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After Harm

, 176 pages
November 2009



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After Harm

Medical Error and the Ethics of Forgiveness

Medical error is a leading problem of health care in the United States. Each year, more patients die as a result of medical mistakes than are killed by motor vehicle accidents, breast cancer, or AIDS.

While most government and regulatory efforts are directed toward reducing and preventing errors, the actions that should follow the injury or death of a patient are still hotly debated. According to Nancy Berlinger, conversations on patient safety are missing several important components: religious voices, traditions, and models.

In After Harm, Berlinger draws on sources in theology, ethics, religion, and culture to create a practical and comprehensive approach to addressing the needs of patients, families, and clinicians affected by medical error. She emphasizes the importance of acknowledging fallibility, telling the truth, confronting feelings of guilt and shame, and providing just compensation. After Harm adds important human dimensions to an issue that has profound consequences for patients and health care providers.

Nancy Berlinger is the deputy director and associate for religious studies at the Hastings Center.

"In an environment in which the aftermath of medical harm is characterized by adversarial relationships and self-protective maneuvering, Berlinger's proposals offer an alternative that ultimately better serves patients, families, clinicians, and health-care institutions. After Harm has much to offer students, educators, administrators, and policymakers."

"Forgiveness on the part of an injured patient, or the family if the patient has died, comes as a result of both words and actions on the part of doctors and hospitals, says Nancy Berlinger in her thoughtful and well-researched book."

"This is an important book that deserves to be read widely. Berlinger has done a signal service by writing it."

"Certainly recommended reading."

"Provides a valuable counterbalance to innumerable calls for systemic reforms to reduce medical error."

"Thoughtful and well-researched."

"An accessible, thoughtful treatment of this sensitive topic, which carefully addresses the concerns of all parties affected by medical harm... This book should be read by anyone working within a healthcare institution."

"A refreshing effort to connect error and forgiveness in a way that encourages the sort of debate the issue deserves."

"Presents an opportune and refreshing perspective on medical error."

"The text in my view makes an important contribution to the understanding of the relationship between physician and patient in the face of medical error... The author states she hopes non-physician health care professionals will find her work of use, to that end she has succeeded."

"I loved this book... It is a tight, tasty, spiritual and intellectual morsel."

"Dr. Berlinger's thoughtful and graceful work offers reflection on aspects of heath care, ethics and faith in ways both necessary and new. Her work provides a critique of bioethics and a challenge for the sort of conversations we need to move forward."

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