Posted on June 1, 2018 at 11:04 PM
by Jennifer Blumenthal-Barby
The field of bioethics mourns the loss of a leader and visionary in the field. But those of us who were fortunate enough to know Baruch personally mourn the loss of a friend and colleague. As the years march on, students and scholars of bioethics will read his writing and apply his theories, arguments, and ideas to emerging and perennial issues. He was a crystal clear thinker, a creative thinker, full of case examples and stories to make his point. He leaves a body of work that is not to be ignored and will enrich the arguments and analyses of those who engage with it. What might not be as accessible as his published books and articles in future years are accounts of this giant in the field as a human being, friend, and colleague. I want to contribute just a bit to that to ensure that it is not lost.
I was fortunate enough to spend the last few years teaching a philosophical bioethics seminar series with Baruch, funded by the Greenwall Foundation. Even though Baruch had retired from bioethics at Baylor and was phasing out his work in philosophy at Rice to move to full retirement, this was one of the few activities that Baruch kept on his plate. He once told me “this,” by which he meant, a.) teaching and b.) keeping the field of bioethics philosophically rigorous, was among what he cared about most. And he was a generous and gifted teacher. It was not necessary to take a semester long class with Baruch or co-teach a seminar series with him to know this. It merely took hearing him lecture once. As our colleague, Larry McCullough (Baruch’s colleague for over 25 years), wrote on the MCW listserv this week, “He was a master of his material, loved his students, and wanted them to become excellent….They loved him back.”
Baruch was generous and patient with ideas, as well. As a junior faculty member, and even recently, I would write to Baruch with a new idea for a paper and a request for reading suggestions, and he would reply with things like, “this raises fascinating questions and is full of interesting ideas.” Looking back, I am quite sure they were half-baked. But where others saw critiques, Baruch saw potential—in ideas, in people—and he fostered it. He encouraged people to dream big (e.g., “you need to write a book!”). He was, of course, able to critique (among the best), but his gift as a teacher and colleague was being constructive. He made ideas, arguments, papers, and people better. Recently, I posed an exercise for the seminar series, and Baruch, sharp as ever, replied with “As an alternative to doing point-counterpoint, how about doing the X and Y articles since (a) it enables us to cover two separate and quite distinct concepts and (b) they are more controversial and will give them more of an ability to confront arguments that challenge conventional views.” Baruch made everything better, as Larry McCullough wrote, “in a breathtaking blend always on awesome but never intimidating display.”
As strong as Baruch was as a scholar, he cared about people and he cared about relationships. This became apparent early in my first months on his faculty when he would ask how I was doing—not just how my papers were going. He genuinely cared. Baruch touched my life—he gave me my first faculty job, celebrated my engagement and then marriage, expressed heartfelt joy at the birth of my son, and was present to celebrate a major milestone in my career: tenure. He was present for many firsts. I cherish the memories of his presence during these times. He added a bit of wisdom for every one. In typical Baruch style, his advice was always the most on point and offered the best perspective. I will miss that.
Let me end by making an additional remark: Baruch’s commitment was remarkable. Several months ago he was unable to participate in a seminar, but wrote to me (from the hospital!): “How did it go?” And just last week, he let me know he was not feeling well and would be unable to participate in the seminar, but the minute before it started, called me to ask for the login information because he got a second wind and was determined to make it (on top of all this, there was a time zone difference and it was 9:00 p.m. where he was).
Baruch touched the lives and careers of many. I hope that each of us takes what he imparted, continue to hold it dear, and integrate it into our lives and work.