Bioethics pioneer and Georgetown professor Dr. Edmund Pellegrino dies at 92

Last Thursday, Professor Emeritus of Medicine and Medical Ethics at Georgetown’s Kennedy Institute of Ethics Dr. Edmund Pellegrino passed away at the age of 92. Pellegrino is revered for his founding work in the field of medical ethics and taught at Georgetown from 1982 all the way until his death.

After receiving his B.S. at St. John’s University and his M.D. from New York University, Pellegrino worked in several hospitals before taking up research and an interest in medical ethics.

Prior to Pellegrino’s teaching career, it was unusual for medical students to receive education in humanities during their time in medical school. Pellegrino prided himself on introducing medical students to the concept of bioethics, a practice he began in 1959, when he helped found the University of Kentucky’s department of medicine.

“As a founding father of modern bioethics, he has had an immense effect on students, residents and practicing physicians,” Edmund D. Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics Director Dr. G. Kevin Donovan said. “He taught virtue ethics and personified it in his actions. He always recalled our attention to the bedrock of medical practice, the primacy of the doctor-patient relationship.”

Pellegrino authored over 600 published items in medical science, philosophy, and ethics, including 23 books, and founded or directed over a dozen of academic centers. Pellegrino taught in Intensive Bioethics at Georgetown right up until his death.

“For this year’s course, held last week, he was there every day leading a small discussion group and giving his final master class on virtue ethics in the caretaking professions,” Kennedy Institute Director Maggie Little said.

Photo: Georgetown University Medical Center

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