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Book and Media Reviews
February 17, 2010

Trusting Doctors: The Decline of Moral Authority in American Medicine

JAMA. 2010;303(7):670-671. doi:10.1001/jama.2010.143

As an emergency department volunteer in the late 1970s, I often performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on patients in cardiac arrest. With my newly minted Basic Cardiac Life Support certification, I eagerly augmented the output of a teenager's failing pump. I can vividly recall the enthusiasm of the physicians and nurses during these codes and how quickly the mood changed when the priest arrived to perform unction. When our efforts failed and his black frock crossed into our glistening white trauma room, our space felt violated. I did not know then that my observations reflected an age-old dynamic between religion and medicine and sources of moral authority in medicine. This is the story told by Jonathan B. Imber, a professor of sociology at Wellesley College, in Trusting Doctors: The Decline of Moral Authority in AmericanMedicine.