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Physician and prominent bioethicist Edmund Pellegrino dies at age 92
Catholic News Service photo
Dr. Edmund Pellegrino, who founded the bioethics center at Georgetown and was former president of The Catholic University of America, died June 13 at age of 92. He is pictured in a 1979 photo. 
Catholic News Service photo
Dr. Edmund Pellegrino, who founded the bioethics center at Georgetown and was former president of The Catholic University of America, died June 13 at age of 92. He is pictured in a 1979 photo. 
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON  -- Dr. Edmund D. Pellegrino, who founded and directed Georgetown University's Center for the Advanced Study of Ethics and was a former president of The Catholic University of America, died June 13. He was 92.

A wake was scheduled for June 18 at the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda, Md. A noon funeral Mass was to be celebrated June 19 the Bethesda church, followed by burial in St. Gabriel's Cemetery in Potomac, Md.

Considered one of the most prominent founders of the field of bioethics and an early pioneer in teaching humanities in medical schools, he was the author of more than 600 published articles in medical science, philosophy and ethics and author or co-author of 23 books.

Pellegrino, who would have turned 93 June 22, was a former director of Georgetown's Kennedy Institute of Ethics. He also founded and directed the university's Center for Clinical Bioethics, which just this year was renamed the Edmund D. Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics.

"We offer our thoughts and prayers to Ed's family and loved ones," Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia said in a statement. "We feel this loss deeply, and will always be grateful for Ed's countless contributions and his caring for our community, its members, and his profession.

"We will also carry with us his example -- of his remarkable capacity for both passion and gentleness, deep reflection and decisive action, intellect and heart."

In 1978, he became a professor of clinical medicine and community medicine at Georgetown and also that year was named the 11th president of The Catholic University of America. He was the second layman to hold the position.

During his tenure as president, Pope John Paul II made his historic visit to campus in 1979 and addressed Catholic educators.

"We remember a distinguished scholar and educator who was lauded during his presidency for his administrative ability and his rapport with students, faculty, and staff," said the university's current president, John Garvey. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time."

Ethics were at the core of Pellegrino's work as physician, educator, philosopher and scientist. He was a leading voice of opposition to assisted suicide, euthanasia, artificial reproduction, abortion, certain forms of genetic manipulation and other threats he saw to human life.

Born June 22, 1920, he received his bachelor's of science degree from St. John's University and his medical degree from New York University. He served residencies in medicine at Bellevue, Goldwater Memorial, and Homer Folks Tuberculosis Hospitals, after which he was a research fellow in renal medicine and physiology at New York University.

He was the recipient of 52 honorary doctorates in addition to numerous other awards and honors.

"Medicine is a moral enterprise," he once told Georgetown Magazine. "And if you take away the ethical and the moral dimensions, you end up with a technique. The reason it's a profession is that it's dedicated to something other than its own self-interests."

In a 1997 interview with Catholic News Service, he noted how the high-tech world of medicine could offer all types of procedures and protocols that made an enormous difference in people's lives.

But at the same time, he said, the practice of medicine had changed in other ways, made more difficult by the business of medicine, the bureaucracy of health insurance companies and the demands of managed care.

But one of the constants in medicine was the need for compassion, for the physician to put the patient's interests first, which is "the most important element in medicine," Pellegrino said.

All patients need "emotional support, which means we have to give of ourselves to them," said Pellegrino. Compassion is having "the ability to feel something of the patient's predicament and to assure the patient he or she will not be abandoned," he added.

Growing up in Newark, N.J., he and his brothers learned from their hard-working parents the values of honesty, sincerity, courage and genuineness, he said, and "particularly a dedication to something other than our own self-interest."

He was preceded in death by his wife, Clementine, who died in June 2012. He is survived by five children, two grandchildren and one great-grandchild. His son, Stephen, died in 1980, and his son, Thomas, passed away in 2011.

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