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Funding a Fellowship in Ethics

October 15, 2007
Elaine&John Freeman detail

Ethics donors Elaine and John Freeman were honored at the biennial meeting of the Johns Hopkins Medical & Surgical Association in 2007.

Pediatric neurologist John Freeman, who directed the Division of Pediatric Epilepsy from 1972 to 2002, and Elaine Freeman, who after three decades in Corporate Communications recently retired as its vice president, together gave nearly a century of their lives to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Now they’re giving even more in creating and funding a fellowship in a much-needed area – clinical ethics.

“We have each had wonderful careers at Hopkins and wanted to leave something to Hopkins for the teaching of clinical ethics,” says John Freeman.

The Freemans pledged $50,000 a year toward a $1.25 million endowment for the Freeman Family Scholars in Clinical Bioethics, which will allow junior faculty members to spend two years learning, teaching and writing about clinical ethics. Pediatrician Maggie Moon, who is developing an ethics training program for residents in Pediatrics and other departments, was named the first Freeman Family Scholar.

“This generous gift makes a huge difference in being able to teach this side of pediatrics and medicine,” says Moon.

John Freeman’s involvement in bioethics dates back to 1969, when he became engaged in discussions surrounding the decision-making process for treating infants with spina bifida. The development of neonatal anesthesia had allowed surgeons to help these children, but some physicians, noting that half of these patients remained severely disabled, suggested that only the healthiest candidates should be treated. John Freeman felt otherwise and shared his viewpoints in, among other publications, The Journal of Pediatrics (May 1972). Little did he know his work would significantly influence the way birth defects like spina bifida were perceived and treated at the time.

That pioneering experience led to others regarding newborns with congenital defects and issues like the right to life, death and dying. He went on to create and chair the Johns Hopkins Hospital Ethics Committee, co-author Tough Decisions: A Casebook in Bioethics (Oxford University Press, 1987), and to write a number of articles in the field of bioethics. Today he’s an active member of the Phoebe R. Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins. The overarching aim of his work – and the fellowship he and Elaine Freeman have created – is to bring bioethics to the bedside through teaching.

“One of my passions was to teach my trainees and medical students to think about the ethical issues in their management of patients, to think about the problems and conflicts we and our patients face daily,” says John Freeman.

In her long career in Communications for Johns Hopkins Medicine, Elaine Freeman has illuminated countless seminal discoveries by faculty, including those that touch on the field of bioethics. Though retired, she recently wrote a feature article in Hopkins Medicine magazine (“A Silver Bullet for Blake,” Fall 2007) on pediatric cardiologist Hal Dietz’s research efforts to bring hope to children suffering from Marfan syndrome. Thirty years earlier she wrote about some of the issues raised by John Freeman in treating spina bifida patients for an article in The New York Times Magazine. The need for a fellowship like the Freeman Family Scholars in Clinical Bioethics, she says, is just as relevant today as it was then: “We feel very fortunate and honored to be able to help foster a program that will emphasize and increase the caring, compassion and ethical behavior of Hopkins’ physicians.”