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August 14, 1991

Strangers at the Bedside: A History of How Law and Bioethics Transformed Medical Decision Making

Author Affiliations

University of Cincinnati (Ohio) Medical Center

University of Cincinnati (Ohio) Medical Center


by David J. Rothman, 303 pp, $24.95, ISBN 0-465-08209-2, New York, NY, Basic Books Inc, 1991.

JAMA. 1991;266(6):851. doi:10.1001/jama.1991.03470060113041

The author is a historian and professor of social medicine. The text provides, as does most good historical writing, more than a chronicle of a time or a depiction of the roles of actors in an era. Professor Rothman examines the relationship of physician to patient and documents how this has changed, particularly during the decade 1966 through 1976. The author does more than describe the change; he develops the thesis that the changed relationship is a consequence of the loss of trust in the physician. The appearance of "strangers at the bedside," the metaphor chosen to describe the individuals and agencies who now must be considered and consulted during the course of patient care, is, as the author recognizes, complex.

Rothman identifies the work of Henry Beecher, published in 1966, as the signal event that summoned the attention of government and public to failings by physicians to protect human