Notre Dame welcomes Professor Margaret Somerville

The University of Notre Dame Australia welcomes Margaret Somerville, Professor of Bioethics at the University’s School of Medicine, Sydney.

22 September 2016

Notre Dame welcomes home world-renowned Australian-born ethicist, Professor Margaret Somerville, as the newly appointed Professor of Bioethics at the University’s School of Medicine, Sydney.

No stranger to controversy resulting from the sensitive and divisive ethical issues she addresses, Professor Somerville, is recognised as a preeminent public intellectual in Bioethics and has extensive experience in all forms of media.

She is widely published on the questions of euthanasia and same sex marriage. She is also a speaker, consultant and researcher on the ethics and law relating to reproductive technologies, mental health, the pharmaceutical industry, AIDS, abortion, human rights in health care, and the role that scientific and medical research and technology play in the formation of societal values.

Educated in both Australia and Canada, Professor Somerville has been based in Canada for the past four decades. Until recently, she held professorships in both the Faculty of Law, where she was the Samuel Gale professor, the first woman in Canada appointed to a named chair in law, and the Faculty of Medicine at McGill University, Montreal. Professor Somerville was the founding director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law and has played an active role in the development of applied ethics, and in particular the study of wider ethical and legal aspects of medicine and science.

She has undertaken consultancies for international organisations such as the Global Programme on AIDS of the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva, and law reform commissions in Canada and Australia.

Professor Somerville provides excellent insights into the bioethical dilemmas Canada has been and is experiencing, many of which are the same as those Australia is now facing.

She believes we must engage in mutually respectful discussion with each other, in a public square in which all voices are heard, if Australia is to avoid serious ethical errors in relation to some of the most important “shared-societal-values” questions society will ever encounter, such as euthanasia and same-sex marriage. She is committed to implementing the right of members of the general public to be informed on such issues and to have their voices heard in the debates surrounding them.

Her most recent book is Bird on an Ethics Wire: Battles about Values in the Culture Wars. She is also the author of The Ethical Canary: Science, Society, and the Human Spirit (2000) and Death Talk: the Case Against Euthanasia and Physician-Assisted Suicide (2001) and editor of Do We Care: Renewing Canada’s Commitment to Health (1999). She presented the 2006 CBC Massey Lectures, which were published as a book under the title "The Ethical Imagination: Journeys of the Human Spirit" (House of Anansi Press, 2006).

Professor Somerville has earned numerous distinctions including the Order of Australia (1990) and she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1991. In 2004 she was named the first recipient of the UNESCO Avicenna Prize for Ethics in Science.

Theresa Kyne: Tel (02) 8204 4141; Mob: 0491 218 852;