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Book and Media Reviews
September 10, 2008

Dark Medicine: Rationalizing Unethical Medical Research

JAMA. 2008;300(10):1217-1218. doi:10.1001/jama.300.10.1217

“Where does one set the limits on research involving human subjects?” This fundamental question is addressed by a remarkable collection of essays in Dark Medicine: Rationalizing Unethical Medical Research. Framed by the belief that unethical research is not simply a problem of the past, Dark Medicine lends thoughtful historical context to the discussion of modern-day dilemmas. The result is a unique fusion of philosophy, religion, history, and bioethics.

The initial idea for Dark Medicine developed out of discussions among the 3 editors, who recognized an urgent need to address the questions they raise in the book. The trio identified a diverse group of scholars who eventually gathered at the University of Pennsylvania during the spring of 2004. The final product contains 16 essays written by German, Japanese, and US authors, with individual selections concentrating on World War II crimes, postwar issues, and present-day challenges. In the introduction, editor William R. LeFleur notes that “The focus of this volume is not so much on the history of the episodes of dark medical research . . . as it is on how much research was rationalized—precisely because the patterns of rationalization are more likely to show up again in our own time than are the specifics of past actions.” This theme of “rationalization” is repeatedly highlighted in the pages of Dark Medicine.

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