Health Wars cover
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Publication date:
March 15, 2003
New York Review Books
Science & Philosophy

Trust between doctors and patients has defined the practice of medicine since the time of Hippocrates. But can it endure in an age of complex medical technologies, ever-increasing demands on doctors, and new threats to health? Can trust remain the foundation of medicine in the face of HIV-AIDS, cancer, malaria, randomized drug trials, and manipulation of the human genome-as well as bioterror, war, and poverty?

Problems such as these affect not only individuals but also modern global society in ways that we have barely begun to comprehend. In Health Wars Richard Horton proposes a broad reassessment of how medicine should be practiced today, from the most personal questions of how doctors should treat patients, to the ethical and epistemological conundrums of medical research, to international controversies over the development of health systems in impoverished regions of the world.

For Richard Horton, personal health and public health are not “lifestyle issues” but “profoundly existential and geopolitical concerns.” In reflecting on their implications for our culture, he sees medicine as a fractured and rapidly changing discipline under unprecedented social, political, financial, and scientific pressures. But he insists that it should be guided above all by one ideal: the dignity of an individual in the face of illness. His argument for the restoration of dignity is the culmination of a passionate call for doctors to help shape essential debates ranging from matters of health and healing to the most urgent demands of human development and social justice.