When I asked Amy Gutmann and Jonathan Moreno who should read their new book, like any self-respecting authors they said, well, everyone. But in their answers each made the point that the book’s particular value lay in providing a general audience with a framework to think about the full range of bioethical issues—from perennial philosophical questions concerning life and death and human agency, to the dizzying impact of new medical technologies, to the moral and practical implications of the strikingly unequal provision of healthcare in the US. As Moreno described it, their goal was “to create the basis for a public conversation about bioethics in a pretty comprehensive way,” while offering “a little bit of theory, not too much.”
Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven but Nobody Wants to Die builds on Gutmann and Moreno’s experience as chair and senior advisor, respectively, on President Obama’s bioethics commission from 2009 to 2016. The title—from an old blues song, they explain—is emblematic of Americans’ historical unwillingness to confront decisions surrounding who should receive what kind of healthcare for how much of the society’s resources that could be put to other uses like childcare, education, or housing.
Our cover feature, “Healthcare’s Hard Choices (and How to Stop Avoiding Them),” includes a wide-ranging interview with the authors, plus an excerpt from the book’s introduction. One of my questions was whether, in essence, bioethical reasoning was relevant in today’s toxic political climate. After pointing out that actual Americans’ views are not, thankfully, as starkly opposed as the parties’ positions, Gutmann added, “Bioethics would be useless—indeed unethical!—were its aim to mimic this political reality. It would then become a megaphone for the powerful, the privileged, and the polarized extremes to the detriment of the common good.”
A half-century ago, Ian McHarg, the founder and longtime chair of Penn’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning, was prominent among the voices in the nascent environmental movement calling out the damage that uncontrolled growth and pollution of the land, air, and water was doing to the planet. Time magazine called him the “nation’s most visible apostle of using ecology for planning.” On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of McHarg’s seminal volume, Design With Nature, over the summer the Stuart Weitzman School of Design mounted a two-day symposium and series of exhibits under the title Design With Nature Now.
In “A Man and His Environment” (a reference to a popular course McHarg taught), JoAnn Greco offers a lively portrait of the man and, through interviews with a number of former students and others he influenced, an assessment of his extraordinary impact on landscape architecture and city planning both at Penn and more generally.
McHarg’s design approach had enormous impact on landscape architects—even unwillingly: current department chair Richard Weller told JoAnn that “I began by utterly loathing the guy.” He’s since come around and serves as coexecutive director, along with School of Design Dean Frederick Steiner GRP’77 GFA’86 Gr’86, of the school’s new McHarg Center.
One of the successes cited by Gutmann and Moreno in their discussion of recent rapid advances in gene therapy was the CAR-T cell therapy developed by Carl June and his team. In “Unleashing Hope,” Kathryn Levy Feldman LPS’09 writes about the School of Veterinary Medicine’s Nicola Mason, who has adapted the treatment in one of her research studies looking at cancer in dogs. Mason worked in June’s lab as a postdoc, and he calls her an “international leader” in comparative medicine, using data from studies of different species to advance treatment for all.
The story’s main focus is on a clinical study of a treatment for dogs with bone cancer, which may also have implications for a related and rare pediatric cancer. It is using a vaccine derived from a weakened version of the food-poisoning listeria bacteria. She spoke with Mason and her collaborators and also follows one of the study subjects, a Saint Bernard named Elliott, and his owners.
It’s common to refer to major advances in business, technology, or healthcare as game changers. A literal game changer was John W. Heisman L1892. In “Heisman’s Game,” Dennis Drabelle G’66 L’69 profiles the scrappy Penn football player and legendary (though not so much here) coach who introduced or advocated for several innovations that helped make football both more exciting and safer—and contributed meaningfully to the game’s literary legacy—on his way to having the iconic trophy named for him.
—John Prendergast C’80