Conversations About Ethics

The Ethics of Tragedy: Families, Childbirth and Maternal Mortality

Laurie Zoloth, Ph.D., a leading bioethicist and Dean of the University of Chicago Divinity School

In a health care system dedicated to the health of families, mothers and babies, and in health care specialties where joyful beginnings are expected, the sudden catastrophe of maternal death is a distinctive tragedy. Many health care professionals chose caring for mothers and babies as a part of their commitment to supporting healthy families. But there is a rising trend of maternal mortality which raises serious ethical and moral issues about our care for women and their families. This talk will describe this trend and its impact on families and caregivers. We will explore the religious and Scriptural sources for our concern about childbirth, and reflect on some of the social choices that have contributed to these cases.


Laurie Zoloth, PhD is Dean of the University of Chicago Divinity School. Zoloth serves as a Charles McCormick Deering Professor of Teaching Excellence at Northwestern University, holding appointments in the Department of Religious Studies in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and in the Feinberg School of Medicine. She has been the president of both the American Academy of Religion and the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities. Her research is in the areas of bioethics; religion and science; feminist ethics; post-modern Jewish philosophy and Jewish ethics, especially the work of Emmanuel Levinas, Hannah Arendt and justice theory. She was the founding director of the Brady Program in Ethics and Civic Life at Weinberg College, a program which explored the connection between academic philosophy and the duties of citizenship. She was the founding director of the Center for Bioethics, Science, and Society at Feinberg School of Medicine, which addressed issues in emerging bioscience. She is a member of the faculties in Reproductive Medicine, Jewish Studies and Systems and Synthentic Biology. In 2014 she was elected a Life Member at Clare Hall, University of Cambridge. She is the President of the Northwestern Faculty Senate.

From 1995 to 2003 she was professor of ethics and director of the Jewish Studies Program at San Francisco State University. In her capacity as a scholar of religious studies, she was founding member of the Society for Scriptural Reasoning and of the Society for Jewish Ethics, serving on the founding board and as vice president in 2002.  In her capacity as a clinical bioethicist, she help to create the National Kaiser Permanente Bioethics committees and work for a decade at the East Bay Children’s Hospital. She has been a member of the NASA National Advisory Council, the nation's highest civilian advisory board for NASA, for which she received the NASA Public Service Medal, the NASA Planetary Protection Advisory Committee. She was the founding chair of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Bioethics Advisory Board and served in that capacity for seven years. She was on the Executive Committee of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, as well as being on its founding board.  She has served on numerous NIH committees, including the International DSMB for AIDs research, study, and review committees and a DSMB for Minority Research. Zoloth has testified for NAS committees on stem cell research, mitochondrial research, and synthetic biology. She has been an elected Fellow of the Hastings Center since 2002. She currently serves on the National Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RAC), on the NASA Flight IACUC, and on the Harvard ESCRO for Stem Cell Research.

CME: The UT Health San Antonio School of Medicine is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education to provide continuing medical education for physicians.

The UT Health San Antonio School of Medicine designates this live activity for a maximum of 2.0 AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™. Physicians should claim only the credit commensurate with the extent of their participation in the activity.

American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) and the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) accepts certificates of attendance for educational activities certified for AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™ from organizations accredited by the ACCME.

Healthcare professionals receiving a certificate of attendance should consult with their licensing board for information on applicability and acceptance.

†This presentation meets the Texas Medical Board criteria for formal continuing medical education involving the study of medical ethics and/or professional responsibility.

CEUThe Ecumenical Center is an approved provider of continuing education by the State of Texas for the following: LPC, LMFT, LSW, LCSW and LMSW. The lunchtime seminar provides 1 Ethics Continuing Education Unit, and the evening keynote provides 1 Ethics Continuing Education Unit.

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Resource List

This resource list brings together websites, videos, audio recordings, books, and articles to supplement the workshop and lecture.

By Our Speaker : Unfortunately this section has no resources.

Dipping Your Toe (Introductory Information) : Unfortunately this section has no resources.

Wading Waist High (Intermediate Resources) : Unfortunately this section has no resources.

Taking a Deep Dive (Advanced Materials) : Unfortunately this section has no resources.

Access to Materials

Freely available Online
Available through the San Antonio Public Library
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Available through the Briscoe Library at the UTHSCSA Faculty
Faculty, students, and staff may access these materials remotely using their Health Science Center log-in. Non-affiliated individuals and members of the general public may access these materials in-person by visiting the library and registering for guest access. Off-site access is not available for non-affiliated individuals and members of the general public due to licensing restrictions.