Several of his 17 “puzzles” are listed below and appear on pp. 33-36 of his book.
1. Does the elevation of “each and every human being” to special dignity and rank require or imply a denigration of other species? How does this old-new Christian tradition of human life’s sacredness relate to the value of other forms of life? Can it be sustained alongside proper valuing of God’s creation and its other species?
2. Is the focus of “the sacredness of human life” on the human individual, community or species? Or even some aspect of the individual, such as the human body, the human spirit, or even the human “personality” or human “potential”?
3. What does it mean to say that the sacredness of human life applies “without exception in all circumstances”? Does this include the developing human in the womb? The embryo in the lab? The human being lingering in a persistent vegetative state?
4. What does it mean to say that human beings are “incalculably” precious? Is this the same as “infinite” or “immeasurable”? Can any kind of “price” be put on a human life? Are some human lives ever “worth” more than others?
5. What exactly makes human life so precious and sacred? Is it some quality, capacity, or particular set of characteristics that (most) humans have? Is it possible for a human being to lose whatever characteristics or qualities make him or her worthy of the designation “sacred”?
6. Does human behavior matter at all to ascribing sacredness to someone? Can a human being behave in such as way as to forfeit his or her sacredness? Or at least forfeit the respect and protection that goes with that status, as defined here? Does the mass murderer or perpetrator of genocide still hold sacred worth?
7. The definition never uses the word “person.” Can there ever be a difference between a “human being” and a “person”? What about the distinction that is sometimes drawn between “potential” and “actual” human beings and/or persons?
8. Is it possible to specify minimum and maximum obligations to human beings? “Respect” sounds so minimal in comparison with “reverence.” Are some human beings worthy of respect and others of reverence? Could different obligations be related to different relationships, such as the differences between a parent-child relationship and that of two strangers on a subway?
9. The definition speaks of protecting human life from “wanton destruction” but does not say “killing” or “destruction of an innocent human being.” Does belief in the sacredness of human life require rejection of any and all violence?
10. These claims are grounded in divine revelation, Scripture, and Christ. But what weight can they carry for those who do not accept such authorities? Could the ethic survive if it were retrofitted back to the analytical definition and stripped of all the religious language and authority? Could secular people embrace at least the spirit of this ethic? As a matter of historical fact, have they done so? Does secularization of this ethic change it in any fundamental way?
11. Christians have purportedly received this moral obligation through ancient divine revelation. How have they done with it? Have they always recognized and lived by it? What has gone right, and what has gone wrong in their effort to advance life’s sacredness? What can history tell us?