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Embryo: A Defense of Human Life Hardcover – January 8, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-0385522823 ISBN-10: 0385522827 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this unconvincing book, George (Making Men Moral), a member of the President's Council on Bioethics, and Tollefsen, a philosophy professor at the University of South Carolina, envision the mass production and exploitation of embryos by scientists for research. In response, they affirm emphatically that an embryo deserves the same moral respect as a human—an argument well-known from religious sources but to which the authors attempt to give a scientific basis. George and Tollefsen offer a detailed scientific analysis of the making of the embryo to conclude that even a single-cell zygote has all the genetic characteristics of a human being. Thus, the embryo is a complete or whole organism, though immature. Against those who argue that the embryo lacks consciousness and thus is not fully human, the authors reject mind-body dualism and argue that the embryo has the capacity to develop into a rational being. Yet while these questions continue to provoke controversy in relation to abortion as well as embryo research, this book provides no compelling new evidence about the moral status of the embryo to persuade readers who do not already agree with them. (Jan. 15)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

About the Author

ROBERT P. GEORGE, a member of the President's Council on Bioethics, is a professor of jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. He is the author of Making Men Moral, In Defense of Natural Law, and The Clash of Orthodoxies. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

CHRISTOPHER TOLLEFSEN is an associate professor in the department of philosophy at the University of South Carolina, the director of the graduate program in philosophy, and author of the forthcoming Biomedical Research and Beyond. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1 edition (January 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385522827
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385522823
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #910,669 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

This book certainly will play a significant role in that acceptance.
B. Servaes
Very good articulation of the arguments against human embryonic stem cell research - from both biological and philosophical perspectives.
R James
The arguments are complex but readers will surely appreciate the ability of the authors to make the information accessible.
Anne Hendershott

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

80 of 87 people found the following review helpful By Francis J. Beckwith on January 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book, authored by two of my favorite philosophers, is perhaps the most sophisticated and clearly written defense of embryonic personhood that has come out since the onset of the biotech revolution.

George and Tollefsen are conversant with the scientific issues as well as the deep philosophical questions of nature and personhood that percolate beneath the surface. They are also well-versed in the arguments of those with whom the disagree. One of their adversaries, Lee Silver, a colleague of George's, is singled out for special treatment. What makes this analysis particularly enlightening is how it exposes how little care Silver takes in crafting his moral and metaphysical arguments. But Silver is not alone. This sort of philosophical negligence is symptomatic of an academic culture that churns out wonderfully smart technicians, like Silver, who have floated through their professional lives blissfully unaware of the cluster of moral and metaphysical beliefs they take for granted and make their projects possible, but for which their scientism can provide no grounding.

George and Tollefsen also critique Cartesian dualism as well as philosophical materialism, arguing for a Thomistic hylomorphism as the best account of the human person.

This is a wonderful book that should be in the library of any one who is serious about bioethics and the future of what it means to be human.

---Francis J. Beckwith, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Church-State Studies, Baylor University. author of Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice (Cambridge University Press, 2007)
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46 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Bill Muehlenberg VINE VOICE on April 6, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In this important volume two philosophers with interests in bioethics and law make the case for the moral worth of the human embryo from non-religious grounds. The case instead is made with a combination of science (biology, embryology, genetics) and moral philosophy.

Thus this book covers a wide range of topics, and deals with the various technologies that threaten the human embryo, from abortion to cloning and embryonic stem cell research. Much of the discussion focuses on the scientific questions: what is an embryo, how is it formed and developed, and so on.

The authors show that at fertilisation a new and distinct human organism comes into existence. The newly formed zygote is genetically unique, and its sex is established. This newly formed zygote is genetically distinct from either of its two parents.

When sperm and oocyte unite, there is a new human individual which comes into existence. It is a "single, unified, and self-integrated biological system", argue the authors, which is on a "developmental trajectory" toward a mature stage of human being.

The authors remind us that the zygote is no longer some functional part of either parent, but a "unique organism, distinct and whole, albeit at the very beginning of a long process of development to adulthood". All the mother does from now on is provide nutrition and a safe environment for the embryo to grow.

And this growth is internally directed. It contains within itself all the "genetic programming and epigenetic characteristics necessary to direct its own biological growth". It is a complete or whole organism, in the very early stages of development. And the changes from embryo to fetus to child to adult, etc., are simply changes in degree, not changes in kind.
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38 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Anne Hendershott on February 4, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Finally, a book that confronts the dishonesty directly--by challenging those who continue to deny the humanity of the early human embryo. Drawing from science, philosophy, and the law--but not religion, George and Tollefsen make a compelling case that the early human embryo is not a "potential" human being, or a "pre human being" or a clump of unformed cells, but rather an individual member of the human species--deserving of respect and protection. The arguments are complex but readers will surely appreciate the ability of the authors to make the information accessible. I was especially grateful for the careful attention given to presenting the problems of dualism--it is the best articulation I have ever read on the "irrationality" of the dualist assumption. The fact that Doubleday was willing to publish this wonderful book should give those who support life a reason to be optimistic for the future!
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By New Age of Barbarism on October 20, 2008
Format: Hardcover
_Embryo: A Defense of Human Life_, published in 2008 by Doubleday, by Princeton professor of jurisprudence Robert P. George and philosophy professor Christopher Tollefsen is a profound defense of human life at all stages of development written by two notable philosophers (one of whom, Robert P. George, is a member of the President's Council on Bioethics). This book comes at an important time because it addresses an issue which has become one of critical importance - the stem cell research debate which may end up involving embryo-destructive research. This brief book argues that human life begins at fertilization and argues persuasively that this can be shown using human reason alone without appeals to religion and without mention of the human soul. The authors also refute various dualistic views of the human person and other moral positions showing them to be equally problematic. To do this, the authors must delve extensively into human embryology to show the development of the young human being. The authors also consider various philosophical arguments for and against embryonic-destructive research showing that the path is fraught with many difficulties. This book makes a profound case for the pro-life position and argues effectively against the destruction of human embryos for any purpose, even if that purpose may serve some greater good.

The first chapter of this book considers "What Is At Stake in the Embryo Experimentation Debate". The authors begin with a story "Noah and the Flood" telling the tale of Noah Benton who was rescued as an embryo from a hospital in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and went on to become a healthy infant.
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