obama was elected president of the United States. And under President Obama’s watch, the NSA engaged in surveillance suspiciously similar to the broad “fishing expeditions” Sen. Obama warned about.

The government has argued that records of every phone call made in the United States are “relevant” to counter-terrorism investigations generally, allowing them to obtain information about the private phone calls of millions of Americans — exactly the kind of argument Sen. Obama warned the government would make if the language of Section 215 wasn’t tightened.

And then there’s this wonkish piece about energy and environmental policy that, when you cut to the chase, turns on rhetoric.

Keep the poor in the dark: That’s the aim of some of the world’s biggest and most influential environmental groups. And last month, both the U.S. Export-Import Bank and the World Bank helped advance it. Out of concern for climate change, they announced, they would restrict financing for coal-fired power plants…

The groups that opposed the Vietnamese project include Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace USA, Pacific Environment, the Center for International Environmental Law, and the Center for Biological Diversity. In a letter to President Obama, they protested that the Thai Binh project would “emit unacceptable air pollution that will worsen climate disruption.”…

That electricity is essential to modernity is incontrovertible. The rich countries of the West developed their economies by producing electricity from coal. Now the rest of the world wants to do the same. And yet, the environmental elites are determined to prevent that from happening.

Many of those same elites are cloaking their rhetoric in moral terms. In late June, Ken Berlin, a lawyer and leader of the “Energy & Environment Team,” a group set up to promote Obama’s climate-change agenda, sent out a list of talking points to be used by Obama’s supporters. The first one: “We have a moral obligation to future generations to leave them a planet that’s not polluted and damaged by carbon pollution.”

And now, as evidenced by the recent moves by the Ex-Im and World Bank, we have adopted a policy that it’s better for the world’s poor to continue living in the darkness and destitution that always comes with energy poverty than for them to be damaged by “carbon pollution.”

If that’s a moral stand, then I’m Jack the Ripper.

And if we can begin to talk about our moral obligation to future generations not to kill any of their members by ‘choice’, then we will have begun to progress toward talking about things like economic policy and carbon pollution. But until then, the talk is incoherent.

Patients rights in America

Let’s focus on Wisconsin here, as a microcosm of the morphing healthcare system that’s redefining health and care and prompting an effort to examine it all carefully.

The Wisconsin bishops released a statement warning people about the spreading use of Physician (or Provider) Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment (POLST). They did it in a carefully but clearly worded pastoral letter Upholding the Dignity of Human Life.

A POLST form presents options for treatments as if they were morally neutral. In fact, they are not. Because we cannot predict the future, it is difficult to determine in advance whether specific medical treatments, from an ethical perspective, are absolutely necessary or optional. These decisions depend upon factors such as the benefits, expected outcomes, and the risks or burdens of the treatment.

A POLST oversimplifies these decisions and bears the real risk that an indication may be made on it to withhold a treatment that, in particular circumstances, might be an act of euthanasia. Despite the possible benefits of these documents, this risk is too grave to be acceptable.

Finally, the design and use of the POLST document raises concerns as to whether it accurately reflects and protects a person’s wishes.

These have all been concerns for years in the medical/legal system, which became a riveting national debate while Terri Schiavo was being starved and dehydrated to death. It also became a discussion around a lot of family tables across the country at that time, causing a lot of media coverage of things like ‘living wills’ and a lot of Americans to rush to arrange them or sign already prepared ones that appeared online in a number of places.

Don’t do that, say the bishops and the experts at the Patients Rights Council and Terri’s Life and Hope Network, among others.

The pastoral statement:

We encourage all persons to use a durable power of attorney for health care. For those who are age 18 or older, completing this document allows you to appoint a trusted person to make health care decisions on your behalf if a situation arises in which you cannot make these decisions for yourself. It is important to discuss your wishes and Catholic teaching with the person whom you appoint and to choose someone who will make health care decisions based on these principles.

The Patients Rights Council site is loaded with resources, for people of any state in the nation and in life and belief system. Just don’t let others take your treatment decisions away from you and determine them for you, in the absence of your advance directive. PRC’s Rita Marker told me people can get a Protective Medical Decisions Document at their site, no charge (suggested donation encouraged). More on that here.

I’ve worked for years with Terri Schiavo’s family, since they were trying to save her life and just take her home and care for her. They devoted the rest of their lives to helping other families avoid that ordeal with information and resources. And first hand relief efforts.

And still in recent years and even months and weeks, I’ve known or known of families caught in the pressure of having to make medical decisions they weren’t prepared for, wondering who had what authority (or why they didn’t have the rights they thought) while their loved ones died.

But none of them were from TMI. We can’t be too well informed.

Collin Raye, voice for the voiceless

Health care practice has already posed threats to the disabled and cognitively impaired. Now, healthcare law is putting the lives of the most vulnerable people at risk. Who’s speaking out for ‘the least of these’?

Collin Raye, for one.

Collin Raye is the new national spokesperson for the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network, which was established following Terri’s death in 2005 by starvation and dehydration. The group is a non-profit dedicated to helping persons with disabilities, and the incapacitated who are in or potentially facing life-threatening situations. He travels the country sharing his personal story and cherished music at both concert venues and prolife conferences and political events.

His personal story is poignant, twice over, in his experiences with his wife and granddaughter. He memorialized her and their experience in the profoundly beautiful song ‘She’s With Me.

He told me on radio that it was “the closest thing to a Job moment I’ve ever had”, when Haley passed away at the age of nine. And that the issue of health care for the cognitively impaired and disabled, the most vulnerable among us, “is a vital topic that no one else is talking about.”

At least we are.