Assembly Series wrestles with bioethical questions

Bioethicist Leon Kass explores human implications of medical breakthroughs

Looking back over the recent past, the advances in biomedicine seem astonishing. The birth of the first “test tube baby” 30 years ago, for example, was viewed as exotic and, to some, scary. Now, in vitro fertilization is commonplace.

And yet, justifiable ethical concerns surround the human outcomes of these medical breakthroughs.

Leon Kass

Leon Kass, M.D., Ph.D., has been at the forefront of bioethics since before test tube baby Louise Brown was born in 1978. He will speak on “Brave New Biology: The Challenge for Bioethics” as part of the Assembly Series at 4 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 6, in Graham Chapel. The program is free and open to the public.

In addition, Kass will serve as the Dr. Morton Binder Visiting Professor at the School of Medicine, which is sponsored by the Humanities Program in Medicine.

On Feb. 7, he will speak on “Taking Care: Ethical Caregiving in our Aging Society” for the Medical Grand Rounds and will lead a luncheon seminar with medical students.

Kass, a medical doctor with a doctorate in biochemistry, is the Addie Clark Harding Professor in the Committee of Social Thought at the University of Chicago.

He also is the Hertog Fellow in Social Thought at the American Enterprise Institute, a distinguished conservative think tank.

After graduating from the University of Chicago, where he earned bachelor’s and medical degrees, and from Harvard University, where he earned a doctorate in biochemistry, he began a career in molecular biology research at the National Institutes of Health.

But Kass soon found his interest leaning toward the human meaning behind the science. For more than 35 years, Kass has taught, conducted research and written prolifically on the subject from his multidisciplinary vantage point.

As executive secretary in the early 1970s of the Committee on Life Sciences and Social Policy, an arm of the National Research Council/National Academy of Sciences, he helped write a landmark report called “Assessing Biomedical Technologies” that delineated the emerging moral and social questions of biomedical advances.

In 1976, Kass joined the University of Chicago faculty and became known for his deep commitment to undergraduate education and to the study of classical texts.

In 2001, he was chosen by President George W. Bush to chair the President’s Council on Bioethics; under his two terms, the council published six major books and a white paper.

He is the author of several books and numerous essays exploring in vitro fertilization, cloning, genetic screening and genetic technology, organ transplantation, aging research, euthanasia, assisted suicide and the moral nature of the medical profession.

His books include: “Toward a More Natural Science: Biology and Human Affairs,” “The Ethics of Human Cloning,” co-written with James Q. Wilson, “Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics” and “The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis.”

For more information on this program, visit or call 935-4620.