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.

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

 

Terror Returns to Israel

Nov. 28 2022

On Wednesday, a double bombing in Jerusalem left two dead, and many others injured—an attack the likes of which has not been seen since 2016. In a Jenin hospital, meanwhile, armed Palestinians removed an Israeli who had been injured in a car accident, reportedly murdering him in the process, and held his body hostage for two days. All this comes as a year that has seen numerous stabbings, shootings, and other terrorist attacks is drawing to a close. Yaakov Lappin comments:

Unlike the individual or small groups of terrorists who, acting on radical ideology and incitement to violence, picked up a gun, a knife, or embarked on a car-ramming attack, this time a better organized terrorist cell detonated two bombs—apparently by remote control—at bus stops in the capital. Police and the Shin Bet have exhausted their immediate physical searches, and the hunt for the perpetrators will now move to the intelligence front.

It is too soon to know who, or which organization, conducted the attack, but it is possible to note that in recent years, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) has taken a lead in remote-control-bombing terrorism. Last week, a car bomb that likely contained explosives detonated by remote control was discovered by the Israel Defense Forces in Samaria, after it caught fire prematurely. In August 2019, a PFLP cell detonated a remote-control bomb in Dolev, seventeen miles northwest of Jerusalem, killing a seventeen-year-old Israeli girl and seriously wounding her father and brother. Members of that terror cell were later arrested.

With the Palestinian Authority (PA) losing its grip in parts of Samaria to armed terror gangs, and the image of the PA at an all-time low among Palestinians, in no small part due to corruption, nepotism, and its violation of human rights . . . the current situation does not look promising.

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More about: Israeli Security, Jerusalem, Palestinian terror