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Thieves of Virtue: When Bioethics Stole Medicine (Basic Bioethics) Hardcover – September 7, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


If lifeboat ethics sinks, will bioethics drown? In Thieves of Virtue, Tom Koch incisively exposes the myths and mystifications fostered by bioethics, unpacking not only the philosophical inconsistencies but equally the critical externalities -- both theoretical and factual -- that are conveniently masked and bracketed by the discipline. He convincingly demonstrates that bioethics crafted a mythos of scarcity, covertly allying itself with neoliberal economics, at the expense of the moral core of medicine and well-being of persons and patients, especially those with disabilities. This book provides an important new account of bioethics for serious scholars as well as for students new to the field.

(M. Therese Lysaught, Department of Theology, Marquette University)

In Thieves of Virtue Tom Koch compares the 2,500-year-old Hippocratic Oath with the medical ethics proposed to replace it by contemporary bioethicists. It's not just that he finds the new ethics wanting: Koch makes it clear that it is ethics at all in only the narrowest, most technical sense. His painstaking, case-by-notorious-case critique is devastating. His dispassion may not allow him to say it, but I can: as currently advocated, bioethics is simply unethical.

(Denis Wood, author of Everything Sings)

An original, well-researched, and provocative book. Thieves of Virtue offers a fundamental and probing critique of the core premises undergirding contemporary bioethical theory in its several forms. Tom Koch's investigation suggests that the roots of bioethics are deeply problematic, and require thorough reassessment.

(Walter Wright, Professor of Philosophy, Clark University)

I'm overwhelmingly impressed by Thieves of Virtue. I've been worrying about the direction that bioethics has taken over the years, and Koch's book has put this into words much better than anyone I know. A remarkable piece of work.

(Harry R. Moody, Vice President and Director of Academic Affairs, AAR)

Koch provides and interesting history of bioethics.

(London School of Economics Review of Books)

Koch's book is thought provoking and raises important issues….valuable critique of dominant bioethics theories.

(Review of Politics)

An important book….a robust, refreshing and informed reflection….grippingly readable.

(Social History of Medicine)

About the Author

TTom Koch, an international lecturer and consultant on bioethics, gerontology, and public health, is the author of fifteen books, including Mirrored Lives: Aging Children and Elderly Parents; Cartographies of Disease: Maps, Mapping, and Medicine; Disease Maps: Epidemics on the Ground.

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Product Details

  • Series: Basic Bioethics
  • Hardcover: 376 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; 1 edition (September 7, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262017989
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262017985
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,562,318 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Tom Koch is among the best known, most prolific writers you've probably never heard about. An ethicist, writer, and researcher specializing in the care of the fragile, he holds a multi-disciplinary PhD (medicine, ethics/philosophy, geography) from the University of British Columbia. His more than 15 books and 300 articles include the first books on elder care from the perspective of the caregiver. Beginning with Mirrored Lives (1990), he pioneered the use of narrative writing in gerontology. He was also the first to write extensively on the use of electronic data and public information. That series began with The News as Myth (1990), followed by Journalism in the 20th Century (1992) and The Message is the Medium (1996). In medicine and medical cartography he is an authority on the history of maps in medicine and community health (Cartographies of Disease, 2005; Disease Maps: Epidemics on the Ground(2010)). As a medical ethicist he is the author of both The Limits of Principle (2005) and Thieves of Virtue: When Bioethics Stole Medicine (Sept. 2012).
In Toronto he serves as a medical ethicist and consultant specializing in issues of chronic care as well as the study of the environmental and social determinants of endemic and epidemic disease.
A fourth level black belt in Aikido, and a long-time student of karate, when not writing he also practices Tai Ch'i and the flute.
For a complete list of books and papers see his website:

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Cicero A. Urban on January 3, 2013
Format: Hardcover
As an Oncologist and professor of Bioethics and Humanities at a Medical Schooll in Brazil, I think that it is an obligatory reading for all bioethicists. It is really a "mea culpa" analysis to all of us of what is happening with Bioethics nowadays. The lack of a true intellectual foundation and the ways that we let this "touch stone" arriving without a clear definition of its universe and methods of action are disturbing. As a new discipline, Bioethics was born as a legitim reaction to a true and potential abuses imposed by biotechnology against human dignity, recognizing that the "old ethics" was not able enough to afront all these new challenges. But, at the end, the aim would be not to substitute the old Hippocratic ethics, in the contrary, it should be to add new ways of thinking, in a modern language and methodology to guide researchers and health professionals. What happened after all was something different. The dominant Utilitarism and complete substitution of Paternalism let us with empty nest inside Medical Ethics. This is the central argument in this extraordinary book. And this is now our pressing challenge as bioethicists: to refill again this nest with the old aristotelian virtues. Just read the book!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By MOC on June 16, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Most physicians and other medical practitioners deal with medical ethicists on a frequent basis. Most are unaware of the history of medical ethics or the tenets on which it was founded. The author of this book is clearly not any kind of medical practitioner, but is knowledgeable about the history of philosophy and medical ethics. At times, it seems as if the author is quibbling over verbiage or unduly parsing individual sentences cherry picked from a huge body of work, but he never waivers from his goal. Whether you agree or disagree with the author, if you work in a domain touched by medical ethics, you benefit from reading this book.
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