NEWS | October 31, 2011

Dr. Erich Loewy, first UC Davis bioethics chair, dies at 83


Dr. Erich H. Loewy, the first UC Davis School of Medicine Alumni Association Endowed Chair of Bioethics, died in his sleep on Wednesday, Oct, 26, at his home in Sacramento. He was 83.

When Dr. Loewy was appointed as the School of Medicine's chair of bioethics in 1996, the position was one of only a few endowed bioethics chairs in the country. As chair of bioethics, Dr. Loewy established a full-fledged bioethics program at the school, which includes teaching medical students, consulting with researchers and hospital medical staff, and providing public service.

Erich Loewy, left, and Austrian Consul General Martin Weiss © UC Regents
Dr. Erich Loewy, left, and Austrian Consul General Martin Weiss during the 2008 presentation of  the Republic of Austria's prestigious Cross of Honor for Science and Art, First Class awarded to Loewy.

"Dr. Loewy was an inspirational thought leader who challenged and inspired us all to embrace the highest ethical standards," said Claire Pomeroy, UC Davis vice chancellor for human health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine. "His life experiences informed his commitment to providing a voice to those who might otherwise be forgotten by society."

"As the first School of Medicine Alumni Association Endowed Chair of Bioethics, Dr. Loewy worked tirelessly to build the Bioethics Program here," said Ben Rich, the current School of Medicine Alumni Association Endowed Chair of Bioethics. "Through his writing and teaching over many years, he established his place as a major figure in bioethics both nationally and internationally. One aspect of Dr. Loewy's work that particularly distinguished him was his enduring concern about the nature of justice in health care. He persistently challenged all of us to seriously consider the question of whether it is even possible to practice ethical medicine in an unjust health-care system."

"Dr. Loewy lived a most remarkable life, including his surviving and escaping from Nazi Germany," said Timothy Albertson, chief of the UC Davis Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care and Sleep Medicine. "As a result, his understanding of medical ethics was amazingly sharp and directed."

Dr. Loewy was born in Vienna, Austria, on Dec. 31, 1927. He became interested in bioethics at an early age, after he and his family managed to escape from Hitler before the start of World War II. However, many other of his family members died during the Holocaust.

After first escaping to England, Dr. Loewy came to the United States in 1938. He was trained as a physician and cardiologist at the State University of New York at Syracuse and the Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Dr. Loewy practiced medicine for nearly 20 years before officially making the switch from cardiology to biomedical ethics in 1984.

A former professor at both the University of Illinois College of Medicine in Peoria and at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Dr. Loewy became a leader in the field of bioethics. He served as an international advisor to the Bioethics Center at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and as a consultant to the Panscandinavian Project on Health, Man and Society and to the WHO Network for Monitoring. In addition to serving as a consultant to the Social Security Administration and various groups in industry, he also helped develop bioethics committees at several hospitals.

Dr. Loewy's research interests included issues of justice, obligation and community; the relationship between beneficence and autonomy; decision-making in ethics; the role of the physician in rationing health care; the relationship between theory and praxis; and animal interests and ethics.

He was former chair of education of the faculty association for the Society for Health & Human Values and former editor of Theoretical Medicine. He also served on the editorial board for the Journal of Clinical Ethics and as editor of the philosophy and education section of the Cambridge Quarterly of Health Care Ethics.

Dr. Loewy published widely in both English and German. He authored the textbooks Healthcare Ethics, and Moral Strangers, Moral Acquaintance and Moral Friends. With his wife, Dr. Roberta Loewy, he co-authored The Ethics of Terminal Care, Changing Health Care Systems from Ethical, Economic and Cross-Cultural Perspectives, and Textbook of Healthcare Ethics.

In 2008, Dr. Loewy received the Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art, First Class. The award honors Austrians and foreign leading figures who have "distinguished themselves and earned general acclaim through especially superior creative and commendable services in the areas of the sciences or the arts."

Dr. Loewy is survived by his wife, Dr. Roberta Loewy, associate clinical professor of bioethics.

No memorial service is planned. Donations in Dr. Erich Loewy's name may be made to the Sacramento Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals or the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The UC Davis School of Medicine is among the nation's leading medical schools, recognized for its research and primary-care programs. The school offers fully accredited master's degree programs in public health and in informatics, and its combined M.D.-Ph.D. program is training the next generation of physician-scientists to conduct high-impact research and translate discoveries into better clinical care. Along with being a recognized leader in medical research, the school is committed to serving underserved communities and advancing rural health. For more information, visit UC Davis School of Medicine at