Rebecca Dresser

Daniel Noyes Kirby Professor of Law; Professor of Ethics in Medicine

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Dresser is an expert in biomedical ethics. She holds a joint appointment with Washington University School of Medicine. Since 1983, she has taught medical and law students about legal and ethical issues in end-of-life care, biomedical research, genetics, assisted reproduction, and related topics. Her 2017 book, Silent Partners: Human Subjects and Research Ethics, calls for including experienced study subjects in research deliberations and policy making

In the media


WashU Expert: Physician assisted death for Alzheimer’s, dementia?

WashU Expert: Physician assisted death for Alzheimer’s, dementia?

As Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia continue to become more prevalent, it may not be long before there is a push for legalizing physician-assisted death in dementia cases in the United States. American officials must thoroughly consider the moral and social consequences of such an action, says an expert on medical ethics at Washington University in St. Louis.

WashU Expert: ‘Right to Try’ medications need more informed debate

In 2014, so called “Right to Try” laws, which gave terminally ill patients access to investigational medications, were enacted in five states. More state legislatures are now considering such laws. While time will tell whether these investigational drugs have any significant impact on quality of life or longevity, the legislative debate over such laws must be more informed than it has been, argues Rebecca Dresser, JD, expert in biomedical ethics and law at Washington University in St. Louis.

Wash U Expert: Drug manufacturers must be held accountable for public safety

Fourteen people have been arrested in connection with a 2012 outbreak of fungal meningitis linked to steroid injections that caused 64 deaths across the United States. The arrests, which resulted in two people being charged with 25 acts of second-degree murder, remind us that drug manufacturers must be responsible for their actions, says a noted medical ethics expert at Washington University in St. Louis.

Wash U Expert: Ebola quarantines essential for public health

Recent revelations that NBC News’ chief medical correspondent violated an Ebola quarantine after returning from Africa, and that a Dallas health care worker infected with the virus boarded a commercial jet have focused the nation’s attention on Ebola and what can be done to protect citizens. While measures like quarantine do restrict the freedom of exposed individuals, they do so to protect the public’s health, says a Washington University in St. Louis expert on biomedical ethics.

Reducing rule-breaking in clinical trials

The way that most scientific reports are presented seems to suggest that clinical trials have controlled for flaws or deviations, but some test subjects secretly break study rules that conflict with their own personal interests. These “subversive subjects” undermine the research endeavor.

Could obstacles to lethal injection lead to an end to the death penalty?​​​​

Access to required anesthetic agents for a lethal injection is quickly disappearing, leaving the future of the death penalty in the United States in question. “Because the European Union opposes the death penalty, it prohibits the export of goods for executions [and] requires a time-consuming preauthorization review for every shipment of a potential ‘dual use’ pharmaceutical,” says Rebecca Dresser, JD, biomedical ethics expert and professor of law and of medicine at Washington University in St. Louis. “Capital cases are expensive, and state budgets are tight. High costs and concern about erroneous convictions have led a few states to abolish the death penalty in recent years. Barriers to obtaining lethal injection drugs could lead more states to do away with the death penalty altogether.”

The morality of human subject research

The federal government is in the process of revising the regulations that govern most human subject research in the United States. In a “Policy Forum” piece in the Aug. 3 issue of Science, bioethics expert Rebecca Dresser, JD, the Daniel Noyes Kirby Professor of Law and professor of ethics in medicine, weighs in with recommendations for changes in the oversight process.

Medical ethicists confront cancer in new book

Rebecca Dresser, JD, the Daniel Noyes Kirby Professor of Law and professor of ethics at the School of Medicine, was diagnosed with head and neck cancer six years ago. For perspective, she reached out to other medical ethicists, who had either had cancer themselves, or had a spouse diagnosed with the disease. The group’s meetings became the basis for the book, Malignant: Medical Ethicists Confront Cancer.

Dresser appointed to NIH advisory committee

Rebecca Dresser, JD, the Daniel Noyes Kirby Professor of Law and professor of ethics in medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, has been appointed to the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee of the National Institutes of Health. The committee serves a critical role in the oversight of federally funded research involving recombinant DNA.  

Professor Rebecca Dresser discusses the legal and ethical issues surrounding stem cell research on KWMU’ s “St. Louis on the Air”

Rebecca Dresser, an expert on biomedical research law and bioethics and the Daniel Noyes Kirby Professor of Law at Washington University in St. Louis, discusses the legal and ethical implications of stem cell research with Mike Sampson of KWMU’s “St. Louis on the Air” Nov. 25. Dresser is also a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics. Listen to the program from the KWMU Web site.