Southern Vermont College 2012 Commencement Speaker and Honorary Degree Recipient is Bioethicist and Writer Ruth Levy Guyer, Ph.D.

March 7, 2012

Southern Vermont College announces that the 2012 Speaker and Honorary degree recipient for the 85th Commencement Exercises on May 12 will be American writer, commentator, and bioethicist Dr. Ruth Levy Guyer. Dr. Guyer, whose interests include medical ethics, bioethics, public health, social justice, and scientific advances is the author of two books: Baby at Risk: The Uncertain Legacies of Medical Miracles for Babies, Families and Society (2006) and A Life Interrupted: The Long Night of Marjorie Day (2012).  

Currently, Guyer is working as a consultant for the President's Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, developing a guide for the Commission's recently released report “Ethically Impossible STD Research in Guatemala from 1946 to 1948.” This study documents unethical experiments that were conducted by U.S. Public Health Service researchers in Guatemala after World War II. The research has only recently come to light. 

“Dr. Guyer is a bioethicist for today, broaching the bold questions that need asking, in the often conflicted world of medical advances and technology,” said SVC Acting President Jim Beckwith. “She is a highly respected writer on health issues as well as day-to-day topics that move her: words, synchronicities, the natural world, family lore, train travel. Whatever the subject, Ruth makes us think about how what we do and say affects us and the places around us, advice that is especially pertinent to our SVC graduates as we send them out into the world as caring, enlightened citizens.”

At the Southern Vermont College graduation, Guyer will be awarded the Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters and then address the graduating class as Commencement speaker. The message, according to Guyer, “will be about working for change and justice and how each person can and must find his or her unique way to make a difference in an increasingly complex world.”

Guyer has taught courses in bioethics, writing, AIDS, environmental ethics, and other topics to undergraduates at Haverford College, to graduate students at Johns Hopkins University, and to physicians and researchers at UCLA and the National Institutes of Health. Her essays, articles, reviews, commentaries, and stories on wide-ranging topics––cloning, new reproductive technologies, infectious diseases, environmental remediation, public health, informed consent, ethical conduct of research, scientific discoveries, and others––have been published in a range of magazines, journals, newspapers, and a literary quarterly, including Science Magazine, American Journal of Public Health, American Journal of Bioethics, The Washington Post, and The Wilson Quarterly. Her commentaries were a regular feature on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered weekend show from 2004 to 2007.

Her book, Baby at Risk, describes the ethical and social quandaries faced by parents, doctors, nurses, midwives, and family members when a baby is born gravely ill or prematurely. Her new book tells the true story of a woman who lapsed into a coma in the 1920s, remained gravely ill for 17 years, then suddenly resumed her old life, and lived for almost 100 years as a charismatic college professor.

Guyer received a B.A. in biology from Bryn Mawr College and a Ph.D. in immunology from the University of California, Berkeley. She was a bench scientist for a number of years before becoming a writer and professor.