What it means to be human: the case fot the body in public bioethics
Carter Snead is Professor of Law and Director of the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame. He is one of the world’s leading experts on public bioethics – the governance of science, medicine, and biotechnology in the name of ethical goods. His research explores issues relating to neuroethics, enhancement, human embryo research, assisted reproduction, abortion, and end-of-life decision-making. He is the author of What It Means to be Human: The Case for the Body in Public Bioethics (Harvard University Press, October 2020), chosen by the Wall Street Journal as one the “Ten Best Books of 2020.” He has served as General Counsel to President Bush’s Council on Bioethics, as the US government’s chief negotiator at UNESCO for the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights, and as the U.S. Permanent Observer to the Council of Europe’s Steering Committee on Bioethics. From 2008-12 he served on UNESCO’s International Bioethics Committee, a 36-member body of independent experts that advises member states on bioethics, law, and public policy. The IBC is the only bioethics commission in the world with a global mandate. In 2016, he was appointed to the Pontifical Academy for Life, the principal bioethics advisory body to Pope Francis. He is also an elected fellow of The Hastings Center, the oldest independent bioethics research institute in the world. Sobre What it means to be human What It Means to be Human: The Case for the Body in Public Bioethics (Harvard U. Press 2020) makes two core arguments, one methodological and the other substantive. First, because the purpose of law is to protect and promote the flourishing of persons, it is always necessarily grounded in and animated by a set of presuppositions regarding what human beings are and what constitutes their thriving. Accordingly, the richest and most powerfully explanatory method of understanding law generally and the law and public policy concerning bioethics (“public bioethics”) specifically, is via an inductive “anthropological” analysis meant to uncover the law’s underwriting vision of personhood. Substantively, the book argues that when one applies this anthropological mode of inquiry to the vital conflicts of public bioethics (the law and public policy concerning abortion, assisted reproduction, and end of life decision making and assisted suicide), there emerges a vision of the person as atomized, solitary, and defined essentially by his capacity to formulate and pursue future plans of his own invention. This incomplete and thus false picture of life as humanly lived makes a very poor foundation for the law and policy of bioethics. What is needed, and what the book offers, is an “anthropological corrective” that takes seriously human embodiment and the associated gifts and challenges arising from our vulnerability, mutual dependence, and natural limits. Put simply, the book argues that by virtue of our lives as embodied, fragile beings in time, we are made for love and friendship. For the law to be truly wise, just, and humane, it must be grounded in this truth.