Bioethics & Healthcare Ethics (BHE)

Within the field of Applied and Professional Ethics, the IES has dedicated research expertise in Bioethics, Medical Ethics and Ethics Education in healthcare contexts. Our research excellence in these fields is central to the work of Notre Dame as a Catholic University that trains students for the medical and nursing professions.

Institute researchers are presently investigators on a number of grants and have worked with industry partners in the healthcare sector on research projects and consultancy reports. The Institute has an ongoing partnership with St Vincent’s Health Network Australia, collaborating with hospital staff on projects over a number of years.

In recent years, BHE has led projects in the field of bioethics, including the ethical issues at the beginning and end of life, genomics, and conscientious objection in healthcare.

IES researchers have been published in leading journals such as The Medical Journal of Australia, Palliative Medicine, The Journal of Medical Ethics and The Journal of Religion and Health.

BHE also has an active research interests in the ethics of palliative care and in the intersections between spirituality and health, which traverses the fields of ethics and the philosophy of medicine. BHE researchers are working on topics including existential distress at the end of life, suffering and meaning, spiritual care, and how best to meet the pastoral care needs of patients at all stages of illness.



Industry-Linked Research Fellow
The IES and Royal Rehab are seeking applications for an exciting new PhD opportunity. The successful applicant will conduct their research within our Bioethics & Healthcare Ethics research team, in close partnership with our partners at Royal Rehab. If you're a high-achieving domestic student interested in undertaking doctoral research in the areas of resilience and traumatic injury rehabilitation, we'd love to hear from you. The scholarship includes a (tax-free) PhD stipend of $30,000 per annum, for up to three years. More details

Industry-Linked Research Fellow
The University of Notre Dame Australia and St Vincent’s Health Australia are undertaking an industry funded research project to investigate and optimise the provision of spiritual care training for staff in the healthcare industry. The research will be conducted by IES Research Fellow Dr Kate Jones.

Fulbright Australia Future Postdoctoral Research Fellowship
Dr Xavier Symons has been awarded a 2020 Fulbright Future Postdoctoral Research Scholarship at Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University. His project will focus on the ethics of dementia.

Catholic Press Association Award
Professor of Bioethics Margaret Somerville has won Best Essay (Scholarly Magazines) in the 2020 Catholic Press Association United States and Canada Awards for her article ‘Does It Matter How We Die? Ethical and Legal Issues Raised by Combining Euthanasia and Organ Transplantation’.

The Ethics of Genomic Testing for Cancer
Dr Megan Best has published a large study on the ethics of access to genomic testing for cancer. Megan’s paper can be found at Who should access germline genome sequencing? A mixed methods study of patient views.

The Ethics of Euthanasia
Dr Xavier Symons recently co-authored an article in the journal Bioethics on the ethics of physician assisted suicide. The article can be found at ‘Alive by default’: An exploration of Velleman’s unfair burdens argument against state sanctioned euthanasia.

Christian Attitudes to Reproductive Therapies
Dr Megan Best recently published a paper exploring Christian attitudes to Assisted Reproductive Therapies (ART). The paper was published in Human Reproduction Open, and was written in collaboration with colleagues at Trinity International University, Chicago.

Industry and Public Engagement

Master of Bioethics Program
We’re delighted to partner with colleagues across NDA to contribute to the new Master of Bioethics Program (School of Medicine).

The Ethics of Healthcare Rationing in COVID-19
Dr Xavier Symons was interviewed by Andrew West for the ABC Religion and Ethics Report on the ethics of healthcare rationing in COVID-19.

The Ethics of Enforcing Quarantine Laws in COVID-19
The. Dr Xavier Symons recently wrote an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald on the delicate balance of enforcing coronavirus quarantine laws.

Spiritual care practice in rehabilitation
Together with colleagues at Royal Rehab, Dr Kate Jones has conducted research into the spiritual care training needs of rehabilitation professionals working in the area of spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury.

Podcast: Spiritual well-being of older people during COVID-19
Kate Jones recently spoke to Ilsa Hampton, CEO of Meaingful Ageing Australia about the impact of COVID-19 upon the spiritual well-being of older people. The podcast can be found at Notre Dame's soundcloud channel.

Ethical Consequences of Legalising Assisted Dying
Professor Margaret Somerville wrote an option piece for The Guardian on the ethical and social consequences of legalising assisted dying.

Our Researchers' Grants and Institutional Partnerships

  • The University of Notre Dame and St Vincents Health Australia, Industry-linked Team-based Early Career Researcher Fellowship, “Developing Spiritual Care Training for Hospital Staff”. 2020-2022 ($555,000)
  • IHIF Award for “Identifying Aboriginal Pastoral and spiritual care needs”. ($200,000)
  • Cancer Institute New South Wales Early Career Researcher Fellowship  Grant.  “Overcoming psychosocial and ethical issues in cancer genomics: Translating test results into behavioural change”. 2017-2020 ($564,666)
  • National Health and Medical Research Council Project Grant “Cancer genomics; Psychosocial, behavioural and ethical issues and outcomes, two inter-related longitudinal studies”. 2017-2020 ($506,654)


Postgraduate Research

We welcome inquiries regarding postgraduate supervision from prospective M.Phil or PhD students interested in working within the IES’s BHE research focus area.

  • Dr Megan Best

    Dr Megan Best welcomes research students in the following areas:

    • Spirituality in healthcare
    • Existential suffering
    • Euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide
    • Whole person care
    • Ethics at the end of life
  • Dr Kate Jones

    Dr Kate Jones welcomes research students in the following areas:

    • Spirituality in healthcare
    • Strengths based interventions in rehabilitation after traumatic injury
    • Healthcare training in whole person care