In an era in which medicine is advancing more rapidly than our ability to understand its implications, no one has done more than Dr. Edmund D. Pellegrino to marry humanism and science; and no one has done more to encourage the study of medical ethics in the academic environment.
Dr. Pellegrino's title -- Professor Emeritus of Medicine and Medical Ethics, and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University -- is impressive, but it doesn't come close to conveying the scope of his work or the impact of his ideas. After receiving his B.S. degree from St. John's University and an M.D. from New York University, he trained as a physician and worked as a research fellow at NYU. A man of deep faith, he realized early in his career that he -- and other doctors -- would benefit from a framework for exploring the ethical dilemmas posed by complex scientific issues like euthanasia, cloning and abortion.
In the 1960s, he began bringing physicians and professors together to build what he called a "new Paideia" -- an intellectual commons in which knowledgeable professionals with varying experiences and opinions could discuss questions that crossed the boundaries of medicine and humanities. This insightful notion clearly met a need: By the 1980s, nearly every medical school in the nation had some sort of program to help young doctors explore the ethical implications of their work.
Davidson is one of the many beneficiaries of Dr. Pellegrino's innovation. In 1986, at the invitation of Dean Robert Williams, Dr. Pellegrino taught Davidson's first faculty seminar on medical ethics and humanities. Among the eager students who participated in this week-long course were Dean Clark Ross, Professor Verna Case, and philosophy department chair Lance Stell. Dr. Stell recalls that "this experience prompted the college to explore how Davidson could creatively combine two of the college's traditional strengths -- our pre-medical program and our program in the humanities. Our current Medical Humanities Program is the direct outgrowth of Dr. Pellegrino's inspiration."
I will add that, having fathered such an important part of the Davidson curriculum, Dr. Pellegrino has made a sustained commitment to nurturing it and ensuring its healthy growth; he has returned to campus frequently, and more than once has served as the keynote speaker in our Speas Lecture Series.
In his 50 years as a medical educator and administrator, Dr. Pellegrino has written two dozen books and more than 550 articles on topics both medical and philosophical. He is the founding editor of the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy. His resume includes tenures as department chair, dean, and vice chancellor -- and he has served as president of both Catholic University and the Yale-New Haven Medical Center. Since his "retirement" in 2000, Dr. Pellegrino has remained at Georgetown, where he continues to write, teach medicine and bioethics, and participate in regular clinical attending services.
In 2005, President George Bush asked Dr. Pellegrino to chair the President's Council on Bioethics. It was a rare political appointment that won strong support from all sides of the political spectrum. In this appointment, as in all of his work, Dr. Pellegrino consistently encouraged discussion and dialogue, bringing together people of varying beliefs to question, challenge, debate, and resolve.
BECAUSE you have inspired a wide-ranging and fruitful discussion about some of the most pressing issues of our day; and
BECAUSE you have consistently informed that discussion with a commitment to civility, dialogue, and respect for varying beliefs; and
BECAUSE you have inspired dozens of universities and colleges, including this one, to instill in their students an understanding of the intersection between science and humanities, medicine and philosophy; and
BECAUSE you have offered your perspective, expertise, and wisdom to students, faculty, alumni, and friends of Davidson College for more than three decades;
NOW THEREFORE, on this 29th day of April in the year 2009, Davidson College honors you, Edmund Daniel Pellegrino, and names you Doctor of Science, honoris causa.