The Book Report: The Personhood Wars

Aristotle and Aquinas enter the bioethics debate, answering what it means to be human.

Bioethics, A Christian Approach in a Pluralistic Age, by Scott B. Rae & Paul M. Cox, Eerdmans, 326 pages, $24, paper.

Bioethics, formerly the stuff of science fiction, is now the philosophical arena in which the Christian ethic most starkly confronts secularism. This opposition is urgently illustrated by the recent appointment of philosopher Peter Singer—who openly advocates the permissible and deliberate killing of certain "imperfect" infants—to a prestigious teaching position at Princeton University.

Can the historic Christian position—that all human beings are intrinsically valuable—sustain itself against the instrumentalized view of Singer and others, which holds that people are valuable because of what they can do, and because other people want them? Bioethics takes this view to task, and builds a solid foundation upon which Christians can reliably stand while puzzling out the sometimes dizzying complexities of the new biotechnology.

Authors Scott Rae and Paul Cox (who both teach biblical studies and Christian ethics at Talbot School of Theology) begin by surveying the most influential approaches to contemporary bioethical analyses. From the natural-law emphases of Roman Catholics to the creative philosophies of Protestant and Jewish writers to the hodgepodge of quirky ideas offered by various secular commentators, the authors show that in each case there is a poor fit between theory and medical reality.

The need for an alternative is clear, and this they give in their featured section,"Pillars of a Christian Approach. " In this six-chapter unit, Rae and Cox scan the central issues in bioethics. They discuss a biblically grounded understanding of the legitimate uses of medical technology; the sacred ...

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