Remembering Dr. Bernard Lown, PSR co-founder February 17, 2021

Dr. Bernard Lown, second from right, with IPPNW colleagues at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in 1985. Photo: IPPNW

For the second time in recent months, we at PSR are mourning the passing of one of our founders with the loss of Dr. Bernard Lown. We extend our sincere condolences to Dr. Lown’s family and loving friends as we remember his extraordinary life.

Dr. Lown was a pioneer in the research of sudden cardiac death and is renowned for developing the first effective heart defibrillator. In addition to his groundbreaking work in cardiovascular care, he founded an organization that launched a communications satellite in 1991 to deliver online medical training and information to doctors and health care workers in Africa and Asia. He also created a global web-based network focusing on providing up-to-date medical information on cardiovascular care in developing countries.

Dr. Lown was equally passionate about the threat posed by nuclear war. He was part of a group of physicians who gathered in early 1961 to address the mounting risk of nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States. This group eventually formed Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Dr. Lown served as PSR’s first President. The group wrote a series of trailblazing articles about the medical consequences of a nuclear war, “The Medical Consequences of Thermonuclear War,” that was published by the New England Journal of Medicine in May of 1962. In 1985, Dr. Lown accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, an organization he also co-founded. Just a few weeks ago, Dr. Lown had published a letter in the New England Journal of Medicine reminding physicians of the need for physician activism on this issue.

In his 2008 memoir, Prescription for Survival: A Doctor’s Journey to End Nuclear Madness, Dr. Lown noted that the end of the Cold War had not resolved the threat of nuclear annihilation. “Eliminating the nuclear menace,” he wrote, “is a historic challenge questioning whether we humans have a future on planet earth.” That challenge remains with us today, but we are heartened by the passion and dedication of Dr. Lown and the other PSR founders who continue to inspire our efforts.

According to The Boston Globe, Dr. Lown’s family will hold a private burial and will announce a public memorial service after pandemic-related limitations on the size of gatherings are lifted. In the meantime, we invite you to read the New York Times’ obituary that details Dr. Lown’s remarkable life and career.

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