The Center for Bioethics’ mission is to ensure that values and ethics are always part of medical training, laboratory and clinical research, and professional education. The Center brings together the rich intellectual resources of the medical school faculty with health professionals and scientists from our affiliated teaching hospitals, departments across Harvard, and colleagues from other institutions worldwide to ensure that scientific progress, medical therapeutics, and health care practices proceed hand-in-hand with reflection about the profound moral questions raised by advances in the life sciences.

The Center is designed as a platform for integrating ethics and scientific discovery more closely than ever before, generating new forms of collaboration among students, bench scientists, clinical researchers, clinicians, practicing bioethicists, academic philosophers, historians of medicine, humanities scholars and others able to bring their disciplinary perspectives to bear on the ethical challenges posed by present and future biomedical advances.

Research in bioethics has a long history at Harvard Medical School, going back at least to the 1960s and the work of Dr. Henry Beecher, an anesthesiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and an early scholar of ethical issues in medicine.

The trials of the Nazi physicians at Nuremberg seemingly contrasted the atrocities of German medicine with the high ethical standards that existed in America. Beecher's 1966 paper on "Ethics and Clinical Research" disabused Americans of this pretense, providing an exposé of the egregiously unethical practices of many of his contemporaries in their conduct of research on human volunteers.

A few years later, Professor Allan Brandt, a former director of what is now the Center for Bioethics, helped expose the racist experiments performed by the US Public Health Service at Tuskegee on the effects of "untreated syphilis in the Negro male." These revelations motivated the appointment of a National Commission, chaired by Dr. Ken Ryan, professor at Harvard Medical School, which produced the Belmont Report – the foundational document in the United States on the ethics of human research. Today, the Center seeks to reinforce these lessons through its relationship with the National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care at Tuskegee University.

In the years since, HMS has been home to many of the leading scholars in bioethics, philosophy, anthropology, history, and social medicine, including Frances Kamm, Paul Farmer, Arthur Kleinman, Leon Eisenberg, David Jones, Norman Daniels, Dan Brock, and Dan Wikler.

In the field of bioethics, normative research goes hand-in-hand with empirical research. Often empirical research reveals ethical concerns, which are then rigorously explored and normatively analyzed with the tools of philosophy, law, and the social sciences. The lessons learned from this scholarship is then actualized through advocacy and policy development, and channeled through professional societies as well as governmental and non-profit organizations.

Today the faculty at the Center for Bioethics are engaged across the entire spectrum of research, advocacy, and health policy. Center for Bioethics faculty members conduct empirical and normative research on ethical issues in the practice of medicine. Sample research subjects include end-of-life care, organ transplantation, allocation of resources, and informed consent. In addition, the Center for Bioethics has a special interest in the field of neuroethics, and recently recruited an exceptional scholar in the field, Gabriel Lázaro-Muñoz, PhD, JD. Through partnerships with the strong neuroscience faculty within HMS and across the University, he and his team are illuminating the profound ethical issues emerging in the rapidly developing neurosciences. You can read more about specific initiatives on the Center's Research page.

The Center's activities include a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Fellowship in Bioethics, an Online Certificate in Bioethics, as well as many seminars and public events. For the latest listing of leadership and staff, please refer to the Center's Administration page.