PRESS RELEASE: 11.19.12 Two New Books by Daniel Callahan: A Memoir and a Collected Writing on “Roots of Bioethics”

They illuminate the life and influence of a thinker who “shaped the second half of the 20th century.”
(Garrison, NY) Daniel Callahan, who established the field of bioethics with the co-founding of The Hastings Center in 1969, has two new books: a memoir, In Search of the Good: A Life in Bioethics (MIT Press) and collection of his writing, The Roots of Bioethics: Health, Progress, Technology, Death (Oxford University Press).

These works encompass a half century of Callahan’s observations of and influence on how we are born, live, and die—and what it means to be human– through the prism of the impact of advances in science and medicine. Callahan’s achievements have “earned him recognition as one of a handful of thinkers who shaped the second half of the 20th century,” writes Jonathan E. Moreno, David and Lyn Silfen University Professor of the University of Pennsylvania.

“It is hard to overstate the wise influence that Dan Callahan has had on American culture and values,” writes Lawrence Gostin, University Professor and Director, O’Neill Institute of National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University.

Callahan’s work and writing play out against the social upheavals of the last half century, including civil rights and the women’s movement, as well as rapid medical advances. Dialysis, intensive care units, and organ transplantation were extending the lives of very sick people and, along with genetic testing and human assisted reproduction, were transforming the very definition of medicine, the conception of health, and the notion of what it means to live a life. “For someone educated as a philosopher those were irresistible morsels,” writes Callahan, 82, in his memoir.

In Search of the Good traces Callahan’s life as a child in Washington, D.C., and his education at a Catholic military academy, Yale for his undergraduate degree, and Harvard for his Ph.D. in philosophy, where his thinking about ethics clashed with the prevailing views of his professors. After working as an editor and writing several books, Callahan saw the need to consider the ethical implications of medical advances – what was being called “new biology” – in an organized way. “At a 1968 Christmas party in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., not far up the river from Manhattan, I recruited a neighbor and friend, the psychiatrist and author Willard Gaylin, to help me start what came to be known as The Hastings Center,” he writes.

The book explores the many ethical issues that The Hastings Center took on over the years, including attempts to control violent and other undesirable behavior with psychosurgery and medication, the advent of prenatal diagnosis and in vitro fertilization and their implications for population control, the challenges of end-of-life care, and questions about “playing God” raised by the new science of genetics.

Callahan also discusses his growing concern with the goals of medicine, particularly the focus on technology to prolong the lives of dying patients without adequate attention to quality of life, as well as the ethical and policy dilemmas posed by skyrocketing medical costs. He explains his reasons for being one of the first people, in the mid-1980s, to see the need for rationing in Medicare and for continuing to pursue that controversial effort. He argues that, after age 80, the emphasis should be to work for a good quality of life for the elderly, not indefinite extension of life.

Callahan’s views on rationing and a wide range of other topics, including consumer-directed health care, stem cell research, and the obligations of fatherhood, are detailed in The Roots of Bioethics: Health, Progress, Technology, and Death, a collection of Callahan’s commentaries from 1973 to 2012.  “Time for a Change: Devising Our Medical Future,” a new and previously unpublished piece, calls for a reform of American medicine, not just the health care system. Callahan has been a leader of a small group that is working for such reform. “A major feature of our plan is to challenge the present war against death, which has left many thousands of elders doomed to a long decline until death, kept alive by expensive technologies, and made physicians and patients unwilling to even discuss the topic,” he says.

Callahan’s ideas on health care and policy have been influential. David Cutler, professor of economics at Harvard and a leading figure in health policy, has said, “Dan Callahan is one of the most important thinkers in health care today. Love him or hate him, you need to reckon with his ideas.”

He is a lively writer and interviewee, with little patience for academic or political orthodoxy, characteristics that come through clearly in both of his new books. He writes that his memoir illustrates “how my thinking about ethics developed over the years—not simply as an academic topic, but also as a way of conceiving and directing a particular kind of life.”

In addition to co-founding The Hastings Center, Callahan is President Emeritus of Hastings and co-director of the Yale-Hastings Program in Ethics and Health Policy. He is the author or editor of 45 books and is a member of the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences.

Contact: Michael Turton, Communications Associate
(845) 424 4040 ext. 242