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The Best Bioethicists That Money Can Buy

by Richard John Neuhaus

An overview of the bioethics profession that examines some of the questionable practices that have come to light in recent years. A key issue is whether or not “bioethicists are in the business of issuing permission slips for whatever the technicians want to do.”


Between Beasts and God

by Gilbert Meilaender

A wide-ranging essay that considers the unique place of humans in creation.  What implications does our special status have for the bearing and rearing of children?


The Case Against Perfection

Michael Sandel

Michael Sandel, a Harvard professor and member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, writes, “Breakthroughs in genetics present us with a promise and a predicament.  The promise is that we may soon be able to treat and prevent a host of debilitating diseases.  The predicament is that our newfound genetic knowledge may also enable us to manipulate our own nature-to enhance our muscles, memories, and moods; to choose the sex, height, and other genetic traits of our children; to make ourselves ‘better than well.’”  A stimulating discussion that concludes by arguing that the use of genetic engineering may best be viewed as “the ultimate expression of our [human] resolve to see ourselves astride the world, the masters of our nature.”

[On March 31, 2004, Michael Sandel discussed performance-enhancing therapies in a debate with Princeton University professor Lee M. Silver.  On April 28, 2004, NPR aired a discussion/debate on this topic between Sandel and UCLA professor Gregory Stock, author of Redesigning Humans: Our Inevitable Genetic Future.]


Christ and Nothing

by David B. Hart

Few writers can say as much by way of theologically informed cultural critique in one short essay as theologian David Hart:  “As modern men and women—to the degree that we are modern—we believe in nothing.”  His point is not that moderns believe in anything; rather, moderns “hold an unshakable, if often unconscious, faith in the nothing, or in nothingness as such.”  There is nothing beyond themselves in which to believe; thus, their unshakeable commitment to “the unreality of any ‘value’ higher than [individual] choice.”  What, Hart wonders, will be the consequence “when Christianity, as a living historical force, recedes?”  How, then, are we to understand the challenges of living in a post-Christian culture?


Does Darwinism Devalue Human Life?

by Richard Weikart

Weikart argues that Darwinism devalues human life, citing current examples from the works of several well-known academics, including Peter Singer (bioethics), Richard Dawkins (Darwinian biologist), Daniel Dennet (materialist philosopher), Edward O. Wilson (pioneer of sociobiology), and Steven Pinker (evolutionary psychology).  He also summarizes the role that Darwinism played in Nazi Germany “in the rise not only of eugenics, but also euthanasia, infanticide, abortion, and racial extermination.”  [Weikart discusses the role of Darwinist thinking in Nazi Germany in further detail in his new book, From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics, and Racism in Germany.]


Father of Eugenics

by Richard Weikart

Notorious today as the founding father of eugenics, Francis Galton was honored as one of the leading scientists of his day.


Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

Thomas S. Buchanan on God & Science

Buchanan, a neuroscientist, provides a stimulating discussion of the consequences in science of the assumption that there is no God.  What difference does it make that the scientific disciplines are committed to the materialistic belief “that man is made of just body, without soul or spirit”?


I Want to Burden My Loved Ones

by Gilbert Meilaender

In this thoughtful essay, Meilaender examines the wisdom and the limits of advance directives.  He argues that the use of directives to avoid an extended conversation about dyingamong the doctor, the medical caregivers, the patient’s family, and others, such as pastor, priest, or rabbiis problematic.  Directives may allow us to avoid dealing with our ambivalence about taking care of a loved one who has become a burdensome stranger.  In discussing the limits of advance directives, Meilaender suggests that a durable power of attorney for medical care—in which we simply name a proxy to make decisions in the event of our incompetence—is better than a living will.


Killing Them Kindly:  Lessons from the Euthanasia Movement

by Richard Weikart

An excellent brief history of the euthanasia movement, examining the ideas and surveying the people who have advanced what has been euphemistically called “mercy killing.”


Letter to U.S. Congress:  Support Adult Stem Cells

Christian Medical and Dental Associations

This “open letter” to Congress from 2,416 members of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations is an outstanding overview of the stem cell controversy.   It delineates the problems with embryonic stem cell research and details the promising results that have already been achieved with adult stem cells.  The reference notes, titled “Embryonic vs. Adult Stem Cell Research,” are well worth close study.  They provide a good summary of the challenge of embryonic stem cell research, which would commodify nascent human life by turning embryos into medicine.


Loving Babies as They Come

Louis R. Tarsitano on God's Providence & Procreation

“…men in laboratories are preparing to enter the business of selling parents biologically engineered and genetically altered ‘designer children.’”  Tarsitano examines why this is a bad idea in light of God’s providential love.


Mastery’s Shadow

Wilfred M. McClay on Modern Medicine & the Human Soul

This stimulating essay examines current medical culture with its emphasis on mastering creation in order to alleviate pain and suffering.  McClay argues that human dignity “exists not only in our drive for mastery” but also in “our acceptance of the limits on our will.”


The Nightmares of Choice:  The Psychological Effects of Performing Abortions

by Rachel M. MacNair

A “must read” for those of us who would understand the full range of human suffering caused by abortion—in this case, the personal cost to those who regularly perform or assist with abortions.


Second Thoughts about Body Parts

by Gilbert Meilaender

An examination of the issues that should be considered in making the decision to donate body parts.  In making gifts of the body, Meilaender warns, “There are circumstances in which we can save life—even our own or that of a loved one—only by destroying the kind of world in which we all should want to live.”


The Techno Sapiens Are Coming

by C. Christopher Hook

When God fashioned man and woman, he called his creation very good.  Transhumanists say that, by manipulating our bodies with microscopic tools, we can do better.  Are we ready for the great debate?


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Book Reviews


Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1932)

a review by Leon R. Kass

A review of an old novel (1932) that is increasingly recognized as prophetic of several current biomedical developments.  Brave New World is a satirical exploration of what life might be like in a world where “mankind has succeeded in eliminating disease, aggression, war, pain, anxiety, suffering, hatred, guilt, envy, and grief.”


Altering the Face of Humanity

Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Human Dignity: The Challenge of Bioethics, by Leon R. Kass

a review by Marc D. Guerra

An excellent review and summary of Leon Kass’s book, which examines biotechnology’s growing ability to alter human nature in ways that fundamentally threaten our dignity as human beings.


Debating the Human Future

Human Cloning and Human Dignity: The Report of the President’s Council on Bioethics

a review by Diana Schaub

The Report is accurately described as an extended discussion of “the meaning of procreation and the human significance of sexual reproduction,” since those are the broader issues raised by human cloning.  Although united in its opposition to cloning-to-produce-children, the Council was divided on cloning-for-biomedical-research.  Schaub describes the Report as “invaluable” for understanding all sides of the cloning controversy; yet, she worries that the debate in the Council was not framed sharply enough to show cloning to be the evil that it is.


C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength (1945)

a review by Phillip E. Johnson

“…That Hideous Strength is more timely today than when the book was published in 1945,” says Phillip Johnson.  The novel is set in a world where technology, guided by a materialistic philosophy, is being used to rearrange the order of the natural world.  This technological project is challenged by the intrusion of supernatural forces, both good and evil, for which the materialists cannot account.  Although Johnson doesn’t say so, the novel is also a fictional exploration of the issues Lewis discussed in The Abolition of Man.


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The Pursuit of Perfection: A Conversation on the Ethics of Genetic Engineering

Michael Sandel, Harvard University and President's Council on Bioethics, and Lee M. Silver, Princeton University

This discussion was sponsored, on March 31, 2004, by The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and The Brookings Institution to examine “the moral considerations that inform the debate about genetic engineering, enhancement and the quest for perfection.”  “As a range of performance-enhancing therapies becomes a scientific reality, we confront a new world in which human beings wield increasing power over their destinies.  But to what end?  What assumptions drive this quest for perfection—and what are the potential costs?”

[Michael Sandel also discusses performance-enhancing therapies in his essay, The Case Against Perfection.  On April 28, 2004, NPR aired a discussion/debate on this topic between Sandel and UCLA professor Gregory Stock, author of Redesigning Humans: Our Inevitable Genetic Future.]


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Darwin as Epicurean

an interview with Benjamin Wiker

This interesting interview explores the relationship between the writings of Charles Darwin and the moral climate of contemporary Western culture.  Wiker also has some interesting comments about the controversial topic of Darwin’s connection to Social Darwinism.


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