Leon Kass explores the human implications of medical breakthroughs

"Brave New Biology: The Challenge for Bioethics"

Looking back over the recent past, the advances in biomedicine seem astonishing. How exotic, and to many how scary, it was to learn about the first “test tube baby” being born 30 years ago, and now in vitro fertilization is commonplace.

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

Leon Kass has been at the forefront of bioethics since before Louise Brown, the first test tube baby, was born in 1978. His talk for the Assembly Series, “Brave New Biology: The Challenge for Bioethics,” will be presented at 4 p.m. Wednesday, February 6 in Graham Chapel on Washington University’s Danforth Campus. 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, sponsored by the Humanities Program in Medicine.

On Thursday, February 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, and also 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 with 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 towards the human meaning behind the science. For more than 35 years Kass has taught, conducted research and written prolifically on the subject from his multi-disciplinary vantage point.

As executive secretary of the Committee on the Life Sciences and Social Policy, an arm of the National Research Council/National Academy of Sciences, he helped write a landmark report in the early 1970s 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 is known there for his deep commitment to undergraduate education and to the study of classical texts. In 2001, he was tapped by President 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 countless 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.

Kass’ 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 assemblyseries.wustl.edu or call (314) 935-4620.