Emory Report
February 12, 2007
Volume 59, Number 19

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February 12, 2007
Scholar says ancient texts address ‘modern’ bioethics debates

BY carol clark

Pro-life versus pro-choice. The right to die with dignity versus laws against physician-assisted suicide. These are modern-day debates, spurred by medical and legal advances, formerly beyond the realm of open discussion, right?

Wrong – as internationally renowned bioethicist Baruch Brody hopes to make clear during Emory University’s annual Tenenbaum Family Lecture in Judaic Studies, set for Wednesday, Feb. 21 at 7:30 p.m. in the Reception Hall of the Michael C. Carlos Museum.

Abortion and euthanasia will be the focus of Brody’s talk, “One Tradition, Many Voices: Jewish Bioethics as a Model for Contemporary Society.”

“A book is about to come out, describing how some people have developed a liturgy for the signing of a ‘do-not-resuscitate’ order – a prayer that matters will come to a conclusion soon,” Brody said. “It’s interesting that this is considered extremely innovative, when the whole idea that you might pray for the death of someone because they are in great pain is really quite old.”

He cites a Talmudic text from 200 A.D. which allows for the praying of the death of a leading Talmudic figure who was apparently suffering from a form of gastrointestinal cancer. Hundreds of other references to euthanasia and abortion can be found throughout the Talmud and other ancient Jewish religious texts, Brody said.

“Classical Jewish sources reject the extreme positions on these issues and hold that there is something in between,” he said. “We need to understand this range of positions, rather than having things in black and white. We want to get quick, clear answers but I’m going to argue that they aren’t coming. And I’m going to argue that it’s a good thing that they aren’t coming.”

As the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Humanities in the Department of Philosophy at Rice University, Brody directs the ethics program at The Methodist Hospital. He is also the Leon Jaworksi Professor of Biomedical Ethics and the director of the Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy at Baylor College of Medicine.

Admission to the lecture is free. For more information, see www.js.emory.edu/tenenbaum/index.html or call 404-727-6301. The Tenenbaum Family Lecture Series, sponsored by Emory’s Donald A. Tam Institute for Jewish Studies, celebrates the family of the late Meyer W. Tenenbaum of Savannah, an alumnus of Emory College and Emory Law School.