Laurence B. McCullough, PhD

Laurence B. McCullough, PhD

Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Medicine and Medical Ethics,
Baylor College of Medicine

Laurence B. McCullough, PhD, is Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Medicine and Medical Ethics at Baylor College of Medicine and held appointments on the medical and philosophy faculties at Texas A&M University from 1976-1979 and Georgetown University from 1979-1988. His areas of expertise include clinical ethics and ethics consultation, medical professionalism, ethics and obstetrics and gynecology, and the history of medicine.

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On Day 1, Prof. McCullough describes his childhood moving between New York and Massachusetts. He reflects on the influences that led to his eventual career in academia including Irish Catholic mass and Albert “Mickey” Folkard, a family friend. Prof. McCullough discusses his love for Austin’s arts culture, and his interests in military history and ethics.

Prof. McCullough recalls his social and academic experiences during his time at Williams College during the 1960s, where he studied art history. He lists peers and professors who were of great impact during this time. Prof. McCullough tells various stories about working on his PhD dissertation on Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, which he completed at University of Texas at Austin in 1975.

Prof. McCullough describes at length his years in graduate school in Austin and his accidental foray into medical ethics, which began when Tristram “Tris” Engelhardt asked Prof. McCullough to join him as a research assistant for a summer seminar in ethics funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Prof. McCullough expands on his relationships to Engelhardt and Baruch Brody, both mentors and eventual collaborators. Prof. McCullough recounts his time as a Fellow at The Hastings Center and names various peers who were at the Center during this time. He then describes the lives and philosophies of John Gregory and Thomas Percival, respectively, and relates their contributions to the field of medical ethics, as well as Prof. McCullough’s own scholarship and clinical applications of their philosophies.

Prof. McCullough spends significant time defining professional formation, discussing the role of ethics as a medical educator, and addressing areas where bioethics and professional ethics diverge. Over the course of the interview, he touches upon ethical dilemmas he faced in a neonatology clinic. While discussing the role of emotions in a clinical setting working with very sick children, he describes music and visual arts as ways to manage his emotions and part of his process of mourning patient deaths.

On Day 2, Prof. McCullough discusses his move to a faculty position in neonatology at Texas A&M University in the 1970s. He describes his duties as a clinical ethics consultant, and his teaching clinical responsiveness to medical students. He talks further about his experience with Tris Engelhardt and Baruch Brody on Day 2. Prof. McCullough introduces his extensive collaboration with Frank Chervenak, an obstetrician-gynecologist, and describes the work that came out of their collaboration. He talks about his teaching and clinical services duties during his twenty eight years at Baylor College of Medicine, and as a clinical ethics consultant at Texas Children’s Hospital.

Toward the end of the interview, Prof. McCullough looks to the future, discussing triage ethics in the Covid-19 pandemic and ethics in space exploration. McCullough talks about gun culture in Texas, and gun culture as a bioethics and public health issue more broadly. He discusses his love for Houston’s culture, ballet, opera, and art museums; and his next endeavor into retirement: a role as a museum educator for children.

This interview may be of interest to those wishing to learn more about: the fields of bioethics, medical ethics, applied philosophy, ethics in neonatology and OB-GYN; medical professionalism; teaching, mentorship, and academic collaboration; the intersection of medicine and art; art history; Texas culture and arts culture in Houston; the work of Thomas Percival and John Gregory; the work and lives of Baruch Brody and Tristram Engelhardt; regional histories of bioethics (Texas); and the future of bioethics.

You can find full audio, transcript, and other materials in the Moral Histories Archive 

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