Ruth Macklin, PhD

Ruth Macklin, PhD

Distinguished University Professor Emerita,
Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Ruth Macklin, PhD, was born in 1938 in Newark, New Jersey. She is Distinguished University Professor Emerita at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and her career in philosophy and bioethics spans the disciplines of research ethics, clinical ethics, reproductive health ethics, global health ethics, and public health ethics.

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On Day 1, Prof. Macklin discusses her childhood in New Jersey. She describes her upbringing in a home that was atheist but culturally Jewish, in a community which included an underground group of Nazi sympathizers in Irvington, New Jersey in the 1940s. She attributes her love of philosophical argumentation and debate to heated discussions at the dinner table in her family home.

Prof. Macklin briefly reflects on the intellectual influence of her maternal grandfather and her parents’ support of her academic exploration. She talks about earning her undergraduate degree in philosophy at Cornell University in the 1950s, where she studied the works/writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein. She discusses the cultural and political transition from the 1950s into the 1960s, during the time she earned her PhD at Case Western Reserve University. As she discusses her experience as the only woman in her graduate program cohort, she narrates her daily life as a parent of two young children while pursuing her PhD. She also mentions writing poetry as a child.

Dr. Macklin shares a definition of bioethics, and describes her roles within the field. She then discusses at length her association with Samuel Gorovitz and her gratitude for the breadth of his contributions towards her career development. Prof. Macklin discusses working on her first published book, Moral Problems in Medicine, in the 1970s. She talks about neonatology as an area for many issues in bioethics during this era, including the transition during the late 1970s and early 1980s from a focus on doctor-patient relationship to patient-oriented bioethics. She then describes the function of argumentation and debate in her role as an ethicist, and spends significant time describing the role of emotions from a philosopher’s viewpoint.

On Day 2, Prof. Macklin explains her career’s focus, including research ethics, clinical ethics, reproductive health ethics, global health ethics, public health ethics, and in retirement, the Covid-19 pandemic. She describes at length the culture at The Hastings Center during the 1970s. Prof. Macklin discusses her various roles and responsibilities during her tenure at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, including co-teaching seminars, engaging with medical students during clinical rounds, and serving on various committees (she was on the Institutional Review Board and Committee for Scientific Misconduct for her entire tenure at Einstein). She discusses bioethics’ transition from a strictly academic field into a field also of interest in the press/public domain, particularly during the 1970s after the birth of the first baby conceived by in vitro fertilization (IVF). Prof. Macklin also briefly mentions her entry into HIV work while at Einstein.

Prof. Macklin discusses her involvement in international work with the World Health Organization and UNAIDS, which included the development of a vibrant social life abroad. She provides examples of tensions arising when the four principles of bioethics are applied in various international (and domestic) settings. She talks about her work and opinions on surrogate parenthood, and her experience with the White House Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments (ACHRE) in 1994-95.

Prof. Macklin concludes the interview by predicting (and wishing for) greater attention to justice considerations in future domains of bioethics exploration. She talks about her advocacy for mask mandates during the Covid-19 pandemic, moving to Pittsburgh from New York City, and the pandemic’s positive impact on her closeness to her family.

This interview may be of interest to those wishing to learn more about: the field of bioethics; international health, reproductive health, justice in bioethics; philosophy (particularly Wittgenstein) and bioethics; regional histories of bioethics (Northeastern United States), Jewish cultural upbringing in New Jersey in the 1940s; pursuing graduate education as a mother in the 1950s and 1960s; The Hastings Center during the 1970s; and the future of bioethics.

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

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