Survival pushes ideology aside in this euro-zone crisis

However hard most political leaders try, almost whatever they do in an attempt to look fashionable and plugged into the real lives of voters, it never seems to quite work. Whether it's stage-managed pictures of middle-aged politicians wobbling on bicycles at a European Union summit, or worse still, occasions where they try and look "casual" and get excited about football - as Britain's prime minister, David Cameron, and other leaders did during the recent G8 summit at Camp David - the imagery jars.

Somehow, we now expect our leaders to be sombrely dressed and getting down to some serious hard work if they have jet-setted off at our expense to a summit in some exotic place. But it is difficult to imagine Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin wearing open-necked shirts and posing for a round of high fives at the 1945 Yalta conference, which settled the shape of Europe for the next half century.Serious times require serious statesmen and women, and if the casual imagery that was on offer at the G8 summit is anything to go by, the world is still lacking that kind of leader.

Back in 1979, during an earlier time of global economic contraction, the British prime minister James Callaghan discovered that his seeming insouciance towards a shivering, strike-bound Britain led to his denial of mounting economic and industrial chaos being paraphrased by one popular tabloid newspaper in the immortal line: "Crisis? What crisis?" Mr Callaghan had just returned from an IMF summit on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.

Today's image-conscious politicians are more adept at avoiding such pitfalls, and yet as the G8 moved seamlessly to yet another European Union summit, the cries grow ever louder, in Europe at least, for the sort of dramatic intervention that gave us something as momentous as the Marshall Plan at the end of the Second World War.

In addition, there is an understanding elsewhere, and in the United States in particular, that President Barack Obama's massive fiscal stimulus programmes that lifted the economy out of recession are now threatened by a possible domino collapse of parts of the euro zone, beginning with Greece, progressing to Spain and Portugal and onwards to Italy.

It is perhaps worth pointing out that Mr Obama's domestic strategy owes at least something to Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, that massive exercise in economic pump priming that lifted America out of the Great Depression and away from dustbowl economics.

This is precisely what is not on offer to beleaguered Greece, a country now hobbled for joining the euro zone when it patently made no economic sense to do so. For here is a country that was recruited to Europe's grand political project, and which is now being obliged to shrink its economy in order to pay off loans on which it increasingly seems to be prepared out of desperation to default.

The G8 summit talked grandly about the need for "economic growth". It may also have further isolated the German chancellor Angela Merkel who, with much of the German banking and political establishment, believes austerity has to be made to work to save the euro zone and re-engineer the economies of Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain.

And while the G8 members may have moved faster to set time-tables for military disengagement from the quagmire that is Afghanistan (principally because the newly elected French Socialist leader, Francois Hollande, is determined to have his forces out within a year), the elephant in the room remains. In the immortal words of the former US president Bill Clinton: "It's the economy, stupid." But it is the election of "pro-growth" Mr Hollande over "pro-austerity" Nicolas Sarkozy that is fast changing the political game in Europe - and moving the argument towards the left.

"The crucial question," says the British businessman John Stevens, "is will there soon be elections in Germany?" Mr Stevens, along with many euro-friendly observers, believes that the G8 summit didn't add up to much - although the belief that Europe's leaders are not going to allow the single currency to founder was enough by itself to enable the markets to pick themselves up.

"If the euro zone can be saved, it will be with a centre-left economic agenda," Mr Stevens says. Coming from a former British Conservative member of the European Parliament, that comment should give pause for thought to some of his former allies in the governing Christian Democratic Party in Germany. And if Mr Stevens is right, then the next question becomes: which way will Germany's formidable chancellor, the real Iron Lady, turn next?

This month, Mrs Merkel's party went down in a crashing defeat at state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia, dropping by nearly 10 percentage points in the polls, which led to her brutal dismissal of her local party leader, Norbert Roettgen. While Mrs Merkel has been driven by her conservative reflexes to limit what Germany is prepared to do to rescue the Greeks - despite German banks playing their role in encouraging Greece's penury - she also knows her liberal Freedom Democratic Party coalition partners could decide to change allegiance.

And Mrs Merkel, despite her reputation for being utterly unbending, has shown herself to be pretty adept at performing speedy U-turns. Once upon a time, she and her party used to be adamantly in favour of nuclear power - but she moved just as smartly away following the nuclear disaster in Japan. Today, you would never know that Mrs Merkel once thought the future was nuclear, just as it may be possible one day soon not to recall a time when the same politician was fully committed to an economic growth strategy for Europe.

As a reporter, I have covered enough summits from continent to continent to be more or less immune to the blandishments of the hordes of government or institutional press officers, with their warm words and exaggerated claims. But as the summit caravan moved this week from America to Europe, there are at last some distinct signs that global political leaders now understand that the time for talking is over, and the time for action is upon them. For sure, that process has been given a boost by the election in France and the almost unexpected triumph of a mild-mannered, diligent socialist over an exuberant and colourful incumbent.
Elections, or the threat of elections, concentrate the minds of politicians like nothing else. And as with Mr Obama, who can see that Mitt Romney's Republicans have failed to fashion a believable alternative, so too with the austerity brigade in Europe.

In Britain, a country outside the euro zone but heavily dependent on the single market and trade with Europe, austerity is now widely held to be responsible for a second dip into recession. Mr Cameron's coalition government finds itself becoming more and more unpopular. In Germany, where wages have risen slowly for a decade, "more of the same" is hardly going to be a vote-winning slogan for Mrs Merkel - especially if she is driven to an early election by her fleeing coalition partners.

As ever, though, Europe's and America's political leaders are finding their agendas shaped by events, and events that are moving incredibly quickly.

However hard most political leaders try, almost whatever they do in an attempt to look fashionable and plugged into the real lives of voters, it never seems to quite work. Whether it's stage-managed pictures of middle-aged politicians wobbling on bicycles at a European Union summit, or worse still, occasions where they try and look "casual" and get excited about football - as Britain's prime minister, David Cameron, and other leaders did during the recent G8 summit at Camp David - the imagery jars.

Somehow, we now expect our leaders to be sombrely dressed and getting down to some serious hard work if they have jet-setted off at our expense to a summit in some exotic place. But it is difficult to imagine Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin wearing open-necked shirts and posing for a round of high fives at the 1945 Yalta conference, which settled the shape of Europe for the next half century.Serious times require serious statesmen and women, and if the casual imagery that was on offer at the G8 summit is anything to go by, the world is still lacking that kind of leader.

Back in 1979, during an earlier time of global economic contraction, the British prime minister James Callaghan discovered that his seeming insouciance towards a shivering, strike-bound Britain led to his denial of mounting economic and industrial chaos being paraphrased by one popular tabloid newspaper in the immortal line: "Crisis? What crisis?" Mr Callaghan had just returned from an IMF summit on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.

Today's image-conscious politicians are more adept at avoiding such pitfalls, and yet as the G8 moved seamlessly to yet another European Union summit, the cries grow ever louder, in Europe at least, for the sort of dramatic intervention that gave us something as momentous as the Marshall Plan at the end of the Second World War.

In addition, there is an understanding elsewhere, and in the United States in particular, that President Barack Obama's massive fiscal stimulus programmes that lifted the economy out of recession are now threatened by a possible domino collapse of parts of the euro zone, beginning with Greece, progressing to Spain and Portugal and onwards to Italy.

It is perhaps worth pointing out that Mr Obama's domestic strategy owes at least something to Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, that massive exercise in economic pump priming that lifted America out of the Great Depression and away from dustbowl economics.

This is precisely what is not on offer to beleaguered Greece, a country now hobbled for joining the euro zone when it patently made no economic sense to do so. For here is a country that was recruited to Europe's grand political project, and which is now being obliged to shrink its economy in order to pay off loans on which it increasingly seems to be prepared out of desperation to default.

The G8 summit talked grandly about the need for "economic growth". It may also have further isolated the German chancellor Angela Merkel who, with much of the German banking and political establishment, believes austerity has to be made to work to save the euro zone and re-engineer the economies of Mediterranean countries such as Greece, Italy and Spain.

And while the G8 members may have moved faster to set time-tables for military disengagement from the quagmire that is Afghanistan (principally because the newly elected French Socialist leader, Francois Hollande, is determined to have his forces out within a year), the elephant in the room remains. In the immortal words of the former US president Bill Clinton: "It's the economy, stupid." But it is the election of "pro-growth" Mr Hollande over "pro-austerity" Nicolas Sarkozy that is fast changing the political game in Europe - and moving the argument towards the left.

"The crucial question," says the British businessman John Stevens, "is will there soon be elections in Germany?" Mr Stevens, along with many euro-friendly observers, believes that the G8 summit didn't add up to much - although the belief that Europe's leaders are not going to allow the single currency to founder was enough by itself to enable the markets to pick themselves up.

"If the euro zone can be saved, it will be with a centre-left economic agenda," Mr Stevens says. Coming from a former British Conservative member of the European Parliament, that comment should give pause for thought to some of his former allies in the governing Christian Democratic Party in Germany. And if Mr Stevens is right, then the next question becomes: which way will Germany's formidable chancellor, the real Iron Lady, turn next?

This month, Mrs Merkel's party went down in a crashing defeat at state elections in North Rhine-Westphalia, dropping by nearly 10 percentage points in the polls, which led to her brutal dismissal of her local party leader, Norbert Roettgen. While Mrs Merkel has been driven by her conservative reflexes to limit what Germany is prepared to do to rescue the Greeks - despite German banks playing their role in encouraging Greece's penury - she also knows her liberal Freedom Democratic Party coalition partners could decide to change allegiance.

And Mrs Merkel, despite her reputation for being utterly unbending, has shown herself to be pretty adept at performing speedy U-turns. Once upon a time, she and her party used to be adamantly in favour of nuclear power - but she moved just as smartly away following the nuclear disaster in Japan. Today, you would never know that Mrs Merkel once thought the future was nuclear, just as it may be possible one day soon not to recall a time when the same politician was fully committed to an economic growth strategy for Europe.

As a reporter, I have covered enough summits from continent to continent to be more or less immune to the blandishments of the hordes of government or institutional press officers, with their warm words and exaggerated claims. But as the summit caravan moved this week from America to Europe, there are at last some distinct signs that global political leaders now understand that the time for talking is over, and the time for action is upon them. For sure, that process has been given a boost by the election in France and the almost unexpected triumph of a mild-mannered, diligent socialist over an exuberant and colourful incumbent.Elections, or the threat of elections, concentrate the minds of politicians like nothing else. And as with Mr Obama, who can see that Mitt Romney's Republicans have failed to fashion a believable alternative, so too with the austerity brigade in Europe.

In Britain, a country outside the euro zone but heavily dependent on the single market and trade with Europe, austerity is now widely held to be responsible for a second dip into recession. Mr Cameron's coalition government finds itself becoming more and more unpopular. In Germany, where wages have risen slowly for a decade, "more of the same" is hardly going to be a vote-winning slogan for Mrs Merkel - especially if she is driven to an early election by her fleeing coalition partners.

As ever, though, Europe's and America's political leaders are finding their agendas shaped by events, and events that are moving incredibly quickly.

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Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."

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  • Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
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  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. Think a dialysis machine for the mind. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.