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Episode no. 1150

TIM O’BRIEN, guest anchor: Coming up – violence against researchers involved in experiments on animals. Activists call the experiments torture. Researchers call their work essential.

And a movement called slow medicine – alternatives to surgery and treatments that may, or may not, prolong life.

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TIM O’BRIEN: Welcome, I’m Tim O’Brien sitting in for Bob Abernethy. Thanks for joining us.

Republicans and Democrats alike are gearing up for their party conventions, which begin next week with the Democratic National Convention in Denver. The Democrats’ proposed platform maintains the party’s support for abortion rights, but this time it also includes a call for measures to reduce the number of abortions. A coalition of moderate Catholics and evangelicals praised the new language.

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TIM O’BRIEN: Meanwhile, both presumed presidential candidates are hoping to woo evangelical voters with a joint appearance this weekend at best-selling author Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Southern California. We’ll have a series of special reports on the conventions beginning next week.

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TIM O’BRIEN: In Iraq, Shiite Muslim pilgrims have been targeted by terrorists this week. In separate attacks, a number of pilgrims were killed. They were on their way to the holy city of Karbala for the holiday marking the birth of Mohammed al-Mahdi, a ninth-century imam. Mahdi disappeared and, many believe, will eventually return to restore peace.

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TIM O’BRIEN: Humanitarian and faith-based groups are working to bring emergency aid to Georgia. Tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced by fighting between Georgians and Russians triggered by the breakaway region South Ossetia. The International Committee of the Red Cross is appealing to military forces for safe passage to distribute aid and assess needs. At the same time, major religious voices, including the World Council of Churches and Pope Benedict, are calling for a peaceful resolution.

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TIM O’BRIEN: At the Vatican, officials have issued new directives emphasizing that Catholics must not use the Hebrew name of God, Yahweh, in songs or prayers during worship. Vatican officials say the directives reflect the historic Jewish and Christian practice of not saying the name of God out loud. Several songs and prayers currently used in American churches will have to be edited to take out the word “Yahweh.” The words “Lord” and “Adonai,” the Hebrew word for God, are permissible.

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TIM O’BRIEN: In Chicago, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese has settled several abuse cases, agreeing to give 16 victims of sex abuse by priests more than $12 million. The Archdiocese also made public files related to the settlement, including the deposition of Cardinal Francis George. In it, George, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he had ignored the advice of his lay advisers to remove an accused priest from the ministry. Attorneys said it was the first time such a candid deposition from one of the Church’s top officials has been made public.

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TIM O’BRIEN: The Progressive National Baptist Convention is calling for government action to halt home foreclosures. The historically black denomination met in Atlanta last week. Members said they are addressing the housing crisis because foreclosures are disproportionately affecting low-income communities and African Americans.

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TIM O’BRIEN: Animal research has long been controversial. The medical benefits can be significant, although not always. And opponents argue the benefits are often outweighed by the pain and suffering inflicted on the animal. In California, there’s been an escalation in the conflict. In Santa Cruz last week, fire bombs were tossed at the home and car of two University of California researchers. Although no one was seriously hurt, city officials have posted a $30,000 dollar reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible – 2,500 of that contributed by the Humane Society of the U.S.

Researchers at UCLA have also been targeted and federal officials say violence, and threats of violence, are up nationally. Saul Gonzalez has more on the story.

PAMELA FERDIN (Animal Rights Activist): Excuse me, can I give you a leaflet about the torture and murder of primates going inside the laboratories of UCLA?

SAUL GONZALEZ: On a recent afternoon, a group of activists gathered outside the University of California, Los Angeles, to protest the use of animals in laboratory research at the school.

Ms. FERDIN: It’s immoral. It’s unethical and evil to take non-consenting animals and, against their will, do these horrific things.

GONZALEZ: These demonstrators are peaceful. But in the last few years, more militant animal rights activists have waged a campaign of harassment and intimidation against UCLA scientists involved in animal experimentation, such as using primates to investigate methamphetamine and nicotine addiction. The activists’ tactics have ranged from publishing researchers’ home addresses on Web sites to leaving threatening telephone messages.

VOICE OF UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Quit working on animals. Quit torturing and abusing animals. We can cause more economic damage in one night than you can earn in a year.

GONZALEZ: UCLA faculty members even have had pipe bombs planted at their homes. These episodes have created a climate of fear among researchers on campus.

JOHN HUESTON (Attorney, UCLA): The point of boiling really began happening when people realized that they couldn’t live in their homes any longer, And that they began having to check under their cars for bombs – that they could not leave their kids home alone at night for fear people would show up, pound on the doors, break things, maybe enter the house.

GONZALEZ: Federal law enforcement authorities say such incidents are on the rise nationally and reflect some activists’ increased willingness to use more extreme methods in their struggle to fight animal experimentation. UCLA, which declined our requests to shoot its research facilities, has successfully fought for a restraining order prohibiting animal rights activists from harassing researchers.

Nationally, a larger debate continues over the morality of using animals in laboratory experimentation, like these scenes captured by activists’ hidden cameras. Although exact numbers don’t exist, it’s believed millions of animals – from primates to pigs to rats – are used as test subjects in more than 1,000 laboratories in the United States.

Central to the controversy over the use of animals in scientific and medical research is this question: When, if ever, should the pain and discomfort inflicted on animals in laboratory experimentation outweigh the possible benefits the research might create for human beings?

Dr. JOHN YOUNG (Director, Comparative Medicine, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles and Chairman, Americans for Medical Progress): The use of animals is a vital cornerstone to medical progress. And I would submit to you that if you would abolish the use of animals in medical research today, medical progress would slow, stop and reverse.

GONZALEZ: Doctor John Young is director of comparative medicine at Los Angeles’ Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and chairman of Americans for Medical Progress, a pro-animal testing group. He says animal experimentation is vital to finding treatments for such illnesses as cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer’s and heart disease in human beings.

Cedars-Sinai and Doctor Young gave us unusual access to facilities in the hospital where animals used in medical and scientific research are kept, such as these pigs used to test human heart implant devices. Dr. YOUNG: The cardiovascular system of a pig is almost identical to that of a human being, okay – the coronary arteries, the heart muscle, virtually identical. So pigs are a favorite model for cardiovascular disease.

GONZALEZ: The human ramifications of this research would be what?

Dr. YOUNG: Improved care of cardiac patients.

GONZALEZ: But many animal rights groups say such research ignores the rights and interests of the test subjects.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: It is my pleasure to introduce Professor Peter Singer.

GONZALEZ: Ethicist and writer Peter Singer is one of the founders of the modern animal rights movement. He believes that in the western world, religion has played a partial but key role in justifying humans’ exploitation of animals, including in scientific research.

Dr. PETER SINGER (Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics, University Center for Human Values, Princeton University): This idea that so much of our ethics flows out of that Judeo-Christian tradition, which, of course, separates us from animals, puts this gulf between us, tells us that we alone were made in the image of God and they are not, that we have an immortal soul and they don’t. So it puts a sharp division between us, which, if we understand evolutionary theory correctly, there isn’t really that sharp division.

GONZALEZ: Although Singer says he supports very limited animal research that could lead to medical breakthroughs, he believes scientists and doctors too often conduct experiments that are unnecessary and ignore the distress inflicted on animals.

Dr. SINGER: Why is it that being a member of our species is morally important, is morally significant? Whereas being a fellow sentient being, a fellow animal if you like, why is that not important? And if it’s useful or beneficial or useful to us in some way to do something that might cause pain and suffering to the animal, that’s okay because they’re not members of our species. And I refer to this as “speciesism.” I think it is a parallel phenomenon, in some ways, to racism or sexism in just saying, “Well we are the dominant group. We are the ones that matter and those outside beyond this boundary of our species just really don’t matter.”

Dr. YOUNG (showing off cancer mice in cages): So if you look under the skin of this mouse right here, that’s human prostrate cancer.

GONZALEZ: Dr. Young says that researchers involved in animal experimentation take all possible precautions to reduce pain and suffering in their test subjects.

Dr. YOUNG: We watch these animals very, very closely. And when they begin to exhibit clinical signs indicating that the cancer is adversely affecting their health, we put them to sleep.

GONZALEZ: However Doctor Young does argue that the benefits animal research creates for human beings should always be of paramount importance.

Dr. YOUNG: People will ask me, “How can you possibly do what you do?” I can answer that question very easily. I walk them over to the pediatric cancer ward and show them children with bald heads with glio blastoma, brave children who will tell you, “I am terminal.” We are curing rats with the same disease at a 70 percent cure rate. I am excited about that. It would be immoral, in my opinion, not to have done what we’ve done in the rats.

GONZALEZ: But federal research institutions, such as the National Institutes of Health, have pledged to reduce the number of animals in laboratory testing. They’re exploring alternative research methods, such as experimenting on human cell cultures and using computer simulations to test treatments. But Peter Singer says efforts to remove animals from experimentation have been too slow and half-hearted in the scientific community.

Dr. SINGER: I think the whole institution is set up at the moment with a bias towards experimenting on animals and using them as subjects because that’s what we have don’t for decades now.

GONZALEZ: As the controversy over animal research continues, so too does the debate over how human beings should balance their self-interest with their concern for the health and welfare of other living creatures.

For RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, I’m Saul Gonzalez in Los Angeles.

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TIM O’BRIEN: Growing old, most feel, is better than the alternative. But although some of us will age gracefully, some surely will not. Advances in medical care don’t always help, and treatment can be expensive and have debilitating side effects. Some doctors are now proposing that their patients consider what’s being called, “slow medicine” – that is, trying to let nature take its course rather than aggressively fighting the ravages that sometimes accompany old age. Lucky Severson reports.

LUCKY SEVERSON: Edie Gieg looks and acts a lot younger than her age. When she’s not watering her flowers or playing tennis, she works at her home business producing video biographies. She may be healthy, but the 85-year-old has given a lot of thought to what lies ahead.

EDIE GIEG (Kendal at Hanover Resident, New Hampshire): There’s a huge amount of denial of what goes on at the end of life. And most of us don’t even want to face it. We’d be lucky if we died of a heart attack -”bang” – like that.

SEVERSON: She knows that many elderly people aren’t lucky enough to die suddenly, that it is often a slow painful progression from one illness or disease to another, one operation or hospital stay after another.

Ms. GIEG: I had had enough experience watching people go through end-of-life situations which were highly undesirable. Not the way, certainly, I wanted to end my life.

SEVERSON: That’s why Edie is a b supporter of a fledging movement in the U.S. called “slow medicine,” a phrase coined by Dr. Dennis McCullough who has written a book about what it means.

Dr. DENNIS MCCULLOUGH (Author, “My Mother, Your Mother” and Faculty Member, Department of Community and Family Medicine, Dartmouth Medical School): I had to write through my anger at the beginning of this book.

SEVERSON: Dr. McCullough is a respected geriatrician at Dartmouth Medical School. His anger and frustration grew out of years of watching elderly patients undergo surgery and treatments that may or may not prolong life and often dehumanizes dying.

Dr. MCCULLOUGH: If a good death is being with your friends and family and in the comfort of your home, you need to preserve a certain amount of energy left for that. But if you give it all to fighting the side effects of these, some of these treatments, you don’t have any energy left for dying. You just sort of drop off the cliff in the hospital.

SEVERSON: Edie resides in a retirement community called Kendal at Hanover which is affiliated with the Dartmouth Medical School and has become a kind of laboratory for slow medicine. She and her husband Charley were living here when Charley, who was 86 at the time, faced several serious health problems, including throat cancer.

Ms. GIEG: The question then came up, do we operate, remove the vocal cords, so forth, so forth? “Just keep me comfortable,” Charlie said. “I’m ready.”

SEVERSON: Dr. James Bernat is a neurologist who heads the ethics program at Dartmouth. He says there’s a gradual change in geriatric medicine from where the doctors make all the decisions, to where the course of treatment is up to the patient or the patient’s family.

Dr. JAMES BERNAT (Professor of Neurology, Dartmouth Medical School): I can tell you from my experience as a physician for the last 35 years, most people when they reach a certain age prefer something that is akin to slow medicine. Not everyone.

SEVERSON: Not Jinx Eisen, at least not now. She’s a Kendal resident, 81 years old, who recently underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments for pancreatic cancer.

JINX EISEN (Kendal at Hanover Resident, New Hampshire): I feel healthy. I feel comfortable. I’m enjoying life. I’m very busy on various committees. You know I’m here to live. I’m not here to die.

Dr. MCCULLOUGH: Some people want to go out fighting and some people want to go out in the comfort of their family. Slow medicine doesn’t say you have to take one or the other. It just says you should choose.

BRAD DEWEY (Kendal at Hanover Resident, New Hampshire): I think the best thing is to make that decision while you got your marbles.

SEVERSON: Brad Dewey says he still has his marbles. He and his wife Jane live in an apartment at Kendal. They decided to move here years ago because they didn’t want to lose control as they lost their health.

Dr. MCCULLOUGH: As families came in and saw and heard that this was working for other people – this idea of not doing everything right away and being more careful, reflective, getting more people involved in the decision making – it became a culture.

SEVERSON: Dr. McCullough says aging patients are often caught by American’s expensive, flashy medical technology.

Dr. MCCULLOUGH: The faster we can run the machine, the more revenue is there and that’s guiding doctors.

SEVERSON: A Dartmouth study found that slow medicine can actually reduce escalating hospital costs.

Dr. MCCULLOUGH: If you practice this kind of medicine, people have fewer emergency room visits, less time in the hospital, less time in the Intensive Care Unit.

SEVERSON: But the bottom line in Dr. McCullough’s view should be America’s moral obligation to take better care of its aging citizens.

Dr. MCCULLOUGH: I think the ethical answer is to return to this idea that we need to commit to being with people for that part of the journey – to be with them, to stay with them and to not pass people around to different things.

SEVERSON: Not everyone agrees with slow medicine or thinks it’s practical. At its best slow medicine requires a total family commitment. And not every family has the time or the money to care for their loved one the way they’d like to.

Residents of Kendal get all the medical care they need, but it costs them. Each of the 400 residents had to pay an entry fee starting at $120,000 and a monthly rent of $2,000 and up. Many aging Americans can’t afford extended health care. And since nine out of 10 who live into their 80s end up unable to care for themselves, family support is important. But many families are tied up with work or can’t afford help. So sending their loved ones to the emergency room is often the only way to get medical care.

Dr. BERNAT: That’s an unfortunate circumstance. It’s an abuse really of, of that type of treatment because it’s being done not because it’s what the patient would have wanted, but for a logistical reason.

SEVERSON: Dr. Bernat says although increasing numbers of physicians are converting to slow medicine, there are some who worry that the movement could grow into a discriminatory public policy where more aggressive care is withheld.

Dr. BERNAT: It’s important when you consider any type of medical system that doesn’t give every single treatment that they could, that there is that risk that it could be abused by an insurance company whose interest is to reduce outputs.

SEVERSON: Brad Dewey thinks that despite his 92 years, he’s entitled to all the care he can get if it means he can live well a little longer.

Mr. DEWEY: If I fell and hit my head I don’t want to be treated with slow medicine. I want to be treated to recover if I can. I might be a slow medicine person tomorrow. But today I am not ready.

SEVERSON: Edie Gieg has five kids, nine grandchildren and four great grandkids. She says if slow medicine is going to work, you have to talk to your family early before you get too infirm to let them know what you want.

Ms. GIEG: Some of the most difficult situations occur when somebody like myself would say to their doctor, “Look, I don’t want to drag on for years and years.” But that person hasn’t really discussed with their children what they want at the end of life. It’s selfish. We should be taking care and being responsible for our end-of-life situation.

SEVERSON: If you took a vote at Kendal, slow medicine would win in a landslide. But if you asked how many are ready to opt for it today, the answer would likely be quite different.

Ms. EISEN: Some of the women play bridge, for instance, for the afternoons. That’s their life. Don’t talk to them about slow medicine as long as they can set up and play.

SEVERSON: Jinx says she’ll think about it maybe when she’s 95. Edie looks as if she’ll live beyond 95, but she’s not taking any chances.

Ms. GIEG: I’m at the point now where I am about to get a bracelet that has on it, “DNR”: do not resuscitate. So if I collapse in the middle of the street with a heart attack when in town in Hanover, I do not want to be hauled off in an ambulance with a lot of tubes and so forth. It’s just it’s my time.

SEVERSON: And, like many elderly Americans, she wants to be in control of her time.

For RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, I’m Lucky Severson in Hanover, New Hampshire.

O’BRIEN: We have an excerpt from Dr. McCullough’s book and an exclusive online interview with him about religion, ethics and slow medicine on our Web site at pbs.org.

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TIM O’BRIEN: A birth, a marriage, a death – these events are often surrounded by religious ritual and tradition. But how are those passages in life observed by those who do not believe in a God? We went to a baby-naming ceremony sponsored by the Atheist Alliance International. Its president, Margaret Downey, explains.

MARGARET DOWNEY (Secular Officiant and President, Atheist Alliance International): Our ceremonies are based on real things such as love and honesty and commitment and the beauty of nature.

We conduct “Welcome to the World” ceremonies, and they focus on appreciation of the birth of a child. In our case we had two children to appreciate.

We officially announce their names to friends and family.

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE OF WOMAN: For in Greek, Sophia means wisdom, and Lyra refers to music and lyrics.

Ms. DOWNEY: We also give our promises to be mentors and “Guideparents.” We don’t have Godparents, so we use the terminology “Guideparents.”

PARENTS (speaking in unison): We accept this responsibility.

Ms. DOWNEY: Some people bring gifts. Gifts can range from anything from a thought to a scholarship.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Look to this day for it is life.

Ms. DOWNEY: Sometimes we do readings. We typically research so that we make sure the poems and the prose do not contain religious jargon.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: They learn justice.

Ms. DOWNEY: We have libraries filled with beautiful works.

RICHARD DAWKINS (reading): Of all the experiences of our lives though, surely no event is more inspiring than the birth of a child.

Ms. DOWNEY: Some parents try to find people that serve as good role models for the child. I mean Richard Dawkins, what better role model could you have than him?

Today the naming ceremony’s theme is “stardust.” And what we did was we put stars around the tables, we put stars on the stage.

We like ceremonies because it reinforces the fact that we have family and friends. It reinforces a date, a time, a marking in someone’s life, a special event, and atheists need that too.

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TIM O’BRIEN: Last week we reported on a controversy in Tennessee where a Tyson food plant exchanged a Muslim holiday for Labor Day as one of its paid holidays. Conservative activists were angry about that and threatened a boycott. This week, an update: Tyson has agreed to reinstate Labor Day as a paid holiday. The plant will also allow Muslim employees, at least 25 percent of their workforce, to use a paid personal day to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the Islamic festival that concludes the holy month of Ramadan.

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TIM O’BRIEN: That’s our program for now. I’m Tim O’Brien. There’s much more on our Web site, including more on religion and politics on our “One Nation” page. Audio and video podcasts of the program are also available. Join us at pbs.org.

As we leave you, music from Professor Wilbur Belton and The LADWEC Music Mass Choir at a recent concert to celebrate their new CD.

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