Determining the nature of the good and implementing a moral vision in clinical and scientific healthcare practice.

About Us

The UCSF Program in Bioethics – because it is part of the top-funded public institution in the United States, one focused entirely on health sciences, and because of its location in the Bay Area where leaders in bioscience, biotechnology and bioinformatics intersect – has a unique vantage point from which to assess health care’s most important social, moral and ethical concerns.

The interdisciplinary program connects faculty, staff, students and trainees from across UCSF, creating a protected space for moral reflection that spans the university’s professional schools and health system. Program faculty members conduct original research and policy analysis on a wide range of topics. They consult on moral and ethical concerns while embedded within bioscience or clinical projects. They devise strategies to effectively incorporate patient and citizen input into ongoing governance of science, clinical practice and public health practice. And they provide a Research Ethics Consultation Service and direct educational programs for UCSF’s four professional schools.

In all of these settings, program faculty members seek to answer this question: How can we ensure the ethical use of our ever-expanding technological prowess?

Our History

In 1972, then-UCSF Chancellor Philip Lee, MD, invited Albert Jonsen, PhD – a Jesuit scholar and former president of the University of San Francisco – to come to UCSF and create the Program in Medical Ethics.

Jonsen was clearly the right person for the job. During his tenure at UCSF, he became a member of the first NIH committee to deal with ethical, social and legal issues having to do with the introduction of the artificial heart. He served terms on the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research (1974–78) and the President’s Commission on the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine (1979–82), formulating regulations governing the use of humans in research and devising reports on brain death, foregoing life-support, informed consent and other topics. He also pioneered the practice of clinical ethics, in which an ethicist serves as a consultant to those making ethical decisions about appropriate care of patients.

Jonsen remained in his position until 1986 and his prominence in the emerging field made UCSF a magnet for other people interested in health care ethics. In 2017, The Hastings Center granted him the most prestigious honor in the field of bioethics: the Henry Knowles Beecher Award for Contributions to Ethics and the Life Sciences. Barbara Koenig, PhD, RN, current director of the UCSF Program in Bioethics, introduced him at the event.

Lo moved on in 2016, to take a position as President of the Greenwall Foundation in New York…

When Jonsen moved on, Bernard Lo, MD, assumed leadership of the program. Lo directed medical student teaching in ethics, chaired the hospital ethics committee, and was co-director of the Policy and Ethics Core of the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies. At the same time, over the next 25 years, Lo and his colleagues published frequently on such topics as: decision-making near the end-of-life, stem cell research, research with human participants and its oversight, the doctor-patient relationship, conflicts of interest, HIV infection and public health. Lo also authored two books: “Resolving Ethical Dilemmas: A Guide for Clinicians” (5th ed.) and “Ethical Issues in Clinical Research”. Lo moved on in 2016, to take a position as President of the Greenwall Foundation in New York, which supports bioethics research and young scholars.

Koenig – who had spent five years on the UCSF faculty during the AIDS epidemic, working with both Jonsen and Lo – assumed leadership of the UCSF Program in Bioethics in 2016. A nurse, social scientist and medical anthropologist, Koenig had led the development of ethics programs at Stanford University and the Mayo Clinic before returning to UCSF in 2012. Between 2012 and 2016, she worked on ethical issues surrounding precision medicine and received funding from the National Human Genome Research Institute to form a Center of Excellence in ELSI Research (ethical, legal, and social issues) and from the UC Office of the President to create the UC North Bioethics Collaboratory, which brings together faculty in the sciences, law and humanities from UC Davis, UC Berkeley, UC Santa Cruz and UCSF.

Since assuming leadership of the UCSF Program in Bioethics, Koenig has nurtured junior faculty, created a forum for ongoing discussions about the ethical challenges associated with difficult clinical cases, embedded ethics into curriculums across all four UCSF professional schools and sought to create interdisciplinary programs that give both clinicians and researchers the training they need to confront the ethical challenges on health care’s horizon.

Listen to Executive Vice Provost Dan Lowenstein describe the creation of UCSF Bioethics below.

Contact Us

UCSF Laurel Heights
Suite 340
3333 California Street
San Francisco, CA 94118