Berman Institute 25th Anniversary Celebration Postponed

Due to the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics announced that its yearlong 25th anniversary commemoration has been suspended for the remainder of 2020 and will resume in 2021.

“Our marking of the Berman Institute’s 25th anniversary will be an opportunity to celebrate, reflect upon, and share the Institute’s important achievements and leadership in bioethics, but we should do so only when we have overcome the pandemic” said Jeffrey P. Kahn, Andreas C. Dracopoulos Director of the Institute.

“The quality, range of topics, and impact of the Berman Institute’s response to the pandemic demonstrate that our work is more vital than ever before. These ongoing efforts will add another very meaningful chapter in our history to commemorate.”

A number of the previously scheduled 25th anniversary events will be moved into 2021, including a bioethics documentary film series, a New York City event focusing on gene editing technologies, a university-wide Bioethics Month, a gala celebration, and anniversary editions of existing programs including the Berman Institute Seminar Series and Freeman Family Ethics for Lunch programs. Additional new events, some with a focus on ethics and the pandemic, are being planned. Details will be shared as schedules are set.

“Whenever we are eventually able to mark this important anniversary, it is the Berman Institute’s historic and ongoing impact that truly matters. Even as public health protections mean that we’ll continue to work at a distance, we are grateful to be able to contribute our expertise to help in the response,” said Kahn.

To learn more about the Berman Institute’s history and achievements, read its 25-year retrospective, “Putting Ethics Into Action.”

COVID-19’s Impact on Berman Institute Operations

The Berman Institute of Bioethics’ Deering Hall is closed at this time. Operations are continuing on their normal schedule, with all work conducted remotely. Public events are transitioning to an online format. Check our Events Calendar for the latest information.

Johns Hopkins University is actively monitoring the global COVID-19 outbreak, with particular focus on the health and well-being of the university community, as well as on the continuity of university operations. Its central website is updated daily, and all members of the JHU community are advised to check back regularly for new information.

Visit the main JHU COVID-19 website.

Learn more about bioethics issues involved in responding to the outbreak, and read expert Berman Institute faculty opinion.

Celebrating 25 Years of Achievement

From its origins as a small group of Johns Hopkins University scholars from diverse fields sharing a fascination with and appreciation for the ethics of health care and science, the Berman Institute of Bioethics has grown into a global leader that helps shape ethical policy and practices for the betterment of people around the world. To reflect upon, celebrate, and call attention to this vitally important work, the Berman Institute will mark the 25th anniversary of its 1995 founding with a yearlong series of events.

“With the creation of the Berman Institute 25 years ago, Johns Hopkins formally recognized how important it is for scholars to think systemically and critically about the ethics of health care, public health, and biomedical and behavioral research,” said President Ronald J. Daniels. “A truly interdisciplinary center, the Institute brings together expertise from across the University to collaborate and contribute substantially to the world of ideas that advance society and improve people’s lives.”

Visit the Berman Institute’s 25th Anniversary website.

Anniversary events include an outstanding film series, that will feature the screening of a documentary film once a month from March through May, each followed by a panel discussion featuring filmmakers and relevant bioethics experts. In April, the Institute’s signature New York City event for the year will center on the Netflix documentary series on gene editing technologies, “Unnatural Selection,” with a screening of short clips from the series followed by an interactive conversation and reception with the director, filmmaker, and science and bioethics experts. The Institute will observe Bioethics Month 2020 in May, with a performance by Theater of War, and other events still being finalized.  In addition, existing programs like the BI Seminar Series and Ethics for Lunch will bear a 25th Anniversary imprint.

“This series of programs and events over the course of the year provides a rare opportunity to reflect upon, celebrate, and call attention to the vitally important work and leadership in bioethics from the Berman Institute over the past quarter-century and as we look to the future,” said Jeffrey P. Kahn, Andreas C. Dracopoulos Director of the Institute.

As the field of bioethics has grown from its roots in medical ethics and philosophy, the Berman Institute’s faculty led an expansion first into the realm of public health and subsequently into a broad range of interdisciplinary work, with real-world applications. Today, bioethics is an integral part not only of clinical medical practice and public health, but also science, biomedical research, policymaking, and virtually every area where new biomedical and technological innovations raise important ethical and policy issues.

The Berman Institute of Bioethics’ origins date to a faculty interest group under the guidance of founder Ruth Faden. With the support of Morris Offit, Chair of the University’s Board of Trustees from 1990 to 1996, the Institute was formally established in 1995.

“An independent bioethics institute was a natural fit bringing together all the issues Johns Hopkins engages with, from medicine, public health, and arts and sciences,” said Offit. “The Berman Institute’s extraordinary faculty complements the breadth of Hopkins’ work across these different divisions. Johns Hopkins was the ideal place to get this work started and see it further flower.”

Today, the Berman Institute advances ethics-driven healthcare and promotes equitable and effective public health policies and practices. It guides ethically responsible development and use of new technologies and works toward ethical solutions to global sustainability challenges. And it educates and creates the next generation of leaders in the field of bioethics.

“Where is the Berman Institute headed next? Being a part of Johns Hopkins, it has to have a significant role in both clinical care and public health. It also has an important role in educating the public,” said Alex Levi, Chair of the Institute’s National Advisory Board. “With its leaders charting the course, the Berman Institute has its finger on the pulse of some of the most pressing challenges our species faces. That includes genetic engineering and newer areas, like artificial intelligence, climate change, and sustainability. The Institute will remain on the cutting edge, helping shape conversation and policy going forward.”

For full information about the Berman Institute’s 25th Anniversary, including an up-to-date schedule of events and a historical timeline, visit

25th Anniversary Historical Highlight: Exploring Legacy of Report on Human Radiation Experiments

Shortly before she would found the Berman Institute in 1995, Ruth Faden was asked to consult the U.S. Department of Energy on reports of government-sponsored radiation-related medical research conducted on citizens without their knowledge.

Faden, was shocked by the accounts of widespread radiation experiments on unknowing, unconsenting citizens. Faden suggested that the DOE convene an independent investigation, and it should not be limited to that department alone.

Secretary of Energy Hazel O’Leary and President Bill Clinton agreed, asking Faden to lead the investigation as chair of the White House Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments—known by its acronym, ACHRE. Faden assembled an interdisciplinary staff of historians, clinicians, philosophers, lawyers, and scientists who worked together with the committee for 18 months before issuing a report on Oct. 3, 1995.

In 2016, the Berman Institute convened a symposium to consider the committee’s work and its impact in the 20 years since the release of its report. The Secrecy, Security, and Science Symposium brought together the original members of the ACHRE committee and staff to reflect on the seminal report and its impact since 1995. They explored topics including the regulation of human-subject research, considerations around remedies for past wrongs, and the use of historical information to make moral judgments about the past.

When President Clinton accepted the ACHRE report and its recommendations in October 1995, he established the National Bioethics Advisory Commission. Successive presidents have continued the practice, ensuring that high level attention to bioethics continues at the federal level.

Faden went on to establish the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics in 1996 and served as its director for 20 years, stepping down from that role in June 2016.

“In terms of the accomplishments of the commission, to me, one of the most important was recording history,” Faden said in 2000, reflecting on the legacy of ACHRE. “Like any kind of completing or correcting of the historical record, there’s an inestimable value that you have to attach to knowing that a part of history that was not acknowledged, not preserved, is now protected. It will take time to determine whether we were a footnote in history or whether we had more impact than that.”

25th Anniversary Historical Highlight: Harvey Meyerhoff Endows Professorship

Throughout the Berman Institute’s history, most notably during his decade as Chair of the Advisory Board, Bud Meyerhoff’s leadership and vision have been integral to its success. He spearheaded the Institute’s strategic planning process, which helped formulate the future vision of the Institute, develop a competitive strategy to achieve its goals, and create and organizational structure for that vision.

“Under Bud’s leadership, the Bioethics Institute’s Advisory Board meetings are not only widely admired at Hopkins but are considered by many to be a model for other board meetings at the university. When the faculty and board engage in conversation about bioethical dilemmas, the outcomes are unparalleled,” said Steven Knapp, Johns Hopkins Provost during Meyerhoff’s Board tenure.

Meyerhoff’s guidance was also integral to purchase and renovation of the Berman Institute’s permanent home in Deering Hall, which was dedicated in 2011.

“Without Bud, I don’t think there would be a building devoted to the Berman Institute,” said Ruth Faden. “Not only did he support the building philanthropically, his lifetime of experience in the construction industry proved invaluable in guiding the project forward. In a real sense, the expertise and time he invested in our building is the best gift we could have received.”

In addition to his leadership on the Advisory Board, Meyerhoff made a generous commitment in 1999 to endow the Harvey M. Meyerhoff Professorship in Bioethics and Medicine. It has been held since its inception by Dr. Jeremy Sugarman, who had been the founding director of the Center for the Study of Medical Ethics and Humanities at Duke University. Dr. Sugarman’s work concentrates on informed consent, research ethics, and the ethical issues associated with emerging technologies.

“As I told Bud years ago, I’m honored to have his name on my business card,” said Dr. Sugarman. When he endowed this chair, he sent a really strong message regarding the importance of ethics in the contemporary health care environment. He’s incredibly important to the Berman Institute and Johns Hopkins — his dedication and leadership are unparalleled.”

25th Anniversary Historical Highlight: Deering Hall Provides a Permanent Home

As the Berman Institute grew in prestige and achievement, one significant challenge persisted – the lack of a permanent and dedicated physical home that would bring together faculty, staff, and students to promote not only synergistic scholarship, but also simple efficiency.

“We would lose hours of travel time attending meetings in East Baltimore or Homewood campus space,” said founding director Ruth Faden. “Beyond the hassles of being so dispersed, we were missing out on those informal opportunities to collaborate with other members of the Institute.”

She and the Institute’s leadership were constantly searching for and weighing possible solutions. At various times, moves to dedicated space in other of the University’s East Baltimore schools were considered but ultimately rejected. Finally, Anthony Deering a board member of East Baltimore Development, Inc. (EBDI) and the husband of long time Berman Institute Advisory Board member Lynn Deering, suggested the Berman Institute consider moving to one of the few 19th century structures left in East Baltimore. Most recently, the building at 1809 Ashland Ave. had been EBDI’s headquarters as it worked with Johns Hopkins to revitalize the neighborhood adjacent to the University’s East Baltimore campus.

“Having a floor in someone else’s building would undermine our founding principle – that the Berman Institute was independent and university-wide. We had to hold out, not just for enough space, but for the right space, one with our own front door; we were holding out for an architecture that communicated our unique place in the university,” said Faden.

“This was a pivotal moment. Would our experiment succeed? Establishing an external physical identity in the landscape of Johns Hopkins answered that question literally, in bricks and mortar. The Berman Institute finally had its own building.”

The Institute’s new home was a wholly renovated red brick former police station, originally built in 1876. The 11,000-square-foot building is recognized by the Maryland Historical Trust and is one of the few original structures that remains amid Hopkins’ East Baltimore redevelopment. Glimpses of the building’s former life remain: Heavy cutaways of the original radiator that once warmed handlebar-mustachioed cops now hang as wall art just inside the main entrance. And at the building’s southeast corner, an attached garage-size structure that serves as flex space for PhD students, interns and bioethics trainees is nicknamed after its original charge: “the carriage house.”

“The most important aspect of the building is that, for the first time in our history, the Berman Institute had a distinct identity and place to call its own,” said Jeffrey Kahn, the Berman Institute’s Andreas C. Dracopoulos Director. “Since so many of our faculty hold joint appointments in other schools, this space provides an opportunity for them to spend time in a physical place for them to work on bioethics, a rich mix of ideas and shared expertise.”

Next for the Berman Institute will be a multidisciplinary building adjacent to Deering Hall that will honor the legacy of Henrietta Lacks.The building will support programs that enhance participation and partnership with members of the community in research that can benefit the community, as well as extend the opportunities to further study and promote research ethics and community engagement in research through an expansion of the Berman Institute and its work.

Groundbreaking is anticipated for 2020, with planned completion in 2022.