Defining the beginning and end of life

Names such as Quinlan, Cruzan, Kevorkian, and Schiavo have had broad media exposure and have become a part of American Culture. The bioethical and legal issues that surround them, and the questions those issues raise about the beginning and end of human life, are not likely to be resolved in the foreseeable future. The latest issue of The Journal of Law, Medicine, & Ethics examines these questions and the bonds that join them in its symposium, Defining the Beginning and The End of Human Life: Implication for Ethics, Policy, and Law.

Within its pages, anthropologist Lynn Morgan presents beliefs from various cultures, looking specifically at the idea of "personhood" in different societies. "The practices of personhood are not impersonal or abstract or objective or simply deliberative. They are specific and situated, and they shape us, even as we shape them," she concludes.

In the first of two point-counterpoint discussions, Donald Marquis discusses his widely debated secular argument against abortion while Bonnie Steinbock provides a broad view of the moral status of human embryos, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of several approaches. In the second of the two discussions, James L. Bernat speaks of brain death as the determination of death: a concept and public policy that, Bernat asserts, is both intuitive and well accepted by many societies. James McMahan counters by distinguishing between biological death and when a person ceases to exist.

David DeGrazia addresses President Bush's and the President's Council on Bioethics' stand against cloning by arguing that the pre-conscious fetus lacks the psychological unity that might bind it to its future self. It thus lacks substantial moral status and does not have a right to remain alive.

In the last article of the symposium, George Khushf argues the need to add questions of human value and purpose to public discourse so we may better understand our disagreements. "Because the deep questions of human value and purpose are regarded as 'private' questions in our society, we end up with a truncated, shallow public discourse that never addresses what we are really talking about," Khushf claims.


Media wishing to receive PDFs of the symposium, please contact [email protected].

A leading peer-reviewed journal for research at the intersection of law, health policy, ethics, and medicine, The Journal of Law, Medicine, & Ethics is THE authoritative source for health law teachers, practitioners, policy makers, risk managers, and anyone involved with the safe, equitable, and ethical delivery and promotion of the public's health.

Robert M. Sade is the guest editor of this symposium. Dr. Sade is a Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery and Director of the Institute of Human Values in Health Care at the Medical University of South Carolina and Medical Director of LifePoint (South Carolina's organ procurement agency). He is also Chair of the Ethics Committee of the American Association for Thoracic Surgery, Chair of the Standards and Ethics Committee of the Society of Thoracic Surgeons, and Vice-Chair of the Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs of the American Medical Association. Dr. Sade is available for media questions and interviews.

Blackwell Publishing is the world's leading society publisher, partnering with 665 academic and professional societies. Blackwell publishes over 800 journals and, to date, has published more than 6,000 books, across a wide range of academic, medical, and professional subjects.

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
    Published on All rights reserved.