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Edited by K O'Rourke, P Boyle. Georgetown University Press, 1999, £26.95, pp 442. ISBN 0878407227
This third edition of O'Rourke and Boyle's Medical Ethics: Sources of Catholic Teaching is a useful and comprehensive collection of statements published, for the most part, by the central authorities of the Roman Catholic Church, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the United States and the bishops' conferences of individual US states on a wide range of issues in the area of medical ethics. The statements are arranged alphabetically according to subject matter. It is useful to have such a wide range of documents available in one volume, many of which would otherwise be accessible only with difficulty. The documents included range from major encyclical letters issued by more recent popes on matters such as human sexuality (Humanae Vitae by Paul VI) and human life (Evangelium Vitae by John Paul II) to ad hoc responses by individual bishops to very particular questions with which they have been faced, and upon which they have felt the need to offer some guidance. Unfortunately no guidance is provided as to the weight and authority that is to be given to the various documents. For example, a major philosophical and theological treatise such as the encyclical letter, Evangelium Vitae, by John Paul II is presented alongside an ad hoc response from the bishops' conference of an individual state to a particular question that has arisen, as though they were of equal significance and importance. This detracts seriously from the usefulness of the collection and gives a misleading weight and authority to a great many of the statements gathered together here.
The impression could also be given that documents such as these provide the only, or indeed the major, source for Catholic reflection in the area of medical ethics, whereas of far greater significance and abiding value are the contributions to this field of medical ethics of authors such as the late Richard McCormick, John Paris, and Albert Jonsen, to name but a few of the more prominent.