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I left Harvard 15 years ago to come to Georgetown University, formed in the year of our Constitution and established by an Act of Congress. More than Oxford or Harvard, Georgetown embodied my highest ideals of using world-class scholarship to serve the needs of the most disadvantaged. The Jesuit mission of social justice, which permeates our scholarship and teaching, has deep meaning to me. And the Jesuit ideal of “the human being fully alive,” resonates with my view of the salient importance of human health and wellbeing. The ideals of equity and human fulfilment are embodied in the inscription on Georgetown Law’s Edward Bennett Williams Library: “Law is but the means, Justice is the end.”

While at Georgetown, guided by President DeGoia as my inspiration, I transformed my work to focus on global health. When Linda and Timothy O’Neill endowed the O’Neill Institute, it became a turning point in my life. In the inaugural lecture for the O’Neill chair, I aspired to a world that meets the basic survival needs of the world’s least healthy people, proposing a Framework Convention on Global Health. And next week, I travel to Norway for an international conference to establish such a global treaty—the beginning of a dream come true. I owe this, and so much more to this place on a Hilltop that I have come to love like none other.

What was the political philosophy that brought me through a journey that began with the rights of mental patients, to civil liberties and human rights, through to the health and wellbeing of the most disadvantaged? My transformation from a civil libertarian to a sanitarian startled, even dismayed, many of my friends. When I returned to the United States after living in the United Kingdom for 14 years – bringing my lovely English bride and two young boys with me - I was elected to the National Board of Directors and Executive Committee of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). But by the time I wrote the Model Emergency Health Powers Act for the White House after the World Trade Center and anthrax attacks in 2001, ACLU officials were publicly tearing up my ACLU card on national television.

So, why the transformation from a civil libertarian to a sanitarian? In this lecture, I will discuss the evolution of my three passions—mental health, civil liberties, and global health in my personal “Life of Learning.”


Presidential Address for the Faculty Convocation, Georgetown University Law Center, Washington, D.C., March 3, 2010