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Conversations on the Edge: Narratives of Ethics and Illness / Edition 1

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At the edge of mortality there is a place where the seriously ill or dying wait—a place where they may often feel vulnerable or alone. For over forty years, bioethicist cum philosopher Richard Zaner has been at the side of many of those people offering his incalculable gift of listening, and helping to lighten their burdens—not only with his considerable skills, but with his humanity as well.

The narratives Richard Zaner shares in Conversations on the Edge are informed by his depth of knowledge in medicine and bioethics, but are never clinical. A genuine and caring heart beats underneath his compassionate words. Zaner has written several books in which he tells poignant stories of patients and families he has encountered; there is no question that this is his finest.

In Conversations on the Edge, Zaner reveals an authentic empathy that never borders on the sentimental. Among others, he discusses Tom, a dialysis patient who finally reveals that his inability to work—encouraged by his overprotective mother—is the source of his hostility to treatment; Jim and Sue, young parents who must face the nightmare of letting go of their premature twins, one after the other; Mrs. Oland, whose family refuses to recognize her calm acceptance of her own death; and, in the final chapter, the author's mother, whose slow demise continues to haunt Zaner's professional and personal life.

These stories are filled with pain and joy, loneliness and hope. They are about life and death, about what happens in hospital rooms—and that place at the edge—when we confront mortality. It is the rarest of glimpses into the world of patients, their families, healers, and those who struggle, like Zaner, to understand.

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Editorial Reviews

Doody's Review Service
Reviewer: William R. Hendee, PhD (Medical College of Wisconsin)
Description: This book is a set of narratives taken from the author's experience as a philosopher/ethicist working with dying patients and their families. The author attempts to understand and describe the joy, pain, loneliness, and hope of the dying, and the difficulties experienced by their families.
Purpose: The author is attempting to convey the true emotions, hopes, and worries of the dying patient and the families of such patients. He states in the preface that "I really am trying to get each story right." This is a noble and very important objective. The author has succeeded very well in meeting his goal without being overly sentimental nor unsympathetically objective.
Audience: The book is written for anyone concerned about the dying patient and how to understand the patient's feelings, wishes, and beliefs. Everyone has the experience of dealing with the death of a loved one and this book is very helpful in providing narratives about the experience. The book would be worthwhile reading for persons in healthcare, but it is equally valuable for the layperson. The author, an emeritus professor of medical ethics and philosophy at Vanderbilt University, is certainly a credible authority.
Features: This short book consists of six narratives (stories) of dying patients and their families. The stories are compelling, and the writing is superb. The author has the capacity to bring the reader into the interaction with the patient. It is difficult to put this book down once one starts.
Assessment: This book is recommended reading for anyone dealing with a dying patient and the family of the patient. Certainly, persons working in healthcare will find the book of considerable interest. But it is written to be equally valuable to a lay audience. It is one of the most well-balanced and insightful books I have read on the subject.

4 Stars! from Doody
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780878403486
  • Publisher: Georgetown University Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 168
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard M. Zaner is Ann Geddes Stahlman Professor Emeritus of Medical Ethics and Philosophy of Medicine, Department of Medicine, at Vanderbilt University Medical Center; and author of Ethics and the Clinical Encounter, and Troubled Voices: Stories of Ethics and Illness, among others.

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Table of Contents


1. Quiet Rooms for Troubled Voices

2. When You're Dead Anyway, What's To Live For?

3. Hope Against Hope

4. Don't Let Me Forget To Remember

5. Broader's Hill

6. The Cruel Clarity of It All

An Acknowledgement


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