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Bioethics is Love of Life: an Alternative Textbook
  1. David Lamb
  1. University of Birmingham

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    Darryl R J Macer, Christchurch, New Zealand, Eubios Ethics Institute, 1998, 158 pages, £12 (pb).

    Love of life is the theme running through the eight chapters of this book, which cover theories of bioethics, the language of love, self love (embracing autonomy, selfishness, and altruism), love of freedom, loving relationships, animal ethics, and environmental ethics. Love of life, says Macer, is the “simplest and most all encompassing definition of bioethics, and it is universal among all peoples of the world” (page 1). This vision of love as a basis for a universal bioethics is part of a more ambitious project intended to inspire the creation of a global community wherein all individuals overcome diversity and work towards a perfect whole. To this end the author attempts to cover a vast range of religious beliefs and cultural traditions.

    The opening discussion will be familiar to Western bioethicists, as it covers deontological and teleological theories, ranging across a broad spectrum of recent bioethical writing. The author concludes that the “inner motivation and strength of ethical behaviour comes from love” (page 27). The main objection to an ethical system based on love, claims Macer, is found in the tradition embracing Plato and Kant, who saw emotions and feelings as a distraction. Despite a wealth of literature relating to love, and the fundamental role it plays in the public's conception of ethics, Macer complains that it has been largely ignored in recent bioethics. This is due to academic snobbery, claims Macer, which is bound up with a desire amongst bioethicists to have a monopoly on prescriptive ethics!

    There is an interesting chapter on the boundaries of love towards animals, where “love” signifies an ethical commitment. But on the question whether causing harm or suffering to other animals is bad, Macer appears to follow the route taken by several Western bioethicists who attempt to weigh evidence in support or against claims that fetuses are persons. By analogy, if evidence is produced that some animals have “person traits” or “signs of love” then harming them is wrong. This position has been dubbed “personism”: it is frequently employed to mark the boundaries of moral obligation to fetuses, animals and patients with severe neurological disorders. Personism, it might be argued, is as arbitrary as speciesism and many other “isms” where a particular group is said to be entitled to preferential treatment.

    Macer is to be commended for a rather ambitious attempt to bring together a wide range of religious beliefs and diverse ethical traditions, but the overall impression is that the book attempts to cover too much ground.

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