Jul. 25, 2011 by Cynthia Rockwell
Dr. Joseph J. Fins ’82, an internationally renowned medical ethicist and pioneer in the field of neuroethics and disorders of consciousness, was named the first recipient of a newly established professorship, The E. William Davis Jr. ’47 M.D., Professor of Medical Ethics at Weill Cornell Medical College.
Dr. Fins serves as chief of the Division of Medical Ethics and is a tenured professor of medicine, professor of public health, and professor of medicine in psychiatry. He is also director of medical ethics and a physician at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center and on the adjunct faculty of Rockefeller University. His scholarly interests include ethical and policy issues in brain injury and disorders of consciousness, palliative care, research ethics in neurology and psychiatry, medical education and methods of ethics case consultation. He is a co-author of the 2007 Nature paper describing the first use of deep brain stimulation in the minimally conscious state.
The Davis Professorship was created in honor of Dr. E. William Davis Jr., who was instrumental in the founding of NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell’s Ethics Committee in 1994, when Dr. Fins was named as its founding chair. Dr. Davis served as professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Weill Cornell Medical College and is currently vice president for medical affairs emeritus at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.
In a press release from the medical center, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medical College, Dr. Antonio M. Gotto Jr., praised Fins, noting the important role that Davis had on his career. “Starting out as a practicing internist, and with Dr. Davis as a mentor, Joe’s career has bridged medicine and humanity. … As the chief of our Division of Medical Ethics, and the founding chair of the Hospital’s Ethics Committee, Dr. Fins has served as our counsel and our conscience.”
Additionally, the medical center took note that, “Dr. Fins’ career has, in many ways, mirrored that of Dr. Davis. Both attended Wesleyan University as undergraduates, both received their medical degrees from Weill Cornell Medical College (then Cornell University Medical College), and both completed their residencies at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell (then New York Hospital). Each went on to practice medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell for the span of their careers.”
At a reception in their honor, Dr. Fins also paid homage to Dr. Davis: “It is truly a singular honor having a professorship named in honor of Dr. Davis, a person who is especially beloved at the medical center for his dignified manner and discernment. …Words cannot express how deeply touched I am to carry Dr. Davis’ work forward. I know I will forever be inspired when I think of our relationship and this very high honor. I’m especially delighted to hold a professorship that bridges the Hospital and the Medical College in the service of our patients.”
Fins, who serves as president-elect of the American Society for Bioethics & Humanities, is former governor of the American College of Physicians and Trustee of Wesleyan University where he also served as Chair of the Alumni Association. He is currently writing a book on neuroethics and disorders of consciousness to be published by Cambridge University Press.
Dr. Fins is a fellow of the Hastings Center and The New York Academy of Medicine and is an Elected Member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.
(Wesleyan President Michael S. Roth ’78 noted Dr. Fins’ new appointment in a May 21, 2011, CNN.com article, “Why Liberal Arts Matter.”)