THORNY ISSUES by John Langone


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Ethics, notes Langone, is ""quite topical these days."" Courses are ""springing up"" in schools. These courses are ""more applied than basic,"" and so is this book. It is ""not about philosophy or personal morality"" but about issues which confront professional people--doctors, scientists, business people, government officials, and journalists--but ""touch all our lives."" For doctors, there is the question of euthanasia. Langone dismisses ""direct euthanasia"" as ""not legally permissible in any civilized country"" and focuses on the less controversial ""passive euthanasia""--letting patients die by withholding extraordinary methods. In this issue as in another dilemma faced by doctors, telling the truth to dying patients, the last word seems to be that ""circumstances do alter cases."" Langone also suggests that journalists can withhold information to protect people's lives and sometimes their reputations. (In the latter case, ""good taste must enter the decision."") Regarding genetic engineering, ""tampering with Mother Nature,"" we can't go backward and so must proceed with caution. As for nuclear power (discussed here in terms of risks and benefits, barely in ethical terms), Langune's last word is a quote to the effect that the risks must be made ""very small."" In the matter of warfare, the feeling that the rules of war can be broken when the other side breaks them is ""understandable"" but ""can go too far,"" as in the Calley case. Langone doesn't propose any basic ethical system with which to view these issues, which is understandable. But perhaps he doesn't go far enough toward asking basic questions that might touch readers' own complacent assumptions. This is no volume for the quester, then, but it probably does fit in with the approach of those mushrooming courses.

Pub Date: Oct. 22nd, 1982
Publisher: Little, Brown