Reader Mail

Guns and Dishes

Armed survival in the age of terror. ''In Vitro Defects'': the exchange continues. Plus: Tom Ridge miscast, and more.

2.19.03

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CAMPUS READING
Re: George Neumayr's The Baghdad Syndrome:

I want to commend George Neumayr on his brilliant essay comparing protesters' treatment of Saddam versus Bush. I have been begging my liberal friends on campus for weeks to give Bush the same benefit of the doubt that they inexplicably extend to Saddam. Unfortunately they never seem to understand what I'm getting at. Maybe I can use this article to help explain it to them.
-- Nick Jarmusz

RIDGE TOO HIGH
Re: Reid Collins Gaffer's Tape:

Kudos to the Prowler and Reid Collins for questioning Tom Ridge's job performance. What could have led the President to even select Ridge in the first place. If he must be on the public payroll, Ridge should be somewhere harmless, like Transportation, perhaps assistant undersecretary for road striping width regulations.

A defense genius? No. As a congressman, he did his best to undermine Ronald Reagan's defense plans. Ed Boland and Tip O'Neill surely found Ridge to be a useful idiot.

His demonstrated leadership skills? No. A decade of foolish government spending has left Pennsylvania in debt and a tax-thirsty Democrat eager to clean up the mess in his own devious way. Ridge had a nominally Republican legislature to work with. We could have been cleaning our socialist neighbors' (NY, NJ, MD) financial clocks by now, had we only pursued conservative economic policies.

Political gamesmanship? He failed to deliver Pennsylvania to Bush, helping to make 2000 the mess it was. It wasn't even close.
-- David Slauenwhite

IN BAD COMPANY
Re: R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.'s The German-Iraqi Axis:

Siemens is a company you should take a longer look through! There are many faces of Siemens that John Q. Public is unaware. One such is Siemens Dematic, the largest supplier of mail sorting machines to the United States Postal Service. Does that seem right to you ? There are many others. Are you up to exposing them ?

(Leave my name out of this please -- I have family that works for Siemens.)
-- unsigned

HOW APPROPRIATE
Re: The Washington Prowler's It's Now or Never:

We are supposed to believe that Clinton finally has established some ethical behavior. His aide said, "It wouldn't be appropriate for him to attend private fundraisers for individual candidates."

Pleaaaaaase -- tell the aide to pass along this message to Clinton: it is not appropriate for him to be bashing President Bush, but that hasn't stopped him.
-- Joyce Dooley
Chaffee, MO

HAVE GUN, WILL TRAVEL SAFELY
Re: Jed Babbin's Don't Color Me Orange:

Hi, Jed Babbin. Love your stuff, read it whenever I can.

In tonight's American Prowler you wrote a fine piece on the practicalities of preparing for a terrorist threat to ordinary citizens down on the ground. You ended by detailing how you've prepared. Good information and sound advice all around save one little recommendation that could mean the difference between life and death.

You said at the end, "It may be one helluva hike, but if I survive the initial attack, I'll make it home. You can too." I 've been in a situation that I believe is very close to what a localized attack as you describe will look like and I say that your planning is sound But your odds will be greatly enhanced if you pack an additional tool in that kitbag which I'm guessing you already know. (The Hoppe's No. 3 tipped me off.) A gun.

I was 10 miles from ground zero the day after Hurricane Andrew in 1992, having driven south from my home in Broward County to deliver all the supplies I had stored to folks I knew in the storm's path. It looked like one would imagine the outskirts of a nuclear attack would look. Every single object, natural or manmade, that once stood above the ground was knocked down, demolished or simply gone. The trees were shorn of branches and foliage and all leaning or laying down in the same general direction. It looked exactly like there had been a massive blast from the southeast as, in fact, there had been. 60,000 homes and as many businesses were wrecked, without power, phones or water, some for months afterward. To this day you can drive the Florida Turnpike to Homestead, past the old Air Force base, and see abandoned houses to the west without roofs. People milled about in the streets aimlessly like the benumbed survivors they were, seemingly waiting for someone to tell them what to do next. Some looked like they were up to something and it didn't look good. Trees and power lines were in the roads making travel hazardous and very difficult. Many streets were simply impassable. And it was hot. It's always hot after tropical weather. We realized the gravity of the situation slowly at first as we made our way south, but that apprehension turned to dread with the falling sun. I knew I had to get out of there before dark. I went armed but I still didn't want to be there.

Tens of thousands of people slept in the unsecure, wrecked shells of their houses with no lights, phones or power that night. Many would do so for weeks and months. They suffered the anxious knowledge there was no official authority to call on for help. The officials of the Metro-Dade police as much as said so in a press conference. Calamities of that magnitude do more than wreck the physical world around us. They suspend order, the rules, the what and whom you can trust or believe in. It's disorienting and palpably severs the bonds of normalcy that we unconsciously adhere to everyday. In such a scene you must choose, in each instance called upon, to follow the rules as we knew them before. That is, truly, the way back from the disaster, not the rebuilding of structures. But of course, some will consciously choose not to.

Guns came out into the open with men and women taking turns guarding their stakes like in days of yore. The National Guardsmen, bless 'em, were useless in crime control, having been deployed and sent on patrols without ammo for their weapons (ol' soft-headed Gov. Walkin' Lawton Chiles!). After a particularly thoughtless local newsbabe announced that tidbit on the air, one patrol was relieved of their weapons by some street thugs who very rightfully knew that the deterrent value of guns is highest when they are understood to actually work when needed and thus loaded. In the days and weeks following guns were openly carried and worn everywhere in the effected areas with no untoward incidents. In fact, if memory serves, there was only one episode of a private citizen shooting a marauder, and it was deemed righteous by the police who declined to press charges. Indeed, it is not exaggeration to say that civil order was restored more easily because so many were openly armed and had already secured a general peace.

In the possible scenarios you lay out it is probable there will be many scared and desperate folks on the move; law enforcement will be scattered and overtaxed. Even with reinforcements, national guard or martial law and regular troops, the evil among us will see and make their moves in the disorder. For otherwise law-abiding ordinary folks it will bring out the best in most and the worst in some. For the criminals it will be a holiday, easy pickins from a surfeit of soft targets who are disoriented and out of their element. I'm worried less about being in the zone of an actual attack as I am being slightly north of millions of unprepared folks penned in the bottom third of the relatively narrow Florida peninsula with only four main routes out. The disorder after an attack may prove far more dangerous than the attack itself.

How exactly would an unarmed man navigate such a scene, three days on foot you say, and make it through alive? If I recall you live in good 'ol liberal Boston, or thereabouts, where guns are the evil not the very real bad men of the night, so I'll give you a pass on not disclosing your self-protection measures, but surely you might make the recommendation in the future. Yes, by all means store up foodstuffs, medicines and tools but let's not forget protection from the worst of all threats, a man in your face intent on evil. Here's hoping you've got a S&W .40 (my favorite) or Glock 19 or whatever works for you stowed in that little kitbag.

Best regards,
-- Mark Shepler
Jupiter, FL

IN VITRO SUCCESSES
Re: Frederick W. Larsen M.D.'s "Artificial Fertilization" letter in Reader Mail's Addicted to the Democrats and George Neumayr's In Vitro Defects:

Thank you for publishing my [previous] letter to the editor. And thank you, Mr. Neumayr for taking the time to reply. I again feel though that I need to respond to some of the charges and inaccuracies that Mr. Neumayr levels against me and my profession.

Mr. Neumayr states, in his response, that "More embryos cultured in labs die than live. More are discarded than live. More are frozen than live. Statistically it is not good to begin your life in a petri dish..." I reject the notion that more embryos cultured in labs are discarded than live. We are able to harvest, on average, 12 oocytes with each IVF retrieval. Of the 12 oocytes that we harvest, on average approximately 7 or 8 of them will fertilize when put we them in the dish with sperm. We discard the unfertilized ooctyes. Of the 7 or 8 that fertilize, more than half will divide normally, leaving us with 5 or 6 embryos available for transfer back into the woman on the third day after the retrieval. In most circumstances, depending on the patient's age, we transfer the 3 or 4 healthiest appearing embryos. That leaves us on average with a total of 2 or 3 embryos to freeze. There are times when that number is higher, but there are also plenty of times where we have no embryos to freeze because all have been transferred back into the woman.

Of the embryos that should be 8 cell embryos on day 3, many of them are only 2 or 3 or 4 cell embryos. In our average patient scenario above, that means that of the 7 or 8 embryos that are created, 2 or 3 of these embryos are discarded, certainly not a majority of them. But more importantly, these embryos are not normal and do not have pregnancy potential. They are not human beings. They cannot become a human being because there is something inherently abnormal about them. They are not equally human with the embryos that continue to divide normally and can and do result in a pregnancy and a child. Discarding them is not killing a human being. It is discarding an abnormal human embryo. That is not the same as killing a human. We don't discard embryos before finding out whether they have pregnancy potential based on their continuing to grow normally. We do not deliberately kill viable embryos in this process. And as I pointed out in my original letter, this lack of normal development is not due to lab conditions resulting in a worse outcome for an otherwise healthy embryo. It is because the embryo, from the moment fertilization occurred, was destined not to survive, whether it be because the cellular machinery was incomplete or inadequate or because the embryo is chromosomally abnormal, a "misfire of nature" as Mr. Neumayr correctly calls it.

As a matter of fact, far more embryos "die" once safely back inside the woman. In other words, the single most common outcome in these IVF cycles is that the woman does not become pregnant. Is this because the IVF process is flawed? Have I killed these embryos when transferring them back into the woman's uterus? Once again, the data would suggest otherwise. It is more likely that the embryos don't have the potential for becoming a child even though they appear to be developing normally for the first couple of days of their existence. The alternate explanation is that there is something inherently abnormal about that patient's ability to have an embryo implant in her uterus (which would suggest that she was conceiving just fine but the embryos resulting from those conceptions are not able to implant). We, as humans, are remarkably inefficient at reproducing when compared with other species. The average monthly fecundity rates (chance of a couple getting pregnant per month when birth control is not used) of a "normal" fertile couple is about 25%. The average per cycle take home baby pregnancy rates from IVF is approximately 30-35%, better than nature. It is also important to remember in comparing these statistics that the population of people who undergo IVF have often been attempting pregnancy for years before coming to see me, making our pregnancy rates all the more incredible. In the end, though, who gets pregnant and who doesn't is out of my hands and in God's hands. I can only facilitate the possibility that the couple could become pregnant.

Now, I am not suggesting that there isn't a moral dilemma about the unwanted frozen embryos. There certainly is. That is why I feel that embryo adoption should be pursued and could be a reasonable and viable option for many infertile couples. Currently, laws in many states make this somewhat of a risky business for the couple as the woman who carries the embryos for 9 months is still required to legally adopt the child she just gave birth to (meaning that the biologic contributors of the DNA to the embryo could, after birth, claim parental rights). However, many more embryos are thawed and used in attempts for pregnancy by our patients than are frozen indefinitely.

Mr. Neumayr might be surprised to hear that I share his concerns about cloning. I reject the idea, though, that we shouldn't countenance IVF because there are those who might take knowledge obtained with IVF and apply it to something for which we don't have a medical indication. There is no reason that cloning should be allowed. But to compare IVF to cloning truly is comparing apples to oranges. The only thing similar is that an oocyte was obtained in the same manner as we obtain them for IVF and that it occurs in the "test tube." To suggest that the IVF process in and of itself is immoral disregards the above facts. It seems that Mr. Neumayr bases his belief that IVF is immoral on the incorrect assumption that the embryos that do not survive the IVF process die because the IVF process is flawed or because there are scientists who just can't wait to thrown away viable embryos. This is clearly not the case. And he also fails to factor in the tremendous good that comes of the process, namely thousands upon thousands of loved and wanted children who would never have come into existence without this technology.

Respectfully,
-- Frederick W. Larsen M.D.

George Neumayr replies:
Dr. Larsen: According to your math, "of the 7 or 8 embryos that are created, 2 or 3 of these embryos are discarded." Do the other embryos live? One might. But that still means, even by your math, that my statement "more embryos are discarded than live" is correct.

You say that these embryos are mere mistakes, not human life. I disagree. We aren't talking about dog embryos or mice embryos, but human embryos. "We do not deliberately kill viable embryos in this process," you say. Notice the word "viable." Doctors are willing to kill human embryos they have deemed lacking in viability. Don't you see you're playing God without the wisdom of God? You say you're imitating nature. True, but you are doing it badly and in a setting nature never intended. You say the moral enormity of tens of thousands of frozen embryos is a "dilemma." No, it is a moral outrage. Good intentions (couples want children) do not justify bad means, and in vitro fertilization uses them. This path of purchasing "wanted" children through science leads to cloning whether you see it or not.

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