He cares for patients at the Penn Memory Center and directs the Neurodegenerative Disease Ethics and Policy Program. With support from the National Institutes of Health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Greenwall Foundation, he has investigated the development of Alzheimer’s disease treatments and diagnostics, informed consent, quality of life, research and treatment decision making, and voting by persons with cognitive impairment and residents of long term care facilities. He has been an international proponent of mobile polling, a method of bringing the vote to long term care facilities that minimizes fraud and maximizes voter rights. He is a winner of the Lancet's Wakley Prize. In 2010, in a widely publicized essay in the Journal of the American Medical Association, he introduced the concept of “desktop medicine,” a theory of medicine that recognizes how risk and its numerical representations are transforming medicine, medical care, and health.
Karlawish wrote Open Wound: The Tragic Obsession of Dr. William Beaumont in part to upend the convention of the scientist as a dispassionate expert who lives above the social and political order of her times. Open Wound, a novel based on true events along the 19th century American frontier, tells how emotion and passion together with social and political pressures slowly corrupt the scientist’s character and ethics, a corruption that drives Dr. Beaumont to increasingly desperate acts. Tragically, he destroys what he most desires, the immortality of fame.
Karlawish has disseminated his work in peer reviewed publications and chapters in leading textbooks of medicine and bioethics, testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Aging and the Department of Health and Human Services Subcommittee on the Inclusion of Individuals with Impaired Decision-making in Research, and collaborations with the American Bar Association, American Association of Retired Persons, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the State of Vermont, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, and the U.S. Government Accountability Office. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Greenwall Foundation and the American Bar Association's Commission on Law and Aging.
A shotgun misfires
inside the American Fur Company store in Northern Michigan, and Alexis St.
Martin’s death appears imminent. It’s 1822, and, as the leaders of Mackinac
Island examine St. Martin’s shot-riddled torso, they decide not to incur a
single expense on behalf of the indentured fur trapper. They even go so far as
to dismiss the attention of U.S. Army Assistant Surgeon William Beaumont, the
frontier fort’s only doctor.
But in the name of charity
and goodness, Beaumont ignores the orders and saves the young man’s life. What
neither the doctor nor his patient understands—yet—is that even as Beaumont’s
care of St. Martin continues for decades, the motives and merits of his
attention are far from clear. In fact, for what he does to his patient,
Beaumont will eventually stand trial and be judged.
Rooted deeply in
historic fact, Open Wound artfully fictionalizes the complex,
lifelong relationship between Beaumont and his illiterate French Canadian
patient. The young trapper’s injury never completely heals, leaving a hole into
his stomach that the curious doctor uses as a window to understand the
mysteries of digestion. Eager to rise up from his humble origins and
self-conscious that his medical training occurred as an apprentice to a rural
physician rather than at an elite university, Beaumont seizes the opportunity
to experiment upon his patient’s stomach in order to write a book that he hopes
will establish his legitimacy and secure his prosperity.
growing hungrier for more wealth and more prestige, personifies the best and
worst aspects of American ambition and power.