A scientist turned ethicist

Botanist lobbied for ban on Agent Orange.

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Botanist Arthur Galston campaigned for a ban on Agent Orange. View full image

"Sometimes, it pays to be a rebel," wrote Arthur Galston, the Eaton Professor Emeritus of Botany, in an October 2002 essay about Duke Ellington that was published in this magazine. Galston, who died on June 15 at the age of 88 from congestive heart failure, certainly had a cause.

A respected plant physiologist, Galston is known for an act of rebellion during the Vietnam War that helped end the U.S. military's use of Agent Orange. Some of Galston’s work in the early 1940s had helped lead to the development of the herbicide. But after learning about the ecological and human toll caused by the widespread use of the defoliant in Vietnam, Galston and a few colleagues began, in the mid-1960s, to lobby against the spraying campaign. In 1970, after a Department of Defense study—conducted in response to Galston’s charges—confirmed that the herbicide was linked to birth defects, President Nixon halted the spraying.

Galston, a native of Brooklyn who got his doctorate in plant biology from the University of Illinois, joined the Yale faculty in 1955. In his lengthy academic career, he authored several textbooks and more than 320 academic papers, many of them on plant pigments and discoveries he made about how plants sense and respond to light. After his mandatory retirement from the biology faculty in 1990, he pursued full-time a professional interest in bioethics that had been sparked by his experience with Agent Orange. His second career with Yale’s Interdisciplinary Center for Bioethics resulted in two textbooks, more than 50 public policy articles, and a popular course on bioethics. 

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