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Book and Media Reviews
January 25, 2012

The Picture of Health: Medical Ethics and the Movies

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliation: University of Illinois at Chicago (

JAMA. 2012;307(4):413-414. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.28

The Picture of Health: Medical Ethics and the Movies capitalizes on affection for films and familiarity with them to assist in teaching biomedical ethics. What makes this book unique is that its contributors use selected short scenes of motion pictures, rather than an entire film, to call attention to ethical quandaries and to stimulate discussion.

The Picture of Health is arranged into 9 parts. Leading off are 4 essays grouped together under the heading “Personal Reflections About Film and Ethics.” The bulk of the book, however, consists of 8 units, each containing 10 essays on a specific theme. The essays are brief, typically 3 to 4 pages. Themes include communication and patient-clinician relationships, end of life and the right to die, reproduction and genetics, health care policy and social responsibility, and professionalism. Four principles get plenty of play: autonomy, beneficence, justice, and nonmaleficence. The philosophical tug-of-war between utilitarianism and deontology is often on display.

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