22 February 2007

Denial Of Death Yields Culture Of Death.

This morning I read Eric Cohen's essay "In Whose Image Shall We Die" in the latest number of The New Atlantis, and I wish I had done so prior to Ash Wednesday.

Metaphysics, the philosopher Hans Jonas once wrote, “arises from graves.” So, in a crucial sense, does bioethics. Of course, death is not the only human problem of bioethical significance. Natality, not mortality, is arguably the source of today’s gravest and most novel quandaries—from the prospect of human cloning to the genetic screening of embryos to the return of eugenics in the form of amniocentesis-and-abortion.

Yet it is also the case, interestingly, that the very technological civilization that has developed these marvelous new methods of making babies—children for the infertile, children without disorders, children for older women—is also the least interested in procreation, at least by the numbers. Modern, advanced democracies have the lowest birthrates in human history; they are not producing enough children to replace themselves. And it may be that our anti-natalism has much to do with our understanding (or misunderstanding) of our mortal condition. We readily ignore death, making procreation seem less urgent to men and women who think there will always be more time; and we desperately evade death, making procreation seem less important than sustaining the healthy self into the indefinite future. A death-denying civilization is also, it seems, a child-denying civilization.

Unrelated observation for The New Atlantis: Making new issues available for free online 2 weeks before subscribers receive their hard copies is, well, annoying.


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