In Search of the Good

From Basic Bioethics

In Search of the Good

A Life in Bioethics

By Daniel Callahan

One of the founding fathers of bioethics describes the development of the field and his thinking on some of the crucial issues of our time.





One of the founding fathers of bioethics describes the development of the field and his thinking on some of the crucial issues of our time.

Daniel Callahan helped invent the field of bioethics more than forty years ago when he decided to use his training in philosophy to grapple with ethical problems in biology and medicine. Disenchanted with academic philosophy because of its analytical bent and distance from the concerns of real life, Callahan found the ethical issues raised by the rapid medical advances of the 1960s—which included the birth control pill, heart transplants, and new capacities to keep very sick people alive—to be philosophical questions with immediate real-world relevance. In this memoir, Callahan describes his part in the founding of bioethics and traces his thinking on critical issues including embryonic stem cell research, market-driven health care, and medical rationing. He identifies the major challenges facing bioethics today and ruminates on its future.

Callahan writes about founding the Hastings Center—the first bioethics research institution—with the author and psychiatrist Willard Gaylin in 1969, and recounts the challenges of running a think tank while keeping up a prolific flow of influential books and articles. Editor of the famous liberal Catholic magazine Commonweal in the 1960s, Callahan describes his now-secular approach to issues of illness and mortality. He questions the idea of endless medical “progress” and interventionist end-of-life care that seems to blur the boundary between living and dying. It is the role of bioethics, he argues, to be a loyal dissenter in the onward march of medical progress. The most important challenge for bioethics now is to help rethink the very goals of medicine.


$35.00 X ISBN: 9780262018487 232 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 3 color photos, 3 b&w photos


  • This is a charmingly candid book about Daniel Callahan's early history, intellectual development, career, and major interests. It is at times autobiographical, and often heartwarming. Masterfully written and of great importance to an understanding of the history of bioethics, In Search of the Good reminds us why Callahan has been so important to the field. Once I picked it up, I found it impossible to put it down.

    Tom L. Beauchamp

    Professor of Philosophy and Senior Research Scholar, Kennedy Institute of Ethics, Georgetown University

  • A letter of invitation to the Hastings Center from Daniel Callahan in 1971 opened wide my life. This special book, like having the true pleasure of talking with Dan, will show you why. The trip through the life of someone who (with Will Gaylin) invented bioethics, who is specially, humanly smart, interested in almost everything, well-read, and educated (in the best sense), is more than interesting. His ideas are always accessible, and while you may not agree with everything, you will be happier to have shared his thoughts.

    Eric Cassell

    Emeritus Professor of Public Health, Weill Medical College of Cornell University

  • Dan Callahan was the right moral philosopher to be present at the creation of bioethics. He tests the progress of medical science against the classical moral questions, how to live humanely and justly. At the same time, he forms his reflections into realistic, rational policies and practices. Good counsel for current and future bioethics!

    Albert R. Jonsen

    author of The Birth of Bioethics

  • How refreshing to read a first-hand account from a person who was there at (or close to) the moment of creation of a new field. As befits his status as a respected founding father, Dan Callahan's book In Search of the Good is equal parts personal memoir, historical review, and critical analysis of U.S. bioethics—a field he and the Hastings Center helped to create. The book, filled with charm, wit, and occasional pointed barbs, traces Callahan's life in bioethics and we are all the wiser for it.

    Eric M. Meslin

    Director, Indiana University Center for Bioethics