Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

The Hastings Center at Forty

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

The Hastings Center at Forty

Article excerpt

The Hastings Center came into being the year that Woodstock took place and "Hair" debuted on Broadway. Like these iconic events, it was a child of the sixties. It began as a grass roots effort--cofounders Daniel Callahan and Willard Gaylin hatched the idea at a neighbor's Christmas party in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, in 1968. At the time, Callahan, a philosopher, was working for the Population Council on ethical problems of population limitation and finishing a book on abortion. Gaylin, a psychiatrist, had published books and articles on social problems.

Their idea was revolutionary both because the Center would be the first organization of its kind and because it would be the product of a biological revolution. Developments such as organ transplantation and genetic testing were changing lives, reshaping society, and posing ethical dilemmas that cried out for thoughtful analysis.

When the Center was incorporated in March 1969 as the Institute of Society, Ethics and the Life Sciences, the first challenge was to stake out its foundational issues. "We looked for topics that seemed to have a lifespan," recalled Callahan. Population control, behavior control, death and dying, and genetics fit that description. Each topic had its own working group. An essay about each--the work the Center did, how the topic has evolved, what questions remain--appears in this issue.

In the lead-off essay, Callahan traces the history of population control, noting that the earliest efforts were focused on the comparative moral legitimacy of education, persuasion, and coercion in lowering birthrates. Since then, concern in many countries has shifted from overpopulation to underpopulation and the disproportionate number of residents who are elderly and dependent. But the central issue remains: respect for procreative freedom and recognition of its profound social effects. …

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