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Erika Blacksher, PhD

Erika Blacksher, PhD
Volunteer Research Professor, History and Philosophy of Medicine

John B. Francis Chair in Bioethics, Center for Practical Bioethics

Professional Background

  • University of Kansas BA, Philosophy
  • University of Kansas, BS, Journalism
  • University of Virginia MA, Religious Studies (Bioethics)
  • University of Virginia, PhD, Religious Studies (Bioethics)
  • Columbia University Post-Doc, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society Scholar

For the past 20 years, I have studied ethical and policy issues raised by the social determinants of health and health inequalities in the United States. My current normative work focuses on questions of justice and responsibility raised by worsening white mortality trends and related roles of early life adversity, socioeconomic deprivation, and whiteness against a backdrop of entrenched racial disparities in health. My current empiric work draws on principles of deliberative democracy to inform the design and implementation of deliberative forums that aim to advance health and social equity through policy solutions and civic connection.



Erika Blacksher, PhD, is an ethicist and engagement scientist. Dr. Blacksher studies questions of responsibility and justice raised by U.S. health inequalities and the potential of democratic deliberation to make health a shared value. Her current work focuses on health justice theory and intersectionality; whiteness, poverty, and health; and the methodology of democratic deliberation. She is leading a deliberative initiative that has designed a community deliberation toolkit for convening people who differ by race, place, class, and political orientation to learn and talk together about pressing U.S. population health challenges. She also collaborates as a co-investigator and consultant to other deliberative initiatives, including the Center for the Ethics of Indigenous Genomic Research at the University of Oklahoma and Fairness Dialogues Field Laboratory at the NIH Department of Bioethics. She has published some 60 original research articles and book chapters and given dozens of invited presentations and lectures.

Dr. Blacksher currently holds the John B. Francis Chair in Bioethics, an endowed chair at the Center for Practical Bioethics, Kansas City, MO, and is a Research Professor in the Department of History and Philosophy of Medicine at the University of Kansas School of Medicine, Kansas City, Prior to her current appointments, Dr. Blacksher was tenured faculty in the Department of Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Washington in Seattle; a Research Scholar at The Hastings Center in New York; and a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society Scholar at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health in New York City. Dr. Blacksher has a master’s and a doctoral degree from the University of Virginia’s bioethics program and undergraduate degrees in philosophy and journalism from the University of Kansas.

Ethics. Dr. Blacksher studies questions of responsibility and justice raised by U.S. health inequalities and the nation’s overall health disadvantage. Her conceptual work examines intersectional health inequalities, with a focus on poor white populations; diversity and identity in health and healthcare; the ethics and politics of health promotion; and methodological issues in democratic deliberation. She has published some 60 original research articles and book chapters and given dozens of invited presentations and
lectures, including presentations to the National Academies of Science Committee on Rising Midlife Mortality and Socioeconomic Disparities, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health Annual Conference, Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Health Disparities Solutions, Harvard University’s Center for Population Health, and The Hastings Center’s “Reconstructing Common Purpose and Civic Innovation” conference. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she served as the ethics expert for a series of online deliberations that gathered input from a cross-section of New Yorkers about equitable
vaccine distribution among NYC’s essential workers that was developed and implemented by the New York Academy of Medicine. She is a lead author for a new National Academy of Medicine Culture of Health paper series that will examine the U.S. federal government’s “racial” categories and implications for structural racism.

Engagement Science. Dr. Blacksher has long collaborated with stakeholders to design and implement innovative processes for convening communities to problem solve together about health issues that matter to them. For the past decade she has experimented with methods of democratic deliberation and its potential to advance health equity and social justice. She is currently leading a project, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program, to develop a democratic deliberative toolkit designed to convene people who differ by race, place, class, and political orientation to learn and talk together about pressing U.S. population health challenges. Since 2016, she has collaborated with colleagues at the Center for the Ethics of Indigenous Genomic Research to adapt democratic deliberation for use in Tribal communities on questions of concern to Tribal leaders and citizens. In 2021, she helped plan a National Academy of Science virtual workshop on Civic Engagement
and Civic Infrastructure to Advance Health Equity, for which she designed and moderated a “minideliberation” for attendees to prioritize civic investments with the most potential to advance health equity. A full account of her responsibilities, publications, and presentations can be found in her CV.

Education and Institutional Affiliations. Prior to being named the Center’s endowed John B. Francis Chair, Dr. Blacksher was Associate Professor (with tenure) and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Washington, in Seattle, WA (2010 to 2020), where she remains affiliate faculty. From 2006 to 2008, she was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society Scholar at Columbia University in New York City, after which she joined The Hastings Center, a bioethics think tank in New York, as a Research Scholar, where she studied ethical questions in population health (2008 to 2010). Dr. Blacksher has masters and doctoral degrees from the University of Virginia’s bioethics program and undergraduate degrees in both philosophy and journalism from the University of Kansas. Dr. Blacksher is a first-generation high school graduate.

Selected Publications

  • Blacksher E, Valles S. 2020. White Privilege, White Poverty: Reckoning with Class and Race in America, Hastings Center Report (special supplement), forthcoming
  • Reedy J, Blanchard J, Lund J, Spicer P, Byars C, Peercy M, Saunkeah B, Blacksher E. 2020. Deliberations about Genomic Research and Biobanks with Citizens of Chickasaw Nation, Frontiers in Genetics 14;11:466.
  • Umeukeje E, Young B, Fullerton SM, Cavanaugh K, Owens D, Wilson JG, Burke W, Blacksher E. 2019. You Are Just Now Telling Us About This? African American Perspectives on Testing for Genetic Susceptibility to Kidney Disease. Journal of the American Society of Nephrology 30;4:526-530. doi: 10.1681/ASN.2018111091
  • Blacksher E. 2018. Shrinking Poor White Life Spans: Class, Race, and Health Justice. American Journal of Bioethics 18;10:3-14. doi:10.1080/15265161.2018.1513585
  • West KM, Blacksher E, Burke W. 2017. Genomics, Health Disparities, and Missed Opportunities for the Nation's Research Agenda. JAMA 317;18:1831-1832. doi: 10.1001/jama.2017.3096
  • Blacksher E, Nelson C, Van Dyke ER, Bassett D, Echo-Hawk AL, Buchwald DS. 2016. Conversations about Community-Based Participatory Research and Trust: "We Are Explorers Together" Progress in Community Health Partnerships: Research, Education, and Action 10;2:305-9. PMID: 27346777. DOI: 1353/cpr.2016.0039.
  • Blacksher E, Maree G, Schrandt S, Soderquist C, Steffensmeier T, St. Peter R. 2015. Health Policy, Ethics, and the Kansas Legislative Health Academy. American Journal of Public Health 105:485-489. PMID: 25607945. DOI:10.2105/AJPH.
  • Abelson J, Blacksher E, S. Boesveld, Goold SD, Li K. 2013. Public Deliberation in Health Policy and Bioethics: Mapping an Emerging, Interdisciplinary Field. Journal of Public Deliberation 9;1: Article 5.
  • Blacksher E. 2013. Participatory and Deliberative Practices in Health: Meanings, Distinctions, and Implications for Health Equity. Journal of Public Deliberation 9;1: Article 6.
  • Blacksher E. 2012. Redistribution and Recognition: Pursuing Social Justice in Public Health. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 21;3:1-12. PMID:22624535. DOI:10.1017/S0963180112000047.
  • Blacksher E, Diebel A, Forest PG, Goold SD, Abelson J. 2012. What Is Public Deliberation? Hastings Center Report 42;2:14-17. PMID:22733324, DOI:10.1002/hast.26.
  • Blacksher E, Lovasi G. 2012. Place-focused Physical Activity Research, Human Agency, and Social Justice in Public Health: Taking Agency Seriously in Studies of the Built Environment. Health & Place 18;2:172-179. PMID:21940195. DOI:10.1016/j.healthplace.2011.018.019.
  • Blacksher E, Rigby E, Espey C. 2010. Public Values, Health Inequality, and Alternative Notions of a "Fair" Response. Journal of Health Policy, Politics, and Law 35;6:889-920. PMID:21451157. DOI:10.1215/03616878-2010-033.
  • Blacksher E. 2010. U.S. Health Reform: What's Prevention Got to Do with It? Perspective. Hastings Center Report 40;6:49.
  • Blacksher E. 2009. Health: The Value at Stake. Hastings Center Report Special Supplement:27-29.
  • Blacksher E. 2008. Carrots and Sticks to Promote Healthy Behaviors: A Policy Update. Hastings Center Report 38;3:13-16. PMID: 18581931
  • Blacksher E. 2002. On Being Poor and Feeling Poor: Low SES and the Moral Self. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 23;6:455-470.
  • Blacksher E. 2018. Public Health and social justice: An argument against stigma as a tool of health promotion and disease prevention. In The Handbook of Stigma, Discrimination and Health, Link B, Dovidio J, Major B., eds. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Blacksher E. 2016. Obesity Prevention in Children: Media Campaigns, Stigma, and Ethical Considerations (Case Study). Public Health Ethics: Cases Spanning the Globe, Barrett DH, Ortmann LH, Dawson A, Saenz C, Reis A, Bolan G, eds. New York, NY: Springer International Publishing. Available online at:
  • Blacksher E, Goold SD. 2016. Black-White Infant Mortality: Disparities, Priorities, and Social Justice in Public Health (Case Study). Public Health Ethics: Cases Spanning the Globe. Barrett DH, Ortmann LH, Dawson A, Saenz C, Reis A, Bolan G, eds. New York, NY: Springer International Publishing. Available online at:

Selected Recent Invited Talks

  • Blacksher E. "A Letter to My People: Reflections on Whiteness Amid a Racial Reckoning in America," 26th Rosemary Flanigan Lecture, Center for Practical Bioethics. Kansas City, Missouri. August 17, 2020.
  • Blacksher E. "Pandemics and Social Values: Reopening America," Balancing Health and Economic Considerations in COVID-19 Responses: Dilemmas and Opportunities for Population Health Webinar (Panelist). Interdisciplinary Association for Population Health Science. May 21, 2020.
  • Blacksher E. "The Risk of Stigmatization in Targeted Local Health Policies," Connecting Local, State and Global Justice in Community Health Policy (Panelist). World Congress of Bioethics and International Association of Bioethics. Philadelphia, PA. June 19, 2020.
  • Blacksher E. "Health Justice in the Genomic Era: The Role of Democratic Deliberation," Genetic and Genomic Testing Outside of Clinical Care: Changing Paradigms for Access, Application, and Understanding. R. Rodney Howell Symposium (Panelist). American College of Medical Genetics Annual Meeting. San Antonio, TX. June 5, 2020.
  • Blacksher E. "Health Justice at the Intersection of Class and Race: Concepts of Whiteness and Longevity Loss in Low Education White People," The Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solutions. The Johns Hopkins University. Baltimore, MD. December 9, 2019.
  • Blacksher E. "Concepts of Whiteness and Midlife Mortality Rates and Socioeconomic Disparities." Presentation to Committee on Rising Midlife Mortality Rates and Socioeconomic Disparities. National Academies of Science. Washington, D.C. July 18, 2019.
  • Blacksher E. "White Privilege, White Poverty: Barriers to and Opportunities for Civic Learning and Democratic Discourse in a Polarized America." Research Project Workgroup Member. How Should the Public Learn? Reconstructing Common Purpose and Civic Innovation for a Democracy in Crisis. The Hastings Center. Garrison, NY. November 15, 2018.
  • Blacksher E. "Challenges to Talking About APOL1 Gene Variants and Racial Disparities in Kidney Disease," Racial Inequalities in Kidney Diseases: Connecting Social Factors to Genetic Risk (Distinguished Faculty). American Society of Nephrology Kidney Week 2018. San Diego, CA. October 27, 2018.
KU School of Medicine

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History and Philosophy of Medicine

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