Heated debates are not unusual when confronting tough medical
issues where it seems that moral and religious perspectives often
erupt in conflict with philosophical or political positions. In
The Sanctity of Human Life, Jewish theologian David Novak
acknowledges that it is impossible not to take into account the
theological view of human life, but the challenge is how to present
the religious perspective to nonreligious people. In doing so, he
shows that the two positions-the theological and the
philosophical-aren't as far apart as they may seem.
Novak digs deep into Jewish scripture and tradition to find
guidance for assessing three contemporary controversies in medicine
and public policy: the use of embryos to derive stem cells for
research, socialized medicine, and physician-assisted suicide.
Beginning with thinkers like Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and Nietsche,
and drawing on great Jewish figures in history-Maimonides, Rashi,
and various commentators on the Torah (written law) and the Mishnah
(oral law)-Novak speaks brilliantly to these modern moral
The Sanctity of Human Life weaves a rich and sophisticated
tapestry of evidence to conclude that the Jewish understanding of
the human being as sacred, as the image of God, is in fact
compatible with philosophical claims about the rights of the human
person-especially the right to life-and can be made intelligible to
secular culture. Thus, according to Novak, the use of stem cells
from embryos is morally unacceptable; the sanctity of the human
person, and not capitalist or socialist approaches, should drive
our understanding of national health care; and physician-assisted
suicide violates humankind's fundamental responsibility for caring
for one another.
Novak's erudite argument and rigorous scholarship will appeal to
all scholars and students engaged in the work of theology and
Subjects: Health Sciences, Religion
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