Use of Fetal Tissue (Cont'd)

Rose Mary Garger asked {Letters, Aug. 4}, How can anyone not call fetal tissue human -- and in killing that living human, not call it murder? It is simple. Fetal tissue is living, and it is human, but that does not make it human life. After all, skin tissue and heart tissue is human and is living, but it is not human life.

Fetal tissue is potentially human life. So are skin tissue and heart tissue. Although we are not yet quite able to realize that potential and to clone a new individual from a skin cell or a heart cell, it appears likely that this capability will be realized in the near future. If it is, will we then all be considered murderers because we do not clone all our cells into new individuals, thus actualizing their potential for an independent existence?

Admittedly, a fetus is nearer to reaching its potential for independent life than a heart cell is, but that is no reason why tissue from an aborted fetus should not be used to help someone who can benefit from a brain implant. Robert Heppe Fairfax

On the Witness Stand

Your article "Diagnosis or Verdict" {Cover Story, July 28}, may suggest to some readers that psychologists as expert witnesses are testifying from the same base as psychiatrists. There is a significant distinction. Psychologists are scientists first and practitioners second. A psychologist who testifies on mental status is explaining the results of standardized, normed and empirical psychological tests and has a scientific, statistical basis for attesting accuracy.

Some of the most highly developed psychological measurement instruments, like the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, have been widely admitted as forensic diagnostic material in cases ranging from workers' compensation to the Hinckley trial. Other tests provide legally required documentation of handicapping conditions for Social Security and vocational rehabilitation benefits.

Too few attorneys realize the disciplinary distinctions among the health professions and often overlook the contribution that psychologists can provide for a scientific illumination of the issues at trial. Rona M. Fields, PhD Director, Associates in Community Psychology Alexandria

Writing a Living Will

I was particularly interested in the article "When to Prolong an Ebbing Life" {Health Policy, Aug. 4}. I am a registered nurse, and after reading the book "Let the Patient Decide" by Louis Shattuck Baer, MD, (Westminster Press) I wrote my own Living Will:

"To my family, my physician, my friends, my lawyer:

"These are my demands. As a woman over the age of 70 who has lived a full and useful life and is a firm believer in a Supreme God, I do not want you humans to play god and keep me alive by artificial means.

"Which means I want no intensive care. No resuscitation. No i.v. No intubation. No injections except for the relief of pain.

"Technology has gone too far in maintaining useless life and at the same time creating nuclear monsters.

"I want none of it. Let me die in peace, with dignity, and my ashes meld with the rest of nature."

This was signed, dated, witnessed, and copies were given to my family and others who might be called upon to verify this request.

I think that each person must decide this matter for themselves, but that in a democratic country a person's desires should be taken into account and not be the decision of lawyers and judges. Joy deLeon Sandy Spring, Md.

I have the (mistaken?) idea that medicine is practiced to prolong life -- period. For the writer to state that only antibiotics can "cure the underlying condition" is ludicrous. Food and water do "cure" starvation and thirst.

It's past time that we recognize the assaults being made upon life by the "experts" in our society. Instead of the current standard "living will", which states no extraordinary means be used, perhaps a living will should be written that all means to prolong life must be used until death occurs. Did you ever think that would have to be put into writing? Judy Waby Suitland, Md.

Understanding the Pill

Shame you for ending the article on "Misconceptions Persist About Pill's Safety" {The Cutting Edge, July 28} with, "In most countries, women taking the pill had no more knowledge of its effects than those who were not using it." Where's the follow-up line that should say, "because doctors all too frequently write prescriptions without giving their patients any information"? Susan Alperin Arlington

Letters intended for publication must be signed and include the writer's home address and home and business telephone numbers. Letters may be edited. Although we are unable to acknowledge all letters, we appreciate the time and value the viewpoints of those who write. Send letters to Health Section, The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.


A story last week on Crohn's disease gave an incorrect number for the National Digestive Disease Information Clearing House. Its address is Box NDDIC, Bethesda, Md. 20892; phone 468-6344.