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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The Brave New World of Cloning, Part Two–The Cloning of Humans and the Reproductive Revolution

The cloning of a human brings to mind the sterile, dehumanizing images of Huxley’s Brave New World, with its fertilizing rooms, decanting chambers, and embryo stores representing the technological perfection of artificial human reproduction. The reproductive revolution has already thrown a host of difficult ethical issues on the national agenda, but the genetic revolution is perhaps the greatest ethical challenge of the new millennium.

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The Brave New World of Cloning, Part One–The Cloning of Animals and the Ethics of Dominion

News that scientists had cloned an adult sheep from non-reproductive cells shook the scientific community some years ago, but prompted an earthquake of concern in the larger culture. The cloning of the sheep by Dr. Ian Wilmut’s team in Scotland raised a host of ethical, legal, and social issues which will take time to untangle. Yet, even as this reality began to sink into our cultural consciousness, further reports of the cloning of monkeys from embryo cells and attempts at human cloning raised the sense of ethical crisis.

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A Conflict of Conscience–The Culture War Hits the Pharmacy

Should pharmacists be required to dispense so-called “emergency contraceptives” even if it violates their deepest convictions? That is no longer a hypothetical question, as Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich recently issued an executive rule requiring all pharmacies in his state to fill a woman’s prescription for the “morning-after pill.” The governor’s “emergency order” comes with the force of law, and means that pharmacists who refuse to fill these prescriptions can face sanctions and could lose their jobs and professional status.

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No Neutrality–Gilbert Meilaender on Bioethics

Gilbert Meilaender is one of the most intelligent and influential bioethicists of our age, and it is reassuring to know that he is a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics. Meilaender holds the Richard and Phyllis Duesenberg Chair in Theological Ethics at Valparaiso University, and his numerous writings in philosophy and bioethics are must-reads for intelligent Christians.

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