Making Modern Medical Ethics
How African Americans, Anti-Nazis, Bureaucrats, Feminists, Veterans, and Whistleblowing Moralists Created Bioethics
360 pp., 6 x 9 in,
- Published: February 20, 2024
- Publisher: The MIT Press
The little-known stories of the people responsible for what we know today as modern medical ethics.
In Making Modern Medical Ethics, Robert Baker tells the counter history of the birth of bioethics, bringing to the fore the stories of the dissenters and whistleblowers who challenged the establishment. Drawing on his earlier work on moral revolutions and the history of medical ethics, Baker traces the history of modern medical ethics and its bioethical turn to the moral insurrections incited by the many unsung dissenters and whistleblowers: African American civil rights leaders, Jewish Americans harboring Holocaust memories, feminists, women, and Anglo-American physicians and health care professionals who were veterans of the World Wars, the Cold War, and the Vietnam War.
The standard narrative for bioethics typically emphasizes the morally disruptive medical technologies of the latter part of the twentieth century, such as the dialysis machine, the electroencephalograph, and the ventilator, as they created the need to reconsider traditional notions of medical ethics. Baker, however, tells a fresh narrative, one that has historically been neglected (e.g., the story of the medical veterans who founded an international medical organization to rescue medicine and biomedical research from the scandal of Nazi medicine), and also reveals the penalties that moral change agents paid (e.g., the stubborn bureaucrat who was demoted for her insistence on requiring and enforcing research subjects' informed consent). Analyzing major statements of modern medical ethics from the 1946–1947 Nuremberg Doctors Trials and Nuremberg Code to A Patient's Bill of Rights, Making Modern Medical Ethics is a winning history of just how respect and autonomy for patients and research subjects came to be codified.
“A brilliant counter history to the canonical triumphalist histories of the birth of bioethics. Highlights the role of outsiders and misfits in creating the space in which modern bioethics could eventually establish itself. A must read for those of us too young to remember.”
Søren Holm, Professor of Bioethics, Centre for Social Ethics and Policy, University of Manchester, UK
“Skewering the prevailing presumption that bioethics is the invention of the American medical establishment, Baker nimbly explores the margins of its history where moralists, malcontents, and minorities reign. Their bios are scintillating, and their astonishing contributions turn the history of bioethics inside out. Baker's book is as close to a bioethics page-turner as I have ever read.”
Michael L. Gross, Professor of Political Science, The University of Haifa, Israel