Willard Gaylin, a Pioneer in Bioethics, Is Dead at 97

“As a young scholar, I was afraid of Will — he was a formidable presence,” Thomas Murray, who was a research associate at the center in the 1980s and became its president in 1999, said by phone. “He had no patience for foolishness and wouldn’t hesitate to tell you if you made a mistake. I learned a great deal from him.”

Dr. Murray, Dr. Macklin and Dr. Gaylin edited and contributed to “Feeling Good and Doing Better: Ethics and Nontherapeutic Drug Use” (1984). In his opening essay, Dr. Gaylin wrote that despite the promise of mood-altering drugs to understand mental illness, addiction and other health problems, they aroused as much discomfort as they did satisfaction.

“It is part of what I have referred to as the ‘Frankenstein Factor,’” he wrote. “Research that changes or controls ‘the nature of our species’ or allows for any ‘mechanical’ influencing of human behavior will almost inevitably be received with more fear than other research that may be riskier for the individual and more dangerous to the species.”

“Feeling Good and Doing Better” was one of many books Dr. Gaylin wrote, some with Hastings Center colleagues but mostly on his own, on subjects including rage, hatred, despair and psychotherapy.

Reviewing “Hatred: The Psychological Descent Into Violence” (2003) in The New York Times, the anthropologist Melvin Konner wrote, “Willard Gaylin has long been one of our leading explainers of psychology, and his books on love, despair, the male ego and other puzzles of human nature have unfailingly made difficult questions plain.”

Dr. Gaylin examined the 1977 bludgeoning death of a Yale student, Bonnie Garland, by her former boyfriend Richard Herrin in “The Killing of Bonnie Garland: A Question of Justice” (1982). Mr. Herrin pleaded not guilty by reasons of mental disease or defect. He was convicted of manslaughter.

“With skillful analysis,” David Johnston wrote in his review of that book in The Los Angeles Times, “he examines the ever-broadening interpretations of the insanity defense and how our perceptions (and popular misconceptions) about Freudian thinking befuddle and confuse our criminal justice system, just as Bonnie’s rejection befuddled and confused Herrin.”

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