Prequel: The God Squad

In the 1960s, a committee of seven Seattle residents met regularly to decide which patients with chronic kidney disease were “worthy” of life-saving dialysis.  Whoever wasn’t selected by the committee would likely die within months. An exposé of this so-called “God Squad” helped spark the formation of a new field: bioethics. In this prequel to playing god?, we’ll find out how this committee made life-and-death decisions, and why something like it is unlikely to happen again.


Rick Mizelle, Jr.

Associate Professor of History
University of Houston

Kate Butler

Assistant Professor of Nephrology
University of Washington School of Medicine

Additional Resources

The God Squad was just one of many notable cases that led to the formation of the field of bioethics. The Hastings Center, a bioethics research institute, has compiled a timeline of many of the most famous cases and their impact. Check it out here.

The Berman Institute has also collected oral histories– first hand accounts of the doctors, philosophers, lawyers and other scholars who were involved in many of these cases. You can explore that collection here.

The Greenwall Foundation seeks to make bioethics integral to decisions in health care, policy, and research. Learn more at

Suggested Readings

God Panels, Then and Now, Massachusetts General Hospital Proto Blog, 2020

The Seattle ‘God Committee’: A Cautionary Tale, Health Affairs, 2009

Who Should Be Saved First? Experts Offer Ethical Guidance, The New York Times, 2020

COVID-19 Resources: Treatment Allocation, University of Pittsburgh Center for Bioethics & Health Law

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