Before The Birth of Bioethics: James M. Gustafson at Yale

Kaiulani S. Shulman, Joseph J. Fins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In the 1960s, tucked away at Yale Divinity School, there was a remarkable confluence of bioethics scholars under the tutelage of James M. Gustafson. His students were Jim Childress, Albert R. Jonsen, Tom Beauchamp, LeRoy Walters, Jim Drane, and Stanley Hauerwas, among others. Jonsen later recalled, “That little group was really the beginning of scholarly bioethics.” Yet despite Gustafson’s influence on the founding generation of bioethics scholars and his prominence as a leading mid-century Christian theologian, his legacy in bioethics is unsecured. This is an unfortunate omission, as Gustafson’s contributions to bioethics were not limited to the classroom. In 1969, he brought Paul Ramsey to Yale to deliver the Lyman Beecher Lectures, a collection of talks that would coalesce into Ramsey’s The Patient as Person. Gustafson also advised Daniel Callahan as Callahan and Willard Gaylin founded The Hastings Center, on whose founding board of directors Gustafson later served. Through archival research and interviews with Gustafson’s former students and colleagues, we recount his biography, consider his pedagogy, and examine the theological pragmatism that informed his engagement with his students and his intellectual commitments before the birth of bioethics. By reviewing Gustafson’s contributions to the nascent field of bioethics, we seek to understand why his legacy has been forgotten and to introduce him to a new generation of bioethics scholars.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)21-31
Number of pages11
JournalHastings Center Report
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 1 2022


  • bioethics
  • history of bioethics
  • James Gustafson
  • theological pragmatism
  • Humans
  • Bioethics
  • Male

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Philosophy
  • Health Policy
  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects


Dive into the research topics of 'Before The Birth of Bioethics: James M. Gustafson at Yale'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this