Bioethics: What Is It?

Politics, Medicine and Christian Ethics, by Charles E. Curran (Fortress, 1973, 222 pp., $6.95), Is It Moral to Modify Man?, by Claude A. Frazier (Thomas, 1973, 332 pp., $10.95), Medical Ethics, by Bernard Haring (Fides, 1973, 250 pp., $8.95), Human Medicine, by James B. Nelson (Augsburg, 1973, 207 pp, $3.95 pb), and Biomedical Ethics, by Kenneth Vaux (Harper & Row, 1974, 131 pp., $5.95), are reviewed by Roy Branson, associate professor of Christian ethics, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, and research scholar, Kennedy Center for Bioethics, Washington, D. C.

Bioethics was not even a word until 1971. For years Catholic moralists had written on ethics for physicians, with Joseph Fletcher, almost alone among Protestant academic ethicists in America, joining them in 1960 with his Morals and Medicine. By 1974 there were at least two major research institutes, many university programs, and a rapidly increasing number of publications analyzing the ethics not only of medical practice but also of biological research. This review looks at a cross-section of recently released books on the subject.

The most usable for pastors and layman wanting a readable, careful introduction to bioethics is James Nelson’s two-hundred-page paperback. His constant “on the one hand … but on the other,” approach may become maddening, but the reader is spared eccentric arguments, and Nelson’s hesitancy to advocate clear-cut positions on all issues emerges from a self-conscious and respectable theoretical commitment. Nelson adheres to the priority of the concept of responsibility articulated by H. Richard Niebuhr, the late Yale theologian and teacher of many of today’s most prominent Protestant ethicists. Nelson understands ...

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