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The Sanctity of Human Life

David Novak

Publication Year: 2007

Heated debates are not unusual when confronting tough medical issues where it seems that moral and religious perspectives often erupt in conflict with philosophical or political positions. In The Sanctity of Human Life, Jewish theologian David Novak acknowledges that it is impossible not to take into account the theological view of human life, but the challenge is how to present the religious perspective to nonreligious people. In doing so, he shows that the two positions—the theological and the philosophical—aren't as far apart as they may seem. Novak digs deep into Jewish scripture and tradition to find guidance for assessing three contemporary controversies in medicine and public policy: the use of embryos to derive stem cells for research, socialized medicine, and physician-assisted suicide. Beginning with thinkers like Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and Nietsche, and drawing on great Jewish figures in history—Maimonides, Rashi, and various commentators on the Torah (written law) and the Mishnah (oral law)—Novak speaks brilliantly to these modern moral dilemmas. The Sanctity of Human Life weaves a rich and sophisticated tapestry of evidence to conclude that the Jewish understanding of the human being as sacred, as the image of God, is in fact compatible with philosophical claims about the rights of the human person—especially the right to life—and can be made intelligible to secular culture. Thus, according to Novak, the use of stem cells from embryos is morally unacceptable; the sanctity of the human person, and not capitalist or socialist approaches, should drive our understanding of national health care; and physician-assisted suicide violates humankind's fundamental responsibility for caring for one another. Novak's erudite argument and rigorous scholarship will appeal to all scholars and students engaged in the work of theology and bioethics.

Published by: Georgetown University Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xvi

The term “the sanctity of human life” has a definite religious ring. It seems to denote the fact that human life is related to God. Moreover, although the term “sanctity of human life” (qedushat hahayyim) does not appear—to my knowledge—in any of the classical Jewish sources, all the classical Jewish...

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pp. 1-89

The current moral debate about the use of embryonic stem cells for the possible (some advocates might even say probable) saving of other human lives is so intense because—as of 2007—deriving “pluripotent” (useful) stem cells from embryos kills these embryos in the process. This debate takes place in several different contexts:...

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pp. 91-110

My concern with the question of socialized medicine, or universal health care, and a Jewish approach to it has been greatly heightened by my experience in Canada during the past ten years. I now hold citizenship in Canada as well as the U.S. citizenship conferred...

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pp. 111-171

Following the procedure of the preceding chapters, I deal with the question of physician-assisted suicide in three contexts: theological, philosophical, and political. In fact, the separation of these three contexts of the normative discussion of this question can be more precisely maintained here than in the preceding chapters because...


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pp. 173-180


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pp. 181-186

E-ISBN-13: 9781589014664
E-ISBN-10: 1589014669
Print-ISBN-13: 9781589015043
Print-ISBN-10: 1589015045

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 290561161
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Sanctity of Human Life

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • National health services -- Religious aspects -- Judaism.
  • Assisted suicide -- Religious aspects -- Judaism.
  • Medical ethics -- Religious aspects -- Judaism.
  • Embryonic stem cells -- Research -- Religious aspects -- Judaism.
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