Episode 55

Carter Snead and "What It Means to Be Human"


May 27th, 2021

29 mins 18 secs

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About this Episode

O. Carter Snead, the Director of the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture, has penned an acclaimed new book, "What It Means to Be Human: The Case for the Body in Public Bioethics." In this episode, we chat with Professor Snead about the premises of his book, which is a survey of the understanding of human flourishing that underlies the American legal and policy landscape regarding abortion, assisted reproductive technologies, and end-of-life issues.

Episode Links

  • What It Means to Be Human: The Case for the Body in Public Bioethics — The natural limits of the human body make us vulnerable and therefore dependent, throughout our lives, on others. Yet American law and policy disregard these stubborn facts, with statutes and judicial decisions that presume people to be autonomous, defined by their capacity to choose. As legal scholar O. Carter Snead points out, this individualistic ideology captures important truths about human freedom, but it also means that we have no obligations to each other unless we actively, voluntarily embrace them. Under such circumstances, the neediest must rely on charitable care. When it is not forthcoming, law and policy cannot adequately respond. In this provocative and consequential book, Snead rethinks how the law represents human experiences so that it might govern more wisely, justly, and humanely.
  • ‘What It Means to Be Human’ Review: Unchosen Obligations (by Yuval Levin) — "A critical examination of the moral suppositions underlying contemporary bioethics might shed light on much more of our common life than our engagement with biology and medicine. Such an ambitious examination has now been taken up by O. Carter Snead in 'What It Means to Be Human.' The result is a rare achievement: a rigorous academic book that is also accessible, engaging and wise."
  • Answering the Psalmist (Review by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput) — "Today we have the ability, or soon will, to rewire ourselves at the biological level; to “improve,” in the sunny language of science boosterism, what it means to be human from the inside out. Genetic catastrophe is not (yet) in our vocabulary. And what harm can a little merging of humans and machines do? Like the sorcerer’s apprentice, we’re long on knowledge and ambition, but short on wisdom. This is what makes a new book by O. Carter Snead both timely and so important."
  • Video: Faculty Seminar on Public Bioethics — O. Carter Snead, Notre Dame Law School professor, director of the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture, and author of the new book "What It Means to Be Human: The Case for the Body in Public Bioethics," presents the thesis of his book in a seminar and Q&A session for the dCEC's Sorin Fellows Program.
  • Theme Song: "I Dunno" by Grapes — I dunno by grapes (c) copyright 2008 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license. Ft: J Lang, Morusque