Doctors operating within body of the law

Life Issues and the Law
March 5, 1999

The format of a collection of essays frees Solomon Salako from the constraint of attempting to provide universal coverage of his subject. Rather, he has picked out a number of "hot" topics, including separating conjoined twins; testing for genetic disease and the implications for medical insurance; and criminalisation of transmission of HIV. These are interspersed among subjects more familiar to medical lawyers, such as informed consent, abortion, embryo research and euthanasia.

Taken as individual pieces of writing, the format provides ample scope for the author to express his opinions in a forthright manner. Thus, in his chapter on informed consent, he describes the well-known Bolam principle as "a superfluous excrescence" on the tort of negligence. Taken as a whole, however, this collection lacks direction. A grandiose introduction promises to provide medical law with the discrete body and method it has hitherto lacked. Sadly, this promise is not fulfilled, perhaps because the subject matter does not focus solely on legal theory, but attempts to incorporate ethical considerations as well.

Surprisingly, Salako restricts his focus to medical law rather than health-care law, concentrating primarily on the medical profession and its interface with ethical issues. This seems outmoded when most of the literature recognises the interdisciplinary nature of modern health-care decision-making, and the demise of doctors' professional autonomy, fuelled by inglorious episodes such as the recent Bristol tragedy and the inclusion of premature babies in a research trial without their parents' consent.

One significant criticism is that at a time when the entire civil justice system is being simplified and given a "plain English" makeover, it is nothing short of ridiculous for the author to pepper his text with so many unnecessary Latin words that often he finds it necessary to provide a translation immediately afterwards, a fact that surely militates against their use in the first place. This, together with arcane vocabulary, neologisms and countless typographical errors, detracts from Salako's arguments, which are, for the main part, astute and cogent.

The selective nature of this collection means that it is not an obvious choice as a student text, but it is a worthwhile addition to the literature nonetheless, and provides a useful comparative perspective on the issues covered.

Julie Stone is senior lecturer in health-care ethics and law, University of Greenwich.

Life Issues and the Law: Essays in Medical Law and Ethics

Author - Solomon E. Salako
ISBN - 1 874430 39 X
Publisher - Pentaxion
Price - £14.99
Pages - 235

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