Staff at the Plunkett Centre for Ethics

Bernadette Tobin

MA (Melb) MEd (Melb) PhD (Cantab)


Bernadette Tobin is director of the Plunkett Centre for Ethics at St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, and Reader in Philosophy at Australian Catholic University. She previously taught philosophy at Mercy Teachers’ College in Melbourne and English at Tottenham Technical School in Melbourne. She has been the recipient of an Australian Post-Doctoral Research Scholarship.

Bernadette has Honorary Appointments in the Medical Faculties of both the University of New South Wales (via the Clinical School at St Vincent’s) and the University of Sydney (via the Clinical School at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead). She is a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life.

Her philosophical interests are in medical ethics, political philosophy, philosophy of religion and philosophy of education.

Bernadette has served on various committees and boards associated with medical practice, in particular the Australian Health Ethics Committee (a principal committee of the National Health and Medical Research Council) and the Garvan Medical Research Institute. She chaired the Council of St John’s College in the University of Sydney from 2013 to 2020.

In 2016 she was appointed an Officer in General Division of the Order of Australia. In 2017 she was appointed a Dame Grand Cross in the Order of St Gregory the Great.

Teaching areas

Areas of competence: philosophy of education, philosophy of religion, ethics, bioethics

Selected Refereed Journal articles

Is it justifiable to compel performance by a doctor in violation of conscience? Australasian Catholic Record, January 2019
Female Genital Mutilation and the role of health-care practitioners (with David Isaacs), Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, 53, 2017
Human vulnerability in medical contexts (with Steve Mathews). Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics, 37, 2016.
When doctors and parents disagree. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, 50, 2014
Religious Perspectives on Umbilical Cord Blood Banking (with Jordens, C et al) Journal of Law and Medicine, 19; 2012.
Spinal muscular atrophy: do the benefits of ventilation compensate for its burdens? (with Gray, K; Isaacs, D; Kilham, H;) Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health, 49, 2013
Peters’ Theory of Moral Development, J Phil Educ, 1989. 23, 1
An Aristotelian Theory of Moral Development, J Phil Educ, 1989. 23, 2


Guest editor (with Steve Matthews). Special issue of Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics, 2016



Xavier Symons

Postdoctoral Research Fellow

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



Dr. Xavier Symons is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Plunkett Centre for Ethics, ACU, and an Adjunct Lecturer in the Institute for Ethics and Society, UNDA.
Xavier’s research interests include ethical issues at the beginning and end of life, conscientious objection, ethical issues in aged care, and pandemic ethics. His recently completed PhD thesis focused on the allocation of lifesaving healthcare resources.

Xavier has taught bioethics for several years, and has worked with Catholic healthcare providers on several projects related to ethics education. In 2020, Xavier was awarded a Fulbright Future Postdoctoral Scholarship, and he will be a scholar in residence at Georgetown University's Kennedy Institute of Ethics from February to August 2021.

More information:

Teaching areas

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

Selected Refereed Journal articles and book chapters
  • With Reginald Chua. “Rationing, responsibility and blameworthiness: an ethical evaluation of responsibility-sensitive policies for healthcare rationing”. Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal (forthcoming)(accepted 22nd July 2020).
  • “Conscientious objection -- why the professional duty argument is unconvincing”. Journal of Medicine and Philosophy (accepted 24th December 2019).
  • ‘‘Alive by default’: An exploration of Velleman’s unfair burdens argument against state sanctioned euthanasia’. Bioethics (published online first 2nd October 2019).
  • 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.
  • ‘Strengthening the ethical distinction between euthanasia, palliative opioid use and palliative sedation’. Journal of Medical Ethics 46(2020): 57-58.
  • ‘Pellegrino, MacIntyre, and the internal morality of clinical medicine’. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 40;3 (2019): 243-251.
  • ‘Rawls, Reasonableness and Conscientious Objection’. In Bligh Grant (ed.). Research in Ethical Issues in Organisations Volume 19: Ethics in a Fractured State. (Sydney: Emerald Publishing, 2018).
  • 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’ in 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)’, in The Medical Journal of Australia 207;9 (2017): 377-378.
  • ‘Does the doctrine of double effect apply to the prescription of barbiturates? Syme vs the Medical Board of Australia’, in The Journal of Medical Ethics 44;4 (2018): 266-269.
  • ‘Suffering, Euthanasia and Professional Expertise’, in Solidarity: The Journal of Catholic Social Thought and Secular Ethics: 6 (1) 2016, published online at
  • ‘Two conceptions of conscience and the problem of conscientious objection’, in The Journal of Medical Ethics 43 (2017): 245-247.
  • ‘A response to Robert Zuradzki’s ‘preimplantation genetic diagnosis and rational choice under risk or uncertainty’’ in The Journal of Medical Ethics 40 (2014): 779.
  • ‘On the univocity of rationality: a response to Nigel Biggar’s ‘Why religion deserves a place in secular medicine’’ in The Journal of Medical Ethics, 41 (2015): 870-872.
In the media
  • ‘Who will be first in line when a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, and who will have to wait?’ ABC News 18th September (interview)
  • 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


Stephen Matthews

Senior Research Fellow

BA Hons, PhD in Philosophy (Monash University)



Steve Matthews is Senior Research Fellow at the Plunkett Centre for Ethics. He has previously worked at Macquarie University, Charles Sturt University, and Monash University, where he wrote his doctorate in philosophy on the metaphysics of personal identity and its implications for ethics. He now works mainly at the intersection of philosophy, psychology, and psychiatry, publishing widely in moral psychology, and applied ethics in relation to these areas. This research has been supported through a series of ARC-funded projects on the topics of ethics and mental illness, and of addiction, and, currently, dementia. In addition, he has published over fifty peer-reviewed articles, guest-edited a range of journal special issues, and has organized a number of workshops and conferences on these and related ethical issues.

In addition to this research Steve has been involved in a range of teaching, and leadership activities especially related to medical ethics, and more broadly research ethics. He has been an active member of ACU’s Human Research Ethics Committee for the past five years. His other miscellaneous activities include reviewing for journals, thesis examination, research presentations, and conference organization.

Teaching areas

Area of competence: metaphysics and epistemology, philosophy of mind, informal logic.

Area of specialization: Moral psychology, ethics, applied ethics, professional ethics, ethics and technology.

Selected Refereed Journal articles and book chapters

“Moral self-orientation in Alzheimer’s Dementia”. Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal. 30(2), 141-166, 2020.

“Diminished autonomy, consent, and chronic addiction”. In Beyond consent: limits and alternatives to informed consent in research ethics and law. Bernadette Richards & David Kirchhoffer (eds). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2019.

“Stigma and self-stigma in Addiction,” (With Anke Snoek and Robyn Dwyer) Journal of Bioethical Inquiry, 14(2), 275-286, 2017.

“The Significance of Habit,” Journal of Moral Philosophy 14 (4), 394-415, 2017.

“Dementia and the Power of Music Therapy,” Bioethics, 29, 573-9. 2015.

“The imprudence of the vulnerable,” Ethical theory and moral practice, 17, pp791-805, 2014.

“Truth, Lies and the Narrative Self,” Co-authored with Jeanette Kennett. American Philosophical Quarterly, 49 (4), 301-15, (2012)

“Anonymity and the Social Self,” American Philosophical Quarterly, 47 (4), 351-363 (2010)

“Mental Time Travel, Agency and Responsibility”. Co-authored with Jeanette Kennett. Psychiatry as Cognitive Neuroscience: Philosophical Perspectives. Matthew Broome, Lisa Bortolotti (eds.) Oxford: Oxford University Press. (2009), pp327-351.

“Normative Agency” Co-authored with Jeanette Kennett. Practical Identity and Narrative Agency, Catriona MacKenzie, Kim Atkins (eds). New York: Routledge. (2008)

“Privacy, Separation, and Control,” The Monist, vol 91 (1), 130-150 (Jan 2008)

“Delusion, Dissociation and Identity,” Co-authored with Jeanette Kennett. Philosophical Explorations VI, 31-49, (January, 2003)

“Identity, Control and Responsibility: the Case of Dissociative Identity Disorder,” Co-authored with Jeanette Kennett. Philosophical Psychology, 15, 509-526 (December, 2002)

“Unreal Friends,” Co-authored with Dean Cocking. Ethics and Information Technology, 2, 223-231 (2000)

“Survival and Separation,” Philosophical Studies, 98, 279-303, (April, 2000)


Guest editor (with Jeanette Kennett). Special issue of International Journal of Law and Psychiatry titled “Responsibility and Mental Impairment”. Volume 27, 5, September 2004

Guest editor (with Bernadette Tobin). Special issue of Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics titled “The Fragility of Human Virtue”. 37 (1) 2016

Guest editor (with Anke Snoek). Special (double) issue of Neuroethics on addiction. Vol 10 (1), 2017.

Guest editor. Neuroethics Symposium: special issue on The Biology of Desire, by Marc Lewis. Managing editor Katrina Sifferd. The Brains Blog. March 2017.

Guest editor (with Jeanette Kennett and Philippa Byers). Truthfulness in dementia care. Bioethics special issue 2021.

Grants secured

1/ 2018-2020. Australian Research Council DP 180103262. Dementia, Moral Agency and Identity: Respecting the Vulnerable.

2/ 2015-17 ACU Internal Research Program Grant (ACURF). Virtue, Reason and Justice: Integrating theory and practice (With Professor Robert Audi, Dr Stewart Braun)

3/ 2014-16 Laudel Foundation. Addiction and the will.

4/ 2010-2012 Australian Research Council DP1094144 “Addiction, moral identity and moral agency: Integrating theoretical and empirical approaches” (With Jeanette Kennett and Craig Fry).

5/ 2004-2005 (Australian Research Council Discovery Project DP0452446). The Normative Value of Unified Agency. Role: First-named Chief Investigator. (Grant with Dr Jeanette Kennett from Monash University.)

Honorary Fellows

Jonathan Gillis

Honorary Fellow, Australian Catholic University
Part-time Member Administrative Appeals Tribunal
Deputy Convenor and Consultant to NSW Child Death Review Team
Clinical Associate Professor, University of Sydney
Conjoint Associate Professor, University of Western Sydney
Clinical Associate Professor, University of Tasmania


Gerald Gleeson

STB (CIS), MA (Cantab), PhD (Leuven)
Vicar General, Archdiocese of Sydney
Research Associate, Part time
Member of Council and Deputy Chair, St John’s College, University of Sydney



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