From Medical Ethics to a Moral
Philosophy of the Professions
EDMUND D. PELLEGRINO
When I joined the Kennedy Institute of'Ethics in 1978, I was no stranger to medical ethics. I had been reading and studying the subject since 1940, my junior year in college. My major field of study was chemistry. However, pre-World War I Catholic colleges required four years of'philosophy and four of theology regardless of what undergraduate major field one chose to study. I was fortunate in that these subjects were just as fascinating to me as chemistry. As a result, both fields provided the launching pad for my later scholarly research in the laboratory and in philosophy.
I was first introduced to medical ethics by my college professors, who lent me books and papers in medical ethics taken from the 400-year-old Roman Catholic tradition of medical morality. I was thus sensitized to the indispensability of medical ethics to the practice of medicine and to my personal integrity as a Roman Catholic physician. I read and discussed the issues then current without the slightest doubt about their relevance to my future medical practice. At that time, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, published in 1932, had already provided arresting insights into the complex ethical and social issues that could result from progress in human and animal biology. Debates about genetics, artificial placentas, biotechnology, and technocracy were already under way in class and in conversations outside class. Earlier “sci-fi” novels by Jules Verne and H. G. Wells foresaw the technological possibilities of time and space travel. George Orwell's 1984, published later in 1949, gave a graphic and chilling picture of a technocratic society. The “brave new world” was already a visible ethical morass, and the need for ethical constraints on the advance of technology was appreciated.