Xavier Symons

BA Adv. Hons, MA (Res.), PhD

Email: Xavier.Symons@acu.edu.au


Xavier Symons is Director of the Plunkett Centre for Ethics at ACU. Xavier previously worked as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Human Flourishing Program in the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University and prior to this was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Plunkett Centre and a Research Associate at the Institute for Ethics and Society at the University of Notre Dame Australia. He has lectured in bioethics at the University of Technology Sydney Faculty of Law and at the University of Notre Dame Australia Medical School.

Xavier's research interests span a broad range of themes in bioethics. He wrote a doctoral thesis on contemporary theories of distributive justice and the ethics of healthcare resource allocation. He has written extensively about the ethics of end of life care and voluntary assisted dying. More recently he has explored the ethics of conscientious objection in healthcare. His first book, Why Conscience Matters: A Defence of Conscientious Objection in Healthcare, was published in July 2022 by Routledge.

Xavier has contributed extensively to both Australian and international media outlets and his work has been featured in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian Financial Review, ABC Religion and Ethics, The Guardian, and Public Discourse. He holds degrees from the University of Sydney, the University of Oxford, and the Australian Catholic University.

More information: https://xaviersymons.com/

Teaching areas

Area of competence: bioethics, political philosophy, medieval philosophy, Catholic social teaching

Selected Refereed Journal articles and book chapters



With Kate Long and Howard Koh. "Addressing Spirituality As A Determinant Of Health: Emerging Policies, Practices And Systems". Health Affairs (forthcoming in June 2024 edition of the journal).

With Tyler VanderWeele. "Aristotelian flourishing and contemporary philosophical theories of wellbeing". Journal of Happiness Studies (2024): https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-024-00723-0.

With Daniel Roger, Chris Bobier, and Daniel Hurst. "Genetic disenhancement and xenotransplantation: diminishing pigs' capacity to experience suffering through genetic engineering". Journal of Medical Ethics (2024): doi: 10.1136/jme-2023-109594.

"On the importance of consistency: a response to Giubilini et al" Journal of Medical Ethics (2023): DOI: 10.1136/jme-2023-109152.

"Moral Distress as Critique: Going Beyond 'Illegitimate Institutional Constraints" American Journal of Bioethics (2023): DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/15265161.2023.2186519.

"Conscientious Objection in Health Care: Why The Professional Duty Argument is Unconvincing" Journal of Medicine and Philosophy (2022): DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/jmp/jhac013.

With Natasha Michael, George Mendz and David Kissane. "Vulnerability and Resilience: Phenomenological Analysis of Cancer Patients Value Directives" Journal of Pain and Symptom Management (2022): DOI: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S088539242200834X?via%3Dihub.

"Why Conscience Matters: A Theory of Conscience and Its Relevance to Conscientious Objection in Medicine" Res Publica (2022): DOI: https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/s11158-022-09555-2.pdf.

With Billy Poulden. "An Ethical Defense of a Mandated Choice Consent Procedure for Deceased Organ Donation" Asian Bioethics Review 14 (2022): 259-270.

With Susan Pennings. "First among equals? Adaptive preferences and the limits of autonomy in medical ethics" Journal of Medical Ethics (2022): DOI: doi: 10.1136/medethics-2021-107942.

"Shlomi Segall. Why Inequality Matters: Luck Egalitarianism, Its Meaning and Value" Journal of Moral Philosophy 18;4 (Aug 2021): 425-428.

With Kate Jones, Piret Paal and Megan Best. "The Content, Teaching Methods and Effectiveness of Spiritual Care Training for Healthcare Professionals: A Mixed-Methods Systematic Review" Journal of Pain and Symptom Management 62;3 (Sept 2021): 261-278.

With Reginald Chua. "Rationing, Responsibility and Blameworthiness: An Ethical Evaluation of Responsibility-Sensitive Policies for Healthcare Rationing." Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal 31;1(2021): 53-76.

"Respect for persons and the allocation of lifesaving healthcare resources". Bioethics 35;5(Feb 2021): 392-399

With Susan Pennings. "Persuasion, not coercion or incentivisation, is the best means of promoting COVID-19 vaccination". Journal of Medical Ethics 47(2021): 709-711.

"Reflective disequilibrium: a critical evaluation of the complete lives framework for healthcare rationing". Journal of Medical Ethics 47(2021): 108-112.

With Reginald Chua. '''Alive by default': An exploration of Velleman's unfair burdens argument against state sanctioned euthanasia". Bioethics 34;3 (2020): 288-294.

"Strengthening the ethical distinction between euthanasia, palliative opioid use and palliative sedation". Journal of Medical Ethics 46(2020): 57-58.

With Clare O'Callaghan, Natasha Michael, David Kissane et al. "Patients' and caregivers' contested perspectives on spiritual care for those affected by advanced illnesses: a qualitative descriptive study." Journal of Pain and Symptom Management 58;6 (2019):977-988.

'Pellegrino, MacIntyre, and the internal morality of clinical medicine'. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 40;3 (2019): 243-251.

With Reginald Chua. "Organismal death, the dead-donor rule and the ethics of vital organ procurement". Journal of Medical Ethics 44;12 (2018): 868-871.

With Natasha Michael, Julia Trimboli and Clare O'Callaghan. 'Extending awareness of Catholic Healthcare ethics amongst junior clinicians: A qualitative study'. Journal of Health and Religion 57;4 (2018): 1440-1450.

"The right to know vs. the right to privacy: Donor anonymity and the Assisted Reproductive Treatment Amendment Act 2016 (Vic)". The Medical Journal of Australia 207;9 (2017): 377-378.

"Two conceptions of conscience and the problem of conscientious objection". The Journal of Medical Ethics 43 (2017): 245-247.

'On the univocity of rationality: a response to Nigel Biggar's 'Why religion deserves a place in secular medicine''. The Journal of Medical Ethics 41 (2015): 870-872.

'A response to Robert Zuradzki's 'preimplantation genetic diagnosis and rational choice under risk or uncertainty''. The Journal of Medical Ethics 40 (2014): 779.

In the media

Multigenerational living: is it a solution for our aging population? Institute for Family Studies Blog, 30 August 2023

The Hostility of Illness and the Therapeutic Importance of Hospitality Church Life Journal, 26 June 2023

Should we allow conscientious objection in healthcare? ABC Religion and Ethics Report, 23 November 2022

Rediscovering the "Ars Moriendi" Medium, 06 September 2022

'Who will be first in line when a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, and who will have to wait?' ABC News 18th September 2020

Persuasion better than compulsion in vaccinating the nation. The Australian Financial Review, 20 Aug 2020

'Pandemic ethics, herd immunity and the protection of vulnerable members of the community'. ABC Religion and Ethics 8th May 2020.

'Who lives and who dies'. Interview with Andrew West. ABC Religion and Ethics Report 25th March 2020.

'Rationing care to cope with COVID-19 should never be based on age alone'. Sydney Morning Herald 14th March 2020.

'The delicate balance of enforcing quarantine laws'. Sydney Morning Herald 5th March 2020.

'Assisted dying bill leaves sick and elderly open to coercion'. Sydney Morning Herald 9th December 2019.

'Human enhancement: The promise and perils of gene-editing technology'. ABC Religion and Ethics 29th October 2019.

'Moralising companies are being asked to reset their business towards shareholders'. (Quotation) The Australian 24th September 2019.

'Religious freedom bill goes far, but not far enough'. Sydney Morning Herald 1 st September 2019.

'Doctors' right to opt out of procedures because of religion extended under new laws'. (Interview). SBS News 30th August 2019.

'Assisted dying bill reinforces deadly cultural assumptions'. Sydney Morning Herald/The Age 17th June 2019.

'The mystery of genealogy and the ethics of donor conception'. ABC Religion and Ethics 29th April 2019.

'Reason we cared so much for trapped Thai boys'. The Sydney Morning Herald 18th July 2018.

With Reginald Chua. 'Organismal death, the dead donor rule and the ethics of vital organ procurement'. Journal of Medical Ethics Blog, 28th June 2018.

'Does the Doctrine of Double Effect Apply to the Prescription of Barbiturates? Syme vs the Medical Board of Australia', Journal of Medical Ethics Blog, 22nd September 2017.

With Udo Schuklenk. 'Viewpoints: should euthanasia be available for people with existential suffering?, The Conversation, 6th July 2017.

'All children deserve to know who their parents are', The Age, 2nd March 2017.

'Euthanasia and palliative sedation are distinct concepts - intent matters', The Conversation, 15th June 2016.

'Me Before You: life, disability and 'inspiration porn'', The Conversation, 15th June 2016.


2020 ACU Alumni Research and Scholarship Award

2020 Fulbright Future Postdoctoral Scholar (Funded by the Kinghorn Foundation)

2018 Annual Pellegrino Young Scholars Essay Prize (a prize administered by the Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics, Georgetown University).

2018 Archbishop Mannix Travelling Scholarship (a scholarship given every three years by Newman College, University of Melbourne).

Visiting Scholar - Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics, 2016

Lucy Firth Prize 2015

Lucy Firth Prize 2014

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