Ron Pawl
  1. Department of Neurosurgery, University of Illinois, Chicago (Ret), and Center for Pain Treatment and Rehabilitation, Lake Forest Hospital (Ret), Lake Forest, Illinois

Correspondence Address:
Ron Pawl
Department of Neurosurgery, University of Illinois, Chicago (Ret), and Center for Pain Treatment and Rehabilitation, Lake Forest Hospital (Ret), Lake Forest, Illinois


Copyright: © 2011 Pawl R. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

How to cite this article: Pawl R. Medical ethics for dummies. Surg Neurol Int 19-Apr-2011;2:48

How to cite this URL: Pawl R. Medical ethics for dummies. Surg Neurol Int 19-Apr-2011;2:48. Available from:

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The title of this book is misleading since the content is clearly not for dummies. So I then went to Wikipedia and got this information on the “…for Dummies” book series:

“For Dummies is an extensive series of instructional/reference books which are intended to present non-intimidating guides for readers new to the various topics covered. Despite the title, their publisher has taken great pains to emphasize that the For Dummies books are not literally for dummies. The subtitle for every book is, ‘A Reference for the Rest of Us!’ To date, over 2000 For Dummies titles have been published. The series has been a worldwide success with editions in numerous other languages.”

Furthermore initially I was concerned about what the content might be because the second author is a journalist who mostly writes about food and nutrition. However, I did not get too far into the book before I realized how well written and pertinent was the text.

There are 20 chapters, divided into five parts: Medical Ethics, or Doing the Right Thing, A Patient's Right to Request, Receive and Refuse Care, Ethics at the Beginning and End of Life, Advancing Medical Knowledge with Ethical Clinical Research, and The Part of Tens, which deals with ten ethics issues to address with patients, discussions of ten high-profile medical cases, and medical ethics issues for the future.

Many paragraphs are delineated by icons that indicate tips, warnings, information that is important and worth rereading, and Dr. Runzheimer's thoughts on medical practice or examples from her practice.

In spite of the heavy nature of the topic of medical ethics, the text is readily readable and flows well from one topic to another. The authors carry through the text the four principles of medical ethics, namely patient autonomy, beneficence and nonmalficence toward the patient, as well as justice. The entire field of medical ethics is covered and in most instances in exquisite detail.

There is one major deficiency, which is why I gave the book a mere two stars: there are no references! Physicians reading a scholarly book or article want to know from which source a particular statement or concept was obtained, if it did not originate with the author(s). None such is forthcoming in this otherwise excellent book and I do not think practicing Neurosurgeons would find that deficiency acceptable. Certainly a Neurosurgeon serving on a medical ethics committee within his or her institution could not use this book as a reference source although it would be a good reference in and of itself.

There is a chapter that deals with religious and cultural beliefs that impact on medical care. The major world religions are all included, even those whose beliefs reduce or forbid medical care, and cultures discussed range from Vietnamese to Hmong to Russians to Hispanics, etc.

For instance the Catholic teaching on abortion and artificial contraception is well-articulated and accurately described. However, the authors make the oxymoronic statement in that regard that not all Catholics hold with those positions. Obviously if they do not, they are not Catholic!

The method of distribution of medical care is discussed ranging from that in the United States to the socialized methods of Canada, the United Kingdom, Europe, and that in the communist and Islamic countries. The necessary rationing of healthcare is the focus and although the healthcare in the United States is arguably the best in the world, the authors indicate that such rationing by cost is “unjust.” No other system of healthcare rationing is branded with that appellation.

The ethics regarding reproductive medicine is included as are ethics regarding medical experimentation and stem cell and DNA research, disclosing medical errors, and managing medical records. The end-of-life and brain death ethics section is equally thorough and will be of particular use to Neurosurgeons who are often called on in such situations.

This book is easy reading on an intricate and difficult topic but not referential.

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