Obituary | Katz remembered as patients’ advocate

Yale Law School professor and ethics expert Jay Katz, who taught at Yale for over five decades and was eminent in the fields of reproductive technology law, died Monday in New Haven. He was 86.

The cause was heart failure, the Law School said in a statement Monday night.

Born in Zwickau, Germany, in 1922, Katz, the Elizabeth K. Dollard Professor Emeritus of Law, Medicine and Psychiatry, fled Nazi Germany as a teenager in 1938. He eventually settled in the United States, graduating from the University of Vermont in 1944 and earning his M.D. from Harvard Medical School in 1949.

After serving as first lieutenant and captain at the U.S. Air Force Hospital at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, Katz came to Yale in 1953, where he was soon named chief resident of the outpatient clinic at the Yale School of Medicine. He began teaching psychiatry at Yale in 1955, and in 1958 was appointed assistant professor of psychiatry and law.

“Jay Katz was one of the most profound influences of my life and career,” said law professor Robert Burt LAW ’64, a close colleague of Katz. “He was a pioneer in pressing for the rights of patients and the respect for autonomy and choice.”

In the 1960s, Katz collaborated with the late Law School professor Joseph Goldstein LAW ’52 to produce groundbreaking work in the areas of family law and psychiatry and the law. The Law School statement announcing his death Monday evening described Katz as a “passionate proponent of the concept of truly informed consent.”

Katz served on the 1972 national panel that studied and exposed the controversial Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, where the U.S. Public Health Service for four decades conducted a study on 399 black men who were never informed that they had syphilis.

Katz was also a vocal opponent of Nazi experiments and was the first to call for a national board to oversee human experimentation. In 1972 he published “Experimentation with Human Beings,” which remains a leading text on human experimentation law and ethics. In 1994, President Bill Clinton LAW ’73 appointed Katz a member of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments.

Law professor Peter Schuck said that Katz’s “subtle understanding of the psychodynamics of treatment” helped lawyers and psychiatrists across the country gain a further understanding of physician-patient relations.

Katz is survived by his second wife Marilyn; a son, Daniel; two daughters, Sally LAW ’82 and Amy; two stepdaughters, Mary and Emily; a brother, Norman; and four grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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  • Anonymous

    Funeral services will be held on Wednesday, November 19, at 1 p.m. at the Robert E. Shure Funeral Home, 543 George St., New Haven. A traditional period of mourning will be observed at 81 Alston Avenue, New Haven.