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Jack Sisson's Life Ethics Blog

We must find new ways through many ethical issues, especially regarding bioethics, medical ethics, and criminal justice. Jack Sisson's 'Life Ethics' blog focuses on numerous areas of concern, including the philosophical and ethical dilemmas surrounding stem-cell research, abortion, medical research, and health care.

 
In 1986, my boss, Jack Sisson, published an article in the "National Catholic Reporter" in which he argued that human life does not begin in utero until the onset of higher brain function. At the time, he was a pro-life Catholic layman who recognized that a significant number of Catholics had divergent opinions on abortion.

Then, in 1989, Dr. Hans-Martin Sass of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University published a paper titled "Brain Life and Brain Death: A Proposal for a Normative Agreement." Sass first looked at established definitions of brain death, and reasoned that society could reach a consensus for protecting embryonic life by applying similar criteria for brain life.

Sass identified two levels of brain development. Cortical Brain Life I occurs with post-mitotic stationary neurons forming the early cortical plate -- 54 days after conception. Cortical Brain Life II recognizes the beginning of cortical neuro-neuronal synapes -- 70 days after conception. Sass hoped for a moral consensus by recognizing Brain Life II (the 70th day) as the point after which embryonic research would be unacceptable. Before that time, research, and presumably abortions, would be acceptable.

Many other philosophers, scientists and bioethicists have considered brain development in determining when to designate life in the womb as "human." As early as 1985, J.M. Goldenring presented an argument similar to Sass's -- that human life begins with the onset of brain life at eight weeks gestation.

Today, we can pronounce a person clinically dead if there is a complete and irreversible cessation of brain activity, or brain death. Jack's question: if we can accept brain death as the end of human life, why can't we similarly accept brain life as the beginning of human life?

Brain Pills
Roe v. Wade
Stem Cells
Stem Cell Fight!
Bearing Right
Moral Monkey?
Op-ed
Dave's site
Stem Stall
Screamers
Bush the hypocrite

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