Remembering Dr. Jay Katz

Many of you may already have learned of the recent death of Dr. Jay Katz. For those who were not aware, here is a link to the PRIM&R website which contains several memorial tributes.

It is difficult to put into words the impact that Katz had on the field of bioethics generally, and research ethics in particular. It is not a statement of hyperbole that he established the field of research ethics, both through his initial membership on the Tuskegee Study ad hoc panel in 1972, his later membership on the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiment in 1995, and his groundbreaking volume Experimentation Involving Human Beings. His list of accomplishments extends far beyond these scholarly and advisory pursuits of course. He literally gave a voice, a philosophy, and a gravitas to this area of human endeavor. His work on informed consent famously described in his book The Silent World of Doctor and Patient provided one of the first systematic treatments of the subject of informed consent—and should perhaps be required reading for all clinicians, not just doctors.

For researchers who bemoan the perceived regulatory ‘burdens’ of submitting protocols to IRBs, for university administrators who worry about site visits and compliance, for companies that struggle with how best to design studies to test new drugs or devices, for students and trainees who are required to take courses or tests to demonstrate competency in research ethics—these worries pale in comparison to the worries that initially motivated Katz: the threat of potential harm to human beings involved in an activity that was not primarily in their best interest.

Perhaps on this day of national thanksgiving, all of us who work in health care and the life sciences and who care about the moral dimensions of what we do, we will give thanks for the life of Jay Katz. — Eric M. Meslin, Ph.D.


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