Berman Institute of Bioethics Launches New Podcast “playing god?” with Pushkin Industries

September 27, 2023

In recent years, we have collectively witnessed a rapid development of medical breakthroughs with the potential to transform and save lives. With such powerful advancements, though, often come thorny questions. The Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University and Pushkin Industries have teamed up to create playing god?, a new podcast that shares the deeply personal — and incredibly moving — stories of people caught at the life-and-death crossroads of medical innovations and ethical dilemmas.

Launching October 10, 2023, this ten-episode series is hosted by award-winning audio storyteller and BBC alumna Lauren Arora Hutchinson, Director of the Berman Institute’s Dracopoulos-Bloomberg iDeas lab. Arora-Hutchinson introduces listeners to real people faced with dire circumstances: a burn victim kept alive by a ventilator while family and friends fought over whether to allow her to die; a bar manager in immediate need of a liver transplant who faced a long-accepted and previously unquestioned practice of a six-month waiting period for liver failure due to excessive alcohol use; a mother hoping against hope that a new combination of reproductive technologies might bring her a healthy child who was also a genetic match for her child suffering from a fatal genetic disease. Decisions that may seem objectively clear-cut take new shape as listeners come to know these people as individuals with compelling and relatable motivations and wishes.

Through these highly personal stories, Arora-Hutchinson weaves interviews with experts and family members. While bringing to light the decisions faced by doctors, patients and families alike, she examines how technological innovations can help bring lifesaving–and life-creating–medical advances but raise a host of ethical issues in the process. Arora-Hutchinson is joined by internationally renowned bioethics experts including Dr. Jeffrey Kahn, director of the Berman Institute, who provides clear-eyed perspective on the bioethics behind these cases.

“Pushkin Industries is thrilled to be partnering with The Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University for this powerful exploration of the difficult questions that lie at the heart of bioethics,” said Gretta Cohn, Pushkin’s SVP of Content. ”Hearing from the world’s preeminent experts alongside the compelling personal accounts offers listeners a fascinating exploration of critically important issues.”

Episode 1: I Would’ve Let You Die, Too
Episode 2: The Girl Who Died Twice
Episode 3: Need a new Liver? Drinkers to the back of the Line. 
Episode 4: Why Can’t I Buy a Kidney? 
Episode 5: A Womb of One’s Own? 
Episode 6: Creating One Life to Save Another
Episode 7: An Off-Switch for Depression? 
Episode 8: Miracle Drugs, Million Dollar Price Tags
Episode 9: The Future of Baby-Making 
Episode 10: Prequel: The God Squad

“Bioethics is the ultimate form of storytelling; there is always a conflict and a life at stake,” said Arora-Hutchinson. “Listening to these experiences in audio has literally changed the way I think about life and death. It brings home the importance of us all understanding how these medical decisions are made every day.”

playing god? is available October 10, 2023, wherever you listen to podcasts. Listen to the trailer here and download the cover art here.


Lauren Arora Hutchinson joined the Berman Institute in June 2022 as the inaugural director of the Dracopoulos-Bloomberg iDeas Lab. She was previously a BBC journalist, award-winning audio storyteller, and academic who served as part of the core organizing team for the Berman Institute’s 2020 Levi Symposium, “The Ethics of Virtual Humans.” Arora-Hutchinson holds a PhD in the History of Science with a focus on Oral History from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where she taught in the Masters for Global Public Health program for six years, and completed a Wellcome Trust Imperial Media Fellowship to develop skills in science communication.

Arora-Hutchinson founded the immersive audio studio Sunday Blue to further explore the intersection between sound, story and interactivity and look at how intimate experiences can be shared. She has produced more than 20 independent features for the BBC, including talking to holocaust survivor Eva Schloss about becoming a hologram, speaking to Manfred Mohr about being one of the first people to use a computer to make art, and looking at how virtual reality has been used to explore grief.


Jeffrey Kahn, PhD, MPH, is the Andreas C. Dracopoulos Director of the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics and the Robert Henry Levi and Ryda Hecht Levi Professor of Bioethics and Public Policy, as well as Professor in the Dept. of Health Policy and Management in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He is an international leader in bioethics whose areas of work include exploring the intersection of ethics and health and science policy, human and animal research ethics, ethics and public health, and ethical issues in emerging biomedical and life sciences technologies.

Anna Mastroianni, JD, MPH, is Research Professor in Bioethics and Law at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics, and previously Charles I. Stone Professor of Law at the University of Washington School of Law.  A former practicing attorney, she is known for her work  examining complex issues at the intersection of law, bioethics, public health, and health policy, including legal and ethical challenges arising in research in pregnancy, the use of genetic technologies in public health, and family building through assisted reproductive technologies.

Including their roles as co-Executive Producers on playing god?, Kahn and Mastroianni have partnered on many projects and are the editors and authors of the books Contemporary Issues in Bioethics; Beyond Consent: Seeking Justice in Research; and The Oxford Handbook of Public Health Ethics, and many articles based on their research.  They share a commitment to the public communication of bioethics issues, and speak widely across the U.S. and around the world on a range of bioethics topics, in addition to frequently appearing in the media to explain bioethics issues.


A global leader in its field, the Berman Institute of Bioethics is an interdisciplinary university-wide institute  that draws expertise from across the breadth of Johns Hopkins University to study and address complex moral and policy issues in biomedical science, health care, and public health. Since its establishment in 1995, the Institute has been a leader in bioethics research, and in engagement among a broad range of scholars, health professionals, policymakers, students, and citizens.The Berman Institute established the Dracopoulos-Bloomberg iDeas Lab in 2021 to better inform the public, health care professionals, governments, and the private sector about critically important issues in bioethics and ethics in science more generally. As a creative incubator, the Lab is pioneering new approaches for creating bioethics content and storytelling, taking advantage of new media strategies and the latest media technologies to provide engaging, accurate and compelling content about the ethical issues surrounding decision-making in science, medicine and public health.