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From The CriticsReviewer: John Song, MD, MPH, MAT(University of Minnesota)
Description: This is a collection of essays first published in the Hastings Center Report. This is the second edition of a volume originally published in 1994.
Purpose: In the preface, the editors clearly state the purpose is to provide a general text for students and study groups, and to highlight the achievements of the Hastings Center. With this book they accomplish both goals, especially the second one, with great success. Although some may point out that there are already many general bioethics books available, this is a worthy project because the editors narrow their scope to examine with some depth only a few very relevant, very topical, and very controversial subjects. And, as readers are only as good as the readings included, this work is commendable because of the quality and importance of the contributions. Finally, in their objective to highlight the Hastings Center, this book is high praise indeed; in a field where history holds such theoretical and practical importance, this volume is a necessary one to demonstrate the contributions that the Hastings Center, the Report, and its scholars have made to bioethics.
Audience: While a general text, this is not an introductory one, as the editors assume some amount of familiarity with bioethics. According to the editors, one of the forums for discussion of the book is the classroom and study groups, but it would only be appropriate in ones where most of the students have had some exposure to the field. As such, this is an excellent text and resource for undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate trainees, as well those further along in their careers, but only to those with more than a passing interest in bioethics. For medical trainees and professionals, this book is especially valuable as it may introduce important writings that are unfamiliar to most healthcare individuals.
Features: As noted, the focus is on the few topics chosen, and the editors chose these topics carefully. Thus, there are discussions of such timely and relevant topics as the role of applied moral reasoning, the role of family in decision making, the handling of human embryos, and genetics and cloning. Those areas lucky enough for inclusion are treated lavishly indeed, with several excellent, well-considered and, more importantly, well-balanced discussions. These essays represent some of the finest work by some of the most accomplished scholars in the field; indeed, many of the readings are definitive and groundbreaking works. Beyond the editing and content of the volume, other commendable pedagogical features include a precise introduction to each section and follow-up questions at the end of each section, although both would be improved with a more generous hand.
Assessment: Any shortcomings of the book are linked to its purposes. As a general text, only a few topics are covered, and, as a testimonial to the Hastings Center and the Report, excellent essays published elsewhere (in some cases, more influential ones) are not included. But these are minor criticisms in light of the overall excellence of the project. There are other volumes with broader coverage of issues and others still with more narrowly defined foci; however, the editors of this book manage to effectively straddle the line between breadth and depth, offering a representation of relevant topics with scholarly, in-depth examination. And, as a testament to the Hastings Center, I doubt any praise would be as flattering to the Center as a dog-eared and marked-up copy of the book, which is what mine will become.