Dr. Erich H. Loewy, a physician and philosopher who tackled moral issues in medicine with candor and compassion as a pioneering UC Davis bioethicist, died Wednesday after a lengthy illness, his family said. He was 83.
Dr. Loewy joined UC Davis School of Medicine as the first chairman of bioethics in 1986. He established a full-fledged program to educate and guide medical students and professionals facing questions of life and death that have no easy answers.
Internationally recognized as a leading expert, he switched to bioethics after almost 20 years as a cardiologist. He was a slightly built man with an easy, gentle smile, whose interest in medical ethics was influenced by his experience as a boy who fled the Nazis in his native Austria with his Jewish family during the Holocaust.
"Dr. Loewy was an inspirational thought leader who challenged and inspired us all to embrace the highest ethical standards," Claire Pomeroy, UC Davis vice chancellor and medical school dean, said in a written statement. "His life experiences informed his commitment to providing a voice to those who might otherwise be forgotten by society."
Provocative and outspoken, Dr. Loewy posed hard questions to UC Davis medical students in a Bee story in 1996: Should a suffering cancer patient be kept alive despite his strong wish to die? Does a doctor perform an abortion against his strong religious and moral beliefs if the patient's life is at risk?
"When you have an ethical problem," he said, "you almost never have a good answer. You have an array of bad answers. It will be your task to choose the answer that is least inappropriate."
Dr. Loewy, who lectured around the world, wrote many articles and books on bioethics and social justice. He previously taught at University of Illinois College of Medicine in Peoria and University of Illinois in Chicago. He was a consultant to the University of Cape Town Bioethics Center in South Africa.
In 1995, he organized the first international medical ethics conference ever held in Austria. He returned in 2008 to receive the Austrian Cross of Honour for Science and Art, First Class.
The son of a pediatrician, Dr. Loewy was born in 1927 in Vienna and moved with his parents to England before settling in the United States in 1938. He graduated from New York University in 1950 and received his medical and cardiology training at State University of New York in Syracuse and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
He retired from UC Davis and lived in Gold River with his wife of 37 years, Roberta, a UC Davis professor of bioethics. He had three sons during a previous marriage and adopted his wife's two sons from her previous marriage.
Dr. Loewy was a caring man who took in and nursed injured birds with his wife. In an era of rationed health care, he advocated compassion for the needy and the role of the community in preserving public health and welfare.
"We need an ethics where we see ourselves as much as possible as part and parcel of the weak," he told the Bee in 1996. "An ethics of the weak, not of the strong."