Description: The authors have accomplished an impressive feat: a reference book that is compelling enough to pick up and read right through. This brief book (222 pages) covers a variety of topics related to medical ethics and the associated laws of the United Kingdom, and is designed to be read by nonlawyers and nonethicists.
Purpose: The authors' intent is to provide an overview of "rational medical ethics" and to describe the legal framework in which physicians practice. In doing so, they address both the general principles and specific issues where ethics and law intersect. Part one includes chapters of introduction to ethical theory, ways of thinking about ethics and ethical reasoning, and (very helpful for readers without a legal background) an introduction to the law including an explanation of the shorthand used in references to legal cases. Part two then applies ethical principles to specific and timely topics including consent, genetics, mental health, end of life decisions, and resource allocation.
Audience: The authors, by their titles, appear to be good authorities on both medical ethics (the first two authors) and the law (the third author), although the book does not include biographical sketches of the authors. Designed for medical students, the book is well written, with an understanding that students are more interested in factual summaries, clarifying cases, and (a least at this time in their education) less interested in the theoretical background of either ethical concepts or the law.
Features: The chapters are short and concise, each containing a full list of references cited as well as a thorough list of sources for further reading on each topic. The layout is effective in creating multiple boxes which usually provide lists of key principles, summaries, or clinical case examples. At times, the boxed sections seem gratuitous and unnecessary (e.g., "Examples of...people who might seek help [to] have a child", "Four reasons for considering IVF...ethically wrong") but many are helpful (e.g., "Key legal aspects of confidentiality", "Hierarchy of the court system"). In addition to specific instructions for potentially difficult situations, such as listing the six steps the casualty officer [emergency room physician] should take when contacted by the police with inquiries about a patient, the authors provide a common sense approach to the situations ("such a reply is, of course, likely to make the police suspicious that there is someone fitting that description but there seems to be no way round this.").
Assessment: Designed primarily as an educational tool for medical students, the book fulfills that objective well by providing a good overview of significant topics without penetrating any in great depth. Compared to other general guides to medical ethics, this book also provides a good starting point for students of medical ethics who will want to delve further into each topic covered.