The history of the Bioethics Program begins in the early 1970s, just a few years after the word ‘bioethics’ was first used by Sergeant Shriver and Andre Hellegers to describe the new academic discipline devoted to the study of clinical and research dilemmas through the lens of moral philosophy.
At that time, Robert Baker, director emeritus of the Bioethics Program, began working on issues related to medical and public health ethics as part of a series of fellowships at the Wellcome Institute in London and at Albany Medical College in New York. Professor Baker would later join the faculty of Union College, and establish its first undergraduate course in bioethics in 1979.
Recognizing the need for students to understand medicine not only as a science, but also as a socioeconomic and cultural institution, Union College and Albany Medical College established the Leadership in Medicine Program in the early 1980s. The Center for Bioethics and Clinical Leadership was established to oversee that program, a combined degree integrating undergraduate and medical education. Through an eight-year course of study, students in the Leadership in Medicine Program earn a bachelor’s degree from Union College, a master’s in clinical leadership or business administration from Union Graduate College, and a Doctor of Medicine from Albany Medical College.
In 2001, in partnership with Albany Medical College, the Center for Bioethics and Clinical Leadership at Union College established one of the first programs to offer master’s-level online education in bioethics. Focusing on clinical ethics and designed around the Core Competences for Clinical Ethics Consultation developed by the
American Society for Bioethics and Humanities
, that program enrolled its first students in August 2001.
Shortly thereafter, the Center for Bioethics and Clinical Leadership joined with three other programs from Union College to create a new and independent Graduate College. Called the Graduate College of Union University, that school was chartered by the
New York State Board of Regents
as an independent college in July 2003. The school’s name was changed to Union Graduate College in 2006 to better reflect its Union College heritage.
In 2005, the Center for Bioethics and Clinical Leadership established
the Advanced Certificate Program in Research Ethics in Central and Eastern Europe
in collaboration with Vilnius University in Lithuania. That program, supported by a grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health Fogarty International Center, is now in its ninth year of educating fellows from the former Soviet Bloc. It was the first Fogarty-funded training program to use an online approach to provide graduate-level education in research ethics. Recently, the Center for Bioethics and Clinical Leadership was awarded a second grant from the Fogarty International Center to provide research ethics education in the Caribbean Basin.
When the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai replaced Albany Medical College as the Center’s clinical partner in 2006, the master’s program was rebranded as ‘The Bioethics Program’ to celebrate the new partnership. Since then, the Bioethics Program has continued to expand its graduate offerings with new degree specializations, like research ethics and bioethics policy, and new elective courses in neuroethics, Jewish bioethics, pediatric ethics and public health ethics.