Thursday, August 1, 2013

Harvard University Press: Aquinas on the Beginning and End of Human Life

Since I've become Catholic, I could easily say that my viewpoint on a lot of issues have been changed. Because I believe the Catholic Church is the fullness of faith and is true in her teachings, I have a new appreciation for matters of doctrinal and moral nature. One such example is my opinion on human life and death.  I have always been pro-life in terms of abortion. However, I used to see euthanasia as an acceptable choice. Since my conversion, I no longer see things that way anymore. Thank God for opening my eyes. I bring all this up, because I am reviewing a book from. I bring all this up, because I am reviewing a book from Harvard University Press called Aquinas on the Beginning and End of Human Life.

In Aquinas on the Beginning and End of Human Life, Fabrizio Amerini examines the writings of Thomas Aquinas to determine which side of the fence he would land on with regards to abortion, euthanasia, and personhood. For those unfamiliar with Fabrizio Amerini, such as myself before this book, he is an internationally renowned scholar of medieval philosophy. Chapters in this book cover topics that range from the human soul and embryology to the bioethical implications of Aquinas' viewpoint.

The book is laid out in a fact-oriented manner. Instead of telling you what he believes Thomas Aquinas is saying, Dr. Amerini presents you with Aquinas' writings and how they can be interpreted by each side. In my opinion, the most interesting parts of this book dealt with ensoulment. Ensoulment is when a human being gains his soul. It is the Catholic belief presently that ensoulment occurs at conception, thus an embryo is an actual human being. Thomas Aquinas (and others in that day) believed that ensoulment occurred 40 days after conception for males and 80 days after conception for females. Despite this though, he still believed abortion to be against natural law and a mortal sin, if committed before these times. However, he didn't regard it as a homicide. We, pro-lifers, would disagree today and say that abortion is a homicide.

I'm having a tough time determining a rating for this book. It is highly academic, and at times the footnotes overwhelm the actual text on the pages. I wonder who the audience for this book would be apart from academics or die-hard Aquinas lovers. Also, the book seemed to focus more on when human life began, and not near as much when it ended. Therefore, I wonder if it would have just been better to call this book, "Aquinas on the Beginning of Human Life." For these reasons, I am giving this book a 4 out of 5 stars. I would like to add, though, that as demonstrated in this book, no matter when Thomas Aquinas believed ensoulment occurred, he still believed a human embryo was a person or had the potential to be a person.

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