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Meet Dr. Bill Bartholome

An Introduction via Obituary

I never had the opportunity to talk with Dr. Bill (as he was known on the American Cancer Online Resources or ACOR website). He passed away in 1999 while I was diagnosed and joined ACOR in 2000. I know that I spent a lot of time reading his many message threads with fellow esophageal cancer patients during the first few weeks after diagnosis; I learned alot about the disease I now carried.

While still grim, the statistics 23 years ago were grimmer. The following essays were invaluable to a scared, middle-aged man now facing the reality of death.

ACOR went offline more than a decade ago, but I was able to find Dr. Bill's "Lessons of the Angel of Death" on the Internet's Wayback website and have decided to post it here in hopes of its providing the same comfort to others it provided me. Most of what I know about the good doctor can be found in his obituary.

The William G. Bartholome Lecture in Bioethics

William Gibson Bartholome, MD, MTS (1944-1999)

In 1994, at the University of Kansas Medical Center, Dr. William G. Bartholome delivered the annual Bohan Lecture - his topic based on lessons he learned from children who died under his care. According to Robert P. Hudson, MD, then Chair of the History and Philosophy of Medicine Department, "this presentation made Bill a dramatically better teacher. His logic remained intact, but his teaching was now empowered by wit, humor, and above all, a new humility." A few months later, Bill Bartholome was diagnosed with terminal esophageal cancer. During the ensuing five years his outlook on death and philosophy of life fundamentally changed - a transformation he called "living in the light of death." During this period he accomplished some of his most profound work in the field of pediatric ethics. Born in Helena, Montana, on February 19, 1944, William G. Bartholome grew up in the Kansas City area. He graduated from Rockhurst College with a B.A. in biology in 1965, and then attended the University of Kansas School of Medicine, where he received his M.D. degree in 1969. He served as a pediatric resident at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. Following completion of his residency in 1972, Dr. Bartholome spent two years in the Air Force. The recipient of the prestigious Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Fellowship in Medical Ethics, he completed two years of graduate studies at Harvard University, receiving a Masters of Theological Studies in Ethics (M.T.S.) in 1976.

Dr. Bartholome taught on the faculties of the University of Texas Medical School in Houston and the University of Illinois College of Medicine (Chicago) before returning to Kansas City in 1986 to assume joint positions as Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Associate Professor in the Department of History and Philosophy of Medicine at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Affectionately called "Dr. Bill" by his patients and colleagues, his primary role at the Medical Center was the development of pioneering programs in clinical ethics. In addition, he was appointed Chair of the Human Subjects Committee and the Medical Center's Hospital/Medical Staff Ethics Committee.

Dr. Bartholome served on the boards of the Kansas City Midwest Bioethics Center and the Kansas Committee for the Humanities. He was a past member of the Committee on Bioethics of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Although he wrote and delivered many presentations on a wide range of topics in clinical ethics, his primary area of philosophical research was in pediatric ethics. His work on informed consent, parental permission, and assent in pediatric practice was nationally received.

Dr. Bartholome died August 3, 1999. After his death, the William G. Bartholome Award for Ethical Excellence was established by the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the University of Kansas Medical Center initiated a drive to create this biennial lecture in memory of his profound contributions to ethics.