Photo is reproduced with permission from Helga Andereck.
Albert R. Jonsen, PhD 1931–2020
Al Jonsen was an extraordinary scholar and a remarkable colleague, a leader among the country’s first generation of medical bioethicists. Bill Winslade and I were fortunate when Al invited us in 1980 to join him in writing the first book on clinical medical ethics for physicians. Notably, the first edition, published in 1982, was designed to fit into a lab coat pocket as a handy guide to help clinicians navigate this new terrain. At Al’s request, we gathered together for a week in a remarkable glass-walled rooftop study overlooking San Francisco Bay. During that week, the three of us organized the book and decided which of us would author the first draft of each of the four chapters. In our preface to the first edition, we explained:
“We have written this book for physicians…although practitioners of other specialties, nurses, and medical students should find it helpful. All three of us lay claim to some clinical experience as either practitioners or consultants. Each of us is trained in different disciplines: Jonsen in philosophy and moral theology; Siegler in medicine; Winslade in law, philosophy, and psychoanalysis. We came away from wards and clinics, from books and lectures, with the intention of bringing our experience and training to bear on the ethical problems facing the practitioner of medicine.”
Before Al died peacefully on October 21, 2020, we had completed work on the ninth edition of Clinical Ethics, little knowing it would be our final collaboration. With sadness and gratitude, we dedicate this ninth edition in honor and in memory of Albert R. Jonsen.
From the first time I met Al Jonsen in 1978, we became great friends and close colleagues. Our work together with Mark Siegler on Clinical Ethics was always challenging and truly enlightening. Our meetings in San Francisco not only explored ethical ideas but also practical problem solving in clinical ethics. Al was always open to exploring alternative approaches to thinking about practical problems in clinical ethics. His background in theology and philosophy as well as his practical wisdom made him an extraordinarily inspiring colleague. For over 40 years, we shared ideas and sought to make Clinical Ethics a practical and productive framework for formulating and facilitating clinical ethical decisions in medicine. His vision, worldly experience, practical wisdom, and intellectual prowess were extraordinary. I will always treasure the opportunity that I had to work with Al. I am so privileged and honored to have worked with him.
When Al Jonsen invited me to join him and his colleagues in writing the ninth edition of Clinical Ethics, he said he wanted to bring the perspective of a practicing and experienced clinical ethicist to the new edition. His idea was to reflect the changing complexity of ethical issues in medicine. Having trained with him during my clinical ethics fellowship, later working with him as a colleague, and having practiced the method in my daily work, it was an exciting and welcome opportunity to bring the current issues to this latest edition. For Al Jonsen, Clinical Ethics had evolved from being a book for physicians to one that serves as a core guide for health care professionals struggling with difficult patient situations that have ethical components. Working with him on the new edition, I learned how much facts and consistency mattered to him; and it gave me a closer look at his special expertise in simplifying complex concepts and ideas and translating them into plain language that could be easily understood and put into practice by caregivers from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds. As one of the most prominent contributors to the field of clinical ethics, he was not only a man of his time, he was also a man ahead of his time, in that he was at the forefront of shaping its development. It is that vital spirit of advancing the field that Al Jonsen put into every edition of Clinical Ethics, and will continue to be his legacy into the future.