A Short History of Medical Ethics

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Overview

A physician says, "I have an ethical obligation never to cause the death of a patient," another responds, "My ethical obligation is to relieve pain even if the patient dies." The current argument over the role of physicians in assisting patients to die constantly refers to the ethical duties of the profession. References to the Hippocratic Oath are often heard. Many modern problems, from assisted suicide to accessible health care, raise questions about the traditional ethics of medicine and the medical profession. However, few know what the traditional ethics are and how they came into being. This book provides a brief tour of the complex story of medical ethics evolved over centuries in both Western and Eastern cultures. It sets this story in the social and cultural contexts in which the work of healing was practiced and suggests that, behind the many different perceptions about the ethical duties of physicians, certain themes appear constantly, and may be relevant to modern debates. The book begins with the Hippocratic Medicine of ancient Greece, moves throught the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Enlightenment in Europe, and the long history of Indian and Chinese medicine, ending as the problems raised modern medical science and technology challenge the settled ethics of the long tradition.

The book contains no figures.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This historical analysis highlights ways in which the reflections on the role of character, moral obligations, and the relationship between the individual and the community (which stimulates contemporary bioethics) have a history that reaches deep into the past and across cultural boundaries...An important resource for a discipline just beginning to discover its historical roots."—Choice

"Albert Jonsen, a distiguished theoretician and practitioner of bioethics, has written what is essentially a prehisotry of the field...A Short History of Medical Ethics is a scholarly prologue to the evolving world of contemporary bioethics...Not surprisingly, A Short History of Medical Ethics is at least as useful for what it tells us about earlier societies as it is for what it tells us about bioethics."—New England Journal of Medicine

"This historical analysis highlights ways in which the reflections on the role of character, moral obligations, and the relationship between the individual and the community (which stimulates contemporary bioethics) have a history that reaches deep into the past and across cultural boundaries...An important resource for a discipline just beginning to discover its historical roots."—Choice

"As Jonsen shows, the history of medical ethics is not short, despite the title of his book. In about one hundred and twenty pages he tells the story of over two thousand years of moral discourse about medicine, covering traditions in both the East and West. Jonsen's tour through time and cultures highlights particular events and persons, and shows that even though there are some cultural differences, common themes coalesce in a long tradition of the ethics of medicine."—Philosophy in Review

Alex John London
This book is a synoptic view of the way medical ethics have been understood in different historical and cultural contexts from the Hippocratic medicine of ancient Greece through the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Enlightenment Europe, colonial and contemporary America, and the history of Indian and Chinese medicine. The aim of this historical analysis is to highlight ways in which the reflections on the role of character, moral obligations, and the relationship between the individual and the community (which stimulates contemporary bioethics), have a history that reaches deep into the past and across cultural boundaries. Students and practitioners alike will benefit from this impressive tour of the history of medical ethics; 28 pages of notes will give more advanced readers the resources to pursue specific topics of interest in greater depth. At its best, this narrative captures the uneasy relationship between various factors that have influenced the development of medical ethics throughout history and across cultures, from the economic and prudential concerns of practitioners looking to advance their trade and, eventually, to secure their profession, to the influence of genuinely moral sensibilities on the part of those who recognize the special nature of the relationship between practitioners, patients, and the larger political community. In trying to accomplish such an ambitious historical survey in a scant 120 pages (not including notes) however, complex issues and historical connections are often passed over in a few paragraphs and sometimes omitted altogether. For example, there is no discussion of the history of reflection on the permissibility of euthanasia or assistedsuicide, as there is with abortion and issues surrounding economic compensation, and little is said about the influence of medical practitioners other than physicians. This is an important resource for a discipline just beginning to discover its historical roots.
From The Critics
Reviewer: Alex John London, PhD(University of Minnesota)
Description: This book is a synoptic view of the way medical ethics have been understood in different historical and cultural contexts from the Hippocratic medicine of ancient Greece through the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Enlightenment Europe, colonial and contemporary America, and the history of Indian and Chinese medicine.
Purpose: The aim of this historical analysis is to highlight ways in which the reflections on the role of character, moral obligations, and the relationship between the individual and the community (which stimulates contemporary bioethics), have a history that reaches deep into the past and across cultural boundaries.
Audience: Students and practitioners alike will benefit from this impressive tour of the history of medical ethics; 28 pages of notes will give more advanced readers the resources to pursue specific topics of interest in greater depth.
Features: At its best, this narrative captures the uneasy relationship between various factors that have influenced the development of medical ethics throughout history and across cultures, from the economic and prudential concerns of practitioners looking to advance their trade and, eventually, to secure their profession, to the influence of genuinely moral sensibilities on the part of those who recognize the special nature of the relationship between practitioners, patients, and the larger political community. In trying to accomplish such an ambitious historical survey in a scant 120 pages (not including notes), however, complex issues and historical connections are often passed over in a few paragraphs and sometimes omitted altogether. For example, there is no discussion of the history of reflection on the permissibility of euthanasia or assisted suicide, as there is with abortion and issues surrounding economic compensation, and little is said about the influence of medical practitioners other than physicians.
Assessment: This is an important resource for a discipline just beginning to discover its historical roots.

4 Stars! from Doody
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195369847
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 7/28/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 168
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Long Tradition of Ethics in Medicine
1 Hellenic, Hellenistic, and Roman Medicine: Fifth Century BCE to Third Century CE 1
2 Medieval Medicine: Fifth to Fourteenth Centuries CE 13
3 Medical Ethics of India and China 27
4 Renaissance and Enlightenment: Fourteenth to Eighteenth Centuries 43
5 British Medicine: Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries 57
6 Ethics in American Medicine 63
7 American Medicine: Science, Competence, and Ethics 81
8 A Chronicle of Ethical Events: 1940s to 1980s 99
9 Conclusion: From Medical Ethics to Bioethics 115
Notes 121
Index 149
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