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The George McMillan Fleming Center for Law and Innovation in Biomedicine and Healthcare

Photo of George Fleming
George M. Fleming, ’71

On the strength of an initial commitment of $2.5 million from George M. Fleming, ’71, the University of Texas School of Law will create the George McMillan Fleming Center for Law and Innovation in Biomedicine and Healthcare.

The Fleming Center will address the broad sweep of human concerns implicated at the junction of law, medicine, ethics, public policy, and the management of healthcare delivery. Faculty will conduct research on the many ways in which law impacts biomedical and healthcare innovation, including patent law and the development of new drugs and therapies; ethical and regulatory constraints on the research process; and ways to remove barriers to access to new therapies. It will also sponsor a fellowship devoted to access to health benefits and service; research and public lectures on the global emergence of constitutional rights to healthcare, and on human rights and health more broadly; and the development of programs addressing childhood obesity and health-related interventions on behalf of impoverished children and their families. The Fleming Center will propel the University of Texas School of Law into the forefront of research in the areas of law and health.

The Law, Innovation, and Stem Cell Conference

To begin these multifaceted initiatives, the Fleming Center will host a conference in the Spring of 2009 on the legal issues surrounding stem cell research. This conference will launch the George McMillan Fleming Center for Law and Innovation in Biomedicine and Healthcare. It will be held at the School of Law from May 1–2, 2009. The conference, chaired by John Robertson, the Vinson & Elkins Chair at UT Law and an expert in law and bioethics, will examine the idea that innovation in biomedicine is a complex process involving science, law, ethics, and policy; and that lawyers and policymakers can learn much about the law’s role in biomedicine and healthcare innovation from a careful examination of a major, ongoing area of scientific research and controversy. The societal debate over the use of embryonic stem cells has enmeshed law, politics, and science in controversy since the ability to culture human stem cells was announced in 1998. This topic presents an extraordinary opportunity to explore how law, ethics, and policy affect the process of innovation and development in science, and thus the speed at which it yields healthcare benefits.    

The Fleming Center’s fellowship in health, law, and advocacy will be awarded to a graduating Law School student for two years of post-graduate public service legal work; a visiting faculty appointment for a distinguished scholar working in this area; and enhanced faculty research opportunities for current UT Law faculty engaged in significant healthcare-related scholarship.

Early next year, Sandy Levinson, who holds the W. St. John Garwood and W. St. John Garwood, Jr. Centennial Chair, will host an international conference on constitutional design. As a key part of that event, the Fleming Center will sponsor a panel, led by Willy Forbath, the Lloyd M. Bentsen Chair in Law, on the constitutional right to healthcare and the possibilities and dilemmas of judicial enforcement of that right. Thanks to the Fleming Center’s generosity, this panel will bring together two leading jurists, the Honorable Dennis Davis of the High Court of South Africa, and Justice Antonio Benjamin of the Supreme Court of Brazil, who will share their own and their nation’s experiences in this domain of “constitutional design.” In addition, a leading student of judicial enforcement of the right to healthcare around the globe, Professor Florian Hoffman of the London School of Economics, will be participating.

Fleming’s gift creates an endowed chair at the School of Law, the George McMillan Fleming Chair in Health Law and Policy, in honor of his late father, a pioneer and respected leader in healthcare management in Houston for the better part of four decades. George McMillan Fleming held a doctorate in education, which he used in the field of hospital administration. He was the administrator of a number of hospitals in Texas, notably Methodist Hospital in Houston and Santa Rosa Hospital in San Antonio. He was elected president of the Texas Hospital Association, and was awarded the Earl Collier Award—the Texas Hospital Association’s highest award for a distinguished hospital administrator.

The gift that creates the Fleming Center is a further demonstration of the Fleming family’s longstanding commitment to healthcare and the myriad issues surrounding it. Earlier this year, Fleming and his brother, Scott, established the George McMillan Fleming Center for Healthcare Management at the University of Texas School of Public Health. UT Law will have a presence at this center as well, by providing faculty to teach courses in law and healthcare.

“The interface between bedside medicine and the business of medicine often pits care against profit,” George Fleming said. He said that his father approached this potential paradox with the belief that work done along this fine edge is best done as a collaborative effort.

This is not Fleming’s first gift to the Law School. In 2005, Fleming donated $1.25 million for a major renovation of the student dining commons—renamed George’s Café by the Law School in his honor—and to broaden programs and services available to law students through the Career Services Office, as well as to establish the George M. Fleming Faculty Excellence Fund to recruit and retain outstanding faculty.

Fleming graduated from the School of Law after having earned his undergraduate degree from UT-Austin (BBA ’68). He practiced with the U.S. Department of Justice for five years, where he gained invaluable trial experience, particularly in personal injury cases. He returned to Austin to private practice for a time, and then founded the law firm of Fleming & Associates in Houston in 1981. The twelve-attorney firm has earned a national reputation representing plaintiffs in mass tort, consumer, personal injury, and property damage litigation cases.

In discussing his most recent gift to UT Law, Fleming noted that Dean Larry Sager approaches his work with the question “how can we improve tomorrow what we’re doing today?” That has been Fleming’s approach to life throughout his impressive career as a litigator—an approach he also learned from his father.

“I have said before that ‘we are all in this together,’ and no one understands that more keenly than George Fleming,” said Sager. “George’s life and career are animated by the belief that we are a community and that we bear responsibility one to the other. I am profoundly grateful to George for the confidence he has in the Law School to carry forward this ideal—a confidence that underlies his generosity and that we will work very hard to honor.”