Daniel Callahan, 88, Dies; Bioethics Pioneer Weighed ‘Human Finitude’


He added that Mr. Callahan was known for conducting himself with humility, humor and an appreciation for nuance. “In the increasingly polarized field of bioethics,” he said, “Callahan was a rare figure respected by both liberals and conservatives.”

Daniel John Callahan was born on July 19, 1930, in Washington to Vincent and Anita (Hawkins) Callahan. His father worked as a journalist in the early days of radio, and his mother was a homemaker.

Daniel attended Yale on a swimming scholarship and earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy in 1952. The next year he served in the Army’s Counter Intelligence Corps, assigned to the Pentagon.

In 1954 he married Sidney deShazo, who attended Bryn Mawr College and whom he had met during a Yale-Bryn Mawr mixer. He received his master’s degree in philosophy from Georgetown that same year and his doctorate in philosophy from Harvard in 1965.

The couple had seven children, one of whom died in infancy. In addition to his wife and their son David, Mr. Callahan is survived by his children Mark, Stephen, John, Peter and Sarah Callahan and five grandchildren.

While at Harvard, Mr. Callahan became disillusioned with philosophy, finding it irrelevant to the real world. At one point, he wandered over to the Harvard Divinity School to see if theology might suit him better. As he wrote in his memoir, “In Search of the Good: A Life in Bioethics” (2012), he concluded that theologians asked interesting questions but did not work with useful methodologies, and that philosophers had useful methodologies but asked uninteresting questions.

He left Harvard disenchanted with academia altogether. Instead, he was captivated by the ethical implications of medical advances that had sprung up during and after World War II, among them organ transplants, intensive care units, the birth control pill, end-of-life care and genetic engineering.

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