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SAMJ: South African Medical Journal

versión On-line ISSN 2078-5135
versión impresa ISSN 0256-9574

SAMJ, S. Afr. med. j. vol.101 no.2 Cape Town feb. 2011




Bioethics, Human Rights and Health Law. Principles and Practice



By Ames Dhai and David McQuoid-Mason. Pp. xiv + 194. R245.99. Juta and Company. 2011. ISBN 978-0-70218-052-1.

Given its title this slim volume, running to just 200 pages, is deceptive. With elegance, accessibility and easy readability, it deals with complex, and it must be said potentially dry, matters of great importance to health practitioners in the South African health delivery environment. The authors (and contributing authors) are authorities and the text is thoroughly referenced ... not just with the South African Constitution, National Health Act, and the myriad other health Acts, the key founding documents of modern medical ethics deriving from the Nuremberg Code and the World Medical Association Declarations, the excellent series of guidelines provided by the Health Professions Council of SA (all web addresses supplied), but also with pertinent articles from the medical and legal literature.

The book is aimed at the self-directed learner (of which more later) in all of the health professions and is arranged into two main sections: Introduction to Bioethics, Human Rights and Health Law, which provides the background to (the second section) Specific Topics. This latter deals with issues of professionalism within the practitioner-patient relationship and opens with a superb chapter titled 'The cornerstone of healthcare practice'. The rest of this section is right up to date, dealing with HIV and AIDS, resource allocation, human health and the environment, research ethics and other topics, importantly all from the South African perspective.

In relation to the self-directed learner, each chapter begins with a list of the reader's expected knowledge outcomes, following absorption of the facts contained within, and ends with a series of questions relating to that reading. Here I have a suggestion: the content is complex and I should have liked an appendix at the end of the book offering brief answers to the questions posed, against which to test the reader's own answers. (Perhaps the authors might consider this suggestion for a future edition).

In their preface the authors state that the book is intended as an introductory guide for health care and law students and also for medical and legal practitioners; their ambition is fully realised. However, given the complexity of the information provided, albeit, as said, in an easy-to-read style, my recommendation would be that all practitioners hold this excellent book in their personal libraries for easy reference whenever faced, as we all are from time to time, with an ethical dilemma.


Janet Seggie, MD, FRCP (Lond), FCP (SA)
Specialist Physician

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