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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 8 August 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
As an introductory short read this book absolutely excels, it is absolutely bunged with information and interesting information at that, the pace is consistently interesting and engaging without any dull chapters, neither is there any jargon or "pitch shifting" in terms of the style of writing either. I believe this book will be read by the interested general reader and student or research alike.

The book has no index but it does have comprehensive endnotes for each chapter, a contents which is pretty clear and chapters which closely reflect the chapter headings. The chapters are structured into blocks of text, with boxes which provide more specific topical information, there are illustrations, ie cartoons and pictures, the first page of each chapter has a quotation or citation to spur on the interest of the reader. The book has a 100 ideas section at the end of the book, typical of the series, which includes 20 suggestions for further reading, 10 landmark court decisions, 10 literary works, 10 films, 10 best websites, 10 think tanks and activist organisations, 10 key concepts (I liked this list in particular: Justice; Property rights in the body; exploitation and vulnerability; genetic patentability; biological determinism; the genetic mystique/genetic exceptionalism; killing and letting die; autonomy; the genetic commons; the moral and legal status of the embryo or fetus), 10 key thinkers and 10 people and groups who shaped their field for better or worse.

This book deals with what are current ethical and social issues, such as the selling of genetic matter by surogate parents, but also the ways in which these are precidents legally and ethically for what is yet to come and deals with some of the discussion around things such as "body shopping" or the possibility of "transhumans", a bit of a sci fi and cyberpunk idea still, or body modifications which could render unmodified individuals "lesser mortals".

The whole "frankenstein's monster" conceptualisation of "mad science" has sort of slipped from the human psyche or been overshadowed by the "religious fanatic" as the most troubling and preoccupying of archetypical villains but there is plenty in this book which should provide food for thought about what seemingly limitless innovations and discovery could or should mean for what it is to be human. This is a book I can recommend because it deals with important issues that I think everyone should be thinking about and discussing but which seldom seem to be reported, even as sensationalism, but it is also very readable, a great book to take on a short break and which wont take more than two or three days to read at most.
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on 2 November 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This book is from the All That Matters series of books, where an expert in the field tries to provide a crash course in their chosen field of expertise targeted at readers interested in knowing more about the particular topic. The author Donna Dickenson is clearly an expert in this field, serving as Emeritus Professor of Medical Ethics and Humanties at the University of London and being the winner of the International Spinoza Lens prize in 2006, a bi-annual prize in ethics.

For me, I found the book a little disappointing. Beyond the argument that some scientists may argue that science needs to go as far as it wants without consideration of ethics, and that others would disagree I found the book lacking detail. The main topics in the book cover human bio-engineering (surrogate mothering and the legal selling of eggs), genes and their ownership. I didn't feel I learnt much from the book (I would not consider myself an expert in this field at all) and for that I must admit I was disappointed. I have read other books in this series and found them more rewarding.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is effectively the question posed by this book attempting to present in a nutshell the ethics of modern bio-engineering. Covering a relatively small area of human bio-engineering - surrogate motherhood & egg donation, stem cell and gene research (genetically modified crops for example are ignored entirely) - frankly I felt very much none the wiser coming out of the other end.

The final chapter, "God, Mammon and biotechnology", should really be getting to the nub of the matter, as megacorp profit is what lies behind it all. However apart from an admittedly interesting digression discussing the irrelevancy of the "science vs religion debate" which many, especially on the science side, try to reduce the whole argument to and rubbish opponents as Luddites, the "Mammon" aspect doesn't really get a look in.

The "100 ideas" section at the end of the book supposedly intended to point the reader to further investigation feels very much like filler content on the whole to make up the numbers - ten of this, ten of that and so on.
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Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I used this book as an introduction to a the subject of Ethics within genetic engineering for an essay I had to complete for my degree course. It was a great starting point on the subject and contains vast amounts of further reference material you can refer to if you wish to gain a deeper understanding of the subject. The reference/bibliography appendices are as rich in information as the main content. It is only meant to be a short introduction and this may be why it skipped along quite quickly in the beginning, often bombarding you with jargon. The real 'meat' of the book is focused on embriotic genetic engineering heavily related to surrogacy and IVF etc together with the legal perspective of these and the moral implications. Bioethics covers so much more but I would say that the author clearly has a specialist knowledge in work with human embryos and hence the major subject matter of the book. It would have been nice to have some more content relating to genetic engineering with plants that have an impact on mankind but this was only touched upon very briefly.

All in all, if you need an overview of human genome manipulation, synthetic human biology and issues related to this but specifically with relation to fertility or genetic 'fixing' of embryos and all the current 'bodyshopping' (as the author puts it) issues, this book has about everything you need to give you a really good overview and enough to feed your opinion on the same.

Well written, easy to read and plenty of material to back up her views and statements. I, for one, found it very useful.
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on 20 January 2013
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Biotechnology and bioethics is a massive and important subject for our time. Sadly Donna Dickenson has not done the topic justice in this short book.

She raises many of the most important topics in the field, including gene research and gene patenting, clinical trials and informed consent, and surrogate pregnancy and IVF. I have learnt a lot from reading chapters on these topics.

The problem is that she simultaneously attacks others for taking a partisan approach to the issue, and offers a deeply partisan viewpoint herself. To take just two examples:

- In Chapter 1 she rails against the idea of a 'straw-man' argument that her opponents have raised in debates about public attitudes to BSE. Yet just a few pages earlier, she constructs an obvious straw man herself, in claiming that biotech advocates argue 'there should be no limits imposed on its progress by ethical questioning, political interference or legal prohibitions'. I'd love to see Ms Dickenson produce any biotech advocate who would actually argue such a thing - she certainly provides no reference for such a contentious claim.

- In Chapter 2 she argues that bioethics should be about opening up the debate, not closing it down, and yet she herself swiftly closes down alternative viewpoints on the major topics she discusses in the book.

This partisanship is one thing - in a sense I can understand it as I think the biotech debate has up to now been very one-sided. However, what's worse is that in arguing her case Dickenson makes some fairly basic logical flaws. Again to take just one example:

- In Ch 3 she raises Savulescu's claim that we should produce the best children we can, equates this (probably correctly) with utilitarianism, and then proceeds to argue against Savulescu's claim by saying that utilitarianism is 'oppressive and obsessive', quoting an American lawyer, Fried who argues that under such an approach we could not rest for a moment in seeking out the best outcome. Here Dickenson is displaying (perhaps willful) ignorance of the subtleties of utilitarianism. Savulescu's statement in no sense implies Fried's conclusion - other forms of utilitarianism are considerably less demanding, and it is Dickenson, not Savulescu, who is pushing for the most extreme form of act utilitarianism to be applied here.

This kind of logical hole in an argument makes me think that the author is simply on a campaigning agenda, seeking to push a partisan view to readers rather than give a balanced, informative account of the challenges associated with biotech. Which is a real shame - the field badly needs a better introduction than is offered here.
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on 11 October 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is shaping up to be a fine series of short but thought provoking books.

Donna Dickenson tackles the vast and complex topic of Bioethics in a passionate but not overtly partisan way. She nails her colours to mast straight away: we are going too far down the road of having blind faith in the 'medical improvements for all' motives of modern science and we are losing sight of important ethical issues, particularly as ever advancing technology is enabling us to do more and more in the area of bio-engineering and pharmaceutical development. She does balance this though with persuasive, progressive argument, strongly pointing out the dangers of modern bio-technology research and development in an overtly commercial environment, where the possibility of eugenic policies are realisable in an increasingly un-democratic, 'profit-regardless-of-all-other-considerations' political and economic culture.

In fact the power of Big Pharma in particular is frightening and at the end of this book, one cannot help feel we are sleepwalking into a divided world of genetic engineering and medical support for the rich, and a chaotic free-for-all for the rest...and that will be regardless of whether you live in the West or a developing nation.

So in a concise little book Dickenson covers areas such as stem-cell and embryonic research, third world surrogacy, body enhancement and drug development and availability as well as considering the moral and religious issues wrapped up in the whole, most fundamental issue of who should we trust to experiment and devise ways to treat- and improve- our bodies. The truly scary conclusion to it all, and what crops up repeatedly throughout this book, is that in the 21st century money and commercial profit alone is driving it all, and when it comes to making a profit in this world of neoliberal, free-market capitalism, ethics and more metaphysical questions regarding is what we are doing actually right and equitable in the long-term, hardly get a look-in.

This book is a great introduction to ways of thinking to put that right. Give it a read.
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VINE VOICEon 5 October 2012
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In this short book Dickenson presents an accessible introduction to Bioethics. It is written with an easily accessible style and with plenty of references to the primary literature. Topics covered range from is permitting research always right, to surrogacy, egg donation and fertility issues, genetic screening, stem cell research and the influence of corporate biotechnology. The one section that is missing is genetic modification of organisms.

The book gives different views from many authors with quotes illustrating important ideas (these use a wide variety of font types and sizes which was distracting at first but you soon become used to it). The author also gives their own views, but they are not forced upon the reader and she challenges readers to make judgements for themselves.

This is an ideal textbook for a short course at under-graduate level or for anyone interested in Bioethics. It does not aim to be an in depth comprehensive text but it is a pleasure to read.

PS: My one gripe as an ex-lawyer is the grasp of patent law. Patents are time limited. This can be extended to account for the time in development but this is only usually for drugs to account for clinical trials. The reason why most gene patents are nonsense is the requirement for invention. It has to be something more than the current state of the art. The first GM organisms were but now this is common practice and so no more patents should be granted (granting does not mean validity - the Patent Offices want to collect the fees). There is also a research exemption. So although Myriad can stop others commercialising diagnostic tools for BRCA1 and BRCA2 if the patent is valid, they cannot stop academic research. Hopefully this will be sorted out in the US Court of Appeal when the Myriad patent is rejected because of prior art (Cancer Research did the ground work) and lack of invention (any lab can clone a gene - there is no inventive step).
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VINE VOICEon 20 January 2013
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I've read a number of the 'All That Matters' series, and enjoyed all of them. This particular volume, however, had a different flavour from the others as , instead of presenting a history of ideas or achievements, it asked questions whilst supplying few answers. As there are those who regard the notion of bioethics as an irrelevance, this isn't really surprising, and the challenges presented here are fascinating. We are given scenarios, such as a pregnancy when the child may have a serious medical condition, and asked to think about courses of action, with the help/hindrance of a wide range of opinions from a wide range of bioethicists. It turns out that we have been asked 'trick' questions, in the sense that each dilemma conceals another. For example, there may be clinical tests which can indicate a problem with a fetus - but what if the test itself carries a risk to the mother? Or the result is a probability and not a certainty? And are there 'acceptable' deformities or deficiencies? This is a book to get you thinking, and hoping that you are never faced with any of these situations yourself. Another small package of delight.
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VINE VOICEon 15 February 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
What a deceptive little book this is; it really is something of a tardis. The author does an excellent job of making the subject of ethics highly readable when by most accounts it can be anything but approachable in any meaningful way. The matter of Biorhtics is so important to us all as we move farther and farther toward a future where large corporations might just gain patents on matters which are inalianably all of ours in accordance with nature. If you are a student of Ethics then this will clear up some of the more fundamental definitions that you will need to be very clear about if you are to prepare sensible arguments for defence of your ideas in the area you will be studying. However the author goes on to much deeper levels of thought and she does this very quickly and effectively so be prepared, this is not a book to treat lightly; buy it study it and allow it to stimulate your further cogitation. Could prove to be a minor classic in its own time.
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VINE VOICEon 15 August 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Such a complex thought provoking topic put through the All That Matters format is a recipe for disaster if you are looking for something in depth.

I can see how this may serve as an introduction but I would not recommend this as a reference or guide. I can see how one may swot up to provide a topic of discussion post open lecture etc, but I would be wary of extrapolating from anything as basic as this.

Furthermore there are certain judgements made without full representation of the nuances involved which makes me feel that the author and editors tread upon shaky ground. But that is the fault of the format.

I would recommend this to someone who had little knowledge of bioethics with the caveat that the recommendation came with a further reading list, depending on the field the person was interested in. Or one could treat it as apertif before a course on medical/bioethics.
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