Paul Root Wolpe
Director, Emory University Center for Ethics

The Chief Ethics Officer

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Amid widely-publicized corporate scandals, global environmental threats, and powerful advances in biotechnology, says ethicist Paul Root Wolpe, big companies find themselves tromping through an ethical minefield, desperately in need of guidance.

Paul Root Wolpe


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 has won the World Technology Network Award in Ethics, has been featured in 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 Root Wolpe: An interesting thing has been happening recently.  If you go into your local Barnes & Noble and you look on the business shelf - if you had gone in 10 years ago, what you would have seen a lot of on that shelf were the Seven Minute Managerand all these management books on how to be efficient.  What you’re going to see now are leadership books, a large percentage of which are how to be principled leaders or ethical leaders.  People have begun to recognize that corporations are going to need to take a kind of ethical leadership in how these products are produced and marketed.  

And it has been my experience having done a lot of consultation to industry on ethical issues, that they’re actually very receptive to this because they understand what happens if they put something out that the culture or the society then sees as somehow unethical or problematic.  It actually comes back to haunt and hurt them.  

One of the things that I’ve often talked to corporations about is putting together ethics committees around particular products – not just ethicists, but people from a variety of different fields, lawyers, marketers, average people from the community – to talk about the use of particular kinds of technologies.  Pfizer did that when they first discovered Viagra because they were very, very worried about how the public would respond to this drug and whether the public’s sort of skittishness with sexuality would somehow hurt Pfizer.  So they put together a committee that talked about it, gave them advice on how to market it and how to think about it.  

The other thing that companies can do and should do is think of ethics in the same way they think of law or other kinds of services.  Ethics is a professional field.  There’s a literature, there’s a history, there’s a set of concepts that can be very useful for corporations.  So there are many companies now that hire ethicists or ask ethicists to consult with them around some of the ethical dilemmas they find themselves in.  And I think that that’s a very wise thing to do because ethical missteps can sink a product pretty quickly. 

Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd