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Bioethics and the humanities: attitudes and perceptions
  1. S Pattison

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    RS Downie, Jane Macnaughton. . Published by Abingdon and New York: Routledge-Cavendish, 2007, £25.99 (paperback), pp 208. 978-1-84472-052-1

    This book partially exemplifies how medical humanities approaches, particularly those drawn from philosophy and literature, might deepen and broaden understandings of ethics and healthcare to effect “a humanistic broadening of bioethics” (p181). It attempts to substantiate the view that the humanities have considerable value in critically evaluating “the practice of medicine, its identity and meaning at a given point in time” (p167).

    To this end, the authors, both philosophers (one is also a doctor), provide some intriguing glimpses into the ways in which humanities can help to make and keep healthcare practice and practitioners more critical and rounded. They argue that humanities disciplines have two basic functions in relation to bioethics and medicine. First, they can perform a critical, analytical function whereby philosophical insights and methods are applied to arguments and assumptions made in medical practice. Second, they have a supplementary educational function in enriching and developing the character and judgements of practitioners. Here, literature and the fine arts can be used to provide methods, insights and habits of mind and heart that might help to produce more rounded and empathic healthcare workers and environments.

    The book falls into two parts. In the first, the …

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