Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Dick Durbin vs. Trent Lott

Remember some time ago, when Senator Trent Lott (R) said something complimentary about Strom Thurmond’s run for the presidency as a segregationalist? It was during a celebration for Sen. Thurmond (who had significantly changed his politics in the intervening 30+ years), and Sen. Lott was merely trying to honor his achievements. His remark was unintentionally offensive to some, but it was at worst a gaffe. However, he was drummed out of party leadership by the uproar from the Democrats (among other groups), who demanded his resignation on the basis that, even if it was unintentional, it was proof that he really had racist tendencies at heart.

Now we turn to a much more recent comment made by someone in party leadership. This time it is Senator Dick Durbin, the Democrat senator from Illinois. His statements comparing Guantanamo Bay to the concentration camps, the gulag, or to Pol Pot’s regime have caused an uproar in many circles. What does this say about his closely-held beliefs? That he believes our servicemen and women are comparable to some of the worst regimes in recent history? Although he has issued a statement regretting—not the comparison, he firmly stands by that—but any misunderstanding that has resulted from his comments, many believe that is not enough. There are calls for a better apology, his resignation from the party leadership, and even (apparently) Senate censure.

How is this situation different from Sen. Lott’s? Well, for one, Sen. Lott was speaking at a party honoring his colleague, and his remarks were (if I remember correctly) unscripted. He also apologized repeatedly and disavowed any racist meaning. Compare that to Sen. Durbin, whose prepared remarks were made on the Senate floor, and have not been retracted.

It seems to me if you believed that Sen. Lott should have been punished for his remarks (as many, many Democrats did), then you should also believe that Sen. Durbin should be punished for his. But, as of today, he is still the Senate’s assistant minority leader—the second-ranked Democrat. Excuse me if I don’t think that is a little hypocritical.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

A few bad apples...

Amnesty Irrational by Ned Rice

Amnesty International is at it again...I refer here to their recent pronouncement that the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prisons have become "the gulag of our time," which is the sort of hyperbole that only the historically illiterate are capable of.

There has been a lot in the news lately about the abuse at the United States prison at Guantanamo, Cuba. There has also been a lot of hype about how horrible it is, how this proves that we are as bad as the ones we are fighting (some of whom happily blow themselves and senior citizens or police officers or army recuits up). Without getting too wrapped up in accusations that I find absurd to the point of ridiculousness, Ned Rice in this article makes a good point:
They would have you believe that it was morally wrong-impeachable, even — to liberate Afghanistan and Iraq and perhaps trigger the democratization of an entire subcontinent because some terrorist prisoners may have been improperly (and unjustly — don't get me wrong) treated during the chaos of a shooting war. Which is a bit like saying the United States was on the wrong side of World War II simply because Allied soldiers sometimes roughed up German POWs during questioning, or shot Japanese troops deep behind enemy lines because they had no means of securely detaining them (both of which happened). As anyone familiar with history and warfare knows, Amnesty International's characterization of the U.S. prisons as being a "the gulag of our time" are more than just obscene. They are, as President Bush recently noted, absurd.


Legal drug imports = drug price controls

The Drug-Importation Hoax

Elizabeth M. Whelan at National Review Online writes about the likely result if Congress endorses the importation of drugs from countries with price controls (like Canada).
The reason that Rx drugs cost less in countries like Canada is that international laws on commerce treat prescription drugs differently from other consumer products. U.S. pharmaceutical companies are required under a 1994 treaty to sell their drugs at drastically cut prices to countries with drug price controls. Any pharmaceutical company that fails to comply can be punished by having its patent protection taken away. It is as if you were selling books in the United States for $10 and when you offered them to Canada, officials there told you that they would either give you $4 or violate your intellectual property rights and make copies of the book without your permission, in the name of educating Canadians.

The United States, which does not currently have price controls, produces nearly 90 percent of the world's supply of new pharmaceuticals. Countries with price controls do not produce any significant supplies of new drugs — instead, the innovators have fled to the U.S., where they have the protection of the free-market system and protection for intellectual property they create.

If companies can sell their drugs only at cost — and cannot recoup more than the approximate $800 million it costs to bring a drug to market — companies will stop making new drugs, just as they have in other countries with price controls.

Americans’ pharmaceutical companies are launching drugs that dramatically reduce cholesterol and blood pressure...drugs that not only significantly reduce the recurrence of breast cancer but show promise for preventing such malignancies in the first place.

An example of heroic measures I agree with

Woman is kept alive to save unborn baby
A 26-year-old pregnant woman with cancer whose brain function ceased last month is being kept alive with a respirator in hopes she can have a very premature baby who has a chance to survive.

It's just interesting that I would find this article the very next morning after writing about end-of-life decisions. The entire article is heart-wrenching and beautiful. This is a time when I think heroic measures are worthwhile. I hope I don't ever have to face anything like that, but it is what I would want for myself. I know that when I was pregnant, I would have done anything to save the baby.
Update: Here is a column from her brother-in-law. He has some wonderful insights.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Alternative

The View From the ICU - The alternative to doing everything for a dying patient. By David Friedman

Although the main thrust of the Terri Schiavo story ended with her (merciful) death on March 31, I was a little too busy having a baby to post my opinion on end-of-life treatments, or prolonging biological life when the soul, to all intents and purposes, is no longer present. This article by Dr. David Friedman explains (quite bluntly) what takes place when "everything" is done to prolong a life. It is fairly horrifying. He then states:
When a patient has a chance of meaningful recovery we rush to do all this and more. Sometimes it is doctors and sometimes it is families who push too hard when the prognosis is grim...a wildly disproportionate amount [of health care spending] is spent during the final few tenths of a percent of a life, prolonging the inevitable, agonizing end for both patients and their families.

My husband and I have discussed this at length, and we decided that we are not interested in draining the financial and emotional coffers of the surviving spouse in order to add a few days or weeks to a life already spent, or keeping our spouse "alive" in body but not mind.
(Now, I have to say I don't especially agree with Dr. Friedman's last paragraph. Having the government give everyone a one-time payment in return for waiving our rights to end-of-life aggressive treatment seems really, really wrong to me. But then, I'm strongly in favor of smaller government. How about you just cut my taxes, please?)