Book Review: Medical Ethics: A Very Short Introduction

medical_ethicsThe “Very Short Introductions” series is by and large very good, but I have two concerns. Firstly, books in the series are often more strongly opinionated than one might like in a general introduction.

Secondly, I worry that the books don’t really form introductions to a subject at all, but rather “bluffer’s guides”, that are the first and last book a person picks up on the subjct. To pick one subject I’m reasonably familiar with, I have a long-standing suspicion that teaching mathematics to a casual audience is worse than useless. Even when the reader is an active student of the subject, these books can be used to bypass study rather than to inspire it (at least according to anecdotal evidence from my fellow students).

Happily, neither of these concerns is a significant problem for Medical Ethics: A Very Short Introduction. The author allows his opinions to show through, but is admirably even-handed, even generous in setting out contrasting views.

As regards being an introduction to the subject, this book fulfils its remit very effectively. The area covered is broad enough, and the background information great enough, that the book does little more than scratch the surface on important topics such as euthanasia, genetics and mental health. The necessary background in logic and philosophical rigor isn’t neglected either, with a brief section cleverly slipped in once the reader’s appetite has been whetted by a few philosophical conundrums.

I have very little to criticise about this book. It did feel terribly constrained in what it covered, and stylistically it felt like a longer book cut short to fit the publisher’s requirements rather than a perfectly-turned short book. No sooner had I started to get interested in a topic than the chapter ended—but then of course this is exactly what an introduction should be.

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