Paul Root Wolpe

Dr. Paul Root Wolpe, Director of the Center for Ethics at Emory University, explores the fascinating field of bioethics and how its promises and perils are impacting life today. With incisiveness and deft humor, Wolpe brings the benefit of his respected achievements to audiences riveted by the latest scientific developments. He examines the intriguing topics dominating the headlines including managed care and health reform, genetically engineered foods, artificial organs, neuroscience and cloning—all offering vast benefits, while posing enormous societal and ethical challenges.

As science outpaces ethical response time, Wolpe suggests ways for financial planners, insurance companies, healthcare providers and individual investors to understand and benefit from these sensitive technologies, and address the ethical concerns of the public, manage risk and increase potential market share.

Dr. Wolpe is Senior Bioethicist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and sits on a number of national and international non-profit organizational boards and working groups; he is a consultant to academic institutions and the biomedical industry. A frequent contributor and commentator in both broadcast and print media, Wolpe has been featured on 60 Minutes and has been chosen by The Teaching Company as a “Superstar Teacher of America;” his courses are taught world-wide on audio and videotape. A dynamic and popular speaker, Dr. Wolpe’s presentations, known for their wit and wisdom, are thought provoking and encourage discussion among audiences, whether academic, clinical, or lay attendees, including teens.


Ethical Leadership: Modeling Behavior with Integrity
A recent poll of top executives by the American Management Association asked, “What characteristics and skills are needed to be an effective leader today?” The number one answer was “Ethical Behavior.” Leadership is not only about inspiring, motivating, and taking responsibility for decisions; it is also about being a model of correct behavior in an organization. Ethical Leadership is a way of making decisions with integrity that reverberates throughout an organization. The basic principles of Ethical Leadership are discussed.

Boomers and Biotech: How the Needs of America’s Biggest Cohort Drive Biotechnology
The 78 million Boomers are now between 45 and 60 years old, and they aren’t getting younger. The history of the United States over the last half century has been, to a large extent, driven by the needs of the Boomers: Rock-and-roll took over when they were teenagers; politics changed when they protested the war and began to vote; business changed when they began to move up the management chain the 80s; and daycare, flex time, and baby products transformed when they began to have children. Now the Boomers are getting older, and biotechnology is responding, creating pharmaceuticals to enhance memory and sexual function, developing reproductive techniques that allow women to bear children into their sixties, and exploring ways to “cure” aging. In this talk, we explore the social and ethical implications of ways aging Boomers will drive biotechnological development in the coming decades.

Re-Creation: The Biotechnological Restructuring of Life
The convergence of a variety of technologies – synthetic biology, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, neurotechnology, and informational and computational technology – is already changing the way we diagnose and cure disease, reproduce, and enhance ourselves. As the biotechnology industries are developing astonishing new products, they their potential to infringe on people’s privacy and bodily integrity, and to change “human nature,” is raising troubling questions. In this talk, we look at the cutting-edge technologies that are changing our lives, the social, ethical, and legal challenges they will bring.

Designer Health Care: Changing Demand, Creative Services
The future of American healthcare seems murky in part because of the overwhelming concern about cost containment. However, cost containment is not the only engine pushing health-care delivery. Consumers are beginning to demand a very different kind of health care, one that includes lifestyle pharmaceuticals and health maintenance services. In this talk, we look at future trends in an emerging consumer driven health care system, and the ways these demands will change the nature of health care delivery in the United States.

Building Better Brains: How Neuroscience is Altering Human Functioning
With the advent of implantable brain chips, neural tissue transplants, brain-computer interfaces, and psychopharmaceutical advances, human beings will soon be able to micromanage their moods, enhance cognitive and affective skills and traits, “mind-read” through brain scanning, and replace brain functions with brain prosthetics. While millions have been spent exploring genetic enhancements, far less attention has been placed on brain enhancement, which has more immediate and perhaps profound implications. Considered one of the founders of the field of neuroethics, Dr. Wolpe will introduce these new technologies and explore their profound ethical and social implications.

Is My Mind Mine? Neuroscience, Privacy, and the Self
For the first time in human history, we are developing the ability to apprehend information directly from the brain. Brain imaging and allied technologies are beginning to decode the dynamic functions of discrete areas of brain, allowing scientists a glimpse into the subjective thoughts and inner dialogues that have always been private and inaccessible to others. By doing so, they are forever changing the very idea of privacy, raising thorny questions about who should have access to our innermost thoughts. In this talk, we explore the implications of brain imaging not only for personal privacy, but also for legal questions such as Fifth Amendment protections.

Cloning, Stem Cells, and the Meaning of “Life”
The Genetic Age is upon us, and with it confusion about a novel set of ethical questions. No two issues of the last few years illustrate the challenges confronting us better than the debates over stem cells and cloning. Drawing from scientific and popular sources and images, Dr. Wolpe explores these two landmark ethical issues in terms of their implications for medical care in the twenty-first century.
NOTE: Two related talks look in-depth at each of these controversies: Is it Unethical to Clone Myself? and “Celling” Life: Stem Cells, Biotechnology, and the Rhetoric of a Controversy.

Designing Our Descendants: Reproductive Eugenics in the 21st Century
As genetic and reproductive technologies become more sophisticated, we will become increasingly able to choose the traits we want designed into our offspring. Genetic engineering tempts us with promises of eradicating genetically transmitted disease and susceptibilities, and frightens us with its history of selecting “desirable” and “undesirable” genetic traits. The ethical and social implications of human genetic engineering are explored with illustrations from current scientific research.

Borrowing Our Bodies: The Vexing Ethics of Human Medical Research
Human Medical Research has more institutionalized protections than virtually any other pursuit in the United States, and yet it is still periodically rocked by scandals, the suspension of research at some of our finest medical institutions, and reports of the deaths or exploitation of subjects who have volunteered their bodies to the scientific enterprise. Is the system really broken? Drawing from his experience doing Human Subjects Protections Audits at a number of Universities, Private Research Centers, and at NASA, and drawing on the landmark JAMA article on the issue he co-authored, Dr. Wolpe reviews the set of assumptions and problems underlying Human Experimentation and suggests some solutions to these vexing problems.

The Munchkin Way of Death
In the Wizard of Oz, the Munchkin Mayor suggests that to legally verify the wicked witch’s death, one must assure that the person is “morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, absolutely, positively, undeniably, and reliably dead!” Exploring each of these categories, we look at the American way of determining death, controlling death, and caring for the dying. In the process, the discussion will range from brain death and transplantation, to physician assisted suicide and hospice care, from ancient conceptions of death to Ray Kurzweil’s suggestion that we will soon be able to download our personalities on computer and then upload them into a new body, in effect never dying.

Bioethics in Space: NASA and the Thorny Problems of Ethics in Extreme Environments
Recently, President George W. Bush has unveiled a new vision for space exploration, calling on NASA to “gain a new foothold on the moon and to prepare for new journeys to the worlds beyond our own.” Space travel, however, poses a number of difficult medical and bioethical issues, some of which are unique to the space environment. In this talk, Dr. Wolpe, who serves as Chief of Bioethics for NASA, discusses the fascinating and troubling bioethical issues in both clinical care in space and in astrobionautic research.

The Rise of Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Why Now, and What Does it Mean?
After a period of outright rejection of CAM, the American medical establishment seems to have done a sudden and remarkable about-face. Who would have predicted ten years ago that academic medical centers would be opening CAM clinics across the country, that JAMA would dedicate an issue to CAM research, that insurance companies would cover a variety of CAM therapies, and that NIH would open a special office for CAM funding? Considered one of the pioneers in scholarly writing on the social implications of CAM, Dr. Wolpe gives an overview of the CAM phenomenon, and explains its historical, social, ethical, and clinical relevance for the coming decades.

Is Everything a Placebo Effect? Science, Medicine and Ways of Knowing
The Placebo effect is one of our most controversial and contradictory medical tools. While considered so powerful in research that billions of dollars are spent yearly trying to control for its effects, in clinical medicine its power is trivialized or disregarded. The reasons may have to do with deep-set assumptions about science and medicine that color the research and the clinical experience of the placebo effect. In this presentation, Dr. Wolpe looks are the placebo effects and its controversy and discusses some of the ways we have framed the issue, shedding new light on the usefulness of the power of the placebo.

Full Biography

Paul Root Wolpe, Ph.D. is the Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Bioethics, Raymond Schinazi Distinguished Research Professor of Jewish Bioethics, Professor of Medicine, Pediatrics, Psychiatry, Neuroscience and Biological Behavior, and Sociology, and the Director of the Center for Ethics at Emory University. Dr. Wolpe also serves as the Senior Bioethicist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). He is Co-Editor of the American Journal of Bioethics (AJOB), the premier scholarly journal in bioethics, and Editor-in-Chief of AJOB-Neuroscience, and sits on the editorial boards of over a dozen professional journals in medicine and ethics. Dr Wolpe is a past President of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities, a Fellow of the Hastings Center, and a Fellow of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, the country’s oldest medical society.

Dr. Wolpe is the author of over 125 articles, editorials, and book chapters in sociology, medicine, and bioethics, and has contributed to a variety of encyclopedias on bioethical issues. A futurist interested in social dynamics, Dr. Wolpe’s work focuses on the social, religious, ethical, and ideological impact of technology on the human condition. Considered one of the founders of the field of neuroethics, which examines the ethical implications of neuroscience, he also writes about other emerging technologies, such as genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and prosthetics. His teaching and publications range across multiple fields of bioethics and sociology, including death and dying, genetics and eugenics, sexuality and gender, mental health and illness, alternative medicine, and bioethics in extreme environments such as space. He is the author of the textbook Sexuality and Gender in Society, and edited and is a key author of the end-of-life guide: Behoref Hayamim: In the Winter of Life.

Dr. Wolpe sits on a number of national and international non-profit organizational boards and working groups, and is a consultant to academic institutions and the biomedical industry. In July, 2010, he testified to the President’s Commission on the Study of Bioethical Issues in Washington, DC on ethical issues in biotechnology. A dynamic and popular speaker internationally, Dr. Wolpe has been chosen by The Teaching Company as a “Superstar Teacher of America” and his courses are distributed internationally on audio and videotape. He is also frequent contributor and commentator in both the broadcast and print media, most recently being featured on 60 Minutes and with a personal profile in the Science Times of the New York Times.