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Phoebe R. Berman Professorship of Bioethics and Public Health

PHOEBE RHEA BERMAN believed there was no better place than Johns Hopkins to address the ethical dilemmas raised by advances in medical discovery. “With all the complexities of modern life — new discoveries in science, changes in medicine and medical care — medical professionals and policy makers are faced with very difficult decisions. There is a need for the teaching of ethics in our society.”

To underscore this conviction, Berman established an endowment for the Institute, saying, “If you have more money than you need, you should give some of it away, shouldn’t you? And what better to support than the Bioethics Institute? The work that is being done there has great meaning for me and can make a real difference in society.” The Berman Institute was officially established in 1995.

Berman grew up on a farm and at a young age developed what she called a reverence for life. Many decades later, she and her husband went to French Equatorial Africa to work with Albert Schweitzer as extended volunteers. Schweitzer’s work inspired her, and her commitment to the need for ethical considerations in medical and scientific decision-making was reaffirmed and strengthened. “You have to have a strong heart and great will to make the kind of difference someone like Dr. Schweitzer made. All I am doing is making a contribution in a way that is meaningful for me,” Berman said.

Berman had previously established the Edgar Berman Professorship in International Health and the Edgar Berman and Hubert Humphrey Fund in International Health at the Bloomberg School of Public Health to honor her husband, Edgar Berman, who was a pioneering surgeon, an outspoken social critic, and a best-selling author. Berman was also a dedicated supporter of the arts, contributing to the Peabody Institute, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Baltimore Symphony.

Edgar Berman Professorship in International Health


A man of exceptional talents and humanitarian concerns, surgeon EDGAR BERMAN (1915-1987) performed the first plastic esophagus implant on a human in 1950 and, in 1957, the first successful heart transplant on a dog. A pioneer in international family planning and rural health programs in the 1960s under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, Dr. Berman was deeply moved by the many diseased and afflicted children he saw in his travels. As the head of MEDICO, he went, with his wife, to serve with Albert Schweitzer in French Equatorial Africa. (Their arrival is pictured.) Dr. Berman was also physician and confidant to the late Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

PHOEBE BERMAN was a staunch supporter of programs furthering international public health issues and brought an informed, impassioned voice to the international arena. Following her death in 1999, her estate provided a substantial endowment for the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics.