This year, he has been invited to brief the Academy on the topic of capital punishment in the United States. The invitation was prompted by remarks Pope Francis made to the joint meeting of the US Congress in September 2015, when he reiterated his long-standing opposition to the death penalty.
Dr. Keown, when asked about his membership of the Academy, replied:
My appointment, which came completely out of the blue, was a signal honor. It is humbling to be a member of such an eminent body, comprising a constellation of interdisciplinary and international experts. The Academy provides a valuable resource to the Church and the wider community by exploring a range of bioethical issues, whether ageing, disability and palliative care (as in 2015) or the nature and role of virtue ethics (this year). It is gratifying to play even a minor role in that important enterprise.
It is also gratifying to be a part of Georgetown’s longstanding representation on the Academy. The late Dr Edmund Pellegrino and Professor Alfonso Gómez-Lobo served, and Georgetown still has two members: Professor Kevin FitzGerald SJ and myself. This year, I look forward to presenting the Academy with a copy of Professor Gómez-Lobo’s posthumously-published book, which I had the pleasure of completing: Bioethics and the Human Goods (Georgetown University Press, 2015).
This year’s program includes a workshop on “Virtues in the Ethics of Life,” among many other activities.
The academic program is at the heart of the meeting, comprising plenary sessions and workshops. There are also opportunities to meet other members, old and new, over lunch and dinner. (The formal dinner, in the Vatican Museum, is a particularly memorable event.) The highlight of the meeting is a reception with the Holy Father, who greets each member of the Academy individually. Moreover, although it is a full program, members do have a little free time to explore what is one of the most wonderful cities in the world.
In addition to being a member of the Pontifical Academy, Keown was last summer made a Doctor of Civil Law (DCL) by the University of Oxford, for his contribution to law and bioethics. This ‘higher doctorate’, which is seldom conferred, is awarded on the basis of exceptionally important and distinctive scholarship.
Asked about this award, Keown said:
It is another wonderful and unexpected honor, for which I am thankful to Oxford, and which I have gratefully dedicated to my inspirational and exemplary law teachers: Professor Kevin Gray (Trinity College, Cambridge) and Professor John Finnis (University College, Oxford)