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Summary of Bioethical Prescriptions
  1. Frances Kamm
  1. Correspondence to Professor Frances Kamm, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA; frances_kamm{at}

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Bioethical Prescriptions presents revised versions of 27 articles I have published, mostly since 1996.1 The title of the book plays with the concept of a doctor's prescriptions only with regard to bioethical content. This may suggest that bioethical prescriptions are something like ‘Transplant the organ into person A, not person B, and call me in the morning.’ This volume does not provide such simple directives. Often what may be prescribed is to take account of certain factors rather than to adopt a specific act or policy (consider this the book's warning label). Nevertheless, after fairly intricate examination of an issue, we often see that one course of action or one type of policy is morally superior to another and why this is so.

The book begins with our end insofar as its first part, ‘Death and Dying,’ deals not with our creation but our cessation. This is partly because later discussions of other topics make frequent references to death. The first chapter is a philosophical analysis of Tolstoy's novella The Death of Ivan Ilych.2 The analysis considers whether the way we live affects how we die by examining why Ivan fears death. It also examines how Ivan's fears connect with general factors that philosophers have argued make death bad.

The next several chapters deal with assisted suicide and euthanasia. After laying out several distinctions thought to be of relevance to the morality of deliberately ending life—such as the distinction between killing and letting die, and between intending and foreseeing death—I critically examine arguments for physician-assisted suicide in the so-called Philosophers’ Brief submitted on behalf of several philosophers to the Supreme Court. I criticise …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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