Being Human: Readings from the President’s Council on Bioethics

The President's Council on Bioethics, Washington, DC, December 2003.


Increasingly, advances in biomedical science and technology raise profound challenges to familiar human practices and ways of thinking, feeling, and acting. It is no wonder, then, that bioethics touches matters close to the core of our humanity: birth and death, body and mind, sickness and health, freedom and dignity are but a few of these.

From the beginning, human beings have addressed these matters in works of history, philosophy, literature and religious meditation. These works can be invaluable companions as we search for a richer understanding and deeper appreciation of our humanity, necessary for facing the new challenges of our biotechnological age.

With this in mind the Council has prepared Being Human: Readings from the President’s Council on Bioethics, an anthology of works of literature that speak to bioethical dilemmas. It contains 95 selections from sources as wide-ranging as Homer, Tolstoy, Shakespeare, American folk songs, contemporary fiction and poetry, and even a screenplay. Each selection is accompanied by an introduction that directs readers toward its bioethical implications, and provides questions for groups reading together or individuals studying alone.

Table of Contents:

Chapter 1.
Introduction: “The Search for Perfection”
Reading: Nathanial Hawthorne’s “The Birth-mark”

Chapter 2. Introduction: “Scientific Aspirations”
Reading: excerpt from Plutarch’s Lives (Death of Archimedes).

Chapter 3. Introduction: “To Heal Sometimes, To Comfort Always”
Reading: “The Hippocratic Oath”

Chapter 4. Introduction: “Are We Our Bodies?”
Reading: excerpts from Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace

Chapter 5. Introduction: “Many Stages, One Life”
Reading: excerpts from J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan

Chapter 6. Introduction: “Among the Generations”
Reading: Galway Kinnell’s “After Making Love We Hear Footsteps”

Chapter 7. Introduction: “Why Not Immortality?”
Reading: excerpt from Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels

Chapter 8. Introduction: “Vulnerability and Suffering”
Reading: excerpt from Lorrie Moore’s People Like That Are the Only People Here: Canonical Babblings in Peed Onk

Chapter 9. Introduction: “Living Immediately”
Reading: Emily Dickinson’s “Pain Has An Element of Blank”

Chapter 10. Introduction: “Human Dignity”
Reading: My Antonía, by Willa Cather