Sunday’s New York Times Book Review carried a review of Embryo: A Defense of Human Life. The reviewer, Slate.com’s bioethics writer/reporter William Saletan, is someone that I generally respect as a thoughtful writer, even though I don’t always agree with him. His review of Embryo, though, is an unusually poor showing.
In response to the review, Embryo authors Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen penned a extensive — and needed — response at National Review Online.
In attempting to resist our conclusion that human embryos ought not to be exploited and killed, while at the same time acknowledging their moral standing and the special respect they are owed, Saletan gets himself into a jam. To meet our argument that a human embryo is, as a matter of scientific fact, a developing human being—i.e., a living member of the species Homo sapiens in the earliest stages of development—and thus, as a matter of basic justice, a possessor of inherent dignity and a right to life, Saletan is driven to deny that human embryos are whole entities, as opposed to mere parts (such as gametes, tissues, or organs). He denies that embryos are determinate individuals, and he seems to doubt that they are organisms at all. But if these denials and doubts are warranted, then there is no rational basis for believing that human embryos “deserve our respect” or that “we should never create or destroy them lightly.” Saletan is trying to find a plot of solid ground lying between the views of radical liberal bioethicists, on the one side, and defenders of the pro-life view, on the other. The failure of his effort shows that the middle ground is nothing but quicksand.
UPDATE: Salten has written and Slate has posted a response to the response. Key phrase: “true, but . . .” Judge for yourself.