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By L. Bellantoni

Lisa Bellantoni argues that modern bioethics divides into logically incommensurable positions: a cult of rights, which identifies the value of human existence with our autonomy, and a cult of lifestyles, which identifies human worthy with the ownership of a soul, and thereby, of human dignity.

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The Triple Helix: The Soul of Bioethics

Lisa Bellantoni argues that modern bioethics divides into logically incommensurable positions: a cult of rights, which identifies the price of human existence with our autonomy, and a cult of existence, which identifies human worthy with the ownership of a soul, and thereby, of human dignity.

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Indeed, one striking element of cases such as Terri Schiavo’s is their capacity to transmute private into public grief. Both cults render such grief nonsensical, mere ephemera surrounding the more vital issue: the Great Culture War between the right to live and the right to die. But we would have no such war if we were the self- subsistent, transcendent beings they aim to defend. To the contrary, I suggest, those beings and the ideals they augur are themselves mere theoretical ephemera, timeless constructs that crumble when we keep time with those we love, both the living and the dead.

Again, such is the nature of human reproduction that it cedes the constitution of one generation to its progenitors. Not only do those children inherit their genetic and social potentials from their parents, they also face the possibility that their parents will view them as status symbols, as economic assets, or even as objects to satisfy their own whims, rather than as individuals in their own right. Genetic selection, then, may be a venue for the imposition of parental choices, but it is neither new nor different in kind from genetic impositions left to nature.

If fetal viability is the transition point to personhood, however, the period prior to that involves no moral relation between embryo and the mother. Moreover, because fetal development, and indeed child development, does not evince autonomy, the entire passage to full-blown autonomy is a baffling metaphysical interlude, through which we miraculously emerge from our subjection to our bodies, social environs and characters, into fully autonomous agents. Such a passage, in fact, would seem no less miraculous than the creationist claim that persons are born in toto.

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