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David Goldblatt, Neurologist and Ethicist, Dies at 77

David Goldblatt, MD, Professor Emeritus of Neurology and the Medical Humanities at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, died of metastatic ureteral carcinoma at his home in Penn Yan, NY, on Sept. 1. He was 77 years old.

A memorial celebrating Dr. Goldblatt's career was held in Rochester, NY, on Oct. 6. Among the 100 people who attended this celebration were his family and neurologists who had trained with him over the past 40 years, including attendees from Australia, New Zealand, and throughout the U.S. Dr. Goldblatt was remembered as a clinician with a profound passion and interest in ethics and humanism.


Dr. David Goldblatt (1930–2007)

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, to Jeanne (Rea) Goldblatt and Harry Goldblatt, MD, the pathologist who was famous for showing that renal artery disease caused hypertension, Dr. Goldblatt's upbringing included an emphasis on literature and medicine. After finishing medical school at Case Western Reserve University in 1955, he completed his neurology residency at Columbia's Neurological Institute, then joined the U.S. Naval Reserve and became chief of neurology at the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD. He spent three years studying electron microscopy at Johns Hopkins, and then in 1965, he joined the University of Rochester faculty and worked in the Center for Brain Research. In 1978 Dr. Goldblatt was appointed professor of neurology, and in 1991 he became professor of the medical humanities. He retired in 1997.

While Dr. Goldblatt practiced all aspects of neurology, he was particularly interested in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and traumatic brain injury (TBI). From 1986 to 1983, he was the medical director at Neurorehab Associates, an outpatient rehabilitation facility in Rochester for adults with TBI and back and neck problems. He established and directed a clinic for patients with ALS at Strong Memorial Hospital in 1965, and chaired the clinical advisory committee of the ALS Society of America, according to the University of Rochester School of Medicine.

David thought the work he did with ALS patients was his major contribution, said his brother, Peter J. Goldblatt, MD, a pathology professor at the University of Toledo College of Medicine, in an e-mail note to Neurology Today. David's experience with end-of-life care for ALS patients inspired his interest in ethical issues, his brother said.

Dr. Goldblatt chaired the Patient Care Ethics Committee at Strong Memorial Hospital, served on the hospital's Ethics Consultation Service, and created the Neurology Resident Elective in Clinical Ethics, a program sponsored jointly by the AAN, the American Neurological Association, and the Child Neurology Society. He was a member of the AAN Ethics, Law, and Humanities Committee, and chaired the Committee on Ethical Affairs of the American Neurological Association. Dr. Goldblatt also helped establish the AAN Creative Expression of Human Values in Neurology award, which recognizes an outstanding poem, short story, or work of creative fiction that expresses human values in the practice of neurology.

James L. Bernat, MD, professor of neurology at Dartmouth Medical School and a former chair of the AAN Ethics, Law, and Humanities Committee, said Dr. Goldblatt was an ideal role model for young physicians. “By observing his care of his patients, residents and students saw personified the ideal patient-physician relationship as well as the full breadth of responsibilities, heartaches, and pleasures of being a doctor,” he said. “David practiced what he preached.”

Dr. Goldblatt was an examiner for the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, as well as a reviewer for several professional journals. He was a demanding and skillful medical editor, said Dr. Bernat, serving as associate editor of Archives of Neurology for 15 years (until 1997) and editor-in-chief of Seminars in Neurology until 1998. He also edited a medical humanities section that he created for Neurology called “Nisus: Neurology and the Humanities.” The editors of Neurology Today also appreciated his thoughtful letters of advice.

Dr. Bernat noted that his writings “on the complete care of ALS patients are classics in holistic and compassionate medical treatment.” He also particularly loved poetry, and his creative publications included essays, poems, and creative fiction that were imbued with his sense of humor and wit.

Robert C. Griggs, MD, chair of the department of neurology at the University of Rochester Medical Center and former editor-in-chief of Neurology, was Dr. Goldblatt's student while a resident back in 1968. “David was an outstanding clinical neurologist, a legendary teacher, and a dedicated and productive clinical scientist. He was an editor, an ethicist, a poet, a potter — a true polymath,” he said.

He is survived by his wife Ann Weiss, his brother, Peter J. Goldblatt, MD, sons, David J., Robert H., and John P. Goldblatt, MD, who is an assistant professor of orthopedics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, and three grandchildren, Dallan, Justine, and Taylor.