Program in Bioethics and Humanities

  • Medical Education Building

    Program History

    A number of colleges of medicine in the United States began adding ethicists and other humanists to their faculties in the 1970s. The general rationale for these positions on medical faculties was twofold: to help "humanize" medical students, residents, and faculty; and to help medical professionals wrestle with the increasingly complex ethical problems brought about by advances in medical technology.

    During the 1980s a number of additional colleges of medicine established ethics units. Of these, at least eight schools initiated ethics units at approximately the same time that the University of Iowa established the Program in Biomedical Ethics (PBE) during the summer of 1988. As the result of a national search, Robert F. Weir, Ph.D. was appointed as the program director. Dr. Weir held joint appointments in the School of Religion and the Department of Pediatrics, Carver College of Medicine.

    In 1992 the PBE was combined with two related programs, Medical Humanities and the History of Medicine Society, to form the Program in Biomedical Ethics and Medical Humanities (PBEMH). Richard Caplan, M.D., a dermatologist and founder of the Medical Humanities program at the UI and Susan Lawrence, Ph.D., a historian of medicine and director of the History of Medicine Society at the UI, joined Dr. Weir to form the consolidated program. Over time, the program expanded in the areas of clinical ethics and medical jurisprudence and added new faculty to its ranks as it continued its mission.

    In 2005, Lauris Kaldjian, M.D., Ph.D, was hired as the new director when Robert Weir, Ph.D. entered phased retirement. Dr. Kaldjian holds a joint appointment in Internal Medicine. Under Dr. Kaldjian's leadership, the program continues to support teaching, research, scholarship, and service. Program faculty welcome opportunities for collaboration that help it accomplish its mission within the Carver College of Medicine, the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, and the wider University of Iowa community.

    Effective November 2008, per approval of the State Board of Regents, the program name was officially changed to the Program in Bioethics and Humanities (PBH). For a list of current program faculty and affiliates, please see the faculty and staff page (link on the left).