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A skeptical biochemist

Medical History
Cambridge University Press
Publication Date
  • Book Reviews
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • History
  • Logic
  • Medicine
  • Philosophy


Book Reviews Social history, especially of bioethics, is bound to be problematic unless it is predicated upon a clear analysis of the substantive ethical issues. At issue in the 1960s was whether research standards should be subjective guidelines, enforced by the researcher's conscience, externally enforced objective rules, or intersubjective standards enforced by review committees (IRBs). In a series of papers published both before and after 1966, Beecher argued that subjective standards were too weak, objective standards too inflexible, and (citing Percival's 1803 code) championed intersubjective external review. By highlighting only Beecher's 1966 article, Rothman transforms a scholarly contribution to ain on-going policy debate into an isolated act of "whistle-blowing". He thus transubstantiates Beecher, an archetypical "insider", into an honorary "outsider", in order to substantiate his theory of bioethics as essentially an outside critique. Rothman systematically de-emphasizes substantive ethical debates within the medical community, and obscures the role of physicians, of insiders, of traditional medical ethics, in reshaping the ethics ofcontemporary medicine. None the less, he has written a penetrating and ground-breaking history of contemporary medical ethics. Robert Baker, Union College, Schenectady JOSEPH S. FRUTON, A skeptical biochemist, Cambridge, Mass., and London, Harvard University Press, 1992, pp. xii, 330, £23.95 (0-674-81077-5). With this richly informative, challenging and beautifully-written book, the American proteolytic enzyme chemist, biochemistry textbook writer and historian, J. S. Fruton (b. 1912), completes what can now be seen as a trilogy of important historical studies. Molecules and life (New York, Wiley, 1972) examined the development of research on enzymes, proteins, nucleic acids and biological oxidation from their nineteenth-century origins to the 1940s. In Contrasts in scientifc style (Philadelphia, American Philosophical Society, 1990) Fruton examined h

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