In Memoriam – Jay Katz

It is with sadness, but with enduring gratitude for the gift of his life, that we mourn the passing of Jay Katz, our beloved friend, cherished teacher, founder of the field of research ethics, longtime friend to PRIM&R, and the recipient of our first Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Research Ethics.

Jay died yesterday surrounded by his loved ones. There will be a fuller tribute to Jay in the next issue of the PRIM&R Newsletter. Until then, we share below a tribute written by Bob Levine on the occasion of Jay’s receipt of PRIM&R’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

We are all more educated, more aware, and more caring about the need for protecting human subjects because of Jay’s work, and his legacy will forever light our paths and those of our successors in this field.

The PRIM&R Board, staff, and extended community send our deepest condolences to Jay’s wife, Marilyn, and to the large family that so adored him and he them.

Joan Rachlin

The below tribute was written by Bob Levine on the occasion of Jay Katz’s receipt of the PRIM&R Lifetime Achievement Award.

“Today we are assembled here in Boston to honor Jay Katz for his long and distinguished contributions to the field of research ethics. It is fitting that Jay be the first recipient of PRIM&R’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Research Ethics. His enormous contributions to the field of research ethics began before research ethics was even recognized as a field of study.

Jay was recognized as a major figure in the field of what was then called ‘human experimentation’ in the late 1960s. This recognition was symbolized by his inclusion as a contributor to the first major symposium on this topic (the proceedings of which were published in the book, Experimentation with Human Subjects, edited by Paul Freund and published in 1970) and by his membership in the early 1970s on the Tuskegee Syphilis Study Ad Hoc Advisory Panel. His position of eminence in the field was established securely with the publication in 1972 of his monumental case book, Experimentation with Human Beings.

Exactly what is Jay’s great contribution to research ethics? The criteria for measuring contributions in research ethics are very different from those used in the natural sciences. In the natural sciences we can connect very concrete contributions to specific individuals. We can say, for example, that three individuals named Fleming, Florey, and Chain each played a vital role in the discovery of penicillin and the recognition of its importance as a therapeutic agent. We can further say that the importance of these discoveries is such that these three deserved to share in the Nobel Prize.

Unlike natural science, scholarship in ethics does not primarily entail discovery and validation. No one can tell you who invented or discovered informed consent. Ethics is concerned with the examination of a cultural tradition with the aim of understanding what behaviors or personal attributes are considered morally praiseworthy or blameworthy by members of that tradition. Ethics is also concerned with understanding how the tradition can be interpreted and adapted to make it relevant to the present time with all of its novel social, economic, technological and other contingencies.

The great contributors to the field of ethics are those who are capable of understanding the ‘big picture’ in a way that enables them to figure out where any particular issue fits in with the overall structure of the tradition. The great contributors have mastered the large body of information; have applied sound analytical methods to the resolution of particular problems and sound critical methods to the resolutions proposed by themselves or others; have synthesized their findings and those of others into new comprehensive accounts of the field and have effectively communicated the fruits of their efforts to others.

We are here today to celebrate Jay Katz because his work in research ethics exemplifies all of the features of a great contributor to the field. The fact that he is one of the world’s greatest mensches just makes it more enjoyable for PRIM&R to do the right thing.”

Please consider posting a comment here about Jay, as we would like to forward your notes of reminiscence and condolence to his family. Thank you.