Hooman Majd Weighs Iran as a State Sponsor of Terrorism

Question: Does Iran aid and abet terrorists?

Majd:    Well, as far as the Iranians are concerned, it’s not.  And when I say that, I don’t mean just the government of Iran, I think most of the Iranian people, most of them, including those who are very against Ahmandinejad in particular or even the Islamic republic as a system would not agree with that characterization, Iran specifically supports 2 organizations that in the United States we have deemed terrorist organizations, one is Hezbollah, the other is Hamas, those are the 2 specific organizations that Iran has actively supported.  They claimed not militarily, the United States militarily but certainly morally and certainly financially they support it.  And they make no bones about it, they say that they do not characterize either of those groups as a terrorist organization.  Hamas, eventhough the Isrealis and the United States consider a terrorist organization, the Western Europeans consider it terrorist organization, most of the Muslim world do not, they consider them a resistant group, they consider them democratically elective political party in the Palestinian territories that is also a resistance group that is fighting the Israeli occupation.  That’s an argument that we could have for hours, if I would take one position and you would take the other.  Hezbollah is very… is actually a even simpler thing because as far as the Iranians are concerned, it’s a group that was formed to get rid the Israeli occupation of Lebanon and was successful in getting rid of the Israeli occupation of Lebanon and has actually really not really attacked Israel and doesn’t even have as its charter, for example, as Hamas does, the destruction of Israel.  It’s a Lebanese group, it’s a political party, it’s going to be in parliament, it’s going to be… have politicians in government and it’s there to protect the Lebanese people and that includes a very large population of Shiites who Iran has very close relations with and in fact, Iran created Hezbollah so they don’t consider that a terrorist group.  I mean, by large, it’s not just the Iranian people who don’t consider it a terrorist group, the vast majority of the Muslim world don’t.  So we’re… I’m not going to say that we’re on a different side than the Muslim world or even the 3rd world to a large degree on the issue of whether Hamas or Hezbollah are terrorist organizations.  The fact of the matter is that even Hamas and Hezbollah, Iran support of Hamas and Hezbollah is up for debate and up for negotiations, they made that clear once before that they would be willing to bring that to the table, if the United States wants to talk about it.  So far, we haven’t taken them up on that but we’ll see. 

The writer explains Iran’s long-time support for Hamas and Hezbollah.

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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.
Surprising Science
  • 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.