Annual George W. Gay Lecture in Medical Ethics

Human Choice in a Hyper-Technological Age: How we can keep our wits about us in the world of medicine and beyond

Danielle Allen
Danielle Allen, James Bryant Conant University Professor 

The 2019 Gay Lecture was delivered by Danielle Allen on Nov. 21, 2019.


Visit our YouTube channel to see a video of her lecture.

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Danielle Allen, PhD, James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University, and Director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, is a political theorist who has published broadly in democratic theory, political sociology, and the history of political thought. Widely known for her work on justice and citizenship in both ancient Athens and modern America, Allen is the author of The World of Prometheus: The Politics of Punishing in Democratic Athens (2000), Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown vs. the Board of Education (2004), Why Plato Wrote (2010), Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality (2014), Education and Equality (2016), and Cuz: The Life and Times of Michael A. (2017). She is the coeditor of the award-winning Education, Justice, and Democracy (2013, with Rob Reich) and From Voice to Influence: Understanding Citizenship in the Digital Age (2015, with Jennifer Light). She is a former chair of the Mellon Foundation Board, past chair of the Pulitzer Prize Board, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.

Allen is also the principal investigator for the Democratic Knowledge Project, a distributed research and action lab at Harvard University. The Democratic Knowledge Project seeks to identify, strengthen, and disseminate the bodies of knowledge, skills, and capacities that democratic citizens need in order to succeed at operating their democracy. The lab currently has three projects underway: the Declaration Resources Project, the Humanities and Liberal Arts Assessment Project (HULA), and the Youth and Participatory Politics Action and Reflection Frame.

The George W. Gay Lecture:

Is the oldest endowed lectureship at Harvard Medical School, and quite possibly the oldest medical ethics lectureship in the United States. The lectureship was established in 1917 by a $1,000 gift from Dr. George Washington Gay, an 1868 graduate of HMS. Gay gave Harvard the fund to provide an annual income to support lectures “to the advanced, or graduating classes in the Medical School upon Medical Ethics, and upon wise and proper methods of conducting the business of physicians, as relates to fees, collections, investments, etc.” The Gay Lectureship perpetuates his deep concern for the welfare of his patients and his appreciation of the constantly arising social and economic forces that impinge on medical care.

Since its inception, many of the nation's most influential physicians, scientists, researchers and social observers, have given the annual lecture. Past lecturers include Erich Fromm, Felix Frankfurter, Margaret Mead, Elizabeth Kübler Ross, E.O. Wilson, and Joshua Lederberg have given the Gay Lecture. Elie Wiesel, Marian Wright Edelman, Paul Krugman, Nicholas Kristof, and Donald Berwick.

See details and photos from the 2018 Gay Lecture delivered by K. Anthony Appiah.
See details and photos from the 2017 Gay Lecture delivered Michael Sandel.


Past George W. Gay Lecturers
2018 Kwame Anthony Appiah, Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor Of Philosophy and the University Center for Human Values, Princeton University
2017 Michael Sandel, Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government Theory, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University
2016 Martha Minnow, Morgan and Helen Chu Dean and Professor of Law, Harvard Law School
2015 Amy Gutmann, President, University of Pennsylvania
2014 Cass R. Sunstein, JD, Robert Walmsley University Professor, Harvard Law School
2013 Dan W. Brock, Ph.D., Frances Glessner Lee Professor of Medical Ethics, HMS
2012 Donald M. Berwick, M.D., M.P.P., F.R.C.P., Former Administrator, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
2010 Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times op-ed columnist, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner
2009 Paul R. Krugman, Ph.D., Professor of Economics and International Affairs, Princeton University
2008 Harvey V. Fineberg, M.D., Ph.D., President of the Institute of Medicine
2006 Paul Farmer, M.D., Ph.D., Co-Founder, Partners in Health
2005 Jerome P. Kassirer, M.D., Editor-in-Chief, EmeritusNew England Journal of Medicine
2004 Howard Gardner, Ph.D., Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education
2002 Rashi Fein, Ph.D., Professor of The Economics of Medicine, Emeritus, HMS
2001 Dame Cicely Saunders, St. Christopher’s Hospice, London
1999 Marian Wright Edelman, Founder and President, The Children’s Defense Fund
1998 Elie Wiesel, Mellon Professor of The Humanities, Boston University
1998 Daniel D. Federman, M.D., Dean for Medical Education, Harvard Medical School
1997 Daniel Callahan, Ph.D., Founder, The Hastings Center
1996 Sissela Bok, Ph.D., Fellow, Harvard Center for Population and Development
1995 Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Ph.D. Chair, Afro-American Studies Dept., Harvard Univ.
1994 Robert Lawrence, M.D., Director, Health Sciences, Rockefeller Foundation
1993 Bernadine Healy, M.D., Director, National Institutes of Health
1992 Larry R. Churchill, Chair, Social Medicine, Univ. N. Carolina School of Med.
1991 Arnold S. Relman, M.D., Prof. of Medicine, HMS; Editor, NEJM
1988 Albert Jonsen, Ph.D., Chair, Medical History and Ethics, Univ. of Washington
1987 Dennis Thompson, Ph.D., Dir. Pgm. in Ethics and Professions, Harvard Univ.
1986 Baroness Mary Warnock, Mistress, Girton College, Cambridge, England
1985 Dr. Julian Tudor Hart, Glyncorrwg Health Center, West Galmorgan, Wales
1984 Uwe E. Reinhardt, Ph.D., Prof. Economics and Public Affairs, Princeton Univ.
1983 Joshua Lederberg, Ph.D., President, The Rockefeller University
1982 The Rev. Robert F. Drinan, SJ, U.S. Congress; Georgetown Univ. Law Ctr.
1981 Arnold S. Relman, M.D., Prof. of Medicine, HMS; Editor, NEJM
1980 Dr. Edward O. Wilson, Professor of Science, Harvard University
1979 Dr. Carleton B. Chapman, President, The Commonwealth Fund
1978 Dr. Kenneth J. Ryan, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Harvard Univ.
1977 Dr. Franz J. Ingelfinger, Editor, New England Journal of Medicine
1976 Dr. Robert J. Lifton, Foundations Fund of Research, Yale University
1973 Dr. Elizabeth Kübler Ross, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Univ. of Chicago
1970 Dr. I Bernard Cohen, Professor of The History of Science, Harvard University
1965 Dr. Paul Freund, Carl M. Loeb University Professor, Harvard University
1963 Dr. Herman Ludwig Blumgart, Prof. of Medicine, Emeritus, Harvard University
1962 Mr. Erik Erikson, Prof. of Human Development, Lecturer Psych., Harvard Univ.
1961 Dr. Ralph Johnson Bunche, Under Secretary for Special Political Affairs, U.N.
1960 Dr. Margaret Mead, Adjunct Professor of Anthropology, Columbia University
1959 Dr. James Howard Means, Professor of Medicine, Emeritus, Harvard University
1958 The Honorable Felix Frankfurter, Associate Justice, US Supreme Court
1957 Dr. Erich Fromm, Professor of Psychoanalysis, National University of Mexico
1956 The Rev. Douglas Horton, Professor of Theology, Harvard University
1955 The Rev. George A. Buttrick, Professor of Christian Morals, Harvard University
1954 Dr. Hugh J. Morgan, Professor of Medicine, Vanderbilt University
1945 Mr. Ben Amers Williams, Author
1941 Dr. Charles R. Austrian, Assoc. Professor of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University
Dr. David Cheever, Associate Professor of Surgery, Emeritus, Harvard University
Dr. T. Grier Miller, Professor of Clinical Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
1940 Mr. Phillips Ketchum, Partner, Herrick, Smith, Donald, Farley & Ketchum
1939 Dr. Eliot Wadsworth, President, Boston Chamber of Commerce
Dr. Robert L. DeNormandie, Comm. on Ethics & Discipline, Mass. Med. Soc.
Dr. Donald Guthrie, Assoc. Prof. of Surgery, Univ. of Penn. School of Med.
1938 Mr. Henry L. Shattuck, Treasurer, Harvard University
Dr. Reginald Fitz, Lecturer on The History of Medicine, Harvard University
Dr. Elton Mayo, Professor of Industrial Research, Harvard University
1937 Dr. Lawrence K. Lunt, Psychiatrist (Boston, Massachusetts)
Dr. O.H. Perry Pepper, Professor of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
1935 Dr. James B. Herrick, Professor of Medicine, Emeritus, Rush Medical College
1934 Dr. Arthur H. Ruggles, Superintendent, Butler Hospital, Providence, RI
Dr. John Homans, Clinical Professor of Surgery, Harvard University
Dr. Joseph H. Pratt, Professor of Clinical Medicine, Tufts College
1933 Dr. Robert B. Osgood, Professor Orthopedic Surgery, Harvard University
Dr. Elliott P. Joslin, Clinical Professor of Medicine, Harvard University
1932 Dr. Roger I. Lee, Professor of Hygiene, Harvard University
1931 Dr. John M. Birnie, Secretary, New England Medical Society
1930 Dr. Samuel B. Woodward, past President, Massachusetts Medical Society
1927 Dr. Francis Weld Peabody, Professor of Medicine, Harvard University
1926 Dr. George G. Sears, Clinical Prof. of Medicine, Emeritus, Harvard University
1924 Dr. Walter P. Bowers, Managing Editor, Boston Medical and Surgical Journal
1923 Dr. George W. Gay
1922 Dr. John Bapst Blake, Assistant Professor of Surgery, Harvard University