At the onset of Life, Liberty and the Defense of Dignity, Leon Kass gives us a status report on where we stand today: “Human nature itself lies on the operating table, ready for alteration, for eugenic and psychic ‘enhancement,’ for wholesale redesign. In leading laboratories, academic and industrial, new creators are confidently amassing their powers and quietly honing their skills. For anyone who cares about preserving our humanity, the time has come for paying attention.” Trained as a medical doctor and biochemist, Dr. Kass has become one of our most provocative thinkers on bioethical issues. In Life, Liberty and the Defense of Dignity, he has written a book that grapples with the moral meaning of the new biomedical technologies now threatening to take us back to the future envisioned by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World. In a series of mediations on cloning, embryo research, the sale of organs, and the assault on mortality itself, Kass questions the wisdom of trying to break down the natural boundaries given us and to remake the human body into an instrument of our will. He also attempts to chart a course by which we might avoid the dehumanization of biotechnical “recreationism” without rejecting modern science or rejecting its genuine contributions to human welfare. Leon Kass writes profoundly about the limits of science and the limits of life, about what makes us human and gives us human dignity. Life, Liberty and the Defense of Dignity.
For many people, the brave new world of biotechnology promises a utopian society where we will be free from diseases because of our manipulation of the genetic code. According to Kass, chairman of President Bush's Council on Bioethics, this vision of the future involves dehumanization, because the fundamental principles of cloning and stem cell research involve altering our human nature so dramatically that we are no longer human but posthuman. Fundamental to our human nature, Kass contends, is our human dignity, "our awareness of need, limitation, and mortality to craft a way of being that has engagement, depth, beauty, virtue, and meaning." Modern biology, he argues, has persuaded us that our embodiment is a fact of life to be overcome through germline manipulation or other biotechnological techniques. Through stimulating examinations of genetic research, cloning and active euthanasia, Kass makes a case that, in spite of its many promises, biotechnology has left humanity out of its equation, often debasing human dignity rather than celebrating it. In the end, he calls for a new bioethics and a new biology that will provide "an ethical account of human flourishing based on a biological account of human life as lived, not just physically, but psychically, socially and spiritually." Although some will object to Kass's importing the spiritual into the biological, his cry will strike others as a clarion call to protect human freedom from the excesses of biotechnology. Still others will be wary of his influence on the present administration.