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Book and Media Reviews
December 23 2009

Observing Bioethics

JAMA. 2009;302(24):2707-2711. doi:10.1001/jama.2009.1921

In Observing Bioethics, Fox and Swazey scrutinize the origins, practices, self-understanding, culture, and global profile of the fledgling field of bioethics. To some degree, this book manifests an inward gaze, because both authors are prominent US bioethicists from urban, northeastern universities who have produced important works influencing the field. Yet to a much greater extent, the authors assume a vantage point on the periphery of bioethics, viewing the field through the lenses of the social sciences (Fox is a sociologist, Swazey a historian). As they observe, bioethics has never been prone to, or comfortable with, this kind of critical analysis; indeed, throughout their 4 decades as “observing participants and participant observers” (p 9), the authors have occasionally evoked negative feelings and sometimes downright hostility from the bioethics elite.

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