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Back in the 1960s, a committee of seven Seattle residents met regularly to decide which patients with chronic kidney disease were “worthy” of life-saving dialysis.  Whoever wasn’t selected by the committee would likely die within months. An exposé of this so-called “God Squad” helped spark the formation of a new field: bioethics. In this prequel to playing god?, we’ll find out how this committee made life-and-death decisions, and why something like it is unlikely to happen again.

Show Notes:

This episode features interviews with:

Richard M. Mizelle, Jr., Associate Professor of History, University of Houston

Kate Butler, Assistant Professor of Nephrology, University of Washington School of Medicine

The God Squad was just one of many notable cases that led to the formation of the field of bioethics. The Hastings Center, a bioethics research institute, has compiled a timeline of many of the most famous cases and their impact. Check it out here.

The Berman Institute has also collected oral histories– first hand accounts of the doctors, philosophers, lawyers and other scholars who were involved in many of these cases. You can explore that collection here.

To learn more about the ethics issues raised in this episode, visit the Berman Institute’s episode guide.

The Greenwall Foundation seeks to make bioethics integral to decisions in health care, policy, and research. Learn more at

The Host

Lauren Arora Hutchinson, PhD, MPH

Lauren Arora Hutchinson, host of playing god?, joined the Berman Institute in June 2022 as the inaugural director of the Dracopoulos-Bloomberg iDeas Lab. She was previously a BBC journalist, award-winning audio storyteller,…