The best books about the most challenging ethical dilemmas in modern medicine

Jacob M. Appel Author Of Who Says You're Dead? Medical & Ethical Dilemmas for the Curious & Concerned
By Jacob M. Appel

Who am I?

As a physician and attorney, I’ve always been fascinated by the nexus where my two professions meet.   During the course of my career, I have been asked to advise colleagues on topics as far-reaching as whether a death row inmate should receive an organ transplant to how to offer psychotherapy ethically to a conjoined twin. Although questions like these do not arise every day, even the everyday questions in my field – on such topics as confidentiality, boundaries, and informed consent – never grow old.


I wrote...

Who Says You're Dead? Medical & Ethical Dilemmas for the Curious & Concerned

By Jacob M. Appel,

Book cover of Who Says You're Dead? Medical & Ethical Dilemmas for the Curious & Concerned

What is my book about?

Drawing upon the author’s decades teaching medical ethics and his work as a practicing physician, this book of challenging ethical dilemmas asks readers, What would you do?

A daughter gets tested to see if she’s a match to donate a kidney to her father. The test reveals that she isn’t the man’s biological daughter. Should the doctor tell them? A deaf couple prefers a deaf baby. Should they be allowed to use medical technology to ensure they have a child who can’t hear? Who should get custody of an embryo created through IVF when a couple divorces? Or, when you or a loved one is on life support, Who says you’re dead? In short, engaging scenarios, Dr. Appel takes on hot-button issues in medical ethics.

The books I picked & why

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Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present

By Harriet A. Washington,

Book cover of Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present

Why this book?

Medical Apartheid is the one book that I urge all of my medical students to read. In a compelling narrative laced with shocking details, Washington reveals the way various forms of racial segregation and bias have shaped the American medical system – from the ghastly 19th century experiments of surgeon J. Marion Sims to the systemic exploitation of the government’s MK-ULTRA program in the 1950s to ongoing discrimination today.  


Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven But Nobody Wants to Die: Bioethics and the Transformation of Health Care in America

By Amy Gutmann, Jonathan D. Moreno,

Book cover of Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven But Nobody Wants to Die: Bioethics and the Transformation of Health Care in America

Why this book?

By far the best survey of medical ethics on the market today, Moreno and Gutmann bring to life the most challenging issues in bioethics with both rigor and eloquence. This is the ideal book for a newcomer to the subject who wants to learn how current ethical principles evolved and how they are applied in a range of areas from organ donation to end-of-life decision-making.


Rights Come to Mind

By Joseph J. Fins,

Book cover of Rights Come to Mind

Why this book?

Fins combines personal narratives of patients he has encountered who have suffered severe neurological injuries with data from the field of neurology to explore the complex question of what it means to be in a persistent vegetative state—as well as one’s prognosis for recovery. A deeply compassionate volume that will make readers question what they believe about comas, death, and the gray area in between. 


You Can Stop Humming Now: A Doctor's Stories of Life, Death, and in Between

By Daniela Lamas,

Book cover of You Can Stop Humming Now: A Doctor's Stories of Life, Death, and in Between

Why this book?

Lamas, an ICU physician in Boston and New York Times guest columnist, has a distinctive gift for rendering the stories of her patients in three dimensions. Lamas is the Oliver Sachs of the ICU, exploring the ethical and emotional challenges of critical illness with eloquence and insight. By focusing on the personal elements of critical care, rather than the technological ones, she renders the complex experience of ICU patients vivid and indelible.   


Law and Bioethics: An Introduction

By Jerry Menikoff,

Book cover of Law and Bioethics: An Introduction

Why this book?

The defining text of the topic of law and medicine, written by one of the nation’s premier bioethicists, Menikoff’s compendium of challenging cases and analyses is as relevant today as it was when first published two decades ago. Serious students of the subject matter will appreciate both the nuance and thoroughness of this short yet comprehensive volume.


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