Campus professor Osagie K. Obasogie elected as member to the National Academy of Medicine

Photo of Professor Osagie K. Obasogie

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UC Berkeley professor of law and bioethics Osagie K. Obasogie was elected for membership to the National Academy of Medicine on Monday, one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine.

Obasogie is known for the steps he took to dismantle a campus School of Public Health fund that was previously used to fuel eugenics research, according to Marcy Darnovsky, the executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society who co-edited a book with Obasogie.

He is among the 100 new members from diverse backgrounds that have been recognized by the academy for their major contributions to the medical sciences, health care and public health.

“I am thrilled to have this opportunity to join the National Academy of Medicine,” Obasogie said in a Berkeley News article. “It is an extraordinary honor, and I’m looking forward to working with my new colleagues to serve the public while advancing medicine and the health sciences.”

An avid researcher in areas such as health inequity and racial justice as it relates to law and medicine, Obasogie first learned about the Genealogical Eugenic Institute Fund through a campus email, according to Darnovsky.

The fund attempted to further the cause of eugenics, an ideology and field used to justify forced sterilizations in the Holocaust, according to a Berkeley News article. Proponents of the eugenics movement aimed to use science to engineer what they believed was a superior human race — one that favored white able-bodied individuals, the article said.

“When Osagi learned about this, he thought, ‘wait a second, this can’t be right,’” said Darnovsky.

With a group of other campus faculty members, Obasogie signaled a warning call about the fund, noting it was discriminatory and fundamentally misaligned with the campus School of Public Health’s core values, according to Darnovsky.

The UC Berkeley School of Public Health has since decided to repurpose the fund for research that works to confront the traces of eugenics that still have an impact on public health and life science today, Darnovsky added.

“(Obasogie was elected) for bringing multidisciplinary insights to understanding race and medicine and climatic disruptions that threaten to exacerbate health inequalities,” according to the National Academy of Medicine’s website.

Obasogie and Darnovsky’s work together, published in a book titled “Beyond Bioethics: Toward a New Biopolitics,” centered around changing discourse within bioethics to focus on the larger social implications and social justice questions raised by developments in biotechnology, according to Darnovsky. 

Now, Obasogie’s research interests include analyzing the implications of science, medicine and law on police violence and accountability, according to the UC Berkeley School of Law website.

Darnovsky expressed excitement about Obasogie being elected to the National Academy of Medicine.

“It’s an honor that is very much deserved, and a recognition of Dr. Obasogie’s intellectually important and societally significant contributions,” Darnovsky said.

Contact Lydia Sidhom at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @SidhomLydia .