Bioethics Blogs

An Interview with Tom Beauchamp, Early Bioethics Innovator

By Elizabeth Galt

Tom Beauchamp, PhD, has been a principle pioneer in the field of bioethics. As a young philosophy professor at Georgetown, he created the first applied ethics program in the United States. In 1975, he was recruited by the newly formed National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research, where he wrote the bulk of The Belmont Report, the first federal document outlining the ethical principles and guidelines for research on human subjects.

Dr. Beauchamp and his collaborator, James Childress, were the foremost exponents of ethical decision making known as “principlism.” In their seminal work, Principles of Biomedical Ethics (1979), they laid out the guidelines of autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence, and justice as the framework for bioethical evaluation. These were to serve as “action guides” to dictate the types of actions that are permitted, required, or prohibited in certain situations. The idea is that no one principle is, prima facie, ultimate or absolute. Rather, biomedical ethical dilemmas are best resolved through the balancing and specification of the various principles in their application to clinical research situations. These principles continue to be the basis of bioethics today.

At seventy-six years of age, Dr. Beauchamp is Professor of Philosophy and Senior Research Scholar at the Georgetown Kennedy School of Ethics. He has authored many volumes on bioethics, and he continues to influence and contribute substantially to the field. In 2004, Dr. Beauchamp received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Bioethics and Humanities in recognition of his outstanding contributions and significant publications in bioethics and the humanities.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.