Center Mission

The mission of the Center is to provide leadership in education, research, and clinical service at Vanderbilt University Medical Center concerning the ethical, legal, and social dimensions of medicine, health care, and health policy. The Center is committed to multi-disciplinary exploration of the individual and social values, cultural dynamics, and legal and professional standards that characterize and influence clinical practice and biomedical research. The Center aims to be a catalyst for collaboration in teaching, research, and practice at Vanderbilt and to contribute to scholarship and policy making from the local to the international level.

Center for Biomedical Ethics & Society
Core Faculty


Keith G. Meador, M.D., Th.M,M.P.H. 
Director, Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society

Keith G. Meador, M.D., ThM, MPH, is Professor of Psychiatry and Health Policy at Vanderbilt University. He is the Director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society and serves on the Associate Faculty of the Graduate Department of Religion at Vanderbilt and previously was Associate Dean for Student Health and Wellness for the campus. Dr. Meador is the Director of Mental Health and Chaplaincy through the VISN 6 MIRECC as part of a national initiative to foster integration  of chaplaincy services into mental health care within the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

He  joined the faculty at Vanderbilt in July of 2010 and previously served as Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University where he continues to serve as Adjunct Professor and gave direction to centers in the Medical Center and Divinity School focused on the intersections of religion and health. He is a physician and board certified psychiatrist with training in geriatric psychiatry, theology, and public health. Dr. Meador is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Vanderbilt University and received his medical degree from the University of Louisville. He completed his residency in psychiatry and fellowship in geriatric psychiatry at Duke University. His theological education leading to the ThM was at Duke Divinity School and he received his MPH in Epidemiology from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.

His scholarship builds on his clinical, research and teaching background in mental health, practical theology, and public health about which he lectures widely and has published numerous publications including the co-authored book, Heal Thyself: Spirituality, Medicine, and the Distortion of Christianity. His academic work includes theological and conceptual exploration of the intersections of religion and health and empirical research regarding socio-cultural determinants of illness, health and human flourishing.


 Dr Ellen Wright Clayton

Ellen Wright Clayton, M.D., J.D. 
Craig-Weaver Professor of Pediatrics
Professor of Law

A member of the Vanderbilt faculty since 1988, Ellen Wright Clayton, M.D., J.D., is currently the Craig-Weaver Professor of Pediatrics, a member of the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and a Professor in the School of Law. She received a bachelor´s degree from Duke, a master´s degree from Stanford, her law degree from Yale, and her medical degree from Harvard. She is an internationally respected scholar and has published two books and more than 150 scholarly articles and chapters in medical journals, interdisciplinary journals and law journals on the intersection of law, medicine and public health.  While addressing a wide array of topics, her scholarship focuses on genetics and genomics research and its translation to clinical practice.  Dr. Clayton is a member of the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was recently elected to the American Pediatric Society.  In addition, she has collaborated with faculty and students throughout Vanderbilt and in many institutions around the country and the world on interdisciplinary research projects.  She has helped to develop policy statements for numerous national and international organizations and is working with HUGO on its project:  Imagined Futures: Capturing the Benefits of Genome Sequencing for Society.  

Her work extends to other arenas as well.  An active participant in policy debates, she has advised the National Institutes of Health as well as other federal and international bodies on an array of topics ranging from children´s and women’s health to the ethical conduct of research involving human subjects. Professor Clayton has worked on a number of projects for the Institute of Medicine and is currently a member of its National Advisory Council, director of its Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice.  She most recently chaired a committee on redefining myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome.  For her many contributions to the IOM, she received the David P. Rall medal. 

A highly regarded teacher and mentor, Dr. Clayton teaches interdisciplinary courses that span Vanderbilt’s professional schools and engages learners at all levels of the Medical Center.




Joseph Fanning 
Joseph B. Fanning, Ph.D. 
Assistant Professor
Director of the Clinical Ethics Consultations Service 

Current publications available at Amazon

Joseph B. Fanning, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He serves as the Director of the Clinical Ethics Consultations Service and works with patients, families and clinicians on ethical concerns that arise in patient care.

 He received undergraduate training at Birmingham-Southern College (B.A. 1993) completed masters work at Princeton Theological Seminary (M.Div., 2000, Th.M., 2001); and earned his doctorate in the Graduate Department of Religion at Vanderbilt University (Ph.D. 2008).

 His research focuses on the role of communication and interpersonal skills in the development of therapeutic relationships across clinical contexts. Most recently he has co-authored a book based on fifty-five patient interviews titled,  What Patients Teach: The Everyday Ethics of Healthcare (Oxford University Press, Fall 2013).

He has co-authored articles on the philosophy and practice of clinical ethics consultation. In 2009, Fanning co-edited with Dr. Ellen Wright Clayton a special issue of the American Journal of Medical Genetics that focused on spiritual and religious issues in medical genetics.

 He is currently conducting research on how health care teams and families of incapacitated patients coordinate expectations about the future course of care. Part of this research includes implementing a communication intervention in a critical care setting to see whether changes occur in family and patient preparedness for care transitions.

 Fanning also teaches healthcare ethics across Vanderbilt working with students in the schools of Medicine and Nursing as well as with trainees across multiple residency and fellowship programs. He is also the lead instructor for undergraduate course in the College of Arts and Science titled “Death and Dying in America” that combines experiential learning through hospice volunteering with interdisciplinary engagement of the issues that surround death and dying.




Kate Payne 
Kate Payne, JD, RN, NC-BC
Associate Professor

Kate Payne, JD, RN, NC-BC has worked as a clinical ethicist since 1994. Kate has over thirty-four years of experience in a variety of health care roles, including direct care giving, teaching, consultant and leader. She has worked in hospitals and community health. Kate believes that ethics needs to be personal and practical. It is not unusual to find her at a church or school in the evening or on the weekend, teaching and helping people complete medical directives, helping them navigate the health care system, or answering questions about good end of life care and how to plan for that. Her practice focus is on care givers and their moral development including preventing moral distress and burnout.

Before coming Vanderbilt, Kate spent seventeen years at Saint Thomas Hospital in Nashville finishing her career there as the Director of Ethics and Palliative Care. She has also worked on ethical issues outside the clinical environment. Kate has helped guide and advise two nonprofits, the Dispensary of Hope and Hope Beyond Hope. Both organizations help people in need get access to medications. She helped to write and pass the Tennessee Health Care Decisions Act of 2004 to make it easier for Tennesseans to complete medical directives. Kate was also part of a Nashville Mayor’s Task Force to revise the code of ethics to deal with perceived conflicts of interest for Metro-Nashville government. She served as the ethics advisor for the state of Tennessee’s pandemic flu planning process and continues as part of a multidisciplinary team looking at ethical issues with disaster planning for the state.

Kate’s publications have focused on ethics in practice and end of life care, including practical advice for nursing professionals in the “Ask the Nurse Ethicist” column for the Tennessee Nurses Association. Kate was named the Tennessean Nurse of the Year in 2009.

Kate received her BS in Biological Sciences from Colorado State University in 1979, her BS in nursing from Rush University in 1981. She studied law at Pepperdine University graduating in 1989 and passing Illinois bar, and was a fellow at the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, Pritzker School of Medicine, University of Chicago, from 1993-1994.

Kate is an Associate Professor of Nursing at Vanderbilt University and Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Center for Biomedical Ethics, Education & Research at Albany Medical College, Albany, NY. She guest lectures regularly for several of the local health professional schools in and around Nashville. 




Jessica Turnbull, M.D., M.A.  

Assistant Professor
Jessica Turnbull, M.D., M.A. started her training in her home state of OH, eventually moving to Seattle, WA to complete fellowships in Pediatric Critical Care Medicine and Pediatric Clinical Bioethics.  While in Seattle, she also completed a Masters in Bioethics, culminating in her project, “Determining Eligibility Criteria for Pediatric ECLS: How Do Physicians Decide?”  Her areas of interest include utilizing qualitative research methods to study decision-making for medically complex children during times of critical illness, as well as improving palliative care delivery in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.  She joined the faculty at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society in 2013.   




Bruce Jennings 
Bruce Jennings, M.A. 
Adjunct Associate Professor

Bruce Jennings Website 

Current publications available at Amazon

Bruce Jennings, M.A. is Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Health Policy and the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society, and he is Senior Fellow at the Center for Humans and Nature, a nonprofit research center based in Chicago that studies environmental ethics and policy. He comes to Vanderbilt from the Yale University School of Public Health, where he taught ethics from 1996-2014. He also is Senior Advisor at The Hastings Center, where he served from 1991 through 1999 as Executive Director.

In 2011 Mr. Jennings was named Editor-in-Chief of the standard reference work in the field of bioethics: Bioethics, 4th Edition, 6 vols. (Macmillan Reference USA, 2014). Mr. Jennings has been active in the health policy and end of life care arenas and has published widely on ethical issues in hospital treatment decision making, palliative care, and hospice. He has served on the Board of Directors of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, and the Board of Trustees of the Hospice and Palliative Care Association of New York State. He served for many years as a member of the hospital ethics committee at the New York Presbyterian Hospital—Cornell and at the Montefiore-New Rochelle Hospital. With Mildred Solomon, he was the co-founder of the “Decisions Near the End of Life” program, an educational and practice change program that was conducted in over 200 hospitals in 20 states from 1990-1996.

He has also been engaged in ethics research and education in the field of public health. In 2003, working with Health Resources and Services Administration and the Association of Schools of Public Health, he coauthored a curriculum on public health ethics designed for both students in university degree programs and in-service public health professionals entitled, Ethics and Public Health: Model Curriculum ( From 2003-2009 he served as member and Chair of the Ethics Advisory Committee at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For several years he has been active in the ethics section of the American Public Health Association, and in 2010 served as the chair of that group. He is chair of the Bioethics Advisory Committee of the March of Dimes.

A political scientist by training (Yale University BA 1971 and Princeton University MA 1973), he has written and edited 28 books and has published approximately 200 articles on ethics, political theory, and public policy issues. Among his books are Ecological Governance: Toward a New Social Contract with the Earth (West Virginia University Press, 2016); Emergency Ethics: Public Health Preparedness and Response (Oxford University Press, 2016); Regulating Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis in the United States: The Limits of Unlimited Selection. (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015); Hospice Ethics: Policy and Practice in Palliative Care (Oxford University Press, 2014); The Hastings Center Guidelines for Decisions on Life-Sustaining Treatment and Care Near the End of Life, Revised and Expanded Second Edition (Oxford University Press, 2013); Public Health Ethics: Theory, Policy and Practice (Oxford University Press, 2007); and The Perversion of Autonomy: the Uses of Coercion and Constraints in a Liberal Society, (Georgetown University Press, 2003).



 Alexander Langerman, MD

Alexander Langerman, M.D., S.M., F.A.C.S.
Associate Professor
Department of Otolaryngology, Head & Neck Surgery

Alexander Langerman, MD, SM, FACS, is a practicing head and neck surgeon whose research focuses on the intersection of ethics, management, and data science in the operating room. His major contributions to surgical ethics include examining decision-making on behalf of anesthetized patients, describing the surgeon-patient and surgeon-family relationship, the ethics of efficiency and logistics in the operating room, and investigating the implications of video and data recording in the operating room. He is a sought-after speaker on topics of surgical ethics, operating room efficiency, surgical data privacy, and clinical care of head and neck cancer patients.

Dr. Langerman completed his Otolaryngology residency at the University of Chicago in 2010, followed by a fellowship in Head and Neck Surgery, Cranial Base Surgery, and Microvascular Reconstruction at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He returned to the University of Chicago in 2011 where he was nominated as an inaugural Faculty Scholar of the Bucksbaum Institute for Clinical Excellence, and completed a fellowship in clinical medical ethics and a masters degree in clinical and administrative data science. Dr. Langerman formed and ran the Operative Performance Research Institute (OPRI), a think tank and investigative unit focused on improving surgical care while faculty at the University of Chicago. He was awarded a Distinguished Faculty Award for Program Innovation for this work, which implemented major operating room efficiency improvements and broke new ground on the use of video and data collection in surgical settings. Dr. Langerman was appointed to the faculty of the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics in 2014.

While at the University of Chicago, Dr. Langerman also co-founded ExplORer Surgical, a startup based on his research and focused on real-time surgical data collection. ExplORer Surgical has received funding from the National Science Foundation to study and improve the delivery of surgical care. Dr. Langerman's research has also been funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the American Cancer Society, the National Institutes of Health, the Gold Humanism in Medicine Society, the Triological Society and most recently, the Greenwall Foundation. He has taught classes focusing on the operating room innovation and data science at the Illinois Institute of Technology Institute of Design and the Booth School of Business, and has authored over 50 peer-reviewed publications and over 20 additional articles including in major media outlets.

Dr. Langerman joined the Otolaryngology faculty at the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center for Otolaryngology and Communication Sciences in 2015, and was appointed Core Faculty of the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society in 2016. Dr. Langerman is also faculty of the Vanderbilt Institute for Surgery and Engineering. He resides in Nashville with his wife and son, and enjoys hiking, running, food, and world travel. He can be followed on Twitter @Langermology.




 A. Scott Pearson 
A. Scott Pearson, M.D.
Associate Professor of Surgery and Center for Medicine, Health, & Society 


Scott Pearson, M.D. is Associate Professor of Surgery and a member of the Vanderbilt faculty since 1999. Dr. Pearson completed his general surgery residency at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas followed by surgical oncology fellowship at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. As a member of the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society, he is interested in how the patient’s narrative forms the foundation of the doctor-patient relationship. Within the medical school curriculum, he is a facilitator for case-based learning, core faculty for CASE (Clinical Applications of Scientific Evidence), a portfolio coach, and faculty in the gross anatomy laboratory. He is involved in education across the university and teaches an undergraduate course on narrative medicine within Vanderbilt’s College of Arts and Science. As a member of Vanderbilt’s Faculty Senate, he is the current chair of the Faculty Life committee for the 2016-17 academic year.



Brian C. Drolet, M.D.
Assistant Professor of Plastic Surgery and Biomedical Informatics 

Dr. Drolet joins our faculty as Assistant Professor, after joining the faculty in the Department of Plastic Surgery and Department of Biomedical Informatics last fall.  Dr. Drolet recently completed a fellowship in Hand and Upper Extremity at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, MD; and previously completed a residency in Combined Plastic and General Surgery at Alpert Medical School of Brown University, Providence, RI.  

Dr. Drolet’s current research is focused on medical education, medical ethics, biomedical informatics, and quality improvement. Drolet has published more than 40 peer-reviewed publications, including three first-author publications in The New England Journal of Medicine.  Dr. Drolet was involved in clinical ethics as a member of the consult service and chair of the ethics policy subcommittee at Rhode Island Hospital.  He currently serves on the Ethics and Professionalism Committee for the American Society for Surgery of the Hand.



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Laura M. Beskow, Ph.D, M.P.H.
Ann Geddes Stahlman Chair in Medical Ethics
Director of Research Ethics and Professor, Vanderbilt Center for Biomedical Ethics & Society, Health Policy

Empirical Bioethics, Research Ethics, Genomic and Translational Research

Laura M. Beskow, MPH, PhD received her B.S. in nutrition from Iowa State University and her M.P.H. with a concentration in health law from Boston University. She completed her Ph.D. in Health Policy and Administration, with a minor in Epidemiology, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

She is currently Professor of Health Policy at the Vanderbilt Center for Biomedical Ethics & Society and the Department of Health Policy in the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Her work focuses on ethics and policy issues in biomedical research—particularly human subjects issues in large-scale genomic and translational research. She has been a Principal Investigator on empirical studies of research recruitment, informed consent, confidentiality protections, the return of research results to participants and families, and the research use of electronic health records.

Nationally, she chaired the eMERGE Network’s Informed Consent Task Force, co-chaired a committee for NCI’s initiative to develop a concise informed consent template for cancer clinical trials, and served on the Subpart A Subcommittee of the Secretary's Advisory Committee for Human Research Protections, and the Federal Advisory Committee for the National Children’s Study. She is an active participant in the NIH Precision Medicine Initiative’s All of Us Research Program.






Kathleen Brelsford, Ph.D, M.P.H.
Research Assistant Professor  Health Policy

Medical Anthropology, Social Science Research Methods, Empirical Bioethics

Kathleen Brelsford is a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Policy at Vanderbilt University’s School of Medicine and faculty member of the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She received her B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Miami and an M.A. in Applied Anthropology from Northern Arizona University. She obtained her Ph.D. in Applied Anthropology and MPH in Community and Family Health from the University of South Florida.

Dr. Brelsford has more than 15 years of experience designing and conducting ethnographic research and analyzing mixed-method data on a variety of bioethical and health-related topics, such as HPV vaccine decision-making; HIV risk behaviors; adolescent drug and alcohol use; and research use of clinical records. She is particularly interested in reproductive health and maternal and child health and has collaborated on studies conducted with diverse stakeholder groups throughout the United States, as well as in Costa Rica, Kenya, the DRC, South Africa, and Canada. Dr. Brelsford is an expert on social science research methods, and enjoys developing innovative research designs using a wide array of methods, including participant observation, in-depth interviews, cognitive interviews, surveys, focus groups, structured elicitation techniques, deliberative dialogue, and social network analysis. She has taught university-level courses in social theory, research methods, and reproductive health and won awards for excellence in teaching.

Prior to joining Vanderbilt, Dr. Brelsford was the Senior Social Scientist in the Program for Empirical Bioethics at Duke University, where she took a lead role in the design, conduct, and analysis of several NIH-funded studies on research recruitment, informed consent, and confidentiality protections in large-scale genomic research.



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Catherine M. Hammack, J.D., M.A.
Associate, Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society, Health Policy

Biomedical Ethics, Health Law, Regulatory, and Policy Issues

Catherine M. Hammack, MA, JD is a lawyer and bioethicist with over ten years of experience in empirical research and analysis regarding a variety of legal, ethical, regulatory, and policy issues, specifically those in the biomedical arena. Her work has been published in international and national peer-reviewed science journals and law reviews and has been presented to large interdisciplinary audiences throughout the country. 

She joined the faculty of the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in 2017 and is an Associate in Health Policy in the Department of Health Policy. She received her Doctor of Jurisprudence at Wake Forest University School of Law and her Master of Arts degree in Bioethics at Wake Forest University’s Center for Bioethics, Health, & Society in 2014. 

Prior to joining Vanderbilt, she served as a project leader and analyst at the Program for Empirical Bioethics at Duke Clinical Research Institute in Durham, NC.  Her interests include the legal, regulatory, and ethical issues of research involving human subjects, particularly with regard to death, dying, and the dead.




Ricky Shinall, M.D. 
Assistant Professor of Surgery

Myrick C. Shinall, Jr., MD, PhD is an Assistant Professor of Surgery and Medicine.  As a board-certified surgeon and fellowship-trained palliative care provider, his clinical practice includes elective and emergent general surgery as well as palliative care consultation.  He holds a BA in chemistry from Harvard University and a Masters of Divinity from Vanderbilt Divinity School in addition to his MD and PhD in Religion, both from Vanderbilt. 

In addition to research in health services research, Dr. Shinall also has a strong interest in biomedical ethics and humanities as a faculty member of Vanderbilt's Center for Biomedical Ethics and Society.  He particularly focuses on investigating the societal forces, especially religion, that influence the way we care for seriously ill and dying patients.  He is the author of several peer-reviewed articles in the fields of surgery, medical ethics, and religion, and his first book Miracles and the Kingdom of God is due to be published in 2018 by Rowman and Littlefield.

Email: ricky.shinall@Vanderbilt.Edu





Dan Benedetti, M.D., M.A.
Assistant Professor of Pediatrics
Division of Hematology/Oncology

Dan Benedetti, MD, MA is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. Dan received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and his medical degree from the University of Washington. He completed residency training in pediatrics at Seattle Children’s Hospital, before completing a Clinical Bioethics fellowship at Seattle Children’s Hospital’s Treuman Katz Center for Pediatric Bioethics. He then completed a fellowship in Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, before joining the faculty at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the Center for Biomedical ethics and Society in Fall 2018. Between his time in Seattle and Boston, Dan completed a Masters in Bioethics at the University of Washington. His academic interests lie at the intersection of bioethics and pediatric oncology, including complex decision-making and conflicts over treatment decisions for pediatric cancer patients.