Illustrative image for The Hastings Center Recognizes Patricia A King for Impact on Public Policy

Hastings Center News

The Hastings Center Recognizes Patricia A. King for Impact on Public Policy

Patricia A. King, JD, Professor Emerita of Georgetown Law, has been named the 2021 recipient of The Bioethics Founders’ Award, formerly the Henry Knowles Beecher Award. The award, given by The Hastings Center, recognizes individuals from around the world who have made substantial, sustained contributions to bioethics in ways that have advanced thinking and practice in medicine, the life sciences, and public policy.

Hastings President Mildred Solomon expressed The Hastings Center board’s appreciation.  “Professor King’s life and her life’s work reflect her commitments to justice and to public policy aimed at uplifting all Americans,” Solomon said.  “She is a scholar, an educator, and a dedicated public servant, who has literally changed the world around her. We could not be prouder to honor her with our most prestigious award.”

After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1969, Professor King worked as a civil rights lawyer, including serving as Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and as the Acting Director of the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. In 1973, she joined the faculty of Georgetown University’s law school, where in 1979 she became the first tenured African American female  professor. She has also served as an adjunct professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

In 1974 Professor King was appointed by the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare to the newly formed National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, which had been authorized by Congress in the aftermath of the disclosure of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Her background in civil rights law was particularly significant in shaping the commission’s development of justice as one of the three principles in the Belmont Report. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter named Professor King to the National Commission’s successor body, the President’s Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine and Biomedical and Behavioral Research. Shortly after being sworn in, Professor King had to resign from the President’s Commission when she became Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, since the authorizing legislation excluded federal employees from serving as commissioners.

In addition to writing many articles dealing with racial justice and medicine and with families, genetics, and research ethics, Professor King co-authored the first bioethics and law casebook, Cases and Materials on Law, Science and Medicine (1984, and subsequent editions).  Her expertise has led to her being repeatedly asked to serve on governmental panels, such as the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee and the Ethical, Legal and Social Issues Working Group of the Human Genome Project, both at the National Institutes of Health. 

Professor King is a Hastings Center fellow and an elected member of the American Law Institute and of the National Academy of Medicine. She has been chair of the Board of Trustees of her alma mater, Wheaton College, as well as a fellow of the Harvard Corporation, the university’s governing body. She is the recipient of many awards and honorary degrees, including an LL.D. from Harvard University in 2014.

The Bioethics Founders’ Award was previously named for Henry Knowles Beecher, the Harvard professor of anesthesiology who in 1976 was its first recipient. Read more about the award and its history.