A Wall Street Journal Top Ten Book of the Year
A First Things Books for Christmas Selection
Winner of the Expanded Reason Award
“This important work of moral philosophy argues that we are, first and foremost, embodied beings, and that public policy must recognize the limits and gifts that this entails.”
—Wall Street Journal
The natural limits of the human body make us vulnerable and dependent on others. Yet law and policy concerning biomedical research and the practice of medicine frequently disregard these stubborn facts. What It Means to Be Human makes the case for a new paradigm, one that better reflects the gifts and challenges of being human.
O. Carter Snead proposes a framework for public bioethics rooted in a vision of human identity and flourishing that supports those who are profoundly vulnerable and dependent—children, the disabled, and the elderly. He addresses three complex public matters: abortion, assisted reproductive technology, and end-of-life decisions. Avoiding typical dichotomies of conservative-liberal and secular-religious, Snead recasts debates within his framework of embodiment and dependence. He concludes that if the law is built on premises that reflect our lived experience, it will provide support for the vulnerable.
“This remarkable and insightful account of contemporary public bioethics and its individualist assumptions is indispensable reading for anyone with bioethical concerns.”
—Alasdair MacIntyre, author of After Virtue
“A brilliantly insightful book about how American law has enshrined individual autonomy as the highest moral good…Highly thought-provoking.”
—Francis Fukuyama, author of Identity
A rare achievement: a rigorous academic book that is also accessible, engaging, and wise…By sketching out an ethic of mutual obligation rooted in our common vulnerabilities, the book opens a path toward a more humane society…Among the most important works of moral philosophy produced so far in this century.
With insight and provocation, Snead, a bioethicist, examines the questions that abortion raises about the meaning of human life.
Illuminates the ways in which our flawed anthropology—our wrongheaded ideas about what it means to be human—negatively affects our bioethics…The lengthy section on abortion alone is worth the price of admission.
This remarkable and insightful account of contemporary public bioethics and its individualist assumptions is indispensable reading for anyone with bioethical concerns. Whether you agree or disagree with Snead’s perspective, all will be in his debt for this critical work.
O. Carter Snead has written a brilliantly insightful book about how American law has enshrined individual autonomy as the highest moral good. He suggests an alternative foundation for contemporary bioethics, based on an understanding of human beings as social creatures, embedded in mutually dependent physical bodies. Highly thought-provoking.
A book rich in scholarship but for a much wider audience than scholars. The content of our bioethics will shape the course of our human future. That’s what makes this book so valuable.
Snead makes it clear that simply debating the morality of abortion, euthanasia, and assisted reproduction is not sufficient…We have to ground our definitions, debates, and catechisms in anthropology, in what it means to be human. If we are to love and defend our weak, vulnerable, and dependent neighbors, we ought also remember that we, too, will be weak, vulnerable, and dependent someday. This is what being human is, and our laws and policies should reflect it.
Faulty anthropology makes for faulty law, especially when the subject is human life itself. Through a meticulous analysis of American legal cases touching the beginnings and ends of life, O. Carter Snead demonstrates how our entire approach to bioethical matters ironically ignores the lived reality and value of human embodiment, pointing the way to a richer approach that will promote social solidarity. A most significant achievement!
What It Means to Be Human belongs on the desk of anyone concerned about the challenges ahead in the field of public bioethics. After taking a hard look at the flawed assumptions that shape most of today’s thinking, Snead outlines an approach firmly grounded in the complexity of human experience.
Public bioethics has for too long labored under the illusion that its purpose is to maximize individual choice. Snead shows how this results in policies that are hostile to human beings as they actually are: essentially embodied, ever dependent on others, flourishing only when loving and being loved. This is required reading.
One of the world’s leading bioethicists…Snead issues a thought-provoking challenge to our modern legal regime that is premised upon a misconception of the human person.
Helpfully reframes the major issues in public bioethics.
Doesn’t mire itself in the latest bioethics debates, most of which have become dizzyingly complex in the past few years. Instead, it returns us, not a moment too soon, to a discussion of first principles…Advance[s] an anthropological framework for understanding human beings (and for devising laws and policies) that takes birth and death, youth and age, ability and limits—essentially the embodied self—into account.
[A] penetrating analys[is]s of modern bioethics and culture with a strong to arms to reorient ourselves and polity to moral sanity.
A valuable resource for people eager to understand how abortion law changed so quickly in less than one generation.
Offers a counterweight to the legal scholarship that, at present, is doubling down on expressive individualism…The book provides several answers to the question of why the U.S. law has embraced expressive individualism so fervently. Snead suggests American individualism, an obsession with sexual freedom, industry ([assisted reproductive technologies] and health care generally), power, and a die that was cast at the dawn of our public bioethics.
A landmark work at the intersection of moral and political philosophy that prompts a re-evaluation of law, public policy, and even societal attitudes in our country.
- 2021, Joint winner of the Expanded Reason Awards
- 336 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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