REVIEWED BY FR. TIMOTHY L. DOHERTY, STL, PhD
Jeremy Sugarman, MD, and Daniel P. Sulmasy, MD, OFM, eds.
Georgetown University Press, August 2001, 314 pp., $39.95
In this collection, editor-physicians Sugarman and Sulmasy
are promoting methodological excellence in various systems of
ethics research. Their book encourages something more than multidisciplinary
approaches; they offer a vision of actual interdisciplinary
Medical ethics, a subdivision of bioethics, is not a discipline
in its own right but a field of interest to many disciplines.
The editors point out that the methods that influence medical
ethics "derive from the humanities and the social sciences,
including anthropology, economics, epidemiology, health services
research, history, law, medicine, nursing, philosophy, psychology,
sociology, and theology" (p. vii). The contributors want readers
to know the difference between scholarship and chaff in American
ethical research and analysis.
The book is an assemblage of 16 engaging chapters by 24 U.S.-based
writers, including the editors. By design the contents are not
exhaustive. For example, art and literature are not specifically
considered because they do not create generalized abstract knowledge,
explanations, or predictions.
Presentations are divided into three main sections: overview,
methods, and relationships and applications. Chapters 3 through
13 each take a disciplinary perspective: philosophy; religion
and theology; professional codes; legal methods; casuistry;
history; qualitative, ethnographic, or experimental methods;
quantitative surveys; economics; and decision science. Writers
describe each discipline's research interests, techniques, strengths,
and limitations and conclude with notes on resources and training.
The last two chapters, about physician-assisted suicide and
genetic testing, demonstrate how interdisciplinary dialogue
enhances the definition and resolution of difficult issues or
Sugarman and Sulmasy assembled this project because they could
find nothing like it on the market. They wanted something for
graduate students, scholars, clinicians, and editors that both
exposes and evaluates current research tools. They proceed in
such a way that readers will understand the poverty of any discussion
that unwittingly overlooks available contributions. In fact,
one can sense the contributors' joy as they address the reader.
Each is happy for the chance to tell the reader what makes his
or her own interests special and indispensable to the field.
Professional enthusiasm keeps position statements lively without
I have several reasons to recommend this book. First, the
book's design and contents support the conversation between
quantitative and qualitative research at several levels. Chapters
may emphasize one or the other, but with an eye to complementarity.
Experienced teachers point out common mistakes (whether by construction
or interpretation) made by those untrained in particular disciplines.
Second, the collection consciously deals with the impact of
modern scientific research and the evolving rights of patients
and research subjects. Third, after the September 11 hijackings
and attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, we need to examine
the possibility of ethics. We have a new experience from which
to view the postmodern critique that denies the validity of
any shared (or shareable) foundational moral theory.
Fr. Timothy L. Doherty, STL, PhD
Diocesan Ethicist, Health Care Issues
Diocese of Rockford, IL
Copyright © 2002 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.