The Human Person: A Bioethical Word

Updated: Nov 26, 2018

by Francis Etheredge

Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, PhD


Francis Etheredge is a scholarly researcher and writer. He is very aware of not only the history of philosophy but also the complexity of bioethics and ties the two disciples together in a symbiotic relationship that is replete with historic analysis to enlighten the reader in ways they haven’t been enlightened before. He deals with the issues that are near and dear to many of us as it touches on the importance of the entirety of the human person with the overlay of the journey about life and death. This book needs to be read with the tenacity of holding onto every word. Bioethics is a relatively new discipline that has both a theoretical dimension and a practical application. The theoretical dimension appeals to those who argue for values, goodness and a sense of right living. The practical appeals to the messiness of life and precipitates into public policy.

The book is divided into seven chapters with an epilogue. It is written as a text book that wants the reader to participate in serious scholarship. He gives us information and then gives us a footnote on why and how he gave us this information. He gives absolute credit to those who have assisted him in parts of the work. There is integrity in scholarship and devotion to the truth.

Chapter one is entitled “A Vocation: a mixed experiential, scriptural and theological account of being open to the gift of human life”. He states: “The presence of this chapter and the one that follows, is about locating the reality of our lives in the help God gives of the lived events of ‘coming to oneself’, marriage and family life, particularly the lived event of having children.”p.46 He further states that ‘being open to life is a deeply mysterious relationship to God: to God who is faithful.” P.80 He gives us a glimpse into his own life and the procreation of eight children.

Each of the chapters has an introduction by a former student of his or a colleague. It explains the relationship to the author as well as the embedded involvement in the human person and all that entails. Chapter two is entitled: “Marriage is a liturgical act: a mixed experiential, scriptural and catechetical account of marriage and family life.” Etheredge believes that the word of God comes to enlighten our reality in a way that is different from psychology, philosophy, and even theology and as such it helps us to see that the work to which we are called in this generation is actually a work of rediscovering our intelligibility: that human life and being..”p.93 He gives many examples of the difficulty of family life, the need for prayer and the challenge of finding the gifts of each person in the family.

Chapter three is a philosophical undertaking and appeals to me as a professor of philosophy and mathematics “We live in a time, then when there is an immense challenge to the understanding of the human person.” P l24 Etherege prompts us to visit some fascinating as well as intriguing questions in regard to the human person. “Human beings possess certain proportions and characteristics which express the dialogical nature of the human relationships which come into existence with each one of us.” P. 149 In the last part of the chapter, Etheredge tackles such issues as the uniqueness of indivisibility, drawing out the development of what exists, the uniqueness of the person emerging from the beginning, each person is not an abstract but a concrete reality and other issues of consequence to philosophers and those who study the human condition. The author finishes the chapter with philosophy and the human tendency to think ‘reality’ through, philosophy and science, philosophy and bioethics, and philosophy and theology.

Chapter 4 deals with the creation-gift of participation in the mystery of the Blessed Trinity. In Chapter 5 Etheredge explores the real questions of philosophy that is, philosophical and scriptural terms concerning the conception of the human person. He also delves into the issue of the biologic of human life, the human person as being and activity, and an account of human masculinity.

The chapters are becoming more and more specific to the topic under discussion so that in chapter 6 we see a three part exploration of the human being as a psychologically inscribed biology, an indivisibly psychosomatic being, a pilgrimage from reality to self-knowledge and the challenge of the inexpressibility of the human person. The final thoughts in the chapter embodies relationality and the integral nature of a psychologically inscribed biology.

Chapter seven explores the illumination of the beginning of personhood, the need for a universal ethic and a word-wide authority and ends with the Catholic Church’s prudential judgments on Human Conception and an ethical response to the plight of the frozen embryos.

In the epilogue the author confesses that the book did not deal with the dialogue between evidence and ethical discernment. He further states that “bioethical activity possesses an intrinsic intimacy to the expression of the human person”. The book calls us to the challenge of education, an education that arises out of experience which is informed, enlightening, takes account of the vocation of each one of us and helps us to relate to each other, to the world and to the culture in which we live”.p.396 The icons throughout the book are from the New York Metropolitan Library.

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