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East River Bioethics Club: A Circle of Friends

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The inspiration for an informal alliance to better engage bioethicists at Manhattan's academic medical centers began over a casual lunch between Weill Cornell's Joseph J. Fins and NYU's Art Caplan, two leading bioethicists. Their conversation resulted in the founding of the East River Bioethics Club.

Dr. Daniel Callahan, left, Dr. Joseph J. Fins, center, and Dr. Art Caplan, right, during the East River Bioethics Club meeting
All photos: Amelia Panico

Dr. Fins, the E. William Davis Jr., M.D. Professor of Medical Ethics, chief of the Division of Medical Ethics, professor of medicine, professor of public health and professor of medicine in psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, and Dr. Caplan, director of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, hope the East River Bioethics Club will create a different sort of forum for bioethics talk in the city, that allows for the sharing of new ideas and best practices with bioethicists from their two institutions and others in New York.

"Bioethics is still a small field, and it's a field of discourse," Dr. Fins said. "We just want to widen the circle of people who are in the conversation by bringing people together from the city to share their speakers, to share their insights and share their experiences to move the field forward."

"The formation of the East River Bioethics Club represents precisely the kind of collaboration essential for the best work in bioethics and for the New York region to emerge as an internationally recognized hub for bioethical inquiry and research," Dr. Caplan said. "Dr. Fins and I will not only leverage more impact from our programs but we hope to take advantage of many other opportunities to encourage students and faculty at the institutions to collaborate."

The East River Bioethics Club hosted its inaugural meeting this winter at the Weill Auditorium at Weill Cornell. The program featured a discussion with Dr. Daniel Callahan, president emeritus of the Hastings Center, an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit bioethics research institute which he founded in 1969. Both Dr. Caplan and Dr. Fins had worked for Dr. Callahan at the Hastings Center and both were influenced by his mentorship.

Dr. Caplan, Dr. Callahan and Dr. Fins

Dr. Callahan helped create the field of bioethics more than 40 years ago by using his training in philosophy to grapple with ethical problems in biology and medicine. He spent his career focusing on issues that had real-world implications, always striving to make sophisticated philosophical arguments accessible to a wide audience.

During his visit, Dr. Callahan discussed his recently released memoir, "In Search of the Good: A Life in Bioethics," with Dr. Fins and Dr. Caplan asking him about the origins of the Hastings Center and the future of bioethics.

"Dan has been personally a friend and mentor for 25 years now, and he really is an iconic figure in American bioethics," said Dr. Fins, who is currently a board member at the Hastings Center.

"Anytime you get to spend time with Dan Callahan is an opportunity to get a better sense of our history," Dr. Fins continued. "His thinking about how we die, how we spend health care resources, how we think about technology in the medical marketplace has always been at the vanguard of social trends. He both anticipates where we are going and shapes the evolution of our thinking."

Weill Cornell and NYU are the founding members of the East River Bioethics Club, which has already expanded to include the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, Hospital for Special Surgery and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. The group, which is currently planning future meetings, is looking to broaden its circle of friends.

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