Saturday, January 31, 2009

New NAC website very much in the firing line

This morning Declan thought it best if we left the Catholic Manna Centre at 9.00am, for the third Saturday in a row (see blog of 21 January “Violence and economic strangulation”); on this occasion, Declan was man-handled in the men’s toilets by a homeless who insisted that he engage in conversation with him. We left without Declan getting a bite to eat.

Declan continues to wash in the street, which he has been doing since 10 April last year as a result of all the harassment he has received from other homeless: see, for example, blog of 16 May 2008 “More racially aggravated harassment in the Dellow Centre”; or blog of 18 June 2008 “Declan robbed in the Sisters of Mercy Dellow Centre”; or blog of 19 June 2008 “Declan assaulted in the Manna Centre”. On 18 June 2007, we were barred from the Methodist Church Whitechapel Mission by the minister’s wife due to concerns about our safety after I was assaulted in an unprovoked attack by a homeless woman in the canteen (see here). Declan has written on several occasions to the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, in his capacity as Archbishop of the Diocese of Westminster, to which the Dellow Centre belongs (see blog of 6 November 2008 “Letter to Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor”).

It seems that the new NAC website that I am building in support of embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning at http://network.obxhost.net/index.html is still very much in the firing line: Declan had no problem accessing it this morning from the local internet café but I was once again unable to access it or the web host from our local council’s Idea Store Whitechapel (see blog of 23 January “Letter to the Leader of Tower Hamlets Council”). In fact, I still can’t, meaning I can’t upload an article by Steven Pinker entitled “The Stupidity of Dignity” (see below).

Pinker, world-renowned thinker and Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University (and an honorary associate of NAC and early signatory of Declan’s petition to the UN on therapeutic cloning), argues that the concept of dignity is natural ground on which to build an obstructionist bioethics. It’s not surprising, then, he wrote on 28 May last, that ‘dignity’ is a recurring theme in Catholic doctrine: The word appears more than 100 times in the 1997 edition of the Catechism and is a leitmotif in the Vatican’s recent pronouncements on biomedicine. In its most authoritative declaration on bioethics for more than 20 years, the Vatican released on 12 December a 32-page document titled “Dignitas Personae” (the dignity of a person).

As I stated in the previous blog, we received our first donation last Monday and I believe this may be influencing things: perhaps to discourage somebody else for doing the same. For example, this morning I emailed 35 scientists and academics in New York State inviting them to sign Declan’s petition to the UN on therapeutic cloning but received no autoreplies and no-one has signed – I received one undelivered email to my spam box. To date, the petition has been signed by 589 scientists and academics, who include recognised authorities from the world’s leading universities and research institutes, as well as 24 Nobel Laureates.

This is the document (three pages) I am waiting to upload:


Friday, January 30, 2009

New NAC website doesn't display uploaded pages

This morning we received an email from an honorary associate of NAC informing us that one of two lead items on the homepage of the new NAC website that I am building in support of embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning at http://network.obxhost.net/index.html “does not exist”. Yesterday, Declan was unable to access the site for a whole hour from our local council’s Idea Store Whitechapel (see previous blog), from where last Thursday we could access neither the site nor the web host for the entire day (see blog of 23 January “Letter to the Leader of Tower Hamlets Council”). Also yesterday, I couldn’t upload an article for two hours on the first human trial using embryonic stem cells as a medical treatment - the web host obxhost.net kept informing me that “permission was denied”. According to their website, this web host is a leading free web site hosting provider whose service is highly reliable:



Although the new NAC website was blocklisted only on Tuesday (see blog “New NAC website blocklisted”), I think it is pointless at this stage to change web host. On 8 March 2008, the original NAC website was suspended due to what turned out to be spam as reported via SpamCop on 6 March (see blog of 14 March “SpamCop reports Declan as a spammer”). As I have stated in two blogs now, I believe there is link between SpamCop’s report to our web host branding us as spammers and an email Declan received the day previous, on 5 March, from the Home Office advising in response to several emails he addressed to Home Secretary Jacqueline Smith that no warrant to intercept his communications had been issued (see blog of 9 March “Home Office denies warrant to intercept communications”) - since 22 October 2007, I have been emailing scientists and academics inviting them to sign Declan’s petition to the UN on therapeutic cloning; to date, the petition has been signed by 589 scientists and academics, who include recognised authorities from the world’s leading universities and research institutes, as well as 24 Nobel Laureates.

We received our first donation on Monday, which I believe may be influencing things. Since then, we have been blocklisted, I have been unable to upload pages, we have been unable to access the site from our local library, and the website hasn’t displayed uploaded pages. All we can do is keep going, so today I have uploaded our third homepage lead item, namely a piece from the Center for Inquiry, New York on the Vatican’s recent condemnation of human embryonic stem cell research and IVF in its most authoritative declaration on bioethics for more than 20 years. According to the CFI, the Vatican’s position has no justification other than religious doctrine, and may have a serious adverse effect on scientific research and the development of medical therapies.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Still problems with the new NAC website

It seems our difficulties with the new NAC website I am building in support of embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning at http://network.obxhost.net/index.html (launched the Monday before last) are well from over. Declan was once again unable to access the site from our local council’s Idea Store Whitechapel; we frequently run into trouble in this library, especially with internet access and computer bookings (see, for example, last Friday’s blog “Letter to the Leader of Tower Hamlets Council”).

I had no luck either. After working on a piece for our homepage - relating the FDAs announcement last Friday that it had cleared the way for the world’s first clinical trial of a therapy derived from human embryonic stem cells - I couldn’t upload for well over two hours; the web host obxhost.net kept informing me that “permission was denied”. Not even two trips to the local internet café resolved the matter, and in fact it is only a few minutes ago that I was allowed to upload the piece, citing “a new era in medicine”. According to their website, OBXHost.net is “a leading Free Web Site Hosting Provider” whose “service is highly reliable”. They add that they only use “quality high end servers”.

As I said in the previous blog following the blocklisting of our new site only the day before yesterday, perhaps I am just unfortunate with the websites I build. On 8 March 2008, the original NAC website was suspended due to what turned out to be spam as reported via SpamCop on 6 March (see blog of 14 March “SpamCop reports Declan as a spammer”). I believe there is link between SpamCop’s report to our web host branding us as spammers and an email Declan received the day previous, on 5 March, from the Home Office advising in response to several emails he addressed to Home Secretary Jacqueline Smith that no warrant to intercept his communications had been issued (see blog of 9 March Home Office denies warrant to intercept communications - since 22 October 2007, I have been emailing scientists and academics inviting them to sign Declan’s petition to the UN on therapeutic cloning; to date, the petition has been signed by 589 scientists and academics, who include recognised authorities from the world’s leading universities and research institutes, as well as 24 Nobel Laureates.

This is the email Declan sent this evening to the acting Idea Store Whitechapel manager:


Dear Ms Randall

With reference to my recent email to the Leader of Tower Hamlets Council, I am in receipt of an email from the Council stating: “Ms Lisa Randall, the acting Idea Store Whitechapel Manager, is available and willing to discuss the detailed matters you have raised with regard to the service [at Idea Store Whitechapel].”

I wish to confirm that this afternoon at Idea Store Whitechapel, between 1.10pm and 2.10pm, I was unable to access my website at http://network.obxhost.net/index.html; MIMEsweeper stating: “DNS look-up failed for ‘network.obxhost.net’”. I subsequently experienced no such difficulty on the same computer between 2.10pm and 7.10pm.

I would be obliged if any discourse between us on this matter would be confined to writing in order to avoid any misunderstanding that may occur.

Please would you acknowledge receipt.

Yours sincerely
Declan Heavey
Card no. D000355837

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

New NAC website blocklisted

Although the new NAC website in support of embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning was launched only a week ago at network.obxhost.net, already it has been “blocklisted”, according to 14 out of 15 personalised emails that I sent this afternoon to scientists at Columbia University Medical Centre inviting them to sign Declan’s petition to UN on therapeutic cloning. Of the 14 emails that were returned to me as undelivered, each Delivery Status Notification states that Google tried to deliver the message “but it was rejected by the recipient domain” because “the web site network.obxhost.net is listed in a blocklist (state 18)”.



This is particularly challenging because nowhere in the email I send does network.obxhost.net appear (see below). Then, to add insult to injury, I suppose, less than half an hour later I received an unsolicited email from AOLUKEmail@aol.com informing me that for £2.99 per month I can protect my computer from hackers!



As I said in the blog of 22 January “No access to new NAC website” (for an entire day last Thursday we could access neither the website nor the web host at our local council’s Idea Store Whitechapel), perhaps I am just unlucky with the websites I build. On 8 March 2008, the original NAC website was suspended due to what turned out to be spam as reported via SpamCop on 6 March (see blog of 14 March “SpamCop reports Declan as a spammer”). I believe there is link between SpamCop’s report to our web host branding us as spammers and an email Declan received the day previous, on 5 March, from the Home Office advising in response to several emails he addressed to Home Secretary Jacqueline Smith that no warrant to intercept his communications had been issued (see blog of 9 March Home Office denies warrant to intercept communications).

We really have little option in this situation other than to play the odds in the hope that a few emails get through. Since 22 October 2007, Declan’s petition has been signed by 589 scientists and academics, including 24 Nobel Laureates, and this despite excessive spamming (see, for example, blog of 5 December “On red alert”; the last week of November it took 661 emails to get two signatures, and earlier in the same month a record 1,072 emails for one signature and then 640 emails for two signatures).

For the record, this is the personalised email that I have been sending to scientists and academics since the launch of the new NAC site (as from this evening, the penultimate paragraph – which commences: “If you would like to mention the petition to a fellow academic who may be interested in signing this would be much appreciated” - will cite “blocklisted” and will link to this blog entry):


Dear Dr Personalised

I am writing to you, and to other supporters of stem cell research, to ask if you would consider signing my petition to the United Nations entitled ... . Since 22 October 2007, the petition has been signed by 589 scientists and academics, who include recognised authorities from the world's leading universities and research institutes, as well as 24 Nobel Laureates. From New York State, notable signatories include, among others, Nobel Laureates Sir Paul Nurse and Paul Greengard at The Rockefeller University, Nobel Laureate Ivar Giaever at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Drs Gerald Fischbach at Columbia University and Mark Noble at the University of Rochester. (For a list of signatories in alphabetical order, please see attachment.)

The petition calls for the establishment of a reasonable timetable for a UN declaration that would draw a distinction between somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) - sometimes referred to as "therapeutic cloning" to distinguish it from reproductive cloning research - while specifically leaving it to UN member states to decide for themselves on nuclear transfer within a regulation framework. On 23 December 2007, Richard Moxon, Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Oxford, added the following comment to his signing of the petition: "The dogmatic stance of many individuals who place a higher value on decisions made according to religious doctrine than on scientific reasoning is of inestimable harm to the welfare of humanity. This petition seeks to accord a more balanced framework for decisions on the important issues associated with cloning for reproductive and therapeutic benefits."

My name is Declan Heavey. I am co-director with my wife Lola of Network of those Abused by Church (NAC), a London-based international secular humanist organisation that seeks to expose the public to the scientific perspective on public policy issues, and this presupposes the separation of church and state and public policies that are based on secular principles, not religious doctrine. Despite a distinguished list of international trustees and honorary associates (see below), Lola and I are of no fixed abode and have been sleeping rough on the streets of London since 3 November 2006. I submitted my application to the European Court of Human Rights on 8 September 2007 in the case of Heavey v the United Kingdom with a request for priority under Rule 41 of the Rules of Court; a second request for priority was submitted by me on 4 July 2008. The Court, sitting on 7 October 2008 as a Committee of three judges (G Bonello, President, David Thor Björgvinsson and J Šikuta), found that the application "did not disclose any appearance of a violation of the rights and freedoms set out in the Convention or its Protocols" and decided to declare the application "inadmissible".

NAC Trustees:

Peter Atkins, University of Oxford, UK
Vern Bullough+, University of Southern California, deceased, USA
Joseph Chuman, Columbia University, USA
Arthur Dobrin, Hofstra University, USA
R Joseph Hoffmann, Center for Inquiry, USA
Michael Irwin, Friends at the End, UK
Elton Kessel, Oregon Health & Science University, USA
Gerald A Larue+, University of Southern California, USA
Stephen D Mumford, The Center for Research on Population & Security, USA, Chair
Jack Parsons, Author, deceased, UK
Howard B Radest, University of South Carolina, USA
Herb Silverman, College of Charleston, USA
Lewis Wolpert, University College London, UK

NAC Honorary Associates:

Phillip Adams AO, Author/Broadcaster, Australia
Philip W Anderson*, Princeton University, USA
John P Anton, University of South Florida, USA
Louis J Appignani, The Louis J Appignani Foundation, USA
Scott Atran, University of Michigan, USA
Dan Barker, Freedom From Religion Foundation, USA
Joseph E Barnhart, University of North Texas, USA
Frederick Crews, University of California Berkeley, USA
Daniel C Dennett+, Tufts University, USA
Theodore Drange, West Virginia University, USA
Evan M Fales, University of Iowa, USA
James H Fetzer, University of Minnesota, USA
Johan Galtung+, Transcend, Norway
Donald C Johanson+, Arizona State University, USA
George Klein+, Karolinska Institute, Sweden
Sir Harold Kroto*, Florida State University, USA
Wesley Morriston, University of Colorado, USA
Piergiorgio Odifreddi, University of Turin, Italy
Sir Roger Penrose, University of Oxford, UK
Steven Pinker+, Harvard University, USA
James Randi, The James Randi Educational Foundation, USA
Andreas Rosenberg, University of Minnesota, USA
Nathan Salmon, University of California Santa Barbara, USA
Theodore W Schick, Muhlenberg College, USA
David M Seaborg, World Rainforest Fund, USA
Michael Shermer, Skeptics Society, USA
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Dartmouth College, USA
Victor J Stenger, University of Hawaii, USA
Herman Suit, Harvard University, USA
Alan Trounson AO, California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, USA
Michael Tye, University of Texas, USA

* Nobel Laureate
+ Humanist Laureate

Human embryonic stem cell (hESC) research is being fiercely fought off at national and international levels by pro-lifers who believe that destroying a human embryo amounts to 'killing' a human being. An example is the United Nations Declaration on Human Cloning, adopted in 2005, which culminated an effort that had commenced in 2001 with a proposal by France and Germany for a convention against reproductive cloning of human beings. The three-and-a-half year negotiation was intense and emotionally charged with religious overtones about the 'moral status' of the human embryo (including through the active participation of the Holy See) and the ethical and legal appropriateness of hESC research.

The Human Cloning Declaration makes no distinction between reproductive cloning and SCNT, and its wording can be interpreted as a UN call for a total ban on all forms of cloning, as noted by, among others, the United Kingdom, China, Spain, India, Japan and South Africa. A number of US and European medical and scientific groups expressed dismay over the adoption of the Declaration.

Given their unique ability to become every cell type found in the human body, hESCs are expected to have far-reaching applications in the study of early human development, the development of new drugs, and regenerative medicine. Human ES cell-derived mature cells could potentially be transplanted to restore tissue function in a wide range of human diseases that are associated with loss of cell function. These conditions may include neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases, Multiple Sclerosis, cerebrovascular accidents, spinal cord injuries, as well as heart failure, diabetes mellitus, and others. The number of patients that potentially could benefit from transplantation of hESCs is overwhelming. For example there are over 16 million patients worldwide with neurodegenerative disorders, and over 120 million diabetic patients. Moreover, transplantation of genetically modified hESCs may allow the transfer and expression of foreign genes in target organs in the course of gene therapy ("The Potential of hESCs for Transplantation Therapy", The Hadassah Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research Center website).

If you find that you can endorse the contents of this petition, I would be extremely grateful and honoured if you would consider being a signatory.

I regret that the original NAC website was suspended on 8 March 2008 due to spam as reported via SpamCop (see NAC blog of 14 March "SpamCop reports Declan as a spammer"). However, Lola and I are currently building a website in support of hESC research and SCNT (launched 19 January), which can be accessed through the NAC blog. Central to the campaign will be benefits of hESC technology to tens of millions of people; for example, the growth of human blood for transfusion (see blog of 22 August), the generation of retinal pigment epithelium cells to treat human blindness (see blog of 26 August), and the generation of neural cells to repair the myelin in the brain (see blog of 10 September). The campaign will argue that stem cell research, including hESC research, is not only vital to advancing regenerative medicine, but has the potential to be an economic boon for countries and to lower overall domestic health care costs (see blog of 12 November); a chief objective of the campaign in support of SCNT is to propagate the call of some of the world's leading figures in bioethics for a relaxation of rules restricting the compensation of egg donors to boost the supply of human eggs needed for nuclear transfer (see our website's "Take action" feature under the section entitled "New York State").

For more about the campaign website, please see blog of 1 November "Can a cell have a soul?"; and for more about NAC and my own background, please see blog of 20 September 2007 "Issues raised in the JREF Forum".

Please be assured that GoPetition has a range of useful features freely available to all petition authors to enable flexibility for online campaigning, such as anti-spam filters and the facility to delete signatures. Moreover, Lola and I will only consider going public to patients' rights organisations and the general public once we have a sufficient number of distinguished signatories, and hopefully the endorsement of scientific organisations. Should a member of the general public sign this petition before we have gone public, we will delete the signature and inform the signatory that we are in the process of seeking the endorsement of distinguished scientists and academics and will get back to them once we are taking the petition to the general public.

If you would like to mention the petition to a fellow academic who may be interested in signing this would be much appreciated. On the other hand, I do understand that you may not wish to receive unsolicited mail from me. Please do not hesitate to contact me should you wish to be removed from my mailing list.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Yours sincerely
Declan Heavey

Mobile 077 9284 3167
dheavey@gmail.com
http://www.[petition].html
http://network-of-those-abused-by-church.blogspot.com
http://www.nac1.bravehost.com

Monday, January 26, 2009

First Human Trial of Embryo-Derived Treatment

The violence and economic strangulation against us continues unabated (see blog of 21 January “Violence and economic strangulation”). As I stated in the previous blog, on Saturday Declan thought it best if we left the Catholic Manna Centre, without even a bite to eat - the second time in a week that we have felt the need to do so. In the blog of 17 November, I wrote that our Big Issue pitches - The Big Issue is a magazine sold by homeless people on registered pitches throughout the UK - have been terminated (see blog of 11 November “Letter of complaint to the chair of The Big Issue Foundation Charity”). We can still sell the magazine on the pitches we had for two years but we have no priority whatsoever: we have to leave the pitches if the vendors to whom they have been allocated come along, and not stand in on them at all if a vendor is already there. This is an extremely serious situation for me in particular, in that I am facing possible prosecution for begging.

Dr Claude Gerstle and daughter Jessica Gerstle talk to a scientist about his research on embryonic stem cells grown in petri dishes.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has cleared to proceed the first human trial of a therapy based on human embryonic stem cells, in a study that promises to open a new era for medicine, The Times reported last Friday. Paralysed patients will this summer become the first people in the world to receive the therapy, which has huge potential to cure disease yet is considered unethical by “pro-life” groups because it involves destroying embryos.

The decision marks a sea-change in US government attitudes to stem cells, as President Obama prepares to lift restrictions imposed by President Bush that hampered progress in the field. Mr Obama pledged in his inaugural address to “restore science to its rightful place”, and to end White House obstruction of stem-cell research.

The new FDA ruling will allow doctors to inject specialised spinal cells grown from embryonic tissue into patients who have just become paralysed from the chest down. It is hoped that the cell transplants will prompt regrowth of damaged nerves, restoring sensation and movement to people who would otherwise have been paralysed for life. The treatment will be used on people a week or two after they suffer their spinal injury; it cannot help those already paralysed.

A successful trial would transform the prospects of thousands of people for whom few treatment options currently exist, said The Times, adding that if the results are positive, the therapy could be approved for wider use within three to five years.

Thomas Okarma, chief executive of the Geron, which developed the treatment, is quoted by the paper as saying: “This marks the beginning of what is potentially a new chapter in medical therapeutics - one that reaches beyond pills to a new level of healing: the restoration of organ and tissue function by the injection of healthy replacement cells. The ultimate goal is to achieve restoration of spinal cord function.”

In a recent paper published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, Professor Ronald Green, Faculty Director of Dartmouth’s Ethics Institute, writes:

At present, opposition to hES cell research is a relatively cost-free stance that permits those adopting it to reap many symbolic and organisational rewards. This could change if hES cell research fulfils its therapeutic promise. For the past few years, I have been predicting that our stem cell debates will end abruptly the day after the first diabetic child walks out of a stem cell clinic cured of the disease. If families must choose between embryos and treatments for sick loved ones, the full gravity of these commitments will become clearer. Then, the family-values component of the anti-hES cell position will be internally challenged, as people will ask how they best can express their commitment to the welfare of families and children. Is it by opposing the destruction of human embryos, or by turning spare, and otherwise doomed, embryos to human benefit? If that happens, I believe, many of the opponents will look anew at their real valuation of the early embryo, and most will opt for cures.

Geron’s trial will soon appear as the second lead item on the homepage of our new website in support of embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning (launched last Monday); Professor Green’s article will appear as a link. They would be there now if it wasn’t for the fact that my first computer at our local council’s Idea Store Whitechapel is at 1.15pm and I am restricted to a maximum of three hours – we frequently run into difficulties at this library (see, for example, Friday’s blog “Letter to the Leader of Tower Hamlets Council”; on Thursday I was unable to access either our website or the web host). Our fight to raise £450 for a laptop to build the site continues. Today we received a first donation of £20. It was a momentous occasion for us both, actually.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

New York State – Take action

This morning Declan thought it best if we left the Catholic Manna Centre at 9.00am, without even a bit to eat; only the third time we have done so since we learnt about the place back last Easter, and the second time in a week (see blog of 21 January “Violence and economic strangulation”). Declan continues to wash in the street, which he has been doing since 10 April last year as a result of all the harassment he has received from other homeless: see, for example, blog of 16 May 2008 “More racially aggravated harassment in the Dellow Centre”; or blog of 18 June 2008 “Declan robbed in the Sisters of Mercy Dellow Centre”; or blog of 19 June 2008 “Declan assaulted in the Manna Centre”. Oh, and on 18 June 2007 we were barred from the Methodist Church Whitechapel Mission by the minister’s wife due to concerns about our safety, after I was assaulted in an unprovoked attack by a homeless woman in the canteen (see here). Declan has written on several occasions to the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, in his capacity as Archbishop of the Diocese of Westminster, to which the Dellow Centre belongs (see blog of 6 November 2008 “Letter to Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor”).

With respect to the new NAC website in support of embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning (see blog of 19 January “NAC website launched”), this afternoon we finalised our Take action, which is part of New York State under Law and Policy in the USA. We are not the only ones aware that on Monday the ethics committee of New York’s Empire State Stem Cell Board will meet and consider whether payments to women who donate their eggs for stem cell research should be permitted: Jesse Reynolds of the Center for Genetics and Society, a nonprofit public policy organisation based in California, is against and has written an opinion in Newsday.

This is our Take action (Richard Daines is the New York State Health Commissioner and chairs the Empire State Stem Cell Board):


Dear Commissioner Daines

I understand that at the state level the issue of compensation of oocyte (egg) donors is arising in the deliberations of New York’s Empire State Stem Cell Board which was created legislatively in 2007 to provide state funding for stem cell research. In this letter, I urge you and the other members of the Empire State Stem Cell Board Ethics Committee to permit compensation to women who donate their eggs for stem cell research that seeks to use somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) - sometimes referred to as “therapeutic cloning” to distinguish it from reproductive cloning research - to produce embryonic stem cells.

There is no sound, persuasive ethical reasons why New York State funds should not be available to compensate egg donors. This view was endorsed at the Ethics Committee meeting of 22 February 2008 by Dr Henry Greely, who is the Deane F and Kate Edelman Johnson Professor of Law at Stanford University and chairs the California Advisory Committee on Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research. He suggested New York should allow some compensation for gamete donation because it is not unethical for women to receive some compensation for their pain, suffering and time. However, he also recommended establishing some type of limit on the amount of compensation paid to donors.

On 27 June 2008, Dr Catherine Racowsky, Director of the Assisted Reproductive Technology Lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and an Associate Professor of reproductive biology at Harvard Medical School, presented information to the Ethics Committee on the risks of ovarian stimulation, surgical risks, psychological risks, cancer risks, and risks to future fertility. Committee members were advised that Dr Racowsky served on the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Assessing the Medical Risks of Human Oocyte Donation for Stem Cell Research (IOM Committee) that developed the report by the same name that was distributed to Board members in May.

Dr Racowsky concluded that with appropriate selection and careful monitoring of stimulation, ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome should be preventable in all or almost all egg donors; that the anesthetic and surgery risks are very low; that there are potential psychological risks that can be addressed in most cases with appropriate counselling; and that most cancer studies are reassuring in not showing a strong association between fertility drug use and cancer rates, although some have shown increased risk with greater drug use or when patients have been followed over a longer period of time. In response to questions from Board members, Dr Racowsky stated that she thought egg donors should be compensated, but noted that how that is done is very tricky in light of the potential for undue inducement.

Moreover, Dr Carl Coleman, who is the Director of the Health, Law and Policy Program at Seton Hall Law School and was previously Counsel, and then Executive Director, to the New York State Task Force on Life and the Law, suggested to the members of the Ethics Committee on 4 September 2008 that thinking of an egg donor as a research subject makes sense and that the compensation for research subjects and IVF donors often includes consideration of the time, inconvenience, and discomfort, and in some cases, the risk.

It is important to include in the ethical analysis the potential for good that can come from SCNT. The Coalition for the Advancement of Medical Research (CAMR) is the USA’s leading bipartisan pro-cures coalition. In a report released on 12 January 2009 entitled “A Catalyst for Cures: Embryonic Stem Cell Research”, CAMR states: “Somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) is another example of a technology with promise that has faced unexpected challenges. Oocyte availability, for example, has been problematic. Yet the challenges are worth overcoming. ‘SCNT is the only known procedure for completely and normally reprogramming a cell,’ says John Gearhart, University of Pennsylvania. Because SCNT is more efficient than iPS cell technology for reprogramming cells, and can be done without inserting new genes, continued studies of SCNT could help scientists find the linchpin to make reprogramming factors more efficient and effective. SCNT will also provide fundamental insights into how an egg reprograms that will teach a great deal about basic biology.”

Yours sincerely

Friday, January 23, 2009

Letter to the Leader of Tower Hamlets Council

For the record, below is the letter that Declan sent this afternoon by email and registered post to the Leader of Tower Hamlets Council, Councillor Lutfur Rahman, who is also the Leader of the Labour Group, concerning the Council’s Idea Store Whitechapel, the borough’s flagship library, learning and information service. We frequently run into trouble in the library, especially with internet access and computer bookings (see, for example, the previous blog: all day yesterday I couldn’t access the new NAC website at
http://network.obxhost.net/index.html from the Idea Store; in fact, I couldn’t even access the web host OBXHost.net to upload my work).

In response to Declan’s last email of 9 January to Cllr Rahman, a senior management support officer replied within minutes as follows:


from: Sharon Ball
to: Declan Heavey
date: Fri, Jan 9, 2009 at 2:21 PM
subject RE: Idea Store Whitechapel

Hi Sergio
Please could you have a look at the email below, I am unsure who/how it should be actioned.

Sharon Ball
Senior Management Support Officer
020 7364 5965

Declan hasn’t heard further from this support officer but as the word ‘actioned’ is somewhat ambiguous, he has included the full contents of his email letter of 9 January to Cllr Rahman in the email he sent earlier this afternoon:


from: Declan Heavey
to: cllr.lutfur.rahman@towerhamlets.gov.uk
date: Fri, Jan 23, 2008 at 4:08 PM
subject: Idea Store Whitechapel
mailed-by: gmail.com

Dear Cllr Rahman

I am writing to you in your capacity as Leader of Tower Hamlets Council to refer further to the attached copy of my most recent correspondence with the Head of Idea Stores, Mr Ian McNicol, to whom the former Leader of Tower Hamlets Council, Cllr Denise Jones, referred my original complaint of 21 January 2008 regarding Idea Store Whitechapel and the repeated loss of computer bookings and internet access on both my wife's card (card no. D000350314) and my card (card no. D000355837) since 14 November 2007.

In the absence of a response from Mr McNichol with respect to the aforementioned complaint, I wish to draw to your attention that yesterday at Idea Store Whitechapel between 1.15pm and 7.15pm I was unable to access either my website at http://network.obxhost.net/index.html or the associated web host OBXHost.net (see second attachment for a copy of a snag of a MIMEsweeper notice stating: "DNS look-up failed for 'network.obxhost.net'"). According to their website, OBXHost.net is "a leading Free Web Site Hosting Provider" whose "service is highly reliable". They add that they only use "quality high end servers that are constantly monitored 24 hours a day to ensure your site is always online".

As I mentioned in my previous email to you of 9 January, a member of staff at Idea Store Whitechapel on 8 January could not offer an explanation as to why the computer I had booked was the only computer out of a network of 24 computers on the floor to have slowed down to a virtual standstill when no other computer on the floor had a complaint of any description against it. I reconfirm that since my complaint of 21 January 2008 to Cllr Jones, my wife and I not only have experienced repeated loss of computer bookings and internet access, but several other problems to boot. For example:

(i) 1 February 2008: the Principal Idea Store Manager, Mr Sergio Dogliani, wrote to me advising that the restriction by Idea Store Whitechapel of both my wife and I to a 3-hour maximum free computer use per day as from 29 January stands, despite that for several previous months we were given "additional time" subject to computer availability and in accordance with the Council's then and current "Idea Stores PC Usage Policy";

(ii) 24 June 2008: at approximately 12.30pm, a member of staff threatened my wife with "security" if she did not give her computer up to another card holder, despite that thirty minutes earlier a member of staff had confirmed in writing that my wife had booked the computer from 11.30am to 2.30pm;

(iii) 3 August 2008: both of the computers my wife and I had booked the previous day contained an identical virus which spread to the two USB drives we were using. This rendered my wife's portable programs inoperable. It also corrupted some of my most valuable data: a database containing the names, email addresses and contact information for over 3,000 scientists and academics from around the world, and a related Word document containing a categorised list of over 150 British signatories of a petition of mine to the United Nations on therapeutic cloning;

(iv) 6 August 2008: at approximately 2.45pm, MIMEsweeper blocked access to my Google Mail account due to "Porn Detected". At 3.10pm, following the restoration of my access to the account, the IT technician informed me without explanation that "it may happen again for any length of time".

As I explained in my original complaint to you of 4 August 2008 following (iii) above, since 22 October 2007 my wife and I have been using as much of our computer time in Idea Store Whitechapel as possible to contact scientists and academics to invite them to sign my petition to the United Nations on therapeutic cloning, also known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). To date, this petition has been signed by 589 scientists and academics, who include recognised authorities from the world's leading universities and research institutes, as well as 24 Nobel Laureates.

I once again acknowledge receipt of an email of 7 August 2008 from your Personal Assistant, Ms Rachel Bielby, stating: "Cllr Rahman is now on leave until the end of August. I have asked the office of the Director of Communities, Localities and Culture's office to deal with your correspondence." I confirm that on 9 January, minutes after my previous email to you, I received an email from Senior Management Support Officer, Ms Sharon Ball, questioning only whether any of the reconfirmed information above is 'actionable' by Tower Hamlets Council.

Please would you acknowledge receipt.

Yours sincerely
Declan Heavey

Thursday, January 22, 2009

No access to new NAC website

With respect to the new NAC website in support of embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning (see blog of 19 January “NAC website launched”), I was hoping to upload more New York State documents today, minus a “Take action” on payment for egg donation which the ethics committee of the Empire State Stem Cell Board is currently discussing. Alas, after spending an hour putting the finishing touches to a new banner, I found out that I couldn’t access the site at http://network.obxhost.net/index.html from our local council’s Idea Store Whitechapel. In fact, I can’t even access the web host OBXHost.net to upload the work.



According to their website, OBXHost.net is “a leading Free Web Site Hosting Provider” whose “service is highly reliable”. They add that they only use “quality high end servers that are constantly monitored 24 hours a day to ensure your site is always online”. I find it a bit difficult to believe that OBXHost.net has been down for over five hours now.

Perhaps I am just unlucky with the websites I build. On 8 March 2008, the original NAC website was suspended due to what turned out to be spam as reported via SpamCop on 6 March (see blog of 14 March “SpamCop reports Declan as a spammer”); only the day before SpamCop’s report to our web host branding us as spammers, the Home Office emailed Declan on behalf of Home Secretary Jacqueline Smith to confirm that no warrant to intercept his communications had been issued - since 22 October 2007, I have been contacting scientists and academics to invite them to sign Declan’s petition to the UN on therapeutic cloning; to date this petition has been signed by 588 scientists and academics, who - despite excessive spamming (see, for example, blog of 5 December “On red alert”) - include recognised authorities from the world’s leading universities and research institutes, as well as 24 Nobel Laureates.

This is the new NAC banner:



With no access to the new NAC website to upload more NYS documents, tomorrow I will turn to a “Take action” in respect of payment for egg donation which will make the case that donors should not be paid for their eggs, but rather they should be compensated for the burdens of egg retrieval (reference: Steinbock B. Payment for egg donation and surrogacy. Mt Sinai J Med 2004;71:255-265). This take action - for the NYS subsection entitled “Empire State Stem Cell Board” - will be uploaded here as some previous NYS documents have been.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Violence and economic strangulation

For two years we survived on the streets of London by selling The Big Issue, a magazine sold by homeless people on registered pitches throughout the UK. As I wrote in the blog of 17 November, our Big Issue pitches have been terminated (see blog of 11 November “Letter of complaint to the chair of The Big Issue Foundation Charity”). Although we can still sell the magazine on the pitches we had for two years, we have no priority whatsoever: we have to leave if the vendors to whom the pitches have been allocated come along, and not stand in on the pitches at all if a vendor is already there – the former was experienced by Declan this evening (a first in three weeks). The fact that we don’t have pitches any more is particularly serious for me, because I am facing possible prosecution for begging.

With respect to our campaign in support of embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning, I announced in Monday’s blog that the website is launched at http://network.obxhost.net/index.html - the same morning Declan was virtually attacked by a rough sleeper outside the Catholic Sisters of Mercy Dellow Centre (see blog of 6 November 2008 “Letter to Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor”; Declan has written on several occasions to Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, in his capacity as Archbishop of the Diocese of Westminster, to which the Dellow Centre belongs). I am hoping to have finished uploading New York State within a few days, including a “Take action” in respect of payment for egg donation which the ethics committee of the Empire State Stem Cell Board is currently discussing. The Take action will make the case that donors should not be paid for their eggs, but rather they should be compensated for the burdens of egg retrieval (reference: Steinbock B. Payment for egg donation and surrogacy. Mt Sinai J Med 2004;71:255-265).

Monday, January 19, 2009

NAC website launched

As I said in the previous blog, “New York State – Render Unto Darwin excerpt”, as a result of not being a hundred per cent sure that I am going to have computers from one week to the next at our local council’s Idea Store Whitechapel, the borough’s flagship library, learning and information service (see blog of 9 January “Letter to the Leader of Tower Hamlets Council”), last week I started to quickly build our website in support of embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning. This morning after Declan was virtually attacked by a rough sleeper outside the Catholic Sisters of Mercy Dellow Centre (see blog of November 2008 “Letter to Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor”; Declan has written on several occasions to Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, in his capacity as Archbishop of the Diocese of Westminster, to which the Dellow Centre belongs), I uploaded a few pages, namely the home page, what we do, and the excerpt from Dr James Fetzer’s latest book RENDER UNTO DARWIN, the flagship of the site. This is the link: http://network.obxhost.net/index.html

I am re-using the design of the NAC website that was suspended by Bravenet on 8 March. Once I have a laptop - for which we are seeking to raise £450 - I will quickly build a website loosely based on Greenpeace International and Greenpeace UK. Up to now I have published three snags under Law and Policy in New York State for the site: the first in the blog of 5 January “New York State home page”; the second in the blog of 7 January “New York State - Advocacy efforts”; and third in the blog of 10 January “New York State – New York State Catholic Conference”.

Once I have uploaded New York State, probably in a matter of days the way things are going, I will continue developing the homepage (below is a snag of what the original NAC homepage looked like before it was suspended); the banner is also changing: what was originally termed “liberal reforms strongly rejected by the Vatican and the Christian Right” has become “the scientific perspective on public policy issues”.



Saturday, January 17, 2009

New York State – Render Unto Darwin excerpt

This morning at 8.10am Declan thought it best if we left the queue outside the Catholic Manna Centre; the first time we have ever left a queue outside any day centre since we became rough sleepers over two years ago (3 November 2006). Declan continues to wash in the street, which he has been doing since 10 April last year as a result of all the harassment he has received from other homeless: see, for example, blog of 16 May 2008 “More racially aggravated harassment in the Dellow Centre”; or blog of 18 June 2008 “Declan robbed in the Sisters of Mercy Dellow Centre”; or blog of 19 June 2008 “Declan assaulted in the Manna Centre”. Oh, and on 18 June 2007 we were barred from the Methodist Church Whitechapel Mission by the minister’s wife due to concerns about our safety, after I was assaulted in an unprovoked attack by a homeless woman in the canteen (see here). Declan has written on several occasions to the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, in his capacity as Archbishop of the Diocese of Westminster, to which the Dellow Centre belongs (see blog of 6 November 2008 “Letter to Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor”).

I am not a hundred per cent sure that I am going to have computers from one week to the next week at our local council’s Idea Store Whitechapel, the borough’s flagship library, learning and information service (see blog of 9 January “Letter to the Leader of Tower Hamlets Council”), so I have started to quickly build our website in support of embryonic stem cell research and therapeutic cloning. (For more about this website see blog of 1 November “Can a cell have a soul?”.) Up to now I have published three snags under Law and Policy in New York State for the site: the first in the blog of 5 January “New York State home page”; the second in the blog of 7 January “New York State - Advocacy efforts”; and third in the blog of 10 January “New York State – New York State Catholic Conference”.

Render Unto Darwin: Philosophical Aspects of the Christian Right’s Crusade Against Science    
  James Fetzer and his latest book, RENDER UNTO DARWIN


From the navigation menu for New York State Catholic Conference, we have an excerpt from James Fetzer’s latest book, RENDER UNTO DARWIN: Philosophical Aspects of the Christian Right’s Crusade Against Science, as presented below. This excerpt is also accessible directly from the home page as the flagship of the soon-to-be-launched website; I may have to cut my loses (for now), launch in one or two days and build accordingly. (The blog of 18 November, “Our sleeping pitch is soaked”, includes a snag of a page from the NAC website suspended on 8 March.)

RENDER UNTO DARWIN: Philosophical Aspects of the Christian Right’s Crusade Against Science

January 13,2009 | Below is an abbreviated excerpt from Chapter 4 of James Fetzer’s latest book, RENDER UNTO DARWIN: Philosophical Aspects of the Christian Right's Crusade Against Science (Chicago, IL: Open Court, 2007).

In Chapter 4, "The Immorality of the Christian Right", Fetzer explains that morality can be objectively validated independently of religion, and that only a deontological standard of ethics - requiring that we treat other persons with respect and never merely as means - passes the essential tests. He argues that since the treatment of early-term fetuses as persons cannot be logically justified and thereby violates the ethics of belief, even religious persons who interfere with the right of others to abortion and stem-cell research – no matter how sincere their beliefs or moral their lives in other respects – are pursuing unethical policies.

James Fetzer is a leading philosopher and public intellectual. He is Distinguished McKnight University Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Minnesota, Duluth.

“Biting assay of Darwinism’s latest clash with Biblical-fueled politics. Fetzer diagnoses a chilling facist beat in his homeland’s now-speak of fear, self-righteous conformity, and egoistic belligerence. Essential reading for all who care about science and genuine faith, and their alliance in defense of true liberty.”
—Charles J Lumsden

Co-author (with Edward O Wilson) of Genes, Mind, and Culture and Promethean Fire


Visit Open Court for more about the book and the author.

By James H Fetzer PhD (NAC Honorary Associate)

CHAPTER 4

The Immorality of the
Christian Right

• We rely on our beliefs to guide our actions
• We’re morally entitled to hold a belief only if we’re logically entitled to hold it
• Of eight commonly-held moral theories, only one, treating other persons as ends-in-themselves, is defensible
• Persons acquire rights in graduated stages; stem cell, zygotes, embryos, or early-term fetuses are not persons
• It’s immoral for religious persons to interfere politically with abortions, stem-cell research, or cloning


We act on our beliefs. When our beliefs are true, our actions are, in those respects, appropriately guided. When they are false, they are, in those respects, inappropriate and misguided. A pragmatic conception of truth maintains that beliefs are true to the extent to which they provide appropriate guidance for action (Fetzer, 1990). Truth, like directions themselves, is therefore amenable to degrees, where, relative to our objectives and goals, the more appropriate the guidance beliefs provide, the greater their truth. Truth may also be identical with correspondence to reality, or, more broadly, with the way things are, a far more traditional conception, which explains why truths, which correspond with reality, provide appropriate guidance for actions.

Because we act on our beliefs, beliefs have causal consequences in the world that go beyond their merely logical implications. If we believe that abortion is murder, for example, and that doctors who perform them are ‘baby killers’, we may be disposed to take matters into our own hands and kill the killers of the innocent unborn – in the name of ‘life’. Just as our actions must be moral to be worthy of praise rather than of condemnation, however, so too must our beliefs be worthy of acceptance rather than of rejection or – which for many may be far more difficult – suspension of belief. According to a principle known as the ethics of belief (Clifford 1879), we are morally entitled to hold a belief only when we are logically entitled to hold that belief. This principle sounds simple, but its effects can be profound.

An alternative approach known as the will to believe (James 1897) holds that in some cases a belief may be worthy of acceptance even if there is no empirical evidence in its support, especially when the causal consequences of adopting that belief are beneficial. Belief in God might be said to be justified because it makes a contribution to morality. The enormous differences in beliefs represented by the world’s religions, however, not to mention the diverse sects and creeds of varied faiths, suggests that ‘the will to believe’ can take many varied forms. It does not appear promising for resolving conflicts between members of diverse faiths.

[…]

4.1 Is Morality Without Religion Possible?

It will generate little controversy to suggest that religious beliefs can be loosely classified into the broad general categories of religious beliefs about God or gods, which are theological in kind, and religious beliefs about morality which are social or political in kind. That virtually every theological belief qualifies as an article of faith would not be widely contested. Most theologians and philosophers concede that the existence of God (in anything approximating traditional conceptions) can neither be proven nor disproven, and that every true believer can rest assured that, at the very least, their theological beliefs cannot be shown to be false. By the same token, they cannot be shown to be true.

According to the principle of the ethics of belief, we are morally entitled to hold a belief only if we are logically entitled to hold it. If we grant that we are logically entitled to hold beliefs about the world only when they are appropriately related by suitable inductive and deductive logical relations to available evidence on the basis of observations, measurements, and experiments, then the only conceptions of god that appear to be empirically testable are those that identify God with nature, as in the case of pantheism. We interact with the natural world in space and time, after all, unlike a transcendent world beyond space and time to which we have no access. Beliefs about God as an omniscient and omnipotent entity existing beyond space and time, therefore, are beliefs about the world that we are not entitled to hold.

That most theological beliefs about God or gods are not beliefs we are logically entitled to hold does not mean that alternative conceptions of God or gods are, on that account, beyond debate. The conception of God as the Creator suggests that it makes more sense to envision God as a woman than as man. Women, after all, can give birth, which is something no man can do. But we are no more logically entitled to believe in God as a woman than we are to believe in God as a man. What may be even more intriguing than the status of religious beliefs about God is the status of religious beliefs about morality. The principle of the ethics of belief entails we are likewise not morally entitled to hold beliefs about morality unless we are logically entitled to hold them. This implies that many religious beliefs about morality may also be immoral unless they qualify as beliefs that we are logically entitled to hold.

Speaking generally, we are logically entitled to hold beliefs about the world only when they satisfy appropriate logical standards. We tend to assume that beliefs we can justify on the basis of direct experience are therefore justifiable, which - in the case of those who are not color-blind, tone deaf, and the like - tends to suffice in our practical lives. We can characterize this as 'ordinary knowledge'. For the purpose of this chapter and to exemplify the kinds of standards that matter here, I shall assume that a more exact conception would be codified by the most defensible account of the logical structure of scientific reasoning, which is known as abductivism and which incorporates inference to the best explanation, as readers of the book can discover in the Appendix. The products of this process are characterized as 'scientific knowledge'.

[…]

An important question thus becomes whether there are criteria of adequacy that might be employed to evaluate moral theories akin to those of inference to the best explanation for empirical theories. There appear to be three, namely:

(CA-1) an acceptable theory of morality must not reduce to the corrupt principle that might makes right;
(CA-2) an acceptable theory must suitably classify pre-analytically clear cases of moral and immoral behaviors (where these behaviors have been virtually universally acknowledged within human societies as moral and immoral, respectively, including speaking the truth and keeping promises, on the one hand, and murder, robbery, and rape, on the other); and
(CA-3) an acceptable theory should shed light on the pre-analytically problematical cases as well, including today, for example, abortion, cloning, and stem-cell research.

Actions based upon beliefs we are not morally entitled to hold are themselves immoral unless they qualify as moral by a standard that we are logically entitled to accept. This principle harmonizes with the Roman Catholic conception of natural law, according to which we must exercise our reason to discover what God would have us do, which in turn emanates from the classic question, ‘Is an action right because God wills it or does God will it because it is right?’ There appears to be general agreement that the former alternative both denies the goodness of God and trivializes morality. Hence, we must exercise our reason to discover what is right in order to know what God would have us do. Here we are exercising our reason in order to know what is right, apart from any commitment to God at all.

Eight Moral Theories Evaluated

Let’s evaluate eight theories of morality, including four ‘traditional’ theories, which makes morality a (non-rational) matter of circumstance, such as who you are or what family, religion, or culture you were born into. Employing the method of counterexample, it should be possible to establish which of these eight theories qualifies as the most defensible based upon the exercise of reason. As will become apparent, none of these theories provides a suitable foundation for the conception of morality as a set of objective and universal principles that are capable of satisfying the criteria of adequacy adopted here – with exactly one exception. This argument will draw the conclusion that it is the most defensible. (More extensive discussion may be found in Rachels 1999 and Rachels 2003.)

[…]

4.2 Abortion, Stem-Cells, and cloning

As students of political science are well aware, the principle of majority rule must be supplemented by principles of minority rights, lest the noble concept of democratic rule degenerate into no more than the tyranny of the mob.

A more defensible approach toward understanding morality, (T8), is a deontological theory, according to which an action A is right when it involves treating other persons as ends and never merely as means. Treating others ‘as ends’ means treating them as valuable in and of themselves, which may be encapsulated in the notion of always treating other persons with respect. Persons are thus entities with interests that are entitled to due consideration. If this is the most defensible conception of morality, as I shall contend, then it also demonstrates that some religious maxims, such as ‘the Golden Rule’ of doing unto others as you would have then do unto you, are correct, not because they are religious maxims but because they are logically justifiable.

(T8) does not mean that persons should never treat others as means but that persons should never treat others merely as means. We all treat one another as means all the time. Employers treat their employees as means to run a business and make a profit, while employees treat their employers as means to earn an income and make a living. As long as they are not treating each other with disrespect – by employers, for example, offering substandard wages, excess hours of employment, or unsafe work conditions; by employees clocking in for work not performed, stealing from their employer, or failing to perform the tasks for which they were hired – these can be moral relationships. Similarly for doctors and patients, lawyers and clients, students and teachers.

[…]

Only deontological theory appears capable of satisfying (CA-1) and (CA-2), while explaining why practices that are virtually condemned, such as murder, robbery, and rape, are immoral practices, and why practices that are virtually endorsed, such as keeping promises and speaking the truth, are moral practices. The former involve treating other persons merely as means, while the latter involve treating other persons with respect. There are situations, however, in which speaking the truth or promise keeping might conflict with morality. A spy caught behind enemy lines, for example, should not reveal the network of agents with whom she has been working because it would be wrong not to speak the truth. There are circumstances in which the right thing to do would be to remain silent or to deliberately misinform others.

[…]

Persons as persons have moral rights and incur obligations to treat others with respect, but not when others are violating those rights and not fulfilling their own obligations. Hence, there is no moral obligation to cooperate with those who violate morality. Interestingly, however, there might nevertheless be legal obligations to cooperate with those who violate morality, as with the whistleblower who abrogates contractual obligations to his company in order to expose crime and corruption. These are bona fide acts of supererogation, which all too often led to the punishment of those who sacrifice themselves for the sake of the common good, a conception that, in this time in history, almost appears quaint. But it reflects one more example of the possibility that the moral and the legal need not coincide, which is of primary concern.

So there can be conflicts between rules of thumb and exceptions to those rules. Even murder might be justifiable under special conditions. Some writers have speculated that, if attempts to assassinate Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin had been successful, many lives might have been spared. Since murder involved the deliberate killing of a person that is illegal, however, there is clearly room for debate over whether killing Hitler or Stalin would have been wrong. A tyrant who massively violates deontological principles by treating others with severe disrespect deserves to be punished, where the extent, duration, and intensity of their crimes may dictate extreme measures. Yet there’s a virtually universal consensus on the fundamental importance of due process for those accused of crimes, prisoners of war, and even unlawful combatants.

The contrast case, of course, is that of taking the life, not of a tyrant, such as Hitler or Stalin, but of an innocent, as in the case of abortion. The capacity to deal with cases like abortion, stem-cell research, and cloning is a crucial test of a theory relative to pre-analytically problematical cases. The slogan, ‘Abortion is murder’ raises the crucial questions of whether (a) the developing entity properly qualifies as a person and (b) whether killing the developing entity properly qualifies as wrongful. Since abortion is legal under Roe v. Wade (1973), question (b) is not whether killing the developing entity is legally wrong, which is not, but whether it is morally wrong. It’s morally wrong if it involves treating a person without respect and merely as a means. This is in turn implies that the crucial question about abortion is whether the entity under consideration properly qualifies as a person. So the key question is (a).

Gestation for human beings tends to be divided into stages by weeks, where the fertilized ovum (zygotic) stage is the first two weeks after conception, the early developmental (embryonic) stage is from the second to the eight week after conception, while the mid to late developmental (fetal) stage is from the ninth through the thirty-eight week of gestation, following which (for a normal pregnancy) a live birth occurs. If we accept (T8) as the most defensible theory of morality and explore its ramifications for abortions and stem-cell research, it follows that abortion and stem-cell research are immoral only if they involve treating other persons without due respect. The question is not whether these are stages in the development of a human being or whether or not life begins at conception. Those are questions whose answers are obvious and affirmative.

Do zygotes, embryos, and fetuses qualify as persons in the sense of social and moral entities that can have interests and that have to be treated with respect? Are they persons as entities with interests that are entitled to due consideration? Given the ethics of belief, this question cannot be properly answered based on articles of faith. Even if the Roman Catholic Church, for example, maintains the doctrine the ensoulment – that the soul enters the body at conception – this does not qualify as an acceptable solution to the problem. The presence or absence of souls is not accessible, directly and indirectly, to observation, measurement, or experiment, and cannot satisfy the condition of logical entitlement on the basis of inductive or deductive reasoning. Three possible sources of information that might matter in answering this question, however, include ordinary language, embryology, and law, especially the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade.

No unambiguous answer to this question appears to be derivable from the use of ordinary language. According to Webster’s New World Dictionary, Third College Edition (1988), the term has a variety of senses, such as the following:

person = df. a human being, especially as distinguished from a thing or lower animal; individual man, woman, or child … 3. a) a living human body b) bodily form or appearance (to be neat about one’s person) 4. personality; self; being; … 7. Law any individual or incorporated group having certain legal rights and responsibilities 8. Christian theol. any of the three modes of being (Father, Son and Holy Ghost) in the Trinity.


The notion of ‘a living human body’ suggests that to be a person an entity must have a separate existence, which hints that even fetuses may not qualify under ordinary language criteria. Certainly, the notion of ‘personality’ appears to be highly inappropriate for zygotes and embryos, especially, though some women report behavior by their fetuses during later stages indicative of personalities. At best, the use of the word ‘person’ in ordinary language appears to suggest that zygotes and embryos are only early stages in the development of persons.

Nor can the problem be resolved by appealing to medical embryology. The stages of embryonic development, for example, proceed through the fertilized ovum to blastocysts and villus formation on to entities that resemble shrimp or seahorses far more than they do human beings. Were morphological similarity the standard for personhood, then there would be no basis for making such a claim prior to the seventh week or later (Sadler 1990). Consider, for example, the appearance of the developing entity at day 36, day 37, day 38, and day 39:

[Figure 4.1 Some Stages in Embryogenesis]

At best, morphological similarities to live births likewise suggests that zygotes and embryos are no more than early stages in the development of persons. And surely that is what we should expect, since embryology is not a source of social and moral concepts but rather the study of the various stages of human gestation.

The prospect that zygotes and embryos are not more than early stages in the development of persons becomes important within the framework of the ethics of belief, because if they do not qualify as ‘persons’, then they are not the kinds of entities that are capable of having interests that require due consideration. In that case, abortions are not murder, because they do not involve the deliberate killing of a person that is morally wrong. Indeed, this turns out to be the case on two grounds, since (a) they are not persons at all and (b) they are not among the kinds of entities that it would be morally wrong to kill. (Even the deliberate killing of persons is not always considered to be morally wrong, as the examples of soldiers in combat, police in the performance of their duties, and civilians in self-defense display.) The non-person alternative would seem to be to consider the developing entity as a special kind of property, which may appropriately be entitled to special forms of protection under the law.

The Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade (1973) considered several criteria for the performance of abortions and divided the cycle of gestation into trimesters (three three-month long intervals). The Court decided that the government had no compelling rationale for interfering with abortions during the first three months of gestation, when they are unrestrictedly permissible, but that it had an interest in protection women in relation to abortion during the second three months of gestation, when how they were to be conducted could be subjected to regulation. In relation to the third trimester, the Court held that abortions were permissible but only to preserve the life or the health of the woman. Conservatives have bridled at this ruling, claiming that abortions should be permissible only in the case of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother and for no other reason. Some very few oppose it even in these cases.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Court’s ruling was the division of the cycle of pregnancy into trimesters, which can be correlated, at least approximately, with the development of the fetus, such that heart function has been established and brain activity is detectable by the end of the first trimester; brain function has been established and viability attained by the end of the second trimester; and a live birth typically occurs at the end of the third trimester, as the following diagram displays:

[Figure 4.2 The Court’s Trimester Division]

Thus, although the Court preserved the concept of personhood for the issue of live births, it could be argued that it was imposing a graduated scale of personhood for which the earliest stage occurs at the end of the second trimester, where the entity first deserves to be treated as of a kind capable of having interests that require due consideration; at this stage only, there are considerations in favor of a ‘right to life’ of the fetus, provided it does not conflict with a woman’s right to preserve her health and her life, should a tension develop between them.

The strongest inference that could be drawn from Roe v. Wade is that a person is a human fetus that has attained the status of viability. And that, indeed, appears to be a responsible position to adopt. It represents a vastly better reasoned approach than to assume that zygotes and embryos are persons. Legal rights and responsibilities, after all, are distributed attendant upon attaining certain standing in the community, often as a function of a person’s age. In most states, a person can obtain a driver’s license at age fifteen, can marry without their parents’ consent at age eighteen, and can vote in political elections at age twenty-one. Their governments assume corresponding duties and obligations to protect those rights. This graduated theory of rights and responsibilities is pervasive in human societies.

No one would argue that infants or children should be able to drive, to marry, or to vote, which supports the conception of graduated rights that are contingent upon reaching certain stages of development, where the ‘right to life’ of a fetus is only the first in a series of rights that increase with stages of development. And what if zygotes and embryos were persons? Governments would at the very least possess obligations to ensure their ‘right to life’ by such intrusive measures as, for example, mandatory monthly pregnancy testing; tracking the distribution of semen; monitoring sexual intercourse; promoting the ‘adoption’ of unwanted zygotes and embryos; and otherwise enforcing their legal rights. The situation would be absurd.

This does not mean that the Supreme Court has had the last word, even though in a case of this kind it must have the final say. It could be argued that advances in technology make ‘viability’ a shifting criterion. Today, in a well-equipped neonatal intensive care unit, survival in an artificial womb can sometimes be achieved at twenty-two weeks. But there are at least two responses to this observation, the first of which is that viability means survivability independently of any womb, natural or artificial. I happen to believe that is a defensible position to maintain. But if it were not, the Court might still have reached the right decision on the basis of the wrong premise.

Once we have cleared away the religious beliefs that tend to obfuscate the relevant issues, it becomes apparent that the normative notion of personhood as a social, legal, or moral concept needs to be suitably correlated with descriptive personhood as a scientific, empirical, or testable property. We need a criterion, such as viability, as a generally reliable but not therefore infallible standard. The deontological theory of morality, moreover, at the minimum implies the harm principle – namely, that it is morally wrong to inflict physical harm upon persons in the absence of their consent – which typically implies the presence of sentience or consciousness (ordinarily, the existence of the capacity to experience pain). Sentience would therefore appear to provide an alternative to viability as a preferable conception of the earliest stages of personhood.

A suitable normative conception could define ‘persons’ as genetic humans at or beyond the stage of sentience or consciousness and capable of suffering pain. In the absence of sentience or consciousness, the developing entities are not persons. In that case, prior to sentience, abortions do not involve the killing of persons and are not necessarily morally wrong. The corresponding descriptive property becomes cerebral cortical and CNS development at or beyond the stage sufficient for sentience or consciousness, which appears to coincide with the Court’s end of the second trimester on different grounds (Kandel 2000; Bear 2001). On either the viability criterion or the sentience criterion, therefore, the Supreme Court’s decision appears to be defensible, even though a host of issues remain about the nature of consciousness and mentality.

An intriguing counterexample to this approach, however, arises from the fact that some persons are born without the capacity of the sensation of pain (Bear 2001, p. 422). Even by describing them as ‘persons’, I agree it would be wrong to deny that they are persons as genetic human beings who are the products of live births but who lack the nociceptive system that warns most of us of the danger of damage to ourselves relative to painful stimuli. These persons therefore run risks and tend to live shorter lives than normal persons equipped with the ability to feel pain. This suggests that, as in the case of viability, the standard should be understood as the stage at which pain sensitivity is ordinarily present during fetal development. As a criterion of personhood, however, sentience can serve as a generally reliable but not therefore infallible rule of thumb, where viability would still be considered to be the more viable alternative definition.

4.3 Consciousness and Personhood

The conception of graduated rights that accrue at different stages in the life of a person supports the inference that, prior to viability, an entity that could develop into a human being has no ‘right to life’, especially in a conflict with those of the woman who bears it. Sentience, however, understood as implying the capacity to experience pain, serves as a (possibly more defensible) alternative to viability for justifying the proportional attribution of conditional personhood to the developing fetus, where the fetus having attained the stage of sentience has a ‘right to life’ as long as it does not conflict with or adversely affect the life or health of its bearer. On either viability or sentience criteria, there seems to be an appropriate correlation between the normative conception of personhood and its descriptive counterpart.

A theory of graduated rights parallels similar proportionment of value in other domains. The acorn that has the potential to become a mighty oak, for example, is not valued as greatly as the mighty oak. Indeed, there is a continuum of increasing value as the acorn turns into a sprig and then a small tree and eventually grows to become a useful form of timber. (The reason why the Bush Administration’s claim that there are more trees now than there were twenty years ago is misleading is that those that exist today are younger and less valuable than those that have been cropped.) Apart from the context of abortion, there are many examples of graduated values, such as the new hire as opposed to the trainee as opposed to the experienced worker. None of us would be inclined to think twice about experienced workers being paid more for their work than new hires. A new hire may have the potential to become a trained employee, but no one would suppose that he should be paid the same on that ground.

The investigation of these questions could be carried further by considering the prospect that consciousness might matter here. The most defensible conception of consciousness derives from the theory of minds as sign-using (or ‘semiotic’) systems, where signs are things that stand for other things. On this approach, minds turn out to be properties of brains or, at least, of various kinds of system of neurons, which can be extremely primitive (Fetzer 2002; 2005). There are three basic kinds of signs: iconic (things that resemble that for which they stand), indexical (things that are causes or effects of that for which they stand), and symbolic (things that are merely habitually associated with that for which they stand). Species tend to differ relative to the kinds of signs they can use and the range of signs within the kinds they utilize.

Thus, photos, statues, and paintings (at least when they are realistic or naturalistic in kind) are iconic in resembling what they stand for. Anything can resemble other things in some respects without resembling them in every respect. My driver’s license photo, for example, resembles me when viewed straight on (on not such a great day, perhaps) but not when it is turned on its side (because I am just not than thin)! Fire, smoke, and ashes all stand for one another as causes or effects of each other. Symptoms of diseases are other examples of indices, where it may take an expert to diagnose them (read the signs). Words and sentences are among the most familiar example of symbols, where ordinary languages represent systems of habitual associations between (written or spoken) words and things.

A red light at an intersection can function as an icon insofar as it resembles the color of the dress your wife wore the evening before. It functions as an index for a transportation department worker who has been sent out to repair it because it is stuck on red and won’t change. And it functions as an symbol for those who know the rules of the road, for whom it stands for applying the breaks and coming to a complete halt and only proceeding when the light changes to green. The fact that a husband whose wife has gone into labor and wants to get to the hospital as soon as possible, who consequently cautiously runs the light when he has checked from cross traffic, does not alter the meaning of that sign. He knows its meaning, but his motives and ethics override it. He has more urgent responsibilities than to conform to traffic regulations when his wife’s water has broken. So he runs the light instead.

Pursuing this approach, consciousness is relative to signs of specific kinds: a system is conscious (with respect to signs of kind S) when it has the ability to use signs of kind S and it is not incapacitated from the exercise of that ability. Similarly, cognition is an effect that occurs as the outcome of a causal interaction between a system that is conscious with respect to signs of kind S and the presence of a sign of kind S within suitable causal proximity. It does not require rocket science to recognize that fetuses, even in the third trimester, have extremely limited capacity for the use of signs. Consciousness for them turns out to be extremely primitive, and occurrences of cognition must be extremely few and far between. That is not to say it does not occur at all, but rather than the use of signs by a fetus – where signs, unlike mere stimuli, painfully or not, are meaningful by virtue of standing for something for the sign user – is virtually nil. So appeals to consciousness and cognition do not support the case for fetal personhood.

This result implies that the mental capacities of the fetus, even in the later stages of pregnancy, are extremely limited. The difference between stimuli that function as causes of responses in the fetus, such as painful stimuli that may induce avoidance response, and stimuli that serve as signs that are meaningful for the fetus by virtue of standing for something for that fetus deserves to be emphasized. The possession of a neurological system – a brain – is not identical to the capacity to exercise the use of signs – a mind. This suggests a potentially even more powerful criterion for personhood that might eventually become more important in deliberations over issues of this kind. The possession of sentience and viability are not the same thing as the possession of mentality or semiotic ability, which, presupposes a point of view. Since semiotic abilities appear to be extremely limited, if not non-existent, during pregnancy, the adoption of the capacity to use signs as a criterion of personhood strongly reinforces the exclusion of early-term fetuses.

Some women have maintained that their fetuses, during later stages of pregnancy, became accustomed to their voice and tended to respond to it. Anecdotal evidence, of course, is vastly weaker than controlled experiments, but in the interest of covering all the bases, suppose we assume that that is true, namely: that at least some fetuses in the late stages of pregnancy display behavior within the womb that their mothers interpret as responding to the sound of their voices. In that case, it could be argued that, for those fetuses, the sound of their voices is functioning as a sign – presumably, of love and affection – for them as sign users, in which case the semiotic criterion would support the case for personhood, after all. Such phenomena, assuming they take place, however, would selectively support the standing of late-term or third-trimester fetuses as possessing the status of persons with a qualified right to life, which I have accepted on other grounds.

Many examples illustrate that the use of signs presupposes a point of view. Since my driver’s license photo may resemble my facial appearance viewed from the front but not from the side, discerning the resemblance relation depends upon adopting the right point of view. Nothing could exemplify that more clearly than the case of the red light at an intersection. Taken as an icon, it resembles the color of a dress. Taken as an index, it displays the effects of malfunction. Taken as a symbol, it induces most drivers, under ordinary conditions, to adapt their behavior to its instructions.

None of these ‘stand for’ relations is inherent in a sign-user absent a point of view. And this, in turn, suggests another potential criterion of personhood, which is having a point of view. While there could be a convergence of opinion about what kinds of treatment, for example, might or not be in the interests of a fetus, is difficult to imagine any justification for claiming a fetus has a point of view, which affords another foundation for denying that fetuses should qualify as persons. But, as before, it may be said that late-term fetuses are developing in that direction.

The principal conclusions of this investigation are therefore as follows:

(C1)We are not logically entitled to hold the belief that stem cells, zygotes, embryos, or early-terms fetuses are ‘persons’ on the basis of theological religious beliefs.
(C2) We are not logically entitled to hold the belief that abortion and stem cell research are immoral on the basis of theological religious beliefs.
(C3) We are not logically entitled to hold the belief that abortion and stem-cell research are immoral on the basis of social or political religious beliefs unless they can be shown to be immoral on the basis of deontological standards.
(C4) In order to be shown to be immoral on the basis of deontological standards, it would be necessary to show that stem cells, zygotes, embryos, and early-term fetuses properly qualify as ‘persons’ in the moral sense.
(C5) Neither ordinary language nor medical embryology nor the Supreme Court provide any logical entitlement to conclude that stem cells, zygotes, embryos or early-term fetuses properly qualify as ‘persons’ in the appropriate sense.
(C6) Appeals to sentience and to viability appear to provide objective criteria supporting the view that late-term fetuses may properly qualify as ‘persons’ in the absence of stronger standards.
(C7) Consciousness and cognition as characteristics of the possession of mentality appear to provide a stronger standard, but it is one which supports and reinforces distinctions between early stage and late-term fetuses.
(C8) Moreover, there seems to be no other non-theological basis for qualifying early stage fetuses as ‘persons’.
(C9) It follows that we are not logically justified in holding the belief that early term fetuses properly qualify as ‘persons’.
(C10) Since we are not logically entitled to hold that belief, therefore, we are also not morally entitled to hold it.


It follows that the slogan, ‘Abortion is murder’, cannot be sustained for taking the life of early-term fetuses, since they do not properly qualify as persons. Yet even though women may voluntarily choose abortions, that does not give anyone else the right to bring about the termination of their pregnancies. It’s quite consistent to view killing a pregnant woman as worse than killing a non-pregnant woman, just as we view it as worse to kill someone and burn down their house than simply to kill them. One reasonable approach would be to treat fetuses as a type of private property, one so special that it merits explicit recognition under the law.

Since the treatment of early-term fetuses as persons cannot be logically justified and thereby violates the ethics of belief, even religious persons who interfere with the right of others to abortions and stem-cell research – no matter how sincere their beliefs or moral their lives in other respects – are pursuing unethical policies.

This extends to the debate over cloning, which has even reached into the United Nations (‘UN to Consider Whether to Ban Some, or All, Forms of Cloning of Human Embryos’, New York Times, 3rd November, 2003). The primary focus has been on reproductive cloning, which produces an offspring that is genetically identical with its parent, rather than on therapeutic cloning, which can be used to produce tissues and organs for replacement and transplantation. Opposition here, as in the case of abortion and stem-cell research, is largely rooted in the religious doctrine that even the earliest stages of gestation are entities that deserve legal protection. When these arguments are excluded from policy debates, the issues can be addressed with less emotion and greater clarify. The use of reproductive cloning for infertile couples, who would like to have offspring as closely related to them as possible, appears to be a perfectly moral and appropriate procedure.

The conclusion that abortion, stem-cell research, and cloning appear to be perfectly moral and appropriate procedures when properly understood from the perspective of the ethics of belief does not mean that they are applicable without restriction. Even when we are not dealing with persons and they are morally permissible, special conditions may still apply. The use of stem cells for research – no matter whether embryonic, umbilical, or adult – should only be pursued with the consent of the donors. Abortions – no matter whether first, second, or third trimester – should only occur as voluntary actions with the consent of the woman. During the second trimester, they can still be regulated by the state and, during the third trimester, should only be performed to preserve the health or to save the life of the mother. And exploitative cloning for immoral purposes, such as to produce slaves, should obviously be impermissible. Clones post-second trimester, are just as much persons as anyone else. A summary of the situation is as follows:

[Table 4.1 A Summary Overview]

The politicization of religion which prevails in the Bush Administration, together with advances in technology, has put issues of this kind front and center in the political arena. The government restricts research that has the greatest potential to deal with some of the most debilitating of human problems, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, diabetes, and other inherited diseases.

Opposition based on the belief that life begins at conception is not only misconceived – but, given the ethics of belief, is not even moral. If we are to regain control of scientific research and its enormous potential to enhance the quality of life, then we must restrict the influence of religious beliefs on public policy debates. There are some promising signs, happily, as universities seek private funding to pursue stem-cell research (‘U of M Plans Embryo Research’, Duluth News Tribune, 9th February, 2004; ‘2 New Efforts to Develop Stem Cell Line for Study’, New York Times, 7th June, 2006; ‘U.S. Scientists Seek to Clone Human Embryos’, Duluth News Tribune, 7th June, 2006).

Indeed, the stem-cell debate verges on the absurd, insofar as most of the embryos used for harvesting their cells would otherwise be discarded. Does the Christian Right seriously believe that it makes more sense – from either a logical or a moral point of view – to simply discard these cells rather that use them for the potential benefit of human beings? This appears to be one more example where ideology over-rides sensibility and irrational beliefs improperly affect public policy.

The right to life of a late-term fetus, however, is not absolute but relative to the rights of its mother. When those rights conflict, those of the mother – as an adult whose rights outweigh those of a fetus – are properly given precedence. Hence, a late-term fetus has a right to life that can be overridden by risks to the health and life of its parent. Women who want to control their bodies, which is a very basic right, would be well advised to avoid sex with men who do not respect them. Before a woman engages in sex with a man, she should gain his acknowledgement that she has the right to decide what should be done in the case of an unplanned pregnancy. In the absence of that assurance, the best policy would appear to be, ‘Just say, “No!”’

The conclusions that I have drawn could be contested on various grounds, including, for example, that there are other moral theories that need consideration, such as virtue theory. None of them appears to be as defensible as deontological theory, however, an approach that exerts profound influence in the world today through documents such as the Declaration of Independence, The Constitution of the United States, and The UN Declaration of Human Rights, all of which are based upon deontology. Utilitarianism can still serve as an appropriate foundation for decision-making in a democracy but cannot function properly without being rooted in human rights.

The Ethics of Belief imposes a very high standard. Most persons may find that standard psychologically impossible to satisfy in their personal lives, where they find belief in God or in heaven and hell irresistible. But that does not entail the right to impose those beliefs upon others who may not share them. Democracy degenerates into mob rule when majority votes can overpower the rights of minorities.

The integrity of the US as a democratic republic founded upon the separation of church and state requires a vigorous defense. Immoral policies should be excluded from public policy debates. Religious persons who interfere with abortions, stem-cell research, and cloning – no matter how sincere their beliefs or moral their lives in other respects – are practicing immoral politics. It must come to an end. Democracy requires no less.