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ss triple helix - spring 2001,  Life and Death in Healthcare Ethics (Book Review)

Life and Death in Healthcare Ethics (Book Review)

Life and Death in Healthcare Ethics - Helen Watt - Routledge 2000 - £7.99 Pb 83pp - ISBN 0 415 21574 9

This attractively produced little book has 72 pages of text and a further 25 pages of notes, bibliography and index. It is written with frequent bold subheadings that help to direct the reader through a rather condensed writing style.

It uses a few classic cases such as Dr Arthur, Tony Bland and Lillian Boyes as a springboard for a discussion of the author's position on the morality of euthanasia, abortion and related issues. In broad terms this perspective would be similar to that which is currently aired in conservative evangelical writings.

The intended readership appears to be various student bodies and others approaching healthcare ethics for the first time, although the brevity of the book and its reliance on philosophical concepts make it heavy going as an introductory text. A student commencing Healthcare Ethics could better use their money purchasing larger and less polemic standard texts. The last chapter was aimed at a different reader, that is, someone needing arguments to justify their non-involvement in immoral clinical procedures, and I believe that they could gain help from the text in this regard.

My main concern about the book was that I gained the impression that the author did not give us her main reasons for holding to her positions. Arguments for the personhood of the foetus revolved around the manifest fact that there is a physical continuity between the conceptus and the adult. Arguments for the importance of not killing innocent human beings arose from the apparently incontrovertible assumption that life was good. Yet throughout, there were hints of a distinctive Roman Catholic doctrine, the importance of life per se, the ethics of virtue, a guardedness towards contraception and some fancy footwork with respect to tubal pregnancies. The real reasons for the positions adopted would therefore appear to be Scripture and Magisterial pronouncements. As the book ignored the presupposition of special revelation the actual arguments given were less than convincing.

Overall, however, this is an interesting book and I will happily look out for the next one the author produces.

Reviewed by
Norman Gourlay

General Practitioner in Argyll.

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