An unholy mess: why ‘the sanctity of life principle’ should be jettisoned

Jones, David Albert (2016) An unholy mess: why ‘the sanctity of life principle’ should be jettisoned. The New Bioethics: A Multidisciplinary Journal of Biotechnology and the Body, 22 (3). pp. 185-201. ISSN 2050-2877

New Bioethics Unholy Mess accepted 16 Sept 2016.pdf - Accepted Version

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The aim of this article is to present an account of an important element of medical ethics and law which is widely cited but is often confused. This element is most frequently referred to as ‘the principle of the sanctity of life’, and it is often assumed that this language has a religious provenance. However, the phrase is neither rooted in the traditions it purports to represent nor is it used consistently in contemporary discourse. Understood as the name of an established ‘principle’ the ‘sanctity of life’ is virtually an invention of the late twentieth century. The language came to prominence as the label of a position that was being rejected: it is the name of a caricature. Hence there is no locus classicus for a definition of the terms and different authors freely apply the term to divergent and contradictory positions. Appeal to this ‘principle’ thus serves only to perpetuate confusion. This language is best jettisoned in favour of clearer and more traditional ethical concepts.

Item Type: Journal Article
Subjects: 100 Philosophy & psychology > 170 Ethics
200 Religion > 205 Religious ethics
200 Religion > 241 Christian ethics
School/Department: School of Education, Theology and Leadership
Depositing User: David Jones
Date Deposited: 19 Jan 2017 13:26
Last Modified: 11 Nov 2017 01:30


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