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Posted on September 19, 2019 at 12:44 AM

by John Lantos, MD

Dr. William L. Meadow, MD, PhD, died at the age of 70 on Saturday, September 14, after battling leukemia for four years.  Meadow was a pioneer in the development of neonatal bioethics. We worked closely on a series of articles and a book about the complex set of medical and personal calculations that guide decision making for the parents, physicians and nurses who care for critically ill infants.  The tough decisions generally occur when infants are born at the borderline of viability or those with significant congenital problems or infections.

Bill Meadows and John Lantos. Photo courtesy of John Lantos.

Our book, Neonatal Bioethics: The Moral Challenges of Medical Innovation (2006), helped change the way neonatologists weighed the decision to withdraw life support. Before this work, most neonatal authorities tended to focus on making decisions in the delivery room at the moment of birth.  Meadow gradually convinced neonatologists to be more patient, to implement a trial of therapy, and to not make a decision until they saw how the baby responded.  This led to far more accurate prognostication.

Meadow graduated Magna Cum Laude from Amherst College in 1969, earned his MD in 1974 and his PhD in 1976 from the University of Pennsylvania. He began his pediatrics residency at the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania, followed by a year at the University of Chicago Hospitals in 1975 and a year at Children’s Memorial, also in Chicago. He completed fellowships in infectious disease and medical ethics at the University of Chicago. He was a member of the Core Faculty at the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics for decades

Meadow’s standard greeting for faculty, staff and patient families was “Welcome to the NICU. You’re going to love it here.”  His was a unique approach to the NICU that many new residents were not prepared for. Intensive care units can be bleak places but Bill found ways to lighten the mood. He made people, especially parents, feel a little more comfortable.”

In addition to his work in bioethics, he was also a dedicated physician. He never complained:  Once each year, he would work a night shift as a NICU nurse in order to better understand the nature of NICU nursing. He understood that the care of critically ill babies required a multidisciplinary team.He also won the William Bartholome Award for Ethical Excellence from the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2017

The Meadows have three children. Xander is a senior database engineer, Nathanial an internal medicine resident, and Beanie is a fellow in neonatology at Lurie Children’s Hospital.  Bill’s wife, Susan Goldin-Meadow is a Professor of Psychology and a world-renowned researcher on non-verbal communication and gesture.

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