Must-read book packs one hell of a punch, says bioethicist

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Prof Margaret Somerville, bioethics professor at the University of Notre Dame, Sydney, launches The Great Human Dignity Heist on 10 August at NSW Parliament House. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Not many book launches can boast knowledgeable commentary on the topic of voluntary cannibalism, much less an explication of how a German court found it impossible to convict a practioner – it was consensual after all.

But that’s how MecatorNet founder Michael Cook began his remarks at the 10 August launch of The Great Human Dignity Heist: How bioethicists are trashing the foundations of Western civilization, a collection of his writings as published in the Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Age and elsewhere.

And while his treatment of Western societies’ inability to condemn cannibalism made for an entertaining diversion, it is the playful and often devastating critique of the same logic manifest in the most contentious debates of our time – around euthanasia, abortion, and numerous reproductive technologies – that makes his book such compelling reading.

Australian-Canadian ethicist Prof Margaret Someville provided formal remarks, after being introduced by the event’s convener, NSW MLC Greg Donnelly. “It’s hard not to be envious of Michael’s ability with language, metaphors, and analogies,” Prof Somerville, Professor of Bioethics at the University of Notre Dame, said.

MercatorNet founder Michael Cook at the launch of his collection of essays, The Great Human Dignity Heist. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

“In memorable, often amusing, sometimes shocking anecdotes … Michael powerfully shows us where we are in regard to shared, foundational societal values and that we are headed for a moral abyss, as individuals and societies, unless we stop sleep-walking into our moral future …
“Michael writes that respecting human dignity is essential to protect the voiceless and defenceless.

“He explains, correctly, that we all have dignity, and the protections and rights it entails, simply because we are human. In other words, dignity comes with being a “human being”, regardless of whether we are also a “human doing”, that is, regardless of our incapacities or disabilities, or, very importantly, whether others see us as having dignity.”

Prof Somerville, who recently debated the world-renowned utilitarian ethcicist, Peter Singer, said the book made her think about the purposes of her own profession, and whether it’s practitioners were sufficiently interested in informing and including ordinary people in issues which affected them.

She echoed the exhortation that Mr Cook penned for the book’s forward, that he hoped the essays contained therein would “encourage you to question the experts”.

“Anyone interested in what is happening in our 21st Century ‘moral ecosystem’ – and that should be everyone – must read this book.”