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Doody's Review ServiceReviewer: Erica Rangel, BA (Saint Louis University)
Description: The editors present the possibility of a marriage between empirical methods and ethical theory and apply this model to the practice of psychiatry. Beginning with a theoretical analysis of empirical medical ethics, the book reviews a brief history of empirical ethics and presents two different traditions from which an empirical approach can be defended. Moving from this theoretical examination, various authors offer examples of empirical ethics in psychiatry and reflect on the way in which empirical research may contribute to normative medical ethics.
Purpose: The purpose is to defend and illustrate the application of empirical methods to the work of normative ethics, particularly in the field of psychiatry. The editors offer several illustrations of empirical psychiatric ethics, demonstrating how and why empirical and philosophical work can be combined and how one relates to another.
Audience: The book is written for bioethicists and mental health professionals, although it is likely to challenge those unfamiliar with the project of using social scientific methods and data to enrich normative discussion.
Features: The first part of the book offers a theoretical foundation for empirical ethics and the second provides current examples of how psychiatric research might be applied to psychiatric ethics. However, the contributing authors in this second part also draw on theory to buttress and illuminate their particular methodological choices, presenting an assortment of potential approaches to empirical ethics. These chapters address issues ranging from dementia to advance directives to care of Prader-Willi patients. Chapter seven in particular presents a clear and comprehensive argument for applying empirical methods to the practice of dementia care, relying on the theoretical perspective of American philosopher Margaret Walker and the idea of moral responsibility.
Assessment: With its discussion of empirical ethics in the context of psychiatry, this book addresses a gap in the literature on mental health and bioethics. While the theoretical analysis is brief and perhaps not comprehensive enough for a thorough understanding of the relationship between empirical research and normative assertion, it does give a sufficient introduction to the subject. As the interdisciplinary field of bioethics evolves and advances, it is books like this that will encourage professionals to take a thoughtful look at collaborating with seemingly disparate disciplines.