26 December 2012

"The Woman Who Decided to Die", by Ronald Munson

Perhaps I feel partial to this book because Prof. Munson's introduction to medical practice came the same way mine did: through the lens of clinical ethics. Munson is not a physician, but a bioethicist. His book, "The Woman Who Decided to Die," features 10 vignettes of striking, yet representative ethical predicaments that he has encountered over his career. Munson is a gifted writer, and this book benefits from his succinct, rich, and approachable form of narrative.

The format of the chapters is straightforward: in each, he tells the story of a patient he has worked with. Then, he devotes a couple of pages to the ethical issues inherent to the case, and how doctors approach these issues clinically. For example, a convicted murderer is admitted to the ICU with a failing heart. Prof. Munson is called in for an emergency consultation to determine whether the patient should be put on the transplant list. Should a murderer get a heart before someone innocent?

Perhaps surprisingly for a book about ethics, the book vividly portrays the patient's stories, through the help of lengthy interviews with the patients. Munson also conveys very well the art of medicine. Through his writing we witness the thought process going through the minds of doctors, and the delicate and careful ways that they elicit information from their patients and provide guidance. The book discusses complex issues in medicine in a way that non-scientists can understand, which is rare.

Prof. Munson has written an excellent book. I heartily recommend it as an introduction to clinical medicine and bioethics.