Humanitarian Paul Farmer wins prestigious MacLean Center ethics prize

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Dr. Paul Farmer at University Hospital in Mirebalais, Haiti.

Acclaimed physician and global health worker Paul Farmer, MD, PhD, is the winner of the 2017 MacLean Center Prize in Clinical Medical Ethics, the largest such award in the field.

Farmer, who co-founded the pioneering international medical non-profit Partners In Health, will receive the award Nov. 10 during the 29th annual Dorothy J. MacLean Fellows Conference on Clinical Medical Ethics. After receiving the $50,000 prize, he’ll deliver a lecture about bioethics and the 2013-2106 Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The MacLean Center selected Farmer, a medical anthropologist, active researcher, global health advocate and educator, for his decades-long efforts to bring health care to some of the world’s poorest people.

“Dr. Farmer has strong and clear views on ethical issues related to health care,” said Mark Siegler, MD, Lindy Bergman Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine and Surgery and director of the MacLean Center. “Throughout his career, he’s led by example as a fierce advocate for increasing access to life-saving treatments for the poor while simultaneously dealing with the underlying causes of poverty. His efforts have established the premier model for health care systems in poor communities worldwide.”

Since its 1987 founding in Haiti, Partners In Health has pioneered novel community-based treatment strategies that deliver high-quality health care in poor communities. Today, the organization operates in 10 countries and employs 18,000 people, including 15,000 local community health workers. As many as 7 million people around the globe are reached by Partners In Health programs.

Farmer, who is the organization’s chief strategist, says health care is a human right and argues the inequality of access to life-saving vaccines and treatments is a major ethical failure.

“It is an honor to receive this year’s MacLean Center Prize on behalf of patients and colleagues who have refused to accept the causes and consequences of an unequal world,” Farmer said. “The differential valuation of human life—and the differential distribution of disease and suffering that results from it—is among the greatest ethical challenges of our time. We are grateful for this recognition and for the MacLean Center’s longstanding support of the fight for global health equity.”

Beyond his Partners In Health work, Farmer is the Kolokotrones University Professor at Harvard University and the Chair of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He is also Chief of the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Additionally, he serves as the United Nations Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Community Based Medicine and Lessons from Haiti.

Farmer has written extensively on health, human rights and the consequences of social inequality. He is the recipient of numerous honors, including the Margaret Mead Award from the American Anthropological Association and the Society for Applied Anthropology and a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.

“Dr. Farmer’s work to partner with and provide care to the poorest communities around the world is a remarkable ethical achievement, as well as a reminder that clinical medical ethics is intricately interwoven with global health ethics,” Siegler said.

The MacLean Center, which pioneered the formal study of clinical medical ethics in the early 1980s, has grown to become the world’s largest clinical medical ethics program for health care providers. Hundreds of fellows have trained at the MacLean Center since 1981, including more than 300 physicians. More than two dozen have gone on to lead clinical medical ethics programs around the world. While most fellows are physicians, others come from different disciplines, including philosophy, theology, nursing, law and social sciences.

The center’s annual two-day conference, which is free and open to the public, is one of its marquee events. This year, the Nov. 10-11 conference includes presentations by distinguished national ethics leaders addressing wide-reaching topics including health care disparities, global health, pediatric care, gender transition, end-of-life issues and medical decision-making.

In addition to the annual conference, the MacLean holds an annual interdisciplinary lecture series that is open to the public. In its 36th year, this year’s focus is on ethical issues in violence, trauma and trauma surgery and runs through May.

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