Paul Wolpe Profile

Paul Root Wolpe, Ph.D. is the Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Bioethics, Raymond Schinazi Distinguished Research Professor of Jewish Bioethics, Professor of Medicine, Pediatrics, Psychiatry, Neuroscience and Biological Behavior, and Sociology, and the Director of the Center for Ethics at Emory University. Dr. Wolpe also serves as the Senior Bioethicist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), where he is responsible for formulating policy on bioethical issues and safeguarding research subjects.

He is Co-Editor of the American Journal of Bioethics (AJOB), the premier scholarly journal in bioethics, and Editor-in-Chief of AJOB-Neuroscience, and sits on the editorial boards of over a dozen professional journals in medicine and ethics. Dr. Wolpe is a past President of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities, a Fellow of the Hastings Center, and a Fellow of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, the country’s oldest medical society.

Dr. Wolpe is the author of over 125 articles, editorials, and book chapters in sociology, medicine, and bioethics, and has contributed to a variety of encyclopedias on bioethical issues. A futurist interested in social dynamics, Dr. Wolpe’s work focuses on the social, religious, ethical, and ideological impact of technology on the human condition.

Considered one of the founders of the field of neuroethics, which examines the ethical implications of neuroscience, he also writes about other emerging technologies, such as genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and prosthetics. His teaching and publications range across multiple fields of bioethics and sociology, including death and dying, genetics and eugenics, sexuality and gender, mental health and illness, alternative medicine, and bioethics in extreme environments such as space. He is the author of the textbook Sexuality and Gender in Society, and edited and is a key author of the end-of-life guide Behoref Hayamim: In the Winter of Life.

Dr. Wolpe sits on a number of national and international non-profit organizational boards and working groups, and is a consultant to academic institutions and the biomedical industry. In July, 2010, he testified to the President’s Commission on the Study of Bioethical Issues in Washington, DC on ethical issues in synthetic biology. A dynamic and popular speaker internationally, Dr. Wolpe has been chosen by The Teaching Company as a “Superstar Teacher of America” and his courses are distributed internationally on audio and videotape.

He won the 2011 World Technology Network Award in Ethics, has recorded a TED Talk, and was profiled in the November, 2011 Atlantic Magazine as a “Brave Thinker of 2011.” Dr. Wolpe is a frequent contributor and commentator in both the broadcast and print media, recently featured on 60 Minutes and with a personal profile in the Science Times of the New York Times.

Paul Wolpe Speaking Videos

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Paul Wolpe's Speech Descriptions

    Boomers and Biotech: How the Needs of America’s Biggest Cohort Drive

    The 78 million Boomers are now between 45 and 60 years old, and they aren’t getting younger. The history of the United States over the last half century has been, to a large extent, driven by the needs of the Boomers: Rock-and-roll took over when they were teenagers; politics changed when they protested the war and began to vote; business changed when they began to move up the management chain the 80s; and daycare, flex time, and baby products transformed when they began to have children. Now the Boomers are getting older, and biotechnology is responding, creating pharmaceuticals to enhance memory and sexual function, developing reproductive techniques that allow women to bear children into their sixties, and exploring ways to “cure” aging. In this talk, we explore the social and ethical implications of ways aging Boomers will drive biotechnological development in the coming decades.

    Re-Creation: The Biotechnological Restructuring of Life

    The convergence of a variety of technologies – synthetic biology, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, neurotechnology, and informational and computational technology – is already changing the way we diagnose and cure disease, reproduce, and enhance ourselves. As the biotechnology industries are developing astonishing new products, they their potential to infringe on people’s privacy and bodily integrity, and to change “human nature,” is raising troubling questions. In this talk, we look at the cutting-edge technologies that are changing our lives, the social, ethical, and legal challenges they will bring.

    From Generation to Generation: Ethical Issues in Legacy Giving, End of Life Planning, and Philanthropy

    The transfer of wealth is the transfer of power; that is, through charitable giving and inheritance we transfer monetary power from one person to another, or one generation to another. By doing so, moreover, we express our values – what is important to us, what kinds of lives and works we want to support. Whnever values and power are expressed, ethical conundrums arise. In this talk, we use case examples, including the interesting case of the Barnes Foundation in Merion, PA, to explore how to think about ethical questions that complicate our legacy and charitable giving.

    Building Better Brains: How Neuroscience is Altering Human Functioning

    With the advent of implantable brain chips, neural tissue transplants, brain-computer interfaces, and psychopharmaceutical advances, human beings will soon be able to micromanage their moods, enhance cognitive and affective skills and traits, "mind-read" through brain scanning, and replace brain functions with brain prosthetics. While millions have been spent exploring
    genetic enhancements, far less attention has been placed on brain enhancement, which has more immediate and perhaps profound implications. Considered one of the founders of the field of neuroethics, Dr. Wolpe will introduce these new technologies and explore their profound ethical and social implications.

    Is My Mind Mine? Neuroscience, Privacy, and the Self

    For the first time in human history, we are developing the ability to apprehend information directly from the brain. Brain imaging and allied technologies now allow scientists a glimpse into the subjective thoughts and inner dialogues that have always been private and inaccessible to others. By doing so, they are forever changing the very idea of privacy, raising thorny questions about who should have access to our innermost thoughts. In this talk, we explore the implications of brain imaging not only for personal privacy, but also for legal questions such as Fifth Amendment protections.

    Designing Our Descendants: Reproductive Eugenics in the 21st Century

    As genetic and reproductive technologies become more sophisticated, we will become increasingly able to choose the traits we want designed into our offspring. Genetic engineering tempts us with promises of eradicating genetically transmitted disease and susceptibilities, and frightens us with its history of selecting “desirable” and “undesirable” genetic traits. The ethical
    and social implications of human genetic engineering are explored with illustrations from current scientific research.

    Borrowing Our Bodies: The Vexing Ethics of Human Medical Research

    Human Medical Research has more institutionalized protections than virtually any other pursuit in the United States, and yet it is still periodically rocked by scandals, the suspension of research at some of our finest medical institutions, and reports of the deaths or exploitation of subjects who have volunteered their bodies to the scientific enterprise. Is the system really broken? Drawing from his experience doing Human Subjects Protections Audits at a number of Universities, Private Research Centers, and at NASA, and drawing on the landmark JAMA article on the issue he co-authored, Dr. Wolpe reviews the assumptions and problems underlying Human
    Experimentation and suggests some solutions to these vexing problems.

    Ethical Leadership: Modeling Behavior with Integrity

    A recent poll of top executives by the American Management Association asked, “What characteristics and skills are needed to be an effective leader today?” The number one answer was “Ethical Behavior.” Leadership is not only about inspiring, motivating, and taking responsibility for decisions. It is also about being modeling behavior in an organization. Ethical Leadership is a way of making decisions with integrity that reverberates throughout an

    Bioethics in Space: NASA and the Thorny Problems of Ethics in Extreme

    In 2004, President George W. Bush called on NASA to "gain a new foothold on the moon and to prepare for new journeys to the worlds beyond our own." In response to that statement, NASA began planning for long duration space flight to other planets. Space travel, however, poses a number of difficult medical and bioethical issues, some of which are unique to the space environment. While NASA is no longer actively planning for that journey, the challenge of providing medical care in extreme environments remains. In this talk, Dr. Wolpe, who serves as Senior Bioethicist for NASA, discusses the fascinating and troubling bioethical issues in both clinical care in space and in space-based human research.

    The Munchkin Way of Death

    In the Wizard of Oz, the Munchkin Mayor suggests that to legally verify the wicked witch’s death, one must assure that the person is “morally, ethically, spiritually, physically, absolutely, positively, undeniably, and reliably dead!” Exploring each of these categories, we look at the American way of determining death, controlling death, and caring for the dying. In the process, the discussion will range from brain death and transplantation, to physician assisted suicide and hospice care, from ancient conceptions of death to Ray Kurzweil’s suggestion that we will soon be able to download our personalities on computer and then upload them into a new body, in effect never dying.

What People are Saying about Seeing Paul Speak

Rating Entries

    “Wolpe hit a home run for us. His presentation kept the audience rapt and attentive. The media that interviewed him found him very compelling and interesting. They did stories before, during and after the event on Wolpe and his remarks.”

    — Cameron Carter, Indiana State Technology Summit

    “The cogency of your presentation was only matched by its wit – and exceeded by its wisdom. What a pleasure to have an accomplished bioethicist discussing a topic of great cultural interest with lucidity and grace, not to mention humor!

    — Mark Greenberg, Drexel University

    “You received one of the highest ratings of all speakers on our three years and many said you were their favorite speaker in our series. I think you surprised people because many were not that interested in the topic but were blown away by the information, your knowledge and the charismatic way you delivered the info.”

    — Anne Eppinger, Sacramento Speakers Series

    “Both verbal and written feedback following the program included such compliments as stimulating, engaging, thoughtful, concise, and helpful. You should feel proud.”

    — Allan Tunkel, American College of Physicians & American Society of Internal Medicine

    “I had attendee after attendee rave about your presentation. You were a lot more popular than the rest of the program. Great job.”

    — Mark Osborn, VHA, Inc.

    “As I hope you could tell, the seminar was incredibly well received. It was even more thought provoking and encouraging of discussion than I had anticipated. You did a great job.”

    — Joann Paley Galst, American Society of Reproductive Medicine

    “I want to thank you for giving the Fifth Annual Alfred and Sandra Sherman Distinguished Lecture and for your wonderful and clear-cut discussion of the use of stem cells. I have received numerous complimentary notes and statements from various attendees all of whom were most impressed with your presentation.”

    — Alfred Sherman, Wayne State University

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