Bioethics and the Human Goods

An Introduction to Natural Law Bioethics

Alfonso Gómez-Lobo
With John Keown

"This excellent book is an ideal read for the busy clinician."
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Bioethics and the Human Goods offers students and general readers a brief introduction to bioethics from a “natural law” philosophical perspective. This perspective, which traces its origins to classical antiquity, has profoundly shaped Western ethics and law and is enjoying an exciting renaissance. While compatible with much in the ethical thought of the great religions, it is grounded in reason, not religion. In contrast to the currently dominant bioethical theories of utilitarianism and principlism, the natural law approach offers an understanding of human flourishing grounded in basic human goods, including life, health, friendship, and knowledge, and in the wrongness of intentionally turning against, or neglecting, these goods.

The book is divided into two sections: Foundations and Issues. Foundations sketches a natural law understanding of the important ethical principles of autonomy, non-maleficence, beneficence, and justice and explores different understandings of “personhood” and whether human embryos are persons. Issues applies a natural law perspective to some of the most controversial debates in contemporary bioethics at the beginning and end of life: research on human embryos, abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, the withdrawal of tube-feeding from patients in a “persistent vegetative state,” and the definition of death. The text is completed by appendices featuring personal statements by Alfonso Gómez-Lobo on the status of the human embryo and on the definition and determination of death.

Table of Contents


Part I: Foundations
1. Bioethical Thinking
2. Principles
3. The Ethical Divide
4. The Ontological Divide
5. Potentiality and Genetics

Part II: Issues
6. Beginning-of-Life Issues
7. End-of-Life Issues
8. Issues in Transplantation
9. Epilogue

Appendix A: The Status of the Human Embryo
Personal statement of Professor Robert P. George, joined by Dr. Gómez-Lobo
Appendix B: The Determination of Death
Personal statement of Dr. Gómez-Lobo
Selected Bibliography


"An impressive and welcome book . . . This book [is] dialectically engaged with an important and influential strand of contemporary bioethics."—American Journal of Bioethics

"This excellent book is an ideal read for the busy clinician."—Catholic Medical Quarterly

"The book is well written and offers a different, much-needed voice in contemporary bioethics discussions. . . . [The authors] have largely accomplished the task they set for themselves [and] have presented a solid introduction to bioethics through the lens of natural law theory."—The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly

"The authors have strongly established credibility in the field and this specific topic. . . . This book meets its primary objective and can act as a great introductory resource for graduate students interested in bioethics because the philosophical arguments are assessable. When compared to other philosophical books in bioethics, this one is accessible to readers outside of mainstream philosophical bioethics and, therefore, an important contribution to the field."—Doody's Book Review

"Alfonso Gómez-Lobo was a thinker and writer of uncommon insight and wisdom. His death was a grievous loss not only for philosophy as an academic discipline, but for truth-seeking in the cause of sound public policy on morally charged issues in our public life. Praise to John Keown, therefore, for bringing us Professor Gómez-Lobo’s Bioethics and the Human Goods. It will be a valuable resource in our efforts to shape law and public policy in line with central truths about right and wrong."—Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University

"Alfonso Gomez-Lobo was probably the best representative of natural law ethics that I have had the privilege of knowing. Bioethics and the Human Goods lays out the essential elements of this tradition before engaging a host of issues in bioethics, particularly around the beginning and end of human life. While disagreeing with much of the vision presented here, I cannot help admiring its moral seriousness, intelligence, and coherence."—David DeGrazia, author of Human Identity and Bioethics and Creation Ethics: Reproduction, Genetics, and Quality of Life, George Washington University


Supplemental Materials


Runner-up for the 2016 CPA Book Award for Faith and Science of the Catholic Press Association, the 2016 Outstanding Title of the University Press Books

About the Author

Alfonso Gómez-Lobo (d. 2011) held the Ryan Chair in Metaphysics and Moral Philosophy at Georgetown University. He was a leading authority on classical philosophy and on bioethics. He specialized in Greek philosophy and historiography, the history of ethics, contemporary natural law theory, and bioethics. He was the recipient of several awards, including a research fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation, and was a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics. His many publications include Morality and the Human Goods.

John Keown holds the Rose F. Kennedy Chair in Christian Ethics in the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University. He previously taught the the law and ethics of medicine at Cambridge University. His research has been cited by distinguished bodies worldwide, including the US Supreme Court and the Law Lords. In 2015 Oxford University awarded him the degree of DCL, or Doctor of Civil Law, in recognition of his contribution to the field of law and bioethics.

148 pp., 5.5 x 8.5

ISBN: 978-1-62616-271-6
Oct 2015

148 pp., 5.5 x 8.5

ISBN: 978-1-62616-163-4
Oct 2015

148 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-62616-164-1
Oct 2015

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