Fritz Jahr (1895-1953): a life story of the "inventor" of bioethics and a tentative reconstruction of the chronology of the discovery of his work
Until a few years ago, the American biochemist Van Rensselaer Potter (1911-2001) was generally
acknowledged as the fi rst person to have used the term "bioethics". In 1997, however,
Rolf Löther mentioned the name of Fritz Jahr, whom Löther credited for having coined the
word Bio-Ethik as early as 1927. News about the discovery of Fritz Jahr eventually spread and
a more thorough analysis of Jahr’s basic ideas has been off ered by Hans-Martin Sass of the
Kennedy Institute of Ethics.
While the work of Fritz Jahr has been investigated, his life is still quite a mystery. A preliminary
search of the archives in Jahr’s home city of Halle (Germany) has turned up a lot of
Paul Max Fritz Jahr was born on January 18, 1895, in Halle in central Germany, where he
spent his entire life. Schooled mostly in the Pietist Francke Foundation, at the University, Jahr
studied philosophy, music, history, national economy, and theology.
Jahr started to teach as early as 1917, while within the Church he was active from 1925 onwards.
First he was a curate at St. John’s church in Dieskau, later in Braunsdorf, and fi nally,
a pastor in Canena.
In 1932, Jahr married Elise Neuholz with whom he had no children. At the age of 38, on
March 1, 1933, he withdrew from service. Fritz Jahr died on October 1, 1953, in Halle.
Th e facts related to Fritz Jahr’s life, highlighted in the present paper, might explain not only
the sources of his ideas, but also some important motivations for them. In our analyses of
the "social circumstances" of a discovery, we often neglect the personal factors that may have
infl uenced the author of the discovery. Th erefore, the life story of Fritz Jahr might easily prove
to be one of the life stories of bioethics itself.
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