June 01, 2006

San Francisco Chronicle Puts the Focus on David Magnus

In a colorful and smart profile the San Francisco Chronicle puts the focus on the guy who has turned California into a bioethics powerhouse by building, at Stanford University, an amazing program. It is so refreshing to read the Chronicle describe David Magnus as a tireless "dynamo" who will do anything to support his faculty, institution, peers, students, patients - and to see that paper recognize the importance of the results.

Magnus has worked tirelessly - without stopping - to build California's first, best, and most creative comprehensive bioethics research and teaching program.

The profile isn't just well-written, it's accurate:

During a recent lecture to a graduate class in genetics at Stanford, Magnus spoke about the ethics of stem cell research: He's a marathon speaker whose mouth seems always to be racing to keep pace with his thoughts; who, when asked a complex question will often grin and eagerly nod his head before the questioner is finished, simply because he knows exactly where the questioner is going and can't wait to respond.

Only at the end of the two-hour session does Magnus reveal that he just flew in from Ottawa and barely arrived in time for the lecture. When he apologizes for his flagging energy, saying he's "run out of steam," the effect is comical because no one in the room could possibly think he's anything less than a dynamo.

"David is definitely a workaholic," says Mildred Cho, associate director of the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics. "He is helpful to a fault, in that he will run himself to exhaustion in an attempt to help his colleagues."

"If you need him to come to the hospital or to a late-night meeting, he will be there," says Art Caplan, director of the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Bioethics, where Magnus was graduate studies director from 1997 to 2003. "He can process complex information and boil it down in a way that nonspecialists can understand. ... He can also laugh at himself -- he sometimes gets compulsive about trying to do everything all at once."

The work is by definition stressful, Caplan says. "Dying babies and people desperate to have babies and balancing the need to work with industry without getting completely co-opted by them -- are full-time headaches. Plus, if you are a public person as David is, you wind up catching a lot of flak from colleagues who don't agree with you, get angry that you get too much attention or are just plain mad about something you said."

California should be one of the leading states in the nation for the study of bioethics. David Magnus is quietly working incredibly hard - every bit as hard as he has worked to build The American Journal of Bioethics - to make that happen. Stanford has risen into the very top eschelon of comprehensive bioethics programs so rapidly under his watch that it is as though a storm blew through the valley - and it will be outstanding whether or not the rest of the state's medical schools recognize the importance of bioethics. So here's to you David from everyone at AJOB. You'd never have praised yourself this way - but it's about time the San Francisco Chronicle did.

View blog reactions

| More