Profile: Berman Institute Director Ruth Faden

Featured in the December 2012 Hadassah Magazine

By Barbara Pash

When Ruth Faden looks back on her long career, she can pinpoint the moment she decided to go into public health.

She was doing her master’s degree in American studies at the University of Chicago, working for a professor doing research on female contraception. Her job was to recruit young women to test a new intrauterine device. She considered volunteering to use the IUD herself. But when Faden told the professor—whom she remembers as a kind and caring person—his response shocked her: “Oh no, my dear,” he replied, “why don’t you wait until we know more.”

“It turned my world upside down,” says Faden, who was horrified that she had been recruiting women for such a risky project. She changed her course of study, and got a master’s and a doctoral degree in public health, both from the University of California Berkeley, and embarked on a new career.

Faden is the founder of Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, and has been the director since it opened in 1995. The institute focuses on the ethics of clinical practice, biomedical science and public health locally and globally, and engages students and policymakers in discussions of those issues. Located on the Johns Hopkins East Baltimore Medical Campus, site of Hopkins Hospital and Kennedy Krieger Institute, the institute, with a staff of over 30 core and affiliated faculty, is one of the largest such facilities in the world. Since inception, the institute has received more than $30 million in federal research funds and $49 million in philanthropic support.

Not only did she help found the premier institute on bioethics, Faden has also written seminal books in the field and won numerous awards, most recently the 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award granted to Faden and her husband, bioethicist Tom Beauchamp, by Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing the highest ethical standards in the conduct of research. …

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Feeding The World Fairly

December 18, 2012

A Stavros Niarchos Foundation grant will fund planning by a multidisciplinary group of scholars at Johns Hopkins University for an ethical framework to address food shortages and maldistribution.

Fair access to good food is a challenge as old as civilization, and failing to meet it contributed to the fall of the French monarchy (‘let them eat cake’), Babylon, Athens and the Roman Empire. As the global populace climbs toward an expected nine billion by 2050, an $800,000 grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation will fund collaborative work by three divisions of Johns Hopkins University to develop ethical guidelines to help meet the challenge in our day.

“There is something profoundly wrong about a world in which nearly two billion people are undernourished while another two billion people are overweight,” says Ruth Faden, PhD, MPH, director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics.  Faden will jointly lead the project along with Alan Goldberg, PhD, from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Robert Thompson, PhD, of Johns Hopkins’ Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.  Yashar Saghai, a post-doctoral fellow at the Berman Institute, will be project director.

“This collaboration among Johns Hopkins institutions will examine one of the fundamental obstacles to achieving global food security: profound disagreement about what it means to feed the world ethically,” Faden says.

The project leaders will recruit diverse experts and stakeholders from around the world to characterize differences in ethical assumptions and aims, and to search for moral common ground, Faden says. Participants will include those involved in high and low yield farming, agricultural technology and the welfare of animals, the environment and workers.

“We expect that there will be negotiation and conflict among competing interests, but all the players need to be at the table,” says Thompson. A working, weeklong conference is planned for 2014.

“The goal of this meeting is to produce a document of shared moral principles or commitments that will provide the understanding of the basic issues that must be included to identify fair or ethical food guidelines,” says Goldberg.

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation funds diverse non-profit organizations and projects around the world that have the potential for broad, lasting and positive social impact, according to the foundation. In the 1930s, Niarchos expanded his family’s grain business by thinking globally, buying the ships that transported wheat.

“Mark Twain wrote that hunger is the handmaid of genius; I do believe that if we bring committed people together and treat these issues with the gravity they deserve, we will find a way to narrow what are now broad differences of opinion on a profoundly important question: how to feed everyone, ethically. It is doable,” Faden says.

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Media Contact: Leah Ramsay 202.642.9640 lramsay@jhu.edu