Wednesday, January 25, 2012



By Fiona Basile

Kairos Catholic Journal

About 120 people gathered at Australian Catholic University on Sunday night for the opening of the 8th National Colloquium for Catholic Bioethicists, hosted by the Australian Association of Catholic Bioethicists.

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Bishop-FisherThe theme for this year’s colloquium–held from 22-25 January–is ‘Agent Neutrality and Moral Cooperation’. Bishop of Parramatta, Most Reverend Dr Anthony Fisher OP addressed Sunday night's public forum on ‘The Catholic Hospital: The Ideal and the Pragmatic’. Following Bishop Fisher’s talk, His Excellency Sir James Gobbo, AC CVO KStJ KCSG QC launched Bishop Fisher’s book, Catholic Bioethics For A New Millennium.

Bishop-FisherCatholic health-care professionals including doctors, nurses and midwives, members of hospital and clinical ethics committees, researchers, lawyers and politicians were among the attendees at the public forum on Sunday night, as well as at the colloquium itself.

Bishop-FisherProfessor Nicholas Tonti-Filippini is Associate Dean and Head of Bioethics at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Melbourne. He said, “The purpose of the national colloquium is to foster discussion and debate amongst bioethicists.”

“We began running colloquia in 2005 hosting a meeting of the International Association of Catholic Bioethicists in that year, at which the international association was established. The Australian Association of Catholic Bioethicists was approved by the Bishops Conference in 2007.”

The Association was formed under the aegis of the Order of Malta and in accord with the purposes of the Order to defend the faith and to serve the sick, and in fidelity to the teachings of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

The Australian Association of Catholic Bioethicists aims to promote in-depth discussion, research, professional development, and publications on specific issues in bioethics and to foster communication, collaboration and cooperation among Catholic bioethicists and Catholic bioethics institutes throughout Australia.

It also aims to encourage and resource contributions to bioethics and the development of public policy by Catholic health professionals and other professionals in Theology, Philosophy, Biological Science and Law and to be a resource and source of advice for the Australian Catholic Bishops and the leaders of Catholic health and social welfare.

Professor Tonti-Filippini said, “This year’s topic of ‘Agent Neutrality and Moral Cooperation’ is very relevant to the trend in medicine and nursing to require doctors and nurses not to allow their own moral principles and values to guide their professional practice.

“Health professionals are being asked to be guided on the basis of patient autonomy and by the patient's values and the problem with that is that it means the loss of the Hippocratic tradition in which a health profession is a vocation, and in which health professionals seek to provide treatment and advice on the basis of evidence, and to serve the health interests of patients.

“It also means that health professionals would not have a right to conscientiously object. It would mean that Catholic hospitals and aged care could not function as Catholic hospitals.”

The colloquium addressed this issue in a number of areas: the role and identity of Catholic institutions, the ethical development of staff, care of the sick and dying, advanced care directives, the new abortion law and fertility management in general practice.

The colloquium brought together a broad range of perspectives and disciplines. The papers were pre-circulated so that presentations could be short and the maximum time could be spent in discussion.

Attendance at the colloquium is limited to those involved in bioethics and the related professions. This year saw the involvement for the first time of people involved in ‘mission direction in Catholic hospitals. The latter are responsible for the development of staff in the mission and ethics’ of Catholic facilities.

For more information about the national colloquium, including the topics and speakers, see

Photos from Sunday's opening night (1-13) by Sharon Walker - On Location Photography

Photos from the colloquium by Fiona Basile, Kairos Catholic Journal

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