Ethics by Committee: A History of Reasoning Together About Medicine, Science, Society, and the State

Univ. of Chicago. Jul. 2022. 264p. ISBN 9780226819327. pap. $35. MED
Who decides whether medical researchers can experiment on humans? According to Jacobs (history, Erasmus Univ., Rotterdam), the answer is committees of experts. The question that she poses is whether these committees are beneficial. In this book, her case study is the Netherlands. After World War II medical experimentation in concentration camps, and after complaints lodged in the ’60s and ’70s, the Dutch public pressed for controls over medical studies. This put them in conflict with doctors, who had to publish their work to advance science and be recognized. Dutch politicians, like those in other Western countries, had a dilemma: How to protect the public and advance science? The answer was to establish protocols and uphold “sufficient” safeguards; Jacobs points to professional ethicists who bridge medical experts and politicians. For the sake of predictability, she concludes, the current rules sidestep democratic debate.
VERDICT This slim, deeply researched book pulls back the curtain on medical decisions that affect millions. Academic readers and those interested in medical ethics will enjoy Jacobs’s perceptive study.
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