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Book and Media Reviews
December 24 2008

Human Dignity and Bioethics: Essays Commissioned by the President’s Council on Bioethics

JAMA. 2008;300(24):2922-2927. doi:10.1001/jama.2008.875

In November 2001, several months after restricting federal funding for embryonic stem cell research to the use of a limited number of preexisting cell lines, President George W. Bush issued an executive order creating the President's Council on Bioethics. In creating the council, the president charged its members “to strive to develop a deep and comprehensive understanding of the issues that it considers . . . and may therefore choose to proceed by offering a variety of views on a particular issue, rather than attempt to reach a single consensus position.”1Human Dignity and Bioethics is an excellent response to that charge and looks deeply into the human and moral significance of new technologies and potential treatments. It also represents a thoughtful response to criticism offered to the first volume to come from the Council, Human Cloning and Human Dignity (July 2002). Critiquing this work, Ruth Macklin targeted her criticism not so much against the arguments about reproductive cloning but against the council's reference to human dignity: “The report contains no analysis of dignity or how it relates to ethical principles such as respect for persons. In the absence of criteria that can enable us to know just when dignity is violated, the concept remains hopelessly vague. Dignity is a useless concept in medical ethics and can be eliminated without any loss of content.”2