In the lifeboat
In 1841, the sailing ship the William Brown, which was carrying 65 Scottish and Irish emigrants who were searching for a new life in the United States, hit an iceberg and sank. The ship had just two lifeboats, and only half the passengers managed to get a place on board. These survivors were to face another danger, however. The next night, the passengers of one lifeboat, worried that their vessel was in danger of being submerged, quietly pushed 16 of their number overboard. This chilling story has become a paradigm case for “lifeboat ethics,” which tackles the question of whom medicine should save when resources are scarce.
But, Thieves of Virtue: When Bioethics Stole Medicine by Tom Koch, questions the assumptions that underlie lifeboat ethics, and, indeed, much of modern medical ethics. Koch attacks bioethics, a philosophical movement that began in the 1960s and 70s, when medicine turned to philosophers