The Caroline Chisholm Centre for Health Ethics came into operation in March 1995. Eighteen months previously, in October 1993, a number of Victorian Catholic hospitals had recognised their need for improved ethical advice and education, and jointly set up a working party to consider the establishment of an ethics centre. The Centre was registered as an Incorporated Association on 20 December 1994. When it was blessed on 8 May 1995 by the then-Archbishop of Melbourne Sir Frank Little, he augured that the Centre would live up to its task as “a Catholic voice in health ethics in Victoria.”
The founding Director of the Centre was internationally renowned bioethicist Rev Dr Norman Ford SDB. He was ably assisted by researcher Sr Dr Mary Stainsby RSM and office manager Sylvie Skonietzky. The Centre’s first public event was a discussion about euthanasia on 20 July 1995, which featured talks by Fr Ford, Dr Helga Kuhse, Dr Peter Beaumont, and Professor Louis Waller AO. Selections from these talks were broadcast on ABC Radio on 31 July 1995.
Over the years, the main outreach activities of the Centre have been its annual conference on diverse ethical topics, and the publication of the Chisholm Health Ethics Bulletin which presents the Centre’s research into many ethical questions.
Fr Ford remained the Director of the Centre until 31 July 2007. Researchers during this time included Deidre Fetherstonhaugh, Tracey Phelan (née Scott), Anna Stokes, Michael Herbert, Anne Moates, and Miriam Ghosn. Office managers included Margaret Casey and Alice Stinear.
One highlight of this time was the publication in 2002 of Fr Ford’s book The Prenatal Person: Ethics from Conception to Birth. Professor Peter Singer called it a “welcome contribution to dialogue between adherents of Christian and secular approaches to controversial bioethics issues about the beginning of human life.”
Another highlight was the publication in 2003 of Stem Cells: Science, medicine, law and ethics, written by Fr Ford and Michael Herbert. On 24 February 2004, this book was launched in Sydney by the then-Federal Minister for Health and Ageing the Hon Tony Abbott.
In August 2007 Rev Kevin McGovern became Director of the Centre, who for the ten years prior to his appointment had lectured in ethics and moral theology at the Brisbane College of Theology. Researchers during this time have included Dr Rida Usman Khalafzai, Kerri Anne Brussen, Dr Caroline Ong, and our current researchers Dr Dilinie Herbert and Emanuel Nicolas Cortes Simonet. Office Managers have included Josette Varga, Sofia Fitzell and our current office manager Susannah Duncan.
In December 2010, Fr McGovern was appointed by the Australian Government to the 2011 Legislation Review Committee for Australia’s cloning and embryo research laws, the Prohibition of Human Cloning for Reproduction Act 2002 (Cth) and the Research Involving Human Embryos Act 2002 (Cth). The five-member committee was chaired by the Hon Peter Heerey QC. Its report was tabled in both Houses of Federal Parliament on 7 July 2011. It contains four minority views written by Fr McGovern disagreeing with the committee’s majority recommendations.
Fr McGovern was also appointed by the Australian Government to the Australian Health Ethics Committee (AHEC) for the 2012-2015 and 2015-2018 trienniums. While on this committee, Fr McGovern was a member of the working group revising Australia’s ethical guidelines on assistive reproductive technology.
In July 2016 Maureen Waddington was appointed Acting Director of the Centre. Maureen is also the Director of Mission for St. John of God Ballarat hospital, a role she has held for 13 years.
During its twenty years of operation, the Caroline Chisholm Centre for Health Ethics has made a significant contribution.