2.11.2008

Bioethics Debate

Professor Robert George of Princeton and Christopher Tollefsen of USC (I think?) recently wrote a book titled "Embryo: A Defense of Human Life. It was reviewed by Slate.com's resident bioethicist, William Saletan. Saletan is responsible for some of the intellectual work behind the middle ground on the abortion issue, in his book Bearing Right. So, it can be expected that his review seeks to reprove George and Tollefsen from this supposed middle ground. George and Tollefsen civilly respond to the review in this thorough rebuttal published at National Review, parts of which I would like to highlight.

George and Tollefsen respond:
In attempting to resist our conclusion that human embryos ought not to be exploited and killed, while at the same time acknowledging their moral standing and the special respect they are owed, Saletan gets himself into a jam. To meet our argument that a human embryo is, as a matter of scientific fact, a developing human being—i.e., a living member of the species Homo sapiens in the earliest stages of development—and thus, as a matter of basic justice, a possessor of inherent dignity and a right to life, Saletan is driven to deny that human embryos are whole entities, as opposed to mere parts (such as gametes, tissues, or organs). He denies that embryos are determinate individuals, and he seems to doubt that they are organisms at all. But if these denials and doubts are warranted, then there is no rational basis for believing that human embryos “deserve our respect” or that “we should never create or destroy them lightly.” Saletan is trying to find a plot of solid ground lying between the views of radical liberal bioethicists, on the one side, and defenders of the pro-life view, on the other. The failure of his effort shows that the middle ground is nothing but quicksand.
This is important to point out, especially to those who would seek to defend abortion on rational grounds. On the question of whether human life has intrinsic dignity by its very nature, logic demands a clear cut either/or. That is, either it does, or it doesn't.

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