Read Embryo: A Defense of Human Life by Robert P. George Free Online
Book Title: Embryo: A Defense of Human Life|
The author of the book: Robert P. George
Date of issue: January 8th 2008
ISBN 13: 9780385522823
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 17.12 MB
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Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen present a case for the full humanity/personhood of the embryo, and all the moral rights and dignity that come with being a that kind of being. This book, unlike other pro-life apologetics, focuses specifically on the embryo, and the wrongness of killing it. The main method of death the authors attack is that which is caused by the harvesting of embryo stem cells. So, this book is specific in its target, but one can extrapolate from their arguments to broader pro-life concerns, e.g., abortion.
In chapter one they discuss what is “at stake” in the embryo experimentation debate. To cut to the point: what it at stake, if the author’s arguments are correct, is nothing short of the murder of thousands and thousands of the most defenseless members of our species, those, arguably, in most need of defense.
The authors begin with a story of Noah and the flood. Noah was born on Jan 16, 2007. Sixteen months earlier he was a frozen embryo, trapped in a hospital in Louisiana, abandoned and rendered virtually inaccessible by hurricane Katrina. A rescue team took a boat into New Orleans and through the flooded halls of the hospital. They brought back the embryo, actually, dozens of them. Noah was born sixteen months after that. Yes, Noah was. The same individual rescued was the same individual born later. Nothing extra was added to Noah than what was already bound up in him. All he needed was to be placed in the right environment, and he developed naturally into the next stage of human development, infancy.
This chapter also provides a roadmap of how the authors will argue for their initial claims. The authors also point out that they will make their case without mentioning religion at all. They believe it can be shown that the embryo is a human person, deserving of the same essential rights as other human persons are, and also immoral to kill these persons, as it is immoral to purposefully take the life of any innocent person.
In chapter two, the authors look at many of the standard and authoritative embryology textbooks. The reader is treated to a crash course in embryology. The conclusion, almost inescapable, and backed by science, is that a new member of the human species has begun at conception/fertilization (except in rare cases of twinning, but these cases are discussed, and it is clear that the moment the twinned embryo comes into existence, it too is a unique individual, a member of our species). As the science makes clear, the embryo is an individual being, genetically distinct from its parents, and lacking in nothing needed for it to get itself to the next stage in development. It needs what we all need to live: a hospitable environment and food. To claim that it needs the mother to survive is to focus on an accidental aspect. Its mother’s womb is the proper environment for all humans at this stage. That it would not live if removed from the womb, and thus it is not human, is about as cogent an argument as saying that if the reader of this review were submerged under water long enough, as not able to survive, then he is not human. In other words, we all need the appropriate environment to grow and develop to the next stage of life.
In chapter 3 the authors argue against any form of person/body dualism. That is, any view that takes it that a person is distinct or of a different substance than his or her body. This isn’t physicalism (since the authors show that physicalists make this dualism too, e.g., a “person” is a human who has the ability to feel pain, reason, etc., and not all “bodies” can do that). The authors recognize that the whole person is engaged in doing numerous non-physical activities So, we possess special, non-physical properties, but we are also essentially bodily. We have biological lives essential, not accidental, to our existence (the authors explain the invoking of the metaphysical categories of “essential” and “accidental.” Briefly, an essential property is a property something must have to be the kind of thing it is, and accidental property is something it could lack, and still be what it is. So, you could live in Montana rather than Illinois and still be a human person. You could not fail to have the capacity to reason, and not be a human person). The author’s position is called “animalism.” But I didn't see much of a difference between it and Thomistic dualism, or even personalism (i.e., substantival monism). I do not subscribe to this view (at least not now, but some aspects of it are attractive), and though the authors feel it is vital to their case, I think the case can be made from a dualist perspective.
In chapter 4 the authors explain what moral reasoning is. Moral reasoning deals which “oughts.” So, science can tell us what kind of being an embryo is, but it cannot tell us what ought to be done with it. Embryo technology can tell us what can be done with an embryo, but not whether we should do those things. The authors then proceed to critique consequensialism, especially in its utilitarianism forms. After this they present their positive ethic by which they will argue that it is wrong to kill embryos. Wong to harvest them for purposes of obtaining stem cells, despite any alleged “good” consequence, viz., saving a life, helping paralyzed people to walk again, etc. If the embryo is a full human person, then to speak of the value killing them provides for others is about as cogent an argument as speaking about the value retarded people would have for the “normal” members of society. The authors basically present a natural law ethic based on fundamental basic goods that are part of and essential to all humans. I noted some errors in this section, and am not sure about their version of natural law. But, it fits with their stated goals of trying to show the wrongness of killing embryos without invoking religion or any hokey philosophical positions.
In chapter 5 the authors argue against moral dualism. Moral dualism attempts to show that embryos, though possibly humans, do not deserve the same moral right as other persons. Basically, moral dualists ascribe moral worth to only some of the members of the human species, say, those with a brain, those who can feel pain, etc. I think the authors were successful in showing the specious nature of most of these arguments.
In chapter 6 and 7 the authors discuss some of the contemporary challenges to the full humanity/personhood of the embryo, or to their status of beings with full moral rights. Their arguments basically reap the payoff of the work they preformed in chapters 2-5. Basically, all of the argument either are ignorant of the facts of embryology, employ suspect philosophical arguments to reach a preconceived conclusion, or focus on accidental differences, opening them up to the charge of arbitrariness.
In the conclusion, chapter 8, the authors retrace their case, and then answer three questions: the political, technological, and social. They argue that the state should end embryo research that destroys the embryo for research or for harvesting their stem cells. They argue that, technologically, scientists should invest their time and talents to other alternatives just as likely to provide the alleged benefits embryo stem cells are purported to be able to potentially offer. This would include adult, amniotic, and placental stem cells, and the dedifferentiation of somatic cells, altered nuclear transfer, and techniques to distinguish dead from living cryopreserved embryos. Culturally, our government should regulate the production of embryos in IVF procedures, and adoption agencies should coordinate with assisted reproduction clinics to offer opportunity to couples seeking to adopt.
Much of this will be a struggle, no doubt. But what is the alternative? If the case presented in the book is sound, as I believe it is (minus some quibbles here and there), doing the morally right thing, i.e., not taking the life of a (especially innocent) human for the benefit or gain of other humans, is hard. It was hard for slave owners to give up all their free help. But we expected them to because it is immoral to own slaves (in the context of western slavery). Doing the right thing isn’t always easy. All in all, this book is a welcome addition to the debate. Supplament this book with Beckwith's latest: "Defending life."
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Read information about the authorMcCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, where he lectures on constitutional interpretation, civil liberties and philosophy of law. He also serves as the director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. George has been called America's "most influential conservative Christian thinker." He is a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, and the Herbert W. Vaughan senior fellow of the Witherspoon Institute. He is also a Visiting Professor at Harvard Law School.
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