Bernard Lown, Inventive Doctor and Antiwar Activist, Dies at 99


In a 2008 memoir, “Prescription for Survival: A Doctor’s Journey to End Nuclear Madness,” Dr. Lown recounted the story of his antinuclear group and noted that the end of the Cold War had not resolved the threat of annihilation. “Eliminating the nuclear menace,” he wrote, “is a historic challenge questioning whether we humans have a future on planet earth.”

Bernard Lown was born in Utena, Lithuania, on June 7, 1921, to Nisson and Bella (Grossbard) Lown. A grandfather of his had been a rabbi in Lithuania.

The family emigrated to Maine in 1935, and his father ran a shoe factory there, in Pittsfield. Bernard graduated from Lewiston High School in 1938. He earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology at the University of Maine in 1942 and his medical degree from Johns Hopkins University in 1945.

In 1946, he married Louise Lown, a cousin. She died in 2019. The couple had previously lived in Newton, Mass. In addition to his granddaughter Ariel, he is survived by three children, Anne, Fredric and Naomi Lown; four other grandchildren; and one great-grandchild

After an internship and residency in New York City, Dr. Lown settled in Boston in 1950 and over the next decade taught and conducted cardiovascular research at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and the Harvard Medical School.

In 1952, he and Dr. Samuel A. Levine recommended in The Journal of the American Medical Association that patients with congestive heart disease recuperate in an armchair, not a bed, because fluids pool in the chest cavity when lying down, forcing the heart to work harder. The advice is widely accepted now.

After hearing a lecture on medicine and nuclear war, Dr. Lown became the founding president of Physicians for Social Responsibility in 1961. In 1962, he studied the medical effects of a hypothetical nuclear attack on Boston. His conclusions — that the attack on one city would exhaust all the nation’s medical resources just to treat the burn victims — were published in The New England Journal of Medicine.


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