Hitchens in Tumortown

October 12, 2010 • 10:42 am

Over at Vanity Fair, Hitch continues his series on his cancer treatment in a piece called “Tumortown“.  He describes all the helpful advice he’s gotten from concerned friends:

. . . somebody has written to me from a famous university to suggest that I have myself cryonically or cryogenically frozen against the day when the magic bullet, or whatever it is, has been devised. (When I failed to reply to this, I got a second missive, suggesting that I freeze at least my brain so that its cortex could be appreciated by posterity. Well, I mean to say, gosh, thanks awfully.)

As usual, it’s honest and sad:

. . . this is both an exhilarating and a melancholy time to have a cancer like mine. Exhilarating, because my calm and scholarly oncologist, Dr. Frederick Smith, can design a chemo-cocktail that has already shrunk some of my secondary tumors, and can “tweak” said cocktail to minimize certain nasty side effects. That wouldn’t have been possible when Updike was writing his book or when Nixon was proclaiming his “war.” But melancholy too, because new peaks of medicine are rising and new treatments beginning to be glimpsed, and they have probably come too late for me.

Hitchens winds up discussing the treatment advice he gets from Francis Collins, which segues into an issue that partially divides them: stem-cell research.

As a believing Christian, Francis is squeamish about the creation for research purposes of these nonsentient cell clumps (as, if you care, am I), but he was hoping for good work to result from the use of already existing embryos, originally created for in-vitro fertilization. These embryos are going nowhere as it is. But now religious maniacs strive to forbid even their use, which would help what the same maniacs regard as the unformed embryo’s fellow humans! The politicized sponsors of this pseudo-scientific nonsense should be ashamed to live, let alone die. If you want to take part in the “war” against cancer, and other terrible maladies too, then join the battle against their lethal stupidity.

And over at Slate, Hitchens explains why Americans get the politicians they deserve.

15 thoughts on “Hitchens in Tumortown

  1. I linked the Vanity Fair piece on my FB page and sure enough a follower of Jeebus proclaimed that this was just another excuse for Hitch to rail against people of faith.

    What, you mean contracting esophageal cancer? WTF!

    1. He was railing against Republicans, not people of faith.

      But I suspect for your “friend” (ha), that’s seen to be one in the same thing.

  2. From the Slate article:

    How many times can you stand in front of an audience and state: “I will always put the people of X first”? (Quite a lot of times, to judge by recent campaigns.) This is to say no more than that you will be a megaphone for sectional interests and regional mood swings and resentment, a confession that, to you, all politics is yokel.


    Back to the Vanity Fair piece, I wish he’d said more about his opinion alluded to here:

    As a believing Christian, Francis is squeamish about the creation for research purposes of these nonsentient cell clumps (as, if you care, am I)…

    I trust his reasons to be squeamish are significantly different from Collins’s, but I would like to hear what they are.

      1. Well, without actually saying “slippery slope” there IS a continuum between non-sentient cell clumps (if they’ve been made in the usual way) and sentient cell clumps (us), and no hard and fast place to draw the line. I don’t know if that’s what makes him squeamish or something else.

        1. Well, we draw the line already between sentient cell clumps that are human and sentient cell clumps that are other species, so i do not see why we would continue down the continuum to non-sentient cell clumps.

        2. Embryonic stem cell research uses embryos that never approach sentience.

          I’m stauchly pro-choice and pro-ESCR, but I can think of a couple of caveats to embryo acquistion. The hormone treatment used to cause women to release several eggs at once for use in IVF is not without side-effects. And despite the almost universal proclamations of altruistic motive, there seem to generally be the case that women of fewer resources provide eggs for women of more resources. While strict payment is illegal, IIRC, there are ways around this by re-labeling payments. There are ethical concerns when poorer segments are induced to take risks like this for better-off segments of society.

          Those are my reasons. (They may not even come into play if the leftover products of IVF are numerous enough to support ESCR–assuming the eggs come from the woman undergoing the IVF, and not an egg donor). I’d like to know Hitch’s.

  3. I linked this piece to my FB profile as well (as I’ve been consistently doing since Hitch started with this journal). I’ve noticed that many people really enjoy reading them and now some friends who didn’t know Hitchens before will frequently ask me how he is doing (as though he was one of my close buddies).

    On a different note, Christopher is doing a great job deliberately overlooking tangential points of contention between himself and Collins -all in an effort to be civil of course-. After all, our theologically beweildered doctor seems to be in the best disposition to help the most ardent atheist on earth-.

    Hitchens must be in pains trying to withhold his usual derision against our brothers in Christ in deference to an intellectual opponent who is working to day and night save his life, while at the same time scouring his articulate and eloquent pre-frontal cortex for the words and rethoric to condemn the bunch of blinkered opponents of SCR who lie awake at night thinking up ways to forbid its funding at the federal level and who happen to be denizens of the same benighted religious circle as Hitchen’s current best friend.

  4. Quote from Jerry Coyne:

    “And over at Slate, Hitchens explains why Americans get the politicians they deserve.”

    Sorry if this sounds callous, but Hitchens is the last one from whom I wish to hear ethical-political advice, after he espoused and propagated the WMD lies in the runup to the Iraq war and proudly sided with the most reactionary elements in the GW Bush administration, while, as if for sport, incessantly besmirching, slandering and vilifying those of us who opposed that most vile of acts, a war of aggression disguised under false pretenses.

    He is very sick now, and I’m truly sorry and sad for him, but that won’t cancel the fact that he did what he did and said what he said when it counted and mattered.

    1. I concur. Well said.

      (Tho I found the Slate article less political than, well, sociological, or something like that…)

    2. Can someone please post links to some of Hitchens’ writing from this time period? I’m aware that he thought the invasion of Iraq was a moral act, but I’m pretty ignorant beyond that. Thanks.

  5. Hitchens is I imagine adapting a quotation from Joseph Marie de Maistre – “Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite.”

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