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March 25, 1992

The Ends of Human Life: Medical Ethics in a Liberal Polity

JAMA. 1992;267(12):1682-1683. doi:10.1001/jama.1992.03480120122051

This article is only available in the PDF format. Download the PDF to view the article, as well as its associated figures and tables.


Most books in contemporary medical ethics are content to deal with hot topics: death and dying, birth technologies, abortion, human experimentation, or allocation of scarce resources. Only a few have attempted to provide a full-blown, integrated theory of medical ethics dealing with the basic questions of what it means for something to be ethical, what the ends of medicine are, and how an ethic in medicine should relate to the historical beliefs about ethics. Ezekiel Emanuel's new book should be added to that short list. He writes as a political philosopher who is also a practicing oncologist and provides an important new formulation of ethics in medicine.

He avoids the topical focus in part because he rejects the idea that our problems in medical ethics today stem from new developments in technology. Rather, he traces them to the failure of liberal political philosophy. One of the tenets of that tradition