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Novel Bioethics: Claire Barshied on How a Book Taught Her to Reimagine Sex

Claire Barshied

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It is a good bet that many Americans view bioethics as the exclusive province of academic specialists with prestigious degrees in philosophy, law, cell biology, embryology, and similar fields. Their esoteric debates over stem-cell harvesting methods and clinical trial review procedures seem removed from the real-world experiences of most people. Until recently, they certainly seemed that way to me. What few bioethical opinions I had--opposing cloning and abortion, for instance--were unconnected to choices I expected to face.

Then I read Being Human, a 600-page anthology of literature released by the President--s Council on Bioethics. What guidance could stories and poems offer on cloning and stem-cell research? In the book--s introduction, the council--s chairman, Leon Kass, explained that bioethics as currently conceived by professional bioethicists is much too narrow. It emphasizes what is technologically feasible, securing patient consent, ensuring access to care regardless of income, and so on, but ignores "the full range of human goods that we should be trying to promote or protect."

Guarding that fuller range of goods requires a better grasp of what it means to be human and what good things humans prize. Our best sources on these questions are not scientists, but the writers and thinkers of the aptly named humanities. They are not everything, of course--who would entrust national science policy to John Updike and Joyce Carol Oates?--but perhaps they can point the way to deeper understandings of our nature.

Read the entire article on the Touchstone Magazine website (new window will open).

Posted: 1-Aug-05



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