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Books, Journals, New Media
March 3, 1999

Bioethics: The Birth of Bioethics

Author Affiliations

Harriet S.MeyerMD, Contributing EditorJonathan D.EldredgeMLS, PhD, Journal Review EditorRobertHoganMD, adviser for new media


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JAMA. 1999;281(9):849-850. doi:10.1001/jama.281.9.849

Bioethics, Albert Jonsen observes in the introduction to his important, highly personal, and readable book, did not begin with a bang. But what becomes very clear, as one reads his recollections of the origins of the field, is that it did not begin with people prone to emit whimpers.

The roster of those responsible for giving form and substance to bioethics is not replete with shy or retiring types. Before 60 pages have passed, the reader has already been treated to Jonsen's lively accounts of Paul Ramsey, James Gustafson, Daniel Callahan, Willard Gaylin, Andre Hellegers, Joseph Fletcher, Richard McCormick, Samuel Gorovitz, K. Danner Clouser, Stephen Toulmin, and many others. The founders of bioethics were quite a handful. When not duking it out over whose theological conception ought ground the goals of health care, laying into physician-investigators who strayed from the path of morality in dealing with their subjects, or gnashing their collective intellectual teeth over what set of mid level principles, if any, would most usefully serve as the theoretical moral framework for resolving clinical quandaries, they were quite capable of petty squabbling and bickering.