A Defense of Human Life
Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen
Doubleday, $23.95, 256 pp.
When the story broke in January that scientists at the biotechnology firm Stemagen had created a human embryo by cloning an adult skin cell, the chief executive, Samuel Wood, was interviewed about the fact that it was his skin cell that had been used to clone the embryo. Wood was asked what it was like to look at embryos that were replicas of himself. He responded, “I have to admit, it’s a very strange feeling. It is very difficult to look at an embryo and realize it is what you were a few decades ago.”
Robert George and Christopher Tollefsen would appreciate Wood’s honesty-if not his cavalier attitude toward embryos-because their new book is essentially a philosophical defense of the claim that human life begins at conception. The adjective “philosophical” is important here, for the authors note that such a view of the embryo is frequently dismissed as inherently religious and thus unsuitable as a basis for public reasoning. This book demonstrates that a vigorous nonreligious defense of the dignity of the embryo is possible; indeed, future debate about embryo status, whether philosophical or theological, will need to engage this volume.
According to George and Tollefsen, to deny the claim that the embryo deserves full moral respect at every stage of its life, one must reject one or more of the following claims: The early embryo is a human being; human beings are persons; all human beings deserve full...