Book Review

Culture Of Death: The Age Of "Do Harm" Medicine

Wesley J. Smith
Encounter Books, USA (2 Jun 2016)
ISBN: 978-1594038556

Book CoverThis work was first published in 2001 and was rightly deemed a classic. This 2016 edition has been fully updated and this reviewer found it extremely helpful. As one has come to expect from the author, it is also easy to read.

The author clearly shows that the traditional concept of the sanctity of life was rejected by the bioethics movement, to be replaced by a quality of life ethic. Previously, life was thought to have been of intrinsic worth. But the bioethics movement tells us that what matters is the utilitarian idea of a useful or pain free life. Some lives are better than others.

For Smith, the bioethics movement is based on an ideology and it has successfully infiltrated the field of medical ethics. The majority of its members, including Beauchamp and Childress, have campaigned in favour of legalizing assisted suicide. Smith has a lot to say about another key member, Peter Singer, who thinks that there is a moral difference between human beings and human persons and only the latter count. Because, says Singer, the unborn and the newborn are not persons, both abortion and infanticide are morally acceptable. Singer is apparently not welcome in Germany and that for good reasons: there is a striking resemblance between Nazi medicine and his beliefs.

Smith has a wonderful section on futile care theory and the Liverpool Care Pathway. Especially helpful for this reviewer was the chapter on autonomy and his absolutely correct predictions about what happens when the principle of autonomy over-rides every other principle in medical ethics. We now have a situation of out of control euthanasia in Belgium and Holland, all in the name of autonomy. Just about everything that Smith predicted in 2001 has happened. As one might have expected, the Terri Schiavo case is discussed at length.

On abortion, Smith notes that the days when pro-abortionists campaigned to keep abortion safe legal and rare are gone. Now they say that abortion is a positive choice, a good in itself.

This is one of the most readable and helpful books exposing the bioethics movement.

Reviewed by Dr Pravin Thevathasan