Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

March 9, 2005

Doctors for Killing Babies

Filed under: — Different River @ 9:31 pm

It’s been almost ten years since Peter Singer wrote his famous (or notorious) article in The Spectator (Sept. 16, 1995, pp. 20-22; haven’t found it online) entitled, “Killing Babies Isn’t Always Wrong,” in which he argued for legalization of infanticide, particularly for disabled infants. Now, medical doctors are arguing for it in “respectable” journals like the New England Journal of Medicine.

Singer wrote:

Perhaps, like the ancient Greeks, we should have a ceremony a month after birth, at which the infant is admitted to the community. Before that time, infants would not be recognized as having the same right to life as older people.

He also argued that people who support abortion but not infanticide are being inconsistent — and they should support both. He gave one of the most back-handed compliments I’ve ever seen when he said,

Pope John Paul II proclaims that the widespread acceptance of abortion is a mortal threat to the traditional moral order. … I sometimes think that he and I at least share the virtue of seeing clearly what is at stake in the debate.

In his book Practical Ethics, and on his website, Singer clarifies his position:

Q. You have been quoted as saying: “Killing a defective infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person. Sometimes it is not wrong at all.” Is that quote accurate?

A. It is accurate, but can be misleading if read without an understanding of what I mean by the term “person” (which is discussed in Practical Ethics, from which that quotation is taken). I use the term “person” to refer to a being who is capable of anticipating the future, of having wants and desires for the future. As I have said in answer to the previous question, I think that it is generally a greater wrong to kill such a being than it is to kill a being that has no sense of existing over time. Newborn human babies have no sense of their own existence over time. So killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person, that is, a being who wants to go on living. That doesn’t mean that it is not almost always a terrible thing to do. It is, but that is because most infants are loved and cherished by their parents, and to kill an infant is usually to do a great wrong to its parents.

Sometimes, perhaps because the baby has a serious disability, parents think it better that their newborn infant should die. Many doctors will accept their wishes, to the extent of not giving the baby life-supporting medical treatment. That will often ensure that the baby dies. My view is different from this, only to the extent that if a decision is taken, by the parents and doctors, that it is better that a baby should die, I believe it should be possible to carry out that decision, not only by withholding or withdrawing life-support – which can lead to the baby dying slowly from dehydration or from an infection – but also by taking active steps to end the baby’s life swiftly and humanely.

A “serious disability” can include one that required lifelong medical treatment, but does not preclude living a productive and pleasant life. Excerpt from his book Practical Ethics (1993):

A woman may plan to have two children. If one dies while she is of child-bearing age, she may conceive another in its place. Suppose a woman planning to have two children has one normal child, and then gives birth to a haemophiliac child. The burden of caring for that child may make it impossible for her to cope with a third child; but if the disabled child were to die, she would have another. It is also plausible to suppose that the prospects of a happy life are better for a normal child than for a haemophiliac.

When the death of a disabled infant will lead to the birth of another infant with better prospects of a happy life, the total amount of happiness will be greater if the disabled infant is killed. The loss of happy life for the first infant is outweighed by the gain of a happier life for the second. Therefore, if killing the haemophiliac infant has no adverse effect on others, it would, according to the total view, be right to kill him.

You would think — or at least, I would have thought — that this was obviously completely loony. But something called the “Born Alive Infants Protection Act,” which made it a federal crime to kill a newborn, was opposed by both NOW and NARAL and twice vetoed by President Clinton on the grounds that a law against killing newborns somehow endangers the right to an abortion. (It was passed a third time and signed by President Bush; it is now being challenged in the courts.)

Now, just today the New England Journal of Medicine released an article entitled, “The Groningen Protocol — Euthanasia in Severely Ill Newborns” (March 10, 2005, 352:10, pp. 959-962) in which two Dutch doctors, Eduard Verhagen and Pieter J.J. Sauer (Verhagen is also an attorney) discuss, and advocate, the system they’ve developed for deciding when to kill babies, especially babies who are not terminally ill. In fact, the article opens with a sentence that is almost bragging about how many babies they’ve killed in the Netherlands:

Of the 200,000 children born in the Netherlands every year, about 1000 die during the first year of life. For approximately 600 of these infants, death is preceded by a medical decision regarding the end of life.

Translation: 60% of infant mortality in the Netherlands is intentional!

Suffering is a subjective feeling that cannot be measured objectively, whether in adults or in infants. But we accept that adults can indicate when their suffering is unbearable. …
In the Netherlands, euthanasia for competent persons older than 16 years of age has been legally accepted since 1985. The question under consideration now is whether deliberate life-ending procedures are also acceptable for newborns and infants, despite the fact that these patients cannot express their own will. Or must infants with disorders associated with severe and sustained suffering be kept alive when their suffering cannot be adequately reduced?

Deciding not to initiate or to withdraw life-prolonging treatment in newborns with no chance of survival is considered good practice for physicians in Europe and is acceptable [though illegal --DR] for physicians in the United States. Most such infants die immediately after treatment has been discontinued. [They think this is good. --DR]

Neonatologists in the Netherlands and the majority of neonatologists in Europe are convinced that intensive care treatment is not a goal in itself. Its aim is not only survival of the infant, but also an acceptable quality of life. [But if we can't achieve an "acceptable" quality of life, we might as well give up and kill the baby. After all, we've got to keep up our standards!]

All possible measures must be taken to alleviate severe pain and discomfort. There are, however, circumstances in which, despite all measures taken, suffering cannot be relieved and no improvement can be expected. When both the parents and the physicians are convinced that there is an extremely poor prognosis, they may concur that death would be more humane than continued life. Under similar conditions, a person in the Netherlands who is older than 16 years of age can ask for euthanasia. Newborns, however, cannot ask for euthanasia, and such a request by parents, acting as the representatives of their child, is invalid under Dutch law. Does this mean that euthanasia in a newborn is always prohibited? We are convinced that life-ending measures [translation: killing babies] can be acceptable in these cases under very strict conditions: the parents must agree fully, on the basis of a thorough explanation of the condition and prognosis; a team of physicians, including at least one who is not directly involved in the care of the patient, must agree; and the condition and prognosis must be very well defined. After the decision has been made and the child has died [and it's too late to do anything about it!], an outside legal body should determine whether the decision was justified and all necessary procedures have been followed.

They even have a neat little chart explaining why they killed each of a sample of 22 babies.

Chart showing reasons for killing a sample of 22 babies

See, a “long life expectancy” is considered more of a reason for killing a baby, since there is more suffering in a long life than in a short one.

Once upon a time, doctors, upon becoming doctors, took the Oath of Hippocrates, in which they swore, “I will neither give a deadly drug to anybody if asked for it, nor will I make a suggestion to this effect.”

Now, medical doctors are advocating killing patients they can’t cure in one of the most mainstream and most prestigious medical journals. This is not going anywhere good, especially coming right on the heels of suggestions to limit access to health care for the elderly on the basis of cost.

We are not far from a regime in which doctors decide whether or not our lives are worth living, based not our own notions of the worth of our lives and our suffering, but their notions of our worth and the costs of treating us.

After I read about Peter Singer, (probably in this article by J. Bottum), and especially after he was appointed Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics [sic] at Princeton University’s Center for Human Values [sic], I started telling people that political advocacy of infanticide was around the corner — and of course, people started telling me I was crazy. My prediction in 1996 was that a pro-infanticide position would be in the Democratic platform by 2012. Sadly, I think we’re right on schedule. :-(

Does Bush “crush dissent”?

Filed under: — Different River @ 8:00 pm

Democrat talking points issued during last year’s campaign claimed, “Bush and Ashcroft seek to crush dissent in America.”

In that case, why is it that the administration has specifically said they will not prosecute anyone for forging the CBS memos impugning Bush’s Air National Guard service, even though forging federal documents is a federal crime?

Which is more important?

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:50 pm

Which is more important, getting Democrats elected, or establishing democracy and freedom in the Middle East? Or to put it another way, if the Bush administration’s policies result in democracy and freedom in the Middle East, is that a bad thing because it makes Bush look capable and intelligent, and makes it hard for Democrats in the U.S. to get elected?

Nancy Soderberg, who served in the Clinton adminstration as Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs discussed the issue with Jon Stewart, and their conclusion is not what you might think. Well, it might be what you think, if you are very cynical about Democrats.

Hanafi Muslims Hold Hostages in D.C.

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:43 pm

Twenty-seven years ago today, on March 9, 1977, twelve armed Hanafi Muslims stormed the District Building (city hall), the B’nai B’rith International Center (headquarters), and — for some reason — the Islamic Center. They took more than a hundred hostages, killed one person (reporter Maurice Williams), and wounded several, including two B’nai B’rith employees, then-councilman Marion Barry, and Bob Pierce, a legal intern for a city councilman who was paralyzed for life by a of a shotgun blast to the back as he was lying face down on the floor.

One story of the event is here. Another is here. An eyewitness account from one of the hostages at B’nai B’rith is here.

Clinton, Stonecipher, and Double Standards

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:14 pm

Back in 1997, at the height of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal (which I called “fornigate”), many of Clinton’s defenders said that whatever Bill Clinton had done with Monica Lewinsky was part of his “private life” and thus should have no bearing on his political/public life or his continuance as President. In response, many of Clinton’s opponents said this was a double standard, claiming that (for example), any CEO who had an affair with an underling would be fired immediately. In response to that response, many of Clinton’s defenders said that was baloney; that corporate CEOs have affairs all the time and (in effect) the President ought to be able to also.

Now we can see who’s right.

This past Sunday, Boeing’s Board of directors asked for and received the resignation of President and CEO Harry Stonecipher, a mere 9 days after being informed that he was having an extramarital affair. Here’s an except from Boeing’s press release:

CHICAGO, March 7, 2005 – Boeing [NYSE: BA] announced today that its Board of Directors asked for and received the resignation of President and CEO Harry Stonecipher on Sunday, March 6. … Stonecipher will also leave the company’s Board; all changes are effective immediately.

The Board actions were taken following an investigation by internal and external legal counsel of the facts and circumstances surrounding a personal relationship between Stonecipher and a female executive of the company who did not report directly to him.

The Board ordered an immediate and comprehensive investigation of the matter after Platt received information that was sent anonymously to him and to the company’s legal and ethics leaders 10 days ago. The investigation determined the relationship was consensual and had no effect on the conduct of the company’s business. The investigation also determined that neither the career nor the compensation of the female executive was influenced by this relationship.

Clinton’s defenders claimed his affair did not affect his actions as President; his critics said it called into question his (moral?) judgement and therefore did call into question is ability to be President. Let’s see how the Boeing board dealt with this issue in Stonecipher’s case:

“The Board concluded that the facts reflected poorly on Harry’s judgment and would impair his ability to lead the company,” said Platt.

“The resignation was in no way related to the company’s operational performance or financial condition, both of which remain strong. However, the CEO must set the standard for unimpeachable professional and personal behavior, and the Board determined that this was the right and necessary decision under the circumstances,” he said.

What about the woman involved? Is there some sort of double standard, or will she be fired too? According to this article in the Miami Herald, the are investigating her as well, and she might be fired also.

Here’s a rather, umm, interesting point of view:

Aerospace analyst Paul Nisbet of JSA Research .questioned the need to get rid of Stonecipher. “It’s a board that’s become oversly sensitized by all the negative publicity about Boeing employees and their ethics, and they reacted more strongly that I think was appropriate,” he said.

He said he expects the company to choose one of its strong internal candidates, Mulally or Albaugh, but expressed concern that ethics might become a preoccupying factor in the CEO search.

“The one possible impact is that in their quest to find a squeaky-clean guy, they may have to take someone who’s not as well-qualified,” he said.

So, is he saying that CEOs who don’t have affairs are less qualified? Is having an affair, or at least openness to it, to be a requirement according to Mr. Nisbet?

Let me put that another way: If you take Nisbet’s statement and replace the words “squeaky-clean guy” with “Black” or “woman,” what would that make Nisbet? So, how are we men-who-don’t-have affairs supposed to think Nisbet regards us?

UPDATE: In Europe, they still think we’re too prudish.

Ambassador John Bolton

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:34 pm

If anyone is wondering what do think of the new U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton, this post at David’s Medienkritik should help you make up your mind fairly quickly, either way.

Is Rather lying on his way out the door?

Filed under: — Different River @ 1:55 pm

Dan Rather is leaving the anchor chair at CBS news tonight, exactly 24 years after taking over from Walter Cronkite. His departure is marred by the fact that he was widely discredited after broadcasting a report based on forged documents purporting to related.

So, you would think that in the retrospective festschrift CBS is putting together honoring Rather’s career, that they would try to focus on things that highlighted Rather’s integrity, rather (no pun) than reminding us of other lies he’s told (and CBS has told on his behalf) in the past.

But no — they are repeating an old claim of Rather’s that not only has been discredited, but that Rather has admitted is false — and bringing to mind another story, in 1963, when Rather also broadcast a story based on a false information from a politically-motivated informant in Texas.

From the opening page of the web version of the retrospective:

Below are some memorable events in his CBS career:

  • Nov. 22, 1963: Reports live from the scene of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Not only was CBS the first network on the scene, but Rather was also the first to report Kennedy had died.

And on the page specifically dedicated to Rather’s reporting of the assassination:

Correspondent Dan Rather reported the story from “the corner window just below the top floor, where the assassin stuck out his 30 caliber rifle.”

Rather was the first to report Kennedy had died, before the official confirmation of the president’s death.

Trouble is, it’s not true. Dan Rather wasn’t the first to report that Kennedy had died. He wasn’t even the first to report it on CBS! Eddie Barker of CBS’s Dallas radio and TV affiliates (KRLD 1080 AM and what was then KRLD-TV) was the first to report Kennedy’s death, on a live broadcast carried by CBS nationwide. Here’s Eddie Barker’s account, in a PBS interview:

INTERVIEWER: At what point did you realize something had gone wrong?

EDDIE BARKER: Our truck — and back to our truck, our big old mobile unit — was parked outside [the Trade Mart building, where the motorcade was originally headed], and one of the engineers down in the truck, called me on the headset and said, “Something has gone wrong. They’re headed for the airport. They didn’t stop.” And you know, because that was the way they would go back to the airport. And I, you know, said, “Well, what else? What else?” He said, “Well, just the whole thing, the police cars and everything else are going by.”

And so then I got a call from the newsroom, and they told me that there had been shots fired down there, and that was what was my first inkling that anything like a shooting had taken place. And so we just immediately took air, because we were the only setup that, you know, that we had, and so I just started ad-libbing, you know, what little I knew and tried to make what little I knew into sounding like a heck of lot more than I knew. (Chuckles)

I had nobody to interview because I was up on the balcony and all of the dignitaries and luncheon guests and all were downstairs. And so we just, you know, filled air, and just with things that from my knowledge of, you know, why he was in Texas, what you know, what had gone on before all of these things. And then as we got a little more involved was when this doctor that I knew came up to me and whispered in my ear and told me that he was dead. And that — you know, I did a double-take, and I, we were using a big, old long mike. Remember that big, old long one? And I held that mike under my arm and said, “What?” He said, “He’s dead.” I said, “How do you know?” He said, “I just called the emergency room, and he’s DOA.”

Well, I knew this doctor, and he was big out at Parkland, and so what he had done, he just went to a phone and called the Emergency Room, and they said, “Yeah, he’s dead.” And so he told me, and then I went on the air and said that I’d just been told by a source that I would trust implicitly that the president was dead. And so that started causing a little furor at CBS, because, I did not know it, but CBS had picked up our, our broadcast, and we were, I was doing this, Cronkite was doing his thing in New York, and so I remember they gave me a lot of credit for being the local guy saying that he’s dead. It’s not official.

Meanwhile, according to Dan Rather’s account, Rather was on the phone with the hospital trying to get somebody to talk to him:

Rather had been out waiting for a film drop along the motorcade route. He saw in the distance something seemed to be wrong. “Among the first lessons I learned in journalism, as taught by Hugh Cunningham at Sam Houston state, had been: No story is worth a damn unless you can get it out,” he wrote. He ran the five blocks back to the CBS bureau at station KRLD-TV. On the police scanners, it appeared Parkland hospital was the focus of some action.

Here is a brief excerpt of his story:

Instantly, I looked up the number and dialed it. The switchboard jammed almost immediately. I sensed at the time that I was lucky to get through. The operator wasn’t hysterical, or panicky, but she was clearly busy.

I found myself blurting out that I was a reporter and don’t hang up on me. I got that out right away. She cut me off and said, “The President has been shot. I don’t know anything else.” I repeated myself. “Please don’t hang up. You say the President has been shot. Are you certain of that?”

She said, “That’s what I’ve been told. I don’t know anything else.”

I said, “Is there anyone around, anyone else who can talk to me? Is a doctor around?”

She said, yes, hold on, and the next thing I knew a male voice was on the line.

“Sir, are you a physician?” I asked.

“Yes, I am.”

“The lady on the switchboard says that the President has been shot and I’d like to verify that with you.”

[Anyone near the switchboard who'd been to medical school would have been able to verify that? That's the standard of a professional journalist? --DR]

“Yes,” he replied, “the President has been brought in and it is my understanding that he’s dead. But I’m not the person to talk to about it.”

I said, “Would you repeat your name for me, Doctor?”

He said, “I’m not the person you need to talk with,” and there was a click on the line.

I dialed right back, and as I did I shouted to the people in the newsroom, “He’s been shot.” I didn’t add that a doctor at Parkland Hospital had told me he was dead. If you have covered enough police beats and emergency rooms, you tread very gently with that kind of information. At the moment the fact that the President of the United States had been shot was compelling enough. A reporter learns not to jump too fast.

Rather had to dial twice, but was able to reach the switchboard again. He asked to speak to someone who could verify that Kennedy had been shot. The operator replied that all the doctors were busy, but there were two priests standing in the hall.

I said, “Would you ask one of the priests if I might speak to him?” There was a mumbled conversation in the background, then a man’s voice came on the phone.

I said, “Father, the operator tells me you just happened to be there. I’m Dan Rather, with CBS News, and I’m trying to confirm whether the President has been shot.”

With a matter-of-factness that stunned me he said. “Yes, the President has been shot and he is dead.”

I said, “Are you certain of that?”

He said, “Yes, unfortunately, I am,” and he left the phone.

And in the next paragraph, Rather confirms, perhaps inadevertently, that Barker had already broadcast what Rather had just learned:

The News Director of KRLD, Eddie Barker, had spoken with the chief of staff of Parkland, at the location where the President was supposed to give a speech. The doctor said Kennedy had been shot and was dead. Rather soon was on several phone lines at the same time. One line went to Barker. Another went to CBS radio in New York. Barker repeated what the hospital official had told him.

When Barker said again that he had been told the President was dead, I said, “Yes, yes. That’s what I hear, too. That he’s dead.”

A voice came back, “What was that?” I thought it was Barker again. It wasn’t. The “What was that?” had come from a radio editor in New York. I responded to what I thought was Barker with “I said that’s my information, too. That he’s dead.”

Rather repeated this, thinking he was still talking to his local colleague. Suddenly, he heard someone in New York saying Rather said the President was dead. The network went to its standby procedure. CBS’s Alan Jackson announced the president was dead. “The Star Spangled Banner” was played. Rather shouted to New York that he had not authorized a bulletin or any other kind of report.

Of course, with all his phones on at once, Rather may not have realized at the time that CBS had already broadcast Barker’s initial report — though he clearly acknowleged that Barker had the information before he (Rather) told him. Perhaps the CBS people in New York viewed Rather’s report, since it was second, as confirmation, or perhaps they were already in the process of going into their “standby procedure” based on Barker’s report.

But it’s clear that Barker had the information first, and both Rather and CBS in New York knew that. Still, CBS today is publishing a falsehood, something they knew to be false on the day it happened in 1963. And they have been doing so years, according to this article in the Weekly Standard, which also recovers an even more important story — last September’s broadcast with the forged memos was not the first time Rather broadcast a story based on a false information from a politically-motivated informant from Texas:

It was a different lie–one delivered on national news, and at the expense of children–that caused Rather trouble at the time. As reporters from around the world descended on the Texas city, Rather went on the air with a local Methodist minister who made a stunning claim: Children at Dallas’s University Park Elementary School had cheered when told of the president’s death.

The tale was perfect for the moment, reinforcing the notion among distant media elites that Dallas was a reactionary “City of Hate.” It slyly played to a local audience, too: The school named was in upper-income University Park, one of two adjacent municipal enclaves that shared a school district and a reputation for fiercely protected, lily-white privilege. Finally, for the ambitious Rather–a native Texan and then a Dallas resident–the account represented the very sort of revealing, local dirt that the throngs of out-of-town competitors would have to work far harder to get.

Except that it wasn’t true, and Rather knew it, Barker says.

Approached earlier by the same minister with what was a second-hand account, Barker himself had run the story by the school’s principal and some teachers, all of whom denied it outright. Because of the shooting, which took place at 12:30 p.m., the principal had decided to close the school early, though without telling the students why. The children at the school–including three of Barker’s own–were merely happy to be going home early, he was told. There couldn’t have been any spontaneous cheering at the news of Kennedy’s murder, because no such news had been announced.

Undaunted, the dogged minister–”a very, very strong liberal and a very, very strong Kennedy supporter,” Barker says–moved on to Rather.

“Rather came to me, and I said, ‘My kids are in school there, and I checked it out, and there’s not a darn thing to it,’” says Barker. “He said, ‘Well, great–I’ll just forget it.’ But instead of forgetting it, he went out and did this gut job on Dallas and its conservatism,” with the preacher’s story at the center of his report.

With the discredited account likely to be challenged by the local affiliate’s editors before being fed to New York, Rather sidestepped a customary film-editing session with Barker and arranged to file the report live instead, Barker says. “And so here’s Dan with the preacher, telling this story about kids at UP cheering when told the president was dead.”

Livid at being lied to, Barker laid into Rather as soon as he returned to the newsroom, expelling the reporter and all his national-news colleagues from the building on the spot. “I said ‘Get the hell out of here–you and this whole damn bunch!’” he says.

Barker’s local TV and radio crews scrambled to arrange on-air interviews with teachers to rebut the story, but the lie had already traveled halfway around the world and would become an enduring part of JFK assassination lore. In the meantime, CBS was threatening to pull its affiliation with the two local stations for having given Rather and his colleagues the boot.

By the way, that last sentence is very informative: CBS threatened to pull its affiliation with two local stations because those local stations tried to stop CBS from broadcasting a false story.

Is that what they call “journalistic ethics”?

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