Intended to "spark a philosophical dialogue among readers and in classrooms, clarifying, refining, and challenging the ethical positions people hold on a great many bioethical topics"(1), Bioethics at the Movies contains 21 essays discussing bioethical issues, from abortion and cloning to disability narratives and end-of-life care, in relation to various films. The two dozen authors come from the United States, Spain, Australia, Israel and the United Kingdom, and the majority have their academic homes in Departments of Philosophy. For the most part, the essays use one particular film as a springboard to discuss a bioethical topic, such as terminating pregnancies (The Cider House Rules), marketing organs (Dirty Pretty Things), and memory deletion (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). Two films get a pair of essays (Gattaca and Million Dollar Baby), and several authors cover more than one film. In addition to the aforementioned films, Wit, Citizen Ruth, Bicentennial Man, I, Robot, Babe, Multiplicity, Star Trek: Nemesis, Ghost in the Shell, Dad, Critical Care, Big Fish, Soylent Green, Extreme Measures, Talk to Her, and Ikiru are closely covered.


In her introduction, Sandra Shapshay points out several advantages and disadvantages to using film as a starting point for discussion bioethics; though her points are well-taken, a rather cursory engagement between cinema and ethics dogs much of the book, where the trend is to take basic plot-lines and characterizations from the film as an illustration of basic bioethical problems - instead of getting too much bioethical philosophy or too much film criticism, one is left with not enough of either.  That having been said, this is intended to provoke thought about film and bioethics as a substrate for debate and teaching, and so most of the essays will provide sound footing for further discussion.  Topics include euthanasia, disability, abortion, cultural issues, professional medical ethics, cloning, aging, and death; armed with such loaded issues, the authors continue to wage war on the battlefield that is the space of transition from "is" to "ought." 


The Johns Hopkins University Press

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Sandra Shapshay

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