Can people of different faiths coexist?
I'm a veteran journalist who has written and edited articles on a wide range of business topics, ranging from regulation and litigation to corporate racial relations to interaction between companies and consumers. I'm interested in illustrating how the realities of the business world frequently clash with the theories and principles that business people find appealing.
Question: Can people of different faiths coexist?
Barrett: Well they do. Muslims are co-existing all around this country. They have the advantage of this country to continue to contrast with Europe, say, of being here in proportion . . . in smaller proportional terms. So they actually are much more diluted into a much larger majority society. There’s no good estimate of the number of Muslims in this country – no reliable number. That’s largely because the United States census does not count by religion. So all you have are private surveys. You have numbers of six or seven million perhaps at the high end; as low as two or three million at the low end. Having no real basis for choosing among those, I use a rough estimate of somewhere three to six million. I don’t really know. But whatever it is, it’s maybe one to two percent of the population; in contrast to places in Europe where it’s five percent or as high as 10 percent, for example, in France. And in those relatively small numbers, and with impressive educational and professional credentials, Muslims in many places are just living their lives. And in fact until 9/11 most people thought of them as Pakistanis or Indians, or some guy from Egypt, or a guy from Turkey. And it’s really only since 9/11 in any really pronounced way that Americans have focused on other Muslims among us in some numbers. So there’s been tensions since then. People have been arrested. There have been prosecutions. Charities have been shut down. There’s been a lot of anxiety. But again look at the terrible thing that happened, and what shock and horror it caused. And look at the overall effect. I mean people were . . . Some people were rounded up, but most of them were released – a terrible experience for many of them; terribly mishandled by the government at several critical stages. But you know today there’s no sort of systematic effort to persecute Muslims as Muslims. We actually have in a lot of ways rebounded from that. Not to say that if there were another terrible terrorist attack that we would be in worse shape than we were on September 12th. But the country actually is doing overall fairly well in absorbing Muslims in the same way that Muslims . . . that previous groups – Catholics, Jews and so forth – started out as extreme outsiders; the targets of extreme prejudice and persecution. Believe me, Jews and Catholics in their day were the targets of much more sustained, much more officially tolerated persecution than Muslims ever have been.
Recorded on: 12/4/07
Despite suddenly becoming a category, American Muslims remain an integral part of American life.
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Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.
- 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. 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.
Many governments do not report, or misreport, the numbers of refugees who enter their country.
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