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Robert Veatch wins lifetime achievement award

KIE scholar Dr. Robert Veatch was awarded the Henry Knowles Beecher lifetime achievement recognition by The Hastings Center, one of the world’s oldest bioethics centers.

The award recognizes individuals who have made a lifetime contribution to ethics and the life sciences and whose careers have been devoted to excellence in scholarship, research, and ethical inquiry. Recipients are nominated by a committee of The Hastings Center’s Fellows, an elected group of eminent scholars, and approved by the Board of Directors. The award is named after the first recipient, the late Henry Knowles Beecher, MD, a distinguished physician in the field of anesthesiology who, in the 1960’s, courageously shed light on ethically questionable practices in human subjects research.

Dr. Veatch says he was especially honored by this recognition of his work because of the impressive roster of awardees before him, “having sat at the feet” of many of those already so honored. Of the twenty-two recipients of the lifetime achievement award to date, five have been from the KIE.

The award was meaningful for another reason, too: Dr. Beecher, the pioneering ethicist for whom the award was named, was a mentor to the young Robert Veatch when he arrived at Harvard from the pharmacology department of the University of California Medical Center in 1964. Tipped off by a California colleague about the immanent arrival of a promising new student, Beecher had taken an interest in Veatch.

“As soon as I got to Harvard I got a phone call from Beecher, inviting me to come visit him,” Veatch reminisces. “And when he wants something to happen, it happens,” he adds, with a chuckle. The two became close colleagues, first at Harvard and later at the Hastings Center itself, where their shared interest in the ethics of death and dying often brought them together.

Beecher’s storied career was an inspiration to many, including the young Veatch, who cited Beecher’s pioneering work on brain death, human subjects research, and placebo-controlled trials, as inspirational examples of how ethicists can have a direct and important impact on public policy in his plenary lecture commemorating the award. “You could argue that he’s the most influential bioethicist in the history of bioethics when it comes to public policy,” Veatch explains.

Dr. Veatch is the fifth senior research scholar from the KIE to have been honored with the award since it was first given in 1976. (It has not been given every year.) Previous honorees include Dr. Tom Beauchamp, Dr. Jim Childress, Dr. Richard McCormick, and Dr. Edmund Pellegrino.