| Pundit Profile

A Q&A with Stephen J. Ziegler

What inspired you to do what you do?

Research, public service, and the reduction of human suffering have been three consistent themes throughout my career. I started college with the intention of becoming an anesthesiologist (I came from a medical family), but I was also interested in drug policy reform, research, social science, and the behavior of institutions and individuals in the political process. I attended school part-time to pay for my education, and over the early course of my career I worked as a police officer, detective, agent for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, and did some comedy writing and performing (a long story best left for another day). I then entered law school with the hope that the legal profession was actually interested in effectively solving problems, worked as a defense attorney and prosecutor (not at the same time), and eventually enrolled in graduate school out of a desire to continue to improve people’s lives and become a college professor.

Why did you focus on pain management?

My interest in anesthesiology and issues at the intersection of law, medicine, and ethics began in college and continue to this day. While I was attending law school in the mid-1990s, Dr. Jack Kevorkian was assisting in the suicide of terminally ill patients in Michigan. Although not everyone agrees on whether assisted suicide should be legal, I thought it would be quite the human tragedy if people were seeking to accelerate their death because their pain and symptoms were not being effectively managed. Consequently, my interests in this area expanded in graduate school and my doctoral dissertation (and my subsequent career)  focused on the identification and reduction of the medico-legal barriers to accessing palliative care and essential medicines.

Who were your mentors?

Although I have been fortunate to have many mentors throughout my career, the most significant was Dr. Nicholas Lovrich. He was a member of my doctoral committee at Washington State University and had a significant impact on my training and career. He has unselfishly dedicated his life to education, research, public service, and his students. Like any good mentor, he was a constant source of encouragement and had a love for new ideas.

If you weren’t a healthcare provider or professor, what would you be?

Actor, writer, and comedian, but not a stand-up comedian. Although I have enjoyed writing, acting, and pitching comedy ideas, stand-up comedy is a different beast, so that particular form of art is something that I would probably not pursue. But life, like fiction, is never too late to revise.

What is your most marked characteristic?

Thinking outside the box.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

That is hard to say because it is like someone asking you which kid is your favorite (a decision you may have to make when the oxygen masks drop out of the ceiling). I am fortunate to have received recognition for several professional achievements: an award and publication from the American Judges Foundation while in law school for my scholarly work involving domestic violence prosecutions and the novel use of a rule of evidence; a research fellowship in Zurich; becoming a pain scholar and fellow via the Mayday Pain Foundation; and all of the publications, presentations, and consults that have resulted. I have been fortunate enough to have contributed “a verse” (Walt Whitman), and will continue to do so!

If you had to choose one book, one film, and one piece of music to take into space for an undetermined amount of time, what would they be?

Book: David Trottier’s The Screenwriter’s Bible (I have over 100 pages of notes for a comedy I want to write)

Film: Creator (1985), a great comedy on a variety of levels that features a screenplay written by a former academic and the beauty of California and its coastline

Music: That one piece of music would have to be delivered through some satellite service to enable access to both classical and music from the 80s, otherwise, I really would never be able to get that  one song out of my head.