Practitioner of ‘combative collegiality,’ Penn’s premiere bioethicist to speak in Philly

    The new chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania will speak Wednesday evening in Philadelphia.

    Pick a title: oncologist, author, health policy expert, big brother to Rahm, the mayor of Chicago.

    They all fit Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel.

    He joined Penn this fall with big plans to expand the university’s exploration of ethics in health care and policy.

    “It’s not going away, in the same way that English departments are not going away, bioethics is not going away,” Emanuel said.

    Emanuel is looking forward to strident debates over the allocation of resources in health care, and he’s already seeing discussions of the ethics of incentives designed to make us healthier. For example, he supports New York’s move to limit the sales of large-sized soft drinks.

    “I think we are acting more habitually, and a lot of those habits have been created by the environment, not by what we do,” he says. “How big is the plate they sit down before us? How big is the default drink that you can get at a movie theater? How big is the default popcorn?

    “Is this really a restriction of freedom that we should care about? Whenever this goes into effect, the day after, could we really say that New Yorkers are unfree in any meaningful way?” he says.

    Emanuel hopes to build his department to 10 or 12 full faculty positions and add six to eight more bioethicists.

    “People almost never say, ‘Well, I wonder what Zeke’s thinking.’ You know if I disagree with you. I let you know,” he says.

    The 54-year-old has been called pugnacious, but says what he’s really looking to foster is “combative collegiality.”

    “That is exactly what I really believe in. We should wrestle and try to make the best arguments we can,” he said. “Where we all still like each other, love to still go out to movies, break bread together, hang out together.”

    Emanuel will speak at the annual meeting of the Jewish Social Policy Action Network, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at The Pyramid Club, 1735 Market St. Admission is $10 and a reservation is required. For additional information, call (215) 635-2554.

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