ACU’s exploration of advance care planning, which enables patient wishes to inform decisions made by families and medical professionals and to respect patient autonomy and dignity, has led to the development of further research into other areas of medical ethics around aged care issues.

The ACU Plunkett Centre for Ethics research on the subject has significantly improved awareness, policy and practice in the Catholic healthcare system and beyond. It has contributed to new national guidelines for Catholic Health Australia, and policies, procedures and capability development in an acute public teaching hospital and a major aged care provider.

Dr Bernadette Tobin AO, Reader in Philosophy and Director of the Plunkett Centre for Ethics at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, and Dr Steve Matthews, Senior Research Fellow at the Plunkett Centre, collaborated on the research, which has since been applied to questions of end-of-life care in aged care and healthcare settings and decision-making by and for people living with dementia.

Dr Tobin said it had been a significant project over the years for those who clarify healthcare ethics, particularly as it is understood in the Catholic tradition.

“It provides a chance to reflect on ethical practices and work out ways of enacting them for health practitioners,” Dr Tobin said.

“Victoria’s introduction of doctor-assisted suicide impacts the context of how some people think of advance care planning. What is the proper treatment and care for people at the end of their life? How can people with a cognitive impairment ensure that the treatment and care they receive towards the end of their life is consistent with their hopes and priorities? How can individuals and institutions ensure that their commitment to medicine’s traditional healing ethic (a much broader concept than just curing people of illnesses) is not undermined by the new social context in which healthcare is delivered?

“Once you change one element of that context, it affects everything else.”

Dr Matthews’ current ARC-funded research builds on the foundation of his thinking about advance care planning. Entitled Dementia, Moral Agency and Identity: Respecting the Vulnerable, it aims to examine the ethical issues raised by dementia and the care of those living with it.

"The development of increased understandings of the relevant ethical considerations for treatment, and recommendations for new and ethical approaches to policy on dementia, will deliver more humane healthcare, and it will augment the well-being not only of those living with dementia, but also their families and friends, as well as the professionals who care for them"
Dr Steve Matthews
Senior Research Fellow at the Plunkett Centre for Ethics and ACU’s Faculty of Theology and Philosophy

Lead researchers

Bernadette Tobin 

Dr Bernadette Tobin AO

Reader in Philosophy and Director of the Plunkett Centre for Ethics at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney.

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Steve Matthews 

Dr Steve Matthews

Senior Research Fellow at the Plunkett Centre for Ethics (a joint centre of St Vincent’s and Mater Health, and ACU), and in ACU’s Faculty of Theology and Philosophy.

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Engagement and Impact

ACU submitted this research as an Impact study in the 2018 ARC Engagement and Impact (EI) assessment. The research received the rank of 'Medium', meaning the impact made a significant contribution to economy, society, environment, or culture, beyond the contribution to academic research. A summary of the impact areas is available in the below infographic.

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