Artificial Heart: Balancing Ethics, Policy, and Medical Research

Our archive is a collection of newspaper and magazine photographs and articles describing the development and first transplant of the artificial heart by Dr. Denton Cooley. We hope to focus on the aspect of following institutional and governmental rules and regulations in regards to conducting clinical trials and performing experimental procedures.

We have chosen to target our project at students studying public health policy. For example, Rice has a program of studies dedicated to public health management, which can be found here. We believe our archive would benefit these students by providing information about the multifaceted nature of public health policy. We hope our archive can reveal different perspectives on how to balance ethics, policy, and research to provide the most supportive environment for producing advancements in medicine.

Intersection of medicine and law (

Our project is important because the government and medical institutions play a large role in deciding what types of medical research should be funded and what types of medical research should be discontinued or hindered. Dr. Denton Cooley was able to successfully perform the first artificial heart transplant by disregarding federal regulations and hiding his research from his colleagues at the Baylor College of Medicine. Did his success justify his disregard for protocol? Were his actions ethical from a philosophical perspective? How can the government make policy that ensures ethical practice but does not hinder important medical research that can be used to improve public health practices? These are questions that our archive provides perspective into and can hopefully inspire policy studies majors.


Medical World News article about Dr. Cooley’s unauthorized transplant (Image taken at McGovern Historical Center)

We chose to present our archive in the form of an informative website because students will be able to have direct access to primary sources taking the form of videos, photographs, and articles. A website is the most accessible for students and allows students to reference the material easily during their studies.

We will need to conduct further research into the atmosphere of government regulation of medical research during the time that Dr. Cooley performed his transplant, by analyzing the material in our archive. We can also research how government regulation either protects public health or hinders medical research today by consulting with medical practitioners and professors and finding journal articles written about the topic. We can research how our archive can fit into the curriculum of policy studies majors by talking to current majors and professors.


Exploring the Stacks

To be completely honest, I had no real idea of what it meant to visit an “archive.” In my mind, I could see hallways full of boxes filled with yellowed and fraying papers containing information about our history. What information that was held in the archives, I was not really sure.

But soon enough I found out what was held in the stacks. The stacks was an area carefully thought out and planned with every bit of organization. Larger flat items were placed in a map drawer, 8 inch floppy disks in one corner, and books on the shelves.

aboutmcgovernHowever, the biggest surprise of all was actually being able to touch and handle the materials inside of the archive. I had imagined that because these items are one of a kind, we would have to be wearing gloves to protect the books from the oils of our hands (if we were even allowed to touch the items at all). But we were actually allowed to touch the books and even the surgical tools (yet another surprise)! It was an experience to be able to compare and actually see how surgical tools have changed over the years. For example, in the 1850s, surgical tool handles were wooden which would collect the blood of the patients that they were used on before they later were converted to stainless steel instruments we are accustomed to seeing in the present.

And most interesting of all of the materials presented before me was the record of Dr. Cooley’s implantation of the world’s first complete artificial heart. It was fascinating to read the descriptions of what occurred during the surgery as well as the photographs which illustrated what actually occurred during the surgery itself.

artificial heart

After the artificial heart, the next collection that caught my eye was the Psychiatric Bulletin. It was interesting to see the cartoon illustrations demonstrating the ways people viewed psychiatric diseases in the past. For example, in one issue of the Bulletin, there was an illustration of a hole cut in a person’s head to release the demons from inside.

Overall, this initial visit to the McGovern Historical Center was a great experience as it showed me the preservation of the Texas Medical Center’s medical history through multiple forms such as articles, photographs, and tools.