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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.

 
Dr. Maureen L. Condic is an Assistant Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah. She is currently conducting research on the regeneration of embryonic and adult neurons following spinal cord injury. In 2003, she published an article in First Things: The Journal of Religion, Culture and Public Life. The title of the article is "Life: Defining the Beginning by the End," and I highly recommend that you read it.

From the article:
In contrast to the widespread disagreement over when human life begins, there is a broad social and legal consensus regarding when human life ends. Rarely has the point been made that the definition of human death can be applied to the question of when life commences with compelling symmetry. The definition of when life ends is both scientific and objective, and does not depend on personal belief or moral viewpoint. The current medical and legal understanding of death unambiguously defines both when human life ends and when it begins in a manner that is widely accepted and consistent with the legal and moral status of human beings at all stages of life.
In using criteria of death to determine criteria for human life, Dr. Condic takes a similar route as Dr. Hans-Martin Sass of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University , whose work inspired Jack to start this blog. (Sass specifically looks to brain death in formulating his hypothesis.) What's interesting is that they arrive at completely different conclusions. For those of you not familiar with Dr. Sass's work:
In 1989, Sass 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.
Even though we disagree with Dr. Condic's final position, her argument is intelligent and well reasoned. Please take the time to read her paper. It's an excellent example of the level of discourse needed on this topic.

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