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Book Review: Where Science and Ethics Meet – Dilemmas at the Frontiers of Medicine and Biology

21 November 2016
Appeared in BioNews 878

Where Science and Ethics Meet: Dilemmas at the Frontiers of Medicine and Biology

By Dr Salvador Macip and Dr Chris Willmott

Published by Praeger

ISBN-10: 1440851344, ISBN-13: 978-1440851346

Buy this book from Amazon UK


Chris Willmott and Salvador Macip's 'Where Science and Ethics Meet' is a fantastic introductory text to the dilemmas faced by medical ethicists.

Although the book includes issues that don't traditionally fit into the genre of medical ethics, (such as the ethics of DNA) databases, and using brain imaging in criminal investigations) it also has chapters on some of the big issues in medical ethics, including 'designer babies', human cloning, organ donations, stem cell research, gene therapy, and the quest for immortality.

Unlike other introductory texts, which can be dry, this book is extremely engaging. Each chapter begins with an imagined scenario and then asks the reader to consider the key questions that arise, before setting out ethical arguments for and against the issue central to that chapter.

The opening chapter  – 'Designer Babies and Choosing Our Children' – begins by setting the scene of a well-known (but fictitious) fertility doctor arriving at the office, having his morning coffee and reviewing his diary for the day, which includes appointments with a couple who wish to explore preimplantation genetic screening (PGS) in their next round of IVF treatment, a family who want to have preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) to ensure that a new child has the potential to act as a 'saviour sibling', a family who (as a result of tragedy) want to have a male child, and a deaf couple who want to ensure that they have a child who is also deaf.

The book invites the reader to consider their reaction to the deaf couple and asks the question: Would you feel differently if the couple wanted to ensure that their baby was not deaf?'. It also asks the reader whether they agree with the idea of producing saviour siblings  through PGD and IVF. One hopes that the reader takes a moment to pause and reflect on these questions before completing the rest of the chapter, which deals with the arguments on the morality of the issues from both sides of the debate.

The book is peppered with snapshots of real-life cases, and completes each chapter with a list of arguments 'for' and 'against' the topic it has discussed. Each chapter also conveniently sets out a glossary for all the terms used.

Others reviewing this book have commented on how well balanced the arguments are, and the book has been described as 'imaginative and enthralling'. I do not disagree – I would highly recommend this book to someone thinking about studying ethics, or simply as an entertaining read. However, having studied medical ethics at postgraduate level I do think that this book is a little light on ethical theory and its application to moral dilemmas. This is certainly not the book to turn to for a comprehensive explanation of a Kantian or Utilitarian approach to ethics, and therefore would probably not be of great use to a university student as a textbook for anything other than an overview of questions raised. But the issues discussed make for stimulating conversation, and for this very reason the book would be a welcome addition on my shelf alongside some more dreary ethics textbooks.


Buy Where Science and Ethics Meet: Dilemmas at the Frontiers of Medicine and Biology from Amazon UK.

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