Learn more about the history of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics.
The KIE’s role in the development of bioethics as a field has made it the subject of a variety of recent works on the history of bioethics: books, articles, digital archives, even an American History honors thesis at Georgetown (“Becoming Bioethics: The Evolution of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics” by Maggie Cleary).
The institute is a leader in ethics education and innovation and is home to the Bioethics Research Library, the world’s largest collection of bioethics research materials. Founded in 1974, the Bioethics Research Library provides students and scholars with the world’s largest and most diverse collection of materials on the ethics of health, the environment, and emerging technologies. The Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, an interdisciplinary quarterly journal, is now in its third decade of publication and has recently expanded to include normative aspects of human health and wellbeing, including public health ethics, environmental justice, and ethical and social issues in science practice. The Institute’s latest innovation is its Ethics Lab, founded in early 2012. Ethics Lab is an innovative research lab combining the creativity of design with the expertise of ethicists to create a hub for creative ethics learning and problem solving.
Explore the past with these collected primary and secondary materials.
History from the first-person perspective.
We’ve collected a number of interviews conducted by historians of bioethics that touch on the founding and development of the KIE, many from the Project on Bioethics in American Society, a multi-year ethnological study of the field of bioethics conducted by sociologist Renée C. Fox and historian Judith P. Swazey. (The project culminated in a book, Observing Bioethics; see below.)
By arrangement with the KIE’s director at the time, LeRoy Walters, transcripts of the interviews were archived at Georgetown’s Bioethics Research Library, accessible below.
We especially recommend these interviews:
- former KIE director LeRoy Walters, for more on the founding of the KIE, the creation of its Library, the Bibliography of Bioethics, and the Encyclopedia of Bioethics;
- former KIE scholar Warren Reich, for more on the Encyclopedia and the founding of the KIE;
- former KIE director and current scholar Bob Veatch (part II);
- KIE scholar Tom Beauchamp;
- KIE scholar Ruth Faden;
- former KIE scholar and current affiliated scholar Jim Childress;
- former affiliated scholar Leon Kass, for particular reflection on the founding of the KIE;
- bioethics scholar Al Jonsen for for a wealth of information about the founding of the Hastings Center and KIE, and the various relations between the two.
Also of interest is this interview with Dr. Edmund Pellegrino, former director of the KIE and founding director of Georgetown’s Center for Clinical Bioethics at the Medical School, gathered as part Georgetown’s “Witness to History” video oral history project.
Dig deeper with primary source materials from the KIE archives.
The first KIE newsletter was first introduced in the summer of 1974, three years after the Institute was founded. The quarterly publication served as a method to inform, acknowledge, and demonstrate the interdisciplinary approach that was being taken by the Institute as it explored the relatively new world of what would become the field of bioethics. As the years progressed and the Institute evolved, these newsletters were instrumental in capturing the changes as new scholars and new initiatives were being put in place. These documents, without explicitly meaning to, left a record of those changes and provide a valuable lens by which to explore the history of the KIE and bioethics as a whole. [More about this archive]
The Kennedy Institute of Ethics (KIE) and the Bioethics Research Library (BRL) have utilized several methods in their educational outreach program. These methods were primarily centered on ‘getting the word out’ about our mission, our collections, and how to participate and engage with our two organizations. The ephemera collection contains materials such as handouts, award ceremonies, web resources, presentations, brochures, and notes used by staff during our outreach efforts.
This collection houses the publications from current and former Kennedy Institute of Ethics scholars for which the publisher allows archiving of post-prints. These publications are now openly available online at the Georgetown University Institutional Repository. The Bioethics Research Library is collaborating with Georgetown’s University Library to digitize, preserve and extend the history of bioethics.
There are many more historical gems buried in the Bioethics Research Library’s collections, in an ongoing state of digitization and development online.
Secondary materials: browse books and articles about the KIE.
The following books deal, in whole or in part, with the founding of the KIE and its role in the development of the field itself.
- Observing Bioethics, by Renee C. Fox & Judith P. Swazey (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); drawn from the series of interviews linked to above;
- The Birth of Bioethics, by Albert R. Jonsen, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998); which covers the development of the field as a whole, with special focus on the Hastings Center and KIE;
- The Story of Bioethics, ed. Jennifer K. Walter and Eran P. Klein (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2003); features articles by KIE scholars Beauchamp, Childress, Pellegrino, Reich, Veatch, and Walters:
- Beauchamp, Tom L. “The Origins, Goals, and Core Commitments of The Belmont Report and Principles of Biomedical Ethics,” in The Story of Bioethics, ed. Jennifer K. Walter and Eran P. Klein (Georgetown University Press: 2003): pp. 17-46.
- Childress, James F. “Principles of Biomedical Ethics: Reflections on a Work in Progress,” in The Story of Bioethics, ed. Jennifer K. Walter and Eran P. Klein (Georgetown University Press: 2003): pp. 47-66.
- Reich, Warren Thomas. “Shaping and Mirroring the Field: The Encyclopedia of Bioethics,” in The Story of Bioethics, ed. Jennifer K. Walter and Eran P. Klein (Georgetown University Press: 2003): pp. 165-196.
- Veatch, Robert M. “Revisiting A Theory of Medical Ethics: Main Themes and Anticipated Changes,” in TThe Story of Bioethics, ed. Jennifer K. Walter and Eran P. Klein (Georgetown University Press: 2003): pp. 67-91.
- Walters, LeRoy. “The Birth and Youth of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics,” in The Story of Bioethics, ed. Jennifer K. Walter and Eran P. Klein (Georgetown University Press: 2003): pp. 215-231.
The Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal has also been home to a smattering of articles through the years about the history of the KIE penned by former senior research scholar Warren Reich, including the following:
- Reich, Warren Thomas, “The Word “Bioethics”: Its Birth and the Legacies of Those Who Shaped It,” Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 1994 December; 4(4): 319-336;
- Reich, Warren Thomas, “The Word “Bioethics”: The Struggle Over Its Earliest Meanings,” Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 1995 March; 5(1): 19-34;
- Rosner, Fred and Reich, Warren Thomas, “Bioethics Is More than 30 years Old” [letter and reply], Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 1995 March; 5(1): 85-86;
- Reich, Warren Thomas, “Revisiting the Launching of the Kennedy Institute: Re-visioning the Origins of Bioethics,” Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 1996 December; 6(4): 323-327;
- Reich, Warren Thomas, “”The Wider View”: Andre Hellegers’s Passionate, Integrating Intellect and the Creation of Bioethics,” Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 1999 March; 9(1): 25-51.
The Journal is also home to a collection of articles drawn from talks given by KIE scholars and others at one of the KIE’s annual Intensive Courses in Bioethics — this one celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the KIE.