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Stephen Post

Stephen Post

Stephen G. Post, Ph.D., is Professor and Associate Director for Educational Programs, Department of Bioethics, School of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University, where he has taught since 1988.  He is also President of a nonprofit 501(c)3 research entity, the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, which studies phenomena such as altruism, compassion, and service.  The Institute began in 2001 with a generous grant of $4 million from the John Templeton Foundation.   


Faith in the Future


In the mid-1970s, Post was a research assistant in pediatric endocrinology at New York Hospital while simultaneously pursuing a less realistic career as a classical guitarist, and doing informal studies in philosophy and religious thought.  In the fall of 1978 he began studies at the University of Chicago Divinity School in the Ethics and Society Program, combining with moral philosophy with comparative religious ethics.  His Ph.D. dissertation on the topic of self-denial in relation to other-regarding love was completed in 1983 with award of distinction under the supervision of James M. Gustafson and Robin W. Lovin.  Post was one of several faculty-elected student fellows in the Divinity School’s  Nuveen Institute for the Advanced Study of Religion (renamed the Martin Marty Center) and a co-preceptor in the social issues in medicine course at the University’s Pritzker School of Medicine.

After finishing at Chicago, Post taught undergraduates for five years as an assistant professor responsible for courses in the interdisciplinary humanities, and for courses in ethical theory, religious ethics, concepts of love and altruism, and applied ethics (just war, business ethics, social justice, and bioethics).  He also was involved in projects at the nearby Hastings Center, a bioethics institute.  In 1988 he accepted a position as assistant professor in the newly created Center for Biomedical Ethics at the School of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University. He became Associate Director for Educational Programs and achieved the rank of full professor (1998) with tenure (1995).  The Center has since become the first full Department of Bioethics in the U.S., and is ranked third in the nation.   


In the field of bioethics, Post is both a generalist and a specialist with a focus on neurology, dementia, and aging.  He is Editor-in-Chief of the definitive reference work in the field, the third edition of the five-volume Encyclopedia of Bioethics (Macmillan Reference, 2003), and served earlier as Associate Editor for the second edition of this work.   His more than 110 peer-reviewed publications span a wide variety of issues have appeared in leading venues such as the Journal of the American Medical Association, Annals of Internal Medicine, the Hastings Center Report,  and the American Journal of Psychiatry.  An early book publication, entitled Inquiries in Bioethics (Georgetown University Press, 1993) provides an example of his initial work in the field.  By the early 1990s, however, Post developed a specialty in ethical issues surrounding developmental cognitive disabilities and dementia in the context of an aging society.   He is now an elected member of the Medical and Scientific Advisory Panel of Alzheimer's Disease International, serves on the  National Ethics Advisory Board for the Alzheimer's Association, and was recognized for “distinguished service” by the Association’s National Board for educational efforts in bringing ethical issues to Association Chapters and families throughout the United States (1998).  He was presented with the “special recognition” award by the American Geriatrics Society for service on its Ethics Committee (2001).   His book entitled The Moral Challenge of Alzheimer Disease: Ethical Issues from Diagnosis to Dying (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000, 2nd edition), is widely influential and well reviewed.   He has also edited a variety of books  pertaining to dementia on topics such as genetic testing and anti-aging technologies.  He is an Editor for the four-volume Encyclopedia of Aging (Macmillan Reference, 2002).  Post has received RO1 funding from the NIH Human Genome Research Institute and from the National Institute on Aging.

Dr. Post’s scholarship has not, however, been focused narrowly on bioethics.  He has a long-standing interest in the related topic of the family.  He is a consultant for family caregivers throughout the United States and Canada, and has led workshops and educational forums for more than 80 Chapters of the Alzheimer’s Association across the United States since 1995.  Post worked with Professor Don S. Browning of the University of Chicago on The Religion, Culture, and Family Project, funded by the Lilly Endowment, and published a monograph with the project series addressing marriage, parenthood, and filial duties, entitled More Lasting Unions (Wm. B. Eerdmans Press, 2000).  He also co-edited a volume with the project.  Many of his articles and book chapters focus on the moral basis and limits of family caregiving for persons with cognitive disabilities.   

A third area of scholarship, which shapes all of Post’s work, focuses on love, altruism, and compassion in the context of scientific research (neurology, evolutionary psychology, healthcare, pedagogy, and human development), philosophy, religion, ethics, and the professions.  He has written several books on this topic, most recently co-editing a book entitled Altruism and Altruistic Love: Science, Philosophy, and Religion in Dialogue (Oxford University Press, 2002).  Post is President of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, a 501 (c)(3) established in July 2001 to conduct and fund high-level empirical research on topics such as unselfish love, compassion, care, kindness, and altruism, as well as to encourage scientifically informed reflection from the humanities (see www.unlimitedloveinstitute.org). Post’s work on the theme of love began with his dissertation at the University of Chicago, and his articles on love have appeared over two decades in venues such as the Journal of Religious Ethics, the Journal of Religion, and the Journal of the American Academy of Religion.  Post’s most recent book, entitled Human Nature and Freedom of Public Religious Expression (University of Notre Dame Press, 2003), examines scientific images of human nature and altruism within a wider context of freedom of religious expression.  

Post has integrated these three related foci through his work with individuals and families affected by Alzheimer disease.  This work has allowed him to actively serve an identified and needful constituency through providing volunteer respite care and consultation.  Much of his writing on altruism and compassion has developed out of experiences in providing care for this population, and out of a direct  awareness of the importance of compassionate love in the lives of the most deeply forgetful and the cognitively disabled generally.  Working with the deeply forgetful and persons with retardation has given him the opportunity to reflect theoretically and practically on many general issues of bioethics ranging from genetic testing and research to behavior control and a peaceful dying.    In addition, he has been able to develop his work on the ethics of the family  and the family caregiver in a manner that  has been of real use to family caregivers across the Alzheimer’s Associations in both the U.S. and Canada.     

Although his formal training is in religious and philosophical ethics, Post has taken an  expanding integrative path that began with interdisciplinary humanities, moved even further into the domain of biotechnology, and now culminates in the establishment of a research institute on love at the interface of science, religion, and practice.   He has been an active lay leader in the Episcopal Church for 20 years, and is a husband and the father of two children.

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