The Art of Compassion
25th Anniversary Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine


The Benjamin Spock Award for Compassion in Medicine

Benjamin Spock’s life (1903-1998) covered most of the last century. His influence will reach far into the next. The man who would become, somewhat to his own astonishment, the most trusted pediatrician and best-selling author of all time was born in New Haven, Conn., on May 2, 1903. He won an Olympic gold medal with the Yale rowing crew at the 1924 games. After two years at the Yale School of Medicine, Spock then transferred to Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, where he graduated first in his class in 1929.

Specializing in pediatrics, Spock also studied psychoanalysis for six years, and eventually became convinced that much of the prevailing wisdom of the day was flawed. In 1946, he published his iconoclastic views in The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, a tome he penned for Pocket Books that initially sold for a modest 25 cents.

At a time when most parents were in awe of doctors and other child care professionals; Spock assured them that parents were the true experts on their own children. They had been told that picking up crying infants would only spoil them; Spock countered that cuddling babies and bestowing affection on children would only make them happier and more secure. Instead of adhering to strict dictates on everything from discipline to toilet training, Spock urged parents to be flexible and see their children as individuals.

Perhaps most revolutionary of all, he suggested that mothers and fathers could actually enjoy their children and steer a course in which their own needs and wishes also were met. All this and much more was delivered in a friendly, reassuring, and common-sense manner completely at odds with the cold authoritarianism of the time. During Spock's long lifetime, the book would be translated into 39 languages and sell more than 50 million copies, making it second in sales only to the Bible.

As the Cold War escalated and American troops were sent to Vietnam, he became a vocal political activist, speaking out for disarmament and against the war. To Spock, this was another way of protecting the young people to whom he was devoted. He participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations well into his 80s and 90s, and ran for president on a third-party ticket in 1972, speaking out on issues concerning working families, children, and minorities.

In 1976, he married his second wife, Mary Morgan, who became a valued collaborator. They traveled the country, lecturing and writing, and co-authored the memoir Spock on Spock in 1985. Becoming convinced of the role of diet for health, Dr. Spock led a 1992 PCRM press conference in Boston aimed at educating parents about newly established links between cow’s milk and type 1 diabetes, among other risks. Later, he joined PCRM President Neal Barnard in calling for sweeping reforms of federal nutrition policies. Throughout his life, Spock remained a tireless and courageous advocate for children and families, and his legacy will remain a source of knowledge and inspiration for parents for generations to come.

In 2007, this award was presented to David J.A. Jenkins, M.D., Ph.D., D.Sc.

In 2005, this award was presented to Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr., M.D.


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