Brief History

Established in 1989, the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics (SCBE) grew from the shared interests of medical school and campus faculty concerned with ethical issues in biomedical science and clinical medicine. Drs. Tom Raffin and Ernle Young (then Associate Dean of Memorial Church) joined forces to create SCBE; Dean David Korn appointed them Co-Directors of the new Center. Organized as an academic unit within the School of Medicine, the Center Co-Directors reported directly to the Dean of the School of Medicine. Korn also established a multi-disciplinary steering committee with University-wide representation to provide guidance to the Center's leadership and academic oversight. SCBE successfully attracted start-up operational support grants from the Walter and Elise Haas Fund and the Greenwall Foundation, which allowed SCBE to grow and gain prominence both on the Stanford campus and within the national bioethics and health policy communities.

Due to their full schedules of teaching, clinical practice, clinical ethics consultation, and research, it became difficult for Co-Directors Raffin and Young to meet the growing demand for day-to-day management of SCBE activities. In 1993, Dr. Barbara Koenig was recruited as Director to consolidate management functions and develop the Center's research program. The Program in Genomics, Ethics and Society (PGES) was launched in 1995 with a generous foundational grant and a plan to expand support then included a variety of corporate, foundation, government, and private funders. These developments created significant changes in the content, character, and volume of SCBE activities, and prompted a plan for administrative reorganization in 1995. New research programs, lecture series, on campus teaching, and consulting created the need for significantly higher levels of staff support, including assistance with project management, monitoring human subjects protocols, increased communication with funding agencies, and recruiting and hiring of research associates, post doctoral fellows, student employees, and research assistants.

In 1999, Thomas A. Raffin, M.D. received The Colleen and Robert Haas Professor of Medicine and Biomedical Ethics endowed chair, while also serving as Chief, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine. The Center currently (2011) includes 8 faculty and research scholars, 4 administrative staff, 3 post doctoral fellows, and many research assistants and students.


  • To conduct innovative empirical bioethics research (in the core areas of genomics, end-of-life care, cultural diversity, neuroscience, the changing health care marketplace, and technology development)
  • To provide leadership in bioethics education for students and faculty in medicine, the Humanities and Sciences, and the professional schools, both at Stanford and nationally
  • To apply ethical reasoning to moral issues in medicine, including basic science, translational biomedical research, patient care, and the development of medical technology
  • To contribute to national and international policy discussions by building a community of professionals dedicated to formulating effective responses to contemporary ethical issues
  • To advance and preserve a compassionate and humanistic perspective on the practice of medicine, in order to improve health care for adults and children