Book Review — A Primer for Health Care Ethics: Essays for a Pluralistic Society, Second Edition

May-June 2001


A Primer for Health Care Ethics: Essays for a Pluralistic Society, Second Edition
Kevin O'Rourke, OP, ed.
Georgetown University Press, Washington, DC, 2000
352 pp., $21.95 (paperback)

This second edition of essays written by faculty members of the Center for Health Care Ethics at Saint Louis University Health Sciences Center is intended for and will appeal to a wide audience of readers. The editor, Kevin O'Rourke, OP, rightly points out in the introduction that decisions about health care ethics affect all persons in society. This book will serve as a useful tool to engage those beyond the circle of health care professionals and scientists in the important discussion of contemporary issues in health care ethics. Moreover, the text is a wonderful source of continuing education for individuals or groups within the health professions, such as hospital ethics committees.

Essays are organized by topic, covering 10 general themes. Part 1 covers principles and core values, wisely including fundamental essays from the first edition. Topics important to those in the clinical setting, such as informed consent and the use and removal of life support, are generously addressed, as is physician-assisted suicide. Although the topics of genetics and research are included, they are explored in much less depth. Part 10 is an interesting sampling of issues that contain no obvious unifying thread. I recommend it to readers because of the importance of such topics as pain relief, suffering, the need for compassion, and disclosing imperfect care.

The essays contained here are quite brief; they focus on an issue, principles, logical reasoning, and conclusions. This model serves to develop or reinforce a basic framework for ethical reasoning for the reader. Perhaps the greatest value of this collection lies in its usefulness as a starting point for discussion. With proper facilitation, these essays will generate discussions to further understanding on specific issues as diverse as cloning, managed care, physician-assisted suicide, and many more. More importantly, they will enable discussants to hone their critical thinking and reasoning skills. Anyone interested in promoting a greater awareness and discussion of issues in health care ethics will find this book an invaluable aid.

Rebecca Pruitt, MSW, JD
Vice President, Mission & Ethics
Mercy Health System Oklahoma
Oklahoma City


Copyright © 2001 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.