Associate Professor
Department of Social Medicine
Core Faculty
Center for Bioethics
Adjunct Professor
Department of Philosophy

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Rebecca Portrait


333E MacNider

mailing address
Social Medicine
MacNider Hall
CB #7420
UNC – Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, NC



I am a philosopher working in bioethics whose primary focus is on the relationship between moral theories and concepts and various biomedical practices. My current work is largely in research ethics including animal research, phase I healthy volunteer research, and genomic advances. I also work on topics in health care ethics including distributive justice and concepts of autonomy. While it is common within bioethics to argue for prescriptive conclusions on controversial issues, I am more concerned with practical ethics methodologies including virtue ethics. I investigate how we can fruitfully frame and respond to difficult bioethical problems. In addition to using philosophical methods, I also work with qualitative empirical data.

In 2001, I completed a Greenwall Foundation post-doctoral fellowship in bioethics and health policy at Johns Hopkins. I then held a visiting faculty position in the Philosophy Department at the University of Michigan, arriving at UNC in the Departments of Social Medicine and Philosophy in 2003. In 2010, I joined the new Center for Bioethics at UNC as Core Faculty. In Philosophy, I regularly teach topics in ethics and bioethics at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. In Social Medicine, I teach three courses during the “foundational” phase of the medical school curriculum. I serve on the UNC Hospital Ethics Service and the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. My grant work includes being a co-investigator in the Center for Genomics and Society (Gail Henderson, PI) as well as in the HealthyVOICES project (Jill Fisher, PI), a longitudinal study of phase I clinical trial volunteers. I am also part of the research ethics faculty resource for UNC’s Clinical and Translational Science Award. I am a fellow in the Parr Center for Ethics at UNC.