LIFE'S DOMINION by Ronald Dworkin


An Argument About Abortion, Euthanasia, and Individual Freedom
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 An eloquent attempt to clarify the abortion and euthanasia debates by seeking to articulate and analyze the unspoken assumptions underlying them. To Dworkin (Law/NYU and Jurisprudence/Oxford; A Matter of Principle, 1985), the view of many antiabortion proponents--that a fetus is ``a helpless unborn child with rights and interests of its own from the moment of conception''--is absurd and untenable. Dworkin goes further: He argues that ``very few people...actually believe that, whatever they say.'' Instead, he contends that most people who oppose abortion do so not because they view a fetus as a person but because they believe that a human life has a ``sacred'' quality when its biological life begins. The author uses this distinction to explain the contradictory feelings (as reflected in polls) that many have about abortion: Most people, Dworkin reports, feel that although abortion is sometimes justifiable, it's ``a kind of cosmic shame when human life at any stage is deliberately extinguished.'' The author expands this insight into a wide-ranging constitutional argument: ``that because opinions about abortion rest on differing interpretations of a shared belief in the sanctity of human life, they are themselves essentially religious beliefs.'' Thus, he argues, prohibitions of abortion amount to an unconstitutional establishment of religion. This dovetails with his rejection of the ``originalism'' espoused by conservative legal scholars: Dworkin argues that the Bill of Rights was intended not as a rigid system of limited rules but as an invitation to reinterpretation by successive generation of judges. The author also applies his analysis to euthanasia in cases of terminal illness and debilitating disease, arguing--without resolving the issues presented--that each person's particular reasons for living will determine his or her point of view on this question. Dworkin won't convince ``pro-lifers'' or advocates of strict constitutional construction. Nonetheless: an original contribution to the abortion debate, as well as a stimulating discussion of our contradictory feelings about the meaning of human life.

Pub Date: May 19th, 1993
ISBN: 0-394-58941-6
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1993


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