Dr. Edmund Pellegrino Has Died

Author: Stephen Freddoso

Dr. Edmund Pellegrino, long-time Center friend and Clarke Lecturer, has died. Below is a short tribute to a great man.


The Passing of an Icon


Prof. Edmund D. Pellegrino MD, Professor Emeritus of Medicine and Bioethics, and founding director of the Center for Clinical Bioethics at Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, DC, USA,  died on 13. June 2013. He was 92 years old. 

A native New Yorker, he  studied medicine, and was awarded the degree of doctor of medicine by New York University. Upon graduation, he served as a flight surgeon in the United States Army Air Corps, after which he became a researcher, working in cardio-renal physiology and electrolyte metabolism. These studies were subsequently extended to investigations of metabolism in kidney disease and comparative biochemistry of calcified tissues. First and foremost a clinician, Prof. Pellegrino never abandoned his devotion to science, biomedical research and the humanitarian nature of clinical care, emphasizing that the profession and practice of medicine was "...the most humanitarian of the sciences, and the most scientific of the humanities".  Moving freely between the proverbial "bench-to-bedside" domains of clinical research and practice, his studies over the past four decades have focused on moral philosophy and the ethics of medicine, and in this light is considered to be one of the founding figures of American clinical bioethics. 

He was the founder and medical director of the Hunterdon Medical Center, in Flemington, New Jersey - an early, and successful enterprise in community-centered medical practice  that has served as an example of the potential and possibilities of communitarian care. He was the founding president of the Department of Medicine and Surgery at the University of Kentucky; President and Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences at the University of Tennessee; President of the Yale-New Haven Medical Center; the second lay President of the Catholic University of America,Washington, DC, and Director of the Institute for Human Values in Medicine. In 1982, he was appointed as the John Carroll Professor of Medical Ethics at Georgetown University. During his three decade tenure at Georgetown, he has served as Director of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, Director-Founder of the Center for the Advanced Study of Ethics, and Founding Director of the Center of Clinical Bioethics, and served as the interim director of the department of Internal Medicine.

While maintaining an active role in clinical medicine and medical education throughout his long and distinguished career, Edmund Pellegrino was also an adroit scholar. The author of more than six hundred peer-reviewed papers on philosophy, scientific research, medicine, and bioethics, and twenty books, Prof. Pellegrino's body of  work has exerted a truly international influence upon medicine and bioethics, having been translated and published in several languages. In 2004, Dr. Pellegrino was elected to the UNESCO International Committee of Bioethics, and in 2005, he was appointed as Chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics, serving President George W. Bush until 2009. He was named Interim Director of the Center of Clinical Bioethics at Georgetown University Medical Center in 2010, and continued to write, teach and lecture at the Center that since 2013 bears his name as the Edmund Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics.

 In recognition of his work, Dr. Pellegrino has been awarded the title of Master of the American College of Physicians, was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, has received 52 honorary doctoral degrees, and has been honored by the medical community  by the Benjamin Rush Award by the American Medical Association, the Abraham Flexner Award of the Association of American Medical Colleges, and the Laetare Award from the University of Notre Dame.

Edmund Pellegrino has cared for countless patients, taught generations of medical students, residents and clinicians, lectured to diverse audiences of medical  scientific and ethics' professionals around the globe, and has been a lifelong champion - and living example - of virtue, scholarship and integrity. In short, he has shaped contemporary clinical bioethics, and will remain an icon in the field of medicine.