Leon Kass’s Work Brings together Science and the Humanities in Pursuit of a Worthy Life

A physician, scientist, bioethicist, and philosopher, Leon Kass was the first chairman of the President’s Council of Bioethics and, most recently, the author of a collection of essays titled Leading a Worthy Life. Surveying his career, and commenting on his recently published book, Daniel Johnson writes:

Kass’s sense of individual uniqueness came into play during the debate about human cloning, which coincided with the presidency of George W. Bush. By setting up an advisory committee on bioethics and appointing Kass to lead it, President Bush set an example to the world that has yet to be fully appreciated. Kass could not fairly be accused of ideological or religious partisanship—which did not prevent his opponents from throwing everything at him, bar the proverbial kitchen sink. But Kass was and is supremely confident in his moral reasoning and intuitions. That there is less heat and more light in bioethical debates today owes much to his courage and wisdom.

For example, Kass urged people to trust their instinctive revulsion at the transgression of moral taboos in biomedical research. This was caricatured as “the yuk factor.” In 1997, a fierce defense of human cloning was issued by the International Academy of Humanism, signed by Francis Crick, Richard Dawkins, and Isaiah Berlin among many other luminaries of science and the humanities: “It would be a tragedy if ancient theological scruples should lead to a Luddite rejection of cloning.” Yet Kass won the argument. Human reproductive cloning has been banned in most countries and therapeutic cloning, though still an area of research, is nowhere used in medical practice. Bioethical limitations on research, as advocated by Kass and his committee, have incentivized scientists to avoid a descent into Brave New World dystopias, without significantly impeding their progress. . . .

Kass is [also] a brilliant textual scholar and he has the gift of conveying in literary form something of the thrill of exploring a classic text in open-ended discussion with his students. The effect is akin to participating in a modern Platonic dialogue. Kass is not, however, neutral on ultimate questions; he deplores relativism in any form. . . .

Now seventy-nine, having lost his beloved wife and collaborator Amy three years ago, this unassuming, underrated man is still writing, researching, and teaching in America and Israel. Leon Kass has shown us by word and by example what it means, not only to lead a worthy life, but to be a light unto the nations.

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Standpoint

More about: Bioethics, George W. Bush, History & Ideas, Isaiah Berlin, Leon Kass, Science and Religion

 

The Riots on the Gaza Border are Carefully Coordinated Attacks on Israel, and Should Be Treated as Such

Jan. 16 2019

On Friday, the weekly riots at the Gaza security fence resumed in full force: 13,000 people participated, and a Palestinian woman was apparently killed by Israeli gunfire. The UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR) had established a commission of inquiry in May, not long after these riots began, “to investigate all alleged violations and abuses of international humanitarian law and international human-rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, . . . particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military assaults on the large-scale civilian protests that began on March 20, 2018.” In a report to the commission, Richard Kemp, a retired senior British officer, concludes, after investigating the situation at the Gaza border, that there is no evidence whatsoever of Israeli wrongdoing, and that the commission is operating under faulty assumptions:

The terms of [the commission’s] mandate are self-evidently biased against the state of Israel and the IDF. The context cited—“the military assaults on the large-scale civilian protests”—make clear that the UNHRC either failed to understand what was happening on the ground or deliberately misrepresented the reality. In addition, the commission’s mandate terms the Gaza Strip “Occupied Palestinian Territories,” which it is not. . . .

[T]he so-called “civilian protests” in reality were, and continue to be, a deliberate military operation, orchestrated and controlled by Hamas, [a] terrorist group that has been waging an armed conflict against Israel for many years. Their intention was and remains to kill and wound IDF soldiers, to break through the border fence, to murder and maim innocent civilians, to destroy property, and to compel the IDF to take defensive action resulting in the death of Gaza civilians for exploitation in the international arena. [Israel’s] “military assaults” were not what was implied by this prejudicial mandate. They were in fact lawful, proportionate, and restrained defensive actions. . . .

Suggestions that these demonstrations are [protests] against Israeli policy toward the Gaza Strip are demonstrably false and easily refuted by cursory viewing of Hamas and other public statements made at the time of the events. . . . Further, it is clear that Hamas intended this violence to continue its long-standing strategy of creating and intensifying international outrage, vilification, isolation, and criminalization of the state of Israel and its officials. . . .

[T]he starkest indication that these events were entirely under Hamas control is the simple fact that, when it suited Hamas’s political interests, the [demonstrations] occurred and were of a violent nature, and when such actions did not serve Hamas’s interests, the border was quiet. As the most recent example of this, in November 2018, Qatar began to make large cash payments to Hamas in Gaza. The most recent payment of $15 million was handed over in December 2018. These payments are reportedly part of an agreement with Hamas to diminish violence along the Gaza border. [After] the first payment, the border violence [was] reduced [and the] demonstrations [became] far more restrained.

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Colonel Richard Kemp

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, IDF, Israel & Zionism, Laws of war, UNHRC