Bioethics Think Tanks and Reference Materials

Dianne N. Irving
August 8, 2004
Reproduced with Permission

If you want to keep abreast of the issues and public policies involving bioethics that are so dramatically affecting everyone -- and who is involved in these efforts -- you might want to just wander through the following three secular bioethics websites from time to time where such information is abundant. For example, The Hastings Center was the first bioethics think tank established in 1969. Quoting from my long bioethics article, "What is 'bioethics'?" (at:; and at

In 1969, Willard Gaylin and Daniel Callahan (who later was on the board of the Society for the Study of Social Biology, the re-named American Eugenics Society)founded the Hastings Center, funded primarily by the individuals John D. Rockefeller III and Elizabeth Dollard, as well as by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Rockefeller Foundation. Pioneers of the field who came to work at and with the Hastings Center included: Henry Beecher, Robert Coles, Theodore Dobzhansky, Andre Cournand, Rene Dubos, Renee Fox, Robert Morison, Art Caplan, Paul Ramsey, James Gustafson, Robert Veatch, Marc Lappe, Robert Neville, Peter Steinfels, Bruce Hilton, Martin Golding, and Senator Walter Mondale (who would soon hold Congressional hearings resulting in the formal "birth" of bioethics). The first 4 "research groups" at the Hastings Center addressed issues such as death and dying, behavior control, genetic engineering, genetic counseling and population control, and the conjunction of ethics and public policy. In 1971 the first volume of the Hastings Center Report appeared -- a publication which was to become the early bible of secular bioethics. As Jonsen noted, "The index of the Hastings Center Report over the next years defined the range of topics that were becoming bioethics and constituted a roll call of the authors who would become its proponents."

The URL for The Hastings Center's main website is: Of particular interest for you might be the "Publications" hyperlink at the left of the page. Included are: (1) The Hastings Center Report ("the bible of secular bioethics"), at:; (2) their IRB Review (since the Belmont Principles of autonomy, justice and beneficence were transformed into the U.S. federal government's regulations for the use of human subjects in research, originally the OPRR, now called the OHRP), at:; (3) the Hastings Center's Special Reports, at:; and (4) a listing of their sponsored books and other bioethics publications, at:

Another major resource for getting to know what bioethics is is the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University -- another of the early bioethics think tanks. As I described it in my long bioethics article:

The Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University was also spawned during this time period. Andre Hellegers was a Jesuit-trained Dutch physician who was working at Johns Hopkins in research in fetal physiology and the reproductive sciences -- eventually earning him a Fellowship from the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation. In 1967 he came to Georgetown University School of Medicine, and was also the Director of Georgetown's Center for Population Research which was funded by a Ford Foundation Grant.

Hellegers excitedly discussed with Fr. Henle, then President of the college, the need for founding a center at Georgetown to study the ethical issues surrounding his own areas of research. Henley enthusiastically endorsed such a mission. In 1970 a proposal to fund such an institute was submitted to the Kennedy Foundation -- funds later came from the NIH National Library of Medicine (where Jonsen later served as a Fellow). The institute was originally called the Kennedy Center for the Study of Human Reproduction and Development. In 1971 the name changed to The Joseph and Rose Kennedy Center for the Study of Human Reproduction and Bioethics, and finally changed to the Kennedy Institute of Ethics. It opened with 2 research scholars -- LeRoy Walters, a Mennonite theologian, and Warren Reich, a Catholic theologian from Catholic University. Soon to follow were: Charles Curran, Richard McCormick, Gene Outka, John Connery, Tom Beauchamp, Terry Pinkard, Robert Veatch, William May (Protestant theologian), Tris Engelhardt, James Childress, and later Edmund Pellegrino.

Since 1974 the KIE at Georgetown University has sponsored very popular "intensive summer courses" in bioethics for health care workers, hospital administrators, politicians, lawyers, public policy makers, philosophers, theologians, sociologists, indeed scholars from across the academy, government and the private sector. [There are now "advanced" programs, and programs specifically for German, Latin American, Asian and other nationalities. The KIE even offers extensive courses on "bioethics for high school students".] Of significance also was their creation of the National Reference Center for Bioethics Literature, the Encyclopedia of Bioethics, The Bibliography of Bioethics, a joint J.D./Ph.D bioethics program between the Law School and the Department of Philosophy/KIE at Georgetown University, and a Ph.D. program in the Department of Philosophy with a concentration in bioethics.

The URL for the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University is: On that page you will see a resource for searching "bioethics" issues, their KIE Information Services, at: Again, listed in their "Publications" section are various journals and publications they promote on-line: (1) Feminist Approaches to Bioethics: at:; (2) Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, at:; (3) New Titles in Bioethics, at:; and (4) The Network on Ethics and Intellectual Disability, at:

The third of the original three bioethics think tanks was the Society for Health and Human Values. As described in my long bioethics article:

Discussions by the Committee on Medical Ethics and Theology of the United Ministries in Education (a collaboration of the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches) initiated in 1965 eventually led to the Society of Health and Human Values in 1970. It was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (the "munificent benefactor of bioethics", as Jonsen notes) and the Russell Sage Foundation. The Society soon established its Institute on Human Values in Medicine, with Dr. Edmund Pellegrino as Chairman of its first Board of Directors. Others included Thomas McElhinney, Ron Carson, Larry Churchill, Lorretta Kopelman, Mark Ziegler, David Thomasma, Peter Williams, Warren Reich and Larry McCullough. ...All three of these organizations contributed influential scholars and ideas to the federal activities in bioethics that ushered in the formal birth of "bioethics".Many of them provided "expert" testimonies at influential Congressional and Senate hearings to come, and served on a plethora of similar governmental and private commissions, committees, conferences, and other organizations and activities.

The Society for Health and Human Values was eventually warped into what is known today as the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities. It's main website is: On their "Resources" hyperlink you will find "Publications", as well as their "Library", with links to the following topics: Bioethics, Nursing Ethics, History of Medicine, Medical Sociology, Medical Anthropology, and Literature and Medicine.

THIS IS BIOETHICS, and has been for over 30 years now. THIS is what public policy has been and is being based on. Wandering through these webites from time to time will keep you abreast of what policies they are promoting, their "rationale", and their membership. You can also find links to over 600 similar bioethics centers around the world.