Born and raised in New York City, Brody earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Brooklyn College and studied at Oxford University as a Fulbright Fellow prior to obtaining a doctorate in philosophy from Princeton University. He served on the Rice faculty from 1975 to 2018, when he became professor emeritus, and as chair of the Department of Philosophy from 1975 to 1982. Although Brody had deep roots in New York and expected the position at Rice to be a stepping stone in his career, he and his wife, Dena, quickly grew to love their new home and soon became influential members of both the Rice and local Jewish communities.
“Under his leadership, the Rice Philosophy Department was quickly transformed,” said Donald Morrison, professor and chair of the department, who attributed the creation of today’s “modern” philosophy program to Brody’s stewardship. “Rice has an outstanding Philosophy Department, and its foundations were laid by Professor Brody as chair.”
Brody helped found a Rice collaboration with Baylor College of Medicine called the Program on Biotechnology, Religion and Ethics, which conducted a study that explored ways in which religious responses to biotechnology are shaped by different views of nature and how those responses influence public policy.
As one of America’s leading bioethicists, Brody was among the first scholars in his field of applied ethics to tackle abortion in the era following the Roe v. Wade decision. He authored more than 100 peer-reviewed articles and a dozen books on ethics and philosophy, including “Taking Issue: Pluralism and Casuistry in Bioethics” and “The Ethics of Biomedical Research: An International Perspective.”
In 1982, Brody began a long and fruitful association with two important Rice partners in the Texas Medical Center. He served as the founding director of the Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy at Baylor from 1982 until 2012. He also served as director of Houston Methodist Hospital’s joint venture with Baylor, the Biomedical Ethics Program, from 1985 until 2012.
Since 2013, Baylor’s Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy has given the Baruch Brody Award to students in its ethics track, which Brody also founded, whose project posters best demonstrate ways to apply ethical thinking to medical settings and situations.
Brody was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Sciences in 2001 and was awarded Baylor’s highest research honor, the Michael E. DeBakey Research Award, in 2002. He served as president of the Society for Health and Human Values and on the board of the American Philosophical Association.
In recent years, Brody had also begun conducting research outside of applied ethics and bioethics, concentrating on the philosophy of religion with a particular focus on philosophical issues related to Judaism. He co-authored an article in 2001 with son Shlomo — a well-known writer who authors the “Ask a Rabbi” column in The Jerusalem Post — that visited these intersecting interests, questioning whether Jewish law allows for the donation of organs from brain-dead patients to save lives.
In 2015, Brody celebrated 50 years of marriage to Dena. They had three sons and 15 grandchildren. Along with his wife, Brody was a longtime supporter of Houston’s Robert M. Beren Academy and helped save the Jewish school from bankruptcy in the 1970s. In recognition of the Brodys’ work, the academy gives the annual Dena and Baruch Brody Award for Dedicated Service to members of the school’s community who have displayed outstanding service and exemplary leadership.
“Baruch’s fingerprints can be found on all aspects of our community,” said United Orthodox Synagogues Rabbi Barry Gelman. “His presence at United Orthodox Synagogues was one of scholar and sage. He was a standard-bearer by modeling that one can be an acclaimed and successful professional and be totally committed to Jewish law. Many in our community saw Baruch as their model.”