John Arras (1945-2015) (updated)


John Arras, professor of biomedical ethics and philosophy at the University of Virginia, has died. Professor Arras was known for his work in bioethics. Prior to moving to Virginia, he taught at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine-Montefiore Medical Center and Barnard College. In addition to his research an teaching, Arras was known for his public service. He was a member of the ethics committee at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, President Obama’s Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, and Governor Mario Cuomo’s New York State Task Force on Life and the Law.

UPDATE (3/11/15): The New York Times’ obituary for Arras is here.

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Kristina Meshelski
Kristina Meshelski
6 years ago

This is really sad….John was on my committee and he was such a good guy. He kept an email list of all his former students, undergraduate and graduate, and he sent at least a few emails a week. From rescheduling his office hours to his thoughts about the news to the latest report from the President’s commission on bioethics. Even with all the spam I get I was happy get those updates, but at the same time it tricked me into believing that he would be around forever and that I had all the time in the world to reconnect with him. I wish now that I hadn’t thought that.Report

Matthew Tirrigan
Matthew Tirrigan
6 years ago

This is both shocking and sad. John was willing to pull out all the stops for any student at UVa. And he was just as deeply involved in the moral life of the University as he was in its academic life. I don’t know if I’ve ever met someone who thought so much about what he could do with his position and so little about what he could get from it. And I will always be grateful for the guidance he gave me at a few crucial junctures in my graduate career.Report

Dallas Ducar
Dallas Ducar
6 years ago

I sat across the room from John just a week ago, hearing his thoughts on jazz and teaching philosophy. One of the last comments I recall him making that day was that a philosophy professor being shown on the auditorium screen was being “way too cutesy.” John was right.

John was indeed direct and unafraid to speak his mind. He would work for each and every student and was always there for U.Va. Not in a way that was all “sunshine and rainbows” — but instead in a serious way. He was never afraid to stand for his beliefs. He challenged his students and engaged in a true Socratic dialogue with them, forming true connections. John was always engaged fully in life and with all others, he was a true mensch. He inspired so many to reflect daily on their lives while always reminding us to never take life too seriously. I will never forget John Arras for as long as I live.Report

Alberto Giubilini
Alberto Giubilini
6 years ago

I met him in New Zealand the last year, we had dinner together after a conference; he gave me a lot of good advice on papers and on my career, and we’ve been in touch since then. He was incredibly gentle and surprisingly light-hearted.I wish there were more people like him in academia.Report

Rebecca Kukla
Rebecca Kukla
6 years ago

This is such a sad loss. All the comments above mine do such a great job of capturing his spirit. John was brilliant, profane, hilarious, deeply moral, deeply loyal, and so vibrant and energetic that it’s way harder than usual to understand the idea that he is gone. RIP, wonderful person.Report

Dr Tanja Popovic
Dr Tanja Popovic
6 years ago

I had the privilege of working with Professor Arras during his tenure as a member of the CDC Ethics Committee. His wisdom, experience, humor, and eloquence were impressive and we all felt humbled and honored to learn from him. At the same time, what I remember most is how he made me feel. I felt inspired, driven and pushed forward in my thinking. I felt excited and confident about our decisions and path forward. His presence, his mind, and his kindness were a real treat. John, you made a lasting impression on me and I am a better person for it. Thank you. I will miss you.Report

Michael Pelczar
Michael Pelczar
6 years ago

John was the most down-to-Earth philosopher I’ve ever known, as well as one of the wittiest. There was no bullshit about him at all. It’s depressing to think he’s gone, but he left a legacy that is much larger than he himself probably realized. τῷ Ἀσκληπιῷ ὀφείλομεν ἀλεκτρυόνα· ἀλλὰ ἀπόδοτε καὶ μὴ ἀμελήσητε.Report

Andrew Beck
6 years ago

As a Commissioning Editor, I found John Arras to be one of my absolute favorite authors. Sharp, creative, a guy who took his commitments seriously, and a sense of humor that made me laugh in just about every email he sent. I am going to miss him so much. –Andrew BeckReport

Drue Barrett
Drue Barrett
6 years ago

I was privileged to have worked with Dr. Arras when he was a member of the Ethics Subcommittee of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. His contributions led to the establishment of our public health ethics activities at CDC. Besides his important contributions to our thinking about ethical issues in public health, what I will miss most about John is his smile and his wry wit. My condolences to his family and friends. He will be missed.Report

Leah Rosenberg
Leah Rosenberg
6 years ago

John Arras was a foundational mentor to me and a good friend. I remember sitting in his office as a brand new first year at UVA as an 18 year old. He took me seriously, and taught by example how to care about and for students. He guided me through my thesis and was a support at every step – through medical school and residency. He was such a kind, moral voice and we will all miss him so much.Report

Jen Leigh
Jen Leigh
6 years ago

John was my mentor and friend. He pushed me to continually grow, question, learn, and be and do more. He was the most important figure in my undergraduate education, and a counselor for many later life decisions, always encouraging, always wise, always challenging. He was an amazing peron – warm, direct, perceptive, thoughtful. He influenced many minds and left a sizable legacy. He will be greatly missed by many.Report