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From The CriticsReviewer: Shahram Ahmadi Nasab Emran, MD, MA, MPH (Saint Louis University)
Description: In this work, which is based on his Gifford Lectures, the author offers a critical reflection on the sources of ethical norms for the practice of medicine.
Purpose: The purpose is to indicate the existence of fundamental points of conflict between professionally generated medical ethics, including Hippocratic ethics, on the one hand, and the religious and philosophical sources of medical morality, on the other hand. One prominent theme is to challenge the authority of medical professionals as the source of knowledge and articulation of the moral norms of medicine.
Audience: The author, a leading figure in the development of the field of bioethics, meticulously examines different positions and provides an original contribution to the field. The book will appeal both to medical practitioners in general and to those interested in philosophy of medicine in particular.
Features: Through a review of the various professional sources of medical morality, the author challenges the tradition of professional organizations developing binding codes of medical ethics. In contrast, the author considers religious and philosophical traditions as the two main legitimate sources of morality for practitioners of medicine. After a review of the eight contemporary philosophical and religious approaches to bioethics, including those developed by Engelhardt, Beauchamp and Childress, Brody, and himself, the author concludes that the normative theories are convergent in some major respects, and that these points of convergence ought to be normative for professional medical ethics.
Assessment: Though an interesting read, there are a few problems with the author's argument. A main problem in the author's method is the comparison of professional organizations with religion and philosophy as alternative sources of morality. The question of who should articulate the codes of medical ethics seems to be different from the question of sources for the codes. A related problem is the author's insufficient attention to the notion of a profession, which implies a set of shared standards of practice that have both technical and ethical sides. The technical side of the standards, which is the reason for the almost universal tradition of the professional articulation of the codes in different professions, seems to be missed by the author.