In Honor of LeRoy Walters: Introduction from the Editors
Since the birth of bioethics, a persistent refrain has been that advances in science, technology, and health are occurring so quickly that they threaten to outpace society’s ability to understand and react to them. Genomics, big data, and synthetic biology preoccupy current scholarly and policy debates, just as organ transplantation, in vitro fertilization, human subjects research, and gene therapy did over the past forty years. But the history of bioethics is more than the topics it has addressed. It is also the story of the people whose voices shaped its debates and built society’s capacity to manage the escalating pace of technological change.
LeRoy Walters is one of those contributors who made a difference. He is part of an original community of scholars and intellectuals who were involved in these issues from the earliest days of bioethics. Now an Emeritus Faculty at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University, Walters joined the Kennedy Institute in 1971 as its first faculty member appointed to a multi-year term by the new Director, Andre Hellegers, and has remained affiliated with the Institute ever since. His academic training at Messiah College, Associated Mennonite Seminaries, University of Heidelberg, Free University of Berlin, and Yale University focused on religious studies culminating in a Ph.D. on just war theory that provided the moral foundation for his ongoing work.
Rising through the academic ranks until becoming the Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., Professor of Christian Ethics in 1993, Walters was also Director of the Kennedy Institute for a three-year period. In addition to teaching and mentoring during his tenure at the Institute, he was also a bioethics “builder.” He envisioned and implemented Bioethicsline, one of the first online, annotated databases for bioethics research in the world. Linked to the National Library of Medicine, Bioethicsline served as a portal to what would become the National Reference Center for Bioethics Literature, the largest resource of its kind in the world. During his tenure, the Kennedy Institute began housing the collections of past [End Page xi] bioethics commissions and advisory bodies and an innovative DNA Patent Database, an unusual project for a bioethicist.
Walters was a recently appointed Associate Professor when the editors and contributors to this special issue of KIEJ first encountered him as graduate students and colleagues in the early 1980s. Generations of students and colleagues have subsequently benefitted from his wisdom and gracious mentoring, but so too have countless federal agencies, departments, advisory committees, and working groups that he assisted as a consultant, member, or chair.
Walters was involved in many of the most significant bioethics policy discussions occurring in the U.S. from the 1970s through the 2000s. He was a consultant to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the DHEW Ethics Advisory Board, and the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, for whom he prepared a key background paper on fetal research and participated in the development of its Belmont Report. He served for three terms on the NIH Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee, chairing the committee’s Working Group on Human Gene Therapy, which established review criteria for clinical gene transfer research and is still functioning four decades later.
He chaired the NIH Human Fetal Tissue Transplantation Research Panel; sat on the Ethical, Legal and Social Implications Research Planning and Evaluation Group Program of the National Human Genome Research Institute; was a member of the Bioethics Committee of the National March of Dimes, the DHEW Secretary’s Task Force on Compensation of Injured Research Subjects, and as a committee member of Institute of Medicine studies on AIDS and vaccine development. He was an influential advisor and consultant to the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, Office for Protection from Research Risks, and two presidential bioethics commissions.
In addition to his policy influence, he is a prolific writer and aggregator of resources for use by others. Walters is responsible for creating and co-editing with Tamar Joy Kahn and Doris Mueller Goldstein thirty-five volumes of the Bibliography of Bioethics and was Associate Editor of the first edition of the Encyclopedia of Bioethics. He co-edited eight editions of the widely used textbook, Contemporary Issues in Bioethics (initially with Tom Beauchamp, and then later also with Jeffrey P. Kahn and Anna Mastroianni); co-edited Ethical Issues in Social Science Research, and published with Albert R. Jonsen and Robert M. Veatch the Source Book in Bioethics. Walters has published more than forty other peer reviewed [End Page xii] publications, over forty essays in edited collections, and numerous opinion editorials. They could be found in high impact journals. The Ethics of Human Gene Therapy, which he wrote with Julie Gage Palmer, remains a foundational book for subsequent studies of this topic. (In recognition of his penchant for documentation, a bibliography of the publications mentioned is included at the end of this Introduction.)
Walters was an early adopter of what we now call “empirical bioethics,” grounding his arguments in carefully curated scientific, historical, and public policy data as well as the literatures of moral philosophy, social ethics, and religious ethics. He also pioneered the interest in a more global bioethics—now institutionalized in numerous organizations, committees, and initiatives—by documenting the ways in which the topics he pursued were dealt with internationally, and seeking the deeper roots of our relationship with science in the history of the Holocaust.
Typical of a Walters academic publication is first, its understated, almost modest title, reflective perhaps of his own personality: “Ethical Aspects of Medical Confidentiality,” “Recombinant DNA Research and Public Policy,” “Ethical Aspects of Surrogate Embryo Transfer,” “Fetal Research and the Ethical Issues,” “Biomedical Ethics,” “An Intercultural Perspective on Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research.” Many of these are exquisite summaries of the state of what is known about almost impossibly complex topics. Each of them can be counted upon to be a systematically constructed, rigorously argued, summary of key issues.
Other papers contained provocative proposals written in a way that would permit all sides to an issue to consider his solutions. His 1988 paper, “Ethical Issues in the Prevention and Treatment of HIV Infection and AIDS,” published in Science, is an example of this more prescriptive tone:
In the public health sphere, vigorous educational efforts will be required, as will modified approaches to intravenous drug use, prostitution, and homosexual and bisexual sexual activity. Carefully targeted, voluntary testing and screening programs should be coupled with counseling and with guarantees of confidentiality and nondiscrimination where these are appropriate. Both health care workers and the health care system have a moral obligation to provide care to people with HIV infection.
Today, we take these prescriptions for granted; but in 1988 health care professionals were still refusing to treat AIDS patients, both out of a fear and homophobia. This is the gift of a Walters paper, and indeed his persona: a commitment to providing deeper moral clarity on controversial topics, [End Page xiii] while remaining respectful of his interlocutors as a politically neutral, publicly engaged scholar who puts his skills to work in public service.
The papers included in this special issue were collected from former students and colleagues of LeRoy Walters with his interests in mind, and aspire to be contemporary examples of the style of scholarship we are grateful to have learned from him. LeRoy has trained two generations of leaders in bioethics, who now continue his legacy through their own programs, across the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Asia. We are only sorry that we could not include papers from all of us in this collection, which would have filled many issues of the KIEJ addressing his expansive interests in stem cell ethics, germ line modification, HIV ethics, reproductive technologies, eugenics, and Holocaust studies.
The papers reflect the breadth of Walters’s contributions. His longstanding interest in human rights, justice, and societal obligations to others informs much of his work. Jacqueline Glover’s “The Role of Physicians in the Allocation of Health Care: Is Some Justice Better than None?” considers an ongoing debate in health justice about the proper role of physicians in priority setting. She argues for a systematic view that calls on physicians to move beyond self-interest to “promote less-wasteful and more cost-conscious allocation decisions.”
In her contribution, “Bioethics in the Oversight of Clinical Research: Institutional Review Boards and Data and Safety Monitoring Boards,” Christine Grady documents one of Walters’s most significant contributions to bioethics deliberation: direct participation in and scholarly reflection on two of the most influential instruments for protecting human subjects from harm, the Institutional Review Board and the Data Safety and Monitoring Board.
It is noteworthy that Walters’s first published paper in the peer reviewed literature was almost 50 years ago, and fittingly entitled, “Technology Assessment and Genetics” (1971). Genetics has been a continuing theme in the work of Walters. In their paper, “LeRoy Walters’s Legacy of Bioethics in Genetics and Biotechnology Policy,” Robert Cook-Deegan and Stephen McCormack describe Walters’s central role in some of the country’s most challenging debates about genetics and biotechnology.
Eric Juengst and Eric Meslin also pursue Walters’s interests in genetic research, but through the perspective of his commitment to comparative international policy governance. In their paper “Sharing with Strangers: Governance Models for Borderless Genomic Research in a Territorial World,” they delve into the evolving arrangements being proposed and defended for open and rapid sharing of genomic data and resources. [End Page xiv]
LeRoy Walters’s career has now spanned decades, topics, controversies, and policy debates. His interests range from just war theory to Holocaust studies, from gene patents to women’s health, and from philosophical foundations to pragmatic policy solutions. This volume is a small expression of gratitude for his lifetime of service to ideas and society.
Eric M. Meslin Ph.D., FCAHS, is President and CEO of the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) a not-for-profit organization that conducts independent, evidence-based assessments of leading policy topics for the Government of Canada. Trained in bioethics at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, he has held academic appointments at Indiana University, University of Toronto, University of Western Australia, and Université de Toulouse, as well positions at the National Human Genome Research Institute and the US National Bioethics Advisory Commission.
Eric T. Juengst, Ph.D., is Director of the Center for Bioethics and Professor in the Departments of Social Medicine and Genetics at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Medicine. He did his masters and doctoral work at Georgetown between 1978–1984 and since 1997 he has been the principal investigator of a series of NIH-funded research projects examining the ethical, conceptual, and social policy issues that will be raised by the availability of genetic and genomic technologies.
Carol Mason Spicer, Ph.D., is a Senior Program Officer in the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Prior to joining the Academies, she served as editor of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal at Georgetown University.
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