History

Established in 1995, the Berman Institute is now one of the largest centers of its kind in the world. Today, the Berman Institute consists of more than 30 core and affiliated faculty from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, School of Nursing, Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences.

Our Namesake

Phoebe Rhea Berman believed there was no better place than Johns Hopkins to address the ethical dilemmas raised by advances in medical discovery. “With all the complexities of modern life — new discoveries in science, changes in medicine and medical care — medical professionals and policy makers are faced with very difficult decisions. There is a need for the teaching of ethics in our society.”

To underscore this conviction, Berman established an endowment for the Institute, saying, “If you have more money than you need, you should give some of it away, shouldn’t you? And what better to support than the Bioethics Institute? The work that is being done there has great meaning for me and can make a real difference in society.” The Berman Institute was officially established in 1995.

Berman grew up on a farm and at a young age developed what she called a reverence for life. Many decades later, she and her husband went to French Equatorial Africa to work with Albert Schweitzer as extended volunteers. Schweitzer’s work inspired her, and her commitment to the need for ethical considerations in medical and scientific decision-making was reaffirmed and strengthened. “You have to have a strong heart and great will to make the kind of difference someone like Dr. Schweitzer made. All I am doing is making a contribution in a way that is meaningful for me,” Berman said.

Berman had previously established the Edgar Berman Professorship in International Health and the Edgar Berman and Hubert Humphrey Fund in International Health at the Bloomberg School of Public Health to honor her husband, Edgar Berman, who was a pioneering surgeon, an outspoken social critic, and a best-selling author. Berman was also a dedicated supporter of the arts, contributing to the Peabody Institute, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Baltimore Symphony.

Berman’s bequest was absolutely critical to the creation of the Berman Institute of Bioethics, and we are indebted to her beyond measure. Berman had the deep conviction that questions of bioethics were essential to the future of humanity, and she expressed that conviction by entrusting us with her legacy.

Our Home

Deering Hall, located on the Johns Hopkins East Baltimore Medical Campus, has been home to the Berman Institute of Bioethics since 2011. The building, which dates back to the late nineteenth century, was formerly a police station, serving the northeastern district of the Baltimore Police Department. Deering Hall is listed on the National Register of Historic Places; it and the original Johns Hopkins hospital complex are the only two remaining listed historical sites on the East Baltimore campus.

Deering Hall is named for Berman Institute Advisory Board member and Development Chair Lynn Deering and her husband Tony Deering, a University Trustee. The Deerings were instrumental in our efforts to obtain our own building, giving not only their leadership, time and resources, but also their passion and enthusiasm to this endeavor. A formal ceremony to dedicate the building was held on May 11, 2011, during Bioethics Week at Johns Hopkins University.

“It has been invaluable to have such a wonderful place for our faculty, staff and students to call home,” says Jeffrey Kahn, the Berman Institute’s Deputy Director for Policy and Administration. “The interdisciplinary nature of our work needs the right environment, and Deering Hall’s design and character are the perfect match for all the research, projects, teaching and scholarship we do at the Berman Institute.”

Our street, Ashland Avenue, is at the heart of the 88-acre East Baltimore Development Initiative. The first phase is a 31-acre Science and Technology Park that will include over 1.1 million square feet of office and laboratory space in five life science buildings, over 800 units of residential and graduate housing, up to 80,000 square feet of retail space and 3 acres of open space. Ashland Avenue is designated as the “Main Street” of the first phase, meaning that the Berman Institute will be at the heart of one of Baltimore’s biggest development projects in years.