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Doody's Review ServiceReviewer: Gina M Fullam, BS (Saint Louis University)
Description: This book presents a sociological view of the history, jurisdictional space, and justification of the field of bioethics.
Purpose: The author's purpose is to provide insight into the current crisis of legitimacy in bioethics from a sociological perspective. In addition, in an effort to affirm the jurisdictional space of and justification for bioethics, the author proposes a number of modifications for bioethics methodology. The author identifies himself as an outsider to the field of bioethics, but precisely because he is an outsider, he hopes to bring to light issues difficult to see from within the field. In this role, the author succeeds.
Audience: The book is written for those working in bioethics, whether as full-time bioethicists or as professionals in any number of fields who sometime wear the hat of a bioethicist. The book will also appeal to the general public interested in bioethics.
Features: After a somewhat vague introduction, the book offers a fantastic sociological history of bioethics, tracing both the changing engagement of religion in bioethics and the expansion and solidification of the three jurisdictions of bioethics: research bioethics, healthcare ethics consultation, and public policy bioethics. In the midst of this story, the author identifies the present legitimacy crisis of the field, particularly in public policy bioethics, as well as the source of this crisis: domination by liberal and conservative activists, offering diametrically opposed ethics, each claiming to represent the views of the public. To solve the crisis, the author proposes that bioethicists cease advocacy of their own values and turn to discussing policy implementation of the values of society, as shown by current sociological data. Still, the author affirms the place of nonbioethicists in "cultural bioethics" who hope to affect the values of society such that subsequent sociological studies reflect changed values.
Assessment: This honest, outside perspective on the history of and current crisis in bioethics is truly a delight in a field often dominated by activists proclaiming opinion as universal truth. The author offers a way forward that is appealing and acceptable in a democracy, despite several shortcomings: the author does not provide justification for the moral authority of majoritarian views, fails to acknowledge that sociological studies themselves are often value-laden, and may be too hopeful that bioethicists, more than politicians, can leave aside their own values to function as neutral aids to public policy discussion and formulation. Nevertheless, this book deserves a close read by all who consider themselves bioethicists.