Life at Stake in the ER

Book review of Do No Harm.


Editor's Note: This entry has been updated since it went to press.


Do No Harm

By Fiorella de Maria

Ignatius, 2013

235 pages, $16.95

To order:,

(800) 651-1531


Two years ago, I read Maltese writer Fiorella de Maria’s book Poor Banished Children late into the night, turning each page with expectation.

I was enthralled by her accurate representation of 17th-century Europe and Africa — and the heroine’s struggle with sin and the peace she found through her final confession. I closed the book wanting more novels from this author.

It was with a sense of excitement that I opened the author’s latest book, Do No Harm. Once again, she tells a compelling story, but this time set in a modern-day England with an "end-of-life care" bill. This bill requires doctors to obey a patient’s living will — a written document that gives instructions about what medical treatment can be administered to a person if he or she is unconscious or terminally ill — or face prosecution.

The novel opens with emergency-room physician Matthew Kemble saving the life of Daisy Havisham, who has attempted suicide. This is an everyday occurrence for him, but matters are complicated by Daisy’s being in possession of a living will, which states that she refuses all lifesaving treatment.

Matthew chooses to follow his own conscience and save her life, but because he ignored the living will, his actions are considered assault. When a lawsuit is brought against Dr. Kemble by Daisy’s brother, he turns to lawyer Jonathan Kirkpatrick and aspiring lawyer Maria Hargreaves to defend him.

Along with the lawsuit, the author weaves Maria’s story — that of a fervent young Catholic with a troubled past — into the plot. Maria is constantly getting herself into trouble in order to help those she thinks are being wronged.

Do No Harm does a good job of illustrating how the world is turned upside down when the basic moral truth of the right of life from conception to natural death is set aside.

The reader sees the slippery slope of relativism that is demonstrated by people demanding Daisy and others be allowed the "right to die."

Fiorella de Maria also shows the difficult situation of a peace-loving Catholic who is forced to stand up against an unjust law. Matthew struggles with his desire to plead guilty and lose his medical license in order to avoid the emotional turmoil of a trial.

His lawyer asks him, "What if, by the time your children have grown up, it is no longer legal for Catholics to train as doctors?"

He goes on to say, "They’re using the same drip-drip approach they used in the Reformation, slowly and unobtrusively hemming us in with laws and regulations, all in the name of equality."

Both of these quotes ring true, not only in the context of the book, but to Americans who are being forced to pay for birth control and abortifacients through the HHS mandate.

While, overall, I found the novel both captivating and enjoyable, at times the subplots take away from the main storyline, rather than further it.

I was also distracted by typos and incorrect word usage throughout the book — most notably incorrect pronoun usage that changed the gender of an unimportant character. This is understandable, as the author’s first language is not English, but I wish the editor would have caught it and saved the reader distraction and confusion.

Nonetheless, all of the individual notes of the plot come together in the last 10 pages of the book to form a touching and memorable melody. A reveal about Maria’s past gives a deeper meaning to the case and the actions of the three main characters — and shows the true merit of Dr. Kemble’s life work.

Ella Hadacek writes from Idaho.