Pro-life Medical Doctor Takes the Helm at President’s Bioethics Council

Read  
Print This Post

A Catholic medical doctor and bioethicists who enjoys the respect of his peers across the ideological spectrum is the new chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics. Dr. Edmund D. Pellegrino will begin leading the prestigious council when they next meet on December 8 and 9.

November 16, 2005
Volume 3, Number 15

A Catholic medical doctor and bioethicists who enjoys the respect of his peers across the ideological spectrum is the new chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics. Dr. Edmund D. Pellegrino will begin leading the prestigious council when they next meet on December 8 and 9.

Pellegrino takes over the chairmanship from Leon Kass under whose leadership the Council published some of the most remarkable reports ever produced by a governmental body. Kass came under sustained attack from the left for his strong views on bioethical issues. Pro-lifers expect Pelligrino will also be a friend to their concerns.

Bioethicists Wesley J. Smith said Pellegrino was likely tapped for the chairmanship because “he is considered the dean of the bioethics corps and particularly because he is a bioethicists who maintains a belief system in the equality and sanctity of human life. In other words he has not fallen down that utilitarian slope that so many bioethicists have.”

Smith said that Pellegrino has earned the respect of his peers because of the way he conducts his work. “You have here a very venerable and almost universally respected pioneer in bioethics and I think that’s the main reason he was asked to be chairman,” he said. “Everybody likes Edmund Pellegrino even people who disagree with him. He is a gentleman. I’ve never heard of him criticizing anybody on a personal basis. . . . He is certainly solid on the issues from my perspective but he’s not provocative in the methods by which he goes about that work.”

But Smith notes that the prominence that accompanies the chairmanship sometimes comes with increased scrutiny and increased criticism. “Of course before Leon Kass took over my understanding is that everyone liked him too, so we will see if this era of good feeling continues once Pellegrino begins his work,” he said referring to the numerous attacks lobbed at Kass that painted him as an unserious lackey of the right.

Pellegrino is professor emeritus of medicine and medical ethics and adjunct professor of philosophy at Georgetown University. Along with extensive credentials in bioethics and philosophy Pellegrino brings a substantial background in medicine and medical practice. He served as president and founding director of the Health Sciences Center of the State University of New York in Stony Brook, where he oversaw six schools of health sciences and the hospital. “His work speaks for itself,” Smith said. “He’s been very involved in improving patient and physician communication and supporting improved medical practice. He’s not really a lightening rod for controversy partially because of the way he approaches his work.”

Since being named chairman, Pellegrino has turned down numerous requests for interviews including such a request by Culture and Cosmos. According to the Council’s communications director Pellegrino wants to wait until the first meeting under his leadership before publicly discussing his appointment.

Editor