Albert R. Jonsen

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Albert R. Jonsen PhD (born April 1931 San Francisco) is a biomedical ethicist and author. He is Emeritus Professor of Ethics in Medicine at the University of Washington, School of Medicine, where he was Chairman of the Department of Medical History and Ethics from 1987-1999, and currently is Co-Director of the Program in Medicine and Human Values at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.

Jonsen joined the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in 1949 and was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1962; he resigned from the active priesthood in 1976. He received a doctorate in religious studies from Yale University in 1967. In 1969, he was chosen as president of the University of San Francisco where he served until 1972. The medical school of the University of California, San Francisco invited him to join the faculty and create a program in medical ethics.

Jonsen was one of the first bioethicists to be appointed to a medical faculty. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute selected him as a member of the first NIH committee to deal with ethical, social and legal issues of a developing medical technology, the totally implantable artificial heart (1972–73). The U.S. Congress established the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research (1974–78), charged with formulating regulations governing the use of humans in research. Jonsen was a Commissioner and participated in development of regulations regarding use of the human fetus, children and mentally incapacitated persons as research subjects; he also assisted in the writing of the Belmont Report, the statement of ethical principles that has become the leading statement on research ethics. In 1979, Jonsen was appointed to the successor body, the President's Commission on the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine (1979–82) which devised reports on brain death, foregoing life-support, informed consent and other topics that have become the main subjects of bioethics.

Jonsen was a pioneer in the practice of "clinical ethics", in which an ethicist serves as a consultant to those making ethical decisions about appropriate care of patients.

Jonsen joined John Fletcher as founders of the Society for Clinical Ethics which merged with the Association for Bioethics and Humanities in 1991. In 1987, Jonsen assumed the chairmanship of the Department of Medical History and Ethics, School of Medicine, University of Washington. He remained there until his retirement in 1999.

Jonsen is a fellow of the Hastings Center, an independent bioethics research institution. He has served on the National Board of Medical Examiners, the American Board of Medical Specialties, the ethics committee of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and as consultant to the American Board of Internal Medicine. He was president of the Society for Health and Human Values and chair of the Committee to Monitor the Social Impact of AIDS of the National Academy of Sciences. He was elected to the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences in 1981. In 2017 The Hastings Center grantedd Jonsen the most prestigious honor in the field of bioethics, the Henry Knowles Beecher Award for Contributions to Ethics and the Life Sciences.


  • The Ethics of Neonatal Intensive Care (1976)
  • Clinical Ethics (1982) (with Mark Siegler and William Winslade)
  • The Abuse of Casuistry: A History of Moral Reasoning (1988) (with Stephen Toulmin)
  • The Birth of Bioethics (1998)
  • A Short History of Medical Ethics (2000)
  • Bioethics Beyond the Headlines: Who Lives? Who Dies? Who Decides? (2005)

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