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ss triple helix - winter 2015,  Ethics at the beginning of life

Ethics at the beginning of life

A phenomenological critique

James Mumford

OUP, 2013, £67 (Pb £25) Hb 212pp, ISBN 9780199673964
Reviewed by Trevor Stammers, Programme Director in Bioethics and Medical Law, St Mary's University, London

This book is not a light read, but for those with a good grounding in moral philosophy and theology, it proves as rewarding as it is challenging. Phenomenology has traditionally been used by feminist writers largely to support abortion. But this work is remarkable in being the only one (to my knowledge) to use the phenomenology of pregnancy or what Mumford dubs 'the human emergence of the newone', to argue a moral case against abortion.

It is erudite and, though a dictionary may be needed alongside, it is also lucidly and engagingly written with plentiful illustrations drawn from works as diverse as Shakespeare's plays and Shriver's We Need to Talk about Kevin.

Mumford takes Scripture seriously and cogently but is equally familiar with Nietzsche. He notes that, in the end, the latter also concluded that it is the Christian doctrine of the imago Dei which 'granted man (and Mensch as each individual man) absolute value, as opposed to his smallness and accidental occurrence in the flux of becoming and passing away'. Exactly so - and this book demonstrates clearly why.

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