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H. Tristram Engelhardt

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H. Tristram Engelhardt Obituary
Hugo Tristram Engelhardt
Hugo Tristram Engelhardt, Jr., PhD, MD, one of the intellectual founders of the fields of bioethics and the philosophy of medicine, whose seminal work continues to frame debates about healthcare policy and medical practice, fell asleep in the Lord at his home with his wife by his side at 4:30 a.m. on Thursday, June 21, 2018, in Houston.
He died of complications due to cancer. He was 77 years old.
Once described as the enfant terrible of bioethics, Professor Engelhardt challenged Western secular liberal moral and political assumptions which, he argued, could not be secured through reason alone, and frequently cause more harm than benefit. His first book Bioethics and Secular Humanism (1991) together with the first and second editions of The Foundations of Bioethics (1986; 1996) examined why sound rational argument is unable to provide the foundations necessary to justify a content-full secular morality or bioethics, much less to secure a canonical political theory to guide healthcare policy.
There are always numerous competing ethical perspectives regarding the politically reasonable or morally rational, each with its own set of moral intuitions and theoretical constructions designed to secure some particular understanding of the moral project. He often noted that because of competing moral intuitions, rational, informed people rank the significance of liberty, equality, security and prosperity differently. Such variations alone yield very different accounts of morality. Given the reality of deep moral pluralism and the inability of reason alone to resolve it, secular moral authority must be created through, and is limited to, the actual agreements of actual persons. In other words, the foundations for secular bioethics and public health care policy are starkly libertarian.
Engelhardt did not celebrate the value of personal liberty nor did he make any particular assumption regarding the rights of persons. Instead, his libertarianism was a default moral and political position. There is a prima facie lack of moral authority to interfere in the choices of persons who are acting with free and consenting others, even if some would condemn their actions as imprudent, misguided, or sinful. Nor does there exist sufficient moral political authority to coerce some into benefiting others through tax-payer financed welfare entitlements.
It is for this unflinching libertarianism that Engelhardt is best known. It is widely assumed not only that Engelhardt affirmed the social and political consequences of his conclusions, but that he celebrated its frequently libertine possibilities.
Many, perhaps most, of his readers have not taken seriously Engelhardt's own admonishments in the Foundations of Bioethics that secular morality permits many activities that he knew to be deeply sinful (e.g., abortion on demand, human embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, and so forth) as well as imprudent (e.g., turning to a doctor of chiropracty or naturopathy for treatment of heart disease). The challenge is that there simply does not exist secular moral authority to justifiably prohibit freely chosen actions among consenting adult persons.
In 2000, Engelhardt completed this previously one-sided picture with the publication of The Foundations of Christian Bioethics. He presented a deeply serious account of Orthodox Christian bioethics – an account of bioethics grounded in the commands of God, as experienced through the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church. This is not a bioethics that all will endorse through their shared rationality; nor is it a bioethics that can be adequately captured in terms of universal accounts of human rights; nor can it be known through the rational arguments of philosophers. This is a bioethics set within a spiritual framework at one with the commitments, beliefs, and practices of the ancient fathers of the Christian Church. It is a bioethics set within the Holy Traditional Orthodox Christianity of the first millennium. It is all encompassing, transcendentally focused, frequently mystical and framed in terms of our struggle to know God and to find salvation through Him. The Foundations of Christian Bioethics invited readers to join Engelhardt on this mystical noetic journey.
Visitors to Houston routinely could find Engelhardt at St. George Orthodox Church in Houston Texas. He served as a tonsured Reader and was always willing to detail the history of Orthodox Christianity and to explain to all who would listen why they should repent and return to the original Church, the Orthodox Christian Church.
In his final book, After God: Morality & Bioethics in a Secular Age, written while undergoing cancer treatment, and finally published in 2017, Engelhardt worked to articulate the moral and epistemic implications of living in a culture that had come to reject God. He argued that without reference to God to guarantee that the virtuous are rewarded and the vicious suffer, there is no reason to believe that rationality requires one to be moral, much less why it would be prudent to act morally.
While somewhat dark and foreboding, After God ends with hope: "Only God knows the future. Philosophers are not prophets. … The present is full of unanticipated occurrences. There are again Orthodox churches in Rome. Converts stand in the catholicon. Icons weep. Across the world, a literature of traditional Christian moral reflection and Christian bioethics is developing with a significant contribution from Orthodox Christians. In a culture after God, many know that God lives, philosophers among them."
While always the Texian, Engelhard was an internationally renowned scholar in the history of philosophy, history and philosophy of medicine, and bioethics. He earned an MD with honors from Tulane University School of Medicine (1972) and a PhD from the University of Texas at Austin (1969), where he completed his undergraduate work (1963). For the academic year 1969-1970, he was a Fulbright Graduate Fellow at Bonn University, Germany; in 1988-1989, he was a Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in West Berlin (Germany); in fall 1997, he was a Visiting Scholar at the Internationale Akademie für Philosophie im Fürstentum Liechtenstein, and in spring 1998 a Visiting Scholar at Liberty Fund, Indianapolis, Indiana.
At the time of his death, he was Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Rice University and Professor Emeritus in the Departments of Medicine and Community Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, having joined the faculties of both institutions in 1983.
He began his academic career in 1972 at The University of Texas Medical Branch Galveston in what was the Department of the History of Medicine. With the founding of the Institute for Medical Humanities, he was drawn to work in bioethics. He served as the Associate Editor of the first edition of the Encyclopedia of Bioethics. In 1977, he was named the Rosemary Kennedy Professor of Philosophy of Medicine at Georgetown University with appointments in the Department of Philosophy and the School of Medicine. He was also a senior research scholar at Georgetown University's Kennedy Institute, working within the Center for Bioethics.
In 1975, Engelhardt co-founded the Philosophy and Medicine book series with Stuart Spicker (with some 129 published volumes currently in print) and, in 1976, he co-founded The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy with Edmund Pellegrino (now in its 43rd year of continuous publication). Together these projects created an international scholarly focus to frame the intellectual fields of the philosophy of medicine and bioethics as they explored foundational issues in health care policy, the nature of health and disease, and the character of medical explanation. In 1982, Professor Engelhardt returned to Texas, where he was appointed Professor in the Department of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, and Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Rice University. He also worked with the Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy. In 1992, he founded the Philosophical Studies in Contemporary Culture book series. In 1995, following his conversion to Orthodox Christianity, he founded the journal Christian Bioethics: Non-Ecumenical Studies in Medical Morality (now in its 24th year of continuous publication).
He is author of five book length monographs: Bioethics and Secular Humanism: The Search for a Common Morality (SCM Press and Trinity Press International, 1991); The Foundations of Bioethics (Oxford University Press, 1986; with a second edition in 1996); The Foundations of Christian Bioethics (Swetz & Zeitlinger, 2000); and After God: Morality & Bioethics in a Secular Age (St. Vladimir's Seminar Press, 2017). He has published more than 300 articles and book chapters, more than 110 book reviews and other publications, together with more than twenty-five edited or co-edited books. His work has been translated into numerous languages, including Chinese, German, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese.
The impressive range and depth of his work in philosophy, medicine, bioethics, and theology illustrate his profound appreciation that careful and critical analytical work is central to reigning in the untutored desire to claim the current canons of political correctness as truth.
Engelhardt has had a lasting effect on generations of students. Over the decades, Engelhardt developed a growing class of loyal students to labor with him as he edited the two international academic journals and two major book series; taught classes on philosophy, healthcare policy, and bioethics; wrote his own books and scholarly articles; lectured around the world; organized national and international conferences and much more. In exchange, Engelhardt worked tirelessly for his students, many of whom today are tenured professors in the United States, Hong Kong, and elsewhere in the world. He insisted on excellence, never accepted excuses, and taught them that sleep interfered with scholarly productivity and good mentoring.
Engelhardt never ceased aggressively to pursue his duties to his students. His intellect, energy, generosity, and wit will be sorely missed.
Professor Engelhardt is survived by his beloved wife of 52 years, Susan Gay Malloy Engelhardt, three cherished daughters, Susan Elizabeth Engelhardt, Christina Tristram Engelhardt Partridge (Brian), Preotessa Dorothea Tristram Engelhardt Anitei (Fr. Iulian), 13 grandchildren (Duncan, Keegan, Aidan, Colman and Finan Partridge; Macrina, Theodora, Stefan, Photinia, Paul, Alexandra and Symeon Anitei; and Austin Engelhardt), and his brother, John Hugo Engelhardt.
Sunday evening, June 24, a Trisagion will be held at 6 p.m. followed by visitation and prayers at 8 followed by reading of psalms. All at St. George Orthodox Church in Houston. On the following day, Monday, June 25, the Office of the Burial of the Dead will be served at St. George Orthodox Church at 10 a.m. Burial will follow at Holy Archangels Orthodox Monastery near Kendalia, Texas sometime between 4 and 5 p.m. of the same day, followed by a mercy meal.
In lieu of flowers donations may be made to Holy Protection Orthodox Church, 13850 Beechnut Street, Houston, 77083.
Published in Houston Chronicle on June 23, 2018
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