The pigs had been lying dead in the lab for an hour — no blood was circulating in their bodies, their hearts were still, their brain waves flat. Then a group of Yale scientists pumped a custom-made solution into the dead pigs’ bodies with a device similar to a heart-lung machine.
What happened next adds questions to what science considers the wall between life and death. Although the pigs were not considered conscious in any way, their seemingly dead cells revived. Their hearts began to beat as the solution, which the scientists called OrganEx, circulated in veins and arteries. Cells in their organs, including the heart, liver, kidneys and brain, were functioning again, and the animals never got stiff like a typical dead pig.
Other pigs, dead for an hour, were treated with ECMO, a machine that pumped blood through their bodies. They became stiff, their organs swelled and became damaged, their blood vessels collapsed, and they had purple spots on their backs where blood pooled.
The researchers say their goals are to one day increase the supply of human organs for transplant by allowing doctors to obtain viable organs long after death. And, they say, they hope their technology might also be used to prevent severe damage to hearts after a devastating heart attack or brains after a major stroke.
But the findings are just a first step, said Stephen Latham, a bioethicist at Yale University who worked closely with the group. The technology, he emphasized, is “very far away from use in humans.”
The group, led by Dr. Nenad Sestan, professor of neuroscience, of comparative medicine, of genetics and of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, was stunned by its ability to revive cells.
“We did not know what to expect,” said Dr. David Andrijevic, also a neuroscientist at Yale and one of the authors of the paper. “Everything we restored was incredible to us.”
Others not associated with the work were similarly astonished.
“It’s unbelievable, mind blowing,” said Nita Farahany, a Duke law professor who studies ethical, legal and social implications of emerging technologies.
And, Dr. Farahany added, the work raises questions about the definition of death.
“We presume death is a thing, it is a state of being,” she said. “Are there forms of death that are reversible? Or not?”
That led them to ask if they could revive an entire body, said Dr. Zvonimir Vrselja, another member of the Yale team.
The OrganEx solution contained nutrients, anti-inflammatory medications, drugs to prevent cell death, nerve blockers — substances that dampen the activity of neurons and prevented any possibility of the pigs regaining consciousness — and an artificial hemoglobin mixed with each animal’s own blood.
When they treated the dead pigs, the investigators took precautions to make sure the animals did not suffer. The pigs were anesthetized before they were killed by stopping their hearts, and the deep anesthesia continued throughout the experiment. In addition, the nerve blockers in the OrganEx solution stop nerves from firing in order to ensure the brain was not active. The researchers also chilled the animals to slow chemical reactions. Individual brain cells were alive, but there was no indication of any organized global nerve activity in the brain.
There was one startling finding: The pigs treated with OrganEx jerked their heads when the researchers injected an iodine contrast solution for imaging. Dr. Latham emphasized that while the reason for the movement was not known, there was no indication of any involvement of the brain.
Yale has filed for a patent on the technology. The next step, Dr. Sestan said, will be to see if the organs function properly and could be successfully transplanted. Some time after that, the researchers hope to test whether the method can repair damaged hearts or brains.
The journal Nature asked two independent experts to write commentaries about the study. In one, Dr. Robert Porte, a transplant surgeon at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, discussed the possible use of the system to expand the pool of organs available for transplant.
In a telephone interview, he explained that OrganEx might in the future be used in situations in which patients are not brain-dead but brain injured to the extent that life support is futile.
In most countries, Dr. Porte said, there is a five-minute “no touch” policy after the respirator is turned off and before transplant surgeons remove organs. But, he said, “before you rush to the O.R., additional minutes will pass by,” and by that time organs can be so damaged as to be unusable.
And sometimes patients don’t die immediately when life support is ceased, but their hearts beat too feebly for their organs to stay healthy.
“In most countries, transplant teams wait two hours” for patients to die, Dr. Porte said. Then, he said, if the patient is not yet dead, they do not try to retrieve organs.
As a result, 50 to 60 percent of patients who died after life support was ceased and whose families wanted to donate their organs cannot be donors.
If OrganEx could revive those organs, Dr. Porte said, the effect “would be huge” — a vast increase in the number of organs available for transplant.
The other comment was by Brendan Parent, a lawyer and ethicist who is director of transplant ethics and policy research at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine.
In a telephone interview, he discussed what he said were “tricky questions around life and death” that OrganEx raises.
“By the accepted medical and legal definition of death, these pigs were dead,” Mr. Parent said. But, he added, “a critical question is: What function and what kind of function would change things?”
Would the pigs still be dead if the group did not use nerve blockers in its solution and their brains functioned again? That would create ethical problems if the goal was to preserve organs for transplant and the pigs regained some degree of consciousness during the process.
But restoring brain functions could be the goal if the patient had had a severe stroke or was a drowning victim.
“If we are going to get this technology to a point where it can help people, we will have to see what happens in the brain without nerve blockers,” Mr. Parent said.
In his opinion, the method would eventually have to be tried on people who could benefit, like stroke or drowning victims. But that would require a lot of deliberation by ethicists, neurologists and neuroscientists.
“How we get there is going to be a critical question,” Mr. Parent said. “When does the data we have justify making this jump?”
Another issue is the implications OrganEx might have for the definition of death.
If OrganEx continues to show that the length of time after blood and oxygen deprivation before which cells cannot recover is much longer than previously thought, then there has to be a change in the time when it is determined that a person is dead.
“It’s weird but no different than what we went through with the development of the ventilator,” Mr. Parent said.
“There is a whole population of people who in a different era might have been called dead,” he said.
Gina Kolata writes about science and medicine. She has twice been a Pulitzer Prize finalist and is the author of six books, including “Mercies in Disguise: A Story of Hope, a Family’s Genetic Destiny, and The Science That Saved Them.” @ginakolata • Facebook
Business leaders like JP Morgan and Irénée du Pont were accused by a retired major general of plotting to install a fascist dictator
Donald Trump’s elaborate plot to overthrow the democratically elected president was neither impulsive nor uncoordinated, but straight out of the playbook of another American coup attempt – the 1933 “Wall Street putsch” against newly elected Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
America had hit rock bottom, beginning with the stock market crash three years earlier. Unemployment was at 16 million and rising. Farm foreclosures exceeded half a million. More than five thousand banks had failed, and hundreds of thousands of families had lost their homes. Financial capitalists had bilked millions of customers and rigged the market. There were no government safety nets – no unemployment insurance, minimum wage, social security or Medicare.
Economic despair gave rise to panic and unrest, and political firebrands and white supremacists eagerly fanned the paranoia of socialism, global conspiracies and threats from withinthe country. Populists Huey Long and Father Charles Coughlin attacked FDR, spewing vitriolic anti-Jewish, pro-fascist refrains and brandishing the “America first” slogan coined by media magnate William Randolph Hearst.
On 4 March 1933, more than 100,000 people had gathered on the east side of the US Capitol for Roosevelt’s inauguration. The atmosphere was slate gray and ominous, the sky suggesting a calm before the storm. That morning, rioting was expected in cities throughout the nation, prompting predictions of a violent revolution. Army machine guns and sharpshooters were placed at strategic locations along the route. Not since the civil war had Washington been so fortified, with armed police guarding federal buildings.
FDR thought government in a civilized society had an obligation to abolish poverty, reduce unemployment, and redistribute wealth. Roosevelt’s bold New Deal experiments inflamed the upper class, provoking a backlash from the nation’s most powerful bankers, industrialists and Wall Street brokers, who thought the policy was not only radical but revolutionary. Worried about losing their personal fortunes to runaway government spending, this fertile field of loathing led to the “traitor to his class” epithet for FDR. “What that fellow Roosevelt needs is a 38-caliber revolver wright at the back of his head,” a respectable citizen said at a Washington dinner party.
In a climate of conspiracies and intrigues, and against the backdrop of charismatic dictators in the world such as Hitler and Mussolini, the sparks of anti-Rooseveltism ignited into full-fledged hatred. Many American intellectuals and business leaders saw nazism and fascism as viable models for the US. The rise of Hitler and the explosion of the Nazi revolution, which frightened many European nations, struck a chord with prominent American elites and antisemites such as Charles Lindbergh and Henry Ford. Hitler’s elite Brownshirts – a mass body of party storm troopers separate from the 100,000-man German army – was a stark symbol to the powerless American masses. Mussolini’s Blackshirts – the military arm of his organization made up of 200,000 soldiers – were a potent image of strength to a nation that felt emasculated.
A divided country and FDR’s emboldened powerful enemies made the plot to overthrow him seem plausible. With restless uncertainty, volatile protests and ominous threats, America’s right wing was inspired to form its own paramilitary organizations. Militias sprung up throughout the land, their self-described “patriots” chanting: “This is despotism! This is tyranny!”
Today’s Proud Boys and Oath Keepers have nothing on their extremist forbears. In 1933, a diehard core of conservative veterans formed the Khaki Shirts in Philadelphia and recruited pro-Mussolini immigrants. The Silver Shirts was an apocalyptic Christian militia patterned on the notoriously racist Texas Rangers that operated in 46 states and stockpiled weapons.
The Gray Shirts of New York organized to remove “Communist college professors” from the nation’s education system, and the Tennessee-based White Shirts wore a Crusader cross and agitated for the takeover of Washington. JP Morgan Jr, one of the nation’s richest men, had secured a $100m loan to Mussolini’s government. He defiantly refused to pay income tax and implored his peers to join him in undermining FDR.
A divided country and FDR’s emboldened powerful enemies made a plot to overthrow him seem plausible
So, when retired US Marine Corps Maj Gen Smedley Darlington Butler claimed he was recruited by a group of Wall Street financiers to lead a fascist coupagainst FDR and the US government in the summer of 1933, Washington took him seriously. Butler, a Quaker, and first world war hero dubbed the Maverick Marine, was a soldier’s soldier who was idolized by veterans – which represented a huge and powerful voting bloc in America. Famous for his daring exploits in China and Central America, Butler’s reputation was impeccable. He got rousing ovations when he claimed that during his 33 years in the marines: “I spent most of my time being a high-class muscle man for big business, for Wall Street and for bankers. In short, I was a racketeer for capitalism.”
Butler later testified before Congress that a bond-broker and American Legion member named Gerald MacGuire approached him with the plan. MacGuire told him the coup was backed by a group called the American Liberty League, a group of business leaders which formed in response to FDR’s victory, and whose mission it was to teach government “the necessity of respect for the rights of persons and property”. Members included JP Morgan, Jr, Irénée du Pont, Robert Sterling Clark of the Singer sewing machine fortune, and the chief executives of General Motors, Birds Eye and General Foods.
The putsch called for him to lead a massive army of veterans – funded by $30m from Wall Street titans and with weapons supplied by Remington Arms – to march on Washington, oust Roosevelt and the entire line of succession, and establish a fascist dictatorship backed by a private army of 500,000 former soldiers.
As MacGuire laid it out to Butler, the coup was instigated after FDR eliminated the gold standard in April 1933, which threatened the country’s wealthiest men who thought if American currency wasn’t backed by gold, rising inflation would diminish their fortunes. He claimed the coup was sponsored by a group who controlled $40bn in assets – about $800bn today – and who had $300m available to support the coup and pay the veterans. The plotters had men, guns and money – the three elements that make for successful wars and revolutions. Butler referred to them as “the royal family of financiers” that had controlled the American Legion since its formation in 1919. He felt the Legion was a militaristic political force, notorious for its antisemitism and reactionary policies against labor unions and civil rights, that manipulated veterans.
The planned coup was thwarted when Butler reported it to J Edgar Hoover at the FBI, who reported it to FDR. How seriously the “Wall Street putsch” endangered the Roosevelt presidency remains unknown, with the national press at the time mocking it as a “gigantic hoax” and historians like Arthur M Schlesinger Jr surmising “the gap between contemplation and execution was considerable” and that democracy was not in real danger. Still, there is much evidence that the nation’s wealthiest men – Republicans and Democrats alike – were so threatened by FDR’s policies that they conspired with antigovernment paramilitarism to stage a coup.
The final report by the congressional committee tasked with investigating the allegations, delivered in February 1935, concluded: “[The committee] received evidence showing that certain persons had made an attempt to establish a fascist organization in this country”, adding “There is no question that these attempts were discussed, were planned, and might have been placed in execution when and if the financial backers deemed it expedient.”
As Congressman John McCormack who headed the congressional investigation put it: “If General Butler had not been the patriot he was, and if they had been able to maintain secrecy, the plot certainly might very well have succeeded … When times are desperate and people are frustrated, anything could happen.”
There is still much that is not known about the coup attempt. Butler demanded to know why the names of the country’s richest men were removed from the final version of the committee’s report. “Like most committees, it has slaughtered the little and allowed the big to escape,” Butler said in a Philadelphia radio interview in 1935. “The big shots weren’t even called to testify. They were all mentioned in the testimony. Why was all mention of these names suppressed from this testimony?”
While details of the conspiracy are still matters of historical debate, journalists and historians, including the BBC’s Mike Thomson and John Buchanan of the US, later concluded that FDR struck a deal with the plotters, allowing them to avoid treason charges – and possible execution – if Wall Street backed off its opposition to the New Deal. The presidential biographer Sidney Blumenthal recently said that Roosevelt should have pushed it all through, then reneged on his agreement and prosecuted them.
What might all of this portend for Americans today, as President Biden follows in FDR’s New Deal footsteps while democratic socialist Bernie Sanders also rises in popularity and influence? In 1933, rather than inflame a quavering nation, FDR calmly urged Americans to unite to overcome fear, banish apathy and restore their confidence in the country’s future. Now, 90 years later, a year on from Trump’s own coup attempt, Biden’s tone was more alarming, sounding a clarion call for Americans to save democracy itself, to make sure such an attack “never, never happens again”.
If the plotters had been held accountable in the 1930s, the forces behind the 6 January coup attempt might never have flourished into the next century.
Sally Denton is the author of The Plots Against the President: FDR, a Nation in Crisis, and the Rise of the American Right. Her forthcoming book is The Colony: Faith and Blood in a Promised Land
I’m sure you heard about this Opinion Piece from Norman Lear. Everyone is talking about it. Here is your very own copy.
On My 100th Birthday, Reflections on Archie Bunker and Donald Trump
By Norman Lear
Mr. Lear, a father of six, is an Emmy-winning television producer and a co-founder of the advocacy organization People for the American Way.
Well, I made it. I am 100 years old today. I wake up every morning grateful to be alive.
Reaching my own personal centennial is cause for a bit of reflection on my first century — and on what the next century will bring for the people and country I love. To be honest, I’m a bit worried that I may be in better shape than our democracy is.
I was deeply troubled by the attack on Congress on Jan. 6, 2021 — by supporters of former President Donald Trump attempting to prevent the peaceful transfer of power. Those concerns have only grown with every revelation about just how far Mr. Trump was willing to go to stay in office after being rejected by voters — and about his ongoing efforts to install loyalists in positions with the power to sway future elections.
I don’t take the threat of authoritarianism lightly. As a young man, I dropped out of college when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and joined the U.S. Army Air Forces. I flew more than 50 missions in a B-17 bomber to defeat fascism consuming Europe. I am a flag-waving believer in truth, justice and the American way, and I don’t understand how so many people who call themselves patriots can support efforts to undermine our democracy and our Constitution. It is alarming.
At the same time, I have been moved by the courage of the handful of conservative Republican lawmakers, lawyers and former White House staffers who resisted Mr. Trump’s bullying. They give me hope that Americans can find unexpected common ground with friends and family whose politics differ but who are not willing to sacrifice core democratic principles.
Encouraging that kind of conversation was a goal of mine when we began broadcasting “All in the Family” in 1971. The kinds of topics Archie Bunker and his family argued about — issues that were dividing Americans from one another, such as racism, feminism, homosexuality, the Vietnam War and Watergate — were certainly being talked about in homes and families. They just weren’t being acknowledged on television.
For all his faults, Archie loved his country and he loved his family, even when they called him out on his ignorance and bigotries. If Archie had been around 50 years later, he probably would have watched Fox News. He probably would have been a Trump voter. But I think that the sight of the American flag being used to attack Capitol Police would have sickened him. I hope that the resolve shown by Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, and their commitment to exposing the truth, would have won his respect.
It is remarkable to consider that television — the medium for which I am most well-known — did not even exist when I was born, in 1922. The internet came along decades later, and then social media. We have seen that each of these technologies can be put to destructive use — spreading lies, sowing hatred and creating the conditions for authoritarianism to take root. But that is not the whole story. Innovative technologies create new ways for us to express ourselves, and, I hope, will allow humanity to learn more about itself and better understand one another’s ideas, failures and achievements. These technologies have also been used to create connection, community and platforms for the kind of ideological sparring that might have drawn Archie to a keyboard.I can only imagine the creative and constructive possibilities that technological innovation might offer us in solving some of our most intractable problems.
I often feel disheartened by the direction that our politics, courts and culture are taking. But I do not lose faith in our country or its future. I remind myself how far we have come. I think of the brilliantly creative people I have had the pleasure to work with in entertainment and politics, and at People for the American Way, a progressive group I co-founded to defend our freedoms and build a country in which all people benefit from the blessings of liberty. Those encounters renew my belief that Americans will find ways to build solidarity on behalf of our values, our country and our fragile planet.
Those closest to me know that I try to stay forward-focused. Two of my favorite words are “over” and “next.” It’s an attitude that has served me well through a long life of ups and downs, along with a deeply felt appreciation for the absurdity of the human condition.
Reaching this birthday with my health and wits mostly intact is a privilege. Approaching it with loving family, friends and creative collaborators to share my days has filled me with a gratitude I can hardly express.
This is our century, dear reader, yours and mine. Let us encourage one another with visions of a shared future. And let us bring all the grit and openheartedness and creative spirit we can muster to gather together and build that future