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What it means to be Human:
Implications for Public Policy & Bioethics
Spring 2022 Seminar Series

Comments from students

"Thank you for creating a space within the University of Michigan where we can consider important questions

of purpose and meaning. Prof. Snead's seminar series challenges the main

ethical discourse governing our understanding of bioethics.

As Prof. Hauerwas said, "You can only act in a world you see...and you learn to see by learning to say."

Prof. Snead has given us language that is allowing us to see clearly the ways in which

the anthropology of bioethics currently prioritizes expressive individualism

at the expense of honoring dependence and hospitality."    ~ UM Medical  student

"Incredibly thoughtful, inspiring, challenging and even moving."  ~ UM Nursing student

"As someone with little training or knowledge in bioethics, I found the seminars

engaging and thought-provoking long after they ended.

I'd love to participate in future events related to bioethics, spirituality

and end of life with an emphasis on storytelling."   ~ UM Medical Student

"This was excellent. Please keep me notified of future events."   ~ UM Undergrad

"Excellent discussion on hugely important topics."  ~ UM Grad Student


Kristin Collier, MD, FACP

Co-sponsored by the 

Program on Health, Spirituality

& Religion

University of Michigan Medical School

Class 1

The landscape

of Contemporary BioEthics:

why Anthropology


Class 2

the anthropology of abortion rights

Class 3

anthropology & technology:

utility & assisted reproduction

Class 4

The end of life & 

human flourishing


O. carter snead

Professor of Law
Director, de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture
Concurrent Professor of Political Science
The University of Notre Dame

Professor Snead is one of the world's leading experts on public bioethics. He has provided advice on the legal and public policy dimensions of bioethical questions to officials in all three branches of the U.S. government, and a variety of international bodies, including Council of Europe’s Steering Committee on Bioethics, the International Bioethics Committee of UNESCO, and the Vatican's Pontifical Academy for Life.

He is the author - most recently - of What It Means to be Human: The Case for the Body in Public Bioethics (Harvard University Press, October 2020), which has been widely reviewed in major media outlets, and was named by the Wall Street Journal as one of the “Ten Best Books of 2020,”

Under his direction, the University of Notre Dame's de Nicola Center for Ethics & Culture hosts an Annual Fall Conference, which has become a leading forum for academic bioethics. 


Public bioethics - the integration of moral reasoning and the development of laws and policies governing the practice of science, medicine and biotechnology -  has important implications for the practice of medicine. In our democratic society, many assume that governmental neutrality is required to accommodate a plurality of opinions on questions of human life.

This seminar explored the hypothesis that, first, bioethics policies in the US today are not neutral but in fact reflect very specific underlying values and premises regarding the meaning of human life; and second, that public bioethics cannot be adequately developed without clearly articulated values and premises grounded on an objective understanding of the human condition.

Snead offered evidence that our public bioethics is grounded on a clearly defined moral premise: an anthropology of personal autonomy, or more broadly, an attitude that social scientists call "expressive individualism". This specific understanding of human life informs prevailing laws and policies on abortion, assisted reproductive technologies and end of life care; and impoverishes society because it does not reflect the lived reality of human embodiment with all that "embodiment" implies. The vulnerability and dependency that actually characterizes human life ought to inform public bioethics in order to prevent the neglect, abuse or exploitation of the weakest members of the human population. Only by reflecting the lived reality of human beings will our public bioethics serve every human being and not some at the expense of others. 

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