Human Dignity and the Limits of “Biocultural Literacy”

Even as Americans are coming to terms with the complexity of end-of-life issues and the challenges of medical technologies, the lack of a worldview consensus on these basic questions reveals a dangerous confusion at every level of our national life. Doctors, lawyers, philosophers, and the public at large are divided over the most basic questions of human dignity, human life, and how to make decisions of right and wrong when these are essentially questions of life and death.

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“Do Not Cast Me Off in the Time of Old Age”–The Christian Worldview and the Challenge of the Aged, Part Two

In the January 2006 edition of Commentary, bioethicists Eric Cohen and Leon R. Kass offer a compelling essay on the challenge represented by millions of the aged among us. In “Cast Me Not Off in Old Age,” they warn that we are now witnessing the development of a “mass geriatric society” which will present this country with massive economic, social, medical, political, and ethical challenges.

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The Moral Education of Physicians—Why It Matters to All of Us

“Modern medicine is one of those extraordinary works of reason: an elaborate system of specialized knowledge, technical procedures, and rules of behavior,” explains Paul Starr. “By no means are these all purely rational: Our conception of disease and responses to it unquestionably show the imprint of our particular culture, especially its individualist and activist therapeutic mentality. Yet, whatever its biases and probably because of them, modern science has succeeded in liberating humanity from much of the burden of disease.”

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Radical Enhancement and the Denial of Human Dignity

Should human beings accept certain limitations in terms of cognitive ability and physical strength? These questions take on a whole new urgency in the face of recent developments in the fields of psychostimulants and other pharmaceutical innovations. Moreover, as if these developments do not represent enough of a challenge, the development of computer-enhanced human intelligence may be just around the corner.

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The Genetic Revolution – Where Will It Lead?

Human knowledge is expanding across almost all fields of knowledge, but the revolution in genetic science represents one of the most incredible expansions of knowledge in human history. The last three decades have witnessed some of the most astounding discoveries in the history of science, as the human genome has been fully identified and as scientists unlock the mysteries of individual genes and their function. At the same time, a sense of foreboding accompanies this expansion of knowledge. Where will all this lead?

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The Brave New World of Cloning, Part Four–Artificial Reproduction and the Destruction of the Family

Modernity, with its focus on autonomous individualism and liberation from traditional structures, represents a threatening environment for the family unit. The sexual revolution has severed the link between sexual fidelity and marital integrity. Modern contraceptives have allowed unlimited sex without procreative consequences, and the family has been dethroned from its exalted status and stripped of its functions.

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The Brave New World of Cloning, Part Three–Genetic Manipulation and the Eugenic Temptation

Since the rise of genetic knowledge, the eugenic temptation has always been with us. As Daniel Kevles notes, the desire to breed better humans goes back as far as Plato, though Plato had no conception that genetic knowledge would one day put that goal within human reach. Francis Galton’s term eugenics (literally, “good in birth”) is now a part of our cultural vocabulary, and the eugenic reality is on the front line of our cultural crisis.

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