Dr. Philip Wagley, creator of medical ethics class, dies

Internist focused on care of patients

July 15, 2000|By Frederick Rasmussen | Frederick Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Dr. Philip Franklin Wagley, a prominent Baltimore internist who created and taught a highly regarded course in medical ethics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, died Thursday of bone marrow cancer at his home in the Woodbrook section of Baltimore County. He was 83.

From his office in an elegant brownstone townhouse at 9 E. Chase St., next to the Belvedere Hotel, Dr. Wagley practiced internal medicine from 1950 until retiring in 1990.

Through the years, his patients included writer H.L. Mencken and poet Ogden Nash as well as the prominent and not-so-prominent from across the world who came to Baltimore to consult with him about their ailments.

Dr. Wagley was known as a quiet and thoughtful man who patiently listened to those who came to see him.

"He was more interested in their circumstances than just straight medicine," said Dr. Daniel G. Sapir, a Baltimore internist, colleague and friend of many years.

"Phil would sit behind a magnificent desk in his office that had a cathedral ceiling, listening to his patients. He liked talking with them," he said.

"He was a compassionate and at the same time a highly competent and skilled physician," said his friend of 50 years, Dr. Victor McKusick, former professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and internationally known geneticist.

Born in Mineral Wells, Texas, Dr. Wagley was the only son of a banker and rancher. He was introduced to medicine as a youth, when he accompanied his paternal grandfather and great-uncles, who were physicians, on their rounds.

After graduating from high school in Texas, he earned his bachelor's degree from Southern Methodist University in 1938. That year, he entered the Johns Hopkins medical school, earning his medical degree in 1943.

While at Hopkins, his medical studies were interrupted when he was stricken with tuberculosis. While recuperating at the Trudeau Sanitorium in New York, he formed lasting impressions on the relationship between patient care and medicine.

"I learned how disruptive and devastating sickness can be. Seeing people who were dying of a disease I had was an unusual experience," he said in an interview with Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions several years ago.

"I could empathize. This is where I got the idea that you don't treat a disease, you treat a patient with a disease," he said.

He wrote to then-dean of the medical school, Dr. Richard S. Ross, suggesting that a course in medical ethics be taught to first-year medical students. Dr. Ross accepted the idea, on the condition that Dr. Wagley teach the course.

"Phil Wagley saw a need, and he did something about it. Here was a practitioner who, on a voluntary basis, directed this very important course," said Dr. Ross in the same interview with the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.

After completing research fellowships at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Wagley completed his residency at Hopkins.

Dr. Wagley taught the ethics course for 11 years until retiring in 1987. It helped medical students identify and resolve such ethical problems in medicine as AIDS, abortion, health care for the elderly and health care costs.

He broadened the discussion of these issues by bringing lawyers, theologians, philosophers and other physicians to class.

In recognition of his pioneering efforts and commitment in the field of medical ethics, the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions established the Philip Franklin Wagley Chair in Medical Ethics in 1995.

"He exemplified in his own practice his views on patient care and medical ethics and by creating and teaching his course, he put his money where his mouth was," said Dr. McKusick.

Edward K. Dunn Jr., chairman of the board of trustees of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, said, "Phil was a real human being, an old-fashioned Texas-born doctor and gentleman. He was the type of physician who saw his first duty as being to his patients."

Dr. Wagley, who had served in the Army Medical Corps and was discharged with the rank of major, entered private practice with Dr. Benjamin M. Baker in 1950.

A prolific writer, Dr. Wagley wrote on subjects ranging from medical research and ethics to ornithology, Samuel Johnson and Sherlock Holmes.

He had been a member of the medical board of the Johns Hopkins Hospital and a staff member at Union Memorial Hospital. He had been president of the Baltimore City Medical Society, vice president of the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland and a member of the board of the Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital. He was a fellow of the American College of Physicians.

His civic interests included serving on the board of the Peale Museum and the Evergreen House Foundation.

He was a communicant for 47 years and a former member of the vestry of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St., where services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday.

He is survived by his wife of 47 years, the former Mary Frances Penney; a son, James Franklin Penney Wagley of Dallas; two daughters, Anne Paxton Wagley of Berkeley, Calif., and Mary Wagley Copp of Providence, R.I.; and seven grandchildren.

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