Ramesh Ponnuru’s recent book, The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts and the Disregard for Human Life is on first glance a book dealing with the politics of divisive right to life and bioethics issues on the contemporary American scene. What it really is, is an ethical book within the context of the modern American political and cultural atmosphere.

What the book achieves, through its thoroughly researched propositions and ethical examinations of bioethics , is one of the better references and argument for a strict understanding of defending life at its margins before birth and in end of life circumstances.

Ponnuru, a senior editor for the conservative bi-weekly National Review and practicing Roman Catholic, does not base his discussions on theological premises. Rather he attempts to address right to life issues from common scientific and ethical understandings in modern American life.

By arguing in the negative, that there are societal forces that exist either out of neglect, well-meaning ignorance, pragmatism or even intentionally negative actions, he argues for an overarching culture of life and an examination of thought and practice in every area in order to preserve and care for life in all its stages to the best extent possible.

The book is divided into three sections: What Roe Wrought, Bioethics of Death, Life and the Parties. The first section is devoted to a closer examination of the legal dilemmas caused by the Roe v. Wade decision and the ethical problems it has created. The second section is the strongest part of the book, which is good a thing because of the increasing level of attention that will be given to bio-ethical issues in the coming generation. The last section deals exclusively with how abortion and bio-ethical issues have transformed American politics and where the debate is likely to be going from this point forward.

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The first section’s exclusive attention to abortion opens with the jarring assertion that everything you think you know about Roe is a lie. Ponnuru emphasises repeatedly that Roe allowed for abortions through the entire pregnancy, giving the US the most liberal abortion laws in the world. Strong descriptive writing and effective argument make the presentation of the legal defenses in Congress and the Federal Courts for the general reader accessible. Besides demonstrating the myths that have captured the popular imagination about Roe, Ponnuru attacks the metaphysical argument made that there is a difference between person-hood and life, by basing the intrinsic dignity and worth of individuals that exists just because someone has dignity and worth has an individual human. This reviewer has often wanted some sort of historical perspective that would place the modern history of abortion pre and post Roe v. Wade, especially the legal and medical state of the land before Justice Blackman wrote his decisions in 1972. His conclusion that Roe v. Wade is undemocratic legally and unsustainable ethically is supported by logical arguments that appeal to scientific thought and common understanding of the dignity of individuals.

The second section’s attention to bioethics is the strongest and the most needed. For it’s possible that the culture at large has the poorest understanding of these issues. From Terri Schaivo to euthanasia to embryonic stem cell research, Ponnuru applies the same logical forms that he used to examine the results of the abortion decision. Ponnuru’s defense against research based on leftover embryos is again based on the dignity and intrinsic value of human individuals beyond arbitrary distinctions of person-hood which have varied depending on the value that can be imposed on individuals to those who are not excessively burdened by them. Euphemisms and twists of language, like calling humans in embryo states “embryo-like beings” are used to show that the difference between current American cultural thinking and hard-core eugenics is small. Ponnuru’s description of Princeton professor Peter Singer’s ethical views about how obsolete the “traditional view of the sanctity of human life” may be jarring for many readers who have not thought much about what the limits should be beyond hypothetical crisis situations, but that is the point. It forces the reader to decide where exactly they stand on bioethics, why and what basis exists for their thinking.

The third and final section exists solely to discuss the recent cultural and political trends for what Ponnuru calls the party of death, that is those who actively seek to recreate and do away with any traditional understanding of the sanctity of human life, and in contrast with medical and scientific advancements which bolster the traditional understanding of life sanctity. Ponnuru is not concerned with making an exclusive partisan argument against the Democratic party and instead holds as much fire for Republican politicians who join in his “party of death.” After two sections of the book describing misconceptions and ethical issues with abortion specifically and bio-ethics generally, this amounts to an application section of how twisted thinking from a traditional understanding drives much public policy from welfare to education policy in Washington and the 50 state houses.

The present stalemate, with a slight tilt towards a traditional view of human life, has served the nation poorly and at minimum, Ponnuru argues for a breaking up of judicial decisions against traditional views of human life. At maximum, Ponnuru argues for an advancement, embracing medical science and ethical understanding to advance a traditional view of human life as compassionate and life affirming.

**This book was received for book review only. No other payment or remuneration was received.

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