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Powers That Make Us Human: The Foundations of Medical Ethics

Stanley J. Reiser, MD, PhD
JAMA. 1987;258(13):1826. doi:10.1001/jama.1987.03400130140054.
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In Powers That Make Us Human, Kenneth Vaux has brought together perceptive authors to search for a "foundation of ethics" that could undergird medical practice. The book generates no grand design or clear foundation. Anthologies of essays written by different persons rarely can achieve complex synthetic goals.

Each of the essays addresses a theme, such as reason, hope, virtue, feeling, honor, or mortality, as it applies to the problems of health and illness. In some essays, the analysis does not clarify adequately the connection between the theme and medical practice. However, two that are particularly successful deal creatively with one of the great dilemmas of medicine: increased longevity and the expanding population of elders.

Leon Kass, in an essay on mortality, looks squarely at such questions as these: To what extent is longer life an unqualified good for individuals, assuming the life is healthy and vigorous? Is finitude good for


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