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From The CriticsReviewer: James F. Bresnahan, SJ, JD, LLM, PhD (Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine)
Description: The authors continue their quest to understand the deeper human meaning of medical practice begun in their two previous books, A Philosophical Basis of Medical Practice (1981) and For the Patient's Good (1988). In the latter book, they challenged the excessive dominance of patient autonomy in recent bioethics.
Purpose: In this book, they explore the virtue approach to ethical reflection on actual medical practice as both a complement and corrective to the principles approach, dominant in contemporary bioethics.
Audience: This should be important to all medical students and physicians who want to grasp the deeper dimensions of their life's work.
Features: The authors focus first on theoretical problems with which a virtue approach can help us deal in greater depth. They argue persuasively that we must examine the person and personal character to supply the limited perspective on "acts" characteristic of a principles approach in bioethics. Perhaps most important, in the middle section of the book they explore concrete virtues needed by persons engaged in medical caregiving: fidelity, compassion, prudence (phronesis), justice, fortitude, temperance, integrity, and self-effacement. Finally, they take on the practical challenges that a virtue approach can help us deal with especially the troublesome question of whether medical virtues can be taught.
Assessment: The authors strive to expand and deepen the range of applied ethics generally through their exploration of the virtue dimension of medical ethics, which is unfortunately too much neglected in recent writings. In the process, they cite a rich variety of authors in their end notes to each chapter; the index fails to include these names. The writing is lucid and appropriately accessible to those not specially trained in philosophy. The authors continue to demonstrate the value of cooperation between an experienced clinician and clinically astute philosopher in getting to the heart of good doctoring.