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August 11, 1969

Our Role in the Generation, Modification, and Termination of Life

Author Affiliations

From the Division of Endocrinology, University of Washington, Seattle.

JAMA. 1969;209(6):914-917. doi:10.1001/jama.1969.03160190036008

My interest in certain philosophic aspects of medicine were accentuated three years ago by medical students who urged me to offer some elective courses in this sphere. These and many other experiences have prompted me to include coverage in my presidential address of such highly major and timely topics as population control, genetic bioengineering, abortion, transplantation, superbiologic functions, suicide, and euthanasia. Handicaps to progress in these issues include ancient policies in religion, laws, and social philosophy. New drugs, life-sustaining apparatus, and organ replacements are provoking important moral, philosophic, psychologic, social, economic, medical, and legal questions.

Population Problems.—  Our biggest future concerns are hyperpopulation and its subquality. The population doubling time has decreased enormously, to 37 years. Problems of clothing, food, jobs, housing, and other factors are multiplying rapidly. Unrest, murders, riots, violence, and wars will increase. It is estimated that 3,500,000 people, chiefly children, will die this year of starvation.