William J. Winslade, JD, PhD

William J. Winslade, JD, PhD

James Wade Rockwell Professor of Philosophy of Medicine,
University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston

William J. Winslade, JD, PhD, is the James Wade Rockwell Professor of Philosophy of Medicine at the Institute for Bioethics and Health Humanities, University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston; Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law and Associate Director for Graduate Programs, Health, Law, and Policy Institute at the University of Houston Law Center. His areas of expertise include psychodynamics of medical practice, traumatic brain injuries, bioethics and the law, and clinical ethics.

Read a summary

On Day 1, Prof. Winslade speaks about his childhood in Illinois and his undergraduate career at Monmouth College, where he completed a double major in philosophy and economics. He describes his transition to the philosophy department at Northwestern University, where he received his PhD in 1967. Prof. Winslade discusses how the interdisciplinary approach and connections to international visitors he experienced enriched his education.

Prof. Winslade mentions his experience teaching philosophy at University of Maryland in the late 1960s before enrolling at UCLA School of Law. He narrates an early childhood brain injury and explores this as inspiration for his eventual research focus on traumatic brain injuries later in his career. Prof. Winslade states his position in favor of patient autonomy as an ethics consultant and in the context of end-of-life decisions particularly. During his time at UCLA, Prof. Winslade discovered his commitment to psychodynamics and pursued his PhD in psychoanalysis, which he completed in 1984.

Prof. Winslade recounts his collaboration with Albert Jonsen and Mark Siegler on the book Clinical Ethics: A Practical Approach to Ethical Decisions in Clinical Medicine (1982). He understands this book as a practical complementary guide to Tom L. Beauchamp and James F. Childress’ Principles of Biomedical Ethics, which Prof. Winslade describes as more theoretical. Prof. Winslade explains the four box method for assessing clinical ethics issues. Prof. Winslade discusses his move from UCLA to the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston, Texas, which allowed him to work within one department dedicated to bioethics rather than across many as had been the case at UCLA. Prof. Winslade offers a definition of bioethics. He narrates his professional and personal relationship to Dax Cowart, a burn survivor whose case raised questions about individual decisionmaking and the right to die. Prof. Winslade briefly describes his experience with teaching.

On Day 2, Prof. Winslade returns to traumatic brain injuries, mentioning a case which inspired him to write his book The Insanity Plea: The Uses and Abuses of the Insanity Defense (1983). He discusses the case of Dennis Thorpe, a 70-year old man who refused physician’s recommendations to amputate his gangrenous foot. Thorpe only accepted this treatment once the judge ruled the amputation as necessary; Prof. Winslade shares his reflections on this outcome as a lesson in the influence of authority and trust.

Prof. Winslade shares his personal views against boxing and his professional ambivalence towards boxing as a sanctioned sport; he subsequently addresses ambivalence as a valid stance on ethical issues. He talks about three patients he treated as a practicing psychoanalyst at UCLA whose recovery from grief inspired his current project that centers on Freud’s Mourning and Melancholia.

Prof. Winslade emphasizes the importance of psychoanalytic education in medical school. He mentions his consultation work for legislators in relation to a law that would allow voluntary castration for sex offenders in Texas, and describes his relationships with three people who were castrated under this law as well as their outcomes. Prof. Winslade distinguishes his role as a consultant during his time on the ethics consultation services at UTMB and UCLA as a facilitator to support patients’ own decisions, rather than a decision-maker. Prof. Winslade briefly discusses the ethics of working as a consultant for private companies, his work with the Children’s Organ Transplant Association, and privacy and confidentiality in psychoanalysis. Prof. Winslade concludes the interview by acknowledging the involvement of clinical ethics consultants in bioethics conversations.

This interview may be of interest to those wishing to learn more about the field of bioethics; clinical ethics; regional histories of bioethics (Texas); bioethics, law, and psychoanalysis; work in prisons; and traumatic brain injury.

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

Johns Hopkins University holds all rights, title, and interests to these records, including copyright and literary rights. The records are made available for research use. Any user seeking to publish part or all of a record in this collection must seek permission from theFerdinand Hamburger University Archives, Sheridan Libraries.