Bioethics Community Mourns Passing of Pioneer Edmund Pellegrino

June 19, 2013

Edmund Pellegrino, widely respected as a founder of the bioethics field, passed away on June 13 and will be laid to rest today during a Mass of Christian Burial at Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda, Md.

Dr. Pellegrino was Professor Emeritus of Medicine and Medical Ethics and senior scholar at Georgetown’s Kennedy Institute of Ethics, where earlier this month, shortly before his 93rd birthday, he participated in the university’s Intensive Bioethics Course (IBC).

 A former director of the Kennedy Institute, Pellegrino also served as founding director for the university’s Center for the Advanced Study of Ethics as well as the Center for Clinical Bioethics, and as interim chair of the university’s Division of Internal Medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center.  Pellegrino was also the founding editor of the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy. In a lengthy tribute, Georgetown University quoted from its publication archives:

“I began to teach medical ethics to my residents just as part of the ordinary teaching idea,” [Pellegrino] told Georgetown Magazine in 1996. “We called it the Morning Report, where I would go over the cases that came in over the last 24 hours with the residents. I don’t want to claim to be the first, but I didn’t know of anyone doing that, certainly not a chairman of the department of medicine.” The year he started doing that was 1959.

“To say that Ed is a giant in bioethics is an understatement. No physician in our field has been more influential or important,” says Ruth Faden, director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics and a faculty research scholar at the Kennedy Institute. “He was as gracious, kind and humble as he was brilliant.”

Jeffrey Kahn, Deputy Director for Policy and Administration at the Berman Institute, also reflected on Pellegrino’s contributions. “He was present at the creation of the modern field of bioethics and among its architects, with his contributions literally spanning its history.  While his insights will be sorely missed, his outsized legacy as a teacher and scholar will live on,” Kahn says.

“Medicine is a moral enterprise,” Pellegrino told Georgetown Magazine 17 years ago, “and if you take away the ethical and the moral dimensions, you end up with a technique. The reason it’s a profession is that it’s dedicated to something other than its own self-interests.”

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in Pellegrino’s name to the Archdiocesan Health Care Network (which he helped found) of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington and Catholic Relief Services.