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ss triple helix - spring 2005,  Medical ethics today (Book Review)

Medical ethics today (Book Review)

Medical ethics today - The BMA's handbook of ethics and law (CD-ROM) - British Medical Association Ethics Department - BMJ Books 2003 - ISBN 0 72791 829 X

The 1974 edition of the British Medical Association's (BMA) ethics handbook provided guidance on important matters such as whether a consultant or a GP should enter the room first when both visited a patient. Times have changed significantly, and medical ethics with them, and the new edition of the handbook, Medical Ethics Today weighs in at over 800 pages. All the book's content is available on this CD-ROM as a PDF eBook.

The BMA receives thousands of ethical enquiries each year and the content of these forms the main focus of Medical Ethics Today, which has been put together under the direction of the association's Medical Ethics Committee. It consists of 21 chapters assessing everything from consent and confidentiality, to emergency treatment and research ethics. I was interested to read the sections on 'classic' bioethics topics like care at the end of life, but also found the chapter on education useful.

The text includes a lot of background information relevant to each issue and the boxed summaries of key legal cases are particularly helpful. However, the CD-ROM is difficult to navigate as it contains the index of the original book, and the page numbers listed here bear little resemblance to those of the electronic text. There is a search function, but this is painfully slow.

Medical Ethics Today has a dual purpose: to equip readers with both skills in ethical reasoning and an understanding of the law and professional guidance. It perhaps succeeds with the latter, but it's difficult to see how it enables readers to formulate their own conclusions particularly when, like many ethics texts, it seeks to satisfy everybody by only appealing to mid-level principles such as autonomy. The authors mainly outline the BMA's position, at the expense of other viewpoints, and there is a worrying tendency to sweeping statements about the views of 'society as a whole'. The book doesn't provide any easy answers, and a lot of it sits uncomfortably with a biblical bioethic. However it does represent a useful reference work about the state of medical ethics and law in the UK today.

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