Michelle Obama’s IVF kids

As sometimes happens, most of our stories this week centre on assisted suicide and euthanasia in various jurisdictions. However, our lead story is about Michelle Obama's revealing memoir, Becoming, which will be released this week around the world. In various pre-publication interviews the former First Lady discloses that after she had a miscarriage she and her husband resorted to IVF to have their two daughters Malia and Sasha. 

When she was about 34, she realized that "the biological clock is real" and that "egg production is limited". "I think it's the worst thing that we do to each other as women, not share the truth about our bodies and how they work," she told Good Morning America. Perhaps her advice will prompt young women to try to have their children earlier. Somehow the message just doesn't get through: women can't have children whenever they want. Fertile women who delay having a family are probably the best clients of the IVF industry. 

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Normalising assisted suicide

It happened so long ago that the exact details are dim in my mind, but I seem to remember that a nominee for the US Supreme Court nearly failed to score his dream job because of an alleged crime of attempted rape when he was a 17-year-old high school student. There was a huge controversy, wasn’t there? Demonstrations, twitterstorms, talking heads across the nation in a frenzy, politicians grandstanding...

Of course times were different way back then and public figures were held to a higher moral and legal standard. As the saying goes, "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there." Nonetheless it is disturbing to read that the Democratic candidate for the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, casually told a journalist for The New Yorker that he assisted his mother to commit suicide in 2002. Assisting a suicide was a crime in California in 2002– and it still is if you are not a doctor. And at the time Newsom was not a callow teenager, but a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

The odd thing about this is that there has been almost no reaction. Assisting a suicide is just as much a crime as attempted rape and in this case Newsom has admitted that he did it. You would think that at least his Republican opponent would seize upon this blithe admission as a golden opportunity to knock off Newsom's Kennedy-esque halo.

But no one seems to care. What more do you need to show that assisted suicide has been normalised in California?

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Transhumanist dreams

I don’t know whether it is due to reading too much science fiction or not reading enough, but I find it impossible to take the transhumanist movement seriously. Some of its ideas about self-definition have seeped into mainstream culture, like transgenderism. However, its vision of a future in which homo sapiens has evolved into Morlocks and Eloi (as H.G. Wells foresaw in The Time Machine) seems almost preposterous, at least to me.

Perhaps to allay fears that scepticism from people like me will eventually lead to injustice against the more advanced sort of people, American transhumanists have drafted a transhumanist Bill of Rights (see below). This guarantees “sentient entities” everything from universal health care and internet coverage to “self-consciousness in perpetuity”.

One thing that I can never quite grasp about the earnest predictions of transhumanists is whether they actually care whether their schemes are practical. Uploading one’s consciousness to the internet sounds super but the obstacles in its path are more like the Himalayas than parking lot speedbumps – apart from all the ethical issues. Anyhow, good luck to them!

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Bioethics and American politics

The leading bioethics issue in American politics is, by far, abortion. But others have made an impact. The proper use of human embryonic stem cells was debated in Obama’s first campaign. Euthanasia is sure to become an issue at some stage. But, much to my surprise, consumer genetics is emerging as a sleeper issue.

Millions of Americans have used the services of direct-to-consumer genetic ancestry testing companies. Now Senator Elizabeth Warrane, aka “Pocahontas” to supporters of President Trump, has resorted to one to settle the controversial question of her Native American heritage. A report has finally demonstrated that she may have had a Native American ancestor six to ten generations ago. But it does not demonstrate that this ancestor was from the Cherokee tribe, or even from a tribe in the United States. 

Settling questions of personal identity with genetics is fraught with uncertainty. It’s an area that politicians – and everyone else -- should approach with great caution.

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The enormity of it all!

Being a good editor requires a certain personality type: someone persnickety, obsessive, hawk-eyed and meticulous. Not being that sort of person myself, I can still appreciate their virtues. A good editor fusses about capitalisation, proper usage, consistent spelling, and the Oxford comma and loses sleep over knaves who cannot distinguish between “discrete” and “discreet”.

But there is one point on which the good editor and I agree: the enormity of writing “normalcy” when one means “normality”. I recently read in a not-to-be-named journal, “As the boundaries between human and ‘the other’, technological, biological and environmental, are eroded and perceptions of normalcy are challenged...” No. No. No. No. The word is “normality”.

The virus of “normalcy” has spread like a particularly pernicious strain of influenza through the media. A quick Google search brings up: “Nikki Haley's Departure Is Shocking Because Of Its Normalcy” and “Anger Recedes as Normalcy, Good Humor Mark Kavanaugh’s First Day on Supreme Court”.

Do you know who put “normalcy” on the map, so to speak? Warren G. Harding, who succeeded Woodrow Wilson in the White House. In 1920 the slogan of his campaign was “a return to normalcy”. The word should have died with his reputation as the worst of American presidents.

Sorry, I just had to get that off my chest. And please don’t get me started on the misuse of “enormity” for “enormousness”.

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Which is more egregious: euthanasia or plagiarism?

About five minutes before I was about to entrust this newsletter to MailChimp, I heard that the Canadian Medical Association had just withdrawn from the World Medical Association after the WMA's annual meeting in Reykjavík.

The CMA said that the trigger for this dramatic turn of events was the highly unethical behaviour of the incoming president of the WMA, Dr Leonid Eidelman. It accused Dr Eidelman of plagiarism. This was true and not very smart. A few sentences in Dr Eidelman’s inaugural address to the assembly had been lifted from the inaugural address of a former president of the CMA, Dr Chris Simpson. Since Dr Simpson was one of the CMA’s delegates in Reykjavík, it was highly unlikely that this would go unnoticed. Apparently other passages had also been copied from “various websites, blogs and news articles, without appropriate attribution to the authors”.

"As an organization that holds itself as the arbiter of medical ethics at the global level, the WMA has failed to uphold its own standards,” said Dr Gigi Osler, the current CMA president. “The CMA cannot, in all good conscience, continue to be a member of such an organization.”

The WMA Council and the Assembly accepted an apology from Dr Eidelman. He said that he had relied upon speechwriters – a plausible excuse, as he is a Latvian who emigrated to Israel and who speaks English with a heavy accent.  

This is not the first time that a WMA president has been accused of moral failings. The immediate past president, Dr Ketan Desai, was elected while facing criminal charges for corruption in India. At the time, medical ethicist Art Caplan urged the WMA to ditch him as morally compromised. It didn’t.

So the Canadians’ reaction seems disproportionate. It is more likely that it was prompted by the WMA’s firm opposition to euthanasia, which the CMA vigorously supports. One of the CMA delegates, Dr Jeff Blackmer, posted a bitter tweet about the irony that an unethical plagiarist had once openly criticised him for being unethical in backing euthanasia.

No doubt euthanasia will continue to split the medical profession. Any comments from readers?

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A dreadful weekend

It has been a dreadful weekend. On Saturday Collingwood lost the AFL Grand Final to the West Coast Eagles – in the last five minutes. It has taken me a while to get over this. On the brighter side, today the Roosters beat Melbourne Storm convincingly, 21-6, in the Rugby League Grand Final in Sydney. I just thought that our international readers might like to keep in touch with the world’s greatest sports.

These contests are a testimony to the strength and fitness of the athletes. It’s incredible that they can even walk after being buried beneath a mound of other bodies and sustaining a few quiet kicks to the ribs. But they rise, shake themselves and start sprinting around the paddock, begging for more punishment.

In an interesting analysis of American football below (the kind in which they wear helmets and shoulder pads and take four hours to complete a 60-minute game), two kinesiologists ask whether the sport should be considered unethical in the light of the significant injuries sustained by many players.

It’s a problem with all sports, including rugby league and AFL. Basketballers have terrible ankles; rugby union players have become quadriplegics; cricketers have died. They conclude: “Considering all the morally problematic aspects surrounding football, it is worth asking: Is this the kind of social practice around which Americans should imagine and build their national identity?”

What do you think? Should the threat of severe injury be enough to ban a sport? What level of harm is acceptable?

As for myself, I’m playing it safe. I’m sticking with my preferred sport, full-contact origami.  

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Help needed!

We have a very varied selection of articles this week, ranging from arguments for child euthanasia in Canada, digital smart pills and child transgender affirmation. We are always looking for comments, criticism, and leads. Please do your part, readers!

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Canada laying groundwork for child euthanasia

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About ‘top jobs’

Last year Sydney journalist Miranda Devine interviewed Australia’s first out-of-the-closet transsexual, Carlotta, a cabaret performer and TV actor. Carlotta had what is now called “gender-affirming” surgery in the early 1970s and built a career in show biz. Her advice to teenagers who want to transition to the opposite sex: “Don’t give the child hormones. Wait till 18. You shouldn’t fool around with the body until you’re mature.”

This seems common sense. However, as an article in JAMA Pediatrics (see below) reports, girls as young as 13 are receiving mastectomies to treat their gender dysphoria. Two years later (ie, when they’re 15) the transteens are supposedly as happy as Larry with their “top job”.

This doesn’t seem common sense. How can a girl of 13 give truly informed consent to a life-changing operation which removes both of her breasts? As a growing number of “detransitioners” bear witness, this is crazy. “I’m a real-live 22-year-old woman with a scarred chest and a broken voice and a 5 o’clock shadow because I couldn’t face the idea of growing up to be a woman,” says Carla in a YouTube video.

The risk of turning a young girl’s life into a misery is just too great to allow teen mastectomies before adulthood. In fact, it’s hard to describe it as anything other than child abuse by her physicians and psychologists. What do you think?

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