Over at the Wall Street Journal, our friend Yuval Levin has a great review of a new book, What It Means to Be Human: The Case for the Body in Public Bioethics. The book is by O. Carter Snead, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame and director of the university’s de Nicola Center for Ethics and Public Policy.
Snead is a current member of the bioethics advisory group that advises Pope Francis, and he served on the President’s Council on Bioethics under President George W. Bush, who created the council. He brings that expertise to this new book, which illuminates the ways in which our flawed anthropology — our wrongheaded ideas about what it means to be human — negatively affects our bioethics.
He examines this concept at great length, laying out the philosophical underpinnings of his case before applying his understanding of anthropology to key contentious issues in bioethics: abortion, assisted reproduction, and death-related topics such as assisted suicide.
Yuval’s review gives a good overview of what makes this book so useful and intriguing, even for those who disagree with Snead’s perspective, but I’ll add that the lengthy section on abortion alone is worth the price of admission. Pro-lifers dedicated especially to the abortion issue will find invaluable Snead’s detailed explanations of existing U.S. case law, not to mention his rigorous applications of anthropology and bioethics to critique and illuminate that case law.
It’s one thing to know where Roe v. Wade and subsequent abortion cases went wrong as it pertains to the Constitution and America’s founding ideals. It’s another to understand at a deeper level how our regime of legal-abortion stems from and is bolstered by our society’s deeply mistaken notions of freedom, autonomy, and what we owe to each other.