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The Sanctity of Human Life [Hardcover]

David Novak
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Book Description

Sept. 13 2007 1589011767 978-1589011762 1
Novak is a Jewish theologian who 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. This is first and foremost a book of theology, and Novak 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 compatible with philosophical claims about the rights of the human person--especially the right to life--and can thus be made intelligible to secular culture. So what appears to be a specifically religious argument is, in Novak's view, generalizable. (This is why "A Jewish Perspective," is not the subtitle; in some ways that appeal to a religious identity would undercut the power of his argument.) What's the payoff? That the use of stem cells from embryos is morally unacceptable; that the sanctity of the human person, and not capitalist or socialist approaches, should drive our understanding of national health care; and that physician-assisted suicide violates a humankind's fundamental responsibility for caring for one another. Novak is a Georgetown Ph.D. (1971) and has a remarkable grasp of philosophical literature, from Plato to Aristotle to Kant to Nietsche. He uses those thinkers, then deftly draws on great Jewish figures from history--Maimonides, Rashi, and various commentators on the Torah (the written law, aka, the first five books of the Old Testament) and the Mishnah (the oral law). His interpretation of Jewish tradition is more conservative than, say, Brody or Mackler. But his method, his attempt to speak to modern moral dilemmas, is brilliant.

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"Novak's voice deserves to be heard. This meticulously researched book reveals that there are multiple ways of examining the thorny bioethical issues of modern time." -- JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) "Readers who appreciate erudite arguments and rigorous scholarship will be interested in this book." -- The Catholic Register "The scope of the book is breathtaking and thought-provoking... Novak offers refreshingly complex assessments of the interface among biology, society, and morality. Furthermore, the book's explicitly metaphysical orientation is suggestive. The Sanctity of Human Life engages multiple methods and powerful convictions about human life's emergence, its endurance, and its dissolution. From beginning to end, this is no small feat." -- American Journal of Bioethics "[The] strength of this work is that it is written from the point of view of a Jewish theologian who is also a trained philosopher in the natural law tradition... [The] emphasis on drawing from philosophy, theology, and political theory is commendable indeed. Novak honestly and forthrightly speaks of how his theology informs his ethics." -- Christian Apologetics Journal

About the Author

David Novak holds the J. Richard and Dorothy Shiff Chair of Jewish Studies as professor of the study of religion and professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto. In 2006 he was appointed as a member of the Canada Assisted Reproduction Agency.

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4.0 out of 5 stars Religion and Politics Can Mix Feb. 4 2009
David Novak is one of the premiere Jewish scholars of this generation. And this book shows why. Combining a thoroughgoing knowldege of traditional sources along with a deep comprehension of philosophy and theology, Dr. Novak brings his erudition to the task of illuminatiing one of the most important issues of our day: the sanctity of human life. Tackling three topics under this general heading, namely, stem cell research, socialized medicine, and physician-assisted suicide, Dr. Novak shows how each issue requires separate and careful treatment. His opinions will challenge ideologues on both the right and the left on the political/religious spectrum. But his allegiance is to the sources, not to an ideological consistency. Perhaps more than anything else, Dr. Novak takes pains to demonstrate how what some consider exclusively religious matters actually have a legitimate place in the public square.
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