Dr. Sulmasy is the André Hellegers Professor of Biomedical Ethics in the Departments of Medicine and Philosophy at Georgetown University, where he is Acting Director of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics and a member of the Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics. He received his AB and MD degrees from Cornell University, completed his residency, chief residency, and post-doctoral fellowship in General Internal Medicine at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, and holds a PhD in philosophy from Georgetown. He has previously held faculty positions at New York Medical College and the University of Chicago. He has served on numerous governmental advisory committees, and was a Member of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues 2010-17.
Dr. Sulmasy’s research interests encompass both theoretical and empirical investigations of the ethics of end-of-life decision-making, informed consent for research, and spirituality in medicine. He is the author or editor of six books, including, The Healer’s Calling (1997), Methods in Medical Ethics (1st ed., 2001; 2nd ed., 2010), The Rebirth of the Clinic (2006), and Safe Passage: A Global Spiritual Sourcebook for Care at the End of Life (2014). He has served as editor-in-chief of the journal, Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics since 2002. He is the co-editor of the forthcoming book, Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide After the Holocaust.
For more information, visit: https://kennedyinstitute.georgetown.edu/people/daniel-sulmasy/
Committee Member Q & A
We asked each Committee Member four questions to gain insight into who they are and what they value in bioethics scholarship and the Faculty Scholars Program.
What professional activity or accomplishment are you most proud of?
Well, I’d probably need to say that I am most proud of my patient care, even though I am mostly an academic. I have been particularly enriched by the experiences I have had in caring for dying patients. Most don’t need ethics consults. They need someone who will accompany them, listen to them, and faithfully attend to their very basic needs. When patients thank me, or families thank me, it makes all the hassles of practice worthwhile.
In your work, how have you engaged with people who face bioethics dilemmas in their professional activities or personal lives?
I’ve now probably been directly involved in over 300 ethics consults. I also receive lots of telephone calls from people all over the country who are grappling with personal bioethical dilemmas. It can be very emotional and draining work, but it is invaluable to those affected and rewarding for me. These decisions are never easy and never should be. The moment turning off a ventilator becomes like turning of a light switch it is time to hang up the stethoscope and go home. But to help people navigate moral dilemmas, often on the border between life and death, is a real privilege. I pray that I remain worthy of the trust that all these people place in me.
Who has been affected by your work in bioethics?
Part of what makes the work exciting is that so many different kinds of people have been impacted. Clinical bioethics has an obvious, immediate, and direct impact on the lives of patients and their families. My writing and speaking have also had a tremendous impact on a wide group of people. Clinicians have told me that books I have written have been life-changing for them. That will make anyone’s day. Other clinicians have come up to me after lectures and thanked me for putting into words what they always felt to be right, just, and true. That makes being a bioethicist, in part, being a minstrel for the moral and clinical instincts of good physicians. That’s a role I’m happy to fulfill. But my work has also been cited in court briefs, I’ve given legislative testimony nationally and internationally, and I’ve served on bioethics commissions on the state and national levels. Bioethics: bedside to global. Who could ask for more?
What do you view as the greatest strength of the Greenwall Faculty Scholars Program?
The strength of any such program is the scholars themselves. Programs like this are investments in people. The Greenwall scholars are smart, articulate, and generous. I learn from them at every meeting. Each is individually great, but they also form a community of scholars. They work on side-projects together, support each other, and, together, make something that is greater than the sum of its parts. I’m proud to be a part of the Greenwall family.