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Rising star appointed Bioethics director

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Dr Xavier Symons has been appointed as incoming Director of the Plunkett Centre for Ethics at ACU. Photo: Supplied
Dr Xavier Symons has been appointed as incoming Director of the Plunkett Centre for Ethics at ACU. Photo: Supplied

Dr Xavier Symons, a rising star in the field of bioethics, has been appointed as incoming Director of the Plunkett Centre for Ethics at the Australian Catholic University.

Dr Symons will commence in the role in April 2024, marking a new chapter in Plunkett’s commitment to Catholic bioethics together with a network of partner hospitals and aged care centres.

Dr Symons, a philosopher and bioethicist, brings a wealth of experience and expertise to his new position.

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He completed his PhD at the Australian Catholic University in 2020 with a thesis that focused on the ethics of healthcare resource allocation. He also holds degrees from the University of Sydney and the University of Oxford.

Dr Symons has worked as a researcher and lecturer at the University of Notre Dame Australia and the Australian Catholic University. He completed a Fulbright Future Postdoctoral Scholarship at Georgetown University’s Kennedy Institute for Ethics in 2021-22 with a research project focused on the ethics of dementia.

He has also taught bioethics at the University of Technology Sydney Faculty of Law. He is an outgoing Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Human Flourishing Program in the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University.

His work has been published in journals such as the Medical Journal of Australia, the Journal of Medical Ethics, the Kennedy Institute for Ethics Journal, and Res Publica.

He also writes regularly for popular audiences in both Australia and abroad and his work has been featured in outlets including the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian Financial Review, ABC Religion and Ethics, The Guardian, and Public Discourse.

Dr Symons said he was honoured to be appointed director of the Plunkett Centre for Ethics, where he was previously a postdoctoral research fellow.

“This is an important role that carries with it a responsibility to advance ethics within healthcare and biomedical research as well as to conduct rigorous bioethics scholarship within the Catholic intellectual tradition,” Dr Symons said.

“I am excited about the opportunity to work with the dedicated team at the Plunkett Centre, our partner hospitals, and healthcare providers to ensure ethical considerations are paramount in the domain of healthcare.”

Outgoing Director Dr Bernadette Tobin said it had been a privilege to lead the centre. She will remain affiliated with the Plunkett Centre as a researcher.

“Over the years, I have worked with outstanding men and women, clinicians, administrators and philosophers, in endeavours that are important in healthcare itself and in the life of the church,” she said.

“I’m delighted that Xavier has been appointed as the new director. He will significantly renew the work of the centre in our participating partner hospitals and within the university itself.”

ACU Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Hayden Ramsay said Dr Symons’ appointment marked a new chapter for the Plunkett Centre.

“This appointment is a significant moment for the partnership between ACU and our Catholic hospitals and aged care providers,” he said.

“Dr Symons’ academic achievements, combined with his passion for communicating healthcare ethics and research, make him the ideal candidate to lead the Plunkett Centre for Ethics into the future.”

Established in 1992, the Plunkett Centre for Ethics is a centre of Australian Catholic University, currently with six “participating partners:” St Vincent’s Public Hospital Sydney, St Vincent’s Private Hospital Sydney, The Mater Hospital Sydney, Calvary Healthcare, Cabrini Hospital Melbourne, and Mercy Health.

The centre also holds an annual lecture in honour of its founder, the first Catholic solicitor-general and attorney-general of NSW, John Hubert Plunkett.

The 2023 lecture was delivered on 9 November by respected Catholic philosopher Professor John Haldane, and analysed common misconceptions about the notion of the common good and their relationship to healthcare provision regarding contentious issues in bioethics.

Prof Haldane said that Plunkett had himself advocated for a model of service provision in education that had “a common base with elective options” and that, in the context of healthcare, “this would suggest public funding of a range of services up to the point where these reach into areas of substantial and reasonable disagreement.”

“At that stage it may be judged that it would not be in the interest of the common good for government to enter further, but would only undermine such extensive consensus as attaches to core provision.

“The question of the legality of procedures again being set to one side and assuming that they are not prohibited, then it would be for those who seek to provide controversial services to do so out of other resources than from public funds.

“[I]t cannot be in the interest of the [public good] to require all citizens to treat matters of contention to which they are conscientiously opposed as if they were constituents of a participatory general good.”

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