Description: This edited book explores the past, present, and future of bioethics in the United States from cultural, philosophical, political, and professional angles.
Purpose: The editors' hope is that the "rich and unique perspective" their book offers can enhance understanding of the development of bioethics. Individual essays and the first-person vignettes many contributors share indeed provide new insights. The editors and contributing authors are well respected in the field.
Audience: Though the editors do not specify an audience, the book will benefit bioethics scholars and advanced students. Unfortunately, interested general readers will be confused or misled. In the individual essays, diverse, controversial, and sometimes incompatible perspectives are argued or assumed. However, there is no dialogue among the essays and the book offers no means to navigate the competing perspectives. Moreover, readers without extensive contextual knowledge could be led to mistakenly assume a number of unchallenged (contentious) positions are authoritative.
Features: The essays include first-person narratives and assessments of the early years of the Hastings Center, Medical Humanities at the University of Texas Medical Branch, and the Kennedy Institute, evaluation of the cultural and political context of and influences on the development of bioethics, argumentation on the disciplinary status of bioethics, historical survey and analysis of medical ethics (versus bioethics), and calls for greater attention to philosophical questions and foundations in bioethics. The diversity of topics and perspectives is both the strength of the book, with due commendation for the inclusion of voices outside of mainstream bioethics, and the main weakness, as discussed above.
Assessment: Though disorienting in the multiplicity of unquestioned perspectives it offers, the book is a worthwhile contribution to the literature on the development of bioethics in the United States. Perhaps unwittingly, the editors have allowed the book to enhance an understanding of the past, present, and future of bioethics precisely in this disorientation, which is arguably an accurate reflection of the field.