Sunday, May 28, 2017

Euthanasia: A human right.

If we are born, it is at best the consequence of a desire of our parents. However in many cases it is no more than the result of a sexual assault, as it had been for millions of years during evolution. 
So, we may consider ourselves fortunate if our parents love us and take care of us.
Once alive, we appear to have a package of genes, that we are not able to change. We do not even know the details of our genetic programme.  A few details, mainly related to our external features, may become evident, but the rest, especially related to internal characteristics, remains largely hidden in darkness.
With this genetic programme, we are subsequently subject to numerous influences of our environment. The combination of our genetic programme and the influences of our environment may lead to a tremendous - nearly infinite - variation in the outcome. This outcome may be a lucky one, but it may as well be a bad one.

This can be easily demonstrated if we observe the lower forms of life. A dandelion in a Dutch pasture will grow up to another appearance than a similar dandelion in a pasture on a windy mountain slope in Switzerland. Contrary to a dandelion, a human being can move to another environment under the influence of his/her genetic programme.  A mind inclined to fanaticism can bring someone to become a fanatic Muslim, a fanatic Christian or a fanatic communist, depending on his place on our planet. But contrary to a dandelion, such a fanatic mind may e.g. travel to areas under control of IS (islamic state) and become the mind of a mass murderer there.
Anyone knows that lung cancer is usually caused by smoking. Nevertheless the earlier German federal chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who did smoke three packs of cigarettes a day, reached an age of 96, without getting lung cancer. Contrary to 40 years ago, then at the time I did hear a physician saying over the radio, that cancer had nothing to do with genes, it is now generally accepted that genes may have an important role in determining our susceptibility for various forms of cancer in spite of their final induction by environmental factors.

That most people do not believe in a strong influence of our genes can be explained easily. Our genes are not an open book, whereas the influence of our environment can be seen by anyone. Biologists, who are studying our predecessors in evolution, know that genetic factors are equally important.
There is an old proverb: "Where there's a will, there's a way." Unfortunately, willpower seems to be  determined by our genes earlier than by our environment. According to experimental psychologists, a free will has to be considered utopia.
But irrespective of the role of genes and environmental influence, both of these are together responsible for our own evaluation of our life.

As a consequence, under certain conditions, we should have the right to decide whether or not the balance of our life is overall positive or negative and to take the decision to end our life if we consider it as hopeless
Conditions should be defined e.g:
*Responsibilities with respect to other people, e.g. our children,
*A wish of euthanasia should be a long term wish. After a broken relationship e.g. the situation may gradually improve. A terminal disease on the other hand will only get worse, especially if it is painful.
*So each of us should get the right to decide to end his/her life and others should get the right to help us to fulfil this wish for reasons of charity, if we are not able to fulfil it ourselves. But for similar reasons, nobody (physicians inclusive) can be obliged to give this form of help if it goes against their own feelings and/or believing.
*Of course, in all cases there must be an independent check that help is not coming from those having other interests in the euthanasia than charity.

Politicians, jurists, physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, priests, clergymen and all those, who believe that they are the specialists, who are able to judge whether euthanasia is justified in a particular case, should be aware that they are overrating their own capabilities. For each of us there is only one specialist, yourself, irrespective whether you are a plumber or a philosopher.

It is incredible that politicians belonging to political parties, said to be based on the bible, are strong opponents of those who are willing to help friends or relatives having a long term wish to end their life. Charity is an important Christian order. Help by those, who will strongly miss their friend or relative after the euthanasia, may be considered charity as well as self-sacrifice. The reference by Christian politicians to the commandment: "You shall not murder (kill)" can be considered an intentional deception of the meaning of it.

It is also incredible that some politicians pretend that no elderly people would wish to end their life, if
more attention would be paid to them. This might be true for those who have spent their lives mainly by consumption and entertainment, but will certainly not apply to most of those who were creative and productive.  For the latter, e.g. a writer or a painter going blind or a composer going deaf, age might gradually become a larger problem as a consequence of the difference with their previous life. Simple people may be easier to satisfy by arbitrary contacts than intellectual people.

An attendant effect of acknowledgement of euthanasia as a human right, would possibly be that less people, being at their wits' end as a consequence of a lack of attention for their long term wish, will jump before a train or from the roof of an apartment building. This may in turn reduce the number of train drivers and paramedics with psychical problems.

Nico van Rooijen, Haarlem, April 28, 2017

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The macrophage: A high-tech micro vacuum cleaner.

Do you have a vacuum cleaner? Maybe you call it a Hoover, after the inventor? And do you use it?
If yes, you might be a woman. Anyway, being a man myself, my first vacuum cleaner entered my life after my marriage. Before that time, I did wait until the dust under my bed had produced a solid carpet there. Once a year, I rolled it up and threw it in the dust-bin.
As you understand, I am a lazy man, so the only suitable profession for me would be scientific research. There are few other possibilities to spend nearly all of your time on thinking. If doing would become an inevitable consequence, many nice students and/or technicians will help you to overcome this barrier.

I have several problems with a vacuum cleaner.
First of all, it produces a lot of noise, disturbing thinking.
Secondly, a vacuum cleaner is nowadays an old-fashioned apparatus. You have to control its activities and to check where it did remove dust and where not. This is especially tiring if you do not see any dust on places where others obviously see a lot of it.
A modern vacuum cleaner, adapted to our time, should have the following characteristics:
1. It should work without your own control. If your string of pearls is broken, the pearls should not be sucked together with the real dust by the apparatus. In other words, it should be able to discriminate. Contrary to a police officer, a vacuum cleaner would be praised for this capability.
2. Before the battery would be dead, the apparatus should be able to charge itself again.
3. The apparatus should be able to recycle the ingested dust in order to reuse it subsequently for a useful purpose.
4. The apparatus should be able to control and regulate several other functions in your house. If it becomes dark, the lights have to be turned on and the curtains have to be closed by the apparatus via remote control.
5. If more activity would be required somewhere, the apparatus should be able to replicate itself and the copies should be able to collaborate in the job.

As you will know, many human inventions are based on observations in nature. In the present case, we should focus on a micro vacuum cleaner, the macrophage, a cell present in nearly all tissues of our body.
From an evolutionary point of view, macrophages are ancient cells. They form the core of the natural immune system and did appear long before the cells forming together the complex immune system of the higher vertebrates to which we belong.
Macrophages are involved in "homeostasis" of the body by ingesting and digesting microorganisms or other non-self particles as well as products of inflammation or immune reactions, such as macromolecules or antibody-complexed antigens.
Intracellular digestion is mediated by their panels of lysosomal enzymes. As a consequence large concentrations of materials such as amino-acids for the building of new proteins are available.
During evolution, macrophages did acquire functions in the regulation of several other cells in the body. Differentiation, maturation, migration and/or functioning of these non-phagocytic cells could be stimulated or inhibited by soluble mediator molecules, such as cytokines and chemokines, produced and released by macrophages in the circulation and/or body fluids. They will act as a remote control system.

Their functions could be studied with the help of an approach to deplete macrophages selectively from tissues and/or organs in the body. By this approach, i.e. by creating an animal with macrophage-depleted tissues or organs - dependent on the administration route of the liposomes - functional aspects of macrophages could be studied "in vivo".
Liposomes - artificially prepared inert vesicles, consisting of concentric phospholipid bilayers, separated by aqueous compartments - will be eagerly swallowed by macrophages and will be subsequently digested with the help of their phospholipase enzymes.
Liposomes as structures were discovered by Alec Bangham (UK, died on March 9, 2010). He found that amphipathic phospholipid molecules, dispersed in water, became organised in vesicles, consisting of concentric phospholipid bilayers, separated by aqueous compartments. The hydrophobic fatty acid chains of each part of the bilayers were opposed to each other, whereas the hydrophilic head groups of the fatty acids were exposed to the water compartments separating the individual bilayers.
Hydrophilic molecules solved in the aqueous solution, used for preparation of the liposomes, could be entrapped into the aqueous compartments between the phospholipid bilayers and it was Gregory Gregoriadis (Greece/UK), who proposed and formulated liposomes as carriers of drugs in biology and medicine, i.e. the liposomal drug carrier concept.
Clodronate (dichloromethylene bisphosphonate) is a member of the family of bisphosphonate molecules developed for the treatment of osteolytic bone diseases. It shows high affinity for calcium and - as a consequence - adheres to bone if administered to vertebrates such as men. Osteoclasts play a role in the physiology of bone by breaking it down, opposed to osteoblasts who are involved in its reconstruction. It appeared that the activity of osteoclasts could be inhibited by bisphosphonate molecules sticked to bone.
Given that both osteoclasts and macrophages belong to the mononuclear phagocyte system (MPS), we decided to try clodronate as one of the first effector molecules in our planned "liposome mediated
macrophage suicide" approach.
Freely solved clodronate will not easily cross phospholipid bilayers such as liposome membranes and cell membranes. After injection, liposomes with encapsulated clodronate - used as Trojan horses - will be ingested and digested by macrophages. The encapsulated clodronate molecules are released within the cells and will accumulate there, since they are not able to leave the cell again. At a certain intracellular concentration, the clodronate molecules will induce apoptosis of the macrophage.
A lot of functional activities of macrophages have been discovered with the help of this approach since these activities were no longer performed or at least strongly reduced in macrophage-depleted animals.

The next step will be to produce a high-tech macro vacuum cleaner to make our own lives more pleasant!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Politics in the Netherlands: How to translate the results of the elections.

Compared to the situation in the rest of the world, elections in the Netherlands resemble a TV-show.
In some of the most influential countries of the world, the USA, Great-Britain and Germany, only few political parties determine the future. They are alternately winning the elections.  As a result, change of power - implicating undoing of many decisions of the previous government - did sometimes induce a repercussion in the economy of the country, since stability is a crucial factor.
In other countries, only one party has been admitted. Given that the name "party" does imply a "contradictio in terminis" in such countries, elections are a joke. Unfortunately, the population is not permitted to laugh at the joke and is actually suffering under a dictatorship of those saying to represent it.
Communist countries were typical examples, but communism has proven to be a plague for the prosperity in a country and communism became nearly extinct on our planet. Comparable to the dinosaurs but happily in a shorter period of time.
China is a good example. The rapid increase in its prosperity, since the country became a typical capitalist country, shows that clever people can speed up the economy of their country if they get the chance to do that. The condition is that people live in relative liberty, even if they stick to the name people's republic as in China. The Chinese are not only clever, but also practical people.
The difference between communist North-Korea and South-Korea as a typical capitalist country, also speaks volumes. The first country as the last communist country on earth, can be considered as a typical inefficacious communist museum with prisoners inside, but no visitors from abroad allowed to look at them. The last country taking advance of freedom and commercial activities all over the world is comparatively prosperous.

In the Netherlands, we have many political parties. From ultra left to ultra right, various parties based on religion and even a party for the animals, though animals were never invited to participate in the elections. Sooner or later we will also see a party for hooligans and criminals.
Also new political parties usually split up after a short time and it is no exception that individual members form a new party but nevertheless remain in the parliament.
This is a typical Dutch hobby, in earlier centuries mainly visible in the many religious schisms, but since God did emigrate out of the Netherlands, mainly practised by politicians.
Nevertheless, many votes end up somewhere in the middle, because Dutchmen are rationally thinking.

However, given that the ballot papers resemble newspapers as a result of the many political parties,
a majority allowing the rapid formation of a government is not always easily to find.
This is still more difficult, since several parties exclude collaboration with other parties.
The only solution might be to form a government by parties in the middle, no longer based on a majority but on a minority. Alternately, the government should seek support in the parliaments on the right or on the left side of the political spectrum, depending on the positions taken by these parties at earlier moments.
Parties changing their earlier position in a specific case, only as an attempt to bring the government down, should be forbidden and discontinued by law. This seems to be the only possibility to rule the Netherlands in the near future.
Nico van Rooijen, Haarlem, May 5, 2017

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The philosopher & her admiring student:

The student is eager to learn the ideas of the philosopher

His admiration for the philosopher is obvious

After the lessons, they go for a ride in the Land Rover of the philosopher.
The student is still enthusiastic, but the philosopher seems to prefer a ride with a colleague.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Questions for Mr. Trump by an unreliable biologist.

Hi Donald, given your reactions on research of scientists with respect to the effects of global warming and their warnings regarding probable climate changes, I understand that you distrust scientists if their conclusions and resulting predictions do not agree with your own conviction.
You never gave us the impression that you are doubting your own words or their significance.
You might know that scientists in turn distrust politicians. To be fair, I think they have more reason to do so, than you have for the opposite.
If a scientist makes a statement, he will add his arguments and/or evidence and will always search to test his hypothesis.
I 'm afraid that, in spite of your name, you did not succeed in your attempts to trump your opponents, simply by blowing your own trumpet.
Trumpets remind me of elephants. In the Netherlands we have a proverb, literally translated: "He behaves as an elephant in a china cabinet". Given that - in this case - the china cabinet is our planet and the elephant was chosen to remain there for at least four years, I can only hope that the elephant will be tamed in the meantime.

Accidentally, you might have heard of a statement of one of the most important scientists of all times, Newton, about scientists: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”
Another interesting statement of Newton was as follows: “I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies, but not the madness of people.” 

Anyone of us, using a car or a plane to travel over the earth, meanwhile talking with others via a smart-phone or listening to the radio, has to trust on the achievements of countless scientists, standing on the shoulders of countless other scientists. So, if you are twittering on the back seat of your car after listening to the lies told about you via the radio or reading the lies written about you in the newspapers, while your driver looks at the route planner based on GPS, both of you are trusting on a lot of scientists at the same time.
With so many unreliable scientists standing on the shoulders of so may other unreliable scientists, the result would be extremely dangerous. It is like a "Tower of Babel" on wheels. Continuously, you should be afraid that it will collapse.
You must really fear that you will never survive the four years of your presidency with so many scientists on which you have to rely.

May, 8,  2017, Nico van Rooijen (un unreliable biologist)  Haarlem, The Netherlands.