Visiting the Kennedy Institute of Ethics: Scholarship, Politics and the Inter-Faith Imam

As I entered Healy Hall, which houses the Kennedy Institute of Ethics (KIE), I overheard a campus tour guide declaring: ‘At Georgetown we pride ourselves on our religious diversity.’

Georgetown University is the oldest Catholic and Jesuit higher learning institute in the United States (see Georgetown is close to many other unmissable Washington attractions such as the Smithsonian museums, the Kennedy Center and the new National Museum of African American History and Culture (

The Kennedy Institute of Ethics (KIE) was set up in 1971 and was the first academic ethics centre (see ). It was originally known as ‘the Joseph and Rose Kennedy Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction and Bioethics’. It is home to many leaders in bioethics and applied philosophy, for example, Robert Veatch, Daniel Salmasy, Maggie Little, John Keown, Carol Taylor and Tom Beauchamp (the latter is well known as one of the authors of ‘Principles of Biomedical Ethics’ text). The Institute also has a bioethics research library, second to none, with the most helpful and knowledgeable librarians imaginable. [Thank you Martina and Patty]

Research areas

The Institute is a hub for international scholars. I talked with a Belgian psychiatrist researching ethical aspects of euthanasia and mental distress; a Portuguese doctoral student analysing philosophical methodology in relation to the four principles; a German anthropologist conducting a cross-cultural study relating to end of life care; and a scholar exploring philosophical aspects of chronic fatigue syndrome.

I also had the privilege of meetings with KIE Head of Academic Programmes & Associate Teaching Professor, Laura Bishop, with Abigail Rian Evans (Senior Scholar in Residence at the Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics & Charlotte Newcombe Professor of Practical Theology Emerita, Princeton) and Julie Trocchio from the Catholic Health Association. All shared their expertise and experience generously and directed me to many additional resources on the theme of ethics and elder care. I was excited to learn of the existence of the KIE Ethics Lab which is a design lab ‘that uses ethics and design to find innovative ways to approach complex moral problems.’ I’m looking forward to exploring areas of common interest.

A question of identity and politics

I talked with a philosopher at Georgetown interested in questions of ‘identity’ and care. She raised this question and I’d be interested in your views:

Do you think care-givers would be more challenged by a gay/lesbian care-recipient who decides in later life that he/she is heterosexual than with a heterosexual care-recipient who decides that she/he is gay/lesbian? If so, why?

Earlier in the week, I went along to the interfaith Chaplaincy afternoon tea gathering which began with an invitation to sign letters to support ‘the Dream Act’ ( ) which were to be delivered to Capitol Hill. It was interesting to witness this political dimension of a Chaplaincy. It was also interesting to witness the religious diversity the guide suggested, for example, the Imam who has post-graduate qualifications in Christian theology and Judaism and the Orthodox Christian chaplain who had a previous career as a physicist.

Georgetown is a treasure trove of ethics-related riches due to the people who work and study there, its history and the fantastic bioethics library. Conversations with people with different religious, philosophical and disciplinary perspectives left me feeling that Christmas had come early…

This week I will be at the Hastings Center and I look forward to telling you about this in the final blog of the year.