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Science And The Changing Face Of Humanity
by John Bryant
John Bryant, Professor Emeritus of cell and molecular biology at the University of Exeter, is a gifted communicator who has been shortlisted twice for a national award in Science Communication. Here is cutting-edge biomedical science made transparent, concise and interesting for the non-scientist, written—as the blurb indicates—by a "biologist and ethics expert".
'Morals, ethics and complex issues' (chapter 4) shows some expertise. He gives four principles of medical ethics: doing good or bringing benefit; not doing harm; respect for an individual's autonomy, rights and wishes; justice, regarding each patient as of equal value. He believes "the ethical teachings of Jesus are based on virtue". Paul likewise, but that view needed more elaboration, especially as he leans "strongly toward Christian-based virtue ethics... as the one ethical system that can effectively be applied to some of the issues discussed in later chapters" .
These four principles are useful but their application is problematic so readers are often left wondering how to decide for themselves the rights and wrongs of medical technology, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and other issues. I was left questioning whether our normal ethical frameworks are able to cope with the questions he rightly raises. For Bryant, while "no area of knowledge is off-limits... the application of that knowledge may raise serious ethical concerns: "we can do this but should we do this?"
He starts with a good whistle stop tour of evolutionary and ethical history in order to identify what it means to be human. He applauds the good in humans but is equally aware of 'man's inhumanity to man' which no amount of biomedical technology will change.
His treatment of 'Genes, Genetics and Human Disease' (chapter 5) makes it clear that "we are far from being just the sum of our genetic make-up".
He concludes that biomedical advances do not take us "beyond human" but he worries whether these technologies will be used for good or ill and whether they will be universally available or simply for those with money, and whether our priorities are righ
Reviewer: John Morris (01/03/14)