John Robertson, longtime UT law professor, dies


After arriving at the University of Texas in 1980, Robertson became a national leader in bioethics.

Law professor also was an enthusiastic art collector.

John Robertson, a longtime University of Texas law professor and a top national expert in bioethics, died Wednesday in his Austin home after what his family described as a brief illness.

Robertson, 74, was a pioneer in exploring the emerging intersection between medical ethics and the law, earning a lifetime achievement award for his contributions to the field, particularly in assisted reproduction, from the American Society for Law, Medicine and Ethics in 2010.

Robertson also was a curious, enthusiastic colleague who had a passion for art and poetry, said longtime friend Willy Forbath, a law professor and associate dean of the UT School of Law.

“He was a man of many parts, and an uncommonly modest and warm guy,” Forbath said. “There are not many people at the law school who had such ranging friendships all across the campus.”

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Several pieces of Robertson’s extensive art collection are displayed on the law school’s walls.

“He didn’t have the manner of your stereotypical ‘patron of the arts.’ He had none of the pretense,” Forbath said. “To the contrary, he just did it for the pleasure of enjoying the company and the work of artists, many of whom were not artists with large reputations.”

Robertson, who began teaching at the UT law school in 1980, wrote two books on bioethics — “The Rights of the Critically Ill” in 1983 and “Children of Choice: Freedom and the New Reproductive Technologies” in 1994 — as well as articles on genetics, organ transplants and medical experimentation on humans.

He also was chairman of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s Ethics Committee.

A memorial service has not yet been scheduled.

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