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Culture of Death: The Assault on Medical Ethics in America Paperback – June 15, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Smith offers a conservative perspective on medical-ethics problems such as failure to provide subjects in research programs with understandable consent forms. He fears that current utilitarian ethicists will create--some have already done so, he says--a hierarchy of human life that would basically be a descendant of Hitlerian eugenics. Doctor-assisted suicide, he believes, must inevitably lead to such a development, and he takes readers step by step on a probable path to it, inspecting each landmark court case (Cruzan, Quinlan, et al.) along the way. He grudgingly concedes that some amelioration with controlled substances be allowed for patients suffering overwhelming pain, but he assumes that current uncontroversial pain control is more effective than many others say it is. On another major flashpoint of ethical dispute, Smith emphasizes the important benefits of research on animals. Furthermore, he makes suggestions for bringing bioethics back to what he feels is a proper philosophic and practical position, one conducive to safe and acceptable lives for both patient and doctor. William Beatty
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


One of the TEN OUTSTANDING BOOKS of the YEAR and BEST HEALTH BOOK. -- Independent Publisher Book Awards 2001 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Encounter Books; Reprint edition (June 15, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 189355449X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1893554498
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #371,834 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Award winning author Wesley J. Smith is a Senior Fellow in Human Rights and Bioethics at the Discovery Institute. He is also a consultant to the International Task Force on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, and a special consultant for the Center for Bioethics and Culture. In May 2004, because of his work in bioethics, he was named by the National Journal as one of the nation's top expert thinkers in bioengineering. In 2008, the Human Life Foundation named him a Great Defender of Life for his work against assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Smith left the full time practice of law in 1985 to pursue a career in writing and public advocacy. He is the author or coauthor of eleven books.

His book Forced Exit: Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide and the New Duty to Die (1997, Times Books), a broad-based criticism of the assisted suicide/euthanasia movement has become a classic in anti-euthanasia advocacy and is now in its third edition published by Encounter Books in 2006. Smith's Culture of Death: The Assault on Medical Ethics in America, a warning about the dangers of the modern bioethics movement, was named one of the Ten Outstanding Books of the Year and Best Health Book of the Year for 2001 (Independent Publisher Book Awards). His Consumer's Guide to a Brave New World, which he explores the morality, science, and business aspects of human cloning, stem cell research, and genetic engineering, appeared in 2004.

Smith next authored A Rat is a Pig is a Dog is a Boy: The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement, a critical look at the animal rights/liberation movement. The best selling novelist Dean Koontz writes of the book in the preface, "Wesley J. Smith knows too well that if the activists ever succeeded in their goals, if they established through culture or law that human beings have no intrinsic dignity greater than that of any animal, the world would not be a better place for either humankind or animals."

Smith's most recently published book is The War On Humans, an ebook that critiques the growing radicalism within the environmental movement. The legendary civil libertarian, Nat Hentoff, praised the work: "If there were an international award for continuing to focus on and document cultural and political threats to basic human life and potential-I emphasize human--the winner would be Wesley J. Smith... [In The War on Humans] Smith has now written a riveting expose of this multi-dimensional assault on human beings that for life saving reasons--I kid you not--must be read by human beings beyond their political, religious, and all other affiliations."

Smith formerly collaborated with Ralph Nader, co-authoring four books with consumer advocate. In addition, he co-authored (with Eric M. Chevlen, MD), Power Over Pain: How to Get the Pain Control You Need.

Smith has published hundreds of articles and opinion columns on issues such as the importance of being human (human exceptionalism), assisted suicide, bioethics, the morality of human cloning, the dangers of animal liberation, the anti-human elements in the radical environmental movement, legal ethics, and public affairs. His writing has appeared nationally and internationally, including in Newsweek, New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Forbes, The Weekly Standard, First Things, National Review, The Age (Australia), the Telegraph (United Kingdom), Western Journal of Medicine, and the American Journal of Bioethics. He has also been published in regional publications throughout the nation and internationally in newspapers in the UK, Italy, Australia, and Canada.

Throughout his career in public advocacy, Smith has appeared on thousands of television and radio talk/interview programs, including such national programs as ABC Nightline, Good Morning America, Larry King Live, CNN Crossfire, CNN World Report, the CBS Evening News, Coast to Coast, the Dennis Prager syndicated radio show, The Dennis Miller Show, the Mike Gallagher syndicated radio show, Afternoons with Al Kresta, EWTN, CSPAN-Book TV, Fox News Channel, and CNN Talk Back Live. He has appeared internationally on Voice of America, CNN International, and programs originating in Great Britain (BBC), Australia (ABC), Canada (CBC), Ireland, Mexico, New Zealand, Germany, China, and Mexico.

Smith is often called upon by members of legislative and executive branches of government to advise on issues within his fields of expertise. He has testified as an expert witness in front of federal and state legislative committees, and has counseled government leaders internationally about matters of mutual concern.

Smith is an international lecturer and public speaker, appearing frequently at political, university, medical, legal, disability rights, bioethics, religious, and community gatherings across the United States, Europe, Mexico, Canada, South Africa, and Australia.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
In spite of the title, this book isn't about what most people would think it's about. It is not about abortion.
Rather, it is about what author Wesley J. Smith terms "futile care theory" - modern medicine's inaction due to the direction of bioethics and cost-benefit ratios.
Through compelling and often disturbing anecdotes Smith examines how "bioethicists" threaten patient welfare through redefinition, organ harvesting, and support for euthanasia.
Futile Care Theory, he explains, allows physicians to base care decisions upon the patients' "quality of life", thereby often deciding that no care is the best care.
I found Chapter 6 especially interesting, as Smith discusses how our culture protects animals at the expense of people. A similar action was taken by the National Socialist government in Germany just prior to the Nazi's creation of their "Final Solution" for the extermination of the disabled, gypsies, Jews, etc.
Smith includes an appendix which shows the payback in terms of medical discoveries and cures which have resulted from animal research.
In the end Smith advocates a "human rights" bioethics - one that will again value human life.
His work is eye-opening and demonstrates just how much we have embraced what Pope John Paul II has termed a "Culture of Death." I recommend this book quite highly.
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Format: Hardcover
Wesley Smith offers a chilling survey of the current state of bioethics, a field which is dominated by the utilitarian calculus. In that calculus, human beings are reduced to instruments which register pleasure and pain. The game of the calculus is to maximize the pleasure and minimize the pain. It is a game that inevitably leads us to devalue lives that are difficult.
Smith's book surveys the weaknesses of this approach to medicine as it relates to the dying and the handicapped. He traces out the slide from a justifiable desire to not artificially prolong the dying process through heroic intervention towards a world wherein doctors and bioethicists can choose to dehyrdate a dying woman against her wishes. As the economic pressures in the new world of HMO's mount, one can imagine that such scenes will only become more common.
The weakness in Smith's book is his failure to address the very hard issue of how to allocate scarce medical resources. One may rightfully deplore the spread of utilitarianism as the criteria for making these decisions, but until the humanitarian approach develops a way of measuring the trade-offs involved in medical care, the utilitarian approach cannot be dismissed entirely.
Smith points to, but does not develop, the issue of how our understanding of life and death and suffering is altered by the utilitarian calculus. Surely life is more than the sum of our pleasures and pains. The tragedy of the dominance of utilitarianism is that it leads us to place our pleasure and pain ahead of ourselves. Somehow our humanity is lost in the process.
Smith has written an important book that raises issues that can only become more urgent in the coming decades.
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Format: Hardcover
This is an eye-opening look at our increasing "thanatocracy" (Greek for "the rule of death"). With the ethic of "quality of life" riding high in America, Smith makes us confront some deeply troubling trends that seldom come up in serious conversation, because the issues involved have a high "yuck" factor, not unlike abortion. This book should be must reading for all medical ethicists, HMO executives, and legislators. It is not simply a matter that high-tech medicine generates more "dilemmas" over the care of the acutely or terminally ill. Increasingly, Smith shows, there is acceptance of devaluing human life, the veritable shredding of the historic Hippocratic Oath. This slippery slope points down a steep hill with no discernable bottom.
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Format: Hardcover
A co-worker loaned me this book. I started to read it with some misgivings thinking that it would challenge some of my own beliefs. It did to some extent. However, I found myself agreeing with the author far more often than disagreeing. The author appears to anchor his beliefs on basic religious--or humanistic if you prefer--ethics concerning the absolute moral value and equality of all human life. Christian ethics, Buddhist ethics, etc.--I believe would all be in fundamental agreement upon this absolute moral value and equality of human life.
From this position the author argues against certain medical technocratic bioethics thinkers, HMO management in some cases, PETA and other animal rights groups' spokesmen, etc. He makes his case effectively. Our modern culture tends to devalue and discard that which is less than "perfect", i.e., whatever is old, disabled, plain, or just simply discomforting. Many of us seem to want to live in a world with no "edges" or anything or anybody that would upset us. Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" is a work that the author commonly refers to as an example of fiction turning into reality. He makes the very strong point that we are in grave danger of losing our ability to be compassionate, caring, empathetic, and so forth by embracing the medically utilitarian view of quick disposal of that which is terminal. I am sure that the author overstates at times, however, I have more than once run into the coldly clinical, elitist, dispassionate MD on a personal level. I believe that western medicine produces more than a few of these folks. They and their kin should not have the final say in how the physically and mentally disabled, the elderly, and the dying are to be "disposed of".
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